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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Trump: Official Who Directed Obscuring USS McCain Warship Was "Well-Meaning"; Meghan McCain Blasts President Trump Over USS McCain Controversy; Pressure Building On Speaker Pelosi To Launch Impeachment Inquiry; Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Impeachment; President Trump: Impeachment Is A "Dirty, Filthy, Disgusting Word"; President Trump Threatens Tariffs On Mexico Until It Stops The Flow Of Migrants. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 30, 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.

On a they began with the presidential tirade aimed at Robert Mueller, we begin tonight with Attorney General Barr speaking out tonight on the job Robert Mueller did and some of President Trump's most controversial statements about the investigation.

We spoke with CBS today and they just released some of the interview. Here's what he said when asked about one of the most incendiary things the president says, that certain senior officials in the Russia investigation committed treason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN CRAWFORD, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You don't think that they committed treason?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Not as a legal matter, right.

CRAWFORD: But you have concerns about how they conducted the investigation?

BARR: Yes, but, you know, sometimes people can convince themselves that what they're doing is in the higher interests, the better good. They don't realize that what they're doing is really antithetical to the democratic system we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The president, you know, has also characterized the court- approved surveillance of campaign advisers as spying, language the attorney general has echoed. Here's what he said about that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: I guess it's become a dirty word somehow. It has never been for me. I think there is nothing wrong with spying. The question is always whether it's authorized by law and properly predicated. And if it is, then it's an important tool the United States has to protect the country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The attorney general was also asked about Robert Mueller's decision not to reach a decision on the president and obstruction of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: I personally felt he could have reached a decision.

CRAWFORD: In your view, he could have reached a conclusion?

BARR: Right. He could have reached a conclusion. The opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is office, but he could have reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity. But he had his reasons for not doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining us now is CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, also FBI general counsel, Jim Baker, along with former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams.

Jeff, first of all, Barr is saying he doesn't think investigators committed treason as a legal matter.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, or -- I mean, you know, he's got this pragmatic style. Everything seems matter of fact.

It's important to remember just how extraordinary what's going on is. I mean, he is ordering a new investigation, probably the third investigation of what you described correctly as court-ordered surveillance, an authorized investigation of the highest officials of the FBI.

So, it's not just that there was no treason. There couldn't possibly be any treason, because treason is helping a foreign adversary in a time of war. And his matter of fact attitude about that I think camouflages just what a serious matter this all is.

COOPER: It's sort of normalizing what is abnormal situation?

TOOBIN: Exactly, exactly.

COOPER: Jim, it's your former colleagues the president is accusing of treason. Are you surprised the attorney general didn't just put all that talk to rest today?

JIM BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: Well, he made a legal conclusion. He stated a legal conclusion that is contrary to some of the language that the president of the United States has made with respect to treason. I'm very pleased about that. I'm very happy to hear that.

I guess I would disagree with the other statements he made about what we thought we were doing at the time that we were conducting the investigation. We were doing things that we thought were lawful, and we concluded were lawful after careful analysis that we thought were intended -- that we believed firmly were intended to protect the country.

And importantly, we did so under the supervision of the acting attorney general who could have told the FBI at any time -- this is Rod Rosenstein -- he could have told the FBI any time cease and desist. I do not want you to do this. This is not lawful. This is inconsistent with your obligations, whatever. He could have told us to stop.

And importantly, we made sure that the Congress of the United States was briefed on what we were doing. So, this was not some inside thing that we were doing and had -- I guess I would simply disagree that we had somehow lost our way or confused ourselves about what our higher purpose was.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, that is what he is sort of indicating, that you all thought, well, we're doing higher good and we're going cut corners, and I guess --

BAKER: No.

COOPER: -- do something to break the law because it's a higher good.

BAKER: No way. Just simply flat-out no way.

I'm confident whatever review is conducted or analysis investigation, whatever you call it will conclude that we did things carefully, that we looked at what our legal authorities were, that we looked at the facts, and that we made appropriate decisions under extremely, extremely difficult and novel circumstances.

But we did what we thought was right for the country and within the bounds of the law, and importantly, with appropriate oversight.

COOPER: Elliot, in terms of Barr saying that Mueller could have reached a conclusion on obstruction, it's not that he couldn't reach a conclusion, it's that we wouldn't based on Justice Department guidelines. And Mueller made that clear yesterday, and also Barr wouldn't go into the second reason why he wouldn't even reach a conclusion, because he thought it was unfair to President Trump if he did reach a conclusion given the fact that he would never have a day in court because of the Department of Justice guidelines.

[20:05:15] ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPOUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Right. And it's interesting. In one line that wasn't played from the interview that I think viewers will see tomorrow is that Barr continues that point where he says we don't just punt things -- he didn't use the word punt, but we don't send things to Congress because the Justice Department is not an adjunct to Congress, right? So, the Justice Department should not be informing Congress' decision.

It's just not accurate, because under that point of view, there is no mechanism by which the United States can hold a president of the United States accountable. Mueller was obligated to follow the Justice Department guidelines or not. He chose to.

But I think the bigger question here is why Barr himself felt the need then to make the determination as to -- to make the determination as to criminality. He didn't have to make a decision. He could have just sent it to Congress. But then it triggers that we are not an adjunct to Congress point.

That's a weird, odd and sort of -- it's a point that beefs up the role of the executive, which is something that Barr -- a view that Barr has taken I guess for the past 30 years, that the executive branch is never to be subordinate to Congress.

But sending something to Congress for their rightful determination as to the guilt and innocence of a president is right within Congress' purview.

One more quick point, Anderson, about treason, and I'm going to be a little more pointed than my friend Jim Baker here. You know, the attorney general of the United States could not say just a moment ago that the individuals, including Jim Baker who is on this panel, didn't levee war against the United States. That is the definition of treason.

And it's a yes or no question. Do you think that these patriots and American servants and public servants committed an act of war against the United States? And I think when you yes it's legally accurate and it's true in a legal sense they did not, but the answer to that question should have been an unequivocal no. And it's sort of foolish that the attorney general couldn't go there.

COOPER: Jeff, I know you have a question.

TOOBIN: Jim, what do you think about the precedence that's being set here, that the president of the United States orders a criminal investigation of his political enemies in a -- you know, in the previous administration with power to declassify anything over the objections of the intelligence agencies? What do you think about that as a principle for how a president conducts law enforcement?

COOPER: Well, look, I mean, as others have pointed out, the term "treason" is defined in the Constitution, and it's specifically defined in a way that is just obviously not what was happening here. The president has an obligation under the Constitution to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

And so, to me when he starts making allegations about people committing treason with no evidence to support that, I think that raises serious questions about whether he's fulfilling his responsibilities under the Constitution to make sure that the laws are faithfully executed. I think what Attorney General Barr today said about treason should take that issue off the table. I don't think it gives the president any room to be making statements along those lines anymore.

So that -- I mean, I guess I'm getting worked up as we go on here. But that is what I think, and I feel strongly about that. TOOBIN: I'm not just talking about treason, I'm talking about the

whole investigation, the idea of the president ordering a criminal, which this is possibly a criminal investigation of you and your colleagues because he didn't like the way this investigation was handled, and giving Barr and his subordinates power to declassify anything they want in the effort to prove that you and James Comey and Andy McCabe committed crimes.

BAKER: Well, look, at the FBI we always recognize that we had a lot of responsibility and a lot of authority, and we knew that we shouldn't be trusted necessarily just blindly by the American people, that we had to have appropriate oversight, review, and that we needed to be held accountable, and we all welcomed that. We welcome oversight by the attorney general, by the inspector general, by Congress.

And so to me, if -- in the long run, the law enforcement agencies of the United States, the intelligence community need the trust and confidence of the American people. If what it takes is some type of review, and I don't know if it's criminal or what exactly is going on. I think it's not, exactly, from what I've heard. But in any event, if some type of review is necessary so that a substantial portion of the American people regain confidence in the FBI, then fine. Go on, do it.

But I do worry about how this is all being played, the political terms, in particular that the president of the United States is making. It's just -- it's alarming. It's not the way we should be conducting business, and I think it calls into question the investigation and review when there should be appropriate and oversight of the FBI.

COOPER: Elliot, clearly, Mueller made it clear yesterday he does not want to appear before Congress.

[20:10:02] If he is forced to, do you think he needs to? Do you think -- clearly, Barr is coming out to try to, you know, take away from what Mueller said yesterday. They put out a joint statement last night doing the same thing.

WILLIAMS: I don't think he needs to be forced to because he will. He doesn't have that choice. And most of the time, under most circumstances, Anderson, witnesses will come to an agreement with Congress as to the scope of their testimony. So, they will work out some plan for him to testify.

He is a law-abiding individual. We know that. We've seen that over the past two years. He is not going to buck a subpoena, but he is not going to get one because he ought to work out -- every indication is they've been negotiating over the terms of his testimony already.

And so, they -- I hope, but I'm quite confident they'll work out some terms under which judiciary and intelligence, maybe judiciary in public and intelligence in private, and he comes and tells the story for the American people in a manner that puts this on the record. Yesterday was incredibly valuable for the American people. And so, we'll see how the testimony is as well.

COOPER: Yes, Jim, Jeff, Elliot, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

More breaking news. The president back from a trip to the Air Force Academy, dropping a tariff bomb on Mexico, 5 percent on all goods, he says, and it could go higher until illegal immigrants stop coming into this country.

More on all this from CNN's Jim Acosta who joins us now.

So, just explain what the president's plan actually proposes to do.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, what he is saying is essentially what you just mentioned a few moments ago, that if Mexico does not put a stop to what is happening at the border right now, with migrants coming across the boarder from Central America and Mexico, that starting on June 10th, he is going to start slapping tariffs on Mexican goods coming into the U.S. I should say -- yes, 5 percent tariff goods imported from Mexico starting on June 10th. And then it goes up on a sliding scale upward each month after that, to 10 percent July 1st, 15 percent on August 1, and so on.

And the president just tweeted about this a few moments ago. He announced this on Twitter. And then the White House put out a statement from the president. We can show you that tweet. He is obviously expressing some frustration when he says on June 10th, the United States will impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods coming into our country from Mexico until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico into our country stop. He uses the word "stop" there.

I will note, Anderson, there is an inconsistency with that tweet and what is said in the statement here. And the statement from the president just issued a few moments ago from the White House, says if the illegal immigration crisis is alleviated by effective actions taken by Mexico to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the tariffs will be removed. So, slight inconsistency there and that the president tweeted that it has to stop.

But in the statement from the White House from the president, it says if they can alleviate this migration challenge down at the border, then they will stop these tariffs. And so, obviously, they're feeling their way along now with this policy.

The other thing we should note, Anderson, this is not scheduled to take place until June 10th. So there is some time presumably for the Mexican government to try to deal with all of this.

And one thing we should also note is these tariff announcements are coming down as the White House is hopeful that Congress will ratify the president's new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. And one House Democrat, Don Beyer from Virginia, just tweeted a little while ago the last half hour that if you want to kill this trade deal, slapping these tariffs on Mexico is a good way to do it -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Coming up, the president's attack today on the Mueller report and Robert Mueller in particular, as well as his temporary momentary acknowledgment that Russia interfered to help him win the election.

Also, later the president talks about the White House, ordering all signs of the USS John McCain kept out of sight during his visit to Japan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:17:53] COOPER: Our keeping them honest report tonight is all about the all too brief argument that Donald Trump had with himself today over something that in the fact-based world is simply a fact. Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. They did to it hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

You don't have to like one candidate or another to believe that. It just is. Russia attacked. Donald Trump benefitted.

How much, what impact it had, all questions that could be argued and yelled about for as listening as we want, but it happened. Intelligence came up with that conclusion first. The president was briefed during the campaign on it, and the work on Robert Mueller's team confirms it. These are all facts.

So, should it be a big deal that the president wouldn't acknowledge them, except it wouldn't be, because he never has. But this morning he actually did, for the first time ever, the president acknowledged them tweeting Russia, Russia, Russia, that's all you heard at the beginning of this witch hunt hoax, and now, Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. I had nothing to do, he said, with Russia helping me to get elected.

Now, right there, after denying it for two years, he says Russia helped him get elected. He had nothing to do with it, though. That was this morning at three minutes to 8:00 Eastern Time. Forty-two minutes and three seconds later, the simple acknowledgment of a simple fact was swirling down the memory hole.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Do you believe Russia help you'd get elected?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, Russia did not help men get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn't help me at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So the president sounds a bit agitated there. He was just getting started. Here is his take on Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think he is a total conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true never Trumper. He is somebody that dislikes Donald Trump. He is somebody that didn't get a job that he requested that he wanted very badly, and then he was appointed.

And despite that, and despite $40 million, 18 Trump haters, including people that worked for Hillary Clinton and some of the worst human beings on earth, they got nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: They got nothing, which you can file away under the heading of things John Gotti used to say. You can also file it in the enormous file of things the president said that are not true.

[20:20:04] I won't go through all the falsehoods there, but they did indict a lot of Russians and the campaign chairman, anyway.

That phrase "some of the worst human beings on earth", it also -- it kind of is similar how he described murderous gang members.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was the president last year talking about members of MS- 13. A year later, similar language now reserved for long-serving criminal just professionals who serve under a Republican former FBI director. The president wasn't through, though, him or with spreading falsehoods about him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think he is totally conflicted because as you know, he wanted to be the FBI director, and I said no. As you know, I had a business dispute with him after he left the FBI. We had a business dispute.

Not a nice one. He wasn't -- he wasn't happy with what I did. And I don't blame him, but I had to do it because that was the right thing to do. But I had a business dispute.

And he loves Comey. You look at the relationship of those two. So, whether it's love or deep like, but he was conflicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Leaving aside his second homoeroticism, not single one thing he said there was true. The president likes to suggest that Mueller is bitter because he turned him down for a third term running the FBI.

Keeping them honest, take a look at what his own strategist Steve Bannon told investigators under oath. Quoting now: As for Mueller's interview for FBI director, Bannon recalled that the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president to offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI. Bannon said that although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become director again, he did not come in looking for the job.

Again, that was sworn testimony. That's in the Mueller report. Sworn testimony versus the guy on a lawn yelling.

As for this now legendary in the president's mind business dispute that the president makes so much about, Mueller himself discloses it fully in footnote 529 of his report on page 80, volume 2, in case you're following at home. Safe to say it's not what the president makes it out to be.

Quote: In October 2011, Mueller resigned his family's membership from Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, in a letter that noted, quote, we live in the district and find that we are unable to make full use of the club, and that inquired whether we would be entitled to a refund of a portion of our initial membership fee which was paid in 1994.

About two weeks later, the controller of the club responded that the Muellers' resignation would be effective October 31st, 2011, and that they would be, quote, placed on a wait list to be refunded on a first resign, first refunded basis.

Steve Bannon told the Mueller team -- I can't believe we're talking about this, but we have to. The president said -- making it sound as if it's this clash of titans. He told the president this was not a conflict of interest, and to claim so would be, and I'm quoting Bannon now, ridiculous and petty.

In other words, his own chief strategist at the time thought the president was reaching, and now he seems to have built it into some kind of boardroom clash of the titans. The real question tonight, though, is why so angry? Don't we remember a time when he and his people were pleased as punch with the special counsel's work?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think everyone here and everyone frankly across America was happy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The Mueller investigation is the gold standard.

TRUMP: The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion. It could not have been better.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?

TRUMP: Yes, yes.

CONWAY: And I do see some people now trying to besmirch the integrity of Director Mueller or Attorney General Barr. That is really rich.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Really rich indeed. By the way, of course, all those comments were talking about Barr's version of the Mueller report, not once actually the Mueller report came out.

For perspective now from CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, and Jeffrey Toobin who is back with us.

It is pretty amazing, David, to hear the president actually tweet out, I mean, to see him tweet out that Russia helped him get elected. I mean, it lasted for 43 minutes and three seconds, but it was surprising nonetheless.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It took about 10 minutes probably for White House aides to go racing across the lawn to get to the president and say you got to take that back, because I'm not sure he knew what he was writing. But nonetheless, I think he did acknowledge something.

It was important. But that's the only thing he has acknowledged in a string of lies today. And, you know, the big lie here, Anderson, the list that you went through, they're all lies, but the big lie is he keeps arguing basically he has been cleared, especially on obstruction.

And that simply is not true. Despite the gloss that Attorney General Barr has put on it. What we know from the Mueller report is that they just simply did not reach a conclusion on whether he had committed a crime or not. And very, very importantly, they couldn't clear him, that the evidence was such that they couldn't clear him.

COOPER: And it wasn't that they couldn't reach a conclusion. It's just that they didn't because, again, of the Department of Justice guidelines.

[20:25:01] TOOBIN: For prudential reasons, out of fairness to Trump, you know, we were here covering this live, the 17 minutes on the lawn. And, you know, it was almost worth it to hear all 17 minutes together.

COOPER: I know. We thought -- to be honest, we thought of playing the whole thing, because it is startling.

TOOBIN: It is just the torrent, the torrent of lies. I mean, you covered some of them, but you didn't cover all of them. It's just an interesting journalistic question about what are our obligation is, because, you know, by not pointing this out, you know, we don't point it out --

COOPER: This is what -- I mean, Jim Comey was saying in the town hall that we did, which is, it's one of the ways the president works is he says lies to you and then if you -- you're like well wait a minute, should I just intercede and point out that that's a lie? Or do I just remain silent? And if you remain silent, all of the sudden, he has sort of co-opted you.

TOOBIN: Well, and also, if you tell 35 lies and they correct 18, you have a lot of lies still sort of floating out there in the world. And today was really even by his standards extreme.

GERGEN: Well over 10,000 lies and misleading statements now and counting.

TOOBIN: Right.

GERGEN: The world is watching, and I think we're paying a price for it.

Earlier today, Anderson, Chancellor Merkel came to Harvard to give the commencement address, a very hard-hitting speech. And she pointedly argued how much damage is done in public life when lies are treated as truth and truth is treated as lies.

I think that's what we're seeing here, and I think the world knows it. We all know it. And what we don't know is how much damage, how long this damage is going to last.

COOPER: By the way, Angela Merkel grew up in the East German system. She knows lies. I mean, you know, it's pretty extraordinary.

Also, the president seems to be having it both ways when he claims the Mueller investigation exonerated him, but at the same time, you know, it's this witch hunt, some of the worst human beings on earth.

TOOBIN: Right. This is a continuing problem for him, that contradiction, because if Robert Mueller testifies before Congress and if he merely reads or summarizes the evidence on obstruction of justice, it's devastating, and it's not one thing. It's 10 or 11 examples of obstruction of justice. And he can claim all the exoneration he wants, but when you look at the fact, and people will look at the facts more if it's on television as opposed to a written document, he's going to be very angry to see that.

GERGEN: What I find hard to understand is why there is acceleration in the number of lies per day, you know. It was a small number in the beginning, but now, as you say, there was a torrent today. And that's pretty standard practice right now, but why?

What kind of insecurity is affecting him or has him in its grip that he would -- that he is clearly getting worse.

COOPER: Yes. Or emboldened --

GERGEN: Emboldened. Yes, that's a good point.

COOPER: David Gergen, thank you.

GERGEN: Thanks.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin as well.

Ahead, the story that when it first broke had us wondering if it was a headline from "The Onion", it is that ridiculous. The lengths the president and the White House will go to hold a grudge against the late John McCain, who is dead, we should just point that out, and yet the president is still focused on him. Also, Meghan McCain's reaction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:32:16] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: One thing to remember about President Trump is that he never forgets a grudge, particularly when it involves the late Senator John McCain.

A short time ago, the President tweeted again about the story of White House aides suggesting the Navy obscure the name of the USS John McCain while the President was in Japan. The ship is named after late senator's father and grandfather, both admirals, also named John McCain.

President Trump writes, "The Navy put out a disclaimer on the McCain story. Looks like the story was an exaggeration or even fake news, but why not everything else is?" I'm not sure what the President means by a disclaimer. A spokesman for the Seventh Fleet said nothing was moved and the name was not obscured.

However, the White House and lower level U.S. Navy officials did exchange e-mails about keeping the ship's name out of sight, less it provoke the President's anger. Navy leadership nixed that idea.

This morning at the White House, the President exhibited more of his trademark anger and resentment regarding the late senator and this story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would not have done that. I was very angry with John McCain because he killed health care. I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form. I think John McCain had a lot to getting President Bush, a lot to do with it to go into the Middle East which was a catastrophe.

To me, John McCain, I wasn't a fan. But I would never do a thing like that. Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him, OK? And they were well meaning, I will say. I didn't know anything about it. I would never have done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The buck stops with him, not. The reporter then asked the President, "Do you owe the sailors of the McCain an apology? The President replied, "No, not at all." Hours later, Senator McCain's daughter, Meghan, addressed the issue at the top of the show, she co- hosts "The View". Her point, the damages (INAUDIBLE) does to our military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF THE LATE SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I will say the President's actions have consequences. And when you repeatedly are attacking my father and war heroes, it creates a culture in the military where people are clearly fearful to show, you know, my father's name in one way or another. And that I think is what has started this chain of events and actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Joining me tonight, former Secretary of Defense and former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. Secretary Panetta, I'm wondering what you think says about the culture that the President has created within the White House that staffers then would have thought doing something like this would please the President because it probably did?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, OBAMA ADMIN.: I think it shows more evidence of how dysfunctional this White House is. When I was chief of staff, one of our rules was, don't make an issue out of a nonissue, and that's exactly what they did here.

The main focus should have been the President on Memorial Day on the USS Wasp. And instead, their effort to kind of play to their concern about what might bother the President made them send out this approach on the John McCain, and it really does make the White House look petty and look like it really is not focused on the principle issues that they should be.

[20:35:19] COOPER: I mean, do you believe that the President would not have known about something like this? Or that -- I mean, because it's such a ludicrous idea, it sounds like it's something that would come from him.

PANETTA: Well, you know, look, in the end, whether he really knew about it or not, the buck stops with him because obviously he's conveyed this impression that he's so angry about John McCain.

And so wrapped up in his concern about John McCain, he has passed that message on to everybody around him so that they're acting in this kind of irrational way to try to protect him from himself.

COOPER: I found it interesting that the President today couldn't even criticize the actions of the staffers, you know, if, again, if it was just staffers doing this. He called them well-meaning. I mean, A, you can look at that, is he doesn't want to throw them under the bus because he is lying. He actually was the one who directed it and he doesn't want them then leaking out that he directed it.

But the idea that he couldn't even just even apologize and say, you know what, this was really -- it was just inappropriate and you shouldn't cover up a war hero's name on the side of his ship. I mean, his reaction was telling as well.

PANETTA: I don't think there's any question. When he described what that aide did as well-meaning, it said an awful lot about his own feelings. And the fact that, you know, whether he directed this or not, that he appreciated the fact that his staff knew that he was angry at John McCain and that they were out to try to protect him from that. But that just misses the whole issue here.

This is about the President as commander-in -chief on Memorial Day speaking to the troops from the USS Wasp. That is the main focus. It shouldn't be about the concern about the McCain. My goodness, I've been in the harbor there in Tokyo. There are all kinds of ships in that harbor. Nobody would pay attention to this issue.

They made it an issue by virtue of what they did. And their assumption that somehow this is not going get out into the public, the one thing you ought to operate by when you're in the White House is that everything you do ultimately makes it out to the public. That's a good policy to follow when you're in the White House.

COOPER: I mean, you were secretary of defense. This would be -- is this something that the acting secretary of defense, because there is not a full-time secretary of defense, would that the acting secretary of defense would know about?

PANETTA: There are a lot of people who screwed up here in the White House, because the reason you have advisers is to make sure you don't do something stupid like that, and so the national security adviser should have been aware of this.

The secretary of defense, the acting secretary of defense should have been aware of this. The chief of staff in particular should have been aware that this was happening and stopped it from happening.

COOPER: Yes. It wouldn't surprise me if more comes out about this exactly who knew and whether or not the President did know or not. Secretary Panetta, I appreciate talking to you. Thank you.

PANETTA: Good to talk to you.

COOPER: Just ahead, I'll talk with a House Democrat from a swing district on why she backs Speaker Pelosi's approach on impeachment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:42:22] COOPER: Robert Mueller's public remarks made President Trump's lies that much more obvious, but in turn that made Speaker Pelosi's job that much more difficult. More calls for an impeachment inquiry have surfaced since Mueller's speech.

CNN counts at least 41 in the House so far, many in blue districts. For them to succeed, they may need to coax members representing the swing districts of Democrats flip last year.

My next guest represented one such district, Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill of California, beat a two-term Republican back in November. Congresswoman Hill, thanks for being with us.

I know you have not called for impeachment proceedings against the President. Did Mueller say anything yesterday to change the calculus for you at all?

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): Well, everything that Mueller said was in the report, so there was no new information for those of us who read the report. But what he did say, and I think it's really important that the American people heard this out loud, was that he couldn't exonerate the President.

He specifically said that if there was a way of clearing the President, they would have said so. So, you know, I think that that showed that -- and, you know, the movement that has happened because of that shows that people do need to hear this stuff out loud.

And frankly, I think that Mueller needs to come in and testify regardless of whether he's just going to say the same things he said in the report, because that does show the public a glimpse into what really happened that you wouldn't get otherwise.

COOPER: So even if he is not willing to go beyond what is in the report just having him, you know, essentially reiterate or repeat exactly what's in the report, that would have a bigger impact than just the printed document which the majority of Americans have not read.

HILL: Yes, I think so. And I also think that having, you know, members of Congress question him and say, OK, you know, it's explained this way, what did you mean by that, right? Or, you know, getting into a little bit deeper of the thought process behind it. And I recognize that nobody wants to do this, right? But I think that it needs to happen.

COOPER: Is there a tipping point for you that you can identify? Because there's certainly people who say it's now or never, that all the information one needs is out there. The closer it gets to 2020, the less likely impeachment becomes.

HILL: The tipping point for me is if and when the Trump administration blatantly defies court orders. So the last week or so, we got favorable court rulings on getting the information that we've requested for the oversight committee through Mazars and Deutsche Bank.

So, the court is moving, and they're moving quicker than we thought, and they're also ruling in our favor, meaning that I think we need to let this play out. And when he's -- when he says, when a court specifically says so and so needs to testify or you need to hand over these documents and he refuses, that to me is the red line that we can't allow to go any further.

COOPER: That would actually be a constitutional crisis?

[20:45:02] HILL: Right, that is legitimately 100 percent a constitutional crisis.

COOPER: Speaker Pelosi yesterday, she basically dismissed the opinions of 2020 candidates who are calling for impeachment. I mean, they might not be members of the House. They are driving the national conversation to a certain degree. Is that -- was that a wise thing to do? Does it -- does it play either way?

HILL: I mean, I think that the presidential candidates aren't involved in the investigations that we're doing right now. So, you know, I think that if people really -- when they get the opportunity to see how we're doing these investigations, how that inquiry that we keep talking about, it's happening. It's not -- there's no waiting on it. And so, you know, our job as members of Congress is to get that information out to the public to make sure that it is completely understood, and we're taking that continual drumbeat of getting to where we need to go, if that's ultimately what has to happen.

COOPER: Just lastly, I want to get your reaction to the President today calling impeachment, "dirty, filthy, disgusting word."

HILL: I don't know. That's an interesting way of describing it. I actually feel like impeachment is just a constitutional word, personally. But, that's just my own thoughts.

COOPER: Congresswoman Hill, appreciate your time. Thanks very much. We'll be right back.

HILL: Thank you.

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[20:50:17] COOPER: We have an update on President Trump's threatened tariffs on Mexico if he doesn't stop the flow of migrants into this country. The White House has just wrapped up a conference call. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was asked what the measure of success would be for removing tariffs, which importers and consumers pay, we should add, not Mexico.

Mulvaney said, and I'm quoting now, "We do not set a specific percentage of specific number," meaning percentage or number reduction in migrants. He said, "The administration will assess it on a day-to- day and week to week basis. "I'm guessing this will come up tonight on "Cuomo Prime Time." Let's check in with Chris for a quick look. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, bud. We have Kimberly Guilfoyle on tonight. She's a new senior adviser to the campaign and we're going to ask her what's the thinking behind this, what is the calibration, who wins, who loses, what does this mean for the newly negotiated trade deal with Mexico, how much has this been thought out. She is the right person to ask, obviously. She's close to the seat of power. She represents the campaigns. It will be there.

Look, this is a tandem move, right? If this end trying to change the asylum rules, which the President has had some difficulty with but also some success in the Ninth Circuit, whereby if you leave Central America and go through Mexico on land to get to the United States you can't forum shop for asylum. You have to be there.

Now, the law might allow for that. So this is a tandem move. We'll go through both. We also have Beto O'Rourke on tonight with his take on what the problem is on the border. He blames the President for the problem.

COOPER: It's going to be interesting to see about -- I'm curious to hear what he has to say and also just about where his campaign is at this stage and what he thinks about it. CUOMO: Yes. You know, I'll give you a good one that I think is a signature answer from him, maybe too honest once again. I said, "What do these people on top of you have that you don't have?" And he said, "I don't know." Unusual answer.

Usually, you always want an answer for a perceived weakness in politics. You always want to tell your own story to the extent that you can. He didn't take that route, but he has a pretty compelling sense of what he thinks it will take to win and why he is well suited to that and he'll be on tonight.

COOPER: All right. We'll be watching that seven minutes from now. Chris, thanks very much.

Coming up, strangers in the night, lovers at first sight how President Trump just might end up in a Jacuzzi with Comey and Mueller and Strzok and Page with some help from "Saturday Night Live." "The Ridiculous" is next.

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[20:56:16] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And tonight, the greatest love story that never was continues unabated in the most disputed of cupid's domains, President Trump's mind.

That's right, bright and early today after his morning constitutional on Twitter, the President was on the South Lawn shouting over Marine One's engines about the Romeo from Shakespeare should have written about Robert S. Mueller III.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He loves Comey. You look at the relationship that those two, so whether it's love or deep like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Oh, love or deep like. How about that? That's a new option. Is that like first base, second base or did Comey and Mueller go all the way and share one of those big yellow legal pads? Either way -- I don't know what that means. Either way, it's not the first time the President has claimed that Mueller and Comey were kind of a "Bridges of Madison County" sequel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We had somebody that is in love with James Comey. He liked James Comey. They were very good friends, supposedly best friends. Maybe not, but supposedly best friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Do you notice all the people standing behind him just acting as if this is normal, like they're not even actually hearing what he is actually saying, they're just there and they're just sort of looking in the distance? You heard him, supposedly best friends, you know, like Laverne and Shirley, if not in love like Popeye and Olive Oil. As it happens, just a few hours later that day, I hosted a town hall with Director Comey and asked him whether he was indeed the Cleopatra to Mueller's Marc Antony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I respect him. I don't think we have that kind of relationship.

COOPER: You just want to be friends.

COOPER: He is certainly not -- yes. He is certainly not obsessed with me in the way some others seem to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I mean, what journalist hasn't had to ask the former FBI director if another former FBI director was in love with him? It's T.V. news 101. Barbara Walters asking Castro if he was in love with Brezhnev, that was awkward, I remember that. Anyway, it didn't happen.

President Trump might not be entirely sure about Comey and Mueller, but he is definitely, definitely, definitely sure, he might even say big fat sure about two people who actually were involved with each other, the Captain and Tennille of the FBI, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, ladies and gentlemen.

Oh, yes, not only does everything trace back to those two, but in the President's mind, they are lovers with a capital "L."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're lovers. They're lovers, right, Lisa, Lisa and Strzok.

When I see Lisa and her lover.

Lisa and Peter, the two lovers.

Lisa Page who was forced to leave the FBI and her lover Peter Strzok.

Peter Strzok and his lover Lisa Page.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Lover. That word makes me so nervous. He loves that word, so much love. It's like in the President's mind the FBI has operated out of a Jacuzzi while unchained melody plays on underwater speakers or maybe he keeps watching one of the best "SNL" sketches ever with Rachel Dratch and Will Ferrell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL DRATCH, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": At this point during this soak, my lover and I usually crave spiced meats. We all eat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We're going to cut it there. I could watch that for hours. Oh, spiced meat. Who doesn't love spiced lamb? Who doesn't love spiced lamb shanks among lovers in a hot tub?

Anyway, without lovers, the real ones, the ones birthed in his angry fun fiction, what would President Trump talk about? As the song goes "Love Will Keep Us Together," just not maybe in Washington, though the President will always think of you babe whenever on "The Ridiculist.

A lot going on. News continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time. Chris?

CUOMO: Love lamb shanks, love you Anderson. Thank you very much. I am Chris Cuomo, welcome to "Prime Time."

Breaking news, the President is ramping up his border wall with Mexico now threatening tariffs on all Mexican goods if it does not step up enforcement of illegal immigration.