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Interview with Representative Denny Heck (D-WA) about the Mueller Report; Outgoing French Ambassador to the U.S. Slams Trump; Sarah Sanders Admitted Lying about FBI Contacts; What Russia Could Be Learning From the Mueller Report. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mueller said, "That night, the White House press office called the Department of Justice and said the White House wanted to put out a statement saying that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey. Rosenstein told other DOJ officials that he would not participate in putting out a false story.

The president then called Rosenstein -- again I'm quoting directly from the report. The president then called Rosenstein directly and said he was watching FOX News, that the coverage had been great, and that he wanted Rosenstein to do a press conference. Rosenstein responded that this was not a good idea because if the press asked him he would tell the truth that Comey's firing was not his idea.

Comey's firing is just one of at least 10 separate episodes in the report where the president potentially obstructed justice to try to end or hinder the special counsel's investigation but whether or not these actions are criminal, Mueller left that decision up to Congress and House Democrats are hoping to hear from Mueller himself.

The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have formally invited him to testify in the coming weeks.

Democratic Congressman Denny Heck joins me now. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for being with us. If and when Mueller testifies before your committee, I guess what is the biggest question you'd have for him?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): So, Anderson, the predicate I think even before his rival is I think we have to have a mass American consumption of this report, digested process, and a lot of conversation amongst ourselves as Americans, as to what it actually means. But the truth is, and I've begun that, it's my weekend reading. The truth of the matter is it's like having the sheet music without hearing the song and it's time to hear the song, and the song would come from Director Mueller.

Specifically as a member of the Intelligence Committee what I would be particularly interested in hearing him talk about are some of the counterintelligence items of information that he may have uncovered that weren't even necessarily a part of the report. There are some indication that they have information that they will share with the Intelligence Committee in that regard because, Anderson, at the end of the day, what this all should be leading to most importantly is protecting us against this ever happening again. And in order to do that, we need to fully understand what happened the last time.

COOPER: Well, also, I mean, some Democrats would make the argument that in order to actually do that and protect for the next time you would need somebody in office who is not borderline obstructing justice or at least doing -- you know, acting in a way that certainly raises those -- that possibility. A number of your colleagues are already calling for the start of impeachment proceedings. Democrats like Nancy -- like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Nadler say it's too soon.

I'm wondering where you stand. Should there be impeachment proceedings?

HECK: I think I just laid it out, Anderson, the next two steps that are the most important is that we all need to read this report in its entirety. I am. I'm working myself through it. Working my way through it. But it is 448 pages or however long.

COOPER: Single spaced.

HECK: More importantly I think lots of people need to do this. Not just members of Congress. But lots of people. And then we need to hear directly from Director Mueller. Those are the things that I think are the predicates for the conversation about where we go from there.

COOPER: Another revelation from the report, and I'm quoting, the week after Comey's briefing the White House Counsel's Office was in contact with Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Richard Burr about the Russia investigations and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation. Does that concern you?

HECK: Deeply. And it's out of character with how I perceive Senator Burr. But it hasn't been confirmed yet and so I will withhold additional comment. It wasn't the biggest surprise for me yesterday. I had two big surprises yesterday, Anderson. And I'm a hard guy to surprise. The first of which was Attorney General Barr's performance at the press conference ahead of time in which he demonstrably asserted that which was explicitly not true according to the Mueller report, in material ways most notably whether or not the Office of Legal Counsel's prior indication that you cannot indict a sitting president played a role in Director Mueller's decision not to advance that recommendation to the attorney general.

COOPER: Right.

HECK: Just demonstrably not true. And why I was so surprised by that is it's kind of blown up in his face. It's counterproductive to the interest of his own boss because now everybody is focused on -- he just said a whole bunch of things that weren't true all press conference long and it's made it even worse. But the second way in which I was significantly surprised is the number of additional investigations that are spun out of this. At the end -- I raced to the end. That's why I read in its entirety,

the president's transparently disingenuous written answers about not remembering anything.


HECK: And the second part I was reading just this morning had to do with all the 14 investigations that have been spun out that don't fall within the narrower definition of the criminal investigation of Director Mueller. That is deep, that is broad, that will be ongoing, and it is of very, very deep significance.

COOPER: It's also interesting, because there are no references in the report about Trump's taxes or loans to his business except for the Trump Tower Moscow. Why do you think it is that Mueller left that alone?

HECK: So --

COOPER: Do you think it is possible because of these other -- some of these other investigations?

[15:35:02] HECK: So, again, his focus was on the criminal conspiracy and coordination with Russia for interference. His focus was not on what the predicate for that might be, namely financial entanglement. That's why you have so many members of Congress who are interested in seeing the tax returns, interested in seeing the tax returns of the businesses, to more fully understand what is it that may have compromised President Trump, then candidate Trump, then going forward.

You know, Anderson, I'm reminded that the very last time you and I spoke on air, you were in Helsinki and I was sitting in this very chair and the president was over there engaged in that just bizarre performance of side bar conversations with Vladimir Putin.

COOPER: Which, by the way, we still know nothing about the details of what he and Putin talked about.

HECK: Which is the point, Anderson. And why I think the American public needs to know whether or not there are financial entanglements which compromise the decision-making of the president. Does he have a conflict of interest here that puts his interest above that of the American people?

COOPER: Should Barr resign? Would you like to see that?

HECK: Bill Barr should have never been appointed. I think the letter he wrote last summer, which was clearly an audition for the office, was prima facie and in and of itself disqualifying.

COOPER: Yes. Congressman Heck, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

HECK: Thank you, sir.

COOPER: Coming up next, a stunning rebuke of President Trump from the outgoing French ambassador to the U.S., calling him a big mouth who has clearly broken the usual process of diplomacy.


[15:41:09] COOPER: The outgoing French ambassador to the U.S. is being very blunt about his feeling toward President Trump. In an exit interview he gave to the magazine, "Foreign Policy," Gerard Araud criticized Trump saying his administration is the opposite of former President Obama and he added this. "You have this president who is an extrovert, really a big mouth who reads basically nothing or nearly nothing with the interagency process totally broken and decisions taken from the hip basically."

Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby joins me now. He's CNN military and diplomatic analyst, a former spokesman for the State Department.

Usual here, an ambassador on the way out --


COOPER: -- saying this.

KIRBY: I mean, clearly he's free to speak now because he's leaving.

COOPER: Right.

KIRBY: He's going to write a memoir or already has, but even that, it is usual to see a diplomat speak so strongly and stridently about the troubles of working with an American administration.

COOPER: Yes. I'm wondering, as a former spokesman, what you make of what you heard in the Mueller report of Sarah Sanders lying, of the press office of the White House with Sarah Sanders trying to get Rod Rosenstein to lie in a statement about that it was him who wanted to fire Comey.

KIRBY: I think it's a really big deal, Anderson. And I know there's lots of other things that we're focusing on with the Mueller report and rightfully so. But to have a White House press secretary not only lied but then to defend those lies even as recently as this morning on network TV, that's not something we should just drive past and whistle past the graveyard on. She is supposed to represent the American government to the American people and to the world and to do so honestly and candidly and for her to just brush by that and to sort of dismiss it like it wasn't important, that's a big deal. I would have been fired.

COOPER: You would have been fired if -- as spokesman when you are --

KIRBY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Both Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry would never have tolerated me lying from the podium. I would have been gone.

COOPER: It's so interesting because what Sarah Sanders is now saying is, like, is that -- it was the word "countless" that I -- was a slip of the tongue. The idea that countless FBI agents were calling her up. I mean, A, that's not what it seems to indicate in the Mueller report which again she's under oath there, she's not under oath talking on television today or when she normally is. But the -- if it was a slip of the tongue, she could have come out the next day and said, by the way, yesterday just to note, I said countless, I didn't mean that or that was a slip of the tongue. Here is what actually -- you know, the number of people that have actually called me.

She didn't do that. She's made no mention of it. She's never apologized for anything or pointed out any inaccuracy.

KIRBY: That's right. And it makes you wonder how many other times has she done that?

COOPER: Right.

KIRBY: Lied blatantly from the podium and then just driven past it.

COOPER: Right.

KIRBY: Look, there's lots of times when a spokesman says things that are incorrect at the podium and I have -- unfortunately from time to time have to go to the bull pen afterward and say, hey, you know, I made a mistake, it's this, not that. You know, that's fine and I think reporters will understand that if it's done immediately but when you sit on it.

COOPER: I do think there's a lot of folks out there who say, well, look, she's the spokesman, of course she's going to lie. Then that's what spokespeople do.

KIRBY: No, that's not what we do. It's not what we do. I mean, truth and honesty, integrity, that's the bedrock of our profession to be a spokesperson. You don't lie. You never lie. Absolutely a foundational element of it. So no, I -- yes, politicians stretch the truth, yes. But a spokesman, even if you're a political appointee, you're expected to be honest.

COOPER: And Sean Spicer also documented as lied which obviously we knew he did but it's now documented.

I want to read a tweet that Mitt Romney has just put out. I'm quoting, "Even so I'm sickened in," excuse me. "Even so I'm sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land including the president. I'm also appalled that among other things fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia including information that had been illegally obtained, that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interest in Ukraine."

He goes on to say, "Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders." And he's obviously being critical of this president in the past. But very damning.

[15:45:04] KIRBY: And he's hitting, I think -- one of the main things we shouldn't forget about the Mueller report which is the extent to which Russia really did interfere in our electoral process and the extent to which they continue to try to do that. That's what we can't forget. And what bothers me is that Mr. Trump will learn all the wrong lessons from this. He's already saying, hey, no collusion, no exoneration.

COOPER: Right.

KIRBY: But I don't hear him taking seriously and to heart the very real tangible evidence that's in that report.

COOPER: In fact he sent --

KIRBY: About what they've done.

COOPER: He sent out a tweet yesterday which sort of was implying that, you know, it's still kind of an open question about whether Russia did interfere.

KIRBY: Right.

COOPER: But that it didn't have any impact on, you know, the validity of the vote, of -- it doesn't tarnish his election victory, which Hope Hicks to Mueller called the president's Achilles heel, that he's obsessed with this notion that somehow his victory is somehow tarnished --


KIRBY: Illegitimate. Yes.

COOPER: Is Illegitimate.

KIRBY: Exactly right.

COOPER: Admiral Kirby, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, what could Vladimir Putin be learning from the Mueller report? A former CIA officer joins me next.


[15:50:31] COOPER: The Mueller report cleared the Trump campaign of colluding with the Russians in the 2016 election, but it also made very clear that Russia intentionally and systemically interfered with the U.S. elections, something that President Trump just last year had publicly doubted.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said, it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Just after the release of the Mueller report, President Trump blamed Russia's meddling on Obama, tweeting, "Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 election was done while Obama was president." Then goes on, "Most importantly, the vote was not affected." Hope Hicks has told Mueller that the idea that the vote was affected is President Trump's Achilles heel, in her words.

CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer is a former CIA officer.

Bob, thanks for joining us. First of all, the lack of outrage about Russia's interference, which is so well-documented in this report is -- it's pretty stunning. I mean, I don't know if it's that people are just sort of used to it or sick of hearing about it, but it -- I mean, it raises real questions about the future of our national security.

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it does, Anderson. And look at it this way. It's politically more damaging than Pearl Harbor. It's undermined the legitimacy of this government and the fact that the president has denied it when the facts are right there. You look at the Mueller report. That's a smoking gun, pointing to Moscow. And the fact that we haven't truly responded to this lets the Russians come in, you know, for the next election, 2020.

COOPER: I'm wondering what you think Russia will be paying attention to and learning from this report.

BAER: Oh, it's enormous, it's a gold mine for the Russians. They know whose e-mails being hacked on the Russian side, they know about the texts that have been picked up by the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. And it's a roadmap for them next time, you know, speculative to do it more securely.

COOPER: Earlier today the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters he'll bring up the Mueller report with his Russian counterparts and will warn them about interfering with U.S. elections. I want to play what he had to say.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Russia interferes in a number of places. We will talk about the steadfast requirement that Russia not engage in activity that impacts the capacity of our democracy to be successful. And their interference in our election creates risk there. And we will make very clear to them, this is unacceptable behavior. And as you've seen from this administration, we will take tough actions, which raise the cost for Russian maligned activity.


COOPER: I mean, we've never heard the president say that or say that to Vladimir Putin. When the president was on a stage with Vladimir Putin, he basically seemed to accept Putin's denial that Russia had any involvement, just as he has done time and time again.

BAER: Anderson, this is the administration, again, you know, revolting against the president. They're going with the facts, including Pompeo, who's one of the biggest loyalists, if Pompeo's right. The question is, when do we get around to doing something and make the Russians pay, truly pay? And right now we're not. I mean, it's really serious, it's green light for future elections.

COOPER: But if -- I mean, you know, it's one thing for various branches of government to say this. If the person at the top, who sets the agenda is not a believer fundamentally, that Russia interfered in the election in a very deep and sustained way, that doesn't necessarily get top priority.

BAER: No, it doesn't. And you know, Anderson, I tell you, the intelligence doesn't get any better than this, pointing to Moscow and the GRU military intelligence getting involved, hacking. And there is a good argument it did affect the elections. And you know, you have to wonder where this president was legitimately elected. You know, what, 60,000, 70,000 votes difference, and the Russian interference was enough to push this over. And I'm just looking at the facts on this and, you know, what can I say?

COOPER: All right, Bob Baer. Bob, appreciate you being with us. Thanks very much.

Still ahead, the Mueller report references 14 legal cases that have now been referred to other prosecutors. We only knew about two of them. Well, details of what the remaining dozen might be.


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