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President Trump Flip-Flops On Rally Regrets; Sources: Both Democrats, GOP Hold Mock Hearings In Advance Of Next Week's Robert Mueller Testimony; Another NRA Official Exits Amid Escalating Turmoil; Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Profiled. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 19, 2019 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Good evening. Chris Cuomo is off tonight. Welcome to a special hour of 360. We start things off with President Trump's walk-back of his limited and evidently insincere walk-back of his performance in North Carolina Wednesday night.

When we went on air that evening, he had just launched another attack on four non-White Congresswomen, and we had just seen him watch the crowd chant "Send her back!" to -- about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who is a naturalized refugee from Somalia, an American citizen.

And there, the President stood for 13 seconds, soaking it all in, waiting for the chanting to grow and then eventually die down. Yesterday, while falsely claiming that he tried to stop it, he also said he disagreed with the crowd.

Well, less than 24 hours later, starting with a string of tweets and then two televised appearances, he renewed his attacks on the women. No more talk of any regrets or feeling uncomfortable.

It was like -- in fact, he went onto level a series of false allegations about two of the women, which were quickly debunked. Pretty depressing end to the week.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins who was at the rally Wednesday night joins us now from the White House. Kaitlan, I'm going to say it's hard not to get whiplash following the President's back and forth on all this.

I mean, walking back his walk-back yesterday, and then Lara Trump, the daughter-in-law going on Fox, lying, saying that it was just a couple of people chanting, when clearly it was more than just a couple of people chanting.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's not true. We were there. It was very loud. It was so loud that the President stopped speaking for those 13 seconds to let them continue on, in this arena that seats about 8,000 people or so.

But really, Anderson, this is essentially the President's art of the deal. He'll say something controversial. It will put his Republican allies in a bind, something they don't want to defend. And then you'll see the President walk it back just enough, like he did yesterday, when he said he didn't agree with the chant, and that reporters should go to North Carolina and ask those people why they were chanting it, even though he didn't mention the fact about his tweets on Sunday.

And then today, in the Oval Office, he strikes a much more defiant tone, defending those supporters, saying that they're just patriots. They are that they love the country, and instead focusing on these negative attacks on those women instead of that chant that started at his own rally.

COOPER: Right. And the other thing that Lara Trump said, and it goes to -- to the other thing the President said, which he just mentioned about you should go there and ask them why they were chanting it, they were chanting it because he brought up this whole idea of her going back, as if she, you know, as if all of these people are not American.

And Lara Trump then, also before the President went on, whipped up the crowd, you know, encouraging people to say, you know, "If -- if they don't like America, what can they do," and everyone said, "Leave." I mean they were chanting it because he whipped it up.

COLLINS: Yes. I've been to dozens of Trump rallies. They've never shouted anything like that before, even though these chants are pretty popular at these rallies, and that's really essentially what happens to people around the President, even his allies over on Capitol Hill.

They'll defend something he's saying. They'll love it or leave it when it comes to the USA, like Lara Trump did before the Vice President and President Trump got on stage.

And then, when he tries to back off of it, they say "Well it was loud and he couldn't hear," or "It was only a few people," when that's just simply not the case. It was a big arena. There was a lot of people chanting it. And it was incredibly loud.

COOPER: Yes. And he encouraged it. Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

More now, on the political repercussions, if there are any, but also some of the bigger questions, including whether Democrats have a strategy for opposing this kind of racist behavior.

Joining us, Political Consultant Stuart Stevens, former Mitt Romney Campaign Adviser, also CNN Political Commentator, Amanda Carpenter, served as Communications Director for Senator Ted Cruz, and is the recent Author of "Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us," which is a fascinating book, and particularly appropriate tonight.

Also with us, Democratic Strategist, former Senior Clinton Campaign Spokesperson, and CNN Political Commentator, Karen Finney.

So Amanda, I mean you talk about gaslighting in your book, this type of strategy, if -- if that's what this is, a strategy, it certainly worked for the President in 2016. Do you think it's going to work for him again in 2020?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, listen, he's been playing in the Pandora's box of racism since he started with the Central Park Five. But I do think, this time, it's becoming different. The box is wide open.

If you look at what happened in Charlottesville, do I think that President Trump necessarily wanted Heather Heyer to get killed and for Nazis to be marching on those beautiful grounds? No. But could he stop it? No.

It's out there. And so, he can't stop it, and he won't stop it, because in the end, he thinks that it helps him. And I don't know where this is going to go. He's going to keep cultivating this, denying responsibility, but he is diving in. This is where the gaslighting happens.

[21:05:00] He says other people are saying this. "Other people were talking about Obama's birtherism, other people are talking about the Central Five," but he's diving right into it, and I don't know where it's going to go.

COOPER: Yes. Stuart, I mean, again, he's tapping into something very dangerous that we have seen time and time again throughout American history.

STUART STEVENS, POLITICAL CONSULTANT & WRITER: Yes. I -- I disagree with Amanda that it's a strategy.

I think Trump is a racist, so he says racist things. I really don't think it's very complicated. And the question for the Republican Party is, "Are you going to tolerate this?"

It's really a moral test that Trump keeps putting out there, and the Republican Party keeps failing. I don't think it's smart politics, and I think it's horrible for the country.

COOPER: Karen, how do Democrats respond to all of this?

I mean, earlier this week, Dana Bash reported on a meeting of House Democrats where they reviewed internal polling, showing that the most forceful message against the President is making the argument that he's ineffective on issues like infrastructure and jobs. That was before this chant.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. I mean that's the pro -- that's the thing, right? So, even if Democrats were going to back off on it, then you had this chanting happen.

And then today, as the President was leaving for New Jersey for the weekend, he, you know, went to the microphones, and again, you know, pulled on that thread, so I think there's a couple of things, Anderson.

I think Democrats ideally should step back, and let it reveal the fact that if this is what the President thinks he should be focused on, rather than infrastructure, whatever happened to that, creating jobs, healthcare, and I think Democrats need to do more to highlight the fact that it is the Republicans in the Senate, it is the President who are the -- are blocking things moving forward.

Unfortunately, I think the reality -- there's the other side of this, which is you can't let this kind of talk go unsaid. I mean to someone like me who, as a child, was said -- was told "Go back to Africa," and I had no idea what people were talking about, you know, we are a diverse country.

These women represent, you know, diverse cultures, and we are part of the American story. So, I think there's also responsibility for Democrats to call it out. But I think they have to keep that dual focus while also trying to continue to get the work done, as Pelosi was frankly trying to do with this debt ceiling conversation.

COOPER: It is amazing Amanda that, you know, even when the President was sort of pretending to express some, a little bit of regret, you know, he called it quite a chant, and that it was loud, which then against -- goes against what Lara Trump was saying, which is it was just a couple of people.


COOPER: And he also lies about how he tried to stop it. I just -- it's amazing to me that I mean all his lies, I mean it's been this way from the beginning.

But his lies are dependent, are sort of predicated on the notion that we're all just idiots, we can't see what is -- we can't see video of what he is actually doing, and that we're -- we're all just, or that his supporters are -- are looking for any reason to forgive him, and so he's -- they can that, you know, yesterday, they were all out saying, "Oh, well, he's repudiated it."

Now today, you know, they're kind of quiet.

CARPENTER: Yes. This is essential to his gaslighting that he continues to draw the country into. It's called advance and deny. He advances these narratives but denies responsibility to it. The fact that the campaign went out there at this message of love it or leave it, which they thought was cute, and so somehow that was defensible.


CARPENTER: But that's not what the audience heard. The audience heard "Send her back!" as if there's some kind of difference there. I -- probably in a few weeks, Donald Trump is going to be out there saying "Send her back right there with them," because he's baiting the audience to get into this.

He wants us all to debate racism. And I agree completely with Karen that the Democrats can't get drawn into this too much. They do have to acknowledge it. And I don't see any reason why the 2020 election should not be a referendum on Donald Trump's character. Ro Khanna was on the air, Democratic Congressman from California, who's endorsed Bernie Sanders. He kind of had an interesting idea. He wanted Barack Obama to come out and do--


CARPENTER: --a speech on race. I think that's interesting.

But the Democratic candidate who wins this election should be the one to give that speech and show us a higher, better way that uplifts people because Donald Trump wants nothing more than this to be a negative, negative election that takes us down to the barrel, where we were in 2016, and someone has to lift us out of it.

COOPER: Stuart, when -- when the next crowd, auditorium full of people, the next, you know, Trump rally start chanting "Send her back!" what do you think Trump does?

STEVENS: I think Amanda's exactly right. He's just going to enjoy it, and he's going to do it. You can't -- Trump isn't going to change. And I think expecting Trump to change is just going to be a failure.

The question here is what is the Republican Party going to do? I mean this has been the great failure of the modern Republican parties with African-American voters.

In '56, Eisenhower got 39 percent, and then with Goldwater, dropped to 7 percent because he opposed the Civil Rights Act. And it's never come back. And that really is the great stain on the Republican Party, and it's only getting worse now. This is a moment when the party has to decide what kind of party it's going to be and--

[21:10:00] COOPER: But is that even a question? I mean hasn't--

FINNEY: Well--

COOPER: --hasn't that already been decided?


COOPER: I mean, that would -- you know.

FINNEY: It would seem.

STEVENS: Yes, I -- I--

CARPENTER: Yes, I think there's a question. Would Marco Rubio go to--


CARPENTER: --another rally like he did when he kicked off the President's re-election in Florida a couple of weeks ago. I mean what Republicans are going to sit on stage? I do think some Republicans in the Senate--

FINNEY: Well-- CARPENTER: --have probably made the calculation that "Listen, we can't stop Trump from being a bad character, but we can stop bad policy. And so, if we have to fight on policy, we'll go there. We can't do much else."

FINNEY: But they also haven't. But the Republicans have not been willing to stand up to him even very much to make good policy. I mean what we see is things just kind of stalling. And I think that, you know, long-term, this is a disaster for the Republican Party. I remember, I'm old enough to remember, you know, the realignment that

Karl Rove, was trying and George W. Bush was trying to, you know, court Latinos, and -- and he got a little bit of the African-American vote.


FINNEY: And I think, you know, part of the -- the -- the challenge here, Anderson is, you know, the diversity of this country is here. This is the reality. And Trump is trying to continue to coalesce around sort of the demographics of the recent past.


FINNEY: And Democrats are trying to focus on the future.

COOPER: Yes. Let's see.

FINNEY: And I think that'll be -- it will be all a matter of turnout in 2020.

COOPER: Karen Finney, thank you, Amanda Carpenter, Stuart Stevens, always, thank you very much.

Coming up next, how two Trump voters in 2016 see things and now see things differently from one another this time around.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Economically, the country is doing really well.



COOPER: Well we've seen the President's poll numbers tick down slightly after episodes like the one this week in North Carolina, and then tick back up, and until recently, it's mainly been academic.

Now, of course, with the campaign gearing up, what voters see and hear may start to factor, of course, into their decision-making, and definitely well.

Now, tonight, our Randi Kaye is in the swing state of Wisconsin, which went narrowly for the President last time. She spoke with two 2016 Trump voters who are now very much at odds over the President. Here's her report.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wisconsin voter Dave Soborowicz voted for Trump in 2016. But now, he regrets it.

What are you thinking for 2020? You plan to support Donald Trump again?


KAYE: Why not?

SOBOROWICZ: Because I don't want to have another four years of embarrassment going on.

KAYE: And what we've seen this past week, he says, is just another example of that.

SOBOROWICZ: That tweet that everybody's talking about, I would not define that as a racist tweet, but it is a hatred tweet for sure.

KAYE: His coworker at this Eau Claire, Wisconsin plumbing company, Carrie Krumenauer (ph) also voted for Trump in 2016, and she sees it differently.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is it racist? "If you don't like this country, get out, leave." That's all he said. He didn't use any names. They stood up. That's all. That's all they did. They made themselves look like idiots.

KAYE: Unlike her co-worker Dave, Carrie (ph) has no regrets about voting for Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He takes no crap from anybody, and that's why I love him. He has followed through on promises that he's kept that he made to the American people.

KAYE: Like what? Give me one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Taxes. He's working on the Border. We're back in charge again. We're not taking guff. I mean he is -- he is working with North Korea like no other President ever has in the world before.

KAYE: Unlike Carrie (ph), Dave really regrets his vote.

SOBOROWICZ: I didn't know he was going to act this way. So, I am -- I am embarrassed by him.

KAYE: What don't you like about the President?

SOBOROWICZ: He doesn't act that -- like a President should, in my eyes. He, in a way, I think, spreads hatred. It's like a little kid having a temper tantrum, the way he talks about blah, blah, blah or whatever, however he says it, you know, it comes across. It's, to me, is childish. KAYE: He says Trump should stop taking credit for things like the economy.

You don't think he's been good for business?

SOBOROWICZ: I can't say it's his -- he alone is the reason why everything's booming at this time. I -- it didn't happen as soon as he took Office. It was already starting to improve.

KAYE: Carrie (ph) sees it differently.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have thought this come -- this country needs to be run like a business. It was ran into the ground for eight years. And it's time to bring it back, and he's done it.

KAYE: Carrie (ph) also thinks Trump is right to build a wall, and limit immigration. Dave argues this country needs immigrants.

SOBOROWICZ: Dairy products would be so much more expensive. Vegetables that are growing around here or anywhere in the United States, everything would be much more expensive, if it wasn't for the immigrants.

KAYE: But he ran on that pretty much when you voted for him in 2016, right?

SOBOROWICZ: Once again, I thought he was a better option than Hillary.

KAYE: OK. So, it wasn't necessarily a vote for Trump in 2016.

SOBOROWICZ: No, it wasn't.

KAYE: It was a vote against Hillary Clinton.


KAYE: Is there anything that Trump can do that would change your mind or you are dug in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I'm dug in. I'm behind him 100 percent.

KAYE: You're on the Trump train.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am on the Trump train. I'm in the front car with him pulling the whistle.


KAYE: And she is definitely going to be pulling that whistle. She is super active on Facebook. She likes and follows many, in fact, dozens of pro-Trump groups, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Randi, the -- the voter you -- you talked with who won't vote for President Trump again, you also talked to him about other voters who feel the same way. What did he say about that?

KAYE: Well he says that he himself, he's embarrassed, and -- and he feels regret, and he thinks others feel that way too.

He says he even knows other Trump voters who won't even talk to him about what their plans are for 2020 because he thinks they're embarrassed, and they feel regret as well. And he's not the only Trump voter that we spoke to.

We spoke to another Republican Trump voter also not voting for President Trump again. We spoke to him by phone, and he says that he thinks people are embarrassed. That's why they don't want to talk about it. He even said that he thinks they feel some guilt for putting President Donald Trump in Office, Anderson.

COOPER: Randi, thanks. We thank both those folks for expressing their opinions to us.

She may be the most closely watched politician in Washington but really offers this much access. Coming up, my 60 Minutes conversation with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, why she called President Trump a racist long before his attacks against her, and the three other Congresswomen of color this week.


COOPER: More now on the President's attacks on four Congresswomen, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After days of the attacks by the President, Ocasio-Cortez today tweeted that she "Won't go back," in quotes, but "Forward."

That's not her only battle. Five Republicans have jumped into the race to try to unseat her in 2020. She'll meet next week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, amid their growing rift.

When I spoke with her for 60 Minutes in January, we saw the roots of a political style that it's on full display today, bold, unapologetic and controversial even then.


COOPER: There are people that say that you don't understand how the game is played.


COOPER: Do you?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think it's really great for people to keep thinking that.

COOPER: You want folks to underestimate you, some people?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Absolutely. That's how I won my primary.

COOPER: Winning that primary shocked the Democratic establishment. And in November, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: We have made history tonight.

COOPER: Just a few days later, as soon as she got to Washington--


[21:25:00] COOPER: --she paid a visit to climate change activists, who were occupying her Party Leader, Nancy Pelosi's office.

She was the only newly elected Member of Congress who decided to drop by during the sit-in. She called on Pelosi to create a select committee on climate change without any Members of Congress who accept money from the fossil fuel industry.


COOPER: Nancy Pelosi is incredibly powerful

OCASIO-CORTEZ: She absolutely is. And--

COOPER: And you're occupying her office.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh my goodness, I could have thrown up that morning. I was so nervous. But I kept kind of just coming back to the idea that what they're fighting for wasn't wrong.

And I -- I had also sat down with -- with Leader Pelosi beforehand, and she told me her story. She came from activism, and I knew that she would absolutely understand how advocacy can change the needle on really important issues.

COOPER: Ocasio-Cortez and her allies managed to get more than 40 Members of Congress to support the climate committee.


COOPER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to create it, but it's not nearly what Ocasio-Cortez had in mind. Pelosi granted the committee limited powers and did not ban Members who take money from the fossil fuel industry.


COOPER: For Ocasio-Cortez, it was an early lesson in Congressional politics, and another one came when she defied Pelosi, and voted against the Speaker's new House rules, but was not joined by many other progressive Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez told us she's determined to keep fighting for what's being called a Green New Deal, a highly ambitious, some would say, unrealistic proposal that would convert the entire U.S. economy to renewable sources of energy in just 12 years while guaranteeing every American a job at a fair wage.

You're talking about zero carbon emissions, no use of fossil fuels within 12 years? OCASIO-CORTEZ: That is the goal. It's ambitious. And--

COOPER: How is that possible? Are you talking about everybody having to drive in electric car?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's going to require a lot of rapid change that we don't even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?

COOPER: This would require, though, raising taxes.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: There's an element where -- yes. There -- people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes.

COOPER: Do you have a specific on the tax rate?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: You know, you look at our tax rates back in the '60s, and when you have a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, you know, let's say, from zero to $75,000 may be 10 percent or 15 percent, etcetera.

But once you get to, like, the tippy tops, on your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn't mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.

COOPER: What you are talking about, just big picture, is a radical agenda, compared to the way politics is done right now.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country. Abraham Lincoln made the radical decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the radical decision to embark on establishing programs like Social Security.

COOPER: Do you call yourself a radical?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. You know, if that's what radical means, call me a radical.

Hello? Hello?

COOPER: She doesn't seem to be viewed by a radical by her constituents in New York 14, the racially diverse, liberal and reliably Democratic Congressional district, that includes parts of Queens and the Bronx.

Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx. Her parents had met in Puerto Rico. Her father owned a small architectural business. Her mother cleaned houses to help make ends meet.

By the time she was ready for preschool, her parents made a down payment on a small house in the Westchester suburbs. It was 30 miles and a world away from her extended family still living in the Bronx.

What was it that -- that brought your parents here?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Schools, yes. My -- my mom wanted to make sure that I had a -- a solid chance and a solid education.

COOPER: Did you feel like you were living in two different worlds, because you were spending a lot of time in the Bronx with your family--


COOPER: --and also here?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. And just growing up that way and with my cousins who were all my age too, feeling like we all had kind of different opportunities, depending on where we were physically located.

COOPER: She did well in school. And with the help of scholarships, loans, and financial aid, attended Boston University. But in her sophomore year, her father died of cancer.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: We were really working on the classic American Dream. And overnight it was all taken away. My mom was back to cleaning homes and driving school buses to keep a roof over our heads.

[21:30:00] COOPER: She moved back to the Bronx after graduating college and spent the next few years working as a community organizer and advocate for children's literacy.

In May of 2017, the one-bedroom apartment she shares with her boyfriend became her makeshift campaign headquarters as she launched a seemingly improbable run for Congress. She was working as a waitress and bartender at the time.

Like many members of her generation, she says, she had student loans to pay and no health insurance.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I really understood the frustration that working people had across the political spectrum. You know, when anybody is saying, "The economy is going great. We are at record levels," there's a frustration that says, "Well, the economy is good for who?"

COOPER: I mean unemployment is at record lows.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I don't think that that tells the whole story. When you can't provide for your kids working a full-time job, working two full- time jobs, when you can't have healthcare, that is not a -- that is not dignified.

COOPER: A group of Bernie Sanders' supporters who now call themselves Justice Democrats encouraged Ocasio-Cortez to run for office. They gave her training and support. She built a grassroots coalition that took on the Democratic machine by going door-to-door.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Hi, Saudio (ph). I'm Alexandria.

COOPER: Arguing that she could represent the district better than a 10-term incumbent who spent most of his time in Washington.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Have a good day.


COOPER: Her victory made national news and she soon had a higher media profile than many veteran lawmakers. Some saw in her primary victory a craving for change within the Democratic Party. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi drew a more limited conclusion.

PELOSI: They made a choice in one district, so let's not get yourself carried away.

COOPER: But President Trump rarely missed a chance to suggest that all Democrats were socialists, would lead the country to ruin.

TRUMP: Venezuela. Venezuela. How does that sound? You like Venezuela?

COOPER: When people hear the world socialism, they think Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela. Is that what you have in mind?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course not. What we have in mind and what if my -- and my policies most closely resemble what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.

COOPER: How were you going to pay for all of this?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: No one asked how we're going to pay for the space force. No one asked how we paid for a $2 trillion tax cut. We only ask how we pay for it on issues of housing, healthcare and education.

How do we pay for it? With the same exact mechanisms that we pay for military increases, for the space force, for all of these ambitious policies.

COOPER: There are Democrats obviously who are worried about your effect in the party.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons said about Left- leaning Democrats, if the next two years is just a race to offer increasingly unrealistic proposals, it will be difficult for us to make a credible case. We should be allowed to govern again.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: What makes it unrealistic?

COOPER: How to pay for it.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: We pay more per capita in healthcare and education for lower outcomes than many other nations. And so, for me, what's unrealistic is -- is what we're living in right now.

COOPER: Since the election, some conservative media outlets have focused on Ocasio-Cortez with an intensity unusual for a rookie member of Congress.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST, HANNITY: Her views, her policy positions are actually downright scary.

COOPER: She's been accused of being dishonest about the true cost of her proposals and the tax burden they would impose on the middle class. She's also been criticized for making factual mistakes.

One of the criticisms of you is that your math is fuzzy. The Washington Post recently awarded you four Pinocchios.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh my goodness.

COOPER: For misstating some statistics about Pentagon spending.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they're missing the forest for the trees. I think that there is a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.

COOPER: But being factually correct is important.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's absolutely important. And whenever I make a mistake, I say, OK, this was clumsy, and then I restate what my point was. But it's -- it's not the same thing as the President lying about immigrants. It's not the same thing at all.

TRUMP: We started the wall anyway and we're going to get that done. We're going to get it done.


COOPER: You don't talk about President Trump very much.



OCASIO-CORTEZ: Because I think he's a symptom of a problem.

COOPER: What do you mean?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: The President certainly didn't invent racism. But he's certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things.

COOPER: Do you believe President Trump is a racist?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. Yes. No question.

COOPER: How can you say that?

[21:35:00] OCASIO-CORTEZ: When you look at the words that he uses, which are historic dog whistles of White supremacy, when you look at how he reacted to the Charlottesville incident where neo-Nazis murdered a woman, versus how he manufactures crisis like immigrants seeking legal refuge on our Borders, it's -- it's night and day. COOPER: In response, the White House Deputy Press Secretary told us, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez's sheer ignorance on the matter can't cover the fact that President Trump supported and passed historic criminal justice reform and has repeatedly condemned racism and bigotry in all forms.

One of the few things Ocasio-Cortez has in common with the President is an active and often combative presence on social media. When a conservative writer tweeted this photo of her, saying, "That jacket and coat don't look like a girl who struggles," she called him out for what she said was "misogyny."

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Would you be taking a creep shot of Steny Hoyer's behind and sharing it around? Why is there more comfort in doing that to me than there is in doing it to any other Member of Congress?

COOPER: Eliminating the influence of corporate money in politics is another one of Ocasio-Cortez's signature issues. Most of her campaign funds came from small donations of $200 or less.

She did accept some money from labor unions, but she refuses to take any contributions from corporate Political Action Committees. She's angered some of her colleagues in the House by encouraging primary challenges of Democrats who accept corporate money or oppose progressive policies.

These are politically dangerous tactics that you're using.


COOPER: You've heard that?


COOPER: Do you believe it?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's absolutely risky. It requires risk to try something new, but -- but also, we know so much of -- of what we've tried in the past hasn't worked, either.


COOPER: The countdown is underway in Washington for one of the most anticipated Congressional hearings in recent memory, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller scheduled to testify next Wednesday before both the House Judiciary and the House Intelligence Committees. Now obviously, there's a lot at stake. We'll have more ahead.


COOPER: Well they are perhaps the most highly anticipated Congressional hearings in decades, and they're happening next week, talking about Robert Mueller's testimony before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

CNN has learned the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee and Republicans on Judiciary have both held mock hearings in preparation while preparing for a man who, by all accounts, may be a reluctant witness.

Now, the hearings come months after former Special Counsel Mueller delivered his report on both Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump.

I want to navigate what we can expect next week. Joining me now are Garrett Graff, a Mueller expert and the Author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror," as well as CNN's Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

How much can Democrats realistically expect to get, I mean if Mueller is a reluctant witness, and the -- given the constraints?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well I mean they -- they can expect to get something significant. You know, the -- the 448-page report was not read by millions upon millions of people.

And if they can get Mueller simply to recount some of the episodes described in the report, especially the -- the more egregious examples of obstruction of justice, the conversations between the President and Don McGahn, his former counsel, that will be significant, and that would be dramatic and important.

But if Mueller simply says, "I dealt with that in the report. You can read it in the report," then it could be a really big bust for the Democrats. A lot of it's up to Mueller.

COOPER: Garrett, I mean Devin Nunes, you know, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee told Fox News that he won't allow Mueller to "Either pontificate and embellish."

A, is Mueller known for pontificating and embellishing? And do you think it's possible, as Jeff suggested that -- that he may just say, "Well I -- I addressed that in the report?"

GARRETT GRAFF, JOURNALIST, "THE THREAT MATRIX" AUTHOR, FORMER POLITICO MAGAZINE EDITOR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I -- I don't think pontificating or embellishing are words that anyone has ever used in talking about Bob Mueller before.

So, I don't think that's going to be a problem. Congressman Nunes is going to run into too much next week. I -- I do think that Jeff is likely correct that Mueller is not going to go beyond the four corners of his report.

But I think that -- that actually that's the strength that Democrats should be embracing that the way to approach this is Mueller has given you 448 pages of prepared testimony, and your job is to figure out what parts of it you want to ask him to read aloud, you know, point him to specific paragraphs, specific pages.

Most Americans, as Jeff said, has -- have not read this. So, even just getting him to read this out loud would be of an incredible value to the American people.

COOPER: The Judicial -- Jeff, the Judiciary Committee has, I want to double check, three hours with Mueller. The Intelligence Committee has two hours. They all like to make statements, all these Congress people, which eats up time, and there's not a lot of time.

TOOBIN: Well--

COOPER: Hillary Clinton was grilled on Benghazi for, you know, how many hours?

TOOBIN: A 11, I think.


TOOBIN: I mean what's really, I think, a terrible mistake that's indicative of the egomania epidemic in Congress is that when you look at successful hearings in the past, the Watergate Special Counsel hearings, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, the Iran-Contra Committee hearings, you had lawyers, professional non-politicians, asking series of questions that allowed someone to take to -- to -- to lead someone through a narrative.

Here we're going to have five minutes of Democrats, five minutes of Republicans. Even if the -- the politicians don't pontificate for their five minutes, how can you develop a narrative in five minutes, especially when it's going to be interrupted by an opposing narrative, five minutes later?

So, look, there'll be certainly some interesting sound bites that come out of it. But that the idea that this is going to be a transformative experience in public opinion, I think is -- is just extremely, extremely unlikely.

COOPER: Garrett, do you see the Democrats cooperating? I mean they obviously need to cooperate with each other. They also need -- I mean, do they cooperate with Mueller?

[21:45:00] You know, if -- if they try to, you know, trick him into saying something or push him into saying something he doesn't want to say, how does -- how would that go down?

GRAFF: Yes. And I think the -- the Democrats should recognize that they're not going to be able to trick Bob Mueller into saying something that he doesn't intend to say.

This is someone who has testified before Congress 60 times before, over many decades, and is, you know, has probably answered more questions from Congress than most Members of Congress have ever asked in a Congressional hearing.

And so, he's just going to be better at this than they are, you know. He is a professional prosecutor.

And unless you match him, and sort of work with him on his terms, you know, if they get all caught up in trying to trick him into saying, "Well would you have indicted him -- would you have indicted the President absent the OLC report," you know, I -- I think Mueller is highly unlikely to go there.

And you're just, as Jeff says, going to keep scrambling and confusing people with the -- what the narrative is you're trying to tell.

COOPER: It does seem like that's the obvious question, which they're all going to want, all the Democrats are going to want answered. Did, you know, if -- if he didn't go by the guidelines of the -- the -- the Legal Counsel's, would he have indicted? He -- he probably won't -- wouldn't answer though.

TOOBIN: Well, look, that is a legitimate question.

COOPER: Right. No, I'm not saying--

TOOBIN: And -- and -- and I don't -- and I -- I don't know exactly what he will do. I -- I thought that part of the report was very convoluted and confusing about whether, you know, the -- the -- we can't exonerate him but we're not convicting him and, you know, what -- what Mueller saw his role as.

That will be interesting explication from Mueller, if he chooses to do that. But politically, the -- what the Democrats want is to show all the terrible things that Donald Trump did in office, and that's just going to take asking Mueller to recite, in his own words, what was in the report.

If he's willing to do that, that will be enough for a successful hearing, but that's -- that again is really up to Mueller.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Toobin, thank you, Garrett Graff, thanks very much.

When we return, new signs of turmoil at the NRA, another top official is out as the gun rights group struggles to regain footing from a string of other departures and scandals. What it could all mean for the intense election season coming up?


COOPER: Well things apparently aren't settling down in the most powerful gun lobby in America, ahead of the 2020 election, another top staffer is out of the NRA.

Jennifer Baker is her name, the Director of Public Affairs for its lobbying arm. It follows a string of other high-profile exits and alleged coup and accusations of financial misconduct.

Our Political Correspondent Sara Murray has been following the turmoil closely.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The gun rights group that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House--

TRUMP: So, to get the endorsement, believe me, is a fantastic honor.

MURRAY: --now engulfed in turmoil. In April, the NRA sued its longtime ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, the same agency that created this iconic Second Amendment message, featuring Charlton Heston.



MURRAY: The bitter split was broiling the NRA behind the scenes at their annual meeting weeks later in Indianapolis.

TRUMP: You are great American patriots, Chris Cox, Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North.

Three extraordinary champions for the Second Amendment.

MURRAY: But North, then the NRA President was on his way out.

A day earlier, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre told the Board of Directors, North was trying to extort him. LaPierre claimed North told him to step down as CEO or face a smear campaign. North was effectively ousted.

OLIVER NORTH, FORMER NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: We defend our flag, our national anthem, and the heroes they represent.

MURRAY: It turns out, North was one of the faces of the NRA that was actually financed through Ackerman McQueen.


MURRAY: The ad agency also paid Spokeswoman Dana Loesch's salary. It crafted NRA marketing, placed ads during election cycles, and produced NRATV.

The embarrassing allegations North warned about emerged online, posted anonymously, and verified by CNN. They painted a picture of financial mismanagement at the NRA, with LaPierre at the helm, and North sounding the alarm.

LaPierre makes $1.4 million from the NRA. On top of that, Ackerman picked up the tab for $275,000 for LaPierre's high-end Italian clothing, $240,000 for his travel to destinations, including the Bahamas and Italy, and $14,000 for an apartment for a summer intern. The NRA said they were all legitimate business expenses.

A letter from North to NRA board members questioned the NRA spending habits and the $24 million in legal fees the NRA shelled out over 13 months. The NRA disputes that sum, all of this dysfunction delighting the NRA's critics.

JOHN FEINBLATT, PRESIDENT, EVERYTOWN FOR GUN SAFETY: It's like watching a five-alarm fire. But what's amazing about this is that the NRA itself lit the match. I think that they are going to be hobbled, and I think that this is

just going to play out day by day, week by week, month by month, leading up to 2020, and it will keep them on the sidelines.

MURRAY: The NRA and Ackerman officially severed ties, shutting down NRATV, as a result, bringing an end to controversial broadcasts like this one, mocking diversity in the Thomas & Friends children's show, by putting KKK hoods on the trains.

LOESCH: Oh, was it because, I see it. It was the white hoods. And the burning train tracks. OK, fine, fair point. Fair. I get it.

MURRAY: Then the NRA dropped another bombshell, accusing Chief Lobbyist Chris Cox of working alongside Oliver North to overthrow Wayne LaPierre. Cox denied the allegation to The New York Times, but soon resigned, the departure unsettling for GOP donors and lawmakers Cox built close ties with.

Cox had a warm relationship with Trump too, and he was the Chief Strategist behind the NRA's election efforts. He agitated for more spending on digital, less on the red meat being served up on NRATV, sources told CNN. While the NRA scrambles for stability--


You already have that fire in your belly.

MURRAY: --Democrats are readying for a fight.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the only guy ever nationally to beat the NRA.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a D-minus voting record from the NRA.


[21:55:00] MURRAY: The NRA says it's happy to be underestimated.

"We are very focused on 2020," an NRA Spokesman tells CNN, "Our members know what's at stake. From draconian gun control schemes, from gun confiscation to registration, so they will be out in force, and the NRA will make sure of it."

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Iran is causing more trouble tonight setting up a new showdown with the West. We'll bring you up to speed on the aggression in a key waterway in the Persian Gulf, and how the President is responding to it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: We're keeping a close eye tonight on some new aggressive moves by Iran. The country seized two oil tankers today, 30 minutes apart, in the Strait of Hormuz. Now one, a British ship, Iran claims it was "Violating international regulations."

U.S. Military believes it was a pre-planned operation. A U.S. official says a Liberian-flagged vessel was also seized.

Now, Iran disputes that account. The British company that operates the ship says Armed Guard took control, but then let the ship go. Here was the President's response earlier.


TRUMP: This only goes to show what I'm saying about Iran. Trouble! Nothing but trouble!