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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
FBI Director Contradicts President And Attorney General Refusing To Say There Was "Spying" On Trump Campaign; Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler Threatens To Hold Barr And McGahn In Contempt; Vote On Barr Expected Tomorrow; Secretary Of State Pompeo Makes Surprise Visit To Iraq Amid U.S. Tensions With Iran. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 7, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:18] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We begin tonight with breaking news. While President Trump and his treasury secretary refuse to hand over the president's tax records to House Democrats, "The New York Times" has obtained a decades worth of his tax information and they're findings are eye-popping, stunning. There's a lot of different adjectives we can use. We'll talk to one of the reporters coming up.
All of this coming as the stiff-arming from the White House hit a new level, today blocking former White House counsel Don McGahn from turning over documents to the House Judiciary Committee. That comes, of course, a day after Attorney General William Barr refused to meet a deadline to hand over the full, unredacted Mueller report to Congress. The same day that, as we mentioned, the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said no to turning over the president's taxes.
And at least that incident, tonight, we're getting the clearest picture yet of why the president might not want that information out. It doesn't look good for him in that information.
Joining me is Susanne Craig of "The New York Times." She shares the byline of this breaking story, "Decade in the Red: Trump Tax Figures Show Over $1 Billion in Business Losses."
This is incredible in its scope and detail. Can you just lay out in your reporting and again it is on the "New York Times," so people should go and read the full thing. But we're talking over a billion dollars over a decade.
SUSANNE CRAIG, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That is just for his core businesses. Every year that we looked at, he lost money, and the losses grew as he went further into the casinos and the losses that happened there. But it is unbelievable.
We would have thought at least in one of the years that we saw, maybe the year he wrote "Art of the Deal", he would have made money, he didn't. He was just bleeding money every year that we looked at his businesses.
COOPER: And certainly years Donald Trump, according to your reporting, lost more than nearly any other individual taxpayer in the United States, is that right?
CRAIG: Yes. It's incredible because we had both tax information and we were able to compare it to a data base of people who make a fair bit of money, and that was a one-third sampling but even within that, he was often the largest number for losses in America.
COOPER: So, I mean, the irony is --
CRAIG: It is stunning.
COOPER: -- he was actually the biggest loser to use a term he would use if this was -- if he was labeling somebody else.
CRAIG: If he was writing the headline at "The New York times," that would be it.
COOPER: This is true. But he lost so much money he was -- did he pay income tax?
CRAIG: He paid income tax in two of the ten years. One of them --
COOPER: In only two of ten years.
CRAIG: And it was the ultimate minimum tax in one of the years, which is just why. One was he had a big salary number because of a deal he did with Merv Griffin and so he paid the AMT. It wasn't a lot but only two of the ten years.
COOPER: So he only paid a small amount.
CRAIG: A very small amount. He hit the AMT two years.
COOPER: So why was he losing so much money?
CRAIG: Because his businesses just weren't doing well. They actually were doing horribly year in and year out. And he had some decent investments. You know, we saw them here and there. But always they were just -- the losses just flooded them. He would make money here but then he would lose money.
He had a foray into stock trading for example and there was years he would make money and then just lost it all the next year.
COOPER: It is incredible that banks were loaning him -- I mean, it was banks that -- I guess they were keeping him afloat. Deutsche Bank we know he would default on loans to one part of deutsche bank and those bankers would say, OK, we won't have any more to do with him and he would go to another department --
CRAIG: Yes, later in his career, he did. And he ended up dealing with the private wealth group but the banks took a bath on him. And for the banks when you look back at the period, a lot of them remember how bad it was and some of them still will not do business with him because of what happened.
It all kind of came to a head in 1990 when his casino started to go bankrupt. But for years, we thought that was sort of where it started. But now we know he just never made money in those years. And it is shocking for us to see and we led with it, the year he wrote "Art of the Deal", this master of the universe memoir.
COOPER: Which is written by somebody else.
CRAIG: By somebody else, but yes. But he -- that year, he lost tens of millions of dollars.
COOPER: It is incredible. Has there any response from the president on this reporting?
CRAIG: They have -- the information that we have is from an IRS transcript and they are simply saying that the -- the numbers in it, they are saying they are wrong but they have not provided us any information about what is wrong and they said the transcript is questionable.
COOPER: So explain that, because you do not have a copy of his tax returns.
CRAIG: We don't.
COOPER: Which is what the fight is with the Treasury Department. You have print outs from an official IRS tax transcript. What is that?
CRAIG: It is within the IRS that they use when they want to collect year after year of information on a taxpayer.
[20:05:04] IRS employees use it when they are doing -- when they're dealing with things like audits and, in fact, we looked at it and not only had, we verified it and the individual who had it gave it us also give us ten years of his father's tax returns and we have because of prior reporting that we've done and it matched it. Matched it number for number. It was unbelievable.
So, we didn't find any inaccuracies in it. We also did other things to verify it. But we just couldn't -- we couldn't see that there wasn't any inaccuracies and we went to great lengths to verify it including getting Fred Trump's tax returns.
COOPER: So, what is this -- for the battle over tax returns, is there more in the actual tax returns that you would like to see?
CRAIG: Yes. I mean, this was -- it is incredible what we were able to see with the information that we were provided but we don't have the schedules and one of the frustrating things that we saw for example in one of the years he had more than $50 million in what is known as interest income and this is income if you have mortgages or if you have bonds coming in, you'll be getting interest from those.
And every year, he had 10 or 13 or less million dollars and then one year he had $50-some million, we couldn't explain it. And we had actually in that year access to a lot of, you know, his holdings, to see what might be generating that sort of interest income and if we had his schedules, we would know what the sources of that income were and to me when I think about the modern day tax returns and why they are so important, it is because we need to see his sources of income. We know to know who is paying him and where that money is coming from and right now, we just don't know where that hidden hand is because we don't have his tax returns or the schedules that go with them.
COOPER: It is incredible reporting. Susanne Craig, appreciate it. It's on the "New York Times" website, obviously, people should check it out. Thank you very much.
I want to get reaction now from Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator Blumenthal, I assume you've seen the report. These -- it certainly paints a picture of President Trump that is much different than certainly the picture that he has painted of his business acumen.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMETHAL (D-CT): Biggest loser is certainly a contrast to his boasts about his business acumen. But very significantly, this report raises many more significant questions than this wonderful reporting was able to answer. And it sheds light on why President Trump may be the first president in decades to refuse to disclose his tax returns. It also demonstrates irrefutably why the Congress is well-justified in seeking those tax returns as has been done now by subpoena.
And the American people should be asking, what is in those six years of current tax returns that Donald Trump wants to conceal?
COOPER: I mean, a decade in the red with $1 billion in losses is extraordinary. And this time period in the reporting, it is not at the center of the battle between the Trump administration and Congress, but certainly, all of this underscores the fact that there is so much that just isn't known still about the president's finances.
BLUMENTHAL: There is so much that is unknown here. And it underscores the importance of the lawsuit that I have brought along with almost 200 of my colleagues, Blumenthal versus Trump, that seeks the story and evidence of his payments and benefits from foreign governments to him which he continues to refuse to disclose to the American people or to Congress as is required by the Emoluments Clause, the chief anti-corruption provision in the United States Constitution.
Donald Trump is defying the Constitution, breaking the law by failing to disclose those details of his ongoing dealings with foreign governments. And so, it is a stunning picture of spectacular collapse during those years which is the term the report uses. But it also indicates very clearly why the American people deserve more truth from the White House, from this president about his business dealings.
COOPER: I want to ask you about the White House clearly continuing to stonewall the latest example obstructing Don McGahn to defy the subpoena for documents. So, I mean, what are the Democrats options at this point other than House Judiciary Chairman Nadler saying they could move to hold McGahn in contempt? BLUMENTHAL: Holding Don McGahn in contempt means holding the
president accountable, along with others who may have participated in obstruction of justice. And that accountability means airing the truth.
Right now, the American people have many of the president's acolytes and sycophants saying, no collusion, no obstruction and case closed. But holding Don McGahn in contempt of court and enforcing that contempt through the courts is the prime avenue we have for telling the American people the truth about what happened, letting them hear and see from McGahn and from Mueller and from the unredacted report which we are also seeking, so they could make a judgment about what the proper remedy is and we can present that case.
[20:10:18] COOPER: Chairman Nadler also said that the contempt vote for Attorney General Barr that is scheduled for tomorrow, will Democrats achieve anything, though, by holding him in contempt? I mean, does Barr by extension, does the president even care?
BLUMENTHAL: Holding the attorney general in contempt of court is a very powerful marker and a message about this attorney general's contempt for the rule of law. From day one, he has distorted and warped this report beginning with his four-page summary and then his statement at the time of the release of the report and his press conference and again when he testified before us at the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In fact, I've written to the inspector general of the Department of Justice because of some of his comments about sharing information, which he couldn't recall precisely, with the White House. But he did recall that he may have given them the names of some cases. That may be highly inappropriate and we have recourse through the inspector general of the Department of Justice as well as through the courts to seek the truth from the attorney general who is acting as the president's defense counsel, not as the people's lawyer.
COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, I appreciate your time.
Joining me right now is CNN senior political analyst David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama.
First of all, just your reaction to this "New York Times" reporting.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a couple of things.
One is, you know, Donald Trump build this mythology about who he was, the uber business man, the ultimate success. This is sort of explodes that myth as you pointed out. He was the biggest loser among all taxpayers in the country. Perhaps that is what he should have named his reality show instead of "The Apprentice", over those 14 years in "The Apprentice", you got a much different view.
But the more important and more relevant thing is it shows just how vulnerable he was and how he might have continues to be, which goes to the question of whether he -- whether his dealings made him a mark for, for example, the Russians. And that is a big question. I mean, we know that Deutsche Bank is the only lender that would lend him money. They are notorious for their dealings with the Russians and for money laundering issues.
This is, I think, the legitimate reason why the Congress wants his tax returns to try and run some of these concerns to ground.
COOPER: Just in terms of stonewalling from the White House, how effective can that be? I mean, you've worked in the White House.
AXELROD: Well, it could be effective for some time as it works its way through the courts. And remember, you know, particularly on contempt citations, the Justice Department has to act on those. They're not going to. And, you know, I think the president feels emboldened.
They have a strategy and that strategy is to label all of this as politics and they're going to resist and resist as long as they can. Perhaps try and push it further down the field.
But among his supporters, I think the feeling is this is just Democrats going after him for political reasons and not legitimate oversight as prescribed by the Constitution.
COOPER: Right, I mean, his approval rating is at like 46 percent right now and the latest Gallup --
AXELROD: Which isn't high but for him, it's a record.
COOPER: Right, and certainly, and the economy is doing well.
AXELROD: Right. One of the reasons why his approval rating has risen.
COOPER: Do you think the more that the administration stonewalls, the more congressional Democrats issue subpoenas and this back and forth continues, it only gins up the president's base.
AXELROD: I think it does, but it also -- it waters down the impact of these probes. There is -- you just need to read the Mueller report to know that there are very serious questions here and the more that they get dismissed as politics --
COOPER: Right, majority of people have not read the Mueller report.
AXELROD: Right. And they haven't heard from Mueller. So, you know, what the majority leader did today, Mitch McConnell, was part and parcel of the president's strategy which is to say it is done, nothing to see here, move along. And I think that is how they've going to approach all of this going --
COOPER: So, what do Democrats do at this point in terms of what the -- with the upcoming election?
AXELROD: It is a tough question, Anderson, because we know that the public wants them to focus on the real problems facing people in their lives. But they also have a constitutional obligation to provide oversight. There are some serious allegations about what the president and others did.
So, they constantly have to weigh those two. Obviously, Speaker Pelosi comes to the conclusion that certainly impeachment is not a politically positive thing to be done.
[20:15:06] And she has -- and beyond the politics of Democratic Party, it is not good for the country in her view to be so deeply divided as impeachment would do, with no Republicans being supportive. But I think that they have to pursue some of these probes, otherwise, you're so defining the standards down that future presidents are going to also feel that they could operate with impunity.
COOPER: David Axelrod, good to have you. Thanks, David.
A lot more to get to tonight, including information that we're just getting about another school shooting. This one is not far from Denver. We'll have the very latest.
And also later, what the FBI director said before Congress that wasn't exactly in line with what the attorney general had said. It centers around a very keyword. We're keeping them honest, ahead.
[20:20:01] COOPER: We got breaking news from Colorado. Another school shooting, this time at a science school not far from Denver.
CNN's Nick Watt joins us now.
Nick, what is the latest on this?
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the headline, Anderson, is that eight students shot by two of their fellow students on campus in the middle of a regular school day, Tuesday lunchtime. And according to the local sheriff, he said this could have been a lot worse.
Luckily, there is a sheriff substation just a block away from the school. Authorities from the school called in pretty quick, within two minutes, deputies were on the scene and they could hear gunshots ringing out as they enter the campus, they engaged with the shooters and we're told when they arrived there was a struggle between people from the school, unclear who they were, and these two suspects who had shot their fellow students at two different locations on campus.
Now, the tragic irony here is that the Columbine shooting just over 20 years ago just seven or eight miles away from here. And one of the criticisms after that was that law enforcement didn't react quick enough. Back then, law enforcement would set up a perimeter around the school.
Now, they go in and engage the shooter and that is what happened here and as I say, the sheriff saying that that speed of response, he thinks, saved some lives. Those two shooters are now in custody and described as adults, one is an adult -- I'm sorry, one is a juvenile, males both students of the school.
Warrants are now being worked on to search a car that they left on the property and also their two homes, and the sheriff kind of tight- lipped on the details. They said, listen, there will be criminal prosecution, there will be criminal charges here, so I'm not giving too much away.
But initially reports were there was perhaps a third shooter. They say that was not the case. It was just an abundance of caution to go through the schoolroom by room to make sure there wasn't a third shooter and to make sure those two were in custody.
COOPER: Let me ask you, you said one was an adult and one was a kid. By adult you mean over the age of 18? Because you said they both went to the school. So an adult who had already graduated?
WATT: Well, I'm assuming what you just said. I mean, the sheriff said they were both at the school, one is a juvenile and one is an adult. So I'm assuming one of them has just turned 18. So, yes. That is where we are. Both of them in custody.
COOPER: All right. And the wounded, do we know how they are doing?
WATT: Yes. So, eight wounded, Anderson, three have already been discharged from the hospital and another three listed in good or stable condition. And another two are still listed in serious condition. We were told by the sheriff that four were serious and going into surgery a couple of hours ago and that is down to two so moving in the right direction. Eight injured, three released and two still serious -- Anderson.
COOPER: Nick Watt, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
Joining me now is author Dave Cullen who's written both about the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida and the Columbine shooting that Nick just referenced.
The idea of two shooters potentially involved often times there is reports of two shooters early on and it is just eyewitnesses seeing the same person in multiple locations. But if there are, in fact, two shooters, that is quite rare other than Columbine.
DAVE CULLEN, AUTHOR, "PARKLAND": Yes, it's pretty rare. In fact, the FBI calls it a die-ad (ph). It is a whole phenomenon of the snipers of D.C. and I just remembered on during the break at Halifax, it was foiled. It was a young woman from Chicago who flew there and there were three people involved, it was mainly the two. But they were --
COOPER: So, it happened but it is rare.
CULLEN: Exactly. Exactly. And there is a leader and a follower. It is a specific psychology going on there.
COOPER: And according to the sheriff's office, one of the suspects is a juvenile, and one is adult. Again, we don't know what that means. It could be -- CULLEN: I thought it was a middle school. So, that's weird.
COOPER: So I think it goes up to 12th, I should double check on.
But in terms of like the police response, as Nick was saying, it all has changed since columbine and most of the fatalities in school shootings or the violence goes on in the first six minutes. So police response time is critical.
CULLEN: It's fantastic. It's complete change. And because of Columbine, the active-shooter protocol and oddly and sadly the perpetrators follow this and knew they have to maximize their firepower very quickly and get it up. But, yes, it has -- that is why they commit suicide too.
COOPER: A lot of times, these shooters have studied other attacks.
CULLEN: Yes. Almost always, and specifically they tend to study the Columbine killers.
I just found a graphic this week that shows more than 40 of them have actually documented in their writings studying Eric and Dylan from Columbine, and so many of those studying each other. There is a whole web of them.
But it generally traces back to those two who -- the perpetrators see those two as the founding fathers of this movement.
COOPER: So, crazy to think about it in those terms.
[20:25:03] CULLEN: Pre-Parkland, I was blocking about 50 a week. There are these kids online, the whole group of them called the TCC for True Crime Community that idolize them or pretend to be cool with each other.
So, by the way, I say before Parkland, after every shooting, it stops cold. Like they just -- I wake up to 10, 20, 30 of these a day but they stop when it happens for a about a week and then they pick up.
Parkland, they never came back. Until about the last month or two, they started to gradually slowly. I kind of wonder if it is Emma Gonzalez and people like that -- who became more cool than being cool by being so edgy that I'm a rebel. I think they just made it less cool to be these kids.
So I see it mostly by them waking up and just like all of these horrible things said to me and that is my data point.
COOPER: But the fact there is this idolization of the people and it emphasizes my belief that you shouldn't name these people and focus on them.
CULLEN: We're exporting it. The ones in Siberia and where they don't have news shows like this, it is really scary to me.
COOPER: Dave Cullen, appreciate it. Thank you very much. Did the FBI spy on President Trump's campaign? Tonight, a new twist
in that tale. We keep them honest, next.
[20:30:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A new voice is weighing in on the ongoing debate over the term spying first ignited by President Trump early in his term and more recently doused with gasoline by Attorney General Barr.
As you'll recall on multiple occasions, the President has accused the FBI and even President Obama himself of spying on his 2016 campaign. Here's what he told reporters on April 11th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was absolutely spying into my campaign. I'll go a step further, in my opinion it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.
And I think his answer was actually a very accurate one and a lot of people saw that -- a lot of people understand, many, many people understand the situation and want to be open to that situation. Hard to believe it could have happened, but it did. They were spying in my campaign and his answer was a very accurate one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The accurate answer he's referring to is Attorney General Barr's. One day earlier, Barr seemed to align himself squarely with the President's conspiracy theory with this testimony before a Senate panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think there was a -- spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, then last week when he was on wall to wall national television in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Barr expressed exasperation that anybody would take exception to his use of the word spying, saying it's a "good English word and isn't necessarily a pejorative."
"Keeping them Honest," today, FBI Director Christopher Wray appointed by President Trump after the firing of James Comey distanced himself from the President and the attorney general use of the word and even took it a step further.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): I want to ask you, and I'd appreciate a yes or no answer if possible. When FBI agents conduct investigations against alleged mobsters, suspected terrorists, other criminals, do you believe that they're engaging in spying when they are following FBI investigative policies and procedures?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Well, that's not the term I would use.
SHAHEEN: Thank you. So, I would -- I would say that's a no to that question. Do you have any evidence that any illegal surveillance into the campaigns or individuals associated with the campaigns by the FBI occurred?
WRAY: I don't think I personally have any evidence of that sort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, joining us now is Michael Isikoff who is a Chief Investigative Correspondent at Yahoo News and Garrett Graff, a CNN Contributor and author of "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror."
Garrett, do you see this as an act of, I mean, defiance by Director Wray to push back about how the President and attorney general using the word spying or just answering it as he sees it?
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's him calling it as he sees it. And I think it's important to understand and sort of look at the historical record that it's really Attorney General Barr's comments that these court-ordered surveillance programs that have come about and been developed over decades since Watergate with very close oversight that it's his comments labeling them sparring that is the aberration and not Christopher Wray's defense of them as normal investigative procedures and surveillance programs.
COOPER: Michael, how do you see this? Because like Attorney General Barr, Director Wray emphasize that the real issue is whether the law was followed. Again, Wray said he's not personally seen any evidence of any illegal surveillance occurred.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Right. Well, look, first of all, Barr did say right after he said he did think spying was occurred that the question is, was there an adequate predicate for the spying.
Now, FBI Director Wray is absolutely right that it's not usually the term -- spying is not usually the way law enforcement officials would describe the standard surveillance they do in investigations, including undercover in surveillance which involves using informants, you know, to approach targets and try to get them to say something incriminating or find out what they know.
But beyond all of this, you know, the semantic disputes, spying or surveillance, there is a serious issue underlying in this and that's the inspector general report that's, you know, underway and maybe out very soon and I think the stakes on that are really high.
COOPER: In what way? ISIKOFF: This is -- well, Michael Horowitz, first of all, the inspector general, is the one guy in all of this who will have credibility. He's an Obama appointee. He's independent. Nobody has ever suggested he's a political animal.
But the issue he's looking at is was -- did the FBI use appropriate procedures when they got the FISA warrant on Carter Page and when they began the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign? That's something that's that investigation has been going on for a year.
[20:35:01] There's a lot of questions about the role that the Steele dossier played, what did the FBI know about it's credibility when they used it to the court. And, you know, this is key to the narrative on both sides.
If the I.G. finds there were problems in the way the FBI handled it, that's going to play right into the President's hands. If they finds there was not, that's going to shoot down the main narrative that the President's defenders have been using.
So, I think we should wait for that I.G. report. I think it's going to be crucial to how we look at this whole set of circumstance.
COOPER: Although, Garrett, you can already hear, you know, the President and his supporters saying, well, this was a deep state actor, this was, you know, an Obama appointee is the attorney -- you know, the I.G.
GRAFF: Absolutely. And I think one of the things, and Michael touched on this just now, that's important to understand is that this really did start as a counterintelligence investigation, not into the Trump campaign, but of the contacts around the Trump campaign.
And when you look at the core of the FBI's national security mission in the realm of counterintelligence, to counter foreign operations, foreign influence in the United States, it's important to remember and understand that the FBI began this investigation as a defense of the Trump campaign, not as an attempt to investigate or find dirt on the Trump campaign.
They saw suspicious activity taking place around the Trump campaign and stepped in initially as an attempt to defend President Trump's campaign and those around him from these foreign activities. It was sort of only with the donning horror that they realized that actually the Trump campaign was open for business with the Russians.
COOPER: Yes. Michael?
ISIKOFF: I have to take a little issue with Garrett's description there. If you read the Peter Strzok text with Lisa Page, it's hard to imagine that those two key FBI officials were trying to defend the Trump campaign.
But that said, Garrett is absolutely right. You know, the FBI had legitimate reasons to really be concerned about Russian approaches to the Trump campaign and to figure out what was going on. The question is, did they follow the right procedures in how they went about that, and that's what Horowitz is focusing on.
And by the way, Anderson, you'll have a good chance to press the FBI director -- then-FBI Director Comey tomorrow night on these very issues because he's been quite vague about how much he knew about the counterintelligence investigations when it began. So, you know, have at it.
COOPER: Well, it will be Thursday night, but I've got two nights to prepare even better.
COOPER: Michael Isikoff, thank you, Garrett Graff as well.
Up next, more on our breaking news from Capitol Hill. Democrats threaten to hold former White House Counsel Don McGahn and Attorney General William Barr in contempt for not testifying. I'll talk it over with Jeffrey Toobin and John Dean who did testify at the Watergate committee when he was no longer Nixon's white house counsel.
[20:41:38] COOPER: There's more breaking news. CNN has learned that House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told Democratic leaders tonight that he is prepared to move forward with a contempt of Congress vote for Attorney General William Barr unless the Department of Justice agree to his latest set of demands.
Chairman Nadler also sent a letter to former White House Counsel Don McGahn threatening to do the same for him if he doesn't appear before the committee. Earlier today, we learned the White House told McGahn not to comply with a subpoena for certain documents.
Now, one of the key questions the Judiciary Committee wants answered is, did President Trump obstruct justice. More than 700 former federal prosecutors from both Democratic and Republican administration say yes. They've signed an open letter saying the President would have been charged with obstruction of justice if he wasn't the president.
Joining us now, John Dean, who not only work for a president under congressional investigation, he cooperated with Congress while still in the White House. Also with us is former federal prosecutor and CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
How strong, Jeff, is the White House argument to push back about them actually testifying?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think their argument is very weak, as a substantive matter. But as a practical matter, their ability to delay this testimony, perhaps into oblivion for so long that it becomes essentially irrelevant or, you know, swallowed up by the campaign. I think that could easily happen.
COOPER: Delay it because it moves through multiple courts?
TOOBIN: Right. And even getting contempt, you know, it's not just the committee that has to vote on contempt, it's the full House of Representatives and then there has to be some sort of legal proceeding that begins the process in the District Court, then the Circuit Court, and then perhaps the Supreme Court.
None of that works very fast, even if the merits of the argument are pretty strong and pretty clear, which I think they are here given the fact that McGahn turned over these documents to Congress.
I think there's a clear waiver to Mueller and I think there's a clear waiver there. I think that the Barr issue is actually a little closer in terms of getting access to the full Mueller report.
COOPER: John, I mean, you are no longer White House counsel when you testified to the Senate Watergate Committee. Did the White House tried to stop you. I mean, if you were able to testify why couldn't Don McGahn?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I was actually called to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee during Pat Gray's confirmation to become the director of the FBI. He was the acting director at the time.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held him in hostage unless I agreed to come up and testify and I was perfectly willing to go, but the president said absolutely not. There are two privileges involved, the executive privilege and attorney/client, so I knew he is thinking on this pretty well.
But I -- that was not in -- that was very much in my mind when I totally broke rank with the White House and I realized there's no way, unless they go to court, and get a court order, can they stop me testifying.
And then you raise the issue of whether there is an exception because of the so-called crime fraud exemption. In other words, if we were discussing criminal matters which I believe we were, you know, that would not give any privilege at all.
So, I don't think any president wants to raise that. I think that comes right around into the McGahn situation.
[20:45:00] TOOBIN: But what's so different about the McGahn situation is at least as far as we can tell, especially given what happened today, McGahn basically turned the whole thing over to the White House.
He does not appear enthusiastic to testify. John Dean wanted to testify and as he said sort of dared Richard Nixon to stop him. McGahn seems determined not to testify if President Trump doesn't want him to testify.
COOPER: What about Mueller? I mean, what's the likelihood of -- he still works for the Department of Justice. TOOBIN: Correct. Mueller is a somewhat different story. First of all, Barr has said he has no objection to Mueller testifying. Mueller presumably wants to testify. And it's just a matter of him leaving the Department of Justice, which he's going to do any way for him not to be a subject to Barr. So, I think he is -- that the Judiciary Committee is much more likely to get Mueller's testimony than they are to get anyone in the control of the White House.
COOPER: John, what's the argument for why executive privilege wasn't waived when the President allowed McGahn to testify about these very topics to Mueller and not only that the findings are public.
DEAN: Well, the argument was that his lawyers gave consent. McGahn apparently did want them to raise executive privilege and had some argument with Ty Cobb who released him and said, go over and cooperate, which he did in spades.
Now the interesting thing, Anderson, there's a way to get his testimony or the facts he relayed to the special counsel. If you look at the report closely, they're all done in 302 reports. There are five of them running right up to February of this year.
So, you have two agents probably making contemporaneous notes. You had an attorney there who is probably asking questions, just subpoena them, bring them in front of the committee and get McGahn's testimony without McGahn.
TOOBIN: I mean, that's theoretically true but they are also trying to show the public what went on here. And, you know --
DEAN: That would do it.
TOOBIN: -- they want John Dean, they don't want the person taking notes on John Dean.
COOPER: All right. John Dean, thank you, Jeff Toobin as well. Appreciate it.
A busy night for breaking news for quite a while. Today, nobody actually knew where the American secretary of state had traveled. Coming up, some answers.
[20:51:12] COOPER: There's breaking news. We now know where in the world Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is. CNN has confirmed that he was in Iraq earlier today, in essence departed according to pull reporters traveling with Secretary Pompeo. He met with the Iraqi prime minister and Iraq's president in Baghdad.
Secretary Pompeo made the surprise visit after he abruptly cancelled the scheduled trip to Germany. He was supposed to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel but called it off due to what were called pressing issues. White House didn't explain what the pressing issues were. Joining us now is CNN Global Affairs Analyst Max Boot. Max is also the author of "The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam." I mean, the way this trip played out is somewhat unusual. You don't just sort of blow off a trip to a major ally like Germany.
MAX BOOT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, it's very (INAUDIBLE) and they don't normally announce trips to a place like Iraq because of the security concerns, but they also don't normally schedule a visit with the German chancellor and then blow her off to go to Iraq. So, I think we're still waiting to find out what exactly going on here.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, you read kind of between the lines. Pompeo on the plane after leaving said that he was talking with officials there about "increased threat stream, the possibility of interference or attacks from another country," which I assumed would mean Iran, but also possibly American targets inside Iraq.
BOOT: Yes. I think it's really the Iranian crisis which is ramping up. And, you know, on Sunday night, John Bolton announced that USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group was moving to the Persian Gulf because of a threat stream emanating from Iran and the administration has been linking that there are threats of Iranian attacks and U.S. forces.
It's not clear whether those are U.S. forces inside Iraq. We have about 5,000 troops there. But whether its U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf itself where we have obviously enable presence.
But either way, I mean, this is a very dangerous situation where there's a sense that the administration and in particular John Bolton who has often talked about his desire for regime change, his desire to bomb Iran, there's a sense that they're ramping up these tensions with Iran having abrogated the Iranian nuclear core and now ramping up sanctions, designating the Iranian revolutionary guard core as a terrorist organization.
And my concern is, you know, are they trying to provoke a reaction from Iran that could be an excuse to use military force?
COOPER: Iran obviously is playing a huge role in Iraq. I mean, that has been one of their concerns all along, especially in the absence of U.S. forces there.
BOOT: Yes. You know, Iran is probably the most important foreign player in Iraq and, you know, they -- with the Shiite majority in Iraq, they are heavily influenced by Iran. Iran backs something like a 100,000 militia fighters who are basically more answerable to Iran than to Iraq.
And, you know, we have 5,000 forces there, 5,000 troops that could be very vulnerable to reigning retaliation because they don't like the sanctions that we're imposing on them right now.
COOPER: Do you really think John Bolton wants a confrontation with Iran? Because, I mean, no matter what, you know, that would be an extraordinary step.
BOOT: Well, I think there's no question that John Bolton wants a confrontation with Iran. All you have to do is look at what he himself has said. I mean, in February he issued a video telling the ayatollahs, you know, congratulations on your 40 years in power, you're not going to be around much longer.
And he has made no secret of his desire to attack Iran and to replace the regime. I think Bolton's difficulty is that Trump is not really on board with that because Trump is, although he's kind of a bellicose isolationist, I mean, he makes more like noises, but he doesn't actually want to go to war.
So I don't think Trump is just going to attack Iran from a running start. But my concern is, is Bolton maneuvering in such a way that he is going to provoke hostilities and force Trump's hand? I mean, that's -- that is the real concern here.
COOPER: Yes. Also what any kind of conflict would actually look like given the fact the President wants to bring back U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, our longest war thus far.
BOOT: Right. I mean I think that's the essential tension. Trump wants to take U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, out of Syria. He is basically a neo-isolationist and Bolton is very different.
[20:55:07] Bolton is somebody who really believes in regime change and has talked about there's no alternative but to use military force and he -- and they're really forcing Iran into a confrontation because, you know, they've torn off the nuclear core even though Iran is actually abiding by it's terms. And, you know, they are turning the screws on Iran and there's a real danger than the Iranians could lash out and then we could wind up in a war.
COOPER: Max Boot, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
BOOT: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this is why the President doesn't want you to see his taxes.
CUOMO: Because they tell a story he hasn't been telling. Now, they're just from the '80s and in the '90s, but I'm sure I've talked to you about this before, Coop. When I was still at ABC, we did a yearlong investigation on his net worth in 2004, 2005, 2006.
Tim O'Brien of "New York Times" greatness, now at Bloomberg, was part of that. Chris Vlasto, the big shot over for ABC running the investigations now did it and the President insisted he was worth billions, hard to believe that given the information that's coming out now. So, we're going to take through what the highlights are of this information and what they mean going forward and what the politics will mean going forward about how the Democrats will respond to what they now know is in the past in terms of what they try to get in the present.
COOPER: Yes. Chris, it's a fascinating piece. "The New York Times" broke it. We'll have more on it in just about four minutes. Chris, we'll see you then. We'll be right back. More news ahead.