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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Federal Election Commission Issues Unprecedented Rebuke to President Trump on Foreign Election Interference; Sarah Sanders Leaving White House; Sarah Sanders Leaving White House; Government Watchdog Recommends Firing Kellyanne Conway; Speaker Pelosi On President Trump's Attack Against Her at Normandy: "I Felt Really Sorry For Him"; U.S. Officials: U.S. Has Video, Photos Showing An Iranian Navy Boat Removing An Unexploded From Gulf Tanker. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 13, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:20] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
A railroad big night of breaking news, whether it's the sudden departure of Sarah Sanders or the government's own legal watchdog calling for the firing of a top adviser to the president for what it calls multiple violations of the law by Kellyanne Conway.
We begin, though, keeping them honest with a page on the FBI's Website, which is especially relevant tonight, given what President Trump said today, once again, inviting foreign interference in American elections. Once again casting doubts on the FBI.
The president of the United States all but telling foreign adversaries that as long as it benefits him, it's open season on the 2020 election because he's never reached out to the FBI to report anything, even with all the unsavory characters he must have done business with over the years. And he is not about to start now.
The webpage is titled "when to contact" the FBI and provides a long list of suspicious items to get in touch with the bureau about, including, and I'm quoting here, suspicious activities that you believe threaten national security, especially suspicious activities that involve foreign powers or foreign organizations.
It is without a doubt serious stuff, though you wouldn't know it listening to our president, the same man who hired all the people now in charge of national security, including the director of the FBI, who is responsible for protecting the country from foreign interference, and who has warned repeatedly that the Russians are already hard at work trying to undermine U.S. elections.
In other words, even if it never occurred to him back then that foreign interference is wrong, he's now had more than two years to learn otherwise.
Keeping them honest, though, listen again to what the president told ABC's George Stephanopoulos for the interview that aired last night and decide for yourself the lessons he drew.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK, let's put yourself in a position. You're a congressman. Somebody comes up and says hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: If it's coming from Russia, you do.
TRUMP: I've seen a lot of things over my life. I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don't call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.
TRUMP: Well, that's different, a stolen briefing book. This isn't -- this is somebody who said we have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work like that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.
TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The FBI director, he says, his hand-picked FBI director is wrong for saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: My view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that's something the FBI would want to know about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So got it? That guy's boss says he is wrong.
Today, with the boss' words still echoing across Washington, the boss showed no signs of regret, tweeting: I meet and talk to foreign agents every day. I just met with the queen of England, UK, the princess of Wales, the prime minister of United Kingdom, the prime minister of Ireland, the president of France and the president of Poland. We talked about everything. Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous. I would never be trusted again.
Just on a purely factual basis, let's just think about what he said. That argument, just on a purely factual basis is ridiculous. For starters, it's not like the queen of England or the princess of Wales or anyone on that list are adversary was an interest in sowing chaos dissension in this country.
The queen of England isn't selling her jewels to fund a massive disinformation campaign to affect our election. The queen of England isn't figuring out who in the Trump campaign she can meet with and potentially co-opt, nor is the queen of England over tea whispering to the president, I have dirt on Bernie Sanders and it's snogging good. I don't know if snogging is actually a term.
Remember Russia, the country he invited to hack in 2016 and says he might not a drop a dime on this time is trying to influence our politics. Prince Charles didn't approach Donny Jr. with offers of Kremlin-gathered information or disinformation that his son so eagerly anticipated. Russia did.
The prime minister of Poland didn't offer to set up a secret communication channel with the president's son-in-law at the Polish embassy. That was the Russian embassy and the Russians. And yes, the people around him lied their heads off about all of it instead of calling the FBI.
So the next beat to all of this today was, as it always, what is anyone from the president's own party going to say about this? And on this one, maybe indicating the gravity of what the president said, some Republicans, some, actually spoke out against him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If a foreign government comes to you as a public official and offers to help your campaign, giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no.
[20:05:07] SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): In circumstances where a foreign government attempts to be involved in an American election, that would be simply unthinkable for a candidate for president to accept that involvement to encourage it, to participate with it in any way, shape or form. It would strike at the very heart of our democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Senator Joni Ernst said she'd definitely alert authorities if approached. Senator James Lankford said he was surprised the president would not immediately do that, although it's hard to see why. Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner both said they would call the FBI.
So, there are a few. However, they are the minority. Even after the president said yesterday and today, Senate Republicans today blocked legislation that would force campaigns to notify the Federal Election Commission and FBI about attempts by foreign nationals to influence an election.
Oh, and over on the House side, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy turned the gas light up to 11.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I've watched this president. I've listened to this president. He does not want foreign governments interfering in our election, and he has been very strong about that. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Really? Very strong. That's a term that a lot of people he used around the president. I know he likes the word strong, but how many televised addresses has the president given a warning for interference and outlined his plans to stop it?
How many cabinet meetings has he held about this? How many times has he even tweeted about Russia interfering without suggesting maybe it wasn't Russia and it didn't happen? How many times has he undercut his own intelligence officials while siding with Vladimir Putin?
I guess McCarthy is right when he says that President Trump has been very strong on foreign governments interfering in our elections. The problem is he has been and continues to be very strongly in favor of it.
Meantime, the chair of the Federal Election Committee, they've just weighed in with a really extraordinary statement. This just happened, and I want to read to you the whole thing, because I think this is important. We've only had a second to make a graphic of the entire page. So the type on your screen is small.
With that, I'm quoting now: Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value in connection with the U.S. election.
This is not a novel concept, they go on to say. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation. Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about, quote, foreign interference, intrigue, and influence. They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America's.
Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation. Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the federal bureau of investigation.
That is the head of the Federal Election Commission.
Let's get perspective now from strategic analyst, author and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. His latest effort is "Darkness at Chancellorsville", a novel of Stonewall Jackson's triumph and tragedy.
Colonel Peters, this statement from the FEC's chair, I mean, it is stunning that A, that they put this out and that they felt the need to put out what is so glaringly obvious.
LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), STRATEGIC ANALYST AND AUTHOR: Well, the integrity of our elections is absolutely fundamental to our system. And, you know, earlier, Trump comes up with his own one-liners, but when you were talking and Trump is saying, well, I never called the FBI. I thought was of course not. Criminals don't call the FBI. But this is a president, Anderson, who I think is increasingly
desperate. And he will ignore the election commission. He will ignore good advice because he is so desperate to get reelected. And now, I think very afraid.
Speaker Pelosi last week used the magic word. She was talking about prison time. And this president knows that if he is not re-elected, you know, the coach turns into a pumpkin. He is vulnerable to prosecution.
And even if he goes for two terms, he will still the rest of his life in courtrooms or avoiding courtrooms. So I think this is a man who is genuinely afraid, and he will indeed take help from wherever he can get it, Russia, China, you name it. And, you know, also, ironically, ironically, we have been criticizing this man for lying and lying and lying and lying and lying and lying some more.
And now, we're on him for being honest. For once, Trump told the truth. He would welcome foreign help from a hostile power.
COOPER: Well, you know, the thing, you were an intelligence officer. You know how Russian agents operate. You know, they're not giving, you know, information -- it's not just opposition research, as the president says. This can just as easily be disinformation and more than likely is disinformation.
[20:10:03] And the idea that President Trump would want to look at it and maybe act on it anyway, it just seems incredibly -- I mean naive, corrupt, wrong.
PETERS: There is a fundamental difference between the Russian intelligence operations back in my day and those today, and it's not the Internet. It's not distorted images, et cetera. The difference is, in the past we resisted.
And now, we have an American president who welcomes Russian espionage operations. And that's indeed what they are. And so, we are gravely and grotesquely threatened.
And by the way, it's not just foreign interference. As Trump grows increasingly desperate, unless the Dems self-destruct, which they may, and the polls turn against them, you're going see more domestic shenanigan, bending and breaking of domestic laws. And if Trump is defeated, he will not accept a defeat. He will protest and try to raise his supporters' ire.
And if that doesn't work, he will go on a rampage between election day and inauguration day and do as much damage as he can, much of it out of spite, much of it to advantage himself. So, no matter what happens, wooer in for almost two years more of grave danger to the United States of America.
COOPER : The president's tweet today, saying he wouldn't immediately call the FBI after meeting the queen of England and the prince of Wales, I mean, meeting the royalty in an overseas trip, that's fulfilling your duties as president of the United States. And, secondly, they're not a foreign government intervening election. There is a difference between diplomacy and, you know, intelligence agents reaching out trying to probe your campaign and give you what they say is dirt.
PETERS: Yes, indeed. And by the way, snoging is a word, speaking of the queen.
Yes, indeed. And Trump just has a different view of the world than you and I, or most normal people do, than most Americans. Even Trump's own supporters, I believe in their hearts see the world very differently than he does. But they have drunk the Kool-Aid.
And, for instance, an example. If I say to you just the words, "the founding of our nation," our roots, what comes to mind? The minutemen at Lexington and Concord or the Declaration of Independence you. You say America's roots to Trump, and he thinks of the Dutch cheating the Indians in the first Manhattan real estate deal.
I mean, he's just got -- he doesn't know our history. He doesn't know the Constitution. He doesn't know our values.
It's astonishing how much damage he has already done, but you ain't seen nothing yet.
COOPER: Yes, Colonel Peters, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
PETERS: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next, more on the legalities and the counterintelligence implications after all of this.
And later, the unexpected departure of Sarah Sanders after 94 days of not doing what secretaries usually do every single day.
COOPER: The chair of the Federal Elections Commission moments ago making plain what President Trump tried again to make muddy, accepting foreign help to win an election is wrong and always has been.
Again, reading from her statement: Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about foreign interference, intrigue and influence. They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America's.
Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation. Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
It's not the president saying this. The president said this, tweeting this morning, I meet and talk to foreign governments every day. I just met with the queen of England, UK, the prince of Wales, the PM of United Kingdom, the PM of Ireland, the president of France, the president of Poland. We talked about everything. Should I immediately call the FBI about these meetings? Ridiculous.
I would never be trusted again.
That's assuming he is trusted right now.
The queen of England, the prince of Wales always say, you know, snitches get stitches. That's what they say. They're known for saying that.
Joining us now to talk about the laws that do and don't apply here, as well as the counterintelligence considerations, former FBI general counsel, Jim Baker, whose tweet today alerted us to that FBI webpage we mentioned at the top of the broadcast. Also CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.
Jim, so the FEC, I mean, the head of the FEC certainly doesn't leave any doubt as to whether or not this would break the law. And the fact that she felt compelled to put this out is very telling.
JIM BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: It's very telling. And to me what jumped out was looking back at the Mueller report today, one of the reasons that they decided that there was no prosecutable case there was because of the issues around the intent that's required by the statute.
And the FEC chairperson speaking publicly about this and basically putting all campaigns on notice about what the law is, a very clear, short understandable statement, I think that makes a big difference. And that will undercut anybody in the future who tries to claim that they didn't know that this was somehow federal law that this was somehow prohibited.
So I think it's a very important thing that she did.
COOPER: Carrie, is there any gray area, though, when it comes along this? I mean, does a lot hinge on what's considered to be something of value?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does. Under the campaign laws, it would have to be a thing of value. And so that's where we really get into some gray space. We have to remember --
COOPER: Sorry, is opposition research, as the president called it, a thing of value?
CORDERO: Well, we could make an argument that it is. Most foreign interference or foreign campaign donations have to do with money. So, most of the case law has to do with the application of money.
But we have to remember that the Russian interference activity in 2016 was an intelligence operation.
[20:20:05] And so to assume that future activities would be intelligence operations by Russia or any other hostile nation means that they're going to try to get around the law. So it's wonderful that the commissioner issued this statement, because she is putting the U.S. candidates and campaigns on notice that they are at risk of becoming under investigation.
But that doesn't dissuade, that's not going to dissuade foreign countries from trying to do this activity, especially now if they know that at least one candidate is open to their assistance.
COOPER: Jim, a lot of Republicans today were drawing a parallel between this and the Steele dossier, which was paid for in part by the Clinton campaign. Is it the same at all in terms of legality?
BAKER: No, it's apples and oranges. I mean, on the one hand, you're talking about as Director Mueller stated in his press statement, a concerted attack by military and intelligence elements of the Russian Federation. And so, that's just obviously unacceptable.
The Steele dossier, he was a foreign national to be sure who was hired by a group of Americans, the Democratic Party. So that's a totally different situation. I just don't think -- I think it's apples and oranges. It's really not comparable.
COOPER: Carrie, do you see it that way?
CORDERO: Well, I think in terms of what is going on in terms of the foreign intelligence operation, the activities that the Russian operatives are doing is they are conducting espionage. If we try to apply the campaign finance laws, the question has become what is the actual help.
So, would it be putting out trolls and the social media websites? Would that constitute help? Would putting a plant of an individual in a town hall meeting trying to ask a candidate a question, would that be an activity? Would it be obviously something like hacking and providing stolen materials would be an activity that would be a violation?
But what if they do it through a cut-through? What if they do it through a U.S. person and not a foreign national?
There are so many different variations and things that a foreign intelligence service could come up with that would fall outside the scope of particular interpretations of the law means that it's not just about the legality. It's about whether or not campaigns and the U.S. public think that this is OK to do. And that's the point that we have to continue to emphasize.
COOPER: Jim, what about the fact that the Mueller team looked into what Donald Trump Jr. did in terms of being open to get information to Hillary Clinton from people who said they were from the Russian government, and the Russian government was supporting his father, and they declined to and they did not move forward with the prosecution. Now, we obviously know, you know, the rules that they were operating under.
But does that provide any guidance on how this would be handled?
BAKER: Well, it provides some guidance -- I think so. It provides guidance on how they thought about it. I mean, clearly, it fell within the scope of their investigation. It was a matter worth investigating.
I think what they conclude at the end of the day was they simply couldn't obtain evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt all of the elements of the particular offense, in part because of this. The question raised with Carrie, this valuation of the thing of value that was provided to the campaign, and then also the issues that I mentioned before about the intent.
BAKER: But I agree with Carrie. Look, they -- our adversaries, the Russians in this kind of situation are very sophisticated and highly motivated, and they are very smart about what our laws are, and they're going to try to craft the operation of the future in 2020 in a way that will avoid these particular problems if they possibly can.
But they really don't care, honestly, about being caught, because they know it's going to be very difficult for the U.S. government to get its hands on these people and put them in court.
BAKER: A bunch of Russians that the Mueller team indicted, and it's unlikely that we're ever going to see them. That doesn't mean that the FBI and others shouldn't try to stop them and thwart them in whatever way they can, lawfully, of course.
James Baker, appreciate it. Carrie Cordero, as well.
Still to come, there's a lot to get to. Silent Sarah Sanders who hasn't held a White House briefing in more than 94 days, she is leaving the building. Not that anyone might notice, because we haven't had a press conference, as I said, in more than 90 days.
We'll get details on her departure.
[20:28:23] COOPER: Sarah Sanders did something highly unusual today. No, she didn't have a press conference or apologize for the lies she's told like the one about countless FBI agents grateful for James Comey ouster who are reaching out to her.
No. The unusual thing she did today is exit this White House effective at the end of the month, without major scandal forcing her out. In fact, the president tweeted she is, quote, a very special person with extraordinary talents, even floating a gubernatorial run.
When asked by reporters today if she regretted not holding more press conferences, she said, no, I don't. I still contend we are the most accessible White House. She may be leaving, but she's still lying.
Here to discuss, CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. His new book about reporting from the White House, "The Enemy of the People", includes his dealings with Sanders.
Also, former senior adviser to President Obama and CNN political commentator David Axelrod. And CNN political analyst Gloria Borger.
So, Jim, Sarah Sanders obviously has been a frequent sparring partner of yours. A, were you surprised by this announcement? And what do you make of it?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it's surprising that it came now. But, Anderson, there were rumblings that this was coming. I talked to a White House official earlier this afternoon who said, you know, listen, Sarah Sanders has been planning this for some time. She set this date a while ago. So this was not a huge surprise to people inside the White House.
You know, we saw Sarah Sanders talking to reporters just a short while ago. She said her immediate plans are to move back to Arkansas. We saw the president say he hopes she runs for political office. She said she has no plans for that at this point, but she is not ruling it out.
But, Anderson, we've had two press secretaries so far, Sean Spicer, and now Sarah Sanders, I think both have left a legacy of not being straight with the American people, and we just have to hope not only as journalists, but as citizens that the third try is a charm.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Gloria, I mean, I'd asked who's going to take over press briefings, but there hasn't been, you know, a press briefing in 94 days.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: 94 days.
COOPER: Which is, again, it's just remarkable.
BORGER: It is remarkable. And it almost doesn't matter who takes over Sarah Sanders' job or who goes before the podium. If anybody ever goes before the podium again, because this is a President who believes that nobody can talk to the American people as well as he can.
He doesn't trust anybody to do it, which is why you haven't seen Sarah Sanders out there very much. You've seen the President in front of his helicopter or on his way to Andrews.
COOPER: Right, that's not a press conference, isn't it?
BORGER: No, no, but he thinks, you get me. So isn't that better than getting somebody like Sarah Sanders. So he doesn't really understand the role of what the press secretary is supposed to be. The press secretary works for the government and the American people and not just Donald Trump.
COOPER: David, I mean, Sarah Sanders has been caught lying from the podium a number of times. She's in the Mueller report as -- admitting, you know, when she said that countless members of the FBI had called her, and another statement in that same genre. I mean, is that -- is that going to be her legacy, lying repeatedly for this President, because it's certainly Sean Spicer's legacy.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
COOPER: And I don't know what he is doing for a job, but I would find it hard to believe that a major corporation or, you know, group would have Sarah Sanders as a spokesperson.
AXELROD: So here's the problem. If you are the spokesperson for a habitual liar, it's like being fire marshal for a pyromaniac. You know, it's not going to end well for you. And the fact of the matter is that I thought she was a spectacular surrogate for Donald Trump in the campaign.
But in this job, she was called upon to choose between her fidelity to Trump and her fidelity to the truth, and she chose Trump. That actually may help her in a Republican primary in Arkansas, but as far as her legacy goes, her legacy has been described here. I mean, her legacy is one of defending the indefensible and not being truthful with the American people.
COOPER: Jim, I want to play an exchange between you and Sarah Sanders. I think it's from back of August of 2018.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: You did not say, in the course of those remarks that you just made, that the press is not the enemy of the people. Are we to take it from what you just said? We all get put through the ringer, we all get put in the meat grinder in this town, and you're no exception.
But, for the sake of this room, the people who are in this room, this democracy, this country, all the people around the world are watching what you're saying, Sarah, and the White House for the United States of America, the President of the United States should not refer to us as the enemy of the people.
His own daughter acknowledges that and all I'm asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I appreciate your passion. I share it. I've addressed this question. I've addressed my personal feelings. I'm here to speak on behalf of the President. He's made his comments clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I mean, it seem like at some point she forgot the press part of her title of press secretary.
ACOSTA: Yes. That's right, Anderson. I think she really acted as another employee of the Trump organization. And as David and Gloria were just saying a few moments ago, when you work as press secretary, you work on behalf of the American taxpayers. And we should just not be in the business -- I just recently put out a book about this, we should not be in the business of having the United States government referring to journalists or any segment of the population as the enemy of the people.
And I just thought that was a critical moment because Sarah had a moment there where she could have said, listen, I think I agree with what Ivanka Trump says when she said, no, I don't think the press is the enemy of the people. Kellyanne Conway recently told me that she disagrees with that assessment. too.
But when Sarah had that opportunity to disagree with what is really a repugnant thing to say about the press, I think she fell short of her duty to the American people, and it's going to be part of her legacy. And I think it's a cautionary tale for people who go to work for this President.
Do you get sucked into the vortex? Do you get sucked into the black hole, or are you going to work on behalf of the American people?
COOPER: Yes. I mean, Gloria, who gets out of the Trump White House alive with their reputation intact? I mean, who --
BORGER: You tell me. It's very hard to see. I mean, David was mentioning Sean Spicer, for example.
BORGER: She was saying she didn't want to --
COOPER: I think he is a special correspondent for extra if -- -- unless that's like a --
BORGER: I think so. I think so.
COOPER: -- nightmare sweat dream I had.
BORGER: And she said, you know, she was telling colleagues that she didn't just want to be an analyst on television. Well, I think she would have a very difficult time. Maybe on Fox she could be an analyst, but I think it would be very difficult for her.
COOPER: David, why does it -- I mean, look, I'm not trying to like make the media to be so important. But why does it matter that the White House no longer has press briefings to inform the American people and actually answer direct questions in-depth about their policies? Why should that matter?
[20:35:03] AXELROD: Well, let me just say, I don't think any press secretary or any president necessarily enjoys the exercise most of the time because the job of the media is to scrutinize government and shine a bright light in dark corners, and they don't want to answer those questions at time. But most presidents and most press secretaries feel its part of the obligation of their job.
The fact that she's going home to Arkansas is very telling. Her father was the governor of Arkansas. Donald Trump is very popular with Republicans in Arkansas. Republicans do well in Arkansas. And my guess is that she will end up somewhere in politics in the state of Arkansas where she won't pay a big penalty for having been Donald Trump's press secretary.
COOPER: Right. It was a dumb question I asked earlier, which is, you know, what kind of job can you get as a spokesperson after you've been lying. You can get a job in politics.
BORGER: Of course.
COOPER: I mean, David Axelrod, Gloria Borger, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Up next, federal watchdog agency recommends President Trump fire Kellyanne Conway. We'll explain why she is the first and what lines she allegedly crossed.
COOPER: Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings wants Kellyanne Conway to appear before his Oversight Committee after a watchdog agency today recommended to President Trump to fire her.
The Office of Special Counsel, no relation to Bob Mueller, says that Conway has repeatedly violated a law known as the Hatch Act which precludes federal workers from preaching politics on company time.
[20:40:09] This is what she said to a reporter just a few weeks ago when asked about at least one of the alleged violations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Office of Special Counsel, which says that you impermissibly mixed official government business with political (INAUDIBLE) --
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR OF THE PRESIDENT: Blah, blah. Listen --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- about candidates in the Alabama special election.
CONWAY: Blah, blah, blah. I'm sorry, are you talking about something from a year and a half ago? If you're trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it's not going to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not trying to silence you. The Office of Special Counsel said you violated it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kellyanne, it's (INAUDIBLE) --
CONWAY: Let me know when the jail sentence starts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The White House calls today's report deeply flawed and objects on a number of grounds, including a violation of Conway's free speech rights.
Joining me now is former special adviser to President Obama, Van Jones, former associate counsel in the White House's -- in the White House counsel's office under President Obama, Daniel Jacobson.
Van, Kellyanne Conway dismisses this entire line of questioning over the Hatch Act saying, blah, blah, blah, let me know when the prison sentence begins.
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
COOPER: Does she have anything to worry about?
JONES: Well, I mean, part of the problem is that she's making the joke that there is no criminal -- there's no penalty, that you don't go to jail for violating the Hatch Act. The problem is I think we now are in a world where we have to remind people why we pass these laws. It used to be -- you say, listen, you break the law, that's bad, everybody gets it.
Now, anyway (ph), I'm going to break the law, I don't really care. Why do we care about this? We do not want people who have the imprimatur of the U.S. government who are being paid by taxpayers to do the people's business to abuse that office, to abuse that opportunity, to abuse that platform to play petty politics to crap on other politicians, to try to put the opposition party in the gutter.
That's what happens in countries that we look down on and say you guys need to have better Democratic norms. Government officials and government rules shouldn't be playing politics and yet in the Hatch Act infringe (ph) that.
Kellyanne Conway doesn't seem to respect that particular law, that particular idea. There is no criminal penalty, so she may think she can get away with it. But, listen, this is not just rules for rule's sake, you know, just some little minor that doesn't matter. It really does matter.
If somebody is standing up representing the government, representing the White House, standing in front of the White House, wearing that honor, they should be doing the people's business, not the party's business, not the politicians' business. And the Hatch Act is the way we encourage people to do the right thing.
I think Kellyanne Conway, who by the way has done a great job on opioids and a bunch of other stuff she gets now credit for, would do better by her precedent, better by her country, better by her party and better by her career to have follow the rules and stick to the stuff she is supposed to be doing, which is actually moving forward an agenda for the American people.
COOPER: Daniel, I mean, the White House says, look, the judgment is -- they say deeply flawed and violated Conway's "constitutional rights to free speech and due process." Are they right?
DANIEL JACOBSON, FORMER ASSOCIATE COUNSEL TO PRES. OBAMA: No. So the Hatch Act is a law that's been around for decades, and the Supreme Court has said and other courts have reaffirmed that, yes, of course, government employees continue to have First Amendment rights.
But despite that, there are very legitimate compelling reasons, some of the reasons that Van gave, as to why we would want to limit the ability of government employees who are being paid with taxpayer money to advocate for or against a political candidate for office. So that sort of argument has been rejected by the Supreme Court and other courts going back decades.
COOPER: Van, you know, I've talked to Jen Psaki about this before who, you know, is that -- if you work in the White House, and she worked in the White House obviously under Obama, you're well aware of the rules regarding this and you take great care not to violate them. This is not some arcane guideline that is suddenly been found in a centuries old text somewhere in a library.
JONES: No. Listen, I don't know about you, but the first two days when you work in the White House, they put you in a room with a whole bunch of lawyers and government officials, and you literally spend two whole days saying, "If you do this, you go to jail. If you do this, you go to jail. If you do this, you're breaking the law."
And by the time you leave, you're like, "I don't know if I want this job. There are so many ways for me to get in trouble." And, you know, then you've got the ethics people all over you. So this is not an accident. If she's doing this, she's doing it consciously and knowingly.
And like I said, she actually is doing stuff that she never gets praise for on opioids and other stuff. I think when you break the rules, we've got focus on that. Just follow the rules like all the rest of us did in the White House. You can still get your guy re- elected, but you don't have to do it this way.
COOPER: Daniel, I mean, the reality is the only precedent who decides what happens to Kellyanne Conway is the President of the United States in this case.
JACOBSON: Yes, I think it's interesting and important to clarify. The Office of Special Counsel for career employees, regular career employees, they have authority to institute disciplinary action themselves.
And they even said in their report today that if Ms. Conway was any other regular career employee, they would institute disciplinary action and, in fact, recommend her termination. But because she's a political appointee in the White House, all they can do is recommend to the president that he take disciplinary action and they obviously recommended that he take the most extreme disciplinary action possible.
[20:45:03] COOPER: Yes. Well, I doubt that's going to happen. Daniel Jacobson, thanks, Van Jones, as well.
JACOBSON: I doubt it also. COOPER: Yes. A programming note, this Sunday at 9:00 p.m., don't miss the "Redemption Project with Van Jones." He travels to Indiana to meet two brothers whose father was shot and killed when he tried to stop a robbery.
Up next, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responds to President Trump's blistering attack against her on the sacred ground in Normandy.
COOPER: Speaker Nancy Pelosi not mincing words tonight as she responds to President Trump's criticism of her at Normandy. You may recall they were both overseas in France marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. At one point the President did a T.V. interview, lash out at Speaker Pelosi calling her a "nasty, vindictive horrible person" for telling lawmakers she wanted him to go to prison.
Tonight in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria at the Counsel on Foreign Relations here in New York, Speaker Pelosi said it was "beyond inappropriate what he said." She also said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:50:09] REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We were right there at Normandy with the tombstones behind us and the rest so I just wasn't going to engage in it, but I never do. Anyway, it's our practice. When he then came on T.V. later in front of the same tombstones and started saying all of this stuff, it was so beyond inappropriate. I felt really sorry for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And beyond inappropriate, I felt sorry for him, she says. Chris Cuomo joins me now. Tough words from Nancy Pelosi. It's also interesting on this day that Sarah Sanders is leaving. I don't know what hand Sarah Sanders had in, you know, setting up that interview with tombstones in the background knowing the President would, you know, say what he was going to say.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, look, I think that's a pretty tough job. You know, you don't really know when he's going to do what he's going to do and even why. I think, look, I think the puzzle for the Democrats is how do you balance calling out what you must, you know, something we struggle with also from time to time. What do you expose? What do you ignore? And then for the Democrats, how do they motivate their understanding of this President into the agenda?
For Biden you hear him say now he's a threat to national security. That's what you're hearing Democrats say about this President. He's a threat to the country. He's a threat to national security. Is that sellable with the American people?
Nancy Pelosi is going the poignancy route of, you know, I feel sorry for him. I wonder if she actually does. I don't know that any of them actually feel sorry for him. But what they should feel sorry for is the complete inaction that this dynamic has yielded. COOPER: Yes. What are you covering tonight? What do you got?
CUOMO: So, we got Andrew McCabe, the man who took over for Jim Comey once he got ousted. What does he think of the President's words? What does he think about investigating the investigators? Let's dig into a little bit about what he'll reveal about the motivations of people at that time.
And here's a provocative question. If, God forbid, Russia were successful in interfering again and they seem to help the Trump campaign, would this DOJ, would this A.G. even open an investigation? What does McCabe think about that? We'll ask him.
COOPER: Well, it is an interesting question. Chris, thanks very much. We'll see you about eight minutes from now.
Breaking news, new details that could shed light on what's behind a burning tanker in one of the world's most dangerous hotspots.
[20:55:58] COOPER: There's breaking news tonight in a tense confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. It involves two tankers burning in the gulf of Oman. The question, were they attacked and if so, by whom? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today said the Iranians are to blame.
CNN's Barbara Starr now reports that U.S. officials say there's new video and photos, which we have yet to either see or verify, that show an Iranian naval vessel removing an unexploded mine attached to the hull of one of the tankers. Again, we have not yet seen that video so we can't confirm it.
Joining me now is retired Naval Officer Kirk Lippold, who is commander of the USS Cole in 2001 who was bombed by al-Qaeda in a Yemeni port killing 17 sailors. Commander Lippold, good to have you on the program.
Again, we haven't independently seen this video but if it's true that an Iranian navy boat removed an unexploded mine from a Japanese chemical tanker, how do you interpret that?
KIRK LIPPOLD, FORMER COMMANDER, USS COLE: If we actually have the video, and I'm sure that's going to come out overtime once the intelligence community reviews, declassifies it and then we can put it out, I think it's going to clearly show that there is some action by the Iranian government or their proxies to interfere with the free flow of shipping and oil going in and out of the Middle East.
And this is exactly what I've said before is that we need to find irrefutable proof and share it with the world, just like we did back in the late 1980s when the tanker wars were going on.
COOPER: I mean, if they are removing an unexploded mine from a Japanese chemical tanker, why would that be? LIPPOLD: There'd be only one reason, they put it there. And I think that we have to look at it. These may only be half of the coin, Anderson. I think what we may need to look at is OK. These boats that came out, where did they come from? What were they doing there? What path did they follow?
Do we have any other overhead imagery over the last several days, if not weeks, to determine how they put those mines into place? How did they get that close to do it? Or what mechanics did they follow?
I think there's still a lot for the intelligence community to still do here. We want to make sure we put the pieces together properly, because if we are in fact going to blame Iran, we need to make sure that we have rock solid evidence that the international community can see and that they can follow the path from the time the Iranian government thought of it to the time they installed it to when now we show them removing it.
COOPER: But why would -- I mean, there's something that I'm missing it. Why would they remove it if they had installed it in the first place, because --
LIPPOLD: Proof. Basically they want to -- if you get a hold of something like that, I'm sure just like what was declassified in April when you look at the explosive foreign projectiles that were showing up both in Iraq and Afghanistan that had the Iranian markings.
I mean, you talked to the soldiers that served over there, they clearly knew they came from Iran. Now, if we have a mine and we can prove that it came from Iran, that's also going to be part of the puzzle as well.
COOPER: What are the similarities between the way these two tankers were damaged and the way the other four have been?
LIPPOLD: Well, I've not been able to find out exactly the mechanics of the explosives that were used and the similarities. But when you look at the pictures we've seen so far, how it clearly was an external explosion because all the metal is shoved inward, similar to what happened on my ship, you can pretty much tell they were external to the ship. Some type of explosive device had to be placed there or something had to go next to it.
It could have been a mine, but now that we're starting to see these limpet mines that have been attached to ships and have detonated in one case, another one removed off that same ship, that's clearly giving us some of the indication of what they're doing and how they're doing about interfering with these ships and causing these explosions.
COOPER: We only have about 30 seconds left, but you say these are similar, the situations in the gulf in the '80s.
LIPPOLD: Absolutely. During the 1980s, we had to put ships to escort vessels in and out because of the on going Iran and Iraq war. They were mining the shipping lanes up in the North Arabian Gulf coming all the way down to the straight before moves. We knew the Iranians were doing it. The international community felt they were doing it, but it wasn't until the U.S. was able to have overhead cameras. I believe it was on a helicopter --
LIPPOLD: -- actually showing an Iranian boat putting those mines into the water that we then had the proof that we took to the United Nations that caused us to take action.
COOPER: Commander Lippold, appreciate talking to you always. Thank you.
The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?
CUOMO: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Prime Time."