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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

CNN: White House May Try to Stop Former White House Counsel Don McGahn from Testifying in House; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is Interviewed About White House Roadblocks to House Probe. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

There's breaking news tonight, the White House saying they may defy a congressional subpoena for the testimony former White House counsel Don McGahn, the attorney who kept notes and already talked to Mueller.

[20:00:06] They are already resisting a second subpoena for another former aide. The Treasury Department is ignoring another deadline for handing over the president's tax returns, and the Trump Organization is battling a demand to produce financial records. Essentially, the administration is trying to put up roadblocks wherever they can.

We'll talk tonight about those cases and others and whether they amount to contempt on the president's part, not just for Congress, but also for institutions and standards of behavior dating back to the founders.

Whether or not this is the case is, of course, an open question. It is debatable, and we'll certainly debate it tonight, including with a Nobel laureate who believes we're on the edge of no longer being a functioning democracy.

We begin, though, keeping them honest with something beyond almost any dispute, namely, the administration's contempt for the truth to the point of trying to convince the public not to believe their ears and eyes. The word for it, of course, is gaslighting. We saw a new example of it today, but just to refresh your memory, here's an earlier example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, the president -- that was him last July -- and as you heard, he just is straight up saying it out loud -- don't believe what you read and what you see. That is sort of direct brute-force gaslighting.

His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on the other hand, barely says anything out loud in public, is usually a bit more subtle than that. Not today, though. Today, now that people have read the Mueller report, he tried to suggest that there really wasn't anything to it. He's saying that what you and I and anyone can read on page after page amounts, in fact, to nothing at all, apparently even the parts about Russia interfering in our elections and in our democracy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The whole thing's just a big distraction for the country. And you look at, you know, what Russia did, buying some Facebook ads to try to sew dissent, and do it, and it's a terrible thing, but I think the investigations and all the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Just a couple of Facebook ads, he says, which earned him a digital pat on the head from his father-in-law.

Great interview by Jared, the president tweeted. Nice to have extraordinarily smart people serving our country.

So smart. I mean, who else other than maybe that cliff guy could sum up such a long document so concisely? Who else could take the lead sentence in the Mueller report and interpret it so smartly?

I'm quoting from the Mueller report: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion. Or as Jared Kushner so brilliantly put it, a couple of Facebook ads.

There's also this passage from the opening page of the Mueller report: First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton campaign and then released stolen documents.

Look, the Mueller report's long, nearly what, 400 pages? Four hundred forty-eight, to be exact. And who's got time to read all that?

Now, luckily, here's the Kushner's notes version. A couple of Facebook ads. See? So easy.

It works just as well for all items in the table of contents of the Mueller report. Section two -- Russian active measures, social media campaign.

Items one through four, the IRA, that's the Russian Internet Research Agency, ramps up U.S. operations as early as 2014. Or Facebook ads -- just a couple. U.S. operations through IRA-controlled social media accounts, the same. U.S. operations from Facebook -- well, exactly.

U.S. operations through Twitter -- all right, not a couple of Facebook ads. But look, who's counting? Not Kushner.

Also, U.S. operations involving political rallies, targeting and recruitment of U.S. Persons, interactions and contacts with the Trump campaign. Trump campaign promotion of IRA political materials.

Now, that is a lot of stuff to slog through, 48 pages of Russian interference in all, but look, it probably won't be on the test. All you really need to know is this, according to the president's son-in- law, all Russia did was buy a couple of Facebook ads, which keeping you from looking at page 31 of volume one of the Mueller report, which reads in total, campaign affiliates promoted dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.

Funny how you can get all that from just a couple of Facebook posts. Or maybe it just looks that way by gaslight, which also lends a certain glow to days like today.

Our Jim Acosta is at the White House basking in the gaslight with more on tonight's breaking news.

So, the White House trying to block Don McGahn from testifying.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

COOPER: Where are they at on this?

ACOSTA: Well, Anderson, I've talked to a senior White House official earlier this evening who said at this point they are likely to block Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, from testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee, as you know, would like to have McGahn sit there in front of the camera cameras and confirm what was said in the Mueller report and he was instructed by the president to go and fire special counsel Robert Mueller.

You know, the White House over here and their allies outside of the White House have been taking issue with some of that, and I think that is something that the White House is trying to avoid at this point, seeing McGahn in front of those cameras testifying under oath and saying, basically, what he told the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

[20:05:05] I will tell you that this official I spoke with earlier this evening said the president is in a fighting mood, is the way this official described it, when it comes to all of these requests that are coming in across this, you know, range of investigations that we're seeing come from the House Democrats up on Capitol Hill, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, and as we mentioned, there's another aide that they're trying to stop him from testifying, is that right? I mean, this is not the only testimony the White House is trying to block.

ACOSTA: That's right. They don't want Carl Kline, who is a former White House official who had some oversight over White House security clearances. They don't want him testifying. They're trying to block that testimony as well. And, of course, he would be asked about some of these security clearances that were provided to Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and other officials, top officials inside the White House, where there were some security clearance issues back in the early days of the administration. And as you were just saying a few moments ago, you know, these tax

returns that House Democrats, Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, that he would also like to get his hands on that, also has been something they're having a tug-of-war over. The treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, said in a letter to Chairman Neal this evening, basically saying, listen, there's no legal timetable for us to get back to you on all of this, but they're saying at this point there should be an answer on this on May 6th.

But Anderson, I talked to an official earlier this evening at the White House who said don't hold your breath for the president's tax returns. He is in no mood to provide that. And as I said, the way this official described it, the president is in a fighting mood, is the way they described it a fighting mood to push back on all of these efforts on Capitol Hill, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta -- Jim, thanks very much.

More now on how this is all being received by one of the committees the president is defying. California Democrat Ro Khanna sits on the House Oversight Committee. He joins us now.

Congressman, thanks for being with us.

First of all, I just want to get your reaction to the breaking news tonight that the White House may seek to prevent Don McGahn from complying with the Judiciary Committee's subpoena.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, it's just a delay tactic. Don McGahn has already waived his executive privilege by giving this information to Mueller. And the executive privilege doesn't apply when there are issues of possible fraud or obstruction.

The irony here is that Donald Trump should be thanking Mr. McGahn. I mean, Mr. McGahn is the one who saved him from firing bob Mueller and saved him from a far worse scandal.

COOPER: The president, as you know, is now claiming that everybody there follows his orders, that he doesn't have people who are defying him or ignoring him.

KHANNA: Well, it's very ironic, because the reason he's still president of the United States is because people did defy him. I mean, he had these crazy schemes for folks to blatantly break the law, and the only reason Mueller didn't have a more damning conclusion and left some ambiguity in terms of the obstruction issue is that it was a clumsy and inept attempt because he had people who were willing to defy him and not carry out blatantly illegal orders.

COOPER: Yes. Your committee has had to push back its deadline for subpoena of the president's financial records due to the suit the president filed yesterday against your committee's chairman, Elijah Cummings. Is this delay a victory for the president and is this a strategy you expect them to use to block other requests going forward?

KHANNA: Well, this is the strategy the president has used his whole life, to file lawsuits against whoever he's opposed to. Of course, the lawsuit wasn't in his official capacity as president. It was in his personal capacity, and that's because he knows there's no expectation of privacy in the same way when you're president of the United States.

I mean, I don't have an expectation of privacy in my financial records. He has disclosure requirements for his finances, and the Congress has every right to see whether those disclosures were accurate or not and whether there are conflicts of interest. So, he will lose in a court of law. The problem is that he's delaying, and he knows that by taking this to court, he is kicking the can down the road and preventing people from getting to the truth.

COOPER: About the testimony of the former White House Security Director, Carl Kline, that Jim Acosta was talking about, your committee wants to question him about the White House security clearance process. Chairman Cummings is moving towards holding Kline in contempt for refusing to comply with the subpoena.

If Cummings does hold Kline in contempt, would that be some kind of a tipping point between this Congress and the White House?

KHANNA: I do think so. Let's be clear here, the White House has not given us a single document or a single person to testify on the issue of why people got security clearances when career officials had said not to give them those clearances. And we have bent over backwards to try to get this information. And now, they're not allowing White House officials to testify.

This is unprecedented. It will go to a court. A court will rule for us, because Congress' power to subpoena is at its maximum when you have misconduct in the White House or allegations of misconduct.

But again, the problem, Anderson, is a court process could take months, and the president knows this.

[20:10:00] He knows that he has a 2020 re-election coming up. And he just wants to delay as much as possible.

COOPER: Is your committee, are other committees prepared for that kind of protracted and bitter fights with this White House? Because the message from the White House very clearly seems to be they're not going to comply, they're not going to back down, and it's going to be lawsuits and delays as long as possible.

You talked about months. I mean, with the court system, these things could drag on for a very, very long time, more than just a couple months.

KHANNA: They could. I mean, in George Bush's case with Harriet Miers, when there was a conflict with congress, it was resolved when President Bush was leaving office. And so, it can take months.

We are prepared to fight. But Anderson, here's the problem with our constitutional democracy. I mean, Madison in Federalist 51 when he talked about separation of powers and a check on the system, he assumed that people would be loyal to the branch they serve in, that ambition would counteract ambition, that Congress would check the executive branch because it's in our self-interest.

What's happened now is people are more loyal to their party than to the institution. And that's why the checks and balances system has not been working the way the Founders intended.

COOPER: And just, finally, there is certainly a lot of talk about impeachment of the president, and if your party's going to go that route, are you in favor of moving towards impeachment proceedings?

KHANNA: Not at this point. I'm where Nancy Pelosi is. We need to have a deliberate, methodical process.

We need to have Bob Mueller testify. There's something different about having the American people hear from Bob Mueller. There are not many people who have read a 450, 480-page report.

We need to hear from Don McGahn. And then we need to have the committees do their work and then see where we're at.

COOPER: Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

KHANNA: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up next, more on Jared Kushner's pretty remarkable take on the Russia probe as well as a fuller discussion of the breaking news, namely, President Trump's willingness to challenge Congress and where that might lead. We'll talk to Nobel laureate Paul Krugman about that as well.

Later, with former Vice President Biden expected to get into the presidential race this week, we'll ask the question, has he waited too long? And what are voters going to make of his message when he's just one of 20 out there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:16:24] COOPER: Talking tonight about the White House trying to keep a key contributor from testifying to Congress even as the president's son-in-law tries to recast the Russian investigation and the reporting and the discussions about it, and speculation is more damaging than the misdeeds it documented. Much ado, he said earlier today, over a couple of Facebook ads, as he put it.

Members of the conservative and libertarian attorneys organization, Checks and Balances, see it otherwise and have just put out an open letter to that effect. George Conway, Kellyanne Conway's husband, is part of the group, as CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero who joins us now, so does CNN senior political commentator, former Republican senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum. With us as well, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So, Jeffrey, just in terms of stopping McGahn from testifying, how much of a case does the White House have for that? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's a very weak

case because of a legal doctrine called waiver. You know, he has told this story to Mueller. The White House did not object to the public disclosure of that story.

COOPER: They didn't exert executive privilege.

TOOBIN: They didn't cite executive privilege. You can't pick and choose about the public disclosure of issues -- of subject matter that you say is privileged. Once they allowed that to become public, I think they've forfeited the chance to stop it again.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, A, do you agree with that? And I guess, what is the point of trying to stop someone after the damage is arguably done, other than the president doesn't want him on TV repeating it?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, because this is, I think in the White House, this is harassment. Jeffrey said it, I mean, Don McGahn's already said everything. They just want to have him say it in public and say it in a dramatic fashion and play politics with it.

And so, if they're going to play politics with it and harass the president, then the president's going to play politics and harass right back. I mean, I think this is where this goes when you really aren't looking for more information. What you're doing is you're looking for political advantage in this, and the White House is just going to play politics just like the Democrats are.

TOOBIN: But wait a second, Rick. There are laws about when you can testify and when you can refuse to testify. And I think you'd agree that political advantage is a traditional reason to hold a hearing.

SANTORUM: Yes.

TOOBIN: And just because you think there's a political -- doesn't mean you can just refuse to testify.

SANTORUM: The White House can do what White Houses have done and this White House I think will do a lot of, which is say no --

TOOBIN: But they have to have the law.

SANTORUM: They have to have the law to ultimately win, but they don't have to have the law to protract and delay and do what politically they think is to their advantage to do, fight.

COOPER: So, Carrie, A, how long a protracted fight could this be? And ultimately, would a court, do you think, rule on the side of Congress?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think Congress has a real strong argument here for the reasons that Jeffrey described, which is that Don McGahn has already been interviewed by the special counsel's office and the White House waived the privilege in that circumstance as well as when the report came out. So, I think -- I agree with Rick to the extent that this is a political strategy on the part of the White House, and I think it's a part of a broader strategy.

It's not just about McGahn's testimony. It's about the security official who the White House is not wanting to go before Congress. It's about the challenge on the release of the president's taxes. This is just a across-the-board no, and they're going to fight every opportunity that they have.

COOPER: And, Carrie, I mean, could this go all the way to the Supreme Court, the argument about McGahn?

[20:20:03] CORDERO: They could challenge on executive privilege. I mean, it would go through the courts, and I suppose it eventually could, but it will work its way through if they decide to challenge. But it's not clear that they actually are going to challenge it. I think the White House lawyers will know they have a pretty weak argument here.

COOPER: Jeff, in terms of what Jared Kushner was saying today, were you surprised at his characterization of --

TOOBIN: Well, it was false, but I wasn't surprised. You know, the son-in-law didn't fall far from the tree. I mean, this is what the president has been saying. I mean, the idea that the entire Russia investigation was just a few Facebook ads, you know, putting aside the hacking of the DNC e-mails and John Podesta's e-mails, putting aside the Trump tower meeting. I mean, it was an egregious distortion of the facts.

But he was serving his father-in-law, and you saw his father-in-law made a nice tweet about what a wonderful job Jared Kushner did.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, I mean, just in terms of what Russia did, do you fear that the president's, you know, what Hope Hicks described as his Achilles' heel, the fear he has, according to Hope Hicks, that looking into what Russia did and saying what Russia did somehow tarnishes his victory -- is that going to hurt the United States, just in terms of the willingness of the U.S. to actually -- or this administration to actually make sure it doesn't happen again?

SANTORUM: Well, I think the Mueller report actually disposes of that concern, because it's clear that Mueller said that the president wasn't involved and that there was certainly no determination that Russian interference had any determinative effect on the election.

I think that the danger that Jared Kushner entered into -- I understand the frustration that Jared and the Trump administration has with this whole Russia investigation, the fact that, you know, there really was no "there" there when it came to Trump and any kind of working with the Russians, but you have to separate Russian interference with the issue of Trump and the Trump campaign working with or coordinating with the Russians.

And to blow off the one I think is appropriate because it certainly was no evidence of that. But to blow off the interference and just sort of make light of the interference I think was not a wise thing for Jared to do. I think you can make fun of the travesty, in my opinion, that has taken place over the last two years of investigating this president because of some potential, you know, wrongdoing when there wasn't one, but you don't make fun or you don't take lightly a foreign government trying to influence our election.

COOPER: Carrie?

CORDERO: Well, so, this is right, because here's the thing -- the special counsel's report is not actually the entire story when it comes to the national security side of the Russian influence effort. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also doing an entire review, and they commissioned a couple of reports, two of which came out at the end of last year.

One of those reports docs -- these were outside reviews that the committee commissioned. Those reports documented in extensive detail -- and so, these were independent, non-partisan, academic reports -- extensive detail the activities of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian agency that was involved in the activities. And one of the reports said that in terms of the social media impact, the IRA created a, quote, manipulation ecosystem.

This was not a couple of Facebook posts. These reviews that were commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee under the chairmanship of Senator Burr, a Republican, have documented -- they've reviewed much of the data, not all the data, because the companies did not cooperate fully -- but they reviewed a lot of data from the social media companies. And what they found is that there was a pervasive effort over a course of years -- these reports go back 2014 to 2017.

So, for a White House official to stand up in public, separate from the president who so many people discount what he says -- for another White House official to stand up and say it was just a couple Facebook posts? That is contrary to everything that's in America's security interests going forward.

SANTORUM: I just want to make one point. You do talk about the voluminous amount of activity, but again, compared to everything else, all of the other information that was blowing out there, it was still a very, very small part, and I think that's what Jared Kushner was trying to say, which is, hey, yeah, they may have done all this, but it really was insignificant in the larger flow of information that was going through the campaign.

CORDERO: That is not --

SANTORUM: I understand why he's saying that, but it's not the right approach to take.

CORDERO: Right.

TOOBIN: He left out the most important thing the Russians did, which was the hacking of --

SANTORUM: The DNC, yes. TOOBIN: -- the e-mails, which was enormously important in the

election and repeatedly referred to by candidate Donald Trump, to say nothing of the extensive evidence that the president of the United States committed obstruction of justice.

[20:25:02] That's relevant, too.

COOPER: Yes.

All right. Carrie Cordero, thank you. Jeff Toobin, and Rick Santorum, as well, to be continued.

Coming up next, what "New York Times" columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman wrote about all this and drew fire from the president and his prediction for democracy itself. Krugman joins me, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Economist, Nobel laureate and "New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman is weighing in on the White House reaction to the Mueller report, and he's accusing the president's party of putting loyalty to him over their duty to the country. The headline of his op-ed piece, "The Great Republican Abdication: A Party that No Longer Believes in American Values."

The president for his part responded on Twitter with the following: Paul Krugman of the fake news "New York Times" has lost all credibility, as has "The Times" itself with his false and highly inaccurate writings on me. He's obsessed with hatred, just as others are obsessed with how stupid he is.

Fortunately, you don't have to take the president's word. You can judge the strength of Professor Krugman's argument for yourself tonight.

You talked about the Republicans abdicating. What are they abdicating?

PAUL KRUGMAN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: The way I think about it is, suppose we had something like the Mueller report about a president 40 or 50 years ago, when there was actual bipartisanship. Everybody in Congress, or at least the vast majority of senators would be saying this is terrible, we need to at least know more. We would have had Howard Baker types saying what did the president know, what did he do, when did he do it?

And instead, we had a complete -- this was a horrifying story about a presidency, and not one important Republican figure has spoken out saying this is something wrong.

COOPER: Even in Watergate, though, it took time for Republicans to start to raise those questions.

[20:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Even in Watergate, though, it took time for Republicans to -- to start to raise those questions. KRUGMAN: Yes, but they raise them as the information came out. Now, a lot of information is out. And this is, let's face it, this is much worse than Watergate. This is a foreign power is involved. It's a vast pattern. It's not some one event.

COOPER: It's also always interesting to do the flip test, that if this was a Democrat who had done this, the Republicans would be, if not moving to impeachment, calling for it.

KRUGMAN: Of course -- well, it really wouldn't matter. We know that if Hillary Clinton had been, you know, had gotten that extra 100,000 votes in the three swing states, there would have been attempts to impeach her within months of --

COOPER: I mean, if Hillary Clinton had hired Chelsea Clinton to work in the White House and sent her overseas to meet with Saudi Arabia or wherever.

KRUGMAN: Yes. I mean, this is -- you know, so it's hardly worth saying, but yes, imagine what Republicans would be saying about the same information if it was a Democrat.

COOPER: You've talked about they've abdicated this. Essentially, the deep-pocketed Republicans have embraced Trump in a way that they didn't in 2016. You think it's all about the tax cut?

KRUGMAN: Yes. There was -- I mean, there was some explicit stuff. Some of the big donors were saying, "If you don't give us this tax cut, then we're going to give up. You know, don't expect anything from us." But he got the tax cut through. It's the only major piece of legislation he got through, but he got a big tax cut for the wealthy, and that's really all that -- that's what the party, the true base, the base -- you know, not the base out there in the countryside, but the base and the moneymen, that's what they care about.

COOPER: One of the things that I've talked with former CIA Director General Michael Hayden a lot about, and he sort of uses this term, is the thin veneer of civilization that we like to think Democratic institutions are so deeply embedded in bedrock that, you know, any change would come slowly and would be thwarted ultimately by the institutions with democracy. But you write that it's very much up in the air whether America as we know it will survive.

KRUGMAN: Sure. The institutions are in the end people, you know? The institutions depend upon the willingness of people to obey norms, and occasionally to say, "OK, this is not how we do things in our country." And this didn't start with Trump. There's been a steady erosion of those norms.

You know, it wasn't Trump who basically decided to steal a Supreme Court seat. It wasn't Trump who, you know, basically turned the legitimate investigative powers of Congress into a way to harass the other party. So, this has been building for a long time, and we're very close to the edge right now.

COOPER: When you say close to the edge, what does that mean to you? KRUGMAN: I think we'll -- you know, on paper, we'll stay a democracy. But I worry very much about us sort of Hungary type situation where you have on paper the institutions of democracy. You even hold votes, but the system is rigged, and in fact, it's become effectively you have one-party rule.

COOPER: You actually -- you really believe that?

KRUGMAN: Oh, it could -- we could have this conversation two years from now and say that it happened, or maybe we couldn't have this conversation because the media would demuzzle it. But the -- we're very close. If Trump is re-elected, if the Republicans retake control of the House, what are the odds that we will really have a functioning democracy after that?

COOPER: I mean that's a pretty terrifying idea.

KRUGMAN: If you're not terrified, you're not paying attention.

COOPER: In terms of -- the President has paying attention now to what you wrote. Any response to what he tweeted out?

KRUGMAN: You know, it's -- first of all, if you're in the media, you always wonder is anybody paying attention. So, hey, someone is paying attention, so that's a good thing. He got it wrong. He said I'm stupid, which is not right. I'm evil, he should know that.

COOPER: Just lastly, Herman Cain, he is no longer in the running now for the Fed. Do you think Stephen Moore will actually move forward?

KRUGMAN: There's a pretty good chance that Stephen Moore will move forward. Again, under any normal criteria, not a chance. I mean, this is a guy who is basically a hack. He's known to be a hack even -- they couldn't get any well-established Republican economist to endorse him, although very few are willing to say that this guy is not appropriate.

But he has been a Republican Party favorite because he tells them what they want to hear. And if he does fail, it probably won't be because he does have disastrous, ludicrous ideas about economics. It will probably be because it turns out he's got personal problems, too.

COOPER: Paul Krugman, I appreciate it. Thank you.

KRUGMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, the already jam-packed Democratic presidential field is about to get even larger with a heavyweight addition coming up with the announcement by former Vice President Biden will mean for the catalog of Democratic candidates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:38:20] COOPER: Well, last night's series of CNN town halls showcased many of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates, but that top tier is about to expand, at least if the latest polling is accurate.

CNN is reporting that former Vice President Joe Biden will finally make it official with an online video the day after tomorrow. Biden's entry would add him to this field of 19 declared candidates, bringing the entire Democratic field to 20, each scrambling for influence, positioning and, of course, money.

Here now to help me unscrabble the politics of it all is David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Obama, "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers, and CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

David, what do you think it's going to do to this race, Biden throwing his hat in?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, he has been the front-runner in the polls from the beginning, and he continues to be the front-runner. He's holding somewhere around 30 percent of the vote. And so, he has to be treated seriously, and he occupies a very big lane. There are several candidates who are thinking of running who didn't run because of the prospect --

COOPER: Mike Bloomberg being one.

AXELROD: Bloomberg being a big one. So, you know, I think that he is going to change the race. The question everybody -- I mean, what's interesting about him is there are many reasons to believe he should be a very competitive candidate.

Many people believe he is the most competitive against Donald Trump. And yet, there is this uncertainty because he's run several times before, he hasn't gotten out of Iowa. And so, he is the frontrunner, but he's not really being treated that way.

COOPER: Gloria, I mean it obviously is not the first time he's tried to get this. He ran in '98, he ran in '08.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

COOPER: Does he enter with more of an advantage, more of a disadvantage this time around?

BORGER: Well, as David was saying, you know, he goes to the top tier of the polling immediately. He's either number one or number two.

[20:40:04] COOPER: Which can be a disadvantage.

BORGER: Exactly, exactly. I mean, look at Hillary Clinton, that was a bit of a problem. He's got a lot of name recognition. People know him. And if you loved Barack Obama and you hear Joe Biden talk about carrying on the legacy of Barack Obama, then you're going to like that.

On the other hand, if you know him pretty well, you're also going to remember his gaffes, you're also going to remember those races that he didn't win, and you're going to wonder whether he can beat Donald Trump. And of course, that's what every Democrat in the end is going to look for, somebody who can beat the President.

COOPER: And Kirsten, just in terms of the lane Biden will be in, David was referencing that, who do you think he would be competing most directly with or who would compete with him most directly?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think that he is kind of -- you know, he's definitely the big dog in that lane. I don't see anybody who's really on the same level as he is in terms of having the sort of working-class connection, you know, where I think that he has a history of that, and I think that that's something that does make him sort of unique, and I think that's why a lot of people look at him and think that he could be formidable.

But he does, as Gloria just said, come with, you know, his gaffs and he comes with baggage and is somewhat out of step or -- I guess the question is, is he out of step with the Democratic Party today? How is he going to handle the areas that that people are going to want to relitigate, that they're going to want to talk about the crime bill.

They're, you know, probably going to want to go back and talk about Anita Hill. How is he going to handle these different issues? And I think that that's going to be his biggest problem.

COOPER: Also, I mean, David, if he couldn't beat candidates in the past -- I mean, he's done this now twice before -- he's now going to be, if he becomes the candidate, he's going to be up against a candidate, President Trump, unlike any. And nobody so far has seemed to figure out how do you campaign against Donald Trump.

AXELROD: Yes. I mean the interesting thing is the Trump people and Republicans will tell you that he is the guy they fear the most. And they fear him because he has a reach into those white older working- class voters who are part of the Trump base, particularly in the upper Midwest.

And remember, Trump has to win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan again. There really isn't another state where he's likely to pick up electoral votes, so he has to pull the same inside strait.

Biden has a lock on that, but the paradox is the very qualities that cause Biden to be an appealing candidate to those particular voters may make him a little bit, as Kirsten was saying, out of step with the contemporary Democratic Party. So the question isn't whether he'd be competitive against Trump so much as will he be competitive in this Democratic Party?

COOPER: Gloria, when you think about the town hall last night, and you know -- I mean, to me it was fascinating to see five candidates, you know, back to back, one after the other. And A, you got to kind of compare them easily to each other which was very striking. But just looking at the five from last night, is Biden out of step with where the five were last night?

BORGER: Well, he's out of step with Elizabeth Warren, for example. I think he's out of step with Bernie Sanders. I think he and Amy Klobuchar could come to terms on a lot of things since she portrays herself as more of a moderate candidate in the race.

I mean, you know, don't forget, Biden is somebody who's always prided himself on working across the aisle. That's not what a lot of liberal Democrats say they want. They don't want anyone to work across the aisle.

They want somebody -- some of these folks want somebody who will support impeaching the President, and that will be an interesting question that's going to be asked to Joe Biden, I would think, on day one.

And he's also older than a lot of these younger voters that we saw last night at the town halls you were doing, Anderson, and how will he appeal to young voters. Well, they just say, you know, he's not part of the new generation, we want somebody who speaks more to us?

AXELROD: Although what's interesting is Bernie Sanders is older than Joe Biden --

BORGER: Sure.

AXELROD: -- and his base is among the young.

BORGER: Yes.

AXELROD: Last night, one of the most interesting moments to me was when Elizabeth Warren talked about her 10-year battle against a bankruptcy bill that favored the credit card companies.

BORGER: Yes.

AXELROD: And she said half the Democrats were on the wrong side of this. And what she left unspoken was that the chief proponent on the Democratic side for that bill was Joe Biden, who represents Delaware, which is home to a lot of the credit card companies.

So, once he becomes a candidate, these issues now will become live issues. He's no longer going to have the status that he had when he was an elder or a senior statesman. He's going to be on the field and he's going to be fair game.

COOPER: And Kirsten, you know, I keep thinking about the fact that in 2016, at this point in the race, President Trump had not even announced his candidacy yet.

POWER: Yeas, right, right. So, I think that we obviously can get ahead of ourselves in trying to figure out what's going to happen because it's, you know, it's almost impossible to predict.

[20:45:11] And I think that it's becoming less and less possible to predict, because the parties have become so much more volatile and unpredictable. And I think that if you look at the Democratic Party right now, what they remind me a lot of is what the Republican Party used to -- when we started watching them sort of moving with the Tea Party and, you know, they're not perfect parallels, but you have a lot of this anger coming up. You know, what David was just talking about, talking about what Elizabeth Warren said about the credit card companies where the Democratic Party is going to be held accountable for a lot of things that they've done, you know, over the last many decades, and that's what is so perilous for Biden, is that he really is a stand-in for all of those things that were done since he has been there the entire time.

COOPER: Kirsten, thank you. David and Gloria as well, thanks.

BORGER: Sure.

COOPER: Well, the President has now spoken out on tonight's breaking news. This is new. Coming up next, what he told "The Washington Post" about current and former aides talking to Congress about the Mueller report.

[20:50:22] COOPER: Late (ph) report in "The Washington Post" on tonight's breaking news, the President's resistance to former White House Counsel Don McGahn talking to Congress about the Mueller report.

Mr. Trump just gave an interview to "The Post" about it, "Trump said that complying with congressional requests unnecessary after the White House cooperated with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III's probe of Russian interference and the President's own conduct in office."

"The Post" quoting the President saying that, "There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it's very partisan, obviously very partisan." "The Post" Josh Dawsey shares the byline. He joined us now by phone. So, Josh, at first glance, it's pretty remarkable. What more did the president say?

JOSH DAWSEY, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER (on the phone): The President wanted to make clear, Anderson, that he was deeply resistant to his current and former aides cooperating more with Judiciary Committee, House Oversight Committees in their probes of the White House.

He wanted to also make clear that his lawyers were planning to fight extensively against that cooperation and that they should not hopes they have worked for him or do worked for him, you know, should not worry about complying with the subpoenas that have been produced by the House.

What we're going to see is kind of a constitutional showdown here in which Nadler or Jerry Nadler, the chair of the Judiciary Committee or Elijah Cummings, the chair of the Oversight Committee, unless someone backs down, you're just going to see a continued escalation here.

COOPER: So, is the President planning to exert executive -- or try to exert executive -- claim executive privilege, because they already waved that for the Mueller team?

DAWSEY: Right, that's correct. And the Democrats on the (INAUDIBLE) have astutely pointed out that they've already waved that for the Mueller team. The White House has been pending that so they can still exert privilege further, that they always have a right to exert privilege. I think it's a time by time situation. Anderson, I think the court, they're going to have to make a judgment on that. I don't think we know which way that will show up yet.

COOPER: Did the President 100 percent say that they're not going to -- they're going to try to stop Don McGahn from testifying or does he leave himself some wiggle room like he often does?

DAWSEY: The President -- folks around the President today made clear to us that he did not plan to let Don McGahn testify. And they're pointing to pass that message going to Bill Burke, the President's -- Bill Burke, Don McGahn's lawyer.

The President himself said he was very strongly considering it that Congress was very partisan and he did not want his aides to participate in that. But he was maybe 10 percent a wiggle room, but other than the White House, Anderson, told us that there's no plan to Don McGahn or frankly maybe other former or current aides, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Rob Porter. Any of the folks who testified to Mueller, they're not planning the talk to Jerry Nadler.

COOPER: Is this -- I mean, obviously the President believes it's partisan. It's an understandable argument that -- I mean, plenty of people can make. But is it also the President just doesn't want to see Don McGahn on television repeating what he told Robert Mueller, because he's a creature of television and believes that will have power?

DAWSEY: Well, the President has fixated his frustration since Thursday, Anderson, on Don McGahn and the fact that he just had security hours and handed over such vivid accounts that were damning (ph) in the eyes of many of the White House.

And it's certainly clear from doing reporting on the White House over the past couple of days that the President would not want to see him on T.V. doing that publicly. It's one thing to read about something in an extent of 448-page report.

It's a bit different to see it live on television for many hours. Imagine Don McGahn testimony compared to Michael Cohen's saga all over again and how the President and the White House reacted to that.

COOPER: I'm curious, did you find the President -- I mean, what kind of a move did you find him?

DAWSEY: Well, to be clear, Anderson, my colleague, Bob Costa, talked to him today on the phone.

COOPER: OK.

DAWSEY: And he's been (INAUDIBLE). He wanted to make clear he called about a different story, but also wanted to talk about this. And the President wants it known far and wide that he does not plan to give into these congressional inquiries.

In previous White Houses, they kind of spell (ph) oversight and maybe if a grudging part of a job they didn't like, maybe some they really hated, but there were some cooperation. This White House is not putting cooperate really at all. Most of the committee just told us, again, zero documents. The chairman are getting very little responses to their letters. This is a White House through their agencies who say maybe they ask you for whether it has --

COOPER: Yes.

DAWSEY: -- we're going to handle it. The President made it pretty clear he does not want compliance with this oversight from the Hill.

COOPER: Yes. Josh Dawsey, thanks very much. Appreciate it. I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So we have the former A.G. Mike Mukasey here. What does he see about executive privilege versus just not listening to his subpoena and the jeopardy it puts these men and potentially women in and also his take on A.G. Barr?

[20:55:07] He knows him well. He worked with him. He knows the man so we will test what he sees in the actions of the A.G. so far.

And thanks to you and the funny looking guy last night. We got a lot out of these Democratic candidates, so what we did was we put in some of the big shots from the recent and later past. We got Begala, Pfeffer and Symone Sanders. Now, they put together big machines. What did they see on that stage last night? Who do they think did best?

COOPER: Interesting. All right, Chris, I look forward to that. That's about four minutes from now. I'll see you then.

Take a look at this 2016 poster for a Trump campaign rally in Philadelphia. It's a coal miner caped in grime and dust after a hard day at worked. It is labeled, "Miners for Trump." Coming up, the real story of the man in that poster and the secret organization that was actually behind this so-called group "Miners for Trump."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As you heard at the start of the program, President Trump son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is poopooing (ph) Russia's interference to 2016 election saying the fact it amounted to "couple of Facebook ads." In fact, the Mueller report details Russian interference that was much more systematic.

And the report says that interference included this poster for a campaign rally in Philadelphia, a rally called "Miners for Trump." Well, in reality, the poster was created by Russian trolls. The man whose grimy black in face is featured in the poster died back in 1987 with complications from black lung disease. His name was Lee Hipshire.

Tomorrow, you're going to meet the man's son to whom the image and it's inclusion in the report were a complete shock. I hope you watch. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris? CUOMO: Thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Prime Time."