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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Washington Post: White House Seeks List of Programs That Would Be Hurt If Shutdown Lasts Into March and April; Michael Cohen Postpones Congressional Testimony Citing "Ongoing Threats Against His Family" By President Trump & Giuliani; Interview with Congressman Gerald Connolly of Virginia. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired January 23, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:16] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

Today, the president of the United States dared the speaker of the house to disinvite him from giving the State of the Union Address to Congress next week, so she did. This has never happened before. There is no getting past it, and there is no overstating how utterly essentially totally bonkers it is.

Now, keeping them honest, it's also a sideshow. So, 33 days into a government shutdown, we begin instead tonight with a suggestion. If you want to know about the State of the Union, the president of the United States is not the one to ask. These people are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You have a 9-year-old. So how is this affecting your family?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For him to come home and ask are we poor now, I don't need my extra milk at lunch. A 55 cent milk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sitting at home literally thinking what child, my kids or my grandkids, who's life insurance do I cash in to stay above water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to decide are we going to let our mortgage fall behind, or car payments so we can feed our children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When school was ready to start back here in Atlanta, and she said mom, I don't have to have a snack. Excuse me. It's very upsetting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm worried every day about how much food I have in my house.

COOPER: Rather than go to the hospital and risk the bills from that, you just decided to take that gamble?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband didn't even know I was rationing. I just -- it's sick, but the thought of having more debt was scarier than the thought of maybe dying in my sleep. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: In her case, she was rationing her insulin. That's the State of the Union tonight. And so is this, an official at the union for air traffic controllers, who are on the job actually saying air safety is now being compromised.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRISH GILBETT, EXECUTIVE VP, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION: It is already less safe than it was a month ago when we shut down. We have critical components to safety that are not there. We have processes not there, training not taking place, distraction in the workplace.

We have controllers actually reporting to us that they're making mistakes when they are giving clearances, clearing planes in places where they shouldn't be clearing them in conflict with other airplanes because they're so stressed out about how they are going to take care of their family. Their livelihood is threatened at this point. This cannot go on for months and years. It's not sustainable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Not sustainable, yet a prolonged shutdown appears to be exactly what the White House could be planning on.

According to late reporting of "The Washington Post," White House acting chief of staff Nick Mulvaney has asked agencies for a list of highest impact programs that will be jeopardized if the shutdown continues into March and April.

Now, last night, we reported that the TSA is asking screeners to relocate to fill in for other screeners who are calling in sick to work paying jobs that is the State of the Union. President Trump wants money for his border wall, and he is not backing down. Democrats have offered money for border security, but not a wall, and they're not backing down.

The president, as you know, said he was proud to take the mantle, as he called it, for this. And yet more polling tonight suggests agree, he owns the shutdown. According to a new "A.P." survey out late today, 60 percent say he bears a great deal of responsibility for it. That's far more than either Republicans or Democrats in Congress.

And again, he said he'd gladly take the blame. Of course, he later said the buck stops with everyone, not with him. And now he says it stops with Nancy Pelosi.

The reality is whatever you think of walls, beaches and all the rest, the buck has indeed stopped, and the bucks truly have stopped, for people who badly need them. Before this began, the president said many have told him they're happy to make sacrifices for his wall. He hasn't been saying that lately. However, his campaign adviser and daughter-in-law still are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So in terms of the workers who are coming to work and not getting paid, what would you say to them?

LARA TRUMP, TRUMP 2020 SENIOR ADVISER: Listen, it's not fair to you, and we all get that, but this is so much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain, but it's going to be for the future of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A little bit of pain, which is a lot easier to say when you're not worried about paying the bills while directing air traffic or screening bags or stopping the next terror attack or just doing the jobs we want done and doing it for free.

More now from CNN's Abby Phillip who joins us from the White House.

Does the White House think they have the upper hand in all this right now?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this isn't exactly how the White House thought this would all end. They decided today after a week of sitting on Nancy Pelosi's initial letter to call her bluff, force her hand to decide whether she wanted to disinvite President Trump or allow the State of the Union to go forward.

It turns out she decided to disinvite the president, and now the White House has to figure out what to do here. They are scrambling to figure out whether the president should even another speech, and now, President Trump, as you saw in his remarks earlier today is blaming Democrats and really ramping up his attacks on Pelosi, a sign of the frustration that he's been feeling in the last several weeks as so much of the blame has fallen on him for this shutdown.

[20:05:11] And yet again, Nancy Pelosi seems to have the upper hand.

COOPER: And just in terms of alternate venues for the speech, do you know what they're considering?

PHILLIP: Well, the White House aides have been considering venues either here at the White House, perhaps the Oval Office or the east room, or outside of the White House, perhaps on the border, a campaign-style rally.

But, Anderson, one of the problems that they're encountering is one what kind of venue will give the president the same kind of gravitas that he might get from the halls of Congress. They are concerned, for example, that if he does a campaign-style rally, that people will simply dismiss that as a political speech. So they have pretty limited options. President Trump also was not particularly happy with his last Oval Office address, thinking that he looked stilted and stiff.

This time around, they need to find a venue that will give him the same kind of oomph that he might get with all the members of coming on both sides, sitting in the audience, perhaps in some cases applauding or standing during his speech.

COOPER: He wants feedback I guess in real time.

I guess -- I understand there is renewed talk about the president taking executive action to build a wall.

PHILLIP: It's a sign of frustration, Anderson, on the part of the president, as the negotiations have basically stalled. A source close to these discussions have told CNN that the president is once again thinking about some kind of executive action. Now this would be different from a declaring a national emergency, but it would do essentially the same thing, taking money from one part of the government, applying it to the border wall.

But we are also learning that in his meeting this afternoon with conservative leaders that he convened for this purpose, the president was noncommittal about declaring any kind of executive action. He didn't suggest it, though it was brought up by others in the room. What we're seeing here is conservatives really pressuring the president as well to do something. The shutdown has gone on for so long, they see the political damage, and they are also concerned that President Trump might be tempted to compromise with Democrats, granting, for example, what they call amnesty for Dreamers.

So a lot of people frustrated on both sides, but the president still not willing, it seems, to take that additional step either declare a national emergency or use some sort of executive action for now -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Abby Phillip, a lot to cover.

I want to go next to the capitol and CNN's Manu Raju. What are you thinking about Speaker Pelosi's thinking behind cancelling the State of the Union?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESONDENT: Well, Anderson, Democrats are in no mood to have the president come here to the House chamber and lecture them about the government shutdown, especially since they believe this is all the president's fault. The president said himself that he would own this, and Pelosi in fact said to her caucus today in a closed door meeting I'm told, there is no point of even bringing your family here to Washington next week. People took that as a sign that the State of the Union was never going to happen, even before the back and forth of the letters today.

Now, you recall the initial letter in which she urged the president to delay the State of the Union until after the shutdown. She first cited security concerns, but then the president came back and his own Department of Homeland Security said they could secure the state of the union perfectly fine. She then said it was really about furloughed employees and the fact that they're not getting paid. It's not fair for them to have to be forced to secure such an event with all these high profile public officials. But in today's letter, she made mention of none of that. She said

very clearly the government needs to be reopened first before we do the State of the Union. So, it's clearly a point of leverage she hopes to use in the talks going forward, given the standoff we're in here heading to the fifth week of the shutdown.

COOPER: This may be a dumb question, but could he just show up and give the speech in the rotunda? Could he deliver it in the Senate floor rather than in the House?

RAJU: The short answer is no. He is going to need permission from Democrats to do it in the rotunda. He is going the need permission from Democrats to do it in the Senate as well. He does have floor privileges to walk on to the Senate floor, but to actually deliver a speech, you would need some support within the Senate, because that institution operates on a concept called unanimous consent, meaning everyone needs to agree.

And in this environment, it's hard to see that happening. So the president is going to have to find another venue off Capitol Hill.

COOPER: Yes. Well, definitely no unanimous consent. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Perspective now from presidential historian Doug Brinkley and David Axelrod who served as a senior adviser to President Obama.

David, I wonder, could you imagine any kind of scenario under which John Boehner would have blocked President Obama from giving his State of the Union Address?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I mean, you know, decorum was beginning to erode. It wasn't the State of the Union, but the president made a health care speech, you'll remember, a member stood up and shouted at him. But, no, I could not conceive of that, but I also could not have conceived of a 34-day or 33-day shutdown.

And it comes at a time when Pelosi is the new sheriff in town.

[20:10:03] She's asserting her primacy and the institution's primacy. So, it's kind of a caustic mix.

COOPER: I mean, Doug, how unprecedented is this? Is there anything in American history to compare it to?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, look, the original state of the union used to always be a handwritten message all the way up to Woodrow Wilson up in 1913. Wilson started this tradition of it. It's really FDR who calls it the State of the Union. And then it goes from being an afternoon event to being a TV extravaganza. The big thing that Donald Trump's losing ostensibly is his 50-plus million viewers mandatory TV watching.

But it can be postponed. I mean, Ronald Reagan postponed the State of the Union Address because of the Challenger disaster, and waited a week later to do it. And, of course, you could go and there have been weird moments like Gerald Ford in 1975 actually went and said the State of the Union is not good. That's what we're dealing with right now, not a good situation.

COOPER: David, this afternoon you tweeted: after two years of bullying, @realDonaldTrump has found himself nose to nose with an opponent willing and able to push back, but the government remains partially shuttered, and to what end.

AXELROD: Yes.

COOPER: I guess what about that? To what end does the government remain shut down?

AXELROD: Well, you know, here's where the Democrats have a bit of a high ground, because they've offered to reopen the government and continue to negotiate on the wall. And the president wants the leverage of a closed government to get his proposal around the wall.

But, you know, I think one I think genuine and legitimate criticism is I don't think that the speaker would suggest that he not come because she was worried about security. I think she suggested he not come because she didn't want him to use the platform of the State of the Union to spend an hour repeating the same argument he's made in other national addresses now, trying to make the case for why he has shut the government down and why he is fighting for the wall. S, you know, as Doug mentioned, she said he can come back when this is over, and she is using this as a bit of leverage to try and force the president's hand.

COOPER: Doug, I mean, the president calling Pelosi's decision on the State of the Union a, quote, great blotch on the incredible country that we love. Is this the great blotch, or is the fact that 800,000 federal workers not getting paid the greater blotch on the country?

BRINKLEY: Obviously it's the 800,000. You know, look, Admiral Karl Schultz of the coast guard having to make a plea that we're treating our coast guard servicemen and women so shabbily, so terribly that they have to go to food kitchens and the like.

This is a horrific moment in American history. This is the great Trump shutdown. His poll numbers are starting to go in the backwards direction. By all indications, he's being blamed for this, and I think the president needs to now respond by doing a written State of the Union.

If he wants to go give a campaign-like rally, he can do it. Fox News will cover it. I doubt the big networks and CNN will probably cover something like that.

As you mentioned, he already had a State of the Union several weeks ago about the wall and networks carried it. So, Trump should give in the written version and then Pelosi should invite Donald Trump later before summer recess to come and respond and talk to a full Congress.

COOPER: David, I mean, Doug is talking about polls. The fact that far more Americans blame the president for the shutdown than either Republicans or Democrats in Congress, I mean, he said he would take the mantle for shutdown. He later backtracked on that and said it's everybody's responsibility. The buck stops with everybody.

But, I mean, it looks like he's gotten his wish. He has the mantle of it.

AXELROD: Well, there is no doubt about it. He is taking on a lot of water here, and he is steadily -- his poll numbers are declining. He is clearly being blamed for this.

He needs an off-ramp here that he can walk without being called a quitter by his base. And I think they're frantically searching for it. But by the same token, I think that there is some -- there is some toll on the institution of Washington itself, of Congress itself.

You know, I'm sure Democrats are beginning to get a little bit uneasy as well, because every night the news has led with stories like the one Doug spoke of. Everyone knows people in their community. I was in the airport today and saw the poor beleaguered TSA people who haven't been paid, and the pressure is mounting.

So, I think Democrats are in a better position. Trump is in a terrible position. Both of them probably could use an exit strategy for this drama.

COOPER: Doug, what happens if President Trump does show up on Tuesday evening? Is that even a possibility? Would Speaker Pelosi literally turn the president away from the Capitol?

[20:15:03] BRINKLEY: He might try to do an outdoor event by the capitol for all we know. He might force people to try to tell him he can't enter the building.

He's going to do something. Donald Trump I doubt is going to try to just do a read texts off a teleprompter from the Oval Office and big networks to cover this. But I guess he'll try to use it to rally the American people to say, hey, this is the first State of the Union delivered in Ohio, or, you know, Arizona or something like that.

I think in movement, Donald Trump has his best chance right now, not just to be sequestered in the White House while the doors of Congress have been locked.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, David Axelrod, thanks very much.

AXELROD: Good to be with you.

COOPER: A lot more to talk about tonight, including Michael Cohen backing away from testifying to Congress and the key questions surrounding that question, did the comments from the president of the United States loudly, publicly, and perhaps illegally clearly scare him out of it?

And later, legendary White House correspondent Sam Donaldson joins me and what he sees when he looks at the White House today. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:20:15] COOPER: The man everyone's waiting to hear from, Michael Cohen said today he is out. The president's former lawyer and fixer canceled his testimony to Congress and cited ongoing threats to his family as the reason. Threats he says from the president of the United States and the president's TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

So let that sink in for a second, and while you do, I want you to read a portion of the United States Criminal Code, Title 18, Section 15-12. Tampering with the witness, victim or informant.

Quoting: Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person or attempts to do so or engages in misleading conduct towards another person with intent to, among other things listed, influence, delay or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding, also quoting again, whoever intentionally harasses another person and thereby hinders, delays, prevent s or dissuades any person from attending or testifying an official proceeding, that is witness tampering.

And as you saw, it hinges on intent. So, with that in mind, here is some of what the president has been saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in order to get his sentence reduced, he says, I have an idea. I'll give you some information on the president. Well, there is no information -- but he should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at, because where does that money, that's the money in the family. And I guess he didn't want to talk about his father in law. He is trying to get his sentence reduced.

So, it's pretty sad. You know, it's weak, and it's very sad to watch a thing like that. I couldn't care less.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: What is his father-in-law's name?

TRUMP: I don't know. But you'll find out and you'll look into it.

PIRRO: I would.

TRUMP: Because nobody knows what what's going on over there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Judge Jeanine is going to look into it.

That's the nation's chief executive who Article 2 of the Constitution says, and I quote, shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Your casting suspicion on or openly calling on law enforcement to investigate a close relative of a potential witness against him, and doing it more than once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Let me tell you the other thing. His father-in-law is a very rich guy, I hear. His father-in-law I thought was the guy that was the primary focus.

Well, what did he do? Did he make a deal to keep his father-in-law out? Did he make a deal to keep his wife, who supposedly -- maybe I'm wrong, but you can check it. Did he make a deal to keep his wife out of trouble?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Still waiting on Judge Jeanine to check it.

He is also tweeting about it, quoting a negative report on Cohen and adding this, lying to reduce his jail time. Watch father-in-law.

Now for starters, we should say that Cohen's father-in-law, Fima Shusterman once plead guilty to a financial crime relating to his taxi business, and that was that 25 years ago. He is yet to be charged with anything now. So, was the president suggesting he might be? Maybe. Or is he saying that he ought to be? Who knows?

Whatever the case, according to legal experts could very well run afoul of that witness tampering from the Criminal Code that we just read. One legal expert, if he could be called that, says, hey, no problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So it's OK to go after the father-in-law?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Of course it is. If the father-in-law is a criminal and the Southern District of New York in the plea wanted him to go to jail and said he's lying, they don't buy the special counsel's approach. They say he's lying because he's holding back information that is far more damaging than the lies that he's sharing with them now.

What's that information about? It's about his father-in-law. We talked about Ukrainians. His father-in-law is a Ukrainian. His father-in-law --

TAPPER: (INAUDIBLE)

GIULIANI: -- has millions and millions. Of course, it comes from the Ukraine. The reason that's important is he may have ties to something called organized crime.

When somebody testifies against your client, you go out and you look at what's wrong with them. Why are they doing it if they're not telling the truth? He's not -- he's doing it because he's afraid to testify against his father-in-law because the repercussions for that will be far worse than the repercussions for lying here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'm not sure what that was about. It doesn't sound nice, does it?

Anyway, when Giuliani and the president aren't seemingly reminding Michael Cohen of the consequences of testifying, the president is openly quoting and praising someone who is not cooperating, and I'm reading from the tweet.

I will never testify against Trump. This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially saying that he will not be force bade rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about President Trump. Nice to know that some people have guts.

Keeping them honest, none of this is even remotely normal. CNN's contributor and former White House counsel John Dean could only recall one other similar incident, his old boss Richard Nixon telling chief of staff Alexander Haig that Dean who had just testified before Congress must be destroyed. President Nixon never said it in public or anything like that, nor has any president before or since, none.

[20:25:01] Nixon was caught on tape, and witness tampering became part of the articles of impeachment against him passed by the House Judiciary Committee in July of 1974.

President Trump, whether he is committing a crime or not, whether it's an impeachable offense or not is doing what he is doing in plain sight and seems to have worked. The House Oversight Committee is seeking Michael Cohen's testimony. So, the question now is, what will that committee do next?

Joining us now is a committee member, Congressman Gerald Connolly, Democrat of Virginia.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. So, is the president --

REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Good to be with you, Anderson.

COOPER: -- to blame for Michael Cohen cancelling his appearance before your committee, or it is more complicate than that?

CONNOLLY: I think clearly there is a concerted effort from the White House led by Mr. Trump and his hired gun Rudy Giuliani to not only discredit this witness, but to -- by insinuation and no proof, bring even more attention to the Cohen family and to thereby to intimidate Mr. Cohen and discard his testimony. And it worked.

My understanding is the family of Mr. Cohen is very upset and concerned by the climate, the toxic climate Trump has created for Mr. Cohen and discouraged him strongly from testifying in open session.

COOPER: Yes, the irony is you have Rudy Giuliani bringing up the idea that the father-in-law may be involved in organized crime. And, again, he is working for Donald Trump, you know, who knows a thing or two about New York real estate.

Do you believe that the president or Rudy Giuliani, that they've actually engaged in witness tampering? That's obviously something specific and legal. CONNOLLY: If they haven't crossed that line, they've come perilously

close. And their behavior, ironically, when they're talking about the mob, looks a lot like how mob behavior looks like. And it's a shameful moment when the presidency of the United States.

COOPER: Congressman Connolly, if you would just stay with us, I'm joined by Jeff Toobin, Gloria Borger and Dana Bash. I know they also have some questions for you.

Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Should Mueller investigate this, should he add this to the things he is investigating?

CONNOLLY: Jeff, I think a lot of what we're concerned about has actually happened in front of our own eyes. For example, obstruction of justice. And yes, I think -- they went on television and did this. And it's had an impact, and I think it is absolutely worthy of examination by the special prosecutor before he completes his work.

TOOBIN: Does it make it less of a crime that someone does it in public as opposed to in secret?

CONNOLLY: No. It's just maybe a little more clever because a lot of us can't see what's in front of us. It's almost like -- it's almost like that story of the king with no clothes. It's happening in front of you, so you don't see it. But, hopefully, Mr. Mueller does see it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Do Democrats on the committee want to subpoena him now?

CONNOLLY: Yes.

BORGER: Do they think that this is important enough and would set a bad enough precedent for them as you take over the Congress and you want the talk to whistle-blowers, et cetera, is a subpoena in the offing right now?

CONNOLLY: I think it's highly likely, and I personally do support issuing a subpoena to compel the testimony.

We got to remember, Mr. Cohen was a voluntary witness. In fact, he chose our committee, and that venue to testify. He was not at all compelled. And his testimony would be in open and under oath.

This new threat has given him second thoughts, and his lawyer second thoughts. So I think we need to compel the testimony while providing him lots of security. But his story needs to be told. The public needs to hear the whole story with some carve-outs in terms of what's going on with Mr. Mueller, but they haven't heard that so far.

I think -- I think you're seeing fear coming out of Mr. Trump and his White House because they know how much Mr. Cohen knows and they know how important his relationship was with the Trump Organization.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Congressman, what can you do to ease Michael Cohen's concerns about these threats? Is there something that you can say? Is there something -- a letter that you can write to anything? Is there anything you can actually do as members of this committee who want to compel him to come and tell his story?

CONNOLLY: Dana, I think it's a very reasonable question, but on the other hand, it doesn't lend itself to an easy answer. I mean, we're not in the security business. We're members of Congress trying to do our job and provide oversight.

We have a witness who says I have reason to fear. We witnessed the same thing you just showed in terms of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani seemingly deliberately instilling that fear and stoking those fires of resentment toward this witness. So, we've got to make sure he's full protection when he's on the Hill.

[20:30:00] BASH: So you think his fear is physical safety, or do you think his fear is prosecution of his family?

CONNOLLY: It's probably both. My understanding today was his family had real reason for physical fear.

BASH: I see.

CONNOLLY: Given the toxic social media environment in which we live.

COOPER: Do you know -- I mean, had you plan -- I don't know if you've kind of organized what his testimony was going to be, but do you know what the scope of it was going to be able to be? Was he going to be able to talk about things related to Russia, things that he'd discussed with Mueller or the Southern District? And were your staffers going to have a chance to essentially pre-interview him so that when it was actually public testimony it could be much more focused?

CONNOLLY: Probably yes to the latter. The rules of engagement with Mr. Mueller had not yet been defined. My understanding is we've made overtures, our committee staff to the Mueller organization. We have not had a definitive response from Mr. Mueller and that's a work in progress. But clearly there will be some boundaries, and we will respect them because we don't want to jeopardize the criminal investigation.

COOPER: Yes. Congressman, appreciate your time. Thank you very much

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure. Thank you for having me.

COOPER: Everyone else is going to stay with us here. We've got a lot more to discuss with that conversation about this remark whole day (ph). And later, we'll get veteran White House Correspondent Sam Donaldson's take a new reporting about Kellyanne Conway and leaks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:18] COOPER: It's not often you hear the allegations of ongoing threats aimed at the President of the United States and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, concerning congressional testimony from Michael Cohen, testimony that's now on hold. As you know, that's exactly what happened today.

Back now with Jeff Toobin, Dana Bash, and Gloria Borger.

Jeff, you were raising the point that if you were threatened by a mobster you could go into witness protection.

TOOBIN: Right, exactly. And, you know, that's what happens and that's why the witness protection program exists because bad guys make threats against witnesses and their families. What makes this situation in many ways worse is that the guy making the threat is in charge of the witness protection program, and the Justice Department, and the FBI.

So, you know, Donald Trump, you know, he's saying why don't they investigate the father-in-law? Well, who's in charge of that? He is. I mean, it is the most clear abuse of power that you can imagine. And, you know, we've become so inured to this. It's like, "Oh, just Trump talking."

BASH: Yes.

TOOBIN: You know, but -- I mean, this is not how this system is supposed to work.

BORGER: But as we've been saying all day, this did work. Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump scared Michael Cohen enough one way or another to get him to back off at least for now.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Which makes it even worse.

COOPER: Is it a fearful of his family being prosecuted?

BORGER: Yes. I think he's fearful of his family. He's fearful that he will be in jail and not be able to protect his family, that he according to the people I talked to who are close to him. And the more this went on, the more nervous he got. As you heard the congressman say, at first he was a really willing person who wanted to come and tell his story to the American people. And now I think he's afraid to do it.

BASH: But the question I have and one of the reasons I asked the congressman this is if it's fear of security that's one thing. And he said that that is part of it. But if it's fear that his father-in-law is going to be prosecuted, now that it is so out in the open and Giuliani and the President were so transparent about, you know, wink- wink, nod-nod. I mean, it wasn't a wink, nod, it was a mega phone saying, you know, maybe the father-in-law, there's something going on. It almost you would think potentially protects him because what U.S. attorney is going to then -- or prosecutor is going to then say, "Oh, thanks, Mr. President. I'm going to go after this guy."

TOOBIN: But that's where the norms have disappeared. BASH: You're right.

TOOBIN: I mean, that's -- I mean, you know, talk about, you know, McCarthyism and I'm just --

BASH: Absolutely.

TOOBIN: Was there one word about what the father-in-law actually did? It was just --

BASH: He's a Ukrainian.

TOOBIN: His father-in-law is Ukrainian.

BASH: Ukrainians.

TOOBIN: There's millions of people who are guilty for being Ukrainian.

BASH: And he's been prosecuted before.

BORGER: Right, so therefore he's guilty of everything.

COOPER: But -- I mean, it's like something -- I mean, I hate comparing stuff to movies, but it is like something out of the movie where they're like, "Look at the father-in-law."

BORGER: Right.

BASH: Yes.

COOPER: I mean, (INAUDIBLE). It's like living in one of the -- I don't want to denigrate any country, but like one of the stands. You know, we're like living in this like place that's ruled by a little ruling family.

TOOBIN: And just, you know, to further explain Michael Cohen's dilemma, he's going to jail in March.

BASH: Right.

TOOBIN: Like, just a few weeks from now. And it is true you can be subpoenaed out of jail and, you know, forced to testify even though you're incarcerated. But it does raise the question of how he's going to deal with his family during this situation because he's not available.

BASH: But I still think that because this is all out in the open, because the Cohen legal team and his family have to put the breaks on this and shined a light on exactly what Giuliani was trying to do and what the President was trying to do, perhaps there's a better chance now that he will go and testify because it is now so obvious. It's so talked about what is going on.

BORGER: And if he does testify, don't forget the Republicans are not going to go easy on him either. So everything that Donald Trump is talking about, you can be sure it will come out in talking points from some Republicans on that committee, and it won't be easy for him. It will not be easy for him and he knows it.

TOOBIN: Nor should it be.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, he's a convicted felon. He has --

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: He should be cross examined by the Republicans. But he shouldn't be threatened --

BORGER: Exactly.

TOOBIN: -- yes, out of testifying in the first place.

BORGER: Exactly. And that is exactly what has occurred in broad daylight.

COOPER: I mean, is this witness tampering?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, you know, it sure looks that way. I mean, you know, the people who are under investigation certainly have the right to say you -- the accuser is a liar, he's a terrible person and that there's nothing wrong with that. That's perfectly appropriate defense.

What makes this different is that the person making those statements is a person with the power to prosecute those family members.

[20:40:05] BASH: But that's what I was saying. And now that it's out in the open, I feel like it's so much harder, even though it is his purview and it is his job and those people work for him, harder to actually see it through because everybody's going to know what's going on.

TOOBIN: But those are two separate questions. One is whether the family will actually be prosecuted.

BORGER: right.

TOOBIN: The other question is, is he intimidating Cohen out of and that's the crime.

BASH: Yes.

TOOBIN: The crime is intimidating someone out of --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But the other question is --

BASH: And it's very obvious. Isn't it what he's doing? BORGER: Your question is would the attorney general force someone to take a look into this. And when Barr was testifying what he said is, you know, there's no problem with the President asking us to look into something. But there's a question to Dana's point about whether we would proceed.

COOPER: And also so much for the White House ever saying like we want everybody to cooperate. We want the full--

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Oh, my god, that was so 2017. That wasn't even 2018.

BORGER: Yes, that was like two months.

BASH: That was like three lawyers ago.

COOPER: Of course, three lawyers ago. So do you think he would be subpoenaed? I mean, Connolly was saying he'd like him to be subpoenaed.

TOOBIN: I think he will be.

BORGER: What about testifying behind closed doors, though, that's a question. Would that be worse or would that be better? I was thinking about that.

TOOBIN: The committee was already planning on examining him behind closed doors, but oversight, Congress committee was supposed to testify him -- it's suppose to have him testify in public. I suppose that is one way you could address the problem. I mean, don't kid yourself. They were -- the Democrats want this to be a spectacle, too.

COOPER: It would also made the point that in the best hearings they usually pre-interview -- the staff pre-interviews people so that they -- once the hearing is public, they don't have to go onto this meandering journey. They can just zoom in.

TOOBIN: Correct. And one of the many questions outstanding is if he agrees to testify, will he agree to that sort of preparation? Now, he will be conveniently located in federal custody so they'll know how to find him. But the question is, will he agree while he's in custody to meet with staff and go over what he's going to say?

And of course, another issue that remains outstanding and Connolly said this had not been resolved either was how much will Mueller object to certain areas being off-limits to testify and the Southern District, too. Also, as far as I understand it, an unresolved issue.

COOPER: Yes. All right, Jeff, Dana, Gloria thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Much more ahead, on the never ending chaos in the White House including an excerpt from a new book by a former Trump aide who says some pretty extraordinary things about Kellyanne Conway. We're going to get some perspective from legendary journalist Sam Donaldson, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:46:38] COOPER: A cartoon villain brought to life, that's how a former Trump aide describes Kellyanne Conway in a new look at the infighting the leaking and the gossiping that have been part of the fabric of the Trump White House. The former aide, his name is Cliff Sims, wrote about all of it in a book that comes out next week called "Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House."

Vanity Fair has published an excerpt Sims writes about one particular day that he was writing a statement on Conway's laptop while she was texting on her phone. The two devices were connected and Sims write that for 20 minutes he could see the text conversations Conway was having with at least half a dozen reporters from all over the place she and the President call fake news. And that she was trashing Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer.

Sims writes that Conway also recounted private conversation she had with the President and talked about him like a child, she had to set straight. We reached out to Kellyanne Conway for a reaction or statement, have not gotten a response.

Legendary reporter and anchor Sam Donaldson covered the White House, of course, for decades for ABC News, he joins me now. Sam, every White House has leakers as you know better than almost anyone. How often is such a prolific leaker in such a high level position?

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Well, I've not seen anything like Kellyanne Conway. I mean, she and the President are symbiotic in their relationship. They look in a mirror, they see each other. They're both narcissists. They both want all the kind of media spotlight on them. They don't mind trashing anyone. She trashes "Morning Joe," for instance, is another example. He trashes people and they both lie. I mean, what more do you want?

Now in a leaker though, you want this great stuff if you're going to publish it. You're going to pass along something is not right. So, Kellyanne has to be very careful and when she covers herself by saying, "Well, these are alternative facts," no, that's not alternative facts or alternatives truths. You can't buy that.

COOPER: If President Trump hates leaks, as he claims, and Kellyanne Conway is a serial leaker, I guess then why is she still there? I mean, either he doesn't believe she's a leaker or she has some sort of tacit green light to do it even if it includes, you know, bashing his son-in-law.

DONALDSON: No, but she leaks good things for him, good things for him. I mean, he hates leakers unless they are leaks that he wants.

COOPER: Right.

DONALDSON: I mean presidents are all kind of alike. If you have these two, they all -- remember, Reagan said, "I'm up to my keister and leaks." But he didn't mind if the leak really served the purpose of the administration. So I think that's okay. Why is she still there? He likes her. And as I say, they have a relationship that's, well, mongoose and cobra.

COOPER: Mongoose and cobra. Just in terms of where we are with the shutdown and the State of the he Union, I mean, you've covered Reagan, Speaker O'Neill. You covered Clinton, Speaker Gingrich. This relationship between the President and Speaker Pelosi, it really seems to be kind of in a league of its own.

DONALDSON: I think it is. I mean, he's used to having his way, the President is. He's used to ruling over people. He's used to demanding things and getting them. And he's now met Big Tommy D'alesandro 's daughter. Big Tommy was the last Big City Mayor of Baltimore. He had an 8th grade education, but he's taught his daughter Nancy and his other children about politics. And she is made of steel and she's not going to give up. And I think -- so far, she's won this fight.

[20:50:04] Now, we'll see what the President does. I know when someone dependent or someone has been speculating that he might just try to reach the Congress without join condition of going in here, we'll try to get there in. You know, I don't think he's going to do that.

COOPER: That would seem crazy.

DONALDSON: I mean, he's not that foolish. It's a -- well, the guards have -- now, what would the guard do when they can't admit people who are not admitted by the House of Representatives in the Senate to a joint session?

And some of those guys comes up with a golden hair and says, "I'm coming in." There's a guard who say, "Oh, no, you're not. I'm calling the law." No, it's a situation that like that great riot in the East Room press conference after the elections this fall, you know, when the President created a riot among reporters and reporters joined in. We're human, I think, but it's just something that couldn't happen.

I don't know what he's going to do. He'll do something. You're right, he will try to be the spotlight but he has the problem of appealing to people other than the base. And the base doesn't care where he goes, or what he does, or what he says.

COOPER: Yes.

DONALDSON: But a lot of other people do and that's important too.

COOPER: Is there any one right now, any kind of elder statesman like a -- a state -- a statesman like a George Mitchell or Jim Baker who can bridge the gap or at least get the two sides seriously talking again or does that how to figure just really no longer exist in Washington?

DONALDSON: Well, if they exist, I'm not familiar with them. But you've mentioned a couple of the great men and, of course, there are many others who could do that and bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats and conservatives and liberals.

But the town is so poisonous and we're so poisonous. And the American people are in each other's throats who hate each other instead of just arguing with each other about politics. And I'm not certain there's anyone who could bridge this gap.

Remember, the President has to win. He's got to win for two reasons. Because he always wins and he cannot, and because he's got to build that wall or maybe a few of his base will say, "Hey, it's a conman. I've been conned." And if he has that, he lost.

COOPER: Sam Donaldson, it's always great to talk to you. Thank you, Sam.

DONALDSON: Good to talk to you, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. I want to check in with another former ABC here, Chris Cuomo, "Chris Prime Time" at the top of the hour. "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour, 8 minutes from now. What are you working on Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I did a show with Sam Donaldson. There was a segment and it's called "Stump Sam". He never got stumped. But when he said mongoose and cobra, it's true. There he is. We would always say we would give away a hat if he won, nobody got a hat. Mongoose, here's a great trivia one for you, mongoose and cobra.

COOPER: Yes.

CUOMO: What was the name of the famous mongoose and cobra that fought in a famous child's cartoon?

COOPER: "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"?

CUOMO: And what was the snake's name? Three letters, rhymes with hag, nag.

DONALDSON: Meg?

CUOMO: Nag, N-A-G.

COOPER: Nag, I did not know that.

DONALDSON: Nag, yes.

COOPER: Do I get a bonus for knowing "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi"?

CUOMO: You get a huge point. But, Anderson, I expect it, you're our best. You rise to the occasion once more. And we will try to take your lead tonight on the show on those Sam Donaldson. But we're going to get inside the intrigue and call out why this shutdown has gotten so bad.

The head of the Air Traffic Controllers Union wants to come on the show to tell people how concerned he is. We both know that's very rare, so we're giving him time tonight to do that. We'll look at how legitimate the threat to Michael Cohen's safety is and I believe there is something that could unite Washington. It's going on right now and it involves your favorite thing, football.

COOPER: Really? Yes.

CUOMO: Yes.

COOPER: Excellent. That's an angle I had not thought off.

CUOMO: Well, they haven't seen those pictures of you playing linebacker. I have.

COOPER: Yes. Throwing the old --

CUOMO: Pigskin.

COOPER: Pigskin.

CUOMO: Yes, sir.

COOPER: Exactly, yes. "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi", Chris, thanks very much.

CUOMO: Sure.

COOPER: We'll see you about 6 minutes from now.

Up next, more on Kellyanne Conway. She asked a -- she's asked a simple question about the overwhelming majority of people, the new poll have said the wall is not worth the government shutdown. The word salad that followed it was -- it's nearly Shakespearean, you just got to hear it for yourself. I'm just going to play it for you, next. You're going to want to see it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:58:29] COOPER: Now, it's about the time we sometimes end the program with something we like to call the Ridiculist. It usually takes some explaining, some context, sometimes there's, you know, a little humor thrown in. But every once in a while, every once in a super blood wolf moon, the Ridiculist just writes itself, tonight is that night.

In a new CBS News poll, 71 percent say the border wall is not worth the government shutdown, a pretty clear signal. CNN's Abby Phillip tried to ask when Kellyanne Conway about such poll and with that, we invite you to behold the self-writing Ridiculist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can you hold out showing the 71 percent of American --

KELLYANNE CONWAY, DONALD TRUMP AIDE: Do you have the poll? Do you have a poll?

PHILLIP: So, it's on CBS. CONWAY: Yes, but I just want to see the question.

PHILLIP: The question was, is the wall worth the government shutdown?

CONWAY: And so why would that be the question?

PHILLIP: I'm wondering what is the President --

CONWAY: No, I'm asking you why are you still saying the wall when the President has said --

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: I'm asking why you in the polling questions respect there is still saying wall when the President said you can call it whatever you want. Call it steel, slat, barriers, whatever

PHILLIP: He calls it a wall himself.

CONWAY: Well, I was in a situation room when he said to --

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: -- when he said to Leader Schumer, Minority Leader Schumer that you can --

PHILLIP: He said it with a new slogan when he calls it a wall.

CONWAY: Yes, that's a great slogan, "Build the Wall and Crime Will Fall." We know that is true.

PHILLIP: So why can't we call it a wall, if he calls it a wall?

CONWAY: We can't be afraid of that. Right, he calls it wall, steel, slat, barrier, physical barrier, anything. In other words, we need a physical barrier that you can't crawl under, climb over, drive through or walk around. That's why I have doors in my house, I assume you do also. And they actually have lots of them.

In other words, it's to protect the people on the inside. And so, I don't understand why it's so difficult to get beyond what you all want to may call it, unless you want to make a four-letter word wall when the President said to Chuck Schumer very specifically and the President has said many times since probably, call it what you want to call it, but let's secure our border.