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Andrew McCabe Says President Trump Rejected U.S. Intel On North Korea Because He Believed Vladimir Putin Instead; Justice Department Official: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Is Expected To Leave The Justice Department In Mid-March; Sources: Police Believe Jussie Smollett Orchestrated Attack; Source: John James Leading Contender For U.N. Ambassador After Heather Nauert Withdraws From Consideration. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: So, who are you going to believe, the U.S. Intelligence Community, or a former KGB officer, who happens to run this country's most dangerous nuclear adversary? Chris Cuomo is off tonight. That question tops this hour of 360.

It's a question President Trump reportedly faced, according to former Acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe. He's the one the President fired, the lifelong Republican, who's just written account of his turbulent encounters with the President in the wake of James Comey's firing.

Now, one recurring theme, what McCabe saw as the President's affinity for Russia. He appeared last night on CBS News' 60 Minutes, and recounted one such incident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: The President launched into several unrelated diatribes. One of those was commenting on the recent missile launches by the Government of North Korea.

And, essentially, the President said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. And he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don't actually have those missiles.

SCOTT CAMERON PELLEY, JOURNALIST, AUTHOR, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT & ANCHOR, CBS NEWS 60 MINUTES CORRESPONDENT: And U.S. intelligence was telling the President what?

MCCABE: Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses, to which the President replied, "I don't care. I believe Putin."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: "I believe Putin," he said, quite an account. It's not sitting well with the President, who has called McCabe a disgrace to the FBI and the country. McCabe has plenty to say as you'll see when he joins us tomorrow night on this program.

Joining us right now is CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. So, what else did McCabe have to say in - in the interview last night?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER, CNN: So, Anderson, he really was the first time that, you know, we get to hear from him on the record talking about his interaction during the several day period where it appeared things were extremely chaotic.

After the firing of the former FBI Director, James Comey, McCabe told us that it was he who decided to launch this counterintelligence investigation into the President because he had feared that the President was compromised by Russia. He ordered the obstruction investigation.

And really, one of the things that I found most fascinating through this interview was how he described his interaction with Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who, as we know, wrote that memo that ultimately the President used as a way to fire the former FBI Director.

And just their interaction and then Rod Rosenstein's explanation of how the President wanted Rod to put in the memo that was used to fire Comey mention Russia that Rod didn't think that that he needed to do that, and ultimately, he didn't do that.

But then they really, when you look at what McCabe say it - says he painted this entire picture of really an FBI and a Department of Justice that was just in such turmoil because they really didn't know what was next, you know.

And that's perhaps why, you know, as he described why Rod Rosenstein offered to wear this wire to go see the President, and said "I could get in there," Rod told him, he says. "They wouldn't search me, so I could get in there with the wire." Then, obviously, this whole issue of the 25th Amendment.

So really, you know, it's just this back and forth, this back and forth between Rod Rosenstein and he for - for this several day period was one of the most fascinating things to give us a look inside just a tumultuous period--

COOPER: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: --that we were under.

COOPER: What was the response from Rosenstein in the DOJ to the allegations?

PROKUPECZ: So, they didn't outright deny that this conversations - that these conversations had taken place.

Obviously, they said that there were things about it that were inaccurate. And others certainly have said that, you know, perhaps Rod was joking that there were indications that Rod didn't take these conversations so seriously.

But for McCabe, it was something that he certainly took seriously, and he said last night that he took these conversations, he memorialized them. But then, he also brought them, and he discussed them with his General Counsel and his lead - senior leadership, Anderson.

COOPER: McCabe's credibility obviously has been in question since the Department of Justice Inspector General concluded he lied multiple times about his interactions with the press. McCabe, what did he have to say about that in the interview?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So, he essentially says that he was confused by some of the questions. You know, he denies that he lied intentionally in any way, and that it was just some - some of the questions he was confused about.

What was interesting is McCabe's explanation of why he went to and spoke to a newspaper reporter about the Clinton investigation.

[21:05:00] And his whole - whole point in doing that was to make sure that the facts were right that the information that was getting out there was not going to be wrong and inaccurate, and he felt it was just his duty to make sure that the right information concerning that investigation was in the newspaper.

COOPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate it.

PROKUPECZ: Sure.

COOPER: Perspective now from someone who was in a position to know about threats, and how Presidents respond to them under ordinary circumstances, former Director of National Intelligence and Retired Air Force Lieutenant General, James Clapper, more recently, the Author of Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence.

So, Director Clapper, this anecdote from McCabe that the President dismissed his own Intelligence Agencies' conclusions saying, "I don't care. I believe Putin," it's not that hard to imagine him saying that, given that he essentially said the same thing in Helsinki at that press conference, when he talked about, well, information Dan Coats had told him about, but that Vladimir Putin had given a very strong defense denying--

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER UNITED STATES DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, RETIRED UNITED STATES AIR FORCE LIEUTENANT GENERAL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right.

COOPER: --that there was any Russian involvement.

CLAPPER: Well I think the vignette that Andy was recounting, you know, is fairly early on in the Administration.

And I think - as this was a part of what has since become a pattern, where if the intelligence produced by the Intelligence Community doesn't comport with President Trump's worldview, then he rejects it. And in this case, accepts Putin's word over his own Intelligence Community, in this particular instance with having to do with North Korean missiles, but later, you know, Putin, he accepted Putin's denials of any meddling in our election--

COOPER: Yes.

CLAPPER: --over the, you know, coordinated and high-confidence view of the Intelligence Community. So, it's - it's just, it's stunning.

COOPER: Do you - do you think given everything we've seen from this President, it's reasonable to ask if he could be working on behalf of Russian interests, and not the U.S.'s?

CLAPPER: Well it's a reasonable question, whether wittingly or unwittingly, I think that's an important consideration. And I think that's part of what drove Andy's concern from a counterintelligence perspective to initiate an investigation, which, in my view, was entirely appropriate.

And I think, you know, the - the FBI would have - could have been accused of dereliction for not at least considering that - that very possibility.

COOPER: And you worked with Andrew McCabe. You know him well. What can you say about his work at the FBI, the kind of Agent he was?

Because, obviously, the, you know, the criticism of him, among other things, is that he, you know, according to the Inspector General, gave misleading statements, lied several times.

CLAPPER: Well, my engagement, my encounters with Andy were entirely positive. It goes back to when he was in charge of the Washington Field Office of the FBI, and then later on when he went to the headquarters at Hoover Building and - and ultimately as the Deputy Director.

He and I appeared together as witnesses in the seemingly endless hearings about Benghazi. And I found Andy to be credible, professional, dedicated, and level-headed, and honest.

COOPER: And lastly, Chris Ruddy, who's a friend of the President's, who was in Mar-a-Lago this weekend says that he's hearing there's a general disappointment from the President with the current Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and then maybe there needs to be a change of leadership there.

What kind of an impact would that have if Coats were to, in fact, leave? Again, I feel like this has been simmering for a long time based on a number of things--

CLAPPER: Yes.

COOPER: --the President has said about Coats.

CLAPPER: Well, I actually - as far as the impact on Intelligence Community, I think - I think it would be pretty devastating. Dan Coats is regarded as - as an honorable man who has the right values, the right standards, and wants to do the right thing, believes in the truth and telling it.

And that's precisely what he did at the open Worldwide Threat Hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee recently. And he said some things, which he was, by the way, is - he wasn't making that up.

He was representing the view that con - the coordinated views of the entire Intelligence Community when he says that North Korea is not going to give up its - its nuclear weapons, and that's right, and ISIS has not been defeated, that's right, and Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA.

And apparently, the President didn't like that because that didn't comport with his - his world view.

You know, why this is really serious, Anderson, is if we ever have a really serious international event of the - of the magnitude, God forbid, of a 9/11 or another, God forbid, a confrontation with the likes of Russia or - or China, a serious one, the President, and the country are going to need the Intelligence Community, and relying strictly - exclusively on his gut is that poses a real threat to this country, and - and to his Presidency.

[21:10:00] COOPER: Yes. His gut and whatever Vladimir Putin is whispering to him are sure not the thing (ph).

CLAPPER: Exactly.

COOPER: Director Clapper, good to talk to you, thank you.

Just gotten this in from an Official of the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to leave the Justice Department in mid-March.

The Official disputed the idea that the timing of Rosenstein's departure has anything to do with the latest revelations from Andrew McCabe, emphasizing that the plan was always that Rosenstein would help with the transition for his successor, and then leave. The new Deputy Attorney General could be announced as early as this week.

Joining us now is Republican Strategist, Adolfo Franco, Democratic Strategist, Paul Begala, and former CIA Chief of Russian Operations, Steve Hall.

So, Paul, the White House says Andrew McCabe has no credibility. It's not like he's alleging something that isn't plausible. I mean we have seen with our own eyes, President Trump giving Putin the benefit of the doubt.

PAUL EDWARD BEGALA, POLITICAL CONSULTANT, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's shocking. And I will say what - what Mr. McCabe is accused of dissembling about was a story that was planted in the Wall Street Journal that attacked Hillary Clinton. It was an anti- Hillary story in the closing days of the election. So, if he was some sort of - of anti - of - some sort of Deep State guy trying to get Trump, that story, in fact, hurt Hillary's campaign.

And if you look at the objective evidence that McCabe saw a lot more than you and I ever did, I mean, this was a President who said, "Go easy on General Flynn," to the FBI Director, who was being investigated about contacts with Russia, then he fires the FBI Director, when he doesn't go easy on him, and he tells NBC News, the President does this because of Russia.

Then a few days later, he brings the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, rumored to be a spymaster, into the Oval Office, and gives them highly classified information.

If I had done that Anderson, I'd be in Gitmo.

And then set aside the debacle at - or don't set aside the debacle at Helsinki where he took Putin's side on every issue, seems to believe them over our Intelligence. Now, McCabe gives us another example. It's if he's not a Russian asset, he's sure playing one on TV.

COOPER: Paul, what do you make of the - the breaking news that Rod Rosenstein is on his way out?

BEGALA: I actually, this will shock you, I tend to believe the Administration on this. He - Mr. Rosenstein did put out that when the new Attorney General, William Barr was sworn in, and he seems to, from press reports, have kid - candidate to be the new Deputy Attorney General, so I - I don't think it's about the McCabe. I think actually they're telling the truth on this.

COOPER: Adolfo, if what Andrew McCabe has said is true, and President Trump did believe Vladimir Putin over U.S. Intelligence regarding North Korea, would that concern you?

ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER SPOKESMAN, ROMNEY/RYAN '12 CAMPAIGN: Well, a lot of "Ifs" here. With all due respect, I think there's a little bit of icing on the cake here on Mr. McCabe.

Of course, the - the - an Obama-appointee at the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department recommended his firing, the Inspector General report on Mr. McCabe and his lies and his leaks.

So, the track record that Mr. McCabe has standpoint of credibility is zero. To answer your question though, I don't know the context of which this supposed conversation took place, and how the President referred to then - the matters that Mr. Putin might have said to him.

I do not--

COOPER: But you did see the Helsinki press conference, in which Vladimir Putin - in which President Trump said, "Oh, well, Dan Coats has told me one thing, but President Putin had a very powerful denial of it." FRANCO: Denial. Denial, and that's what he said, and later he took a statement saying that he did know - he took in the - the denial, and he just presented as such.

I - I think - I think there is this narrative that's being created to assume automatically that just because the President is questioning bureaucrats and intelligence, which has been faulty in the past, of course, in the previous administrations, there was so much criticism of the - the faulty Iraq Intelligence so forth, the President is just the questioning of these things, and - and having his suspicions of people who do not share his views, having their own agenda, in this case, in my view, the President is right.

I think - I think--

COOPER: Right. But he--

FRANCO: --there was a movement here to - a soft Administrative coup underway engineered by - by at least Mr. McCabe, and Mr. Rosenstein part of that.

COOPER: Right.

FRANCO: Although he had recommended that Mr. Comey be fired.

COOPER: I - I guess - I guess my question though is, would it concern, I understand the questioning of U.S. Intelligence and--

FRANCO: Yes.

COOPER: --and having skepticism and everybody should.

FRANCO: Sure.

COOPER: But he seems to be, if this story is correct, he believes Vladimir Putin, what Vladimir Putin whispered to him about North Korean nuclear abilities.

Wouldn't that concern you if it's true that the President of the United States seems to be going with stuff that Vladimir Putin is whispering in his ear as opposed to stuff the U.S. Intelligence Community is saying?

FRANCO: Well, yes, but - but I don't know if this is true. I don't know the context in which - in which the President might have said. I've heard this from the Russians differently.

Frankly, Anderson, in 2016, and - and even in early 2017, there was a lot of criticisms about the - the - the amount of intelligence we had on - on North Korea, and whether they even had the capability, and how a primitive - some of these weapons might have been, and some of the tests had failed, and so forth.

[21:15:00] So, I don't know the context in which it was - it was played. What is clear though is that throughout the - Mr. McCabe's tenure, since Donald Trump became President, I think he had the objective to have him removed from Office.

And I think - I think every American should be concerned about bureaucrats coming together, taking headcounts supposedly on Cabinet Members to exercise--

COOPER: Right.

FRANCO: --the 25th Amendment. And that's what this - I think this is what - this should be extremely concerning.

COOPER: Steve, can - can you think of any scenario under which an American President should take the President of Russia's word for something instead of the word of American Intelligence Community?

STEVE HALL, RETIRED CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIAN OPERATIONS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I mean not to put too fine a point on it. I mean this - the only narrative that is going on here is the one that - is the one that this President has himself done. I mean he is the one who has a track record.

I don't care what Andrew McCabe said about that one particular incident. You can go back to Helsinki. You can take a look at that. You can see his cavorting with the Russians in the Oval Office, talking about classified information, clapping him on the back, and talking about how he just fired his Head of the FBI.

I mean I have to agree that it would be absolutely remiss if the FBI, at this particular - at that particular point, didn't open a counterintelligence investigation on this President, because there's no other - I can't think of another way to explain this stuff away, and it's only gotten worse with time, the more and more connectivity that we've seen, not just between Donald Trump, but his family members and his team.

So, yes, you can disagree with - with Intelligence. You can - you can do whatever you want with - with what your government systems are telling you is going on in the world. You can create your own policy.

But you - to - to say that you're not going to listen, let alone to your Western allies, the - the folks that you have a lot in common with, but that you're going to listen and agree with people like Vladimir Putin and others, who are antithetical to the United States, is I just can't think of a good reason why any President or any American citizen would do that.

And that, in my view, is what the American people need to be worried about.

COOPER: Paul, you see the - the President raging on Twitter this morning against not just McCabe but also Rod Rosenstein saying that - that they both were involved in some sort of Deep State conspiracy.

Doesn't this whole 25th Amendment thing fuel that Deep State conspiracy? I mean isn't McCabe just playing directly into the President's hands with this? BEGALA: It does. I will note that Mr. McCabe says that he's a lifelong Republican. Rosenstein's a lifelong Republican. Jim Comey was a Republican, I guess, until Trump fired him. So, these are all Republicans, many of them put there by Donald Trump.

But I do think you're right. If Rod Rosenstein's a lot better lawyer than I am, the 25th Amendment does not enter into this. It just doesn't. It - I looked it up again today Section 4, which is how you remove the President that says if the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, unable.

They meant, the - the - Birch Bayh, the Senator from Indiana wrote that Amendment, and he essentially was talking about a - a kidnapping, a coma, not just the President frankly acting like a Russian agent.

That's more for Mr. Mueller, and for an impeachment process, if you think it's true. It's not the 25 Amendment.

COOPER: Right.

BEGALA: I just think Rosenstein was way off on that.

COOPER: Yes.

BEGALA: I can't imagine why he brought it up.

COOPER: Paul Begala, Adolfo Franco, Steve Hall, thank you very much.

FRANCO: Yes.

COOPER: Quick reminder, be sure to tune in tomorrow, Andrew McCabe joins us live right here on the program, lot of questions for him.

Coming up tonight, the President is not talking about, in the wake of his emergency Border declaration on Friday, namely the emergency. His silence about that, and some breaking news as well.

And later, new developments in the bizarre Jussie Smollett case, especially what the two brothers, arrested in connection with the alleged incident, have now reportedly told investigators about what really happened.

[21:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As 16 states and a number of organizations challenged President Trump's Border emergency in court, the President has said and done remarkably little to defend his action. He didn't speak about it today in South Florida.

He only tweeted once about it this weekend, tweeted again about Saturday Night Live, just a few moments ago, and even when he announced the National Emergency, he knew the lawsuits were coming, and sort of sang a little song about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The order is signed. And I'll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office.

And we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there. And we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we'll get another bad ruling. And then we'll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we'll get a fair shake.

And we'll win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban. They sued us in the Ninth Circuit, and we lost, and then we lost in the Appellate Division, and then we went to the Supreme Court, and we won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. Joining us now, former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman, Charlie Dent. Congressman, should it come as any surprise that lawmakers are by and large split along party lines on this?

CHARLIE DENT, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR PENNSYLVANIA'S 15TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it actually does surprise me because the, Anderson, the underlying emergency here is the attack on the Legislative Branch of government.

The last thing I did before I left Congress was write the Military Construction VA Appropriations bill. President of the United States plans to divert, to raid about $3.6 billion out of a total appropriation of $10.3 billion.

Nearly 35 percent of the entire Military Construction budget is going to be diverted without Congressional approval. To me, this is a - a clear violation of the - of the - of the Congress' Article 1 powers under the Constitution.

And so, I am just that - I'm - I'm amazed that, I think, Republican Appropriators and Republican Members of the Armed Services Committee have to push back on that - on this because these projects were thoroughly scrubbed by the Members of Congress on the Republican side before they were approved.

And these are requested by the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense as essential. And the President said, he didn't think these were too important, many of these projects. Well that's not what they told Congress.

COOPER: I want to play something that Senator Graham had to say this weekend. Let's play that for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's just say for a moment that he took some money out of the Military Construction budget. I would say it's better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure Border. We'll get them the school they need. But right now, we got a national emergency on our hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Is a Border wall versus schooling going to be a viable argument for the President and his supporters to be making?

[21:25:00] DENT: I don't - I don't believe it will be because when you look at what the Military Construction budget funds, it funds military housing, military family housing, military schools, military healthcare, vital infrastructure.

We're building these, you know, F-35 jets. You know, where are we going to park these things? In some shed? I mean we have to build hangars. We have to build all sorts of infrastructure that supports the force. This action will undermine military readiness and preparedness.

I think this is a - a bad choice because you're going to see some very - I'll take - the State of Alaska, nearly $1 billion in Military Construction funds has been allocated there over the past couple of years.

I can't imagine the Senate - the Republican Senators and House Members up in the - in Alaska are going to take this lying down. Are we going to take their funds to pay for the wall?

And, by the way, the remedy, in this case, the wall, has to address the underlying emergency. And you can make a very strong case that building a wall really won't address the issue of poor migrants surrendering themselves at legal ports of entry.

So, I think this - the President's got a lot of problems here. But he's going to stall a lot of very essential projects because this money is going to be tied up in court for years.

COOPER: In an interview yesterday, Stephen Miller, the Senior White House Adviser hinted that the President would veto Congressional disapproval vote against the national emergency.

While there are some Republicans in the Senate who may vote with Democrats on this, it certainly doesn't seem like there'd be enough to override a veto.

DENT: I think that's correct.

I - I do believe that the - the - the resolution of this approval will pass both Chambers. But it's probably not likely that the resolution will gain a two-thirds majority. But I think the President's going to have a really tough time in court with this thing.

You know, the - in order to transfer money, Anderson, I, as a Chairman of a Subcommittee on Military Construction, about every week, I would have staff come in to me and ask me to sign a letter to - to authorize the movement of certain funds from one project to another.

That's how this is supposed to work. But there's a limited cap on this. We're talking millions of dollars, not billions.

And, so the President intends to move the money without the sign-off of the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey, and the Subcommittee Chairman, who is now Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I can't imagine them signing letters to approve these types of transfers.

It also requires a signature of the Senate Appropriations leaders as well. So, I - I just don't see how the President is successful in this adventure--

COOPER: Yes, Congressman Charlie Dent--

DENT: --a misadventure.

COOPER: --good to have you. Thank you very much.

Wanted to - a quick note, a moment ago, I said the President tweeted tonight about SNL. In fact, it was Don Jr. tweeted tonight about SNL.

Coming up, about 40 minutes from now, stay tuned for the CNN Presidential Town Hall in New Hampshire with Senator Amy Klobuchar. Don Lemon moderates at the top of the hour here on CNN.

Coming up, Chicago police are seeking to do a follow-up interview with Jussie Smollett, seems like he's lawyered up. He hasn't agreed to talk to them as the case takes dramatic new turns. We'll tell you the latest twist tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:30:00] COOPER: So, was it all just a sick hoax? It's been a central question of the week since Empire actor, Jussie Smollett, reported a bizarre attack in Chicago last month. Here's what he had to say to his doubters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR, SINGER, DIRECTOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER: Who the (BEEP) would make something like this up or add something to it or - or whatever it may be, I can't - I can't even - I'm an advocate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Who would make something like this up? A sociopath might do that. Quoting sources, police think Smollett himself may have, as they now believe, he paid two men to orchestrate the assault.

CNN's Ryan Young joins us now. So Ryan, how do we get from that staunch denial to Smollett possibly orchestrating his own attack?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A twisted story, so far, Anderson. We're still trying to put the pieces together. I do want to give an update. And we just reached out to the representatives. They say there are no updates right now for when the actor may meet with detectives.

But this story's already sort of falling apart from the January - January 29th when he first, someone called the police and said, he had been attacked. Then, from there, police released a grainy image of two men sort of walking away from the scene. And I remember people thinking, who could identify two people from there. But police really started working from that moment, 12 detectives working this case around the clock.

And you see that image right there. From there, they were able to figure this out that they were two Nigerian brothers who actually went to Nigeria. When they got back, police were able to talk to them. First, they arrested them. They let them go.

But we found out from police that they were able to track them down through not only taxi cab receipts, but through rideshare technology like Uber or Lyft. And then they started talking to the men.

The men even turned over their cell phones to police to give them a little bit of extra information in terms of how this whole thing was set up. It's a sordid story, Anderson. And, of course, a lot of people are asking the questions why.

And one of the other things that sort of stands out right now is the fact that there are financial records that actually prove that one of the brothers bought the rope that was found on Jussie Smollett's neck. They believe they bought it from a hardware store here in Chicago.

And to go even further, one of the men actually appeared on an episode of Empire, so there's a sordid story, sordid details here.

COOPER: I should point out they - the - the - both men have put out statements saying that they're American, I believe, of Nigerian descent. I'm told that the two men who were arrested in connection with the attack are speaking out.

I know though they - they said that they're Americans. They also said something to the effect--

YOUNG: Yes.

COOPER: --of they're not anti-Trump, they're not anti-gay, they're not racist.

YOUNG: And I'll give you that statement.

COOPER: OK.

YOUNG: They said in a joint statement to WBBM today, "We are not racist. We are not homophobic. We are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens."

And from what I was told today, when talking to their attorney and - and talking to the folks at the Police Department, they are cooperating with the Police Department.

So, you think about this. Those partial phone records that Jussie Smollett gave over to police, of course, they wanted more. But these two men apparently have turned over their phones. They're doing the data dump. And they're giving the background to this information. Now, his attorneys actually fought back over the weekend on Saturday, releasing a statement that in part read something about the fact that he was going to pay these men to be his personal trainer to get ready for a video shoot.

But all this is sort of kind of falling apart at this point, police, of course, wanting to talk to Jussie Smollett again to kind of figure this out.

One other thing to throw out there, Anderson, in this area of Chicago, there are so many surveillance cameras in the area. It was very interesting from the first days to realize that this attack was not caught on video.

So, you start to breaking the pieces down from there, you think about detectives with that grainy image being able to go this far--

COOPER: Yes.

YOUNG: --to get to two men, not only to come in but to then turn evidence on Mr. Smollett.

COOPER: Yes. Ryan Young, thank you very much.

With me now, Criminal Defense Attorney, and CNN Legal Analyst, Mark Geragos, also, Kmele Foster, Host of The Fifth Column podcast.

[21:35:00] Mark, I mean I don't know where to begin. If this turns out it's a hoax, something like this, I mean it hurts people of color, it hurts the gay people, it hurts anybody who is, you know, a - a victim of a bias crime who, you know, if it's--

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And if it's - and if it's not a hoax, it hurts him, because if it - it's not a hoax, and he's a victim, he's being revitalized.

I - I generally resist, as you know, over the years, anytime you start to get law enforcement drip, drip, drip, leaks, that to me is a telltale sign that something else is going on here.

I don't, for a minute, believe, and I think it's ludicrous to believe that the police tracked these two down through the grainy photograph. I don't think that's what happened. I - in fact, I think that the cooperation of Smollett is precisely why they have these two.

My - my guess would be is they find their phone numbers. They know that they are - they have a connection, and they arrested two guys, and they put them in custody for two days, because there was an enormous amount of pressure to solve the crime.

Does that mean Smollett was in - was in - kind of in cahoots with them? I don't - I - I - I haven't seen anything except leaks according to law enforcement sources. To me, that screams out somebody who's trying to manipulate something.

COOPER: Kmele, how do you see this? KMELE FOSTER, THE FIFTH COLUMN HOST, TELECOMMUNICATIONS ENTREPRENEUR, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CO-FOUNDER & VICE PRESIDENT OF TELCOIQ: Well it seems pretty obvious that there's still a great deal that we don't know about what happened here. I think what we can talk about pretty concretely, however, is the initial response to these allegations.

And, quite frankly, it seemed to me that there was just simply not enough skepticism, scrutiny of what was a pretty bizarre circumstance.

COOPER: Right.

FOSTER: The notion that he is on a street corner, 2 o'clock in the morning, second coldest night of the year, and there suddenly are two men who appear and assault him on the street, particularly in Chicago in that particular area in Chicago, two Trump supporters who--

COOPER: It - it also seems to have--

FOSTER: --ran these incidents (ph) very strange.

COOPER: --a number of beats to it that seemed almost like if you were writing it as a story--

FOSTER: Yes.

COOPER: --then too many beats like--

FOSTER: Yes.

COOPER: --on anti-Trump statements, the anti-gay--

GERAGOS: Yes, but a lot of what's--

COOPER: --statement--

GERAGOS: Right.

COOPER: --a racist statement, a news beliege (ph). I mean--

GERAGOS: Yes, but the - I think part of the problem is, is there - a lot of stuff has been floated that is demonstrably not true. I mean, and that is worrisome as well. I mean the way - because the first thing people say is, why would he do this?

And there was the rumor he was floated - that was floated out there that he was being written out of Empire. Fox came out immediately and said, "That's absolutely categorically untrue. In fact, it's almost the opposite."

Was he in financial trouble? Absolutely not, apparently. Was there - was this because he was trying to gain some kind of attention? This is somebody who, by all accounts, had just finished a successful tour, was his trajectory, if you will, to borrow the word the cops have used, is on the up.

There - this is not somebody who needed the attention. He's not out there to promote something. I treat all of this - my skepticism really is with all of the law enforcement leaks. I think that there's something else going on here.

And I forget who it was, and I wish I could give her the credit, but somebody tweeted yesterday or the day before, and I thought it made a lot of sense. Said, this is a police department that has had some issues. And so--

FOSTER: Certainly true.

GERAGOS: What?

FOSTER: I said that's certainly true.

GERAGOS: It's certainly true. And so, before we start believing and accepting and having the spinning of those (ph)--

COOPER: Although I have to say the police, for the longest time, were the ones saying, "We are considering this a, you know, a - a - he is the victim." Even when all this stuff started swirling, the police were the ones still kind of holding the line.

FOSTER: They knocked down some very early reporting--

COOPER: Yes.

FOSTER: --that was skeptical of the - of the narrative that Jussie was laying out.

And I think what's important here, when I talk about sort of skepticism about the narrative, I'm talking about what Jussie himself has actually said, and the things that make that something less than believable.

GERAGOS: Well--

FOSTER: When you have an extraordinary claim like that, the standard ought to be extraordinary evidence. And, quite frankly, when it comes to sort of the public--

GERAGOS: Not - not anymore.

FOSTER: --at large and when it comes to a lot of the journalists--

GERAGOS: Not a lot. Really (ph)--

FOSTER: --who covered this story, I just don't think there was enough scrutiny.

GERAGOS: In the #MeToo era, there is no scrutiny.

FOSTER: Well, this is part of the--

GERAGOS: This is, yes. The--

FOSTER: --problem. Yes. GERAGOS: --in the #MeToo era, there - it's whatever you say that goes, you believe it. But the fact remains, he is being if he, and I - to say he's presumed to be innocent.

FOSTER: Sure

GERAGOS: And the idea that we're going to just swing the pendulum from embracing him wholeheartedly to convicting him I--

FOSTER: I think that's right.

GERAGOS: --that's - that's I - we've seen it. We've covered it, Anderson, I can't tell you how many times around here, and it's - it's astonishing--

FOSTER: It's appropriate - it's Appropriate to reserve judgment.

GERAGOS: --how many times that people go the opposite direction.

[21:40:00] COOPER: It was - I mean if it is turn - if it is a hoax, if he did plan this whole thing, for him to go on Good Morning America, I - you know, late last week, and cry and make appeals to, you know, young - to a young gay boy out there listening to let them know that he fought back, I mean that's - that's doubling and tripling down.

FOSTER: People - people--

GERAGOS: And if he's - and if he is truly a victim, think about that, kind of in that (ph).

FOSTER: Well people who do perpetrate frauds like this, they generally have a point to prove. He has a point to prove--

COOPER: Right.

FOSTER: --if in fact he contrived this story. So, I'm not at all surprised--

GERAGOS: Yes.

FOSTER: --if he goes and talks to the press or someone else to that point.

GERAGOS: Yes. I'm - I'm just I haven't seen anything that hangs or rings true or resonates as a motive. I'm a - I mean just - and I know, you don't need a motive.

FOSTER: Yes, can't speculate about that.

GERAGOS: You're right.

FOSTER: Yes.

GERAGOS: You can't speculate about that. But people have speculated. Everything that they've speculated has been demonstrably false. And so, that's the-- COOPER: Right.

GERAGOS: --that's the pushback.

COOPER: We'll see. Mark Geragos, Kmele Foster, thank you.

FOSTER: Thank you.

COOPER: Great to have you on.

When we return, the search is on yet again for someone to take over as U.N. Ambassador after Heather Nauert withdrew her nomination for - from consideration. Lot of intrigue about what led to that decision, and we have information on who the President may pick to replace her. The latest, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, ACTING UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS OF THE UNITED STATES, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PICK FOR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The White House did yesterday and asked you to say what you're grateful for (ph)--

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:45:00] COOPER: As you know, The President's having a hard time filling positions at the top of his Administration. He now has another nominee to look for after Heather Nauert took her name out of consideration for U.N. Ambassador. We have breaking news tonight.

Former Michigan Senate Candidate, John James is a leading contender for the position, according to a source close to the White House.

Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Michelle Kosinski has more on Nauert's rise and recent withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Heather Nauert's rise in the Trump Administration was on fire. She went from being a Fox News personality---

NAUERT: What do you need to do to win?

KOSINSKI: --to suddenly the number four person at the State Department. She was Spokesperson, often with a hint of Trumpian combativeness.

NAUERT: So, fake news, I hate to say, but is a real thing.

KOSINSKI: And she was Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy for a while, overseeing a billion dollar budget. Then came Trump's choosing her for Ambassador to the U.N. to replace former Governor, Nikki Haley. TRUMP: She's very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she's going to be respected by all.

KOSINSKI: But now, Nauert steps away from this huge move. The question is why?

Almost immediately, words started leaking out that it was all about a nanny issue. At least, that was the final straw. According to sources, Nauert had hired a nanny for her two children years ago, who was legal to live in the U.S., but not to work.

There were unpaid taxes. Somehow, this didn't emerge during Nauert's first vetting to be Spokesperson. Sources tell CNN she did not bring it up at the time. But that now, for the Ambassadorship, she did raise the issue.

The tax situation was rectified. But still, this could have been a big problem in a confirmation hearing that was already going to be tough.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: She has no experience as a Diplomat. She has no meaningful experience in the government.

KOSINSKI: Her qualifications came into question. Past statements she made on Fox.

NAUERT: Sharia Law is now changing everything.

KOSINSKI: When she was picked, back in December, even the Conservative Washington Examiner in an op-ed said she is not remotely qualified to serve as our Ambassador to the United Nations.

BRETT BRUEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT DIRECTOR, GLOBAL SITUATION ROOM, INC. PRESIDENT: The day she started as Spokesperson at the State Department, she had our nation's highest security clearance.

She had already gone through the vetting. She already had all of the boxes checks, the T's crossed, and the I's dotted. So, this issue coming out of left field raises a lot of questions.

KOSINSKI: Household staffing issues have plagued so many other nominees through time. Remember the names Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood, Bernard Kerik, Tim Geithner?

In this Administration, both Andy Puzder for Labor Secretary, and Wilbur Ross for Commerce had staff immigration issues. Both said they were not aware of it at the time. Puzder dropped out, but Ross made it through.

Multiple sources say, while Nauert's nanny problem is front and center, there were multiple issues that could have made her confirmation hearing unpleasant. She has chosen to avoid all that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And Michelle Kosinski joins us now. So, do we have a sense of what happens now with Nauert's job at the State Department? KOSINSKI: Yes, well, Nauert has been silent on this, except for a very brief statement that she put out saying that the last two months have been grueling for her family.

But tacit within the statement was the fact that not only is she pulling herself out from consideration for U.N. Ambassador, but she's leaving the State Department altogether, and that's not ever explained.

So, right now, there is no nominee for U.N. Ambassador, no nominee for Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, and no nominee for Spokesperson for the State Department, and nor have they even named an Acting Spokesperson, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, well, it's a long list. Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.

Coming up, at the top the hour, stay tuned for CNN Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate, Amy Klobuchar. The Minnesota Senator, of course, is just one of several Democratic hopefuls, already announced. And the list, of course, is bound to get larger.

What will it take to prevail in the very, very long road ahead? Take a look at that next.

[21:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well as we look at the setting for tonight's CNN Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidates, Senator Amy Klobuchar, consider that just about a year from now, we'll be digesting and analyzing the first results from the caucuses in Iowa, and the primary in New Hampshire. It'll be a very, very long road.

Joining me now is Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton's former Campaign Press Secretary, USA Today Columnist, Kirsten Powers, and Symone Sanders, former National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders Campaign.

So Brian, that center-left lane that Amy Klobuchar is looking to secure, if Vice President Biden runs, what happens to that lane?

BRIAN FALLON, POLITICAL ACTIVIST, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON'S 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well I think if you're somebody like Amy Klobuchar, you have a lot of room to grow. I think if you're Vice President Biden, you start off with pretty high numbers right now, based on name ID.

And the struggle or challenge for him will be, once you get into the race, it sort of takes - your reputation comes under scrutiny, the sort of good feeling that surrounds you gives way to more sharp elbows, and continuing to preserve that frontrunner status can be challenging. It's hard to do that wire-to-wire.

I - so, I think you'd rather enter a race as the underdog, as somebody that has tremendous upside or a high ceiling, as opposed to starting off with, you know, 33 percent of the vote as most of the national polls show, Vice President Biden, you might start to worry in that situation that you have nowhere to go but down.

COOPER: Yes.

FALLON: Hillary Clinton, of course, entered the race in 2015 as the most popular woman in the world, and 70 percent approval ratings. And after about six months in the race, people just look at you differently.

COOPER: Yes. Symone, I mean how much more time do you expect key Democratic supporters will give Vice President Biden to make his decision? I mean you see all these other campaigns getting into full swing, donors being courted, endorsements are being sought.

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, BERNIE 2016, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, look, I think an important date, we should all or - or month, we should all keep in mind is the first Democratic Party Presidential debates, and those debates will happen in June.

And so, if I'm a candidate that's thinking about - a potential candidate that's thinking about getting into the race, especially if I'm Vice President Biden, I kind of want to be out there right be - before. I don't want to pop in maybe the day before because you have to qualify to be in the debates.

And Democratic Party has just put out, you know, a list of qualifications that includes the number of small dollar donations, your grassroots efforts. And so, you have to be in the race in enough time to qualify.

[21:55:00] Look, I think Vice President Biden, and I've said this before, I think he and others like Senator Bernie Sanders, they have a little bit more leeway because the name recognition is so high. When we're looking at the polls of who is the "Frontrunner" right now, Anderson, that's really all about name ID.

COOPER: Yes.

SANDERS: And so, someone like Vice President Biden has a high name ID, somebody like Bernie Sanders has a high name ID. So, they don't have to get out there too early. But, look, the clock is winding down.

It's not just about the voters that are waiting for folks to get in, and endorsers. You need staff to work for you. And I know there are lots of people that love Vice President Biden. But you can only wait so long.

There's lots of people that love a lot of other folks to have, you know, suggested that they'll run for President.

COOPER: Right.

SANDERS: But you can only wait so long to hop in the race, and have a good staff, silent staff to, you know, help you win this thing.

COOPER: Kirsten, I mean Biden has said he believes he's the most qualified person in the country to be President.

I guess one question is, does he want to risk his legacy, having a footnote of a bruising Democratic primary that didn't go his way? I mean he's run for President before, and hasn't worked out.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST, CNN ON-AIR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. That and as - as Brian said, I mean there's no way he - even if, you know, if he runs and he - and he loses or the, you know, in the primary, he goes from being this beloved person with this extremely high, you know, approval rating to somebody who, you know, lost in a primary, and - and probably got beat up along the way.

It's very hard to stay popular when you are in a primary, especially if you're one of the frontrunners, because everybody is going to be focusing their attention on you, you know, trying to pull themselves up, usually by knocking you down.

And so, I think he, you know, he's not really going to be able to just rise above it, and be the - the Vice President. Of course, he is the most experienced because, out of this crowd, because he's - he was a Vice President.

And so, you know, that - that is unique experience. But I think that right now the Democratic Party is - it's not clear where the voters are going to end up--

COOPER: Yes.

POWERS: --in terms of what kind of candidate they're looking for.

COOPER: Brian, is it clear to you that anybody in the Democratic Party at this point knows how to run against President Trump?

FALLON: I think they can have plenty of time to figure that out, Anderson. And I think this primary is going to be a good and healthy thing. As we sit here tonight, all of us - none of us here could predict who might emerge as the nominee, and I think that's going to be a healthy enlivening thing.

You know, in 2016, there was a sense of inevitability about Hillary as the nominee. And I think overall that was not to the good. It - it sucked a lot of drama and intrigue out of the primary process. And, as a result, people looked for that melodrama in other places and things like faux email scandals, in my opinion.

This time around, I think we're going to have an enlivened debate around policy. People are actually talking about policy. Elizabeth Warren has a childcare proposal that's coming out tomorrow. And I feel like the energy out there is pretty high.

You saw lines around the block in New Hampshire for Kamala Harris today.

So, I think that the candidates rightfully, right now, are not focused on Trump out of the gate. They need to define and differentiate themselves. And let's let the voters decide over the next 12 to 18 months who they want their nominee to be. There'll be plenty of time to do battle against Donald Trump by--

COOPER: Symone, do--

FALLON: --by the time we get to the fall.

COOPER: --do you agree with that because I mean, look, there's - there were how many Republican challengers to Donald Trump, all who thought they knew how to run against him, and they all failed.

And it's not clear to me that anybody since then has figured out what the Achilles' heel is or - or - or how to go about. I mean, ultimately, it's going to come down to rate - beating Donald Trump.

SANDERS: Yes. But I mean you have to win the Democratic Presidential Primary first. Look, I - I do agree with Brian, and that folks have time to figure out how to - what's the best strategy, if you will, to combat Donald Trump in a race.

But - but I - I think what we know - what I think we know across the board is that you can't fight Donald Trump down in the gutter because, in my opinion, nobody is dirtier than him.

He is willing to go lower than anybody has ever - lower than anybody could - thought you could go. So, because of that, you always have to elevate the conversation when dealing with him.

And I think that there have been a number of instances, most prominently, I know folks the - the DNA debacle, if you will, with Senator Elizabeth Warren, where you have to elevate the conversation, because if you try to fight Donald Trump where he is, you won't win.

And so, I think that's something many candidates and potential candidates have learned and have seen. And I think that will be a - a telling thing that they'll expand upon going forward.

COOPER: Kirsten, you hear the argument that the Democratic Party can't afford to - to go too far left. It alienates the moderates. They go too far to the center, it alienates liberals. Who do you see best poised right now--

POWERS: I see--

COOPER: --for threatening Trump (ph)?

POWERS: Well I think that that's just a debate that's - that's - that's being figured out.

COOPER: Right.

POWERS: You know there's no way for us to know this at this point. And I think that a lot of things that people are calling too far to the left, the Republicans call too far to the left, actually are things that have support of a lot of Americans.

And so, you know, I think we'll just have to see--

COOPER: See.

POWERS: --what voters want.

COOPER: All right, Brian Fallon, Kirsten Powers, Symone Sanders, thanks very much.

The CNN Town Hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar, moderated by Don Lemon, starts now.