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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

White House Not Backing Down in Battle With Dems; Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) is Interviewed About House Dems Subpoenaing Hope Hicks and Ex-Chief of Staff to Don McGahn; Washington Post: Draft IRS Memo Says Pres. Trump Tax Return Must Be Given to Congress Unless He Invokes Executive Privilege; Sources: Mueller Does Not Want to Appear Political. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired May 21, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We are now one House subpoena defied and two more issued since the last time we met. With that, a single question with as many legal, political and psychological dimensions to it, as there are no bad metaphors to describe it. Namely, how fast and how far will Democrats push the impeachment process?

Now that calendar days are also campaign days, every new development affects and complicates how each player approaches that question. Just as an example, there's what happened today. Former White House counsel Don McGahn defied a subpoena refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. You see the empty seat there.

By day's end, Committee chairman and Democrat Jerry Nadler had subpoenaed McGahn's former chief of staff as well as former White House communications director Hope Hicks. Chairman Nadler saying they were critical witnesses to what he calls President Trump's obstruction of justice which he says is continuing.

What the chairman did not do was amp up talk about impeachment. Other Democrats, junior and senior, are speaking out as our Manu Raju found out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it time to move forward with impeachment inquiry?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I do. I personally do. We can't be scared of elections. We need to uphold the rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Manu also spoke with Adam Schiff, certainly no freshman about whether his views on impeachment on being influenced by the administration's very open refusal to cooperate, even if it means defying a lawful order of Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think the administration is certainly pushing the Congress in that direction by obstructing everything.

RAJU: Are you changing your tune on that?

SCHIFF: You know, I think the case gets stronger the more they stonewall the Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, House Speaker Pelosi on the other hand not only believes otherwise and is opposed to moving forward on impeachment, Republican assumption at least. She also says her fellow Democrats are with her on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Madam Speaker, are you under increased pressure to impeach the president from your caucus?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: But that may be more a reflection of the speaker's political judgment than her cold-eyed assessment of the facts, because keeping them honest, whatever your view of the Democrats of President Trump or the prospects of impeaching another president, there are facts to contend with, the kind that have tripped up other presidents or ended up in articles of impeachment before driving one president out of office.

President Trump is facing a bigger body of damaging facts than most, no matter how much he down plays it which he does, of course, all the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you can't impeach somebody that's doing a great job. That's the way I view it. We even talked about that today. I said why don't you use this for impeachment? And Nancy said, we're not looking to impeach you. I said that's good, Nancy, that's good.

But you know what? You don't impeach people when they're doing a good job. And you don't impeach people when there was no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, that was before the Mueller report landed, but he's kept it up ever since.

Now, keeping them honest, very little of it is true. As for the job he's doing, the majority of Americans do not approve of it. In fact, according to a new Quinnipiac poll out today, only 38 percent do, which is extraordinary when you think about how well the economy is doing. In any case, the president is also wrong that you can't be impeached without an underlying crime. Here is Republican Lindsey Graham, then a congressman, now a senator,

explaining it during impeachment proceedings for President Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): You don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, fast forward to now, here is how another Republican, libertarian Congressman Justin Amash put it.

Quote: Under our Constitution, the president shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. While high crimes and misdemeanors is not defined, the context implies conduct that violates the public trust -- which covers a lot of ground.

Some with the president's footsteps all over it, and if you think any of this is new, well, consider just a few items in articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. See if they sound familiar. I'm convincing them slightly for time.

Interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice and congressional committees. Making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted, endeavoring to cause prospective defendants and individuals duly tried and convicted to expect favored treatment in return for their silence or false testimony or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony.

Sound familiar? The point is not to pass judgment on this president, only to point out that this fight today isn't over nothing.

[20:05:02] Similar allegations brought down one president and far fewer allegations nearly doomed another.

More now from -- on all this from our Jim Acosta who joins us from the White House.

So, is this a fight the White House is looking to have, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are looking to have this fight, Anderson, quite frankly. They see this as some of -- they're willing to fight into the courts and as far as the Supreme Court, if necessary.

And when you saw that name card on the table earlier for Don McGahn, Anderson, I think you could quite possibly see nuance for Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, the former chief of staff to the former White House counsel Don McGahn in the future.

Talking to sources inside the White House and outside the White House, close to the president, they're all expecting the president to do the very same thing, to extend immunity to Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, to prevent them from testifying in the same way that Don McGahn was prevented from testifying.

Anderson, it goes beyond -- at least in the case of Hope Hicks, it goes beyond this idea that the executive branch has the right to protect the privilege to keep some of these officials from testifying. In the case of Hope Hicks, this is somebody who was very close to president Trump and is seen as almost a daughter of the president inside the White House, despite the fact she doesn't work here anymore.

So, there's some very raw feelings about not letting those officials testify.

COOPER: Just politically, I mean, even if there are just steps towards impeachment by Democrats, that's clearly something the president can use to focus on up through the election.

ACOSTA: That's right. There was a time, Anderson -- I talked to sources not too long ago who said when the president was facing the prospect of a Democratic-led Congress, that he was concerned about the possibility of being impeached. That's not the case anymore.

And there are some on his team who view that prospect as being an advantage to the president because they see it as something that could backfire against the Democrats. That's why you're seeing Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, tread so cautiously on all this.

I did talk to a senior Democratic aide this evening who said now, that some of that is starting to change inside the Democratic Party, and that many of these Democrats are starting to feel like Robert Mueller, for example, the special counsel, has a duty to testify up on Capitol Hill. The question is, if Robert Mueller were to testify, how does that change the equation up on Capitol Hill in terms of the attitudes towards impeachment?

But, Anderson, when I asked the president about this yesterday in the Rose Garden as he was heading on the South Lawn for a departure to a political rally, you know, he was saying, listen, he has had the most transparent administration that we've seen in years. That's obviously not the case, but they have their talking points and they're willing to fight this impeachment battle all the way into the courts and into the next election, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

With us now, Democratic Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon. She's vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

Before we get to the question of impeachment, Congresswoman, I just want to ask you about something we just mentioned, the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena today to former White House communications director, Hope Hicks. Don McGahn's former aide as well, Annie Donaldson.

You're the vice chair of that committee. Do you have any indication they'll actually comply with the subpoena?

REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): Well, so far, we haven't had any of the witnesses tell us they're not willing to comply. It's only been when the president has gotten in the way and instructed people not to comply that we've had a problem.

COOPER: Where do you stand right now in terms of impeachment? Do you think President Trump should be impeached?

SCANLON: I'm not at he should be impeached. But I do think it's reached a point where we have to open an impeachment inquiry.

COOPER: Why open an impeachment inquiry if you don't want it to go all the way to impeachment?

SCANLON: Well, look, the impeachment inquiry is our opportunity to get the facts out, get the evidence out. The American people have not yet seen what's in the Mueller report. We've had the president and his henchmen stonewall and issue talking points that bear no relationship to what's in that report. The president has tried to hide the underlying evidence.

We need to be able to show the American people the witnesses that led to Mueller's on collusions that there was obstruction of justice or at least evidence of it that needed to be preserved for Congress to look at, and we need to see the underlying evidence.

COOPER: But your -- I mean, folks on Capitol Hill are trying to do that now. They're trying to have hearings, trying to have witnesses. No one is showing up.

Why would somebody show up in impeachment hearings if they wouldn't show up under a subpoena or now?

SCANLON: Well, I think we need to make it plain to the president that this is what we're talking about now. I mean, volume one of the Mueller report was about Russian interference in our election. Volume two was about the president interfering with the investigation of that Russian interference.

Volume three is the cover-up. And that's what he's doing right now. He's trying to cover up his misconduct. That warrants us having an impeachment inquiry.

COOPER: Right.

[20:00:01] But what changed -- I mean, having an impeachment inquiry, does it give you any more power to actually get witnesses to show up? Because subpoena seems to be a pretty strong thing and they're ignoring subpoenas.

SCANLON: Subpoenas are a pretty strong thing and I think the average American knows that they can't ignore a subpoena, well, neither can the president. And he can't instruct the people that work for him or don't even work for him anymore to ignore a subpoena.

When we go to court to enforce the subpoenas, as we will, the court looks at it as a balancing process. They look at the executive's rights and they look at the legislative, or the congressional oversight rights. And depending on the issue, depending on the specific testimony that's at issue, the court balances the respective rights of the branches. But there is no executive immunity to cover up misconduct and particularly not so when Congress is investigating presidential misconduct.

COOPER: So if you go to court under the umbrella of an impeachment proceeding, does that give you extra power in front of judges in any way? Or -- I mean, I basically just -- I'm not a lawyer. I don't understand why someone would be compelled to do something they're not currently compelled to do under the law which they're supposed to be doing.

SCANLON: Right. Well, they are currently compelled to do something under the law. The breadth of the assertion of privilege or immunity that the president has made here is frankly ridiculous. There's no basis in the law.

COOPER: Sure.

SCANLON: There may be specific issues, but he's gone way over his skis there. But that goes to the fact that we now have a cover-up in addition to the obstruction. So it does raise the bar.

We saw -- I think a lot of members saw a real shift in tone from their constituents over the past week, particularly the past weekend with the president instructing witnesses not to come to testify before Congress when there's a subpoena and his continued obstruction, his stonewalling of the American people.

COOPER: Speaker Pelosi says there's no division within the Democratic Caucus on impeachment. It does seem like there certainly is -- there's a difference of opinion of whether you move for impeachment now or just try to go for hearings and gather evidence and show that to the American people. Are you worried a at all about the effect moving toward impeachment or starting proceedings would have on the 2020 race on the Republicans' ability to use that to rally their base, to deflect Democrats from talking about tabletop issues which are important to voters?

SCANLON: Of course. We're all worried about that. I mean, we came here to do work for the voters. I mean, today, we passed a number of bills dealing with veterans. We've passed legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act, as it's being attacked by this administration.

We're passing a lot of good legislation and we don't want to do this, but the president is undermining the rule of law. Yes, it would be terrible if the fact of protecting the Constitution by starting an impeachment inquiry somehow led to him being able to defy the law even more. And, of course, that's a real fear.

But you can't let political considerations get in the way of your duty and the truth, and that's the point we've reached.

COOPER: Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, appreciate your time. Thank you.

SCANLON: Thank you.

COOPER: There's breaking news on President Trump's tax returns coming up. Some fascinating stuff. New report on a secret IRS memo that upends the entire White House rationale for withholding those returns from Congress.

Also, Dr. Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary, got dumped on today, much like the famous cookie he mistook for a basic housing term.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Do you know what an REO is?

BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: An Oreo?

PORTER: R -- no, not an Oreo. An REO, REO.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:18:15] COOPER: This week has not been a good one for President Trump's legal theories. And it's only Tuesday.

On Monday, a federal court rejected his lawyer's argument that Congress has no oversight powers and therefore could not subpoena his financial records. Tonight, there's breaking news on another suspect theory, this involving President Trump's actual tax returns. "The Washington Post" has new reporting on a draft memo out of the IRS' chief counsel's office which directly contradicts legal theory underpinning Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's refusal to hand over those returns.

And just a reminder, this is the reason Secretary Mnuchin gave on May 6th for why he could not turn over those returns, or wouldn't. And I'm quoting: the committee's request lax a legitimate legislative purpose. The department is therefore not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.

Joining me now by is "Washington Post" policy reporter Jeff Stein who shares the byline of the story. Also, Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor.

Jeff, can you just lay out your reporting on this? Because it's fascinating. Explain what the IRS memo -- internal memo actually says?

JEFF STEIN, POLICY REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Sure, and thank you very much for having me on. The key thing to understand here is that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, as you said, said he cannot give over these documents, Trump's tax returns because the committee lacks the legitimate (INAUDIBLE) basically a reason related to legislation and oversight to see the documents.

This memo which was written in the fall, it doesn't explicitly mention Trump. This memo makes clear that is not legitimate grounds for denial in the view of whoever wrote it, in the view of this IRS attorney. Of course, Mnuchin is free to override or disagree with his subordinates or people who work at the IRS. But it does for the first time speak to an extraordinary disagreement on the executive branch over really a critical issue.

[20:20:06] COOPER: Right. I mean, the law as its written is pretty clear. It essentially says, you know, the IRS shall turn over to the limited number of people who are authorized to receive. It doesn't give any qualifications of -- well, they won't turn it over if they don't think there's a really good purpose for it.

So, just to be clear, this was a draft memo. It was never actually signed, right?

STEIN: That's correct. The form we got it in, it was hard to verify because it said draft all over it. There's no date. There's no signature. There's no -- we don't even know who it was addressed to.

And when we asked IRS for comment, IRS said it never forwarded the memo to treasury. So, you know, Mnuchin has said and Treasury said in a statement that Mnuchin never reviewed the memo. So, there's a chance I guess that they were unaware of it and that's part of the reason that Mnuchin denied the request.

That said, a lot of legal experts have been pointing out for months the law seems clear here.

COOPER: The irony is that -- actually, first of all, if there's no signature and date, how do you know it is from the IRS' attorney or legal office?

STEIN: Well, we were able to confirm when we reviewed the document with people close to it. When we went to the IRS yesterday, they confirmed in a statement that this memo did exist and it did originate in the office of the chief counsel.

COOPER: So, Shan, it's pretty damning when someone in the office of the chief counsel of the IRS writes a memo, even a draft memo saying you can't not hand over the tax returns. I mean, it backs up what -- pretty much every legal expert has been saying about this?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. I think that's very easy assignment for that lawyer, just the plain reading of the statute says, as they put it, there's no wiggle room for the treasury secretary. I don't think that the secretary or his staff wants to see that memo. Now that it's out, they don't have any good legal arguments there.

I don't think a judge is going to buy that argument. I think they're going to presume that there's legitimate legislative (AUDIO GAP). That's what Congress does. They have oversight. (AUDIO GAP) the weakness of the real reasoning, they make the sort of schizophrenic argument which is first. They want to say, the law doesn't apply, there's no legitimate legislative purpose. But then they also said if it does apply, if it's used correctly, then it's unconstitutional.

COOPER: So, Shan, if the president were to invoke executive privilege over, you know, tax returns that are from the last six years, could he do that?

WU: I don't think he could do that very successfully. That would be one of the weaker invocations of it. If you think about executive privilege, a little bit like a lawyer's attorney-client privilege, it's meant to give the president the benefit of recommendations, opinions from his aides to make decisions.

COOPER: Right. It doesn't relate to everything that's happened in his past life before he was president.

WU: Right, exactly. There's nothing opinionated or a recommendation in his tax returns. They're just his tax returns.

COOPER: Fascinating.

Jeff Stein, we'll see how this develops. (AUDIO GAP) as always.

Shan Wu as well.

Coming up next, what CNN is learning about why Robert Mueller is shying away from testifying publicly before Congress. We'll also get a hint if we can about how he sees his public role now that his private job is done. Joining us, two people who got rare insight into the special counsel when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:27:40] COOPER: No one has been hard to get than special counsel Robert Mueller. He said nothing, of course, during his investigation, speaking only through indictments and later in his report. His public silence would make Garbo an extrovert by comparison.

The House Judiciary Committee, as you know, wants to hear from him and wants the public to hear it as well. But, as you know, there's been snags. And today, CNN was the first to shed light on that.

The special counsel's team has expressed the notion that Mueller does not want to appear political after staying behind the scenes for so long. One option is to have him testify behind closed doors. But sources say many options are being considered as they and the committee negotiate.

Mr. Mueller's spokesman, as you might imagine, had no comment as usual.

Joining us is Mueller biography, Garrett Graff, author of "The Threat Matrix: The FBI At War in the Age of Global Terror".

Also with us, former deputy assistant attorney general Elliot Williams.

Elliot, does Robert Mueller have an obligation to testify in public? And what I mean by that, does he owe it to the American people?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, he certainly has an obligation if he's subpoenaed. Now, obviously, you know, that's not in the cards right now. Does he owe it to the American people? Clearly, right now, there's a factual dispute between him and the attorney general. And given that factual dispute and the huge public interest in all this -- yes, there's an interest or I think a public need to hear his testimony.

I think Congress, to some extent he owes it to Congress but the American people as well. So, it's hard to speak of obligations. But there's an enormous interest in doing so. I actually am quite confident they'll come to some agreement as to his testimony just because under normal circumstances, they always come to an agreement on testimony. And I think they will. I think ultimately, we will end up hearing from him.

COOPER: Garrett, do you think if Mueller wanted to testify publicly, that he would, there wouldn't be this back and forth negotiations right now?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Mueller made clear since the beginning of this investigation he wants his work to speak for itself. You know, he has had any number of opportunities over the course of this 22-month investigation to step forward into the public eye. And it's worth remembering that of the three times that anyone did speak publicly about the special counsel's investigation, twice it was Rod Rosenstein announcing the indictments of the Russian GRU and Russian Internet Research Agency on Mueller's behalf.

And the third time, it was actually Bill Barr making the announcement that the report was going to be released publicly.

[20:30:00] So, Mueller clearly could have spoken earlier and has chosen not to.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Elliot, I mean it does seem -- obviously one option would be that he speaks behind closed doors. But for Democrats who want the public to learn as much as possible about what was actually in the Mueller report since the majority of Americans haven't read it, or read it in its entirety, it would seem for him -- for the Democrats, they would insist that he at least partially testify publicly.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, OBAMA ADMIN.: Right. Look, he does not want to appear political, but this was an investigation into a President of the United States in a presidential campaign. That ship has sailed. There are going to be political consequences to this and you have to sort of get beyond it.

And one such way that that will happen is, you know, Congress will have a huge interest in testimony being public. So, you know, I see why Congress wants the testimony public. And frankly, as a former DOJ official, I see why he wants to testify in private, just given some of the law enforcement sensitivities.

But, you know, given all of the factors, I just think this has to end in public testimony for the reasons we've talked about here. One, the huge public interest. Number two, the nature of the, you know, of the conduct. And number three, we have a Congress that could potentially be preparing impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States and public testimony is going to be a necessary component of that.

COOPER: Garrett, I know you've read -- I think you said pretty much everything Mueller has ever written or said publicly. What is he like in previous testimonies in front of Congress? Is he given to rumination?

GRAFF: He is not. And I think anyone who is awaiting Bob Mueller unplugged in the Capitol Hill witness table is going to be disappointed. This is -- he is very prosecutorial in the way that he answers questions, very lawyerly, and has never been particularly comfortable speaking before Congress even though he's done it dozens and dozens of times.

I mean, I think we forget that most people testifying before Congress are not like Jim Comey who are looking to go on and on at great length.

COOPER: Elliot, I mean, the way the Attorney General Barr has shaped the narrative so far, for Democrats, it certainly makes it even more important for Mueller to testify.

WILLIAMS: For the American people it makes more sense for Mueller to testify, just because the public narrative around something, you know, with which there is an enormous public interest and there's a clear factual dispute in public. Was the attorney general candid and straightforward and frankly honest in the manner in which he summarized these findings or spun or presented these findings to the American people?

This is something that can largely only be cleared up by Mueller as a witness. And so for that reason, you know, I think that he owes it to us, but this is a big deal and it's an important matter. And, again, it doesn't matter if -- you know, which side you're on, if you're only with the President of the United States or so on, but there's a clear distinction here and I do think we need to see public testimony on it.

COOPER: Garrett, I mean, Mueller's whole life has been public service. Do you think he feels a duty to testify, an obligation?

GRAFF: Well, again, I think obligation is a very complicated word here. Mueller has clearly said what he wanted to say in the document. Those words were carefully chosen, those 448 pages, very carefully vetted, carefully phrased. And I think that he will certainly speak publicly if ordered to do so with a subpoena, he'll comply with any lawful order. But I think he has made clear that he is not going to go out of his way to testify.

At the same time as Elliot said, I think that there is enormous public interest in this. This isn't actually a partisan political matter. There is a legitimate dispute between the facts that Mueller presents and the story that Bill Barr has told publicly. And that we need that to be cleared up. And the only way that we can do that at this point is to hear Mueller speaking in his own voice about his own investigation.

COOPER: Yes. Garrett Graff, Elliot Williams, thanks very much.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson got in a kind of unusual back and forth with member of Congress today, a lot of it from the secretary's point of view centered around cookies, Oreos to be specific. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:38:14] COOPER: It began as a serious discussion before the House Financial Services Committee today. California freshman Democrat Katie Porter was asking Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary, about real estate owned properties, those that fail to sell at foreclosure or auctions, they're known by the acronym REO. Porter says they've become a serious issue, but Carson either misheard or seemed to have no idea what the acronym actually meant and what Porter was referring to. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Why is FHA -- to use a term that I think we can both understand, lousy at servicing mortgages?

BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: OK. I have not had any discussions about that particular issue, but I will look it up, find out what's going on.

PORTER: OK. So as you look it up, I'd also like you to get back to me, if you don't mind, to explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?

CARSON: An Oreo?

PORTER: R -- no, not an Oreo, an R-E-O, R-E-O.

CARSON: Real estate?

PORTER: What's the O stand for?

CARSON: The organization.

PORTER: Owned, real estate owned, that's what happens when a property goes to foreclosure, we call it an REO. And FHA loans have much higher REOs, that is they go to foreclosure rather than to loss mitigation or to non-foreclosure alternatives like short sales than comparable loans at the GSEs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So that actually happened. Joining me now is CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen who served four presidents, also CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, this is the Housing and Urban Development secretary. Shouldn't he know what REO stands for?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: One would think he would. You know, after two years, one would think he would have mastered all of the acronyms of your agency. And foreclosures are one-third of the agency's asset sales.

[20:40:03] So, you know, I'm old enough to remember when cabinet secretaries went before Congress and they actually had mastered what they were going to be asked about or what they were going to talk about, and that clearly wasn't the case today.

COOPER: David, I mean, the President, you know, always talks about hiring the best and the brightest. Do these administration officials when they testify, does it seem like they have prepared for their testimony?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Often it does not. And while I agree with everything Gloria just said, I also have it there -- a piece of me is sympathetic to Ben Carson. I was on a university board with limb about 20 years ago and he was celebrated in much of the country because he came out of poverty in Detroit.

People always told him when he was growing up, he would never amount to anything. He's just stop -- he'd destroy his dreams. He'd always be poor. He got his way through Yale. He got his way through medical school. He became the chief pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins.

This guy is not a slouch intellectually. I think, Anderson, there are many good things about Ben Carson. He's absolutely in the wrong job. HUD is a bureaucracy that is much greater than most other and he shouldn't be on top of --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It's an enormous bureaucracy. I mean, it's really an enormous bureaucracy that affects a lot of people's lives.

GERGEN: Yes, exactly. Yes, exactly. And he should be on top of it, but I just think in taking him to task here, we ought to understand the rest of him.

COOPER: Gloria, I want to play something else from the hearing in exchange with Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): Yes or no, if left unaddressed, which I believe they are unaddressed because this budget does not reflect the need, do you believe the substandard public housing conditions post a risk to tenants physical, mental and emotional health?

CARSON: You --

PRESSLEY: Yes or no.

CARSON: You know the answer.

PRESSLEY: Yes or no. I know the answer. Do you know the answer? Yes or no?

CARSON: Reclaiming my time.

PRESSLEY: You don't get to know that. Yes or no, do they deserve to live in these conditions because they are poor?

CARSON: You know very well --

PRESSLEY: Would you let your grandmother live in public housing?

CARSON: You know very well.

PRESSLEY: Would you let your grandmother live in public housing? Yes or no.

CARSON: You know very well --

PRESSLEY: Under your watch and your help, would you allow your grandmother to live in public housing under these conditions?

CARSON: It would be very nice if you would stop acting --

PRESSLEY: You stated --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Gloria, what do you make of that exchange?

BORGER: Well, look, he had to know that he was going to go before this committee and he was going to be asked these kinds of questions. And instead of just answering yes or no or saying let me explain where I'm coming from on this, he just continued to evade. And the more he refused to answer, the tougher she got.

And he is a cabinet secretary, particularly going before, you know, a Democratic (INAUDIBLE) for this. She was tough, but he needed to be able to defend his agency if that's what he wanted to do. And instead, he was just kind of lethargic and said, well, you know what the answer to that is and refused to sort of get out there and say let me explain my policies to you and why I believe they're right.

COOPER: David, is there a difference in -- I mean, is this kind of a trend of how people are now testifying, sort of, well, I'll answer the question I want to answer. I will claim executive privilege even though the President hasn't claimed it. I'll make it up and claim it myself. I mean, is there something new going on, or is this -- has there always just been pathetic testimony at times?

GERGEN: That's a good question, Anderson. My sense of it is that what we're seeing is something new and is an extension of the stonewalling policy that the administration has adopted, and that is increasingly in these hearings that the people coming from the administration are showing a disdain for the questioners.

You know, did she start berating him? Yes. Did she -- I thought it was excessive in -- excessive like a harsh kind of questioning. But, nonetheless, I think it's highly objectionable and it's unfortunate for the country that the breakdown of relationships between the Congress and the presidency have descended to this level.

COOPER: Gloria, Secretary Carson, we should point out, tried to kind of make light of the REO comment after the hearing. He tweeted out this, said, "Oh, REO. Thanks Rep. Katie Porter. Enjoying a few post- hearing snacks. Sending some your way."

BORGER: Good try. I think it's a good try. And I'm sure she welcomed the cookies that were sent to her office. But sometimes you can't laugh your way out of things. And what he should have done and maybe in addition to the cookies, is send up some answers to her questions which he did not answer because he was not prepared to answer.

COOPER: Yes.

BORGER: And I think she would have appreciated that a lot more.

COOPER: Yes. Gloria Borger, David Gergen, appreciate it. Thanks very much. There's new polling --

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: -- who is leading the very crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination. And one of the hopefuls is former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke who will answer questions in a live CNN Town Hall moderated by Dana Bash tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern from Des Moines, Iowa.

[20:45:13] Coming up, we'll take a look at O'Rourke's campaign reboot and the new poll results.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's new polling out tonight that shows former Vice President Biden continues to pretty much lap the field over his opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination. One of those rivals, of course, is former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke who will face questions tonight in a CNN Town Hall moderated by our Dana Bash. That's coming up at 10:00 p.m. Easter.

With me now is CNN Political Director David Chalian who is in Des Moines where the town hall takes place. So what's the latest polling showing, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, Anderson, this brand new Quinnipiac Poll, you are right, lapping the field. Take a look at these numbers, Biden up at 35 percent.

[20:50:06] And then you've got Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg rounding out the top five, everyone below 5 percent. This is Joe Biden's race right now. And it's what makes what the President said about him yesterday so interesting.

Why is he going after him? Take a look at the President's approval rating this poll. It's at 38 percent. Trump is clearly feeling the pressure in a state like Pennsylvania with Joe Biden riding high right now.

And what is so fascinating, Anderson, is if you ask the question about how Americans think about the economy right now, look at those top two numbers, the excellent and the good, that's 71 percent. Quinnipiac states that that is an 18-year high where 71 percent of Americans are saying the economy is excellent or good. So it begs the question if the President is at 38 percent approval, is it not the economy stupid this time around?

COOPER: As we mentioned, the O'Rourke town hall starts in about an hour. He's clearly hoping to reenergize, I guess would be a term, his campaign.

CHALIAN: Yes, no doubt about it. You remember all of the anticipation that many Democrats had about O'Rourke entering this race back in March, big fun fair. And he did a huge amount of fundraising in that first day. He was riding high in the polls, not a frontrunner but up there in that pack that's right near the frontrunner and he has faded since then.

So this is a huge opportunity for him to get before a national audience, take questions from voters on a whole range of topics and really introduce himself again as to why he thinks he is the best equipped of all of these 23 Democrats running to take on President Trump next (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: All right, we look forward to at 10:00 tonight. We will see you then. David Chalian, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Chris to see what he is working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you and I had two different Democratic congresswoman on tonight with big proposals about how to take the party forward in terms of assessing the President holding him to account and they're going in totally different directions. One wants impeachment, the other one wants a finding of the need to investigate that's voted on by the whole House.

They don't know where they need to be and each new development that we'll cover on the show tonight, Hope Hicks coming out, the chief of staff for Don McGahn, the former White House counsel coming out, the subpoena fight. It's just more weight that keeps them in the same place. What is the best argument for the Democrats? What's the plus- minus? We'll take you through all of it tonight.

COOPER: I'm also fascinated by this "Washington Post" reporting on the memo from the legal counsel's office at the IRS essentially saying you got to turnover the tax returns.

CUOMO: Yes. I see a defense to that. That process is messy. There are a lot of opinions. We don't know who wrote this memo or exactly how close it was to the end of the process.

As you pointed out at one of your interviews, it wasn't signed. This wasn't the official goal or plan, but what is it? It's more proof that now another cabinet member, the treasury secretary, is once again covering for the President instead of playing the role for the American people.

COOPER: Yes. Chris, I'll see you in just a couple of minutes, about 8 minutes from now.

Coming up, forget about what President Trump might want from a Russian czar. Find out what a want to be Republican czar from America's heartland wanted from the President for job. The saga, the supposedly best and brightest next on "The Ridiculist."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:56:58] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And tonight, it's another dispatch from grifters incorporated, which is the sister firm of swamp creators LLC. Republican Kris Kobach, the former vice chair of President Trump's bogus voter fraud commission, also the former Kansas secretary of state and failed gubernatorial candidate, he is back in the news.

He's putting his own spin right now on President Kennedy's inaugural address. Ask not what you can do for your country, but how many private jets your country can put at your disposal. Kobach who is long been trying to squeeze on to the anti-immigration caboose of the Trump train was apparently up until today in the running to be the administration's immigration czar, which I'm just going to go out in the limb and predict it's not something subject to Senate confirmation.

Now, most people when they're trying to get a job, you know, they give a list. They give their perspective employer a list of reasons why they should be hired. Like when I applied at CNN, I was like, you know, look, baby blues will travel, boom, and I got the job. KK, he likes to do it his way.

He's going to tell you what he requires, should you have the honor of hiring him. That's how KK rules. According to "The New York Times," Kobach's list of 10 conditions for accepting the job include a government jet at his disposal 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a staff of seven people working directly for him, and then number three, a meeting which the President tells the secretaries of defense, Homeland Security, agricultural, interior, commerce and the attorney general that they will "follow the directives of the czar without delay."

Kobach is going a little heavy on the (INAUDIBLE) on that last one if you ask me. He wants to oversight of basically half the President's cabinet up to and including Wilbur Ross' little $600 slippers.

Kobach's list goes on. He wants to be the administrations chief television spokesman on all immigration matters and he wants a promise from President Trump that he'll be nominated to be secretary of Homeland Security no later than November 1st of this year.

Now, at this point, I'm starting to think that EPA guy who drove around all day with his security detail looking for Ritz-Carlton body lotion doesn't seem so bad, right? Also, why is Kobach wanting a promise from President Trump?

I mean, you would think by now most people realize a promise from this President isn't worth the McDonalds wrapper it's written on. I mean, anybody who has repeatedly has to end his sentences with believe me, can't be believed. Believe me.

By the way, Kris Kobach's list is basically the non-show business version of which called a writer. A writer for those right-wing politicians who propertied (ph) Hollywood despite wanting to live in the life of luxury, a writer basically outlines the condition for a performing artist appearance and what they get in their dressing room. The promise, Kris Kobach isn't Beyonce. I mean, she can have whatever she wants because she deserves it. She's Beyonce. KK, not so much.

Also writers aren't taxpayer funded. If they were, trust me, when Andy Cohen and I do our stage show, which is a shamelessplugac2live.com, there would be a few more empty tequila bottles in Andy's dressing room. I'm just guessing.

As for Kobach's hopes of becoming immigration czar, they look dim tonight. And that private jet he wanted to gas up for 2:00 a.m. trip to an offshore Carl's Jr., it's not existence as the staff of seven or for that matter any evidence of massive voter fraud on "The Ridiculist."

And the news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?