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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Interview with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI); Defectors Will Be Punished; Democrats Not Done Yet with Michael Cohen; Republicans Push To Paint Dems As Socialist Ahead Of 2020; A Critical Moment For America; Dems Demand White House Info On Clearances, Threaten Subpoenas. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 22:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Hey, everybody. I'm Chris Cuomo. Don Lemon is on vacation. He's got his birthday. Happy beautiful, you beautiful man.

All right. So Prime Time is two hours, a little overtime on this Friday.

It was a bad week for the president. Could be worse in the weeks coming? Michael Cohen is going back to the Hill with more to spill. There's a possibility the Mueller report could drop.

We have a member of the Democratic leadership here tonight. He is fighting for answers. Which way will that search go? U.S. intel strongly objected, but the president still put his son-in-law in a position of getting top security clearance, very serious matter if true.

I wonder how that's sitting with the former intel chief, James Clapper. The president threatened to strip his clearance in an act of political revenge. He's here with his perspective.

Also, here, a man who broke one of the biggest stories in American history. The legend Carl Bernstein says we are now witnessing the unraveling of another cover-up. How so? Let's get after it.

So, Michael Cohen, whether you believe him or not, he offered proof under oath this week that the president knew about the hush money payments. He wanted to keep alleged affairs quiet. He wanted to do so because of the election. But he's still trying to pin blame on his former attorney for the entire scheme. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: I can tell you personally he said to me at least a dozen times that he made the decision on the payments, and he didn't tell you.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes.

HANNITY: He told me personally. TRUMP: He did, and he made the decision. And remember this. He's an

attorney. Whatever decision he makes, he's you're supposed to rely on an attorney to make a decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Here's the problem. Let me one-up Sean Hannity. Michael Cohen told me many, many times that he had everything to do with it and the president had nothing to do with it. You know what that's called? A lie. You know what doesn't lie? Proof.

Remember what we played for you on this show? A recording of the president and Cohen talking about the payments, and you can see very much the president wasn't just following legal advice. He was part of directing the situation.

Let's bring in judiciary committee member David Cicilline. Welcome to Prime Time.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: Great to be with you.

CUOMO: So, let's go through a couple of categories. Michael Cohen. He's coming back. What do you believe the main value that remains with Michael Cohen is?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, I think Michael Cohen shared very important information about a number of things. The operation of the Trump organization, potential crimes relating to tax fraud, wire fraud, suborning perjury, maybe defrauding the United States because of the conversation he overheard between the president and Roger Stone.

I think there's a lot more we need to know. We have the responsibility at the judiciary committee to engage in robust oversight, and we have a responsibility to collect all the evidence that we can from all of the sources we can to conduct our oversight.

But, you know, what you were saying before the break, Chris, is a really important point. We have the responsibility to do oversight, to hold this administration accountable.

At the same time, Democrats ran on an agenda for the people of this country, a commitment to drive down health care costs, drive down the cost of prescription drugs, raise family incomes, and with a bold infrastructure plan, and take on the corrupting influence of money in our political system and get the government working for the people of this country again.

We have to deliver on those promises, and we intend to do that because you're right. We need to give the people in this country a vision and an action plan that actually improves their lives.

But the good news is we can do both things. We can move forward on those positive items that are important to the American people and at the same time conduct oversight, conduct hearings in the oversight, the judiciary and intelligence committee to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities. CUOMO: Well, we will be watching, and we will be testing you on doing

exactly that. And in terms of oversight, is the ultimate goal to see if there's a case to impeach the president?

CICILLINE: I think we have a responsibility to determine exactly what the president has done and the members of his administration, both in terms of conflicts of interest, corruption, the violation of the emolument clause, self-dealing.

[22:04:58] We have a responsibility to understand if that includes criminal activity and to hold the president responsible. And only once we gather all the information, hear from Mr. Mueller with his completed report, and make a determination as to what the facts are, what actually happened, can we actually answer that question.

But I know Speaker Pelosi made this point. I think it's an important one. We should never proceed with impeachment for political purposes, and we should never avoid impeachment for political purposes. If the facts warrant it, we have a constitutional duty to do it. If the facts don't, we shouldn't. But we have to gather evidence, conduct our oversight to make that determination.

CUOMO: Right. But it could like never end. I mean you could just keep looking and looking. This guy has got 30, 40 years of shady dealings that you could look at. I mean I investigated him. It took us a year and a half at ABC News. We barely got past what his net worth is.

We sat with him on the phone for many minutes, if not hours at a time, with him changing it by a billion dollars. So, you know, I'm saying like how much is too much? When does it ever end? Are you worry that the fatigue of it will work against you?

CICILLINE: No. Yes, you're right. And there has to come a point when we have collected sufficient evidence to make a decision as to whether or not impeachment is appropriate, that we're ready to proceed. The good news is there's a lot of information that's been collected by a number of ongoing investigations. So, our hope is we can kind of jumpstart our own work.

But people should remember although the special counsel investigation has been going on for two years, we're just beginning our oversight. We pleaded with our Republican colleagues for two years to engage in serious oversight, to fulfill their responsibilities. They refused to do it.

So, there's a big backlog of work to do. We need to do it with urgency. We need to do it properly and thoroughly, but we need to get to it as quickly as we can. The American people have a right to know exactly what happened, exactly what this president has done, and to see Congress hold him accountable.

CUOMO: Cicilline, tell me this. The idea of these security clearances, help me understand why they're a big deal to you within the context of he has the right to give somebody clearance. It doesn't make it right, but he has the right as president. Seems he lied about it. But beyond the lying, because that's a low bar with this president,

why does this matter to you in particular that it's going to require hearings?

CICILLINE: Well, it matters to all of us. It matters to the safety and security of the American people. Obviously, the president has the legal right to direct someone to receive a security clearance. There's no question about that.

But we have to wonder first of all why did the FBI, the CIA, and the intelligence community object to Jared Kushner getting a security clearance? What were their concerns? Why did the president overrule those concerns, and why did the president lie about it?

I mean, if the president simply said they objected. He's my son-in- law, I trust him. I'm doing it anyway, but the president lied to the American people. The reason this matters is because if there's a reason that Jared Kushner should not have a security clearance because he could be compromised, that he was seeking capital to deal with his debt, that he was trying to secure funding for one of his buildings and they were concerned he could be compromised, he was trying to set up, you know, that back way to the Russians early in the administration. Those are real issues that could compromise the security of our country.

CUOMO: Right.

CICILLINE: And so, this is a serious question. It's about the security of our country. When the intelligence agencies express objections, it's for a reason, and we have to wonder why the president overall ruled that, for what reason, and why did he lie to the American people about it? This is very, very important.

CUOMO: While you're at it, find out why his son-in-law had to change his disclosure statement so many times also.

Let me ask you a political question. So, we had Matt Schlapp on.

CICILLINE: Sure.

CUOMO: CPAC is saying that you guys are bunch of socialist. You lost control of your party, you're going far left. It's not your party anymore. It's the party of the upstarts, the new Congress members, many of them women.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets a lot of attention. She said something about if you vote with Republicans and against us, we're going to come and get you. I don't know if I have the sound. Mel, do I actually have the sound? Or I'll just paraphrase. You know what I'm talking about, right, Congressman?

CICILLINE: I do. Yes.

CUOMO: What do you make of that kind of statement?

CICILLINE: First of all, I think this socialist thing is kind of funny. The president said it in the State of the Union. It's a preposterous claim. Look, Democrats are fighting for core Democratic values. Driving down the cost of health care, making sure more people are covered, driving down the cost of prescription drugs, dealing with the pernicious income inequality in this country, raising family income so folks can get by, taking on the corruption in Washington and getting money out of politics.

Those are all core values of the Democratic Party, rebuilding our infrastructure, taking on climate change, reducing gun violence.

So, if those are, you know, socialist positions, so be it. But of course, they're not. These are the same arguments Republicans made when they opposed Medicare and social security. But Democrats are focused on issues that matter to working people.

This idea of the president and the Republicans trying to use socialism is a ridiculous claim. You know, Democrats are going to continue to fight for things that matter to people in this country.

[22:09:53] CUOMO: Listen, I'm with you. Both parties say they're a big tent, but when you have your young Congress people talking socialist talk and the guy was leading the polls right now to be your nominee, very early, but is a self-described socialist, they're going to use it as a cudgel against you.

But what do think about her saying if you vote for the Republicans, we're going to come and get you?

CICILLINE: She didn't say we're going to come and get you. I think she --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: No. I'm paraphrasing for effect

CICILLINE: Yes. No, no. She, look, we have a big, diverse, wonderful caucus, and we have a lot of new members who are bringing their passions and their ideas and their energy, reflecting that of their constituents. You know what is going to happen? That's going to produce the best product we can have. The best ideas are going to surface. We're going to build consensus as a caucus and move forward.

We did it this past week for the first time in 25 years. We took action to reduce gun violence in this country by passing universal background checks and closing the Charleston loophole.

So, there's going to be a lot of great healthy debate in our caucus, but I welcome the energy and ideas and diversity of our caucus. It's going to produce better products for our caucus and better results for the American people.

CUOMO: I like the optimism, but you never know which way it's going to go, especially in a primary. Politics is so pendular, and what will the reaction be to Trump within your rank and file? Diversity, young people, you're courting that vote. We'll see where it takes you. Congressman Cicilline, thank you so much on a Friday night. Be well. CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: All right.

CICILLINE: You too.

CUOMO: All right, look, no matter how you look at it, no matter how disaffected you are, no matter how low your expectation is, this is a bad week for the president of the United States. I mean, he's getting pummeled all different ways with his past, his present, and what may be his future. And his lawyer is going back to court -- not to court. He's going back to the Congress, and he's going more to say.

Coming up, one of the few who know what it's like to testify against a president. John Dean. What was he moved by? What does he see ahead? Next.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Congress isn't done with Michael Cohen. After his three days with three committees on Capitol Hill this week, he's back next Wednesday to appear before the House intel committee, again behind closed doors. Among those Cohen named who could corroborate what he said, Trump org CFO Allen Weisselberg.

So, what happens next in this saga? I want to bring in one of the few people who know what it's like to testify against a president and all that comes with it. John Dean, always a pleasure, sir.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.

CUOMO: What did you make of Mr. Cohen?

DEAN: Well, I thought he turned out to be a better witness than I actually thought he was going to be. He did some things I wouldn't do, but he -- first of all, I think he should have taken more time to roll out what he did know. He gave a rather short statement, about 4,000 words, including the closing.

And then he really just opened himself up to questions, giving the Republicans a chance just to beat up on him while the Democrats did try to draw him out further. But I think it was overall a good performance, and he certainly raised issues that will have to be followed up.

CUOMO: So, John, a lot of these discussions come as a matter of perspective. Let's take the perspective of if you are an American citizen and you believe that all of this is a game, right? That is your expectation, that this is what these politicians do. It's all thunder dome, and it's just going to go on and on until the next election. What is your guidance in terms of what matters here and what deserves pursuit?

DEAN: Well, obviously, the criminal actions need to be investigated. There weren't a lot of oversight issues touched in this -- with this witness. The committees in the House are now doing oversight, and those are very important.

In this, they're trying to get to the bottom of what kind of actions Trump took, take the size of the man whose president and measure him, look underneath some of the rocks to see what's there, and I think that's important that Congress do that too.

That's part of the -- that's just not pure politics. I think the Republicans want to play it as nothing but a political charade, and they certainly know about those given hearings like Benghazi that went on and on and on. So, I don't think we're in that kind of mode at this time.

CUOMO: Right. That's what --

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN: It's a serious inquiry.

CUOMO: That certainly has added fuel to the fire of the disaffection. So, the next big event, they're going to be bringing people in, but that's going to be incremental. How much of it will be public, how much of it will be shocking to people, we don't know.

But the Mueller report is going to be an event. I increasingly -- I started with low expectations, not in terms of legitimacy and how it's been followed through. I don't mean anything critical by that. But I just don't think there's going to be as much there as people think, and I do not think it's going to culminate in any kind of prosecution of the presidency. So, if you agree, what is your expectation, and where do we go from there?

DEAN: Well, I've never had high expectations for the report just based on the regulations that create the special counsel. All he has to report are decisions to prosecute, and those decisions where he declined to prosecute, and that's a confidential document.

So, I've always had low expectations. What I do still anticipate and will be surprised if it does not happen is sort of a concluding wrap- up indictment or set of indictments.

There have been very clear signs he's building a case, a conspiracy case, 18 USC 371, defrauding the government. That trickles through many of the indictments that are out there. I think, Chris, we're going to see more of that. I think we're going to see a large kind of wrap-up indictment is what I anticipate.

CUOMO: That would be really interesting. That's more than I saw was coming, but that's why I have you on, John Dean, because you have a better mind for this than I. Thank you for joining me late on a Friday night. I wish you the best for the weekend.

DEAN: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Be well, sir.

Conservatives are seizing on one word to steer voters about the entire Democratic party -- socialist. Now, you saw a Democratic congressman laugh that off and say hey, look, we've been fighting for the same things we always have.

But this is about strategy. This is about tactics heading into 2020. Are Democrats handing the president a gift with their own words and deeds? Let's use that as a starting point for the great debate. I see a shake of a head and a nod. You know what that means. Let's get after it.

[22:20:03] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SE. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Look, I think there's a technical description for what's going on, which is that Democrats have gone bat crap crazy.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under the guise of Medicare for all and a green new deal, Democrats are embracing the same tired economic theories that have impoverished nations and stifled the liberties of millions. That system is socialism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Well, there it is. Bat crap crazy. Socialism. That's the apparent Republican line attack against Democrats as 2020 draws near. Their bottom-line message, it's the GOP way or the socialist way.

Now, Democrats will say we're fighting for the same things that we've been fighting for a long time, but have they helped this own argument against them?

Let's discuss. Great debate, Karen Finney, Rob Astorino. Thank you for joining me on a Friday night. Rob Astorino, make the case how Democrats are not fighting for what they traditionally have, that they have changed and are socialist.

[22:25:03] ROB ASTORINO, TRUMP 2020 ADVISORY BOARD: Well, I think we have to define what socialist is first. It is collectivism, right? Just eight years ago, you would think that Hillary Clinton was running as a moderate Democrat, right, where America was and really is today.

You can't understand, for anyone who has been in this country for more than like five years, you can't understand where these Democrats are coming and so fast. Just to put this in perspective for a moment, OK? Because socialism might sound great to college kids and, you know, adults who should know better.

But the green deal, the new green deal is estimated to cost $100 trillion. And in that, it has words like will, shall, must be offer of all fossil fuels in 11 years. Not like down the road where 50 years from now we don't care, 11 years, the entire transformation of our energy.

Then let's go to socialism and with regard to medicine, right? You cannot -- Kamala Harris was very honest in the CNN debate, and the rest of them are. You cannot have private insurance. The government, some like DMV worker who is now going to be in charge of government medicine, is going to tell you what you can do and when you can do it. These are radical ideas. We didn't even get into the abortion issue which is --

CUOMO: No, not yet. Let's go through a couple at a time because I want to get Karen in.

ASTORINO: But this is the stuff that's transforming America.

CUOMO: So that's the case against you.

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: It's all a lie by the way, but let's talk about it.

ASTORINO: What's the lie? There's no lie.

CUOMO: Go ahead. Respond.

FINNEY: OK. There are two people who call themselves Democratic socialists, and I love how Republicans have themselves all hot and bothered by a gorgeous, smart young woman from Queens. What about the fact that it was a freshman senator, Lucy McBath, who actually finally helped get passed background checks and closing the Charleston loophole as I know Congressman Cicilline was talking about?

Let's talk about that freshman congresswoman. That's what we're talking about when we say things like we're fighting for the things that Americans want. But here's the tactic.

I mean, Chris, when you introduced this segment, you talked about this as a tactic, so let's put it out on the table what this is. This is about distorting, distracting, and dividing. That is what the president is offering in 2020. He's trying to distort the truth. Again, two people call themselves Democratic socialists.

(CROSSTALK)

ASTORINO: But there are 100 people on the bill.

FINNEY: Hold on. I let you finish. Let me finish. A number of people who are actually running for president, I mean, when we talk about Medicare for all, as most experts agree, the term is getting thrown around without really looking at the details of what different people are actually saying about how they would get to more comprehensive coverage.

And the truth is about 70 percent of Americans actually believe, according to Pew, that the federal government has a responsibility in making sure that people have access to healthcare coverage.

And the truth is that right now today, many Americans, even if they have healthcare coverage, they don't have the kind of choice that Republicans like to talk about because you can't afford it. So unless we get costs down, we're never going to get to what people really want, and that's a big piece of what Democrats are talking about. ASTORINO: All right. Did --

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: So, in a number of these issues, so distorting the facts, trying to distract with a word like socialism, trying to distract from the fact that we have a president who is in so much trouble. I mean it is deep.

I mean, you've talked, you spent an hour, Chris, talking about, I mean, when Americans look at the television and they see our president defending brutal, vicious dictators, they know in their own hearts that that is not a person who is defending the United States of America. So, we're trying to distract from that by saying, socialism.

ASTORINO: Yes.

FINNEY: And then you're trying to divide us by suggesting --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: All right. So, let's bounce it back.

FINNEY: OK.

ASTORINO: yes.

CUOMO: What's the response to the response?

ASTORINO: Karen, you said denying access. Nobody -- everyone wants access, but what this Medicare for all bill, which is a bill that a hundred co-sponsors are on, says you cannot have private insurance. So, what is that? That's a radical shift. You will have to go to the government for --

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: But a number of Democrats have already said that that's a starting place.

ASTORINO: But that's your position.

FINNEY: Medicare for all is never going to pass. People admit that.

ASTORINO: Then why would you put that in there?

FINNEY: Because it's a starting place. Come on, it's a negotiating tactic.

ASTORINO: It's crazy.

FINNEY: You put one thing in there, and then you try to negotiate towards what you want.

ASTORINO: No. FINNEY: By the way, look, here's the truth of it. If we're talking about what the 2020 election cycle is going to be about, which I believe is what this segment is about, what I'm suggesting to you is that as much as your party will try to suggest that, my God, the socialists are coming -- and I understand --

(CROSSTALK)

ASTORINO: People need to know.

FINNEY: -- why you need to do it. I'm not a socialist, I can tell you that very clearly, and I ran a race in 2016 and made it clear that we were not socialists. And what I'm suggesting to you that you may try to distort the truth for the American people about who we are and what we're fighting for.

(CROSSTALK)

ASTORINO: You're saying what you are.

FINNEY: The issue --

ASTORINO: You're putting it in legislation, the new green deal a hundred --

CUOMO: All right. So --

FINNEY: OK. How about background checks?

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: So, let's reframe the next -- so let's reframe the next idea. Well, that's true. and the background checks, that's going to be an interesting test for the Republicans now that it comes up.

[22:30:02] FINNEY: That's right.

CUOMO: But -- so you have that one level which will play to some kind of policy and a little bit of culture. The big problem for you, Rob, is going to be, how you deal with the president's character. Because that you guys are always a party of character and now, you've got a bunch of silence surrounding him with your leadership.

Lie after lie after lie. The Otto Warmbier thing. When Obama went to Cairo and said we have to do better than we've done in the past to make peace with the Muslim world, you guys went crazy on him for being an apologist. And now you have this president say that Kim isn't responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. You guys say nothing.

ASTORINO: Well, I'll say it right now, I think it was --

FINNEY: And Mohammad Bin Salman didn't know about Jamal Khashoggi.

CUOMO: He didn't know about interference.

ASTORINO: Chris, I'll say right now, I think that was a stupid thing for him to say, and it's inexcusable.

CUOMO: But none of your elected leaders did. Nobody in the leadership.

ASTORINO: Let me go back to what Karen was saying.

CUOMO: Yes.

ASTORINO: No, no, no. I mean, this is the topic is 2020. So, I'm going --

CUOMO: Well, that is going to be a big deal for you by the way.

ASTORINO: Here's what I think happens first.

FINNEY: I don't hear you offering -- I don't hear you offering what is going to be your counter in 2020 to why there is no --

ASTORINO: The economy is going well.

FINNEY: -- leadership in the Republican Party and not to mention that we also learned this week that the president lied regarding Jared Kushner's security clearance.

ASTORINO: OK.

FINNEY: Whether or not you think that is a valid issue, he lied about it. And if you lie about small things, you're going to lie about big things.

ASTORINO: The economy is going well.

FINNEY: Not for most people.

ASTORINO: You know what?

FINNEY: Seventy percent of Americans say they want the economy to be better, so you tell me why that is.

ASTORINO: And so many people are working again. So many people going back to work who had zero, right? Or getting --

FINNEY: And their costs are going up, and they can't afford their health insurance. Thanks to the Republicans.

ASTORINO: Health insurance is a funny thing, because Obama, I still remember him saying this, not only that you can keep your doctor, which was a complete lie, but that health care costs were going to come down. They've exploded.

FINNEY: Under President Trump, they've exploded for a whole host of reasons and look the backlash that you all suffered when you try to repeal Obamacare.

ASTORINO: Please, come on, Karen, it started under Obama. Come on. Please, please. CUOMO: The rate of increase was actually less than it was before the

ACA. So it's a relative assessment, but continue.

ASTORINO: Chris, I'm going to tell you about a little story I had the other day with some woman --

FINNEY: In Medicare for all, by the way, it says, one of the things the legislation says is, we ought to be negotiating for better prices. So go ahead and fight that one out.

ASTORINO: Yes, we should have, but it didn't happen. But let me tell you about what I think is going to happen in 2020, because, Chris, you asked this question.

CUOMO: Please.

ASTORINO: I think it's a legitimate question. People knew what they were getting with Donald Trump. He is the most imperfect human being, right? And it was -- he is a vessel right now for people who are against the expansion of abortion, who do want a safe country with a border.

FINNEY: There's no expansion of abortion.

ASTORINO: Oh, my god. Are you kidding me?

FINNEY: There's no expansion being discussed.

ASTORINO: Seriously? What happened in New York, what happens in Virginia? What happening in Illinois?

CUOMO: (Inaudible) in New York codifies Roe. You know that, Rick.

FINNEY: All it does to codifies Roe and by the way, anything beyond that --

CUOMO: I done understand this, I mean, look, I get that it's a touchy subject, and I get that people play to it different ways, but I don't understand why you say that it's anything more than codifying what's already being the standard.

ASTORINO: Look at what's going on in Virginia.

CUOMO: No, no, no. You said New York. Obviously we both know it.

(CROSSTALK)

ASTORINO: that same thing is going to happen in New York.

FINNEY: Just think of the governor of Virginia happened to talk about it in a different way, it doesn't mean it's not the same type of legislation.

CUOMO: It seems like a scare tactic to me. You know people stop me on the street and say, I didn't know that it was legal for people to kill a newborn baby. Why are you telling people that? ASTORINO: And I think what most people are saying, I can't believe

that you could have an abortion up until the moment of birth.

CUOMO: No. No. No. Why do people believe -- hold on Karen --

FINNEY: Yes.

CUOMO: -- why do people believe that if a newborn baby -- a baby is born, that a doctor can kill it unless the laws are changed by that B.S. thing that Mitch McConnell put up? Why would you want people to believe that?

ASTORINO: Why wouldn't the Democrats, if it were true and if the Democrats felt that way, why wouldn't they just vote yes anyway?

CUOMO: Because it was a stunt. You know that you can't hurt a newborn baby.

ASTORINO: So what. Pretend it is a stunt. Pretend it's a stunt.

FINNEY: By the way, can we just --

(CROSSTALK)

ASTORINO: I'm not Santorum.

CUOMO: I almost called you Rick Santorum.

ASTORINO: I know. I know.

CUOMO: Sorry. That I apologize for.

ASTORINO: I love Rick.

FINNEY: At that point we're talking about surgery, if you're talking about a child that is born with, you know, the brain outside of its head, which sometimes happened --

CUOMO: I just don't get the play. That's what I want to know.

ASTORINO: Most -- you know what, most people in the United States --

FINNEY: That's surgery, that's not an abortion. Let's be honest with the American people about what we're talking about. You can't even be honest here.

CUOMO: But they're aghast, because you've scared them and distorted the reality.

ASTORINO: No, no, no. You just saw the new polls come out and pro- choice voters --

CUOMO: Of course the polls are going to go. People are coming up to me leaving mass and saying, hey, I don't get it, you're here at church, why do you want to kill newborn babies?

(CROSSTALK)

ASTORINO: Even those who are pro-choice are aghast that you could have -- and most believe it should not be an abortion after three months, OK? I want to answer your question.

CUOMO: The standard's always been the same.

FINNEY: If you have to lie to win, if you have to lie to win, I mean we knew you had to cheat in 2016 to win.

ASTORINO: We're not lying.

FINNEY: Now you have to lie to people to win.

ASTORINO: Democrats have become so radical on this that they're uncomfortable talking about it now.

FINNEY: And the challenge -- I'm happy to talk about it.

CUOMO: She is all too comfortable. She is cutting me off.

FINNEY: I'm sorry, Chris.

CUOMO: Not at all. You all make better points anyway. Go ahead. Give me a last point, I got to go.

ASTORINO: Chris -- yes, all right, the choice in 2020 is going to be this, right? An imperfect Donald Trump and all his warts and everything they know about him --

[22:35:00] FINNEY: And lies.

ASTORINO: -- and people have -- maybe even uncomfortable voting for him against Hillary Clinton in 16, but did because they couldn't stand Hillary Clinton or the agenda. The same thing is going to happen. These people who may not even like Donald Trump are going to have to say a very binary choice.

Donald Trump and I'll deal with him and his personality even though I don't like it, or this radical agenda. And what's going to happen is the snow globe of America is going to be turned upside down if they vote for a Democrat with all of these radical deals.

CUOMO: All right. Karen, give me a response, and we're done.

FINNEY: The difference is now, unlike 2016, we actually know what -- people who voted for Trump kind of holding their nose to do it, they know now what they get. They get a liar. They get someone who may have actually colluded with the Russians. We don't know. We'll find out. We get someone who is actually not doing what he said he would do. He has not kept his promises other than shutting down the government to build a wall and oh, siding with evil dictators.

CUOMO: All right, guys. To be continued. Karen, Rob, robust. Thank you. Have a good weekend both.

ASTORINO: You too.

CUOMO: All right. The special counsel's report. Look, they keep telling us it's going to come. I'm out of the guessing game. All right. When it comes, it comes, but what will it mean when it does? Now, that is worthy of discussion. We have iconic journalist, Carl Bernstein, here to take a look at what it will mean and what he thinks is going on right now. He says that this matters to you and your future. Next.

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CUOMO: We are at a critical point in Mueller's Russia investigation. That is the take of a man who understands how to investigate power. Carl Bernstein, always a pleasure, sir.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to be with you.

CUOMO: So, we seem to be coming near the point where we will get Mueller's report. That feels like a culmination. You say no.

[22:40:06] BERNSTEIN: No, I think that -- it's more than a critical point in the Mueller investigation. It's a critical point in a cover- up that is unraveling. And that cover-up is unraveling partly because of the fruits of Mueller's strategy, which was to farm out part of his case to the Southern District, to the U.S. Attorney's offices in various places.

So that the Russia per se probe, we're going to have his report, but we have an ongoing investigation that supersedes his Russia probe. And incidentally, I know there's a lot of short shrift being given, including I've heard tonight about the no expectations on his report. I would not be surprised -- and this is speculation -- that he does a roadmap, that he stacks fact upon fact upon fact upon fact.

CUOMO: Is he allowed to?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, of course he is, without pejorative. Nothing pejorative whatsoever. Simply a recitation of facts such as Jaworski, the special prosecutor did in Watergate. I don't know that is going to happen, but I would not be the least bit surprised, but what we see is a mosaic now. We have a mosaic of investigations. We have the Southern District. We also have the Democrats investigating in Congress. So it's a totally different situation than we've had for the previous two years.

CUOMO: When you say it is a cover-up unraveling, play to the skeptic who said, I don't see it. I don't see what's so bad.

BERNSTEIN: It's not about being so bad. And we'll find out what parts of it may be criminal and may not be criminal and who the criminals are and who the criminals are not. As John Dean was saying, there may be more indictments. We don't know, but what is unraveling are these various strands that are -- they are all intertwined, including Trump's businesses.

You can't look at Russia and his susceptibility, for instance, to possible blackmail without looking at his business aspirations in Russia, without looking at all of his dealings with ethno Russians over the years. That is part of what Mueller has been doing.

We have Rick Gates, who was Manafort's partner, who is one of the key witnesses who is cooperating with the special prosecutor. He also was in the transition of the presidency. He knows an awful lot, including what Manafort might have said to the president and what Manafort told him.

So we don't know how it all fits together, but what we see -- and we see it partly in the panicked response of those defending the president of the United States.

CUOMO: Well, certainly in the Cohen hearing.

BERNSTEIN: Well, that is the next factor. And now we have, as we did with John Dean. Dean and Cohen are different in many regards, but one similarity is they have ripped the veneer of respectability, whatever respectability there was, off of these two presidencies, and particularly shown the Trump presidency, the Trump business organization, the Trump life as a public figure to be a sham, a con, a grifter. A grifter president of the United States.

CUOMO: So, but what about the political reality that we've heard a couple of Republicans start arguing more loudly, which is, we knew that. We know who he is. The American people, he was weighed and measured, and he was found sufficient, because maybe that is what they expect to put into our political system these days. And you're not telling them anything new, and it's a waste of time.

BERNSTEIN: I think you have to look at it in terms of what you know I've said for a year and a half. We are in a cold civil war in this country, and Trump has brought that cold civil war and every day brings it closer and closer to ignition. And that is the great danger, because everything he does plays to this base that is his way of staying in office, if he can stay in office and be re-elected. It's all about that base.

It's not about uniting the American people as most previous presidents have tried to put together some kind of coalition with people in the center. Trump has made no attempt to do that. He is also been absolutely brilliant in understanding things about our country that other leaders have not in terms of being able to articulate, as Bernie Sanders did. That working people, middle class people in this country have been screwed over for the last 30, 35 years. You know, relative income, family income, has gone down. He was able to identify that in a very effective way.

I don't quite agree with you about low expectations of politicians. What they see in Trump, many people, is someone who feeds their often -- their prejudices, but also who feeds their desire to see the other side wiped out. We are really seeing a kind of vicious politics.

[22:45:17] CUOMO: Yes.

BERNSTEIN: And it's on both sides. CUOMO: I, 100 percent agree.

BERNSTEIN: But a viciousness in politics. And, look, he has a Republican coalition that is far and deep. It's not just middle class.

CUOMO: It's true.

BERNSTEIN: And working class.

CUOMO: He is at over 90 percent in his party.

BERNSTEIN: that is exactly right.

CUOMO: Yes. Look, I see it. I agree. I'm just saying that that vicious. I got to leave it here. Carl, but I believe the viciousness that you describe is a function of the disaffection, and they wanted him in here to be disruptive and to take on the people that they hold to account.

BERNSTEIN: I think that is right. And it's true that he has delivered on a good number of his promises.

CUOMO: That's true. That is absolutely true.

BERNSTEIN: But the lying and the outrages and also the fact that his own people, McMaster, Tillerson, et cetera, Mattis, say that this president of the United States, as we saw in Korea and as we saw in Helsinki, is himself a danger in their view to the national security of the United States. We've never had a president whose aides believe him to be a danger to the national security.

CUOMO: We'll see where it goes. To be continued. Always a benefit. Thank you, sir.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.

CUOMO: All right. So this security clearance issue, it matters, and you know that. It's not about just what the president has the right to do. It's about whether what he did and how he handled it is right. James Clapper has a warning. He is the former national intelligence director, and let's get with him next.

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CUOMO: The House Oversight chair says the White House has until Monday to hand over documents showing how Jared Kushner got a top secret clearance. James Clapper is here. Always good to see you, sir. So I want to give you the latest line from the White House. Here is what they will explain and not explain.

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KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: We don't discuss security clearances. I'm not even going to discuss my own, but I will tell you that the president has the absolute right to do what was described. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: He has the right, but is what he did right? And what is the risk? Sir?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I was amused by, you know, her statement that the White House doesn't discuss security clearances. Well, they sure discussed it a lot when they were threatening to take away clearances of certain critics, but she is right.

The whole clearance process from identifying people that need access to background investigations, to adjudication, to granting a clearance, is a purely executive branch function. And the president is head of the executive branch, does have the prerogative to grant a clearance or to take it away.

CUOMO: Right.

CLAPPER: And in this case, why this is bad should explain there are about 13 distinct attributes that are looked at in granting somebody a clearance. I really don't know what -- whether anomalies or questions or concerns among those 13 attributes, if they were -- and I guess they were applied to Jared Kushner. And one of those though is financial entanglements and particularly potential financial entanglements with a foreign government.

CUOMO: Right, and he amended his disclosure form for the clearance several times, because of more information about financial meetings and different potential conflicts.

CLAPPER: Right. And I realize he got a complex financial background, but it does kind of reflect a bit of carelessness, lack of attention to something that is, you know, for normal people, is pretty important thing.

CUOMO: All right. So what is the risk? First of all just so the audience knows, when they say they don't talk about security clearances, when they pulled John Brennan's, when they wanted to pull Clapper's and other people's basically as political payback, they talked about it a lot and explained why they wanted to do it.

They stopped talking about it when Rob Porter came up as a problem with his clearance and they were embarrassed, so they created this new policy. It is a B.S. situation, but I just want you to understand it in terms of its root.

So, the better argument for them is, hey, it is his son-in-law, Jim. I know he is, I get your concerns, I get your process, it's misplaced, he's OK, you are getting in my way, give him the clearance. What is the risk?

CLAPPER: Well, the risk is, again, not knowing what his -- the anomalies or concerns were, but with respect to a foreign power who could potentially leverage or influence or put pressure on somebody to gain information or in some other way gain an advantage. And the intelligence community, you know, history is replete with people who had financial entanglements and it led to compromises.

CUOMO: Right.

CLAPPER: So that is the risk. And, sure, you know, the president knows his son-in-law and all of that, but, again, it is unprecedented for a president, even though he is head of the executive branch and can potentially control this, I don't know of no case in my 50-plus years in intelligence where a president got involved in clearances, either granting or threatening to take them away.

CUOMO: Well --

CLAPPER: And it sets a terrible example for the people who are dedicated to trying to administer this system, to comply with a set of laws, of rules and regulations and processes. And when they see the commander in chief set that kind of example that conveys a terrible message.

CUOMO: Well, Jim Clapper, thank you so much for your perspective. I appreciate it. And you know, it is a little bit of a statement of the current -- you know, where we are that the fact that he lied about it to the American people is almost an afterthought. Jim Clapper.

[22:55:00] CLAPPER: Which even compounds the problem.

CUOMO: It should anyway. Be well and thank you. Hey, and thanks to all of you. Thank you for watching. This is our second hour, but the news continues all night here on CNN.

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