Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Trump Claims Intel Chief Were Misquoted During Public Testimony in Which They Clearly Contradicted Him; CNN Exclusive: Senate Investigators Told Trump Jr.'s Mysterious Calls Weren't With His Father; Interview with Congressman Eric Swalwell of California; A Wall By Any Other Name; Are Negotiations Over Border Security Hitting A Wall; Interview with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR; Interview with Rep, Henry Cuellar, D-TX; Sen. Merkley Asks FBI To Investigate DHS Secretary Nielsen For Perjury; Death Toll Rising In Widespread, Brutal Cold. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired January 31, 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. Thanks for joining us.

We begin tonight, keeping them honest, with the president of the United States once again telling you not to trust your own eyes and ears. Not to believe what you see and hear, but to believe only him. Two days ago, the president was contradicted by his own intelligence officials about the most urgent threats facing the United States.

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday, director of national intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel contradicted the presidential claims on everything from Iran to ISIS to North Korea. Now this happened obviously with cameras in the room, not much left to interpretation.

But tonight, the president says his own intelligence officials did not say what we clearly heard them say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. President, did you talk to your intelligence chiefs today about the displeasure you had with their testimony?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did. And they said that they were totally misquoted, and they were totally -- it was taken out of context. So, what I do, I suggested you call them. They said it was fake news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. Set aside for a moment the likelihood of the intelligence chiefs calling anything fake news, which we know is the president's pet name for any coverage he deems to be negative about himself, this was not some secondhand reporting of whispers behind closed doors with anonymous sources. This was a Senate hearing.

There was no misquoting. There was quoting. There was no taking things out of context. There was only what the intelligence chiefs said publicly.

Their lips actually moved and words and sounds came out of their mouths, and it was recorded by cameras. And those cameras showed the pictures on television, and we saw them. The myriad ways that they contradicted what the president says he believes.

In fact, the president himself lashed out only yesterday at his own intelligence chiefs because of that testimony that he himself saw, tweeting, quote, yesterday from the president: The intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They're wrong.

When I became president, Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran nuclear deal, they are much different, but a source of potential danger and conflict. They're testing rockets, last week, and more and are coming very close to the edge. Their economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps intelligence should go back to school.

So, this is some next level gaslighting because the president is not only instructing you not to believe what the intelligence chiefs just said two days ago, he is basically saying don't believe what he himself said just yesterday. Are you following?

So, let's take it step by step. The president said just yesterday that Iran is a source of danger, coming very close to the edge. Here is what the intelligence chiefs said on Tuesday, with cameras rolling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.

GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR: Senator King, I think the most recent information is the Iranians are considering taking steps that would lessen their adherence to JCPOA as they seek to pressure the Europeans to come through with the investment and trade benefits that Iran hoped to gain from the deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So that's a contradiction from the president's position, and one he himself attacked the intelligence chiefs on only yesterday. Today, he is telling a different story.

Quote: Just concluded a great meeting with my intel team in the Oval Office who told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate hearing was mischaracterized by the media, and we are very much in Iran, North Korea, ISIS, et cetera. Their testimony was distorted press. I would suggest you read the complete testimony from Tuesday. A false narrative is so bad for our country. I value our intelligence community. Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page.

The same page. Let's hear what Director Coats said about North Korea on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COATS: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. That's pretty clear.

Here's what the president tweeted after his summit in June with Kim Jong-un: Before taking office, people were assuming that we were going to war with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer. Sleep well tonight.

Again, that's a contradiction. Here is what Director Coats had to say about ISIS in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COATS: ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Here's what the president said last month on ISIS in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[20:05:02] TRUMP: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly.

So, our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back, and they're coming back now. We won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Another contradiction.

Now the president said his intel chiefs testimony was, quote, distorted press, and you should read the complete testimony from Tuesday, which you are welcome to do, or you can watch the complete testimony because it was all recorded. And if that isn't enough of a presidential homework assignment for you, there is also the 42-page report worldwide threat assessment of the intelligence community which mirrors the testimony we just played for you contradicting the president's positions.

The president we should point out is also free to read that 42-page report, but I wouldn't bet on that happening any time soon.

Joining me now is former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Secretary, it does sometimes feel that on days like today that we're

being punked. That the report is public. The testimony is public. It's all public for the whole world to see.

How can the president now say it's all just fake and being distorted?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: One of the problems on this, Anderson, is the president is impulsive, impetuous, and he responded to what he heard were reports about the testimony. Basically, he should have at least placed a call to Dan Coats or to Gina Haspel and said, tell me, what did you say today? What is it that I'm hearing that's inconsistent with my position?

Instead of that, he put out a tweet, blasting them, saying -- telling them to go back to school. And so, what is dangerous to me in all of this is that the intelligence community is designed to bring information to the president of the United States so the president and his national security team can then formulate policy, whether it's against Russia, China, Iran, or any other country.

The danger is you don't want to have the president continue to insult the intelligence community, saying you've got it wrong, I don't believe you. I didn't believe you in Helsinki. I believed Putin in Helsinki and not you. If you continue to do that, you are undermining the morale and you are corrupting the process.

What the danger is, you don't want the policymakers to be shaping the intelligence that's coming to them. And so, if you keep sending the signal to the intelligence community, I want a different answer, I want a different report, I want you to conform to what I'm saying and not the other way around. So, that's the danger ultimately when the president didn't take the time to read the report, doesn't take the time to read the presidential daily brief, and really, reacts very quickly and impulsively.

So, I think he's created a news cycle for himself that was not there had he placed a call to Dan Coats, and I know Dan Coats very well. He is really a responsible individual. He could have said, Mr. President, we laid out in great detail what the intelligence community unanimously recommends to you. It's there for you to read. I'll be happy to come tomorrow and reply to any question you have.

But instead, you get a tweet saying go back to school. You're not educated enough. That's the danger involved, I think.

COOPER: Well, also, what they laid out in public testimony is also one must assume what they report to the president, what they say to the president. And so, it's not -- if the president is listening, none of what the public testimony was should have been any kind of a surprise to him just from, you know, he should have known that is their position. Now, he can argue with them privately or whatever, but to publicly demean them because they are testifying about something that they've already told him just seems counterproductive.

COHEN: It's counterproductive and it's undermining their morale. Now, Dan Coats has to go to the president and say Mr. President, here is our testimony. It's consistent with everything that we have been reporting. Perhaps you haven't read those reports.

But another point, when I was at the Pentagon, there was not a statement I made on Capitol Hill that was not circulated to Sandy Berg (ph), the national security adviser and to others in the White House. They went over very carefully what I was going to say. And if they had a question about it, they would call me and say, Bill, we don't agree with that particular statement. We want you to take it out.

And I would either say, OK, take it out, or I want to see the president, because this is something I feel strongly about.

So, that's the way it normally works. That's why you have a national security adviser. That's why you have a national security team, to make sure the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the intelligence community, they're all kind of coordinating the intelligence to make sure if there are differences between the DIA, the CIA or the NDI, the director of national intelligence, or states' intelligence, that at least the national security adviser would know about it, so the president isn't blindsided, so he doesn't take to the news media and blast his intelligence community saying, you've got it all wrong, go back and get a higher education.

[20:10:17] COOPER: But, I mean, I got to say what is frightening about this administration is -- I mean, that's what happens -- what you were describing is what happens in a normal administration when there is a normal setup. In this administration, where you have the president meeting privately with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, and to this day, no one knows really what was discussed between him and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, in any number of places, his own national security adviser may not even fully know what was discussed because only the president knows, and Vladimir Putin knows, and how the president told his own people about it, we have no idea, and would have no idea if it was accurate, his perception of it.

So, it's particularly scary when the president himself -- even if the national security team had checked in with Dan Coats, it's not clear what the national security team knows what the president is really thinking.

COHEN: Well, the great irony is that President Putin knows more --

COOPER: Right.

COHEN: -- about the situation than we do.

COOPER: Yes.

COHEN: And that is not only unorthodox, I think it's very dangerous to the security of this country, that one person, the president of the United States believes that he and only he can make these decisions without regard, without even accounting to his national security team, not to mention the American people.

COOPER: Yes, Secretary Cohen, I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

COHEN: Sure.

COOPER: With me now is former FBI senior intelligence adviser, former CIA counterterrorism official, Philip Mudd, and CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.

Phil, you actually helped prepare these types of reports when you were at the CIA. Is it at all possible the president was actually surprise by what his intelligence chiefs told Congress? I mean, isn't this what they would have been reporting to him previously?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ADVISER: Boy, this was a head-scratcher. By the way, preparing this was one of the more unpleasant tasks I had at the FBI and at the CIA, not very fun. But there is a couple of questions you might ask. And I'd put the vast Anderson Cooper 360 staff on this.

Two questions. Two questions for the national security adviser. Number one, did you get an advanced copy of this? And as the former secretary was just saying a moment ago, Secretary Cohen, that would be traditional practice. Did you get a copy of what they were going to say and did you advise the president? If not, why not?

The second thing, the president's been around for two years. Presumably, he receives regular intelligence briefings, including on significant issues -- ISIS, Russia, North Korea, Iran. Mr. President, if you've gotten briefings at least once a week, presumably several times a week for two years, how did you not know what your DNI thought about the intentions of the North Koreans and Iranians? How did you not know?

I don't get it, Anderson. It's not that complicated.

COOPER: Well, I mean, but it's clear the president just makes stuff up in the wake of the Kim Jong-un meeting that everyone can sleep safely tonight because now they're going to denuclearize. I mean, that's just made up. It's clearly not a message that he is getting from -- Carrie, that's not what he is being told I assume by Dan Coats and others.

So he just seems upset that they're not towing the line of the stuff he makes up.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think what it is he has political objectives. And what he's doing -- he was upset. What I take from what's happened is he didn't like the coverage of the aftermath of the worldwide threats briefing, which by the way happens every year.

And so, he didn't like the coverage, the way that it was reported, which is accurate, that statements that the intelligence chiefs made and what was in their prepared oral remarks and their prepared written statement is different than what the president says are national security threats. And we talked in your run-in about North Korea and Iran and ISIS, but the big one that was not a national security threat as defined by the intelligence chiefs was the issue that the president just shut the government down by, and that's the so-called crisis on the southern border. They did not portray that as a national security threat, even though he has been saying it, because it's a political objective. He even tweeted once it was a political promise that he made.

So what he is finding is that whether or not they privately tell him in his classified briefings what their assessment is, this time it was out in the public, and the reporting afterwards accurately, so clearly showed it's different than what he says. And so I think he is reacting to that.

COOPER: Phil, you get the sense he just doesn't read the presidential daily brief, or he doesn't read a 42-page report. I guess he's not going to bed at night while he is watching cable news with binders and binders and binders full of intelligence and information, as past residents have done.

We have some new reporting, Phil, from Pam Brown tonight that says aide were able to calm the president down by saying the full transcript has more context to what they said.

[20:15:09] But I'm assuming the president doesn't even read the full -- if that's how they calm him down, by just telling him the full transcript has more. You would think then a smart guy would be oh, let me see the full transcript. I doubt that's happened.

MUDD: He does get the president's daily brief. I don't want to get too much into this. I was looking at some of the photographs out of the Oval Office today. One of those was my colleagues, one of my former colleagues.

He is the president's daily briefer, behind the scenes, behind the curtains, Anderson, for every president, there are one or two individuals, typically two. Their only job, their only purpose on this planet is to brief the president of the United States, including when he travels domestically and internationally. That person was in the briefing today, or yesterday, whenever it was, I suspect it was today, with the CIA director and the DNI.

So, he is getting the president's daily brief. I suspect what happened was he saw the reaction on Capitol Hill. He hadn't paid attention to what the details of what the briefing bore today. So he said let me look at what they actually said, especially when Republican senators came out after him and said this ain't working too well. Let me backtrack a bit.

This is about politics. It's not about national security.

COOPER: Well, then, I mean, Carrie, to your point and to Phil's point about this being about politics, essentially what you're saying is the president is skewing what he is telling the American people about national security based on political considerations, which is --

CORDERO: That's what he's been doing all along. He has been doing it throughout his presidency. He has a political objective that he tries to meet. He learned early on in his presidency that a president has strong

executive authority when it comes to national security. He learned that early on. And so then what he's done is he invokes national security when he's trying to achieve something. So whether it's the border wall, or whether it's some other policy objective, he invokes national security, tries to say that it's a national security crisis.

The difference is, is that in this public forum, the intelligence chiefs had to say under oath to the Senate intelligence committee what their true assessment is of national security threat, and those two things didn't marry up.

COOPER: Carrie Cordero, Phil Mudd, appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

More breaking news next. Senate investigators do know who was on the other end of the mysteriously blocked phone calls made by Donald Trump Jr. before and after the Trump Tower meeting where dirt was promised on Hillary Clinton. I'll speak with Pamela Brown who broke the story.

And then, later, keeping them honest. A wall, a fence, or barrier, even peaches. Yes, peaches that was one suggestion by the president on what to call the physical structure along the southern border. Words really do matter, in negotiations to strike a deal.

We're going to have an update from a congressman, a Democrat from Texas, who is part of the bipartisan group taking part in the negotiations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:21:55] COOPER: Tonight, we also have breaking news tied to the Russia investigation. It's a CNN exclusive about the mysterious phone calls made by Donald Trump Jr. around the time the now infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians in 2016.

Pamela Brown joins us now from the White House with the details.

So explain what you've learned, what this clears up in terms of that Trump Tower meeting, and what questions remain outstanding.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, this has been one of the most tantalizing mysteries in the Russia probe, and now this new information has come to light that Don Jr.'s calls with a blocked number around that infamous 2016 Trump tower meeting were not with his father. This is according to three sources. And we're told that there were records provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee showing that the calls were actually between Trump Jr. and two of his business associates. We have not been able to identify them yet.

But this is significant, Anderson, because it appears to contradict Democrats' long held suspicions that the blocked number was from then candidate Donald Trump. So, it settles the lingering issue of whether Donald Trump was on those calls, but what it doesn't settle is what Don Jr. discussed with those business associates, and whether he communicated another means with his father about that meeting, though as we know, the president and Donald Trump Jr. both denied they ever talked about the meeting around the time it happened.

Don Jr.'s attorney declined to comment for our story, Anderson.

COOPER: I'm sorry, did you say it's known the identity of the business people --

BROWN: They know. We just haven't reported the identities of the two business associates.

COOPER: OK. Has there been any reaction from the president or from Don Jr.?

BROWN: Not the president. But as you can imagine, Don Jr. quickly seized on this reporting and tweeted, I think we can put up the tweet, more of the Democrats' fake news narrative disappearing before their eyes. I wonder how many more false leaks will pop now to keep their dreams alive.

So, Donald Trump Jr. is using this to take a shot at Democrats who have long suspected publicly that the blocked numbers belonged to Donald Trump. And those Democrats, Anderson, did have some reason to believe it because they were told in congressional testimony by Corey Lewandowski that Donald Trump's number was a blocked number at the time. But this new information coming to light now puts that specific suspicion to rest, though it's unclear if that means investigators are done with the matter, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, apparently, Donald Trump Jr. believes this reporting. So I guess cherry picking which reporting he believes. But there you go.

Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, do you believe this news? This is certainly good news for Donald Trump Jr., you could say for President Trump that there is no evidence or at least in these phone call there's is no evidence he was communicating with his father about the Trump Tower meeting. Of course, we don't know if he had a personal conversation or told him about it at a different time.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Good evening, Anderson.

You know, a broken clock is right twice a day. We always all along wanted to see who this number was to, who this call was made to by Donald Trump Jr., but, you know, there is so much other concerning conduct around the June 9th Trump Tower meeting.

[20:25:04] One, why did they even accept the meeting? Why did they never tell anyone in law enforcement? When Donald Trump Jr. was asked when I was in that hearing about what

he and his father talked about when "The New York Times" broke that story, he refused to answer any questions around that. He invented privileges as to why he didn't have to answer, that and the Republicans who ran the committee at the time never enforced that.

So, I don't think this clears up much at all, other than in this instance, if this story is true, it wasn't to his father. But, you know, if Donald Trump, his father wants to put all of this to bed, Anderson, the best thing he can do, if he is truly innocent, is to just sit down in Bob Mueller's interview chair and come clean about what happened. The longer he doesn't do that, the more questions will be raised.

COOPER: I mean, the thing that's extraordinary about that meeting and the whole question of whether or not he informed his father, which would be a very big deal if he had is that in that meeting, and frankly, in the e-mail setting up the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. is informed that the Russians -- the Russian government is backing, is behind his father's campaign for president, which is a huge deal for the campaign. The idea that Donald Trump Jr. would hear that information and not convey it and that Manafort would hear it and Jared Kushner would hear it, and nobody would convey it to Donald Trump, the candidate, just seems hard to imagine given the size of the campaign, kind of the way it was organized and how few people were actually involved.

SWALWELL: We learned a lot in our investigation about the closeness of Donald Trump and his son, and what we concluded is they were very close. They talked very often. Donald Trump Jr. would often to his father about decisions in the campaign. And Donald Trump is a very gracious host. He is someone who would want to know if someone flew across the world to be in his building and talk about the campaign.

And so, the idea that he had no idea about it while he was independently going out as a candidate and saying new information is coming about Hillary Clinton. Boy, do we love WikiLeaks. Russia, if you're listening, please deliver more e-mails.

It just -- it would defy, you know, everything we know about these two, that they didn't talk. Perhaps that's the case. But the best two people who could clear that up would be Donald Trump and his son, and they haven't been cooperative in our investigations.

COOPER: Also, why would the -- the president's allies might say look, the president didn't know about the Trump tower meeting. Therefore, he didn't know about anything Russia-related. That's not what this reporting is, but you understand why the president's supporters would be quick to jump on it.

SWALWELL: Sure. Again, because there are so many I would say shovels that have been taken out and evidence that has been buried, we've been in the dark for two years trying to sort all of this out. So they found one innocent explanation where you have, again, just dozens of shovels and a lot of holes that have been dug to bury key evidence, whether it was roger stone or Michael Cohen, who have already been indicted for the lies that they told around this case.

So, sure, if Donald Trump Jr. did not call his father, we can put that to rest. What I don't understand, though, why did the House Republicans not just subpoena these records two years ago when we wanted to see them when we could have put it to rest then?

COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, appreciate your time. Thanks very much.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, is it a wall, a barrier, a fence, steel slats? Linguistically, are Republicans and Democrats really miles apart on what to call a physical structure on the southern border with Mexico? And could striking a deal actually come down to that fine of a point?

We're keeping them honest, next. I'll speak with a lawmaker involved in the negotiations, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:32:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The wall should be called the wall, after all, and the House speaker will be begging for it. Those are the latest proclamations from the President as the clock continues to tick down to another potential shutdown or perhaps a state of emergency declaration if the President doesn't get the wall that he wants. And judging by what Speaker Pelosi said today, it doesn't seem like he will.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: There's not going to be any wall money in the legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that's pretty clear. The Speaker later went on to suggest that it she'd be open to more enhanced fencing, but the wall seems to be as much of a non-starter as ever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the way, if you go to Tijuana and you take down that wall, you will have so many people coming into our country that Nancy Pelosi will be begging for a wall. She'll be begging for a wall. She will say, "Mr. President, please, please give us a wall." It will be very interesting. Some people have suggested let me take the wall along California. Let's move it to Arizona. Let's move it to Texas. And you know, it would be a very interesting statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now he is not only moving the goalpost, he is maybe moving the whole wall. The President was asked if he would accept the other kinds of physical barriers that the speaker suggested she'd be open to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: No, because if there is no wall, it doesn't work. She is just playing games.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Right, doesn't work politically if there is no wall. Keeping them honest, and we've said this before, there is a debate to be had about immigration policy, there's no doubt about that. But when it comes to accusations of playing games, the President doesn't exactly come from a non-hypocritical place, to put it nicely.

Just today, he was back to his word games about whether to call the wall the wall. He typed into the Twitter machine, "Let's just call them walls from now on and stop playing political games. A wall is a wall."

Well, not only did the President invent this game, he wrote all the rules, he broke them, he changed them, he rewrote them and then he changed them again. A wall is a wall, he says, but he didn't always seem to think so.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're going to build a wall and it's going to be impenetrable. It will be a real wall.

It's not a fence, it's a wall. You just misreported it.

There could be some fencing.

You go back to 2006, they all approved essentially a wall, a very powerful fence, which is pretty much the same thing.

A wall or a slat fence, or whatever you want to call it.

A wall, a fence, whatever they'd like to call it, I'll call it whatever they want, but it's all the same thing.

You could call it a steel fence, this wall or fence or anything the Democrats need to call it.

They can name it whatever. They can name it peaches. I don't care what they name it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: They can name it peaches. Call it whatever you want. But, now, a wall is a wall, all caps, exclamation point. Keeping them honest, the President and his supporters seem to be the only ones who are hung up on what to call this thing that doesn't even exist.

[20:35:04] When Kellyanne Conway was asked about a poll showing that vast majority of Americans didn't think a wall was worth the shutdown, she seemed to think it was very important to use the proper words, whatever those are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kellyanne, there's a new poll out showing that 71 percent of American --

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

PHILLIP: So, it's on CBS.

CONWAY: Yes, right, 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, Kellyanne.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, OK. So there she is saying, "Why are you calling it a wall?" He is calling it a wall. He campaigned on it. It's always been a wall. The only thing that is demonstrably changed is the other part of his promise about who is going to pay for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Mexico.

TRUMP: Who's going to pay for the wall?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Mexico.

TRUMP: Who?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Mexico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The conversation has moved from whether Mexico is going to pay for it, which it never was, to whether a wall is actually a wall, and the only person responsible for that is the President. As for where this leaves us and the federal workers who may be facing another shutdown in just over two weeks, it is not looking great.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: On February 15th, the committee will come back. And if they don't have a wall, I don't even want to waste my time reading what they have, because it's a waste of time.

COOPER: A waste of time, says the President.

Joining me now is Congressman Henry Cuellar, Democrat from Texas, a member of the group of lawmakers trying the hash out a deal. Congressman, thanks for being with us. So the President saying today --

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Thank you so much.

COOPER: -- the bipartisan panel is no closer to a deal now than when it started. As a member of that panel, is he right?

CUELLAR: Look, without due respect to the President, we're just focusing on what we can do as appropriators Senate, House, Democrats, Republicans, and I feel optimistic that if there is no outside interference by the White House, we can work this out. I feel very confident that we can work it out.

COOPER: So, is there any discussion about a wall or whatever you call it, you know, increased fencing, supplemental fencing, additional fencing in some areas that are strategic points that may need it?

CUELLAR: Well, right now where we're focusing is trying to answer two questions. When you look at the question, how do we stop drugs from coming in, keep in mind that most drugs according to DEA, Homeland, will come through ports of entry.

So in our ports, what we need to do is make sure, make sure that we have the right number of K-9s, CBP officers, those are the men and women in blue, and have the latest X-ray technology, the sea portals and things that you can have an 18-wheelers go by and still provide the X-ray to see what's in there. So we got to be smart on how we secure the border.

And also, keep in mind that just think it was today, the largest amount of fentanyl that has been captured in the U.S. history was done at a port of entry. And if you listen to the latest drug case in New York, what are the bad guys saying? They use ports of entry. They will go ahead and use submarines or speed boats in the water. So we have to be smart on how we address drugs.

And keep in mind, one last point, if you want to stop people, keep in mind that in the year 2000, border patrol stopped 1.6 million individuals, apprehended. Last year it was about 303,000 individuals, a smaller amount. And the larger amount, 67 percent of the people are not supposed to be here are visa overstays. And by the way, most of those visa overstays are Canadians.

COOPER: Right. In the past, though, Democrats have supported some fencing, some fortified fencing. And there is, you know, there are many areas where there is -- there are steel slats. There are various kinds of fencing.

Would you be supportive of any kind of agreement that increases the length of fencing in some areas if border protection says that would help us in this particular region? Not talking about a wall from sea to shining sea, but just increased fencing of an extra 100 miles, 200 miles of fencing, is that something that you would support?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, again, first thing I want to do is make sure that we have the technology, the right number of personnel. Border patrol is losing more men and women than they're actually hiring in border patrol. We've got to make sure that we provide security underground because of tunnels, tunnels. Keep in mind that there has been what, 290 tunnels that they discovered going in the -- under the walls or fences, should I say, for a long time.

[20:40:00] And then of course sea, because of the coast guard has to play a role. And then air. We need air stats. We need drones. We need helicopters and airplanes.

COOPER: But even just to get a deal, as a compromise, would you consider additional fencing?

CUELLAR: Well, again, we got to look at what we have right now. Right now we have 654 miles of fencing. 300 of those miles are vehicle barriers. And if you're familiar with the vehicle barriers, they're basically to stop cars. They don't stop people. You can crawl under them or just jump over. So we have to look at what's out there.

Now, keep in mind that in the year 2000 -- 2008, Senator Cornyn and myself and a Democratic county judge, we came up with a compromise for what we called a levied wall, which is basically there is flooding down there by the river in the South Texas area. We got a dirt mound and we put a cement barrier on it and it became a flood control and at the same time border security. So we can get creative.

What we don't want is Washington to get a red crayon and tell us what we need to put any sort of barriers if we even get to that part.

COOPER: All right, Congressman Henry Cuellar, appreciate your time. Thank you.

Joining us now, "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers and former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo.

Kirsten, I mean, is the President right to a certain degree here? Are Democrats playing political games with the word "wall"?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, he's also changed his different definitions of what a wall is and what a fence is. And I think Nancy Pelosi said today, like he can call it whatever he wants, you know. You know, they are interested in trying to beef up security, particularly at ports of entry because that is where, you know, most of the -- most of the problems occur, frankly, and it's the way most people come into the country.

Can they give money for a little more fencing? Sure, but that's not really what this was all held up over, right? This was held up over his insistence on having a wall. Not having a fence, on having a wall there never would have been a shutdown if he just wanted a little fencing.

COOPER: Michael, for the President to say as he did today that this isn't about votes, it isn't about elections. I mean, that's not true. Obviously, this was a central part of his campaign. It's fulfilling a campaign promise ahead of 2020, is it not?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, I think it's one of his key campaign promises, just like improving the economy, driving down the unemployment rate, you know, freeing up business by deregulating, so many -- eliminating so many of the regulations laid on business by the Obama administration.

It was a key campaign promise, of course, and I think because it was so central to his victorious campaign, I think the Democrats have decided it's a line that they're not going to cross. And it's going to become an election issue for sure in 2020. If the wall is being built or it's built by then, it will be a victory for the President. If it isn't, then it will be a point of contention between him and the Democratic nominee.

But the fact of the matter is the President can build this wall with or without Nancy Pelosi's approval through a state of emergency or even other ways. And I think he is intent on doing that.

COOPER: Kirsten, I mean, wouldn't it -- I mean, it seems like obviously that there's going to be some sort of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, whether the President goes along with it. It seems like one obvious compromise is some sort of increased fencing in some key strategic areas and whether it's called a wall or, you know, steel slat fencing, or whatever they want to call it. Isn't that sort of the obvious compromise, that the Democrats can say it's not a wall, and the President can say, you know, it's a wall.

POWERS: Yes. I mean, I have said before that I think they have to give him an out. They have to give -- you know, when you are negotiating with somebody, that you have to try to get to yes. And I know that makes a lot of people angry, because that's not really how he negotiates for the most part.

But if it's something that is first of all not insanely expensive the way the wall is, and the reason that the Democrats oppose it is because it's just not a good idea, and it's not necessary. And we've gone through many times all the different reasons that this is not what the United States needs if we want to deal with the problems at the border.

So, I think that was just a non-starter. But are there other things that they can agree on? Yes. And I think that they -- like I said, they want increased security at the border, they have agreed to that. And so that is giving him something. They're just not giving him the wall because they don't think it's a good idea, and he said Mexico is going to pay for it. So it's just is more of this crazy making that somehow it's the Democrats' fault that he doesn't have funding for the wall that he said he was going to get the funding from Mexico for.

COOPER: Michael, what about that?

CAPUTO: Well, I think -- I mean, I agree, Kirsten is right in a lot of ways. But at the same time, you know, today the Democrats laid out their plan for border security. And in that plan, they froze the number of border patrol officers.

[20:45:04] If they're going to go ahead and beef up security at the ports of entry, they're going to need a lot more border patrol officers. And the idea that the vast majority of border patrol officers support a wall, I think that's driving what the President wants to do. But also, by the way, the majority of border patrol officers support increasing the number of border patrol officers. Democrats really got to get a handle on what border security really means to them.

COOPER: Michael Caputo, Kirsten Powers, thank you.

Up next, we're going to speak with Senator Jeff Merkley who said that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen lied in congressional testimony about family separation of illegal immigrants. The senator is asking the FBI to investigate. I'll talk to him about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: While President Trump keeps pushing for a wall at the border, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is requesting that the FBI open a perjury investigation to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

The Senator claims that Nielsen lied in congressional testimony in December when she said that we've never had a policy for family separation. She's made the same denial in interviews and on Twitter, but Senator Merkley just released a memo he says from a whistleblower that shows that the Department of Justice and Homeland Security were considering family separations for illegal immigrants a year before that testimony and months before it was enacted.

Senator Merkley joins me now. So senator, you're accusing Secretary Nielsen of lying in her sworn testimony. What exactly did the memo show?

[20:50:05] SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Well, the memo show that the very top level of Homeland Security and in the attorney general's office, they were laying out a strategy for child separation. But this isn't the only piece of the puzzle.

Back in March of 2017, John Kelly, her predecessor testified on television. He said, "I am planning child separation. And by the way, we're going to take very good care of those children." And when Jeff Sessions announced his policy in May of December -- in May of last year, he proceeded to say that this strategy of child separation that he mentioned it also was for deterrents.

And it's just -- I'm sick and tired of this administration lying to the American people. Once they found child separation was so unpopular because it's so evil, it hurts children as part of a political strategy then suddenly she comes and testifies, "Oh, we never had any such plan." And it's a lie and it's time to hold this administration accountable for telling the truth.

COOPER: And I think General Kelly, even when he was the Homeland Secretary, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, he said -- also said that they were doing it -- they were planning it for a deterrent. He thought it would be a strong deterrent.

A spokesperson with the DHS says the memos were pre-decisional and "pre-deliberative." I'm not sure even what that means. But Secretary Nielsen was given a menu of options to deal with the issue on the border and she specifically rejected a policy proposal to separate all family units.

What's odd about that is they ended up separating family units. So, I'm not sure how she decided that wasn't going to be a policy that suddenly became a policy.

MERKLEY: You know, it's trying to be so clever because by saying --

COOPER: Yes, it's not pre-decisional, it sounds pre-delusional, that statement.

MERKLEY: That's right. No, it's exactly right. And the importance of this, and the reason of all the lies the administration has told, the reason I really wanted to kind of put this one in the spotlight and say this is not OK is because of the deep damage to thousands and thousands of children.

And then the inspector general came out and said, you know, we've looked at the period before the formal policy was announced in May. It actually began in April, the previous month of last year. He said it's possible that there may have been thousands of other children that they couldn't even get accountability for how many children might have been separated before the formal policy was launched.

And we had heard stories about the pilot projects and immigrant advocates coming and saying we think something fishy is going on with these children and the administration was denying it.

And so, here -- I mean, with our tax dollars, our government, on our land this deeply damaging strategy was concocted and implemented and the administration needs to be held accountable and we need to policize (ph) it so it never happens again.

COOPER: Has the FBI responded to your request? I mean, do we know if the FBI would open investigation?

MERKLEY: They have responded and they said, "Government shutdown, we can't do anything right now." And so hopefully we'll get another response shortly. And the child separations, by the way, Anderson, it's just a piece of it. We have thousands of children locked up in a series of child prisons across the country, migrant children.

The number in December was up to 15,000 from 7,000 in the middle of last year. We have family internment camps where children are locked up. I just talked to a couple last night, a mother and a 15-year-old daughter who had been locked up for six months in Deli in a family internment camp.

COOPER: Senator Merkley, appreciate it. We'll continue checking in with you on this. Thank you.

I want to check in with Chris Cuomo to see what he is working on. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so we have this new information about who Donald Trump Jr. was speaking to before and after that meeting from his blocked number. It wasn't his father. What does that tell us? What does it leave us left needing to know? I have two great investigators on tonight who have done these cases for many years, very helpful.

Then, we're going to look at what happened with the President today and his obvious lie about the intelligence piece. What it means to me in terms of a window into the future of where this lying is going to lead with the President and what it means to Jim Clapper, you know, former national security expert obviously, he sees something very troubling. We have it all for you tonight.

COOPER: All right, Chris, thanks very much. Five minutes from now. We look forward to it in a few minutes.

Firefighters, we certainly know have a tough job when they don't have to contend with minus 22 degree temperatures. That's what this crew from Hammond, Indiana was dealing with trying to put out a fire with water instantly turning to ice. Can you imagine that? We're going to have more on the deadly cold gripping most of the country, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:59:06] COOPER: Well, the death toll has risen to at least 16 people from the historic and brutal cold blasting much of the country. More than 200 million people have endured another day of freezing temperatures with 84 million facing subzero weather.

In 11 states today, mostly in the Midwest, temperatures fell below minus 14 degrees. It was colder than the temperature in Alaska's northern most city, that sits north of the Arctic Circle. It is that bad out there.

Here's the good news, the misery will melt away for most tomorrow and into next week. For example, Chicago's temperature should rise on 75 degrees from about 25 below zero to the low 50s on Monday. Atlanta, where residents shivered in the 20s this week, temps will soar into 60s, who are going to host the Super Bowl on Sunday.

That's about it for us. Don't miss "Full Circle," our daily interacts newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on the stories we cover. We post those around noon. Watch the show 6:25 p.m. Eastern at facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle. If you haven't seen it, watch us. It's a lot of fun.

Chris, the news continues. Let's hand it over to him. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to the "Prime Time."