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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
CNN: Mueller Report May Be Delivered As Early As Next Week; House Oversight Committee Says Michael Cohen Will Testify Publicly On February 27th. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired February 20, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:13] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What will we see and when will we see it?
Those questions taking on increasing urgency tonight in the wake of new CNN reporting that suggests Russia's special counsel Robert Mueller could be wrapping up his investigation. People familiar with the plans telling us that William Barr, the new attorney general, is preparing to make that announcement as early as next week, which raises those questions.
When will we see what the Mueller team has uncovered, and how much of it will Congress and the public have access to? Because there's no law that says we have to see any of it, only Justice Department guidelines requiring Mr. Mueller to provide the attorney general with a confidential report explaining his decisions to prosecute or not. In turn, the attorney general is required only to provide top members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees with an explanation of each action taken by the special counsel. That's it.
There's nothing that obligates the attorney general to submit Mueller's report to lawmakers or even a summary of it. Only that there the attorney general may, and I'm quoting now, determine that public release of these reports would be in public interest to the extent release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.
So, a lot is riding on Attorney General Barr, which President Trump was quick to point out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Should the Mueller report be released while you're abroad next week?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department. So that will be totally up to him, the new attorney general.
REPORTER: Should the report become publics?
TRUMP: Now, I guess from what I understand, that will be totally up to the attorney general. OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, as for what he intends to do, Attorney General Barr left himself plenty of leeway during confirmation hearings last month. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Will you commit that you will explain to us any changes or deletions that you make to the special counsel report that is submitted to you in whatever you present to us?
WILLIAM BARR, THEN-ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I will commit to providing as much information as I can consistent with the regulations. If I'm confirmed, I'm going to go in and see what's being contemplated and what they have agreed to and what their interpretation, you know, what game plan they have in mind.
BLUMENTHAL: Will you permit --
BARR: But my purpose is to get as much accurate information out as I can consistent with the regulation.
BLUMENTHAL: Will you commit that you will allow the special counsel to exercise his judgment on subpoenas that are issued and indictments that he may decide should be brought?
BARR: As I said, I will carry out my responsibilities under the regulations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that is the sound of a future attorney general keeping his options open, and until he takes actions, virtually everybody with an opinion has been projecting their own hopes or their own fears onto him.
Conservative activist Matt Schlapp, husband of a senior member of the White House staff last week tweeting, tomorrow will be the first day that president Trump will have a fully operational confirmed attorney general. Let that sink in. Mueller will be gone soon.
Others have pointed to an essay Mr. Barr wrote as a private citizen, criticizing the Mueller probe. Others point to his loyalty to the Department of Justice as an institution and his personal friendship with Robert Mueller.
The fact is, we simply don't know what he'll do when the special counsel wraps up his work. What we do know is Barr's boss, the president, is nowhere near as sanguine or serene about all this as his remarks you heard a moment ago would suggest. Instead, as you know, his view of the investigation is more along these lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: It's a total witch hunt. I have been saying it for a long time.
It's a witch hunt. That's all it is.
They have phony witch hunts.
Witch hunt continues.
The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
I call it the rigged witch hunt.
The witch hunt should never have taken place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, it's easy to forget, but that rage has been consistent throughout his administration. "The New York Times" recently went through his Twitter feed. They found as of last week, he had tweeted about the investigation at least once on 330 separate days. That's more than 43 percent of his days in office.
Bear in mind that until he took office, no president has ever said so much about or vented so much public vile on any ongoing criminal investigation let alone one about himself, not even Richard Nixon who privately had uttered contempt about the Watergate investigation, but publicly said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, he was a crook, and a liar about embracing the investigation that would ultimately claim his presidency, which might in one way make this president, President Trump, seem honest and transparent by comparison.
[20:05:03] President Trump honestly hates the investigation and has been nothing but transparent about that hatred.
More now on all this from the White House from CNN's Abby Phillip.
Do we know, Abby, or does the White House have a plan to -- in place as to how they're going to respond to the report being filed?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the White House has started to prepare for the likelihood that this Mueller investigation is going to wrap up pretty soon. They have brought in some help on the communications side, moving some of the staffers who have been working on this behind the scenes to help coordinate the press conversation about the report when it does come out.
But as always with this White House, the true communications director is the president himself, and he has often taken the lead in responding directly to Mueller and responding to all of these revelations that have been coming out from the Mueller probe on his Twitter feed and in public appearances. So I think we can expect that the White House is going to proceed with a sort of dual approach to this, which is following the lead of the president himself and then following through with some new staffers who have come into the White House communications shop specifically to deal with this probe and what's likely to be the political fallout from the Mueller probe, especially as Democrats seek to take up what Mueller has put down when this probe ends and move forward with it in the House of Representatives.
COOPER: You know, over the past couple weeks, the president has really been ramping up his attacks on Mueller. Is there any indication he may have been given a heads-up that the report might be filed soon?
PHILLIP: Well, we don't have any indication the president was given some sort of inside information from his Justice Department, but one of the things that has been happening is the president is responding to really extraordinary events, including the arrest of his adviser, Roger Stone, a major event in the Mueller probe that caused the president to really lash out at the probe publicly. As we have seen over the last several weeks, the president since the beginning of the year has really increased his attacks on the Mueller probe, leading up to this point, which coincides with his attorney general being finally confirmed to his post, and it also coincides with a sort of waning of these indictments we have been seeing over the last several months.
So, President Trump has been attacking the Mueller probe from the very beginning, but like all of us covering this story and like his attorneys, the president understands that this probe has to come to an end and it's more than likely to come to an end now that there is a Senate confirmed attorney general in that position, one that the president picked himself -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. Abby Phillip, thanks very much.
Much more now on the forces at play -- legal, political, otherwise -- which may shape what we ultimately see or don't see of Robert Mueller's work. So far, he's only spoken in indictments, court filings, referrals to other jurisdictions which we have seen plenty, with perhaps more to come. Shortly, we could be in a whole new world, not to mention uncharted territory.
I want to map it out with our CNN chief legal Jeffrey Toobin, former Obama acting solicitor general, Neal Katyal, who drafted those Justice Department guidelines, we mentioned a moment ago and we note, without comment or envy, is coming to us from Maui, and CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.
So, Neal, explain for non-lawyers what William Barr is supposed to do with Mueller's findings, what's mandatory and what's optional? NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, OBAMA
ADMINISTRATION: Yes. So, the special counsel regulations were written in 1999, and they require Mueller the special counsel to give a confidential report to the attorney general that outlines really in some detail, although it is a summary, but some detail what he's done, the state of his investigation, and the like. To the extent the reports today are accurate, that this is kind of his final summation, that will be what that is. There's also a separate provision on the regulations for urgent action reports, and it's certainly possible that all this is is Mueller saying he's providing some sort of report but not a final report, doesn't say he's concluding the investigation on his own or anything like that.
So that's step one. Let's assume it's a final report from Mueller. Then it goes to the attorney general and then the attorney general is to provide a second report to Congress. And it's contemplated in the regulations that report should be public if the public administration of justice so requires.
So two different reports, but most importantly, these are only about Mueller. This is in his investigation, which is a very limited one into Russia counterintelligence and then obstruction of justice, the firing of Comey. It doesn't have to do with the Southern District investigation, the Trump Foundation, the other things Congress is looking into and the like.
So, that's all separate. So we should just, as we talk about the Mueller investigation, remember that's just one piece of a much larger inquiry.
COOPER: I mean, Neal, do you believe a brief summary is in the president's best interest?
KATYAL: I don't. I actually think that if it is a brief summary, it actually could be counterproductive to the president because it won't resolve anything.
[20:10:02] And I think, you know, the investigation now is really like the Internet with multiple different nodes. You've got Congress. You've got the Southern District of New York. You have the New York attorney general, the state attorney general, possibly other investigators as well just because of the rampant amount of allegations here, which are obviously of deep concern to the American people.
And Trump, who has been attacking Mueller for two years, hasn't really understood that. He's like a 1950s hacker cutting a phone line, but this is a much bigger, much more metastasized investigation, and so whatever happens with Mueller won't ultimately end this thing in my judgment, no matter what, because the thing is now many multiple things.
COOPER: Jeff, do you agree that the public or members of Congress would not settle for a brief summary from William Barr?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they might not settle for it, but they may have to settle for it, because I think Barr has a tremendous amount of discretion here. If you think about all of the options that are available to him, to cut stuff from public disclosure, classified information, which I think everyone agrees on, grand jury secrecy, information about people who were not charged, executive privilege. All of these areas are areas that you could take a 500-page report and turn it into a 20-page report if you wanted.
That's why I think this is -- you know, really an extraordinary amount of deference that the regulation gives to the attorney general. And I wonder if, I mean, Neal thinks I'm wrong that since he wrote it, that all of these options are available to Barr if he wants to limit the disclosures.
COOPER: Neal, do you agree with that?
KATYAL: I do agree with you -- I do agree that the regulations give a lot of deference to the attorney general, but they do require the public administration of justice and confidence in it be protected.
And here's where I think if Barr did something like that it's actually counterproductive. Remember what happened in Watergate, which is Peter Rodino, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, actually said to the special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who was a model for the special counsel regulations we drafted, the House said to Jaworski, please give us all your information, every part of it, not just your report or anything like that, but everything, because it's our constitutional duty to understand what happened.
And if Mueller -- excuse me, if Barr files something that is a small report or a brief report and redacts all the information that Jeff is talking about, I think Congress will be -- have to ask for everything, and boy, that could be pretty damaging to the president.
COOPER: Carrie, it's also possible that Barr doesn't provide Congress with a full report, can the House just ask Mueller to testify or subpoena the report from the Department of Justice?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's likely. So I have never thought that the special counsel's report that he provides to the attorney general is going to be a full report that explains everything related to the overall investigation. Instead, what I thought it would likely be is more of a prosecutive memo and a declination memo.
In other words, it will lay out, here's all the things that we the Office of the Special Counsel investigated. Here's the crimes -- the potential crimes we identified. Here's all the elements, here's the facts that line up with those. Here's the cases we took forward, and then potentially here's certain cases that we determined we could not take forward for whatever reason.
That's the type of information that I think the attorney general would not -- declination information in particular -- would not want to take forward to the Congress. But I do agree that if he submits such a summary of a report, if he really condenses things down, that Congress will either call the attorney general to testify, they could call the special counsel to testify. They certainly will subpoena the initial report and additional documents, and through that process of them requesting more documents and through potential testimony, we would learn more information publicly.
TOOBIN: But doesn't this really avoid the question of -- does the report answer the question, did members of the Trump campaign collude with Russian interests to win this election? Are we really going to have spent two years and not get an answer to that question? I mean, it sounds like the way you're describing the report, we may not.
CORDERO: I personally have not necessarily thought that that will come out through the actual charging documents. Now, it may. I mean, we don't know exactly the way that report, but what I'm saying is I don't think that the public should expect, and I don't think the regulations call for a Ken Starr-like report that puts a whole big narrative around it and explains everything.
Now, if the attorney general or if the special counsel were called to testify, maybe through more of that information, more would be revealed.
[20:15:06] Or it could be that there will be more information in the special counsel's report that will indicate additional charges that might be coming, that would be closer to the president or more of his inner circle. Or it could be that the outcome is that the investigation did not reveal actual collusion, although I think given the information that's been revealed so far, the big question is why did Donald Trump make the statements in the summer of 2016 asking Russia, are you listening? And that specific information will probably be in the report in a way that describes whether or not there was criminal activity.
COOPER: It sounds, Jeff, I mean, that -- A, we don't know obviously the final thing, but a lot of these questions just could not be public, might not be answered.
TOOBIN: And what a disgrace that would be. I mean, like, the public has a huge interest in learning did Russia -- was there cooperation, conspiracy, collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign? Are we seriously going to have this investigation and not get an answer to that? Did the president obstruct justice by firing James Comey? Pretty important question.
Are we really just not going to get an answer? Robert is going to say, see you, I'm not answering that question? I mean --
CORDERO: I think obstruction -- I think obstruction will definitely be part of it. I think it would lay out here's what we investigated with respect to obstruction. Here's what would satisfy the elements of the crime. We decided not to actually charge because of the Department of Justice policy, but then that would be referred to Congress for political process.
KATYAL: I totally agree with you that the public has to know the answers to the questions. The hard question is, does Mueller have to provide all of those answers or in this world with Congress and other investigators like the Southern District, can they carry the ball forward?
COOPER: All right. Jeff Toobin, Neal Katyal, Carrie Cordero, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up next, we have breaking news. Another long awaited moment comes into view and it's happening soon. Michael Cohen's public appearance before Congress. We have just gotten a date. I'm joined by John dean who has been where Mr. Cohen is, and Carl Bernstein to talk about the breaking news.
And later, how actor Jussie Smollett went from celebrity victim to alleged criminal. The breaking news on that and more as we continue.
[20:21:51] COOPER: On a night when events seem to be accelerating in the Russia investigation, there's more breaking news that only adds to the impression. Michael Cohen's long-delayed, often rescheduled congressional testimony is finally happening. According to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, the president's former attorney and fixer will appear before his committee in public a week from today.
Cohen just tweeted, quote, the schedule has now been set. Looking forward to the American people hearing my story in my voice.
Mr. Cohen in a way has assumed the role of a modern day John Dean, who famously testified about Richard Nixon's wrongdoing.
Joining us now, the actual modern day John Dean, along with legendary investigator Carl Bernstein.
John, I'm not sure how apt the comparison is. You're obviously two very different people. Is Michael Cohen, John, the most anticipated witness against a sitting president since, I guess, Watergate?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think that's possible, and it has certainly built up by the efforts to intimidate him, to get him to withdraw, and now he's back. And what's ironic to me, Anderson, also, is, he's going to be testifying when the president's out of the country, on the 27th and 28th. Mr. Trump will be in Hanoi for his summit. So, it's going to make it awkward for them to follow it with a 12-hour time difference, too.
COOPER: How concerned, John, do you think the president should be about it? What he's going to testify?
DEAN: I tried to get ahold of Lanny Davis just after this news broke. I haven't spoken with him or texted him to see if he wanted to characterize his testimony. And I think that he's a powerful witness. He's been with the president for a long time.
He knows his business practices. They outlined what he's going to testify about and what he is not. He's also testifying the next day in front of the intelligence committee. And so, he's not going to talk about any of the Russian matters before the Oversight Committee, although they may badger him for it. And I think he is potentially a very dangerous witness for the president.
COOPER: Carl, in terms of the Mueller report -- I mean, the president says it's up to William Barr to decide what gets sent to Congress. Do you believe he'll let Barr do that without interference?
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think the president is in a rough position to stop Barr. And I'd be very surprised -- look, we're in real speculative territory here today with this story about Barr saying that the investigation seems to be or will say that the investigation is complete. We don't know quite when he's going to say it. We don't know how he's going to say it. Things are going to become clarified in the next few weeks, maybe the next couple months.
But in terms of the president being able to interfere and put a heavy hand on Barr, he's in a very difficult position, Mr. Trump, right now, because he can't afford to try to intimidate Barr. And Barr, for those of us who have followed Barr over the years, it would seem that he is not going to take a bullet for Donald Trump to save Donald Trump's reputation.
[20:25:03] I can't imagine he's not going to play this thing pretty straight. And in his testimony, he does say that he wants to make public what the regulations allow him to make public.
And the nature of Mueller's report is the great mystery here. I've talked to people, with a lot of Justice Department experience, who know Mueller very well, who have seen Mueller in previous cases stack fact upon fact upon fact upon fact. He does not go to the pejorative. He builds a case.
And presuming that that's what we are going to see in the report, if he finds there is a lot there in terms of either Russian collaboration with the campaign or people around Trump, I think it's very possible he is going to stack those facts up in a way, not pejoratively, that are going to be very damaging to President Trump. I don't think there's anything Trump can be looking forward to here.
COOPER: John, you know, Carl was saying Barr is not the kind of guy to take a bullet for Donald Trump. Michael Cohen, of course, famously said he would take a bullet. It's very easy to say you're going to take a bullet for somebody until somebody is actually shooting at you, and then you pretty much duck, which is what Michael Cohen has done, certainly here.
I'm curious, were there many defenders of President Nixon trying to undermine you during the Watergate hearings? Because, I mean, we can already predict what, you know, the president's surrogates are going to be out next week saying about Michael Cohen being a liar and a liar and a minor player in the glorious orbit of Donald Trump, the real estate developer.
DEAN: There were efforts to discredit me. In fact, right from the White House, a couple of people who were there later apologized to me for the rather dishonest information they put out trying to undercut me. So, yes, that will go on. In fact, what Nixon himself did was have the Senate postpone my
hearings for a week because the prime minister of Russia was here, Brezhnev, and so they thought that was a good excuse to delay the hearings and use a week to chew me up. I don't know if Trump will try that with him being in Hanoi or not. I doubt it, that it would be successful because while today, Michael Cohen's going to prison was delayed until May 6th or 7th, I believe, judge gave a ruling, so that's always gives them more time.
COOPER: Carl, the problem, of course, for Michael Cohen is that he has lied, and did it publicly as an advocate for Donald Trump through much of his career.
BERNSTEIN: He would not be a very credible witness before a court of law. But I think in the setting of the Congress, in an investigatory hearing, if he has got a real set of facts and observations and has notes, I think he can be very credible in terms of describing what went on around Donald Trump, the way Donald Trump dealt with his businesses. All the things that are enumerated in Chairman Cummings' announcement of the hearing, none of which can make the president feel very confident, because all of those areas are such that paint him in a very unfavorable, sleazy, if not semi-criminal or criminal light.
COOPER: Yes, Carl Bernstein, John Dean, thank you very much.
Just ahead, the question that's stunning enough merely to ask, let alone answer. Could President Trump actually be a Russian asset? Last night on the program, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, I asked him that question. He said I think it's possible. I'll talk with Colonel Ralph Peters about that next.
[20:32:25] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: On the broadcast last night, the former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, said something that sounded straight out of a spy novel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Do you still believe the President could be a Russian asset?
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation and I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's pretty stunning when you think about that's the former acting director of the FBI.
Joining me now is strategic analyst and author, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. Colonel Peters, you heard what McCabe said last night that he thinks there's a possibility President Trump could be an asset for the Russian government. Do you agree with him? LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Yes, I do. And Anderson, we're all prisoners of our past to a degree, our past experiences, and mine are largely with the Russians. And I go all the way back to the Steele dossier, which as soon as we heard about it, it rang absolutely true to me because that's the way the Russian security services do things.
Now, we may never know whether any of the salacious details are true because if a tape exists, for instance, the Russians would have that under lock and key, under lock and key, under lock and key, because if it's compromised, it loses its value. So it seems that Mueller is going after the money. That's where you can find hard business and hard trails.
But also, there's an important distinction and you did just really make it. We're not talking about Trump being a Russian agent, you know, that in full cognizant of working for the Russian federation, rather an asset. And an asset can be someone who is being blackmailed, who is being bribed, who is doing something for ideological reasons, not the case with Trump, I don't think. And it can be someone who's not even fully witting.
And I think with Trump's ability to bend the world to his remarkable view of reality, he may just be able to rationalize all that he's doing for Russia and I believe he's done quite a bit for Vladimir Putin as transactional. "The Russians do this for me, I'll do this for them."
And Putin knows, as a former case officer himself, how to lean in hard without seeming to lean in hard. So bottom line, we would like to know what went on behind closed doors in Helsinki.
COOPER: Yes, which is obviously alarming that we still don't know that. It's interesting the point you make about the witting or unwitting asset, that's the same point former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made on this program a couple days ago, the idea that the Russians could be using President Trump as a tool without the President really being even aware of that happening. How much interference can the U.S. intelligence agencies run on a situation like this?
[20:35:05] I mean, what can they really do if the President chooses to believe Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies?
PETERS: Well, they can do whatever damage control they can, but at the end of the day the President of the United States has not only tremendous power, but tremendous freedom.
And, you know, my personal suspicions, and that's all they are, you know, based on being an analyst for many years studying the Russians, is that Putin does have something pretty grim on Trump, whether it's sex tapes or money or both. And the Russians go for two avenues whenever they can, they really want to get you.
But Trump's behavior is inexplicable to me in any other manner. And if you look at Trump's inconsistency overall, his inconsistency in foreign policy, Kim was bad, Kim's good. Xi was bad, Xi is good. Are the Russian -- are the Europeans good or bad this week? How about the Saudis? The one thread that is absolutely consistent with Trump's behavior is that he wants sanctions blocked or lifted on Vladimir Putin, on Russia.
And for Putin, this is absolutely essential because despite Putin's swaggering today in his State of the Union Address threatening the United States, promising the sun and the moon and the stars to the Russian people who are getting inpatient because they're not getting the sun and the moon and the stars, Putin above all wants those sanctions lifted.
And Trump has really tried his best to lift them on Russian oligarchs' corporations. He slow rolled Congress again and again. And Putin, again, using an asset like Trump, or using at asset, you don't expect the asset to do everything for you. You focus on what you really want.
And Trump -- and Putin in the long-term wanted more Russian superpower, a more powerful army, but it comes down to money. In the immortal words of that American Neo-Marxist philosopher Cyndi Lauper, money changes everything. Putin doesn't have the money to do what he wants do. He doesn't have the money. His defense budget is going down.
So what he wants is sanctions relief and Donald Trump has been doing his best for two years to give Vladimir Putin sanctions relief for no obvious reason when it comes to the security of the United States.
COOPER: I'm trying to get the image of you sitting in a room analyzing the music of Cyndi Lauper from a Neo-Marxist perspective. Colonel Peters, thank you.
PETERS: Well, you know, I'm really more of a velvet underground guy.
COOPER: OK. I could see that. That makes sense. Colonel, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
More quickly on the Michael Cohen story, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just tweeted what amounts to an announcement and a warning. "Michael Cohen will come before the Oversight and House Intelligence Committees next week. Congress has an independent duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch, and any efforts to intimidate family members or pressure witnesses will not be tolerated." That from Nancy Pelosi.
Coming up, more breaking news, authorities in Maryland say this enormous cache of weapons belongs to an alleged white supremacist who is also a serving coast guard officer who allegedly wanted to conduct a mass shooting and had a hit list that included prominent Democratic politicians as well as journalists from CNN and MSNBC. The latest, next.
[20:42:07] COOPER: There's breaking news tonight in Maryland. Authorities have arrested a serving coast guard officer whom they identify as a white supremacist and who also they alleged had a hit list that included a prominent Democratic politicians as well as journalists.
Jessica Schneider joins us now with the latest. So what do we know about these plans?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the prosecutors here really putting in stark terms. This is how they opened their detention memo. They said that this coast guard lieutenant "intended" to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country, so really chilling words.
And you know, 49-year-old Christopher Paul Hasson, he was allegedly stockpiling weapons in his cramped basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, that's just a few miles from Washington, D.C. And when agents raided his home, they found this, 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
And really possibly most startling here is that prosecutors say Lieutenant Hasson regularly consulted a manifesto that was written by a Norwegian right-wing domestic terrorist who launched two coordinated attacks in July 2011 and that killed 75 citizens at that point. So, all indications, Anderson, are that this coast guard lieutenant was plotting a similar attack.
And agents even found draft e-mails at his home, one of which said this, said, "I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth." So, some chilling words. He's now under arrest and prosecutors want him to stay behind bars.
COOPER: Do we know what prompted law enforcement to look into this guy living in a basement?
SCHNEIDER: It appears here that there were red flags here and it was likely raised by people at the coast guard, perhaps people he worked with. He worked. He was assigned to coast guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. up until his arrest late last week.
The coast guard issued a statement where they did say that they led the investigation, they were assisted by the FBI and the Department of Justice, so really, that indicates it was the coast guard that initiated this probe into this really long-serving coast guard member who we also know actually served in the Marine Corps as well, enlisting back in 1988, Anderson.
COOPER: This is now the second guy with basically a hit list of politicians and journalists, the other guy was that the person sending bombs. I mean, this is not happening in a vacuum. You can't ignore that the people on the list, many of them are President -- people that the President has directly attacked.
SCHNEIDER: Right. And this lieutenant in the coast guard, he actually referenced President Trump as well. You know, prosecutors put out the evidence in this. They put out the hit list in the detention memo, and it does. It names several media personalities including people right here at CNN, Chris Cuomo, Van Jones, Don Lemon. And, of course, we know the President has consistently attacked CNN and the media in general, calling the media the enemy of the people.
[20:45:00] It was even this morning, Anderson, that President Trump tweeted out that phrase over Twitter. So the target list here, it included those media personalities, also prominent Democrats like Chuck Schumer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris, and perhaps most alarming here, prosecutors listed the Google searches as well.
And apparently this coast guard lieutenant asked things over Google like what's the best place in D.C. to see members of Congress, and even mentions Trump, he searched at one point civil war if Trump impeached. So it's really clear here that the President was on his mind and this was a man who prosecutors say was potentially on the verge of a mass murder here, Anderson.
COOPER: Jessica Schneider, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
I want to check in with Chris to see what he's checking on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. First of all, Chris, I got to ask your reaction to the report in the wake of, you know, again, the President calling journalists the enemy of the people just this morning, as Jessica mentioned, we all know the real consequences of that kind of language.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the President should know that better than anybody. He knows his words have power. He knows he should choose them carefully. I'd be very slow to ascribe the behaviors of someone like this coast guard guy, I don't even like referring to him that way, this man in Silver Spring. You know, I don't want him to align to coast guard, they're out there keeping us safe every night and day.
So, look, he's got to be careful about what he says. But, you've got to be careful about causation and correlation in situations like this. This is scary. This is something that the people who get named, we have to deal with, especially with our family, because while we accept it as just the nature of the world we live in these days, my brother, this is very scary to the people and the little ones at home, so we've got to deal with that.
And, you know, when you look at the overall policy, it's good. I hope that people who work with this man contacted authorities and said you got to check him out. We need more of that.
CUOMO: And we need ways, if it turns out that he is sick, we need ways to keep weapons like the arsenal that this man put together from people who shouldn't have them. We have to be able to find a better way, God forbid someone like this takes action and then we learn too late.
COOPER: Yes. And what are you working on for the -- for your show?
CUOMO: So, we have Ted Lieu on tonight. He is very concerned about how much information the American people are going to get from what the Mueller probe was able to collect. So, he's going to talk about that.
He also has this really intriguing question about the NRA and their connections to Russia and maybe campaign financing. And he's written this long letter to Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, he wants to have hearings and he wants to make the case to the American people about that tonight.
We also have Robert Wray, remember him from Whitewater, part of the independent counsel then, right, that statute told in 1999, they didn't renew it. What does he make of "The New York Times" and its pattern of potential obstruction? What does he think obstruction would look like? He's going to test us and we're going to test right back.
COOPER: All right. That's about 18 minutes from now. Chris, thanks very much. I want to take a quick break.
We have coming up breaking news in the Jussie Smollett case. The actor has now been charged with a felony weeks after claiming to be a victim in a racist and anti-gay attack. I'll have the latest just ahead.
[20:52:20] COOPER: In a matter of three weeks, "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has gone from alleged victim to suspect after claiming he was targeted in a racist and anti-gay attack. Tonight, there are major developments in the case. Randi Kaye joins us with that. Randi?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, tonight Jussie Smollett is in some hot water just hours after police said the actor was under investigation for allegedly filing a false police report. The state attorney's office announced he is officially charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. That is a felony charge, by the way, Anderson.
This story has taken so many twists and turns, but now its official, Smollett indicted for basically lying to investigators. Police now say they work with his lawyers to arrange some sort of surrender so he can then be officially arrested. These charges follow a grand jury that took place this evening, but Smollett wasn't there and now he really has some explaining to do.
JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I gave the description as best as I could. You have to understand also that it's Chicago in winter, people can wear ski masks.
KAYE (voice-over): Actor Jussie Smollett explaining why he couldn't offer more detail about his alleged attackers, even though it now appears he may have known who they were all along, and maybe even hired them to make it appear he was attacked. CNN has learned that Chicago investigators are working to obtain Smollett's financial records. If Smollett did pay the two men to orchestrate the attack, as law enforcement sources tell CNN police now believe, then the actor's financial records could provide proof of payment.
CNN's law enforcement sources say the two men are cooperating fully and records show the men purchased the rope used in the attack at a Chicago hardware store. Neither of the men are still considered suspects. Through his attorneys, Smollett maintains he is still a victim.
(on camera) Still, if it turns out that Smollett did make up this story about being attacked, CNN has confirmed it won't be the first time he's lied to law enforcement. Back in 2007 when he was pulled over for driving under the influence, he gave police his brother's name. He later pleaded no contest to providing false information to police. Smollett also pleaded no contest to driving with a blood alcohol over the legal limit and driving out a valid driver's license. He got two years probation and paid a fine.
(voice-over) All of this raises even more questions for police about this, a threatening letter sent to Smollett last month on the set of "Empire" just days before the alleged attack.
Notice, the envelope includes the words MAGA in place of the return address. Smollett had told police that his alleged attackers also yelled MAGA at him, a reference to President Trump's slogan, Make America Great Again.
[20:55:07] The message was cut from magazine clippings and included a stick figure drawing.
SMOLLETT: On the letter it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun point towards it with the words that say "Smollett Jussie, you will die (INAUDIBLE)." There was no address, but the return address said in big red, you know, like caps, MAGA. Did I make that up, too?
KAYE: Chicago police say it also contained white powder, which they determined to be aspirin. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service tells CNN that they are assisting both the FBI and Chicago police with their investigation of the letter and that the letter is being analyzed at an FBI lab.
And, yet, even with all the doubters and the growing questions about this bizarre attack, Jussie Smollett is standing by his story and hoping those he calls his attackers pay for their crime.
SMOLLETT: I understand how difficult it will be to find them, but we got to. I still want to believe with everything that has happened that there is something called justice.
KAYE: And, Anderson, we know that Jussie Smollett says, as you heard there, that he wants justice for whoever did this, and now of course he's charged with making it all up. So, of course, the question for a lot of people is was there any word on motive. Police, of course, saying that he lied to them and they started to have a lot of doubt as the story began to grow and doubt started to come out.
KAYE: And he still hasn't gone to talk to them. They wanted to speak to him about his phone, his phone records. He wouldn't give his phone and then he gave them some redacted records, which wasn't enough to them, but he did talk to ABC and he gave Robin Roberts that interview that we've talked about where he sort of doubles down on the story.
Apparently police looked at that very closely in considering their next move and they had some real questions about things that maybe didn't match up. They got other evidence like this.
Take a look at this. This is video that CNN got in late tonight, it's surveillance video from the beauty house store which shows the two men, the two brothers that we talked about, purchasing those ski masks, the sunglasses, hats that they wore in the attack allegedly. So investigators say that this was set up by the actor himself and this is part of the reason that they believe that, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. It's just incredible turn of events. Randi Kaye, thank you.
Joining us now is CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter. So, Brian, you've gotten a statement from Smollett's attorneys. What are they saying? And is Mark Geragos now one of those attorneys?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He was reported to be in talks to work with Jussie Smollett. It's unclear if he's actually agreed yet. Right now his existing attorneys are speaking out saying, "Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."
What a change from just a few days ago when the attorneys for Jussie Smollett were saying he was the victim of a hate crime. Hey, they're not saying that anymore, Anderson.
COOPER: I mean, it does seem if he faked this attack, it would seem to reason that that note that was received at the station a couple days before this, you know, would cut out writing from magazines that that could very easily have been faked as well.
STELTER: It makes you wonder if he was seeking attention first with this note and then with this staged attack. That's where the mind immediately goes when you hear about these circumstances.
There were rumors that maybe he was worried he was being written off the show "Empire." Fox deny any plans to write him off the show. They said he is a valued member of the cast. But tonight, Anderson, Fox has no new comment about his status or about these charges.
Looking at this, there was clearly a rush to judgment in some quarter a few weeks ago. Many journalists were very careful, but some ended up dropping the word alleged out of headlines the way they should have. And there were a lot of liberal celebrities and activists who rushed to his corner assuming he was telling the truth.
Smollett took advantage of a lot of people by doing that. He took advantage of a lot of people by making the impression that he was a victim in this case. If in fact he was lying, there were a lot of Democratic candidates saying this was a modern day lynching. This turns out to be more of a modern day lie if the police are right.
COOPER: It certainly also makes it difficult for, you know, people who are the actual victims of crime, victims of bias attacks in one form or another. You know, it makes it harder for them to come forward, and it also was obviously just a waste of police resources.
You know, I think there were 12 detectives on this case, you know, that could have been out doing other things. I mean, it will be interesting to see how long Smollett sticks with this story --
COOPER: -- as the evidence, you know, continues to be turned up. We got to leave it there. Brian Stelter, thanks very much.
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