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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
One-Time Pal of Trump, Clinton Charged in Alleged Underage Sex Scheme; President Trump Fires Back at U.K. Ambassador Who Called His Admin "Clumsy" and "Inept"; Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is Interviewed About Trump No Longer Dealing with U.K. Ambassador and Iran Increasing Uranium Enrichment. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 8, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:19] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
Tonight, a man who virtually defined the term "shadowy socialite" is back in federal custody, accused among other things of exploiting minors for sex and pressuring them to recruit new victims.
And yes, this is the second time for Jeffrey Epstein who appeared in federal court today. He was arrested yesterday shortly after touching down in his private jet in an airport outside New York, eleven years after cutting what's described as a lenient plea deal on similar allegations.
And as heinous as the allegations are against him, this story has the possibility of getting much bigger and much uglier because the man who made that plea deal for Epstein is now a member of President Trump's cabinet. He's the Labor Secretary Alex Acosta.
And the man who Epstein hobnobbed with including Britain's Prince Andrew, former President Bill Clinton, and yes, President Trump, whose Palm Beach mansion, Mar-a-Lago, is just a mile down the road from Epstein's.
But tonight, the man with homes around the world as well as his own private island is in a federal lockup.
Our Shimon Prokupecz joins us now from outside federal court in Lower Manhattan. So, if true, these new charges -- I mean, they are beyond disturbing. What a prosecutor saying they have found so far?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. And they have found a lot, Anderson. And we learned today that this just makes everything much worse as despicable as a lot of this is, we learned today that prosecutors, investigators, when they entered Epstein's home in his upper eastside mansion, they found what they called a vast trove of lewd photos.
Thousands of nude photos depicting underage girls they believed. They also found a safe, and inside that safe what they say is that what they found CD-ROMs and on them, there were different labels, one of them saying young name and name, there's another one said miscellaneous news, and a third CD said girl pick news. So, obviously, a lot of evidence that prosecutors here are continuing to gather.
The other thing we learned is that before prosecutors went into the homes, mansion on the Upper East Side, one of the victims described the room, a room they would be brought to where they would eventually have to perform sexual acts with Epstein. They say that the room looked exactly the same that it did 15 years ago when some of the victims were brought there, Anderson.
COOPER: And had we heard from him or his attorneys?
PROKUPECZ: So, his attorneys only spoke in court. He has not spoken. The only words he added to that he pleaded not guilty. Outside of that, it's been his attorneys.
And what they are saying is that this case is that this case is a do- over. That this already been investigated in Florida, and prosecutors here are violating a non-prosecution agreement that he, Epstein, made with his attorneys and with government officials back in 2008. And that bringing these charges all over again is essentially just a do- over.
And then there was a couple of different interesting moments in court where his attorney, Reid Weingarten, tried to argue that because there was no force use here, that prosecutors can't charge a statutory sex trafficking charges here. And then he and the judge had an exchange in the judge said, well, you are arguing there may not have been a rape here, but there may have been statutory rape. And the attorney said, well, yes, statutory rape. And then realizing what he had said, perhaps admitting that his client had committed these heinous crimes, he said I'm having a senior moment, what I mean is that no rape occurred because there was no penetration.
And these are the kind of arguments that I think we are going to be seeing from his attorneys going forward, Anderson.
COOPER: A spokesman for former President Bill Clinton, who knew Jeffrey Epstein, as travel on his private jet multiple times, tweeted out a statement today. What did not say?
PROKUPECZ: Yes. So that statement said, and let me read that to you, it's as quote: President Clinton knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York.
Obviously, the fallout here is why given Epstein's connections to many politicians, many wealthy people. For now, we have only heard from the spokesperson from President Clinton. Obviously, there are other high powered people who are connected to Epstein. We have not yet heard from them.
COOPER: Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate it.
More now in the cases both then and now against Jeffrey Epstein, more as well on powerful figures who shared his company, and in some cases face serious allegations because of it.
[20:05:04] Here's our Randi Kaye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All Jeffrey carried about was go find me more girls. His appetite was insatiable.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeffrey as in Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund manager investigated for child sexual abuse and trafficking underage women. The multimillionaire worked on Wall Street for years at Bear Stearns before opening his own investment firm.
Back in 2006, the FBI began investigating his alleged activities with young girls who today are in their twenties and thirties. Some spoke to "The Miami Herald".
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've seen hundreds and hundreds of girls go through Jeffrey's swinging door, his ever revolving door.
KAYE: Dozens of them all with similar stories of sexual abuse, even down to the details of what Epstein's genitals look like.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would want us to stand next to him and he would masturbate while he stared at us, touched us.
VIRGINIA ROBERTS, ALLEGED VICTIM: It ended with sexual abuse and intercourse, and then a pat on the back. You've done a really good job. Like, thank you very much. Here is $200.
KAYE: Epstein reportedly paid more at the girls engage in oral sex or intercourse, according to the police. And they all say Epstein wanted them to recruit other young girls to bring to them.
COURTNEY WILD, ALLEGED VICTIM: By the time I was 16, I brought him up to 75 girls, all the ages of 14, 15, 16, people were all from a three to ninth grade at school parties. That's where I would recruit them from.
KAYE (on camera): Here at Epstein's Palm beach homes is where much of the alleged abuse took place. According to court documents, as far back as 2001, it's believed Epstein began luring underage girls here with the help of those who work for him. Most of the girls ranged in age from 13 to 16 and came from disadvantaged homes. They had never before seen the exclusive Palm Beach Island.
ROBERTS: The training started immediately. Everything down to how to be quiet, be subservient, give Jeffrey what he wants. Before you know it, I'm being lent out to politicians and to academics.
KAYE (voice-over): Years later in the 2014 court document, one of the women claimed she had been an underage sex slave to obscene, claiming he forced her to have sex with some of his powerful friends, including Prince Andrew, the duke of York, once at an orgy on Epstein's island. She would have been 17 at the time. Buckingham Palace has vehemently denied the accusations. Court documents say Epstein often ran with the rich and powerful,
Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and his to high-profile defense attorneys Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz.
In 2002, "New York Magazine" quoted Trump saying this about obscene: He's a lot of fun to be with, it is even said the he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the on younger side.
The same woman who accused Prince Andrew who also claimed in that court filing from 2014 that Epstein required her to have sexual relations with Dershowitz on numerous occasions while she was a minor in Florida and aboard his private plane. Dershowitz denies all of it.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: She said I had sex with him on Jeffrey Epstein's airplanes. The flight manifest will prove conclusively I was never on any airplanes with her. I never met this woman. I never touched her eye. I was never massaged by her.
KAYE: Federal investigators had identified at least 36 girls and were still building their case when suddenly in 2008, Epstein made a sweetheart deal. This non-prosecution agreement allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser charge, just two prostitution charges in a state court and register as a sex offender. He would serve just 13 months in county jail.
The deal also granted immunity to any potential coconspirators. None of those people were identified, leaving many to wonder if other powerful people were having sex with underage girls at Epstein's homes. The deal shut down the FBI's investigation into additional victims and accomplices, and any chance of Epstein going to prison for life, based on the FBI's own federal indictment that would have charged him with sex crimes.
MIKE FISTEN, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: I read the indictment. It was multiple allegations of sex trafficking, trafficking girls across lines, using his airplane to traffic girls, witness intimidation, and then, all of a sudden, it disappeared.
KAYE: The deal was negotiated in part by Epstein's friend and defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and signed off by then U.S. attorney in Miami, Alexander Acosta, who today as President Donald Trump's secretary of labor.
FISTEN: He's supposed to be protecting these victims and he was protecting Jeffrey Epstein, a pedophile.
KAYE: At his confirmation hearing for labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, try to explain his decision not to prosecute Epstein federally.
[20:10:04] ALEXANDER ACOSTA, SECRETARY OF LABOR: Professionals within a prosecutors' office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone's registered generally is a good thing. KAYE: And despite a federal law which says victims must be notified
of this type of deal, Epstein's victims were kept in the dark until after it was signed and approved by the judge. But he did have to pay restitution to the identified victims.
(on camera): Meanwhile in February, 11 years after Epstein was sentenced, a federal judge here in Florida ruled at Acosta and another officials from the Department of Justice violated the Crime Victims Rights Act by not notifying the alleged victims of the plea deal until after it was signed. The judge noted that prosecutors misled the victims by allowing them to believe that a federal prosecution was still a possibility.
(voice-over): President Trump was asked in February about the allegations leveled at his labor secretary.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know he's done a great job as labor secretary. And that seems like a long time ago.
WILD: It's scary because this is our government that's supposed to protect us, but has done everything to protect, you know, a pedophile.
KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach, Florida.
COOPER: Joining us now, two former federal prosecutors who experienced cases like these, CNN legal analysts Laura Coates and Shan Wu.
So, Laura, can you first please explain why this isn't a case of double jeopardy? Because essentially his attorneys are saying that they are just trying to take another shot at the, you know, at the same crimes.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, it's not taking a second bite at the apple when it involves new victims and new allegations. And, by the way, it's a new jurisdiction. We're talking about cases involving maybe crossing over state lines, from Florida to, say, New York, new victims, new underage people, new information, and a new FBI investigation. If there is not an exact overlap and it involves new things, no double jeopardy.
COOPER: Have you ever seen a deal like obscene originally received back in 2008? I mean, being able to keep any coconspirators did they get any immunity, their names aren't even mentioned, you know, and he registered as a sex offender and does little time.
COATES: This is a sweetheart deal that's made of fiction. I've never seen -- I've actually prosecuted sex crimes, and the idea of having a sweetheart deal where you just say, while I could have federal charges but go ahead with state charges, I'm not going to notify the victims, I'm not going to give them a voice in court, I'm going to allowed somebody to leave, what, 12 hours a day to go to a nice, cushy office, have a private wing and still be a pedophile, that does not happen. As this just not happen, Anderson, the idea of saying anyone who
potentially helped facilitate underage who have been sexually abused gets immunity, that's a shocking in and of itself, especially since the labor secretary oversees human trafficking now.
COOPER: Shan, I mean, the same deal as we are just saying, included any potential coconspirators, that just seems very unusual or is it not?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that is very unusual, Anderson, particularly because they did not get any bang for the buck. If they gave people immunity, you want them to give more evidence to build a bigger case, and they didn't. They built a tiny Mickey Mouse of a case after all that, and the real horror here, of course, is all of these allegations indicate that victims -- dozens of them could have been spared these assaults had the prosecution and Secretary Acosta done their job back in 2008.
And the same children, these are children let's remember, they are the real heroes, they face enormous coercion not only in the age difference but the power dynamic difference, and it is just a real horror. They cannot -- it is an injustice that I cannot be righted even now through the prosecutions, that all these things happened to these children when it could have been prevented.
COOPER: I mean, Laura, you had the woman saying that she personally, you know, recruited, I think she said more than 70, you know, young people to go through his place, what is it say to you that this case is being handled by the SDNY's public corruption unit? Does it suggest that some public officials could be under the microscope? Why would it be public corruption?
COATES: Well, first, the idea that maybe a minor has recruited other victims, is treated differently in the law that say an employer, associated, who maybe of age, and adult would treat that a little bit differently had the abuse been the same but treated differently.
The idea that the public corruption unit, that is a question here, Anderson. On the one hand, you are saying that unit is devoted to people who are elected officials, not billionaire hedge funds. So, it says to me that there is some reason that they have it, either an official is implicated in some way high level or low level, it may be that money laundering or tax crimes or things like that, or corruption, may be part of the overarching investigation or it may be that the associations who once were known to be immunized in Florida no longer have that same carte blanche in the state of New York.
[20:15:00] And so, we have a kind of wide open gamut here of what it actually means. It is a serious offense, and a serious unit to actually prosecute this.
COOPER: Yes. Laura Coates, Shan Wu, appreciate it. Thank you.
More to come, no doubt.
Up next, we have breaking news. What President Trump is saying about Britain's ambassador to the U.S. after a leaked diplomatic cable showed the envoy called him and his administration insecure and inept.
COOPER: There's breaking news tonight. A source tells CNN the British ambassador to the United States has been disinvited to a dinner this evening with President Trump, the treasury secretary and emir of Qatar. The president has tweeted that his administration will no longer deal with the Ambassador Kim Darroch, this after a series of leaked cables to Downing Street from the ambassador which in blistering language described the Trump administration as, quote, inept and clumsy, unquote.
The cables also said the president's career, again, quoting, could end disgrace and described conflicts in the White House as knife fights.
[20:20:07] A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May says she has whole faith in the ambassador but does not agree with his comments.
Joining me now, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Murphy, I wonder your reaction is to the president saying he will no longer due to the British ambassador? Is that the appropriate response to these leaked cables? Because it does seem like this is the kind of thing, you know, probably State Department ambassadors, you know, send in cables all the time describing other folks.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Yes. I mean, the news here is that pretty sensitive cables call leaked, the news is not the ambassador of the United States is making an assessment that there is a dysfunction at the White House. If the president refused to deal with everyone in Washington who privately assessed his White House as dysfunctional, he would have no one to deal with because Republicans and Democrats alike, of course, share that assessment.
So, yes, maybe he is going to disinvite the ambassador from a few public meetings but, of course, we still have a important relationship with Britain that has been as dysfunctional as any bilateral relationship under Trump. But this really isn't news, the ambassador was doing his job, assessing a White House that is spiraling out of control and he needs to tell that to his bosses back in London.
COOPER: Does it impact U.S.-British relations long term?
MURPHY: Well, I mean, our relations with Europe are pretty miserable right now and the president is in the process of attempting to blow up the European Union, cheerleading Britain out of that economic association. He has been critical of NATO threatening to walk the United States out of that alliance, he has withdrawn from the Iranian nuclear agreement. Britain was a party to that, Britain has to stay in.
So, this is a relationship that has been in big trouble for the last two years. I don't necessarily think that this is going to inject any more instability into the relationship that the president has made pretty unstable for a while.
COOPER: You mentioned Iran. I was to talk about that. How concerned are you that Iran has breached the uranium enrichment limit that was set in the nuclear deal and are apparently prepared to go even further?
MURPHY: So I'm concerned but I think that it is entirely predictable when the president pulled out of this agreement, there was really no reason for the Iranians to stay in it. Now, it is important to note that what the Iranians said is they're going to move from 3 percent enrichment to 5 percent enrichment, not the 20 percent level that would get them to a nuclear weapon.
And what they are telegraphing is that they desperately want to reengage, now just with the United States but with the world community. They want to find a way to have an economic partnership with the United States and once again for safety or nuclear agreement. But the president sends mixed signals to them. Some days he says he's going to blow them off the face of the earth and other days he says he wants to engage and talk to them.
So I think the Iranians are making a clear that they are going to take steps to restart this program, but they're also sending a message that they would rather be in an agreement than outside an agreement.
COOPER: It is also interesting to imagine what Iran he's thinking imagining the president embrace Kim Jong-un in the way that he has and, you know, quote, you know, talk about love letters that essentially have been sent to the president and how great these letters are and the floating idea of accepting a nuclear North Korea at the level they are right now.
MURPHY: Yes, part of the reason why the ambassador assesses the White House is completely dysfunctional when it comes to foreign policies is because there is no consistency about anything we do in the world, we are wrapping are arms around one rogue nuclear regime in North Korea, while we are spurning and refusing to talk to another would-be nuclear power Iran. Iran looks at this cozy relationship between Kim and Trump and says, well, I guess the only way that you get the year and the love of the president of the United States is to get a nuclear weapon outside of the international nonproliferation regime.
And so, if I'm Iran, I certainly think to myself, well, maybe, I'm better off outside the agreement. I think it's remarkable that the Iranians are still telegraphing to the United States and the world community that they would rather be without nuclear weapons even given the signs that Trump is sending with these cozy relations with North Korea.
COOPER: Interesting. Senator Murphy, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next, the new reporting on the almost unspeakable conditions at one already notorious migrant detention center. That and the president's attack on the messengers, as well as top administration officials' explanation, the problem as he sees it. We'll keep them honest.
[02:28:48] COOPER: The long holiday weekend began with president claiming that migrants in custody on the border are, quote, living far better now than where they came from. He said that despite reporting, including by the Department of Homeland Security's own inspector general about how awful those conditions have been.
And now in the face of new reporting by the "New York Times" and "El Paso Times" on the Clint facility near El Paso, Texas, he is tweeting again and I'm quoting now: The fake news media, in particular the failing @NewYorkTimes is writing phony and exaggerated accounts on the border detention centers. First of all, people should not be entering our country illegally only for us to then have to care for them.
He continues: We should be allowed to focus on the United States citizens first. Border Patrol and others in law enforcement are doing a great job.
Now, in a moment, earlier from the top administration official who says conditions have greatly improved in just the last few weeks. But keeping them honest, the president is not saying that. He says the accounts are phony or exaggerated.
Given all the reporting on Clint and other detention centers, it's hard to see how that could be so. "The Times" reporting is based on accounts of current and former border agents and supervisors and includes sworn statements by those who spent time at Clint.
Quoting now: Outbreaks of scabies, shingles, and chicken fox were spreading among the hundreds of children who were being held in cramped cells, agents said. The stench of the children's dirty clothing was so strong, it spread to agents' own clothing. People in town would scrunch their noses when they left work."
It goes on, "The Times" saying, "The children cried constantly. One girl seemed likely enough to try to kill herself that the agents made her sleep on a cot next to them, so they could watch her as they were processing new arrivals."
The report alleges that Customs and Border Protection leadership "knew for months that some children had no beds to sleep on, no way to clean themselves and sometimes went hungry." And if Clint were the only facility in question, it would be troubling enough.
But according to a new report, and this one is from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, it's not, and I'm quoting from the inspector general's report, "most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month. At some facilities, border patrol was giving detainees wet- wipes to maintain personal hygiene."
Again, the President saying this is fake news or exaggerated. To their credit, his senior officials are not. They're not saying that exactly without explicitly confirming the accounts are now saying that there were problems, challenges they call them, but they're now in the past. Here's the acting DHS secretary over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING DHS SECRETARY: On June 1st we had 2,500 children in our custody. 1,200 had been with us over three days. Now that we have the supplemental from Congress, HHS has additional beds. We only have 350 as of yesterday afternoon's report and only 20 of those children have been with us more than three days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, for starters, it should be pointed out that these facilities were never intended for children in the first place in any number for any length of time. As for the numbers themselves, we can only take the acting secretary on faith and given all the reporting over the last several months from so many different sources, including the government itself, it's a heavy lift, especially given that when CNN's Nick Valencia was allowed into the Clint facility late last month it was a sham.
A CBP official with firsthand knowledge telling CNN, "The agency prepped for you guys." Adding, "It's a never ending cat and mouse game." Given all of that, the burden of proof would seem to be on the administration, but so far they've chosen to make it as difficult as possible to get a look at what is really happening inside these facilities.
Perspective now from Ken Cuccinelli, the new Acting Director of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, I spoke to him earlier this evening.
COOPER: Acting Director Cuccinelli, I want to talk about these facilities that we've been hearing so much about. Did operators at the Clint facility, as "The New York Times" reported, know for months that these migrant kids had no beds, no ability to clean themselves and went hungry? Because that allegation, you know, was based not on only inspection reports but also sworn statements from people who were at the facility.
KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZEN AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: Right. Of course, folks in that position have their own incentives. I would say in these facilities there has been overcrowding, which has been warned of since 2018 at the severe level by DHS Secretary Nielsen back when she was the secretary, spoke about it in 2018 and it took all the way until June to get some help, particularly focused on the children with the recent small appropriations bill.
That helped clear out a lot of the children taken down from about 2,500 in these facilities down to about 350 with only a very small number there, more than 72 hours. So once we got in the case of the children, the facilities that were appropriate for the numbers we were seeing, the problem was alleviated.
Before that, there was overcrowding and with it all of the accompanying challenges both security and care for the individuals because that's eating up a lot of manpower on the boarder.
COOPER: But it seems like -- I mean, agents at the Clint facility were raising red flags about it. You know, you have the inspector general report, which wasn't about the Clint facility, but about another facility which also had, you know, the same issue going on.
CUCCINELLI: Well, but there's very little that can be done about the raw numbers on our side except to process them as quickly as we can. And the border patrol became -- has gotten a lot of attention in this regard, but realized why those people stay in border patrol facilities that are not designed for as many people as they've seen during 2019 and that is that the next stage in the pipeline, which is ICE, their beds are over subscribed already.
And in the case of children, HHS didn't have enough beds for unaccompanied children for instance. And so as the children's situation was alleviated, the numbers were brought back within the parameters that we aimed for under 72-hour time with children for instance.
And if ICE got the same support that HHS got in the recent appropriation bill, we would see the same kind of change and shift with respect to adults.
COOPER: You know, you're putting the blame essentially just on the large numbers of people coming across. Critics would also point to Trump administration policies of family separation, which was meant to be a deterrent to stop people from coming across.
[20:35:09] CUCCINELLI: Right.
COOPER: And I guess it clearly -- it wasn't because the numbers seem to continue. But it also complicated the matter of how -- where these kids were put and how they were kept, no?
CUCCINELLI: Well, certainly all these things are related, Anderson, all of them. And, you know, my agency handles asylum. The reality is there are people in this population who are legitimately seeking asylum in this country, and that pipeline is being swamped by fraudulent claims, by people who have no chance of getting asylum but we give massive due process that takes time, effort, manpower and facilities to accomplish. And it's very hard to manage at the design levels that we have right now.
COOPER: Acting Director Cuccinelli, appreciate your time.
CUCCINELLI: Good to be with you.
COOPER: Well, coming up on a day the President praised his record on the environment, a CNN investigation to a plan development in the Arizona desert given a big boost by a developer connected with President Trump's interior secretary. Details ahead.
COOPER: President Trump defended his record on the environment today saying in a White House speech that his administration wants "the cleanest air and crystal clean water."
[20:40:02] During his administration, of course, United States has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement and environmentalists say his speech was an effort to appeal to voter whose site worries about clean air and water as one of the biggest concerns. Among those in attendance, the new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the same David Bernhardt who before becoming the interior secretary was an oil industry lobbyist.
Drew Griffin has been keeping a close eye on Mr. Bernhardt for months now reporting on among other things, allegations he's given special preference to former clients for drilling permits.
Tonight, a new report from Drew that you'll only see on "360" deals with the controversial development in water parks Arizona that's owned by, you guess it, another person connected to Secretary Bernhardt. Here is Drew's report.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Villages at Vigneto is a massive housing development being planned in this Arizona desert east of Tucson but like all development in Arizona, water is an issue, especially for wildlife.
And U.S. Fish and Wildlife Supervisor Steve Spangle thought before putting in all those homes, golf courses and potentially 70,000 people, government scientists should look carefully at how the project would impact the nearby San Pedro River.
STEVE SPANGLE, FORMER FIELD SUPERVISOR, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE: We wanted them to assess how much water was going to be withdrawn from the aquaphor.
GRIFFIN: The EPA had said years earlier that developing the site represented a substantial and unacceptable impact, though the Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for an earlier project on the site. Spangle decided before the new Villages at Vigneto could move forward a full scale biological assessment was needed. That was October 2016, then his happened.
What followed was a series of events pieced together by CNN that shows a developer with connections to the Trump administration was able to push his project forward despite environmental concerns.
It was just seven months into the new administration Steve Spangle received an unusual phone call.
SPANGLE: It was one of our solicitors, one of our attorneys from Washington and she told me that she had gotten a call from a high- level political appointee within the Department of the Interior who informed her that our position out here in Arizona was not the position to the administration.
GRIFFIN: Spangle says the lawyer from the Interior Department told him he needed to reverse his earlier decision on that environmental assessment for the project.
SPANGLE: I felt I had a duty. I work for the administration. I have to do what I'm told, and so I did. I felt pressured to reverse my decision. In its simplest terms I was rolled.
GRIFFIN: Spangle followed orders, reversed his decision and four months later retired. Environmentalists are livid.
TRICIA GERRODETTE, TUCSON AUDUBON SOCIETY: We're supposed to work under the laws and science. And science was over ridden here.
GRIFFIN: This is the developer. Mike Ingram is part owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He donated more than $50,000 to Donald Trump's political committees, co-chaired a cancelled inauguration fundraiser that promised half million dollar donors a hunting trip with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and private reception with the President. He's connected to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, too.
Ingram is the director of the Safari Club International Foundation, a group Bernhardt once represented. And since Donald Trump became president, Ingram has enjoyed easy access to Trump administration decision makers who oversee his interest.
Schedules obtained by CNN show at least 11 meetings, phone calls or e- mails with top Trump administration officials, including then EPA Chief Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke who was Secretary of the Interior.
And CNN has learned that in August of 2017 Mike Ingram met up with his old lobbyist friend and then Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the first of at least five meetings with him. This secret meeting, not on any public calendar, was a private breakfast held at Mike Ingram's hunting lodge in Montana.
Just two weeks later, Fish and Wildlife Supervisor Steve Spangle got that unusual call from Washington and The Villages at Vigneto development was on track again. A lawsuit by environmentalist filed earlier this year now has the project on hold.
Ingram will not talk to CNN. He has hired one of Washington's most powerful lawyers to speak on his behalf, Lanny Davis, a Democrat.
LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY, EL DORADO HOLDINGS: The innuendo is, well, he's close to Trump, there must have been political influence. That's just innuendo. I can't see any evidence that there was any influence, whatsoever, politically. Not even --
GRIFFIN (on camera): This guy has unprecedented access to David Bernhardt. On August 18th, 2017 he invites him for breakfast, isn't that right?
DAVIS: So, yes, that's right.
GRIFFIN: At his hunting lodge.
[20:45:00] DAVIS: At his hunting lodge.
GRIFFIN: And then shortly after that, that the phone call is made to Mr. Spangle telling him, "We want you to change your decision."
DAVIS: And you now have done an incomplete narrative of the facts so let's do the rest of the facts, please.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): He explains the Army Corps of Engineers asked about Spangle's complaint. The Fish and Wildlife Service looked into it and found no evidence Spangle's reversal was unjustified. And it's all in a new official letter handed to CNN by Lanny Davis just days after CNN first reached out to Ingram for comment on this story.
(on camera) CNN calls and suddenly there is a brand new letter that comes out and reaffirms that everything is OK and by the way, in that letter, nobody from Washington had anything to do with this. I mean, Mr. Davis, with all due respect, that sounds like a pretty slick move.
DAVIS: So if you're discussing innuendo and fog, I completely agree. If you focus on facts, the facts are that the Army Corps of Engineer made a decision on the facts under the law.
GRIFFIN: Did you have anything to do with that letter?
GRIFFIN: Did Mr. Ingram have anything to do with that letter?
DAVIS: No. I would say on camera that sometimes bad luck happens to me when I'm working for a client. In this case it was just pure luck that I read this letter just before the CNN interview and I said there is a God in heaven.
COOPER: Drew, this just seems like another in a long line of possible favors being granted by the Interior Department to David Bernhardt's old clients or industry friends. Is it?
GRIFFIN: You know, Anderson, we sent a list of questions about all of this to the Department of Interior and Secretary David Bernhardt. He snubbed us before and for this story. All we got was a one-sentence reply saying the Fish and Wildlife Service looked at this, everything is fine. That may be OK to blow us off, but Congress is now demanding answers. The House Committee on Natural Resources just sent a letter saying they're opening an investigation into all of this. Anderson?
COOPER: All right. Drew, we'll stay on it. Thank you.
Up next, who's hauling in the cash in the 2020 Democratic presidential race and which Democratic candidate today called it quits, ahead.
[20:51:23] COOPER: Senator Elizabeth Warren's momentum in the 2020 presidential race is fueling her fundraising. According to Warren's campaign, she's raised $19.1 million in April, May and June, topping Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, trailing only Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.
Congressman Eric Swalwell for his part is ending his presidential bid, making him the first major 2020 candidate to call a quits. Swalwell failed to gain traction in the crowd of field despite heavy campaigning in key states and national attention he got when he challenged Biden on a debate stage last month to pass the torch to a younger generation.
Chris Cuomo joins us now. Chris, you had a big interview with Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we're going to play part of it that hasn't aired yet tonight and I actually was more interested in this part than just Joe Biden one on one because you know what that is, that's testing, seeing how he deals with the answers, how much he wants to own often those around the candidate are more cognizant of what's going on than the candidate himself.
So to see Jill tee up what she thinks matters and what they're going to do about it, including their son, Hunter, and what he's now openly dealing with mental health, that matters.
We expect people to drop out. Swalwell is a little early, but you get choked off by money in this business, Anderson. You know, they can say, well, I only have little donors or I have big donors. If you don't have money, you're gone.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, it seems like at this point -- I mean, it's a money game for so many of these candidates who are not, you know, in the thick of it.
CUOMO: Yes. I mean, you know, they always say, we got to take the money out of the business. We're going to take the money. And what's the, you know, the one metric that winds up being almost just positive of who stays in, it's a little around convention time, money.
COOPER: It's interesting, though, with Elizabeth Warren raising so much money. I mean, one of the things she's been very public about is she's not going to be trying to raise money from huge donors at this stage. She's doing town hall after town hall after town hall.
CUOMO: Yes. Look, and I think that's fair. I actually have seen you covered this well in town halls when you talk to them about this and Bernie Sanders makes a similar case. I think his average donor in the last reporting period was like $18. Look, that's good. It changes the influence of PACs and Super PACs and big donor.
But at the end of the day, it's still money and they find, you know -- it's so true that the problem is legal money, not illegal money. And as long as that's in there, that's what the game is going to be about. I don't mean to be a cynic, but it's just a reality.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, the time that they spend fundraising is very --
CUOMO: Is everything.
CUOMO: Look at this, one of the comments with Biden right now is that, is he on the hustings long enough when he has to divide his time between there and as Secretary Clinton did at the time with big donors. So we're going to take a look at them tonight and we're going to get into Jeffrey Epstein as well. People need to know how far this case may go.
COOPER: Yes. Chris, thanks very much. I look forward to it. See you in a few minutes.
Coming up, what did President Reagan really think of then citizen Trump? Don't look to the sitting President's Twitter page for answers, that's for sure. "The Ridiculist" is next.
[20:57:38] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist" and tonight's entry has got it all. President Trump, a fake quote, and someone more popular than him, happy Monday, America.
So the President was up this morning getting into some, you know, quality executive time, you know, watching the shows, sitting with a whole host of hard to imagine mental calculations and as any thoughtful leader, focused on the big picture. OK, I was kidding about that last part. He was actually retweeting compliments of himself for real.
One that apparently caught his eye was an image posted by something called the Reagan battalion and here's a shocker, it doesn't appear to be affiliated with the Reagan foundation or presidential library. The image shows then citizen Trump shaking President Reagan's hand in 1987, which actually did happen but it's accompanied by a widely debunk quote attributed to Mr. Reagan.
Again, this is not a real quote from Ronald Reagan, "For the life of me, and I'll never know how to explain it, when I met that young man, I felt like I was the one shaking hands with the president." Again, President Reagan never said that.
The man stood up to the Soviet Union and helped bring about the end of the Cold War. He didn't genuflect (ph) in receiving lines with silky billionaires like he was meeting to ghost to Christmas future. Anyway, don't take my word for it. Maybe you find my steely blue eyes so much shifty. Look, that's all right. I mean, you know, shame on you but I get it.
The Pulitzer Prize winning website, PolitiFact, had already raided the alleged quote as pants on fire. And they don't mean it in a good way like, "Damn, those pants are on fire. There's some hot, hot pants." No. They mean it like, "Oh, wow, that is a big stinky 400-pound lie rotting in someone's basement."
PolitiFact also cites a top Reagan foundation officer saying President Reagan "did not ever say that about Donald Trump." So the sitting President is spreading fake content online about one of his predecessors. Like I said, it's Monday.
The part I don't understand is the one word the President added to his retweet, cute. Cute, that's the best the president could do because -- I mean, look, we all know the extent and precision of his vocabulary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to an Ivy League school. I'm very highly educated. I know words. I have the best words.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes, best words, the best words. But, cute? Cute is not one of the best words. Cute is how a great aunt replies to e-mail she's half read, you know. Like she sees the picture of you and your fiance on a water slide on a cruise but doesn't scroll down to the part about the food poisoning. Cute is like Wolf Blitzer in Daisy Dukes on roller blades.
Look, I agree, it's not my cup of tea but there's a faddish group for everyone this days. Cute, however, is not, and I repeat not a phony quote from Gipper. As for President Trump, anyone who thinks he's going to rush to clear all this up, well, all I can say is that is cute, very cute, on "The Ridiculist."
And the news continues. I want to hand it over with Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?
CUOMO: Thank you for that image of Wolf which I will never get out of my head. Anderson, appreciate it. Very well done.