Return to Transcripts main page


Felicity Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days Behind Bars in College Admission Scandal; Biden Tries To Brush Aside Castro's Debate attack as His Campaign Slams "the Cheap Shot" and "Low Blow"; Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) is Interviewed About Biden Saying It's Fair For Dem Rivals to Play the Age Card; Beto O'Rourke Calls Texas Lawmakers Tweet A Death Threat; President Trump Seems To Strike A Different Tone On Vaping After Announcing Effort To Ban Almost All Flavored E- Cigarettes; CNN's Wajahat Ali Looking For Liver Donor For Daughter. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 20:00   ET




The reviews are in after last night's Democratic presidential debate which was watched by millions on television.

Vice President Biden says it is fair game for opponents to bring up his age, but he's also pushing back. And Beto O'Rourke is receiving not so veiled threats after he said, quote, yes, we are taking your AR-15, your AK-47. We get to all that in a moment.

We begin tonight with a sentencing of one of the most public people wrapped up in this sprawling college admissions scandal. The actress Felicity Huffman, familiar to television audiences for her role in the popular series "Desperate Housewives", late this afternoon was sentenced to 14 days in federal prison. She will serve a year of probation, pay a $30,000 fine, and serve 250 hours of community service.

All this after she pled guilty to paying a college consultant to inflate her daughter's SAT scores. She is the first to be sentenced of more than 30 parents charged in the largest admissions scandal of its kind in the United States. She told the judge, quote: I'm deeply ashamed of what I have done.

Our Randi Kaye tonight has more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fifteen thousand dollars, that's what actress Felicity Huffman paid to get her older daughter's SAT scores boosted.

Long after her arrest, she would try to explain she found motherhood bewildering and she was deathly afraid of doing it wrong. Perhaps it was that fear that landed the "Desperate Housewives" star in hot water in the jaw-dropping admissions scandal dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues".

Here's how it worked: a man named Rick Singer had set up a sham charity. Wealthy parents paid in under the guise of donations to obtain fraudulent higher SAT scores, so their kids would be accepted to prestigious schools. Parents also paid for fake athletic credentials so their children who were not student athletes would be accepted to the schools' athletic team.

The fake charity also bribed college coaches and paid off test supervisors to beef up students' answers. Some of the top universities in the country have been ensnared in the scandal, including Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.

FELICITY HUFFMAN, ACTRESS: One day, I won't be able to help you because I won't be here.

KAYE: According to the criminal complaint, Huffman is heard on a recorded phone call making a plan to pay for her younger daughter's SAT scores to be enhanced, something she later decided against. On the call she says, we're going to do like we did with my older daughter. Singer responds, OK, so we'll take it with her and for her at Igor's place at the West Hollywood Test Center.

(on camera): Huffman pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud. She admitted paying $15,000 for her daughter's SAT score of 1420, which was considerably higher than her first score. Investigators say her daughter's answers were corrected by the test supervisor.

(voice-over): Huffman is one of 14 parents who have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty in the college entry bribery scheme, a far cry from a mother who once expressed she wanted to serve as a role model for her daughters.

HUFFMAN: I want to model for my daughters being, having a woman -- being a woman of agency, having a voice in the world, and, you know, that means having influence and having power, and to tell you the truth, having money.

KAYE: And just this week, days before her sentencing, Huffman penned an emotional letter to the judge explaining the head of the charity had said her daughter's math test scores were too low for a college acting audition. Huffman wrote: I didn't want my daughter to be prevented from getting a shot at auditioning and doing what she loves because she can't do math.

Huffman said when the scandal broke: My daughter looked at me and asked with tears streaming down her face, why didn't you believe in me? Why didn't you think I could do it on my own? I could only say, I am sorry, I was frightened and I was stupid.

In support of Huffman, her husband not charged in the scheme, sent a letter to the judge. William H. Macy wrote: Huffman now rarely goes outside and their oldest daughter has, quote, paid the dearest price. Her first choice school denied her application two days after the scandal broke. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: In court, Huffman told the judge on the way to the testing center, she thought about turning around. To my eternal shame, she said, I did not.

The federal prosecutor said, quote: Most parents have the moral compass not to step over the line. The defendant did not. Huffman will report to a federal prison in late October.

Some perspective now from "New York Times" columnist, Frank Bruni. He's a CNN contributor. Also with us, Paul Callan, a CNN legal analyst.


Frank, you have written a lot obviously about the college admissions process. What did you make of this sentence today?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the sentence was a message that things have gotten of hand, I mean, because she could have -- she could have been sentenced to no jail time at all. The guidelines here were broad and some were lenient. And I think the judge understood at a moment in time right now where I think Americans are keenly aware of the uneven playing field when it comes to college admissions. I think this case was the most vivid symbol of that yet.

And I think this got attention not just because celebrities were involved, Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughman's case is coming up. But because this was just a vivid illustration of the fact that the playing field is not even, of the fact that parents of means bring a lot of money and a lot of gamesmanship to the college admissions process.

And so, you end up with a perverted process which if you are not someone of money, if you are someone who knows all those tricks, if you're not someone willing to play the games --

COOPER: Or hire the coaches --

BRUNI: You are behind the eight ball. Now, she went over the line and did something illegal. I think that's very rare. I don't think most parents are paying bribes or engaging in fraud, but, you know, they are giving in cases millions of dollars to a university's endowment in order to get their kid -- that's the Jared Kushner Harvard story. You know, they are paying tens of thousands of dollars every year to college admission consultants, to special tutors.

So, they are getting advantages that other kids don't have, and I think this judge was sort of making an example of Felicity Huffman and saying this is enough.

COOPER: Paul, to her credit, she pled guilty and essentially said, look, yes, I'm guilty. She doesn't seem to be making excuses here. Did that contribute to the relatively low sentence? I mean, there could have been no sentence at all, at the present time, but it could also have been 30 days.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it had an enormous impact because when you plea early and you accept responsibility, that's something that makes a tremendous impression on the judge.

I think there was a second factor, though, Anderson. This is a case where the defense claimed essentially that the real victim of her, Felicity Huffman's actions, were her own daughter. The daughter lived in humiliation after, didn't get into college. So she didn't rob anybody of a seat in college.

So, who really was the victim of this crime? She victimized her own daughter by making this idiotic decision to pay $15,000 so the daughter could get a higher SAT score. All of this combined in a low sentence and the judge made this observation when she was sentencing. She said, I could have sentenced you to no jail, but I want to send a message with this sentence, that this is a serious crime and you are going to go to jail if you do it.

COOPER: This same judge is going to be ruling on other cases in this scheme. I wonder if this tells anything about how else this judge will rule.

CALLAN: I think it does. This sets really the low watermark of probably the best you can hope for. A lot of the other cases involve expenditure of greater sums of money. Some have money-laundering claims in them. And I think there is one parent who expended $6 million.

When that gets evaluated under the federal sentencing guidelines, you will see a longer jail sentence.

COOPER: Frank, I mean, looking at the college admissions going forward, is this actually going to change anything?

BRUNI: You know, so far it hasn't. I have been surprised about that. I thought that at this moment, given all that's come to light, I thought we're going to see a couple of prominent universities step up and say, you know what? We're going to end legacy admissions, which gives a leg up to people of privilege. We are going to do other things, you know, along those lines, they're going to even the playing field.

And I have been sort of shocked to see none of them doing that. Now, there is still time. They may yet. But I think this kind of -- this process and all of its problems, it's so entrenched at this point, I don't think universities like Yale, Harvard, Stanford even know how to get out of it.

CALLAN: You know, in a sense, they were co-conspirators in this entire thing, with the -- not even checking to see if the athletic credentials that were claimed by some of these potential students were legitimate in any way. I mean, somebody saying they want to be on the crew and they had never rode a boat. So -- COOPER: What's also interesting because they intentionally seems

like, Singer intentionally kind of picked minor sports or sports which don't get a lot of attention. He wasn't picking the basketball team or the football team. It was the sailing team, the crew team, which don't get the kind of, you know, eyes on from the administration.

CALLAN: They are happy to charge $50,000 a year, $60,000 a year tuition for each student. So, I think they should be looking more carefully about who they're admitting.

BRUNI: Yes, but I disagree the only victim here is Felicity Huffman's kid. I think the victims are all the kids who are not getting places. I mean, this is a zero-sum game. When they admit certain students, they are not admitting others. I think those are victims.

And I think the other class of victims are the kids -- because there are a lot of them who work so very hard to get the slots at these schools and now people are looking at them and saying, what game did they play?

COOPER: Also, everybody who is taking standardized testing, you know, it's a horrible process. It's awful. I vaguely recall it. I try to block it out. I still have nightmares about it sometimes, to know that, oh, wait a minute, some people have been cheating on this. That's -- it ruins --


CALLAN: You know, Frank -- and I think, Frank, you're right about this in the larger sense that there are a huge number of victims. But you have to prove it in an individual case. That's where it's hard to prove the crime.

COOPER: Yes. Frank Bruni, appreciate it. Paul Callan as well.

Still ahead, Joe Biden and the age card. Like it or not, fair or not, his mental stamina center stage. We'll tell you what the candidate and his campaign said today about his fitness for office after Julian Castro questioned the frontrunner's memory during last night's debate.

Also, a Texas lawmaker threatening Beto O'Rourke after the presidential candidate promised to take away all AR-15s and AK-47s. A live report from Texas on that.


COOPER: Joe Biden's mental acuity and overall medical condition, something previously whispered about or attacked on the president's Twitter feed is now a big topic of conversation in this election. The Democratic frontrunner is now promising to move up the release date of his medical records to before the Iowa state caucuses and all because of fallout from this exchange night with fellow candidate Julian Castro where Castro questioned the vice president's memory.



JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You said they would have to buy in. Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your grandmother would not have to buy in. If she qualifies for Medicaid, she would automatically be enrolled.

CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? I mean, I can't believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in. And now, you're saying they don't have to buy -- you're forgetting that.


COOPER: Biden's campaign called it a cheap shot. Today, even as Castro contends this was, quote, not a personal attack. Nevertheless, the story is out there.

For his part, Biden took it in stride this afternoon when asked whether it was fair for his rivals to play the age card. Biden replied, quote, sure it was.

He joked with the reporters about the questions surrounding his health.


REPORTER: Mr. Vice President, are you committed to releasing your medical records to address concerns by --

BIDEN: Yes. What the hell concerns? You want to wrestle? What's the deal here, man?


COOPER: Speaking about last night's debate, Biden told donors at a fundraiser today, quote: I think I could have done before. I will do better. God willing.

Joining me to discuss, national campaign co-chair for the Biden campaign, Congressman Cedric Richmond.

Congressman, so, Vice President Biden says the age card is fair game. Do you agree?

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): Look, I think the vice president stands by his record. He is who he is, and you can't do anything about age. So, if the American people think age is a real issue -- and remember, everything is relative. The guy that he will be running against is nearly the same age.

But if the American people think that that is an issue, I think he is willing to address it. So, I think it is fair. I don't think how it was played was fair, especially since the facts were wrong surrounding the exchange. COOPER: Do you -- are you concerned that this is an issue that's just

going to keep coming up because it's the kind of thing that once, you know, people start to think about it or focus on it, any time then somebody stumbles, any time somebody gets a word wrong or drones on, as I often do, it brings the question back up again. It's sort of becoming something that people watch for.

RICHMOND: Look, I do it all the time also. I do it far more than I want to do it. But I think that it's a slippery slope. I mean, I know seniors -- my mother for instance, will not say if she misplaces her keys because she doesn't want people to think for some reason she is losing it.

I think we have to be very sensitive about that. And so, if the facts bear it out, then it's something that we can address. But, look, Vice President Biden is very, very strong. He is very energetic, and I think he is running a good campaign.

But to send it out there in the manner that it was done, one, I think it was inaccurate in the way that it was portrayed. But, two, I think it was basically rude, no manners, and disrespectful.

COOPER: It is interesting that this even coming up at all, given the fact it's not just the vice president in his 70s. You talk about Trump, but also his two closest rivals, Senator Sanders and Senator Warren are as well.

Why do you think it is that Biden is the one being attacked for his age and not others?

RICHMOND: Because he is winning. And whenever you're in first place, you have to be prepared for attacks from everyone who is not in first place. Last night, that was nine other people.

And I think that that's why the vice president said at his fundraiser that he will do better. He knows he is going to get attacked. I think that the good thing about the Democratic party is that we leave with our morals and our values.

And so, anything that's issue-related -- and for the American people, let me say this, Anderson, people are so busy trying to keep a roof over their head, food on their tables, clothes on their children's backs and provide for their families.

The last thing they are thinking about are cheap shots in the debate. They are trying to figure out how to beat Donald Trump, how to get this country united again, how to restore the soul of the country, how to love and care for one another like it was intended to do, how to be this idea of America. That's what people are thinking about. They are not thinking about who can come up with the best one-liner, one- liner during the debate so they can fundraise off of it.

COOPER: They are.

RICHMOND: They can get from 2 percent to 3 percent. COOPER: But people are very concerned about who can actually stand toe-to-toe with Donald Trump on a debate stage and take what he, you know, throws out and give back more. I mean, someone who can actually beat Donald Trump on a debate stage and in a race.

RICHMOND: They are concerned about that. But all the polls show that we are the only Democratic candidate that's beaten Donald Trump by double digits. So, it's not a thin margin of victory for Vice President Joe Biden over Donald Trump. He has a large margin of victory right now.

But let's remember also that he had to debate former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and he had to debate former Governor Sarah Palin when the stakes were the highest. And he performed very well. They won both elections.

So, sometimes you have to let experience show. And, by the way, since when is experience and wisdom a bad thing?


You know, it reminds me of the Farmers commercial. I know a thing or two because I have seen a thing or two. So, I think he can stand on the fact that he has been there and he knows what he is doing.

COOPER: All right. Congressman Cedric Richmond, thank you very much.

RICHMOND: Thank you for having me.

COOPER: For me, I want to bring in former advisor of four presidents, and a CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen, and "New York Times" White House correspondent and CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.

You know, while the debate was taking place last night, the president was in the process of taking aim, I guess, at Vice President Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

I just want to play what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hit Pocahontas way too early. I thought she was gone. She's emerged from the ashes. And now, it looks like she could beat Sleepy Joe. He's falling asleep, he has no idea what the hell he is doing or saying.


COOPER: Obviously, if people thought what Julian Castro said was a low blow. I mean, it is just a taste of what, if there was those two on the stage, Biden and Trump, there is going to be a lot worse than that.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, there is a couple of different things going on in that Castro/Biden exchange. One is they seem to be talking past each other. One is the question of the fact that he won't say that he was in fact taking a shot at Biden's age, which is hard to believe. It's pretty universal appearance of that from everyone watching.

But then there's the question of his reaction and the reaction of sort of how dare you, sir, that a lot of his supporters had as you say. This is going to be a fraction of what he's going to see on a debate stage with Donald Trump who insulted his way through the debates in the primary, who insulted his way through his debates with Hillary Clinton, and who is already honing his lines.

So, at a certain point what you have in front of you is the game you have to play. And there are real questions to the point you just made before about whether Biden is the right person to go toe-to-toe. Democrats are assessing that. People are thinking about it because of his age, but also whether he can take a punch against this president.

COOPER: And, David, I mean, Cedric Richmond was saying, you know, well, look, Biden was -- went toe-to-toe against Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan. That was a long time ago. And, obviously, we are older since then.

So, is that -- is that something you can kind of relax and say, oh, he is a very experienced debater?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, no. We have seen Joe Biden now debate several times, and clearly he is still effective. A lot of people like Joe. Sometimes when he makes a gaffe, they like him move. It's part of his humanity and who he is.

But there is no question this is legitimate issue in a campaign when you got a candidate who's in the mid-70s. Just remember back famously when Ronald Reagan was running for a second term and then he had a first debate against Walter Mondale and he stumbled badly on several occasions. He looked sort of out of it. Well, the Democrats went after him hammer and tong, questioning his fitness, basically saying he was senile and he had to have a second strong debate to turn that around with humor, as he did.

And so repeatedly, since then, fitness for office has become a question. Who is asking more of those questions today than Democrats about Donald Trump, whether he is fit for office? Just as it's fair to raise questions about Joe Biden, I thought to -- I do give credit to Joe Biden today to say, I am going to get my medical records out there before anybody votes.

COOPER: It does seem like something, a wise thing to do, though clearly not every president feels that way, because we only saw doctor -- Donald Trump's kind of --

HABERMAN: Dr. Bornstein's note? Right, yes.

COOPER: Yes, I don't know how to describe that doctor, but apparently, he's a doctor.

HABERMAN: He was a doctor of something. That is true. Look, we have not seen Donald Trump's medical records. We get the

report from the White House now that he's president. But, yes, I think David raises an important point. I think that one of the reasons Democrats get so frustrated, some anyway, with the criticisms of Biden's age is -- and whether he is fully present the person in the White House often, you know, loses his train of thought.

Or, you know, I remember being in the Oval Office at some point. I can't remember this year or last year, he kept referring to John Bolton as Mike Bolton. So, I mean, he does get these things wrongs.

I think Democrats get frustrated feeling like he doesn't bear any scars for that. I don't know if he does or doesn't. We're going to find out with voters.

COOPER: David -- go ahead, David.

GERGEN: I just want to make one more point, and that is it's right to raise the question of how he is going to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump. That's an important question.

But the bigger larger issue is, is he going to have good judgment if he is president? Is he going to be able to think clearly and have -- and come down and really complicated world. That's important.

And, you know, Trump is operating entirely by instinct and look how everything is getting all screwed up. You want a person in that Oval Office who can think and think clearly. And Biden needs to demonstrate that. I think, you know, he will be put to the test in this campaign.


COOPER: You know, Maggie, last night, there was a lot of criticisms of Biden's reaction to the question about the legacy of slavery and how to -- what to do now. He ended up sort of saying, make sure you have the record player on at night. There was criticism that he basically veered off the topic and ended up in a sort of very convoluted thing, and then also referencing a record player as someone who just happened to buy a record player in Detroit in the last debate from Shinola.

You know, there's an agreement to be made, record players are coming back, but I don't think that's what Vice President Biden was referring to.

HABERMAN: I think record players are wonderful. But, no, I don't think that was where he was going. And, I don't -- but I do think that, look, on the issue of slavery and of this country's relationship to slavery, I think what Biden was trying to do frankly was just not answer the question because the crux of his support in the Democratic Party is two different currents.

One is this conceit that he can appeal to working class white voters, which really hasn't' been tested, and then that he is consistently polling fairly well with black voters. It's why you're now increasingly hearing his aides say that it's really going to come down to South Carolina. I have a hard time seeing if he gets wiped out in Iowa and New Hampshire, how the vote doesn't start shifting. But I think that's what you were saying at play there.

COOPER: David, do you agree with that? I mean, when you hear that there are kind of saying, oh look, Iowa, New Hampshire not so important for Biden, is that a worrying sign? Should it be for people who support Biden?

GERGEN: Yes, it should be. Absolutely, it's a red flag. I think Maggie is right on target.

If Elizabeth Warren pulls out a victory in Iowa and then another one in New Hampshire and she's got a very good ground game going in both states, she is getting big crowds, it's going -- Biden will be very much on the defensive and may not be enough to come back in South Carolina.

COOPER: Yes, David Gergen, Maggie Haberman, thank you very much.

Up next, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke telling the debate audience, if elected, he will take your AR-15, your AK-47, his words. Texas lawmaker responded to what O'Rourke says was a threat. We have details ahead.


[20:30:59] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Beto O'Rourke received what he and others view as a death threat from a Texas lawmaker after this comment on the topic of gun control during last night's debate.


BETO O'ROURKE (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And in Odessa, I met the mother of a 15-year-old girl who is shot by an AR-15 and that mother watched her bleed to death over the course of an hour because so many other people were shot by that AR-15. Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.


COOPER: Well, now, after that comment about AR-15s, Texas Republican Briscoe Cain responded to O'Rourke on Twitter, "My AR is ready for you, Robert Francis," which is Beto's given name. O'Rourke responded, "This is a death threat, Representative. Clearly you shouldn't own an AR-15, and neither should anyone else." O'Rourke's press secretary told CNN they reported the tweet to the FBI.

Ed Lavandera is in Dallas with the latest. Ed, I know you spoke with this Texas lawmaker. Does he regret sending that tweet?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He does not. He told us that any kind of suggestion that this -- his comments were a death threat is simply trying to manipulate the issue. He says that he was trying to take a modern twist on the old Texas revolutionary battle cry of come and take it, and that was the spirit in what he said.

And even after Beto O'Rourke had tweeted back at him that he shouldn't own an AR-15, he fired back at the former Texas congressman calling him a child.

COOPER: And Beto O'Rourke's campaign has said that this was reported to the FBI. I mean, has he been contacted by authorities?

LAVANDERA: As far as we know, he has not. We spoke to him a couple of times today. He said he has not been contacted by the FBI. He says that that is clearly a sign that he didn't commit any crime, that what he said is protected First Amendment speech.

COOPER: This isn't the first time that this topic is kind of -- or this kind of rhetoric has come up.

LAVANDERA: Yes. You know, it's really been interesting here, Anderson, over the course of the last month and a half with the two shootings in El Paso, in Odessa. After the Odessa shooting there was an east Texas state lawmaker who basically came out and said, you know, they will never change any gun laws, universal background checks and that sort of thing. It wasn't as controversial as what happened today. But it really kind of spoke to this pushback on these calls for gun control legislation.

But at the same time, you have prominent state lawmakers, the lieutenant governor here in Texas, starting to open and show some signs of some willingness to accept universal or portions of a limited universal background check. So all of this really kind of speaks to the heated dynamic that this issue is kind of -- that we see unfolding here in the state of Texas.

COOPER: Yes. Ed Lavandera, appreciate it. Thank you.

Now, I want to look at how these comments play in the larger issue of gun control as a 2020 political issue. I want to turn to "USA Today" columnist and CNN Political Analyst Kirsten Powers and former special assistant to President George W. Bush and CNN Political Commentator Scott Jennings. Great to have you both on.

Kirsten, the comments from O'Rourke, don't they just play direct -- I mean, I know he's got to do whatever he can to kind of get out of the -- enter the stage where he's at right now, but don't they just play into Republicans' hands? It's kind of that, you know, Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, said today that they're going to be played at Second Amendment rallies for years.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think that Democrats to a certain extent maybe aren't recognizing that things have changed, right? That's a little bit of the old playbook. I would say in the past, yes, if somebody said something like this it would be pretty much dead on arrival in terms of a general election campaign. But things have changed a lot.

We're having this, you know, constant mass shootings where I think people are becoming more and more concerned about this, so it certainly buy-backs sort of something that Democrats support and a good number of independents support as well.

Republicans don't support it and they're not going to vote for a Democrat anyway. So I think if you want to play it safe, then you don't do that. You don't say what he said. I think that if you're somebody who is trying to break out like Beto is, then he has nothing to lose.

[20:35:02] I think if he was to become the general election candidate, you know, this is a risky strategy, that's what I would say. It's risky, but I don't think it's the kind of dead on arrival that it used to be.

COOPER: Also, Scott, I mean, you know, he's not just talking about buy-backs, he's talking about take backs. I mean, buy-back is like a voluntary -- oh, you give us your old gun and we will pay you for it. The next step, if that doesn't take the millions of weapons off the street is he is saying we're going to take them, which is obviously -- I mean, know a lot of gun owners. I have friends who are gun owners in Texas who are legitimately believe and concerned that that could happen.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, for years Republicans have worried about this. And when we have these conversations about what can we do about the mass shootings and gun violence, some Republicans raise the idea that Democrats want to confiscate your weapons, want to come and make it mandatory for you to give your weapons to the government.

Democrats and media types and pundits and so on, they come along and say, oh, that's crazy. These are just talking points used to frighten people. And here Beto O'Rourke is now saying the quiet part out loud, which is they in fact do want to confiscate your weapons. And there's a real concern among Republicans that it won't stop with this one particular kind of weapon because there's really no difference between it and other semiautomatic guns --

COOPER: But you know --


JENNINGS: -- that looks scarier.

COOPER: But you know that Beto O'Rourke is the only one who is calling for actually -- I mean, or talking about taking weapons. I mean, some support the idea of a voluntary buy-back, but they're not -- few people are actually calling for taking back weapons.

JENNINGS: I had the volume up on the debate last night and I don't know that anything got as much as applause in that room when Beto O'Rourke said he wanted to come and have a mandatory gun confiscation program. I imagine, as Kirsten said, there is wide spread support in the Democratic Party and I think if they were to get full control of the government there would be a huge push for this.

And so look, I think this. Most people want something. I think there are several reasonable proposals on the table. But when you inject the idea of this, it reduces the amount of trust in the process. And as you know, there was already very little trust to begin with.

COOPER: Yes. Kirsten, I want to -- it's an issue with Beto O'Rourke has certainly evolved as they say. I want to play some of what he said just last year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I own an AR-15. A lot of our listeners own AR- 15s. Why should they not have them?

O'ROURKE: To be clear, they should have it. If you purchase that AR- 15, if you own it, keep it. Continue to use it responsibly. We support the Second Amendment. If you own a gun, keep that gun. Nobody wants to take it away from you. At least I don't want do that.


COOPER: It is the exact opposite of what he is saying now.

POWERS: Yes. Well, I mean -- and I think, you know, Cory Booker was talking about this last night, this sort of empathy deficit that until something happens in your town, it's not something that you're concerned about. I think this is a good example of it.

You know, Beto should have been able to have, you know, a sort of creativity to imagine what it would be like if it came to his town. Now, it did come to his town and it was a terrible tragedy and now he wants to do this. And so I think that that's honestly appears to be what happened.

In terms of what Scott is talking about, you know, how horrible and scary this would be to have people have to do some sort of buy-back, mandatory buy-back with their guns, look, the guns have been -- we've banned the machine guns. The world continued. We had an assault weapons ban. The world continued.

So the way they create this idea that it's just this horror show and the country is going to somehow fall apart, if somehow these weapons that never should have been available in the first place, you know, that there would be some sort of buy-back, I just think that's fear- mongering.

COOPER: Yes. But there was no --

POWERS: I just think it's fear-mongering.

COOPER: -- confiscation, though -- I mean, with the assault weapons ban, there was -- it wasn't an actual ban. There was no confiscation of existing assault weapons. It was just you just couldn't buy new ones.

POWERS: Yes, right. But the point is even that now is something that they claim just even having a ban is something that they won't even consider.

COOPER: Right. POWERS: And then I would say if you're going to ban them, then why wouldn't you confiscate them? I mean, I don't understand. It's like -- and even to say confiscate, we're saying having, you know, a mandatory buy-back, people in other countries have done this where you come and you handed your gun and it's bought back.

COOPER: Yes, Australia. Yes. We're going to have to leave it there. Kirsten Powers, appreciate it. Scott Jennings, obviously, this is a conversation that we will continue.

Coming up, has President Trump changed his tune on vaping after announcing an effort to ban almost all flavored vaping products? Breaking news, ahead.


[20:43:11] COOPER: There's more breaking news tonight. President Trump seems to be striking a different tone on vaping after announcing an effort to ban almost all flavored vaping products.

In a tweet posted this evening, he wrote, "While I like the vaping alternative to cigarettes, we need to make sure this alternative is safe for all. Let's get counterfeits off the market, and keep young children from vaping."

On Wednesday when revealing his proposed ban on most flavored electronic cigarettes, the President said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't allow people to get sick and we can't have our youth be so affected.

A lot of people think vaping is wonderful, it's great. It's really not wonderful. That's one thing I think we can say definitely, Commissioner. It's not a wonderful thing. It's got big problems. We have to find out the extent of the problem. It's so new. It's so new. But we're going to find out.


COOPER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins, joins us now from the White House. So, how do we get from those comments Wednesday to this tweet tonight where now the focus seems to be on counterfeit products?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, getting counterfeit products off the market is a big change from what the President was rolling out there in the Oval Office saying that they wanted to ban the sales of most of these flavored e-cigarettes, including the mint and methanol ones, which is a big one for the e- cigarette market who argues those shouldn't be considered flavors and wanted to be able to keep those in stores.

And when the President made announcement, it kind of startled the market, because this was something that we were told by sources was put together pretty quickly by the White House. They weren't sure what the level of HHS was at the beginning of that proposal being put together. And clearly, the First Lady, Melania Trump, who was seated there in the Oval Office was heavily involved in this as the President pointed out multiple times.

But also it's a change from what the President was saying just yesterday when he was leaving the White House and he was asked what kind of advice he's given his own son about it and he essentially said that they had told him not much except don't vape and the President said he didn't like vaping.

[20:45:02] So now it's going to be called into question what is the future of this policy, if any, that the President laid out in the Oval.

COOPER: I heard, and correct -- tell me if this is correct, that two former administration officials now work for Juul?

COLLINS: Yes, that's true.

COOPER: Are they at a high level?

COLLINS: A former top assistant to Jared Kushner now works at the company and then someone else left who worked in the executive office building next door to the White House also left the administration recently to go work there.

Now, the question of what kind of influence those two former staffers have over the President's decision here is unclear. But what we do know is that before the President made that decision, he had been hearing from lawmakers from officials who were concerned about this rise in vaping.

But after that announcement was made, we're told that the President heard from the people on the other side of the aisle who were saying, no, no, you're going too far here with this policy and you're not sure exactly what you're doing here, why you're laying all of this out and just so much that you're restricting by this policy, which a lot of people who are in favor of vaping said they believe went too far.

COOPER: You know, it's fascinating. In prior administrations or on regular administrations, you would go through a process where you listen to different sides before announcing an initiative like he did and then have to backtrack later and say, actually, we're just looking at counterfeit stuff. Kaitlan Collins, we'll see where this thing ends up, if it ends up anywhere.

Still ahead, why the President has a beef with light bulbs. Hint, it has something to do with his orange hue according to him. "The Ridiculist," coming up.


[20:50:40] COOPER: A friend of this program and a CNN contributor is in need tonight. Wajahat Ali's 3-year-old daughter, Nusayba, needs a liver donor. She has stage four cancer and the family is looking for someone age 18 to 55 years old who's in good health and is O-positive or O-negative.

They're hoping for surgery by the end of next week and say there's an expected four to six week recovery for the donor. They also note that thanks to social media they have the funds to pay for the donor's travel or pay for the donor to take work off if they need it.

If you might fit the criteria and want to help, go to Put down Nusayba Ali as the name under recipient. That's Your family is in our thoughts.

I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Coop, you're doing the right thing, one team, one fight. I was just on the phone with Wajahat. Just to give people the kind of idea he -- the guy he is, he didn't even tell me about this. He was on with me last night for a ton of time.

I didn't even know why he had cut his hair the way he did. He did it, obviously, to connect with his daughter and what she's going through. He never even mentioned it, because he said he was here to talk politics.

I mean, you know, that's the kind of integrity he has. And the good news is, Coop, putting the word out the way you just did, it's getting some flow of information. We got to keep it coming because the need is great.


CUOMO: So, that's great to get that out. We have Chairman Nadler on tonight. What does he make of this press release from Chairman Schiff about this actionable complaint from the DNI and it not being delivered to Congress? What's going on with impeachment? What's going on with guns?

We have the woman who made that ad with AOC's face burning up that was shown during the debate last night. And we have a representative from the vaping companies who say they're getting a bad name. We're taking it all on, on a Friday night.

COOPER: All right. Chris, thanks very much. We look forward to that. See you in just a couple minutes, about seven minutes from now.

The President blames light bulbs for his orange glow. "The Ridiculist," you might have guessed, is next.


[20:56:50] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're taking -- talking about a real battle of wits and whats (ph) as President Trump wages a new war against that most pernicious public enemy who is the light bulb. That's right, I said it, you all don't have the bulbs to report it, but I do, so does Trump. We're talking nasty politically correct socialist light bulbs. Speaking last night at Republican retreat in Baltimore, America's next top electrician suggested the current crop of energy-efficient bulbs are to blame for his own personal gold-plated glow.


TRUMP: The light bulb, people said what's with the light bulb? I said here is the story. And I looked at it. The bulbs that were being forced to use, number one to me most importantly, the light's no good. I always look orange and so do you. The light is the worst.


COOPER: Well, this might be the first time I've heard the President acknowledge that he looks orange. He did say, and so do you, which -- I mean no one, you know, quite has the same presidential glow.

Frankly, though, I'm glad he did. It's sort of a relief. It's like acknowledging the 1,000 pound Clementine in the room. I mean, I would have ever brought it myself. I don't like to rift of someone's physical appearance unless it's my own translucent death-like paler and I can work in the phrase steely blue eyes.

But, I do give props to President Trump for acknowledging and seemingly poking fun at the orange glow, which I don't know if it's OK to say at this point, now that he's brought it up, but it does seem to drop off without actually making its way all around his neck or his eyes, for that matter.

It is -- I don't know if that's because of those little glasses people wear in a sun tan booth or to spray tanning salon or if there is some cream involved and he doesn't want to put around the eyes. I don't know what's involved.

I personally don't have a lot of experience with tanning. I prefer, as I said, a ghostly death-like paler. It scares off kids and it makes my steely blue eyes pop. And, yes, I've mentioned steely blue eyes twice so far. True, I did once get a spray tan for a T.V. thing.


COOPER: Wow, that's dark.



COOPER: Yes, Snooki. Yes, I don't know. Yes. OK, yes. OK, yes. I was in a room with Snooki. Yes, OK. Look, it was daytime T.V., you know, and I did what they told me. I also have gained weight since then, which is not fun to see. And I really wish they didn't have me wear that shower cap. You can't rock -- you can't pull that off. It just doesn't -- and it doesn't work.

Anyway, isn't spray tanning and/or makeup really the most likely reason the President looks orange? Let's go back to that. I think all the shadowboxing with the ghost of Thomas Edison, it's misplaced.

And while I doubt, we're going to be hearing more from his orangeness about his queue. I'm glad he broke the silence. I feel -- it's out there. I just feel like it will just be done with it now.

We are only as sick as our secrets, as they say. And it's not every day or every year you hear President Trump making a crack about himself. You've got to give him a little bit of credit, just like Halley's Comet, only happens, you know, however often Haley's Comet happens. So -- because I don't really remember, because I didn't look it up.

So don't hold your breath, though, for any more self-deprecation from 1,600 Diet Sunkist Avenue (ph). As for those loathsome light bulbs, who knows what the President might do, executive orders, national emergencies. He's never shied away from flipping the switch or throwing some shade on "The Ridiculist."

And the news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?