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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

U.S. Tops 247,000 Deaths And 11 Million Coronavirus Cases; Donald Trump Aims To Undermine Joe Biden's Legitimacy Even As Legal Challenges Fizzle; Trump Has Shown Little Indication He Plans To Back Off His False Claim That He Won The Election; NY Times: Advisers Dissuaded Trump From A Strike Against Iran, Warning It Could Escalate A Broader Conflict. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 16, 2020 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They simply don't have the medical resources. So their best tools here are going to be isolation and prevention. Their best weapon is the lockdown. They just pray it works -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Martin, thank you.

And thanks very much to all of you. Anderson starts now.

[20:00:17]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. On a day, the world got to celebrate the possibility of a second vaccine that could be ready to deploy in weeks, President-elect Joe Biden made it clear today during a speech in Delaware that it takes more than just vaccines to end the pandemic.

We have to cooperate together, he said. All of us, not just across party lines, but in his words, also cooperate with the World Health Organization and the rest of the world in dealing with this.

Now, the symbolism of the event couldn't be missed. He just met with two groups that famously do not always get along: corporate leaders and labor unions. Biden's message was this, if we want our businesses to fully reopen, if we want to resume our lives and put this pandemic behind us, if we want to have not just a Thanksgiving and a Christmas, but as Biden said, "Next Thanksgiving and Christmas," we have to do everything possible and spare no effort to fight COVID.

And that, the American people have issued a mandate, said Biden, quoting him, "They want us to cooperate. They want us to deliver results," he said. He didn't directly mention President Trump when he said those specific words, but he didn't have to, at least at first, because with the good news of a possible vaccine comes a need to coordinate the distribution of it.

And the rising cases across the country call for coordination between current government officials and the incoming administration. But that is not happening. That is still not happening because the current President who will leave office on January 20th, whether he likes it or not, is still blocking the incoming Biden team's transition. President-elect Biden was asked about it this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What do you see is the biggest threat to your transition right now, given President Trump's unprecedented attempt to obstruct and delay a smooth transfer of power?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: More people may die if we don't coordinate.

Look, as my Chief of Staff Ron Klain would say, who handled Ebola, a vaccine is important. It's of little use until you're vaccinated. So how do we get the vaccine? How do we get over 300 million Americans vaccinated? What's the game plan?

It's a huge, huge, huge undertaking. To get it done, prioritize those with greatest need, and working our way through it and also cooperate with the World Health Organization and the rest of the world in dealing with this.

And so they say they have this Warp Speed program that not only dealt with getting vaccines, but also how to distribute this. If we have to wait until January 20th to start that planning, it puts us behind over a month, a month and a half.

And so it's important that it be done, that there be coordination now, now or as rapidly as we can get that done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Quoting the future 46th President of the United States, "More people may die if we don't coordinate." Well, today 739 reported deaths and counting. The C.D.C. says today that rural Americans are now dying nearly three and a half times the rate of urban Americans.

Caseloads exploding across the country, too. More than 153,000 cases right now and counting today.

On Sunday, we crossed the 11 million mark in cases, total. These mile posts, they are coming quicker every month, you might have noticed. You know, it took us 98 days to reach that first million cases in this country. Remember that, 98 days because this latest million to go from 10 million to 11 million, this latest million, it took just six days.

From 98 days to six to reach a million cases. It is serious out there. It is all hands on deck time.

For his part, Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees we need a functioning transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It's almost like passing a baton in a race. You don't want to stop and then give it to somebody, you want to just essentially keep going and that's what a transition is.

So it certainly would make things more smoothly if we could do that.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So just as a public health measure, you think it would be a good idea if your team would be able to work with the Biden-Harris transition team right now, just in terms of what's best for the public health of the American people?

FAUCI: Yes. Of course, Jake, that's obvious. Of course, it would be better if we could start working with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And yes, it is obvious. Of course, it is obvious. No matter how much the current President's feelings are hurt or hopes dashed, no matter how angry he is or what lies the sycophants around him are whispering in his ear, it doesn't matter.

One man's hurt and anger and fury -- it is nothing, even if he is the President of the United States. It is nothing when measured against the hurt and the anger and the fury you can now see in any hospital in America, in ICU beds where people are gasping for breath, gasping for life.

[20:05:09]

COOPER: You want to talk about hurt and disappointment and feelings? How about feeling for them? Those desperate gasp for breath -- that is what we should be hearing and listening to and talking about, and doing everything we can to help.

Let's stop talking about the man sitting in the White House huffing and puffing in anger and spewing lies and he had a childhood with a tough father. His feelings don't matter. Certainly, not more than the feelings of family members desperately hoping right now somewhere in America that some overworked and underpaid nurse or doctor will have a few minutes to maybe hold up their phones so that the family can at least see their dad or mom, afraid that tonight might be the night that she or he doesn't make it through.

How can this man currently in the White House who says he cares about America and Americans first above all else, how can he delay a transition? Make it more difficult? How can he make it so that there isn't a seamless transition that doesn't possibly interrupt an effort to distribute a vaccine to all of us?

How can he not have a seamless transition and coordination so that contact with researchers isn't interrupted and new information and the transmittal of knowledge is not interrupted?

How can anyone do that?

Admiral Brett Giroir who serves on the now invisible Coronavirus Taskforce for this President said over the weekend, it's been five months since the President attended a Taskforce meeting, five months. I mean, it's fine. It's the choice he made. History will be the judge.

But now, there is work to be done and there are new people and they are ready to do it. Next week, the C.D.C. starts the process of determining which of us, which Americans will be the first to get the vaccine.

That is an incredibly important decision. Not everyone can be at the front of the line and people will have to wait. So, it should be obvious why you would want to give an incoming administration access to the people who are making these decisions right now because in about 65 days, it becomes their decisions, too, and they have to make it work.

In our democracy, the people speak and the people change the course of history. That's what they did and that is what has already happened. And the President is free to fight this in court all the way to Inauguration Day.

He has been laughed out of courts. His lawyers are dropping left and right. His time is over.

Let the new administration have a transition and let's help Americans through this crisis.

A medical perspective now on the vaccines, the damage caused to our public health because of the President's refusal to allow a transition, former C.D.C. Director, Dr. Tom Frieden and our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So Dr. Frieden, you know, President-elect Biden today saying more people may die if the Trump administration continues to stonewall the incoming administration. What is so important about a transition just in terms in the midst of a pandemic?

What are the kind of things that the knowledge that has to be passed, the information and logistics, all of that?

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, FORMER C.D.C. DIRECTOR: Transitions are enormously complicated, even without a pandemic, and we're about to start the most complex vaccination campaign in American history with multiple different vaccines, two-dose series for some, extreme temperature requirements, an environment of lack of trust, a need for community engagement and communication.

All of that stuff is going to go from one team on January 19th to another team on January 20th before most of the vaccination will have been done. It is essential that there's good collaboration, communication coordination to pass the baton, because any slip is going to mean less rapid rollout, less rapid improvement in our response, even short of a vaccine to curtailing transmission and stopping clusters in cases and protecting people in nursing homes and elsewhere.

So all of this obstruction is really getting in the way not just of one group talking to another, but of the government being able to work around the clock to protect American lives. COOPER: Sanjay, the Vice President, the supposed head of the White

House Coronavirus Taskforce, he led a call with the country's governors today. His first time on the once weekly calls since September 29th. He tweeted out these pictures where he apparently appears to be the only person not wearing a mask in the room.

This is C.D.C. Director Dr. Redfield seated next to Pence who said, quote: "The bottom line is masks do work. There is not a debate about that." It is incredible to me that there is still not consistent messaging from this administration, especially from you know, Pence, who you know has been part of the spread of this virus. I mean, people round Pence.

[20:10:07]

COOPER: I mean, it's, again it is -- it would be funny if it wasn't so deadly serious.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I have a hard time understanding this. This is probably going to be one of the great mysteries. You know, when we look back on this -- the whole thing about the masks and those pictures in particular, because obviously this has become politicized.

But now you're in a room full of people who are not, they're not -- they are doctors. They are scientists. They are all wearing masks. We understand, you know, the concerns about being in an indoor setting, in particular, with this virus and you know, he is the head of the Coronavirus Taskforce.

He'll say, look, I get tested on a regular basis, and so do a lot of the people in that room.

COOPER: Well, we all know how efficient their testing has been. I mean, they've been lying about that for, you know, since the beginning.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it makes no sense. He is also the person who, you know, went to the Mayo Clinic, this was a couple months ago, into a COVID ward and did not wear a mask, and then you know, and then apologize for that saying he should have done it.

But then, you know, again, it feels like this lesson has not been learned by this Taskforce, at least by Vice President Pence, I should say and I don't know that I'll ever be able to understand that or explain it.

COOPER: Yes. And again, I mean, you know, they are on the way out. They are leaving. They are going through the court fights, but they are leaving. But Dr. Frieden, I mean, they can do damage on the way, you know, as they're slowly being pushed to the door. They can do a whole lot of damage, and people's lives are hanging in the balance.

The focus of that call, Dr. Frieden, was the distribution of vaccines. And today we learned that the Moderna vaccine is 95 percent effective. That's -- I mean, it sounds incredibly like great news. Should the Trump administration be getting credit for some of this, even with all their other missteps? I know the other vaccine, the Pfizer one was not part of Operation Warp Speed.

FRIEDEN: I think there's a lot and I've been saying this for months that's gone really well with Operation Warp Speed. The idea that you would fund the manufacturer at the same time you fund the development. So you would cut a few months out of the delivery. That's a great idea.

The idea that they bet on four different vaccines, so that if any of them don't work out, there's a likelihood that another will work out. Their willingness to pay what are called advanced market commitments, so that the Pfizer vaccine, which wasn't funded by Operation Warp Speed was funded, in essence, they guaranteed a market for it and that was reassuring to Pfizer. This is all really good.

What we haven't seen is that same level of detail in the planning of a vaccination campaign because antigen vaccines don't stop epidemics. Vaccination programs, stop epidemics. And those depend on trust. It depends on transparent information, communication from scientists, assurance that it's not going to be politicized, assurance that it is not going to be used for political purposes, and it's fortunate that in fact, the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. have stuck to their guns.

And it is the F.D.A. Advisory Committee that will use the standard procedure to see is this safe and effective? In the C.D.C., it is what's called the ACIP, which gives the recommendations for who should get it and when that will look at the actual vaccine data and make science based recommendations for how we can be fair and save the most lives. That's the way a vaccination campaign should happen.

But state and local governments need to be doing a lot of planning. I would say to summarize, we're ahead of schedule on vaccine development, but we're behind schedule on vaccine distribution and that's a big complex and crucially important undertaking.

COOPER: Sanjay, what's your view on the Moderna news?

GUPTA: I think, it's very exciting news. I mean, the idea that we didn't even know if this type of vaccine was going to work, this mRNA vaccine, this is the first time we will have a vaccine like this and it looks like we will have a vaccine like this.

But just, you know, I think that Dr. Frieden's point is an important one, and I would even take it a step further. We put a lot of eggs in the vaccine basket, you know, and it's the home run, it's the knockout punch, whatever metaphor you want to assign to it.

But at the same time, we kind of ignored everything else, right? I mean, the things that we should have done all along can still do haven't been done, you know, it reminds me of this -- there is this commercial that we are seeing on TV, Larry, the Cable Guy would come on and basically eat whatever he wants and then take a purple pill, right?

I can eat whatever I want as long as I have the purple pill. The metaphor is the same here. We're doing whatever we want, not really paying much attention to this and the vaccine is the purple pill. We've still got to eat right, still got to do the right things and we haven't been as a country doing that.

COOPER: Yes, and everyone, it is going to be widely distributed and actually taken. Sanjay, appreciate it. Dr. Frieden as well.

There's breaking news now on those lawsuits in key battleground states. The President's team has tried and failed to derail Joe Biden's ascent to the White House. Our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown joins us with that.

So you have new reporting on how the President and his team are approaching these legal challenges. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. We've learned that last week the President was upset when he found out his campaign was dropping the Arizona lawsuit, so he summoned officials to the Oval Office and campaign officials and lawyers. Rudy Giuliani was on the phone and I'm told by multiple sources, it became very contentious with Rudy Giuliani accusing the Trump campaign lawyers of lying to the President, even though they had been telling him the truth that the odds were stacked against him that he likely would not be able to change the outcome of the election.

[20:15:33]

BROWN: Rudy called them liars. In response, the Deputy Campaign Manager Justin Clark fired back at him and called him an effing a- hole. This was all unfolding in the Oval Office with the President and the Vice President.

The next day, Rudy Giuliani was put in charge by President Trump. So he went up and the Trump campaign lawyers descended essentially as it was put to me, and Rudy's strategy here is essentially to go guns a blazing, fight until the bitter end and to focus on conspiracy theories.

Rudy has been in the President's ear, pushing these conspiracy theories about election software made by the company, Dominion and allegedly changing votes. There is no evidence to support this.

Dominion has come out to refute it. US government officials have come out to refute it. There have been no cases filed and no evidence shown. But that is really where Rudy's focus is.

And I'm told by sources that he has really been pushing that with Trump and making him think that there is a chance, if he pushes, you know, with these legal cases that really are just a long shot. The ones that are already happening right now are just a long shot. And we're already seeing some shake up with Rudy at the helm now, Anderson.

Today, there was a second set of lawyers who were replaced in the Pennsylvania case, and I'm told that that was directly related to Rudy. COOPER: I'm sure it's a crack team who has replaced them if it's been

appointed by Rudy Giuliani. There's also those on his team, including family members who do not agree with this approach. Correct?

BROWN: Right. So I'm told by multiple sources that there are essentially two camps here. In one camp, you have Rudy Giuliani, who is aligned with the President's sons, Don, Jr. and Eric Trump.

COOPER: Sure. Great company.

BROWN: And essentially, they have the attitude of we just need to keep fighting and never give up guns blazing. Right? So that is one camp; even though most people, I mean, pretty much everyone else is in consensus that there's really no path here for the President and the majority of White House officials, aides, allies, the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, the Trump campaign lawyers, they know that look, there's really no chance here for the President to overcome this.

And they've told the President that. They've been honest with him. But what's interesting about this, Anderson, is in talking to sources, there has been sort of this shift. Last week, sources thought the President this week would come out and, you know, say something about the fact that he did not win this election in his own words, and allow for the transition to happen. They thought that would happen.

But now, there is a change in tune and they are very concerned that that's not going to happen now with Rudy at the helm -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Well, fascinating. It's truly is fascinating. Pamela Brown, I really appreciate it. Thank you.

More now on the lawsuits and how long President Trump can hold up the transition, our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny joins us now.

So Jeff, what is President-elect Biden's strategy right now with all these legal maneuvers, which frankly, just seemed like, you know, shifting chairs on the Titanic?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's definitely, you know, it is the Full Employment Act, mostly pro bono for these Democratic lawyers. They are keeping their eye on these legal cases everywhere. As Pamela mentioned, certainly in Pennsylvania.

But first and foremost, I'm told it is that hand recount in Georgia. That's where the Biden campaign's legal team is keeping an eye on as they are recounting, going through, auditing all of these votes, but so far, they are saying that they are not coming up with any widespread irregularities or even big changes in votes.

A few things are changing here and there. But right now, the Biden lawyers are just sort of watching this and watching it play out as time is ticking away closer to January 20th. So at this point, if there's any nervousness from them, they certainly

are not conveying it. In fact, they are rather gleeful that most of these court cases, the vast majority are certainly going their way.

COOPER: Yes, Jeff Zeleny, appreciate it. Thanks.

Still to come tonight, President Trump's niece turned bestselling author, a woman who knows the President better than most is here to discuss what his endgame for all these lawsuits may be using to delay the transition.

And later, Trump's top coronavirus adviser who tells the President exactly what he wants to hear is now backtracking after he told the people of Michigan to rise up against a Democratic Governor who prosecutors say was already the target of a domestic kidnapping plot.

You cannot make this stuff up. This guy has the President's ear, the state's top law enforcement officials will join us ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:23:36]

COOPER: It is breaking news, as Pamela Brown reported earlier, President Trump is decidedly unhappy with the way some of his legal challenges are being tossed out. Even though he and his allies continue to insist, there are numerous cases of election fraud. A look at court cases in four key states show the opposite.

Lawsuits brought by supporters of the President in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania went nowhere and the cases were dropped earlier today. So what is left?

Perspective from Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican elections lawyer, now a CNN contributor.

Ben, we just heard from Pamela Brown saying now Rudy Giuliani is the one in charge and Donnie Jr. and the other one, Eric Trump. They are kind of a team saying take this thing to the end. It seems like the lawsuits are going nowhere and the fact they failed to prove claims of fraud. Where does that leave actual lawyers to argue in court? What does that lead them to do?

BENJAMIN L. GINSBERG, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it leaves an unravelling of cases it is what it leads. And the lawyers who have been leaving the representations are some of the real warriors in Republican battles. And it is interesting, they haven't been able to prove fraud and that was the predicate for most of the cases.

Couldn't prove it before the election. They had a 50,000 person poll watcher army, couldn't prove it with them. And now all of a sudden, we are seeing the fraud cases kind of melt away. And Rudy Giuliani is talking conspiracy theories about voting machines.

[09:25:06] COOPER: And just to be clear, I mean there are still challenges

happening in Pennsylvania. The Trump legal team withdrew their request to stop certification of the results, but revised their suit on cured ballots. Can you explain what's going on there?

GINSBERG: Sure. And that's a major concession. And while there is still language in the amended complaint, in fact, the actual relief they asked for has nothing to do with all those challenged ballots, and it's down to a cure, which means that some counties in Pennsylvania allowed voters who made mistakes on absentee ballots to cure them by filling in the missing information, some counties did not do that.

And the Trump campaign has what I think is a sort of a weak, equal protection argument that all voters should be treated the same. They are relying on Bush versus Gore, and I can tell you, Bush versus Gore was about something very different from this.

COOPER: And the Giuliani focus on the conspiracy theories on machines. There's no evidence of that, correct?

GINSBERG: There's absolutely no evidence, plus, when -- but before any vote is counted and then after Election Day, there are test decks run on all these machines. So you have a certain number of Trump votes, certain number of Biden votes. You run it through the machine with the test deck to be sure that the machine is actually counting it accurately. So that takes place.

Plus in the hand recount, you will see -- you get a ballot, a paper trail and that's what they are actually recounting on the machines and you'll be able to see proof of that as well.

COOPER: Ben Ginsberg, as always, appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

GINSBERG: Thank you.

COOPER: If the court cases to date have gotten pretty much your attraction, what is the end game for the President?

Joining me now Mary Trump, President Trump's niece, author of the bestselling book, "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man."

Mary, it's good to see you. Thanks for being with us. Today, President-elect Biden said, quote, "I am hopeful that the President will be mildly more enlightened before we get to January 20th." You're a psychologist as well as a family member. What is going on?

I mean, before we say that I'm of the mind that it doesn't really matter. He is leaving. January 20th is the date. He can be upset. He can be angry.

He can, you know, be stewing over his domineering father, all of that, but it doesn't matter. But nevertheless, it may affect what we actually have to live through for the next, you know, 60 plus whatever days. So what do you think is going on? MARY TRUMP, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S NIECE: Well, I agree with you. It

doesn't matter if he concedes. It doesn't matter if he acts like an adult and allows for a smooth and peaceful transition. None of that matters in the sense that he lost and President-elect Biden will be President come January 20th.

But you're also right that it does matter in the sense that it delays the incoming administration's ability to deal with the multiple crises we're facing. It continues to undermine people's faith in the legitimacy of this election and the legitimacy of the incoming administration.

But I would say that the only reason Donald's behavior is completely immature, unfounded, and disgraceful behavior matters is because Republican leadership is allowing it to matter and that's really where we should focus.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, the coddling of him, the fear that still exists. You know, there had been talk before the election of well, there will be some sort of a reckoning in the Republican Party once, you know, if President Trump is gone.

It doesn't seem like there may be any reckoning. I mean, it just seems like he is going to hang it over their heads that maybe he will run again. And, you know, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are going to be, you know, screaming into their pillow, you know, because their presidential ambitions will be thwarted or frustrated.

But do you think, is it just animus on the President's part? Is it just, you know, these are the cards of power he still holds, and he is going to hold on to them and figure out how to make the most of it? Or is it just, as Maggie Haberman often says, he is just living in increments of time, and he is in this increment of time, and he doesn't have a plan for the next increment of time.

He is just kind of watching the show and seeing what happens.

MARY TRUMP: It's actually a combination of both things. I think, fundamentally, it is what Maggie Haberman says, Donald lives in the moment. He needs to be -- you know, his arc is, "Did I just win? Am I winning now? Am I going to win right after this?"

And that never changes. I mean it is an arc. It's an incredibly boring one, but it's consistent. So, he is for the first time in this life grappling with a unique situation. He has never been in a situation in which he has lost and cannot buy his way out of it, you know? So, that is true.

However, what we need to keep in mind is the animus you spoke of is being fueled by the fact that although he lost decisively to President-elect Biden, the Republican Party fared much better than expectations in this election, so he can't even blame them.

[20:30:42]

So, there's a lot of rage, and there's a lot of score settling going on I would imagine.

COOPER: It's so interesting, though. I mean, you know, obviously, the people now around the President are mostly kind of sycophants are scared of him or feed into what you know, are true believers, whatever you -- however you want to think of it. But, you know, the idea that they're, you know, that Donnie Jr. and Eric Trump are saying, you know, yes, let's keep going, obviously, I guess.

Donnie Jr. has, you know, ambitions have taken over the GOP leadership, you know, sees this as his future. It doesn't seem like anyone is running the Trump Corporation. I don't know if there's any not any work to be had. But they certainly seem to have a lot of time to be focused on this issue.

How do you think this plays out? I mean, do you think at some point he do you think he even attends the inauguration? Do you think at some point, he actually starts to release funds and allow there to be a transition? Because I mean, people's lives are hanging the balance on how effective the effectiveness of vaccines and getting them circulated? And, you know, people in hospitals right now?

TRUMP: Yes, as for my cousin's, they're very well aware that they depend on every day, everything comes from their father, they depend on him entirely. So they're going to do whatever they need to do to keep themselves in his good graces, no matter how bad it is for everybody else. So, you know, it my -- what I feel at this point is that we need to ignore these people.

And we need to place all of the pressure on Republican leadership because as you said, the longer this goes on the most -- the more dangerous it is in terms of our national security. I mean, who knows what's going on behind the scenes, Donald is a desperate man, he has access to all of our most guarded secrets. He's in a lot of debt. And, you know, there's also COVID.

We are in a situation where the leader of this country, the ostensible leader of this country, I should say, because he seemed to have abdicated all responsibility is willfully ignoring the greatest health crisis we faced and over a century, people are dying every day because Donald refuses to admit he was wrong and made a mistake, he's refusing to change course, you know, we need to look at this in very blunt terms.

This is criminally negligent homicide. And the longer the Republicans let this go on the longer Donald is going to be pushing the envelope, and the more they need to be held accountable as well.

COOPER: Mary Trump, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER (voice-over): To Mary's point about national security. We're breaking news just ahead report the New York Times that President Trump recently asked for whether he had options to launch a strike against Iran in the coming weeks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:37:58]

COOPER: It's more breaking news. The New York Times reports the President Trump sought options last week in case you want to take action against Iran's main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The Times reports that a range of senior advisors dissuaded the president from moving ahead with a military strike. One of the reporters in the byline is David Sanger, who is also CNN political and national security analyst.

David, it's good to see you. What exactly was President Trump asking his senior advisors to provide him when it comes to Iran?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, thanks for having me on. You know, last week, the International inspectors reported that Iran had made some significant but modest progress in accumulating nuclear material. This would be the last report during President Trump's presidency.

And he heard about this report. And it was around them that he asked his advisors, what options he might have, presumably against the site in Natanz. That's the one major nuclear site where Iran produces nuclear material.

Now, he's had these options in front of him both before and after he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. So obviously, in asking this question, this is his one last moment to consider whether to take action, whether it would be military or cyber.

COOPER: And you report that after Secretary of State Pompeo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley described the potential risks of a military escalation to the President. They left the meeting, believing a missile strike was off the table. Do you know why they believe that?

SANGER: Well, it's hard to tell with this President because he frequently raises issues. It's hard sometimes to know how seriously he's taken them. Then sometimes he seems to dismiss it. And then as we've seen in moments, he comes back at it. We've also saw a moment where you ordered a strike against Iran more than a year ago and then pull back from it. So, it's a little bit hard to tell whether this is really over.

[20:40:01]

What is clear is that the Iranians now have about 12 times the acceptable limit under the Iran nuclear for nuclear fuel. That's enough for them to build about two weapons. But it would take them at least six months or so Anderson in order to be able to build them. So, it's not like he's facing an imminent problem right here. If he did take military action, I think it's fair to say would make it much harder for Joe Biden to put this all back together and to put the deal back together.

COOPER: Yes. David Sanger, fascinating reporting. Thank you. SANGER: Thank you.

COOPER: If the reporting is not alarming enough, sources are telling senior Jake Tapper that before he was fired by President Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote a memo that he in the entire chain of command in the region did not recommend any drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan. Sources tell Tapper, the memo, that memo was one of the main reasons why the President fired him.

In an op-ed in "The New York Times" Susan Rice, President Obama's national security adviser and former ambassador to the UN wrote that by his refusal to engage in an orderly transition, quote, tragically, but not surprisingly, Mr. Trump appears determined to take a final wrecking ball toward democracy and national security on his inevitable way out the door. Ambassador Rice is author of Tough Love a Story of the Things worth Fighting For. She joins me now.

So, Ambassador Rice, what do you think of the implications would be for an incoming Biden administration as well as for U.S. National Security if President Trump does withdraw troops from Afghanistan in the face of, you know, necessary conditions having not been met?

SUSAN RICE, FMR NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRES. OBAMA: Well, Anderson, we've been in the process of a phased in gradual drawdown, but it's been tied to the Taliban, fulfilling the conditions that it committed to in the agreement reached in February, and tied to conditions on the ground thus far. Then, as you'll recall, some weeks ago, Donald Trump tweeted or said that he wanted all the troops out of Afghanistan by Christmas. And it sounds like this memo that was reported, that former Secretary Esper wrote was to warn the President of the dangerous consequences of that approach.

You know, the incoming administration will inherit a range of really significant national security challenges within Afghanistan, the objective needs to be to end the forever wars, as they're called, but to do so responsibly, and without putting at risk our allies and our collective sacrifice of many thousands of lives over the last several years, as well as our relationship with the Afghan government. So this needs to be thoughtful, and measured and not done in a way that does even grave -- even more grave damage to our national security than this President has already done.

COOPER: I mean how likely is it that regardless of the length of timeline of a withdrawal from Afghanistan is the resurgence of the Taliban? Because I mean, I remember, you know, starting to go to Afghanistan in 2002. And, you know, back then everyone was saying, well, the, you know, hugest priority is, you know, building up the Afghan National Army, the Afghan police, you know, fast forward 10 years later, that's still what everyone is saying. And there's, you know, obviously, there have been tremendous losses and, you know, heroic efforts by members of the army and police there, but the Taliban, you know, remains a huge force.

RICE: Well, it depends how it's done Anderson, and to what end are any residual presences there to serve. Now we have an embassy operation that's quite substantial, it needs to be adequately defended. We have ongoing counterterrorism concerns with respect to Afghanistan and a partnership with the Afghan government that still needs certain forms of support.

So an appropriately sized residual U.S. presence would need to take those considerations into account. And without, you know, without the benefit of information that I wouldn't have access to outside of government, I can't speculate on what that right residual might look like. But I do believe that, you know, you don't go from where we are today, which is roughly 5,000 to zero. And you don't certainly go there within a matter of a few short weeks.

COOPER: The idea of the President of United States entertaining a strike on Iran, with the few, you know, weeks that he has left in office, how much of a concern is that? You especially I mean, because based on David Sanger's reporting, he's saying it's not that there's a imminent, you know, something that is happening in that timeframe before the next president will take off -- take over.

RICE: Well, let's be clear. There's no such thing as a quick and dirty strike on Iran's nuclear capacity. That is the star of a very costly and sustained war. And the reason why in the Obama administration we pursued and achieved successfully a nuclear deal that cut off every one of Iran's pathways, overt and covert plutonium and uranium, to achieve the material necessary for a nuclear weapon, is because we understood that a diplomatic resolution, a deal that was enforceable and verifiable was a far better alternative than resorting to war to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capacity.

[20:45:38]

This President pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, precipitously is imposed, you know, crippling sanctions, and that is not working. So, the objective is to find ways short of catastrophic conflict to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It's good to know, according to Sangers reporting, that that many of the President's closest advisors from the Secretary of State to the Vice President to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recommended strongly against the President taking military action and starting a much wider war in the region on his way out the door. And hopefully the President has rightly concluded that that would do nothing to burnish his legacy.

COOPER: Just lastly, you are part of the Biden-Harris transition advisory board personally close to the President-elect, there's certainly a lot of talk about you being asked to serve as the next Secretary of State. If President Biden word asked you to serve as Secretary of State or in another role. Can we assume you would agree?

RICE: Yes, Anderson, I'm not here to talk about what the --

COOPER: I know, yes.

RICE: -- what the President-elect --

COOPER: I know you aren't going to answer it obviously.

RICE: (INAUDIBLE) time in this face to choose his team. I will support him as I have throughout in any way I can in any way he deems most appropriate. And whether that's in public life, or as a private citizen, I'll be happy to do so. From my vantage point, the good news is that we have Joe Biden and Kamala Harris coming to the White House, thankfully, and it's so many of the issues we've been talking about, will now be dealt with responsibly and effectively.

COOPER: Ambassador Susan Rice, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

RICE: Thank you.

COOPER (voice-over): Scott Atlas, the radiologists who is now President Trump's Chief coronavirus adviser had some harsh and surprising words for the governor of Michigan who's fighting a COVID surge in her state. What he said and the reaction from Michigan's Attorney General is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:50:14]

COOPER: Breaking news on a story we covered at the top of the broadcast and effort to prove voter fraud in a battleground state has failed again. A Michigan appeals court told challengers that there just wasn't any proof follow similar endings to similar cases brought by both the Trump campaign and supporters, all of which seek to overturn the election of President Trump's favor.

Michigan is also in the spotlight tonight because it's something tweeted by a controversial coronavirus advisor that President Trump depends on, for opinions that fit his agenda, often rather than scientific consensus about the pandemic. Dr. Scott Atlas, radiologists call for the people in Michigan to rise up against their governor Gretchen Whitmer. He later backtracked. Today President-Elect Joe Biden responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT-ELECT OF UNITED STATES: In addition to the folks have already been leaving, like the governor of Michigan, I mean, you know, the idea that President's now existing remaining advisor on COVID is saying that they should resist What the hell's matter with these guys? What is the matter with him? Resist?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: According to federal and state authorities, Governor Whitmer was recently the target of a domestic terrorism kidnapping plot. And despite that fact, this is what Dr. Atlas tweeted Sunday in response to a new order from the governor about what will be closed and open in the coming weeks. Quote, the only way this stops is if people rise up, you get what you accept. A medical professional.

Today, Michigan announced more than 12,700 new COVID cases in Sunday, 55 deaths in the same period bringing that total to more than 8,000. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joins us now. Madam Attorney General, appreciate you being there. Three hours after sending the tweet on Sunday Dr. Atlas, you know, as they say, walked it back saying that he was not talking at all about violence. No, no, no, but instead about peaceful protest. Do you buy that?

DANA NESSEL (D), MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, firstly, no, I don't buy it. And I will say this about the Trump administration. They're nothing if not predictable. You know, there's, as you mentioned, we're in dire straits here in the state of Michigan. And it's projected that if we don't dramatically change course, we're looking at about 1,000 deaths per week.

And so, of course, the state government was left to its own devices, as we happen since the beginning of this since there's been no federal plan and no real federal assistance. And of course, right after releasing these new public health orders, which are actually, you know, absolutely critical towards saving lives in our state and protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people who live here to have this kind of remark from a health official.

You know, not only does it raise wrath against our state government and our governor in particular. It's so reckless and dangerous, given the fact of course, that we've had this plot against her to kidnap and execute her. And what it really does is it spurs non compliance amongst our residents.

And it makes us into a political issue once again, and COVID never -- should have been a political issue to begin with. So what it's going to do is it's just going to result in more people dying in our state. And that is the last thing that a so-called public health advisor should want to see happen.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, I look at you know, Dr. Atlas a radiologists and radiologists do incredibly important work. We all rely on radiologists for readings of scans and things like that. But they spent a lot of time in dark little rooms. And I know it may be Dr. Atlas is really excited to be outside and have the President listening to him and his name is now known.

But it is impossible to read this guy's tweet and not be reminded the President's own language throughout the course the pandemic calling from Michigan dirges to liberate Michigan, praising people who showed up with, you know, automatic weapons, shouting at police officers and elected legislators in the Michigan State House threatening them.

And a bunch of those people turned out to be the people who are now, you know, sitting in jail waiting on trial on charges of, you know, threatening to kidnap and perhaps kill the the governor of Michigan the idea that someone would do this, after what has already happened in Michigan, with threats against the governor.

I guess it's not shouldn't be surprising given the tone and the tenor and the type of people the person has around him, but I just still find it shocking.

NESSEL: It is it is shocking. And I echo the sentiments of our President-elect. I don't understand what's wrong with these people. But this is incredibly dangerous. And Firstly, you know, not all of those people are sitting in prison. Some of those defendants actually have been released on bond.

And a lot of these domestic terrorists, you know, there's still act out there potentially plotting and planning and then when you say this kind of thing, first of all, even if you are just asking for civil disobedience what are we supposed to be liberating people from mask wearing? From being socially distant? From making certain that they're not spreading the virus? It's incredibly reckless and dangerous.

[20:55:17]

And this administration cannot leave soon and law for us here in the state of Michigan and I would say all across the country.

COOPER: Yes. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

NESSEL: Thanks.

COOPER (voice-over): Up next, the mixed messages from Republican Senator James Lankford on whether he thinks President-elect Biden should be getting briefed on national security matters what he's saying now, when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Republican Senator James Lankford is getting attention for his mixed message on whether President-elect Joe Biden should be getting briefed on national security matters. Lankford is the chair of a subcommittee that oversees the GSA, which is the General Services Administration that an official there is accused of blocking the Biden transition funds. Here's what Senator Lankford said last Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): There's nothing wrong with Vice President Biden getting the briefings to be able to prepare himself and so that he can be ready. There is no loss from him getting the briefings and to be able to do that. And if that's not occurring by Friday, I will step in as well and to be able to push them to say this needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And Senator Lankford last week made the case for Biden to get the briefing saying if that's not occurring by Friday, I'll step in as well and to be able to push them and say this needs to occur. Friday came and went this word Senator Lankford said on Newsmax TV on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANKFORD: I'm not in a hurry necessarily to get Joe Biden these briefings. It's been interesting how the media the national media, not this network, but others have twisted this term step in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:00:01]

COOPER: Pushback there from the senator. Now tonight, another seeming turn, the Senator says he did quote step in with the GSA and talk to them on Friday over the Biden transition. He declined to say who he spoke with and what they had to say.

The news continues right now, I want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris.