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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Trump Cancels Meeting With Taliban at Camp David, "It Was My Idea"; NYT: Commerce Chief Threatened Firings at NOAA After President Trump's Dorian Tweets; Government Extracted High-Level Agent Out of Russia In 2017 After Concerns Trump Administration Might Compromise Him; Government Extracted High-Level Agent Out Of Russian In 2017 After Concerns Trump Administration Might Compromise Him; GOP Seeks To Cancel Republican Primaries In Four States In 2020; President Trump Says His Primary Challengers Have "No Credibility"; Areas Of The Bahamas Still Cut Off By Hurricane Dorian. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 9, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:24]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening and thanks for joining us.

There is breaking news tonight that a member of President Trump's cabinet threatened top-level firings at NOAA after the National Weather Service's Birmingham, Alabama, office, contradicted the president's false tweet about Hurricane Dorian.

We've also learned -- and this is a CNN exclusive -- that U.S. intelligence pulled the very high-level agent spy out of Russia in part out of concern that the president might somehow blow this individual's cover.

We'll have more on both of those stories tonight.

But we begin with the president's invitation, now revoked, to the Taliban. Had it come to pass, Taliban representatives would right now be at Camp David as guests of the president, brought here to finalize a deal for pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. They'd be staying at the very same place as Congresswoman Liz Cheney pointed out today that her father, the vice president, President Bush and other top officials gathered just days after New York and Washington had been attacked on 9/11 to plan a response.

At least that was the idea, which the president revealed in a tweet on Saturday, in which he also rescinded the invitation, citing the suicide attack on Thursday that killed an American soldier.

Now, as you might imagine, the tweet raised a number of questions and criticisms. Why would the president invite the Taliban to America days before the anniversary of 9/11? And why to Camp David of all places? Why would he have the president of Afghanistan come as well when the Taliban has refused to deal directly with the Afghan government and has refused to stop attacks against that government? And why reveal anything at all and potentially jeopardize future talks unless, as several critics have said, it was simply a way for the president to show what an impressive secret this all was.

He talked about it this afternoon on his way to a political rally in North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a meeting scheduled. It was my idea and it was my idea to terminate it. I didn't even -- I didn't discuss it with anybody else. When I heard very simply that they killed one of our soldiers and 12 other innocent people, I said, there's no way I'm meeting on that basis. There's no way I'm meeting. They did a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the soldier was Sergeant First Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz from Puerto Rico. The president, however, did not say that this particular killing, as sickening as it is, scuttled the talks. In all, 16 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan this year and this killing was the fourth in the last several weeks. In fact, more than 2,400 American service members have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

The president didn't mention that, nor did he mention that he once opposed talking to the Taliban at all. And, of course, there's a tweet back from January of 2012. While Barack Obama is slashing the military, he's also negotiating with our sworn enemy, the Taliban, who facilitated 9/11.

There are other tweets and sound bites along those lines, as well. But showing what might be generously called his self-inconsistency over the years is almost too easy -- inconsistency about negotiations, about revealing your negotiating position in advance, about becoming sentimental about your negotiating partner, strategic surprise, and more.

Instead, consider for a minute what this episode shows about the opposite. What it says about how consistent the president is in other ways. The reporting suggests he wanted the Camp David talks to be some kind of grand gesture, which is certainly what he sought from Kim Jong-un, and which critics say he debased himself to get.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He's got a great personality. He's a, you know, funny guy. He's a very smart guy. He's a great negotiator. He loves his people.

He wrote me beautiful letters. And they're great letters. We fell in love.

A lot of progress has been made. A lot of friendships have been made. And this has been, in particular, a great friendship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, keeping 'em honest, not only has progress not been made, each week seems to bring another North Korean missile test, including, reportedly, two more today. Today. Which, as you know, the president routinely dismisses, because as also as you know, in addition to accepting love letters without real progress, he is consistent as well in gravitating towards thugs and adversaries over democratically elected leaders and allies.

Remember this, of course, from Helsinki.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, as you know, this was not a one-off. The president has been as consistent with Vladimir Putin as he's been lately with Kim Jong-un, at least since the first love letter arrived. Just as he's consistently sided with Saudi Arabia's crowned prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who reputedly ordered the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi embassy.

[20:05:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not-too-distant future, I think we'll know an answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The answer appears to be that murdering and sawing up an American resident is OK and so is imprisoning and all but killing Otto Warmbier as the North Koreans did, and so apparently is annexing Crimea as Vladimir Putin did.

The question tonight, was the president's approach to the Taliban part of that kind of pattern, that same pattern, or was he preparing to embrace an adversary, bitter adversary, and pursue either some kind of big headline as in the case of North Korea or as a way to simply get out of America's longest war without even any real peace agreement left behind.

If that pattern holds, perhaps, or as the president himself likes to say, we'll see what happens.

Let's get some perspective now from strategic analyst and author, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters.

Colonel Peters, do you think it was appropriate for the president to invite the Taliban, who obviously are the people who gave safe haven to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to plan the 9/11 attacks to Camp David, especially, you know, the week of running into 9/11 anniversary? LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (RET.), STRATEGIC ANALYST AND AUTHOR: No.

Indeed, it was one of the most repulsive ideas ever raised by an American president. To bring the Taliban, to legitimatize them, to evaluate and dignify them, by bringing them to Camp David, or to even to the Department of Agriculture, for that matter, to any federal building, to bring them to this country, is absolutely madness.

Can anyone, can any viewer imagine in the months, the days and months, even the years after 9/11, having a president invite the Taliban to Camp David for the express purpose of cutting a backroom deal, and essentially handing them Afghanistan.

COOPER: The -- what's interesting, I think, is, you know, there have been peace processes which have been worked out in Camp David in the past. But really what the U.S. is doing here, though no one is really saying this directly, is that they're trying to negotiate, basically, withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. It's not a peace deal for Afghanistan. There's no terms about the war -- the violence by the Taliban ending, the Afghan government isn't even directly involved in these talks.

PETERS: Yes, and there are good reasons. And I've argued some of them, to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But I just feel that if we're going to call it quits, if we're going to say, hey, we gave it our best shot, it hasn't worked, the Afghan haven't stood up and fought for their own country, it's time to go -- we should do it openly, and not do it behind the backs of our clients.

It's just -- the entire thing stinks. And the holdup with the Taliban apparently has been that they want us to go even faster than we're willing to go. And even were they to agree to a treaty that seemed on the surface to make some sort of sense, they wouldn't honor it.

You've got to understand, for the Taliban, this is a jihad. For them, at least, it is a religious war. And they do not have to honor promises made to the enemy, to the unbeliever, et cetera. So back to your original point, though, Anderson. Yes, we've had secret negotiations with hostile forces before. But not with terrorists, who have killed thousands of Americans and maimed tens of thousands of Americans.

You don't make -- cobras don't make good pets and terrorists are not good negotiating partners.

COOPER: It is one of the, you know, one of the things that the president said is, look, sometimes you do have, you know, make deals with bad actors or unsavory characters, which is certainly a fair point. I guess, I'm just not clear on exactly what the deal they're going for really is, because -- I mean, the Taliban is still doing suicide attacks. Do you believe the president when he said the reason for calling off the talks was the killing of a U.S. service member?

PETERS: I don't think at this point any of us can get inside President Trump's head. It may have been, it may have been the pushback he was getting from Vice President Pence and John Bolton and others. You just don't know with this guy. But, again, I have to stress that, yes, you have to make deals with

bad people sometimes in life, us (ph), in the life of nations. But not with terrorists, it doesn't work. Not with a people who are the arch supporters -- not the executors, but the arch supporters of 9/11.

And the timing, I mean, how could it have possibly been worse? So, I'm -- I have so many reservations and regrets about our engagement in Afghanistan, but dealing with the Taliban is not the right way to get it out. And I think what the Trump administration wants isn't really a peace deal. They want a fig leaf.

COOPER: A fig leaf to get U.S. troops out.

[20:10:01]

PETERS: Yes, an excuse. Oh, we cut a deal, the Taliban didn't honor it, but we made a deal.

And this dealmaker in chief, it's frightening that he thinks he can get the best Kim Jong-un or the Taliban or Vladimir Putin or President Xi.

Anderson, none of his deals have worked out of these major initiatives. Not one. And it's -- it's not only disappointing, it's frightening.

COOPER: Do you think this is about -- for President Trump, this is about President Trump's ego or about politics before the 2020 election, trying to get American troops out before 2020 election? Because that seems to be the timetable the U.S. has been pushing for and the president wants, you know, something that seems dramatic at Camp David with these, you know, allegedly making some sort of a peace deal, which is really just a withdrawal deal.

PETERS: Everything from Afghanistan to Alabama is about Trump's ego. But Trump's ego is also involved in the election. So, the answer is, all of the above.

President Trump obviously doesn't grasp the principles, the basic principles of national security. His own government can't trust him. The American people can't trust him. And now, he's the man who apparently will lead us out of this long, tragic involvement and will leave in an odious manner.

COOPER: Colonel Peters, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

Well, we have much more ahead tonight.

If you thought altering a weather map a sharpie was silly and lying about it for days, it now turns out a member of the cabinet reportedly threatened NOAA officials with firings for not backing up what the president got wrong and refused to move on from.

Also tonight, that CNN exclusive, sneaking a top covert asset, a top spy out of Russia, in part, according to one source, because of concerns the asset might get blown by the president mishandling classified intelligence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:15:58]

COOPER: There's more breaking news tonight. A new sign of how seriously President Trump took being publicly contradicted on his false prediction about Hurricane Dorian hitting Alabama -- or at least how seriously his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, took it.

As you know, just minutes after the president's false alarm, the National Weather Service's regional office in Birmingham issued a tweet reassuring people in Alabama that they were not in danger.

According to "The New York Times," Secretary Ross threatened to fire top employees at NOAA if the agency didn't disavow that tweet. In other words, if it didn't disavow a statement of fact affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

According to three people cited in "The New York Times" report, Secretary Ross called the acting NOAA administer, Neil Jacobs, and told him to fix the National Weather Service's contradiction of Trump's claim. When Jacobs opposed the demand, Ross told him that NOAA's political staff would be fired.

In fact, NOAA did disavow that factual tweet. The statement was unsigned, which is very unusual.

Late today, "The Times" added to the story reporting that the Commerce Department's inspector general is now looking into all of this. So that's the backdrop to our conversation with Richard Painter, who is ethics czar in the George W. Bush administration, and Monica Medina who served as principal deputy NOAA administrator during the Obama administration. I spoke to them just before air time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Monica, can you just explain why this matters? That -- I mean, it's one thing to say your crowd size at inauguration are bigger than they are. Why is this so concerning to you?

MONICA MEDINA, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, NOAA OBAMA: This matters because the president's changing of that weather map really crossed a line in terms of the sanctity of the weather forecast. It's important that the National Weather Service speak with one voice, in unison, because they communicate to all the weather forecasters out there in the country about what's the real forecast, what's the most up-to-date information. And it has to be up-to-date, because the storms can change, as we've seen.

COOPER: And when you saw that statement from NOAA that was put out to back up what the president had said, it wasn't signed, and that's significant.

MEDINA: It was significant because the agency really wasn't willing to stand behind it. And the leaders wouldn't say no, that they wouldn't put it out, and it clearly had a chilling effect on the agency, and it made those weather forecasters think twice about whether or not to put out the most up-to-date information, if it was going to look like it contradicted the president.

What they did was completely routine. What they did was exactly what we would have expected them to do when I was at NOAA, which is to get the most up-to-date information out to the public as quickly as possible.

COOPER: Richard, I mean, to say this out loud sounds ludicrous, but as you point out, we have federal employees getting reprimanded for accurately disclosing scientific truths.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: We do. And this is yet one more instance of the Trump administration distorting facts in order to cover for the president politically, presenting alternative facts in Kellyanne Conway's language.

And now, it's affecting the weather. It's affected our national intelligence reports. It's affected our approach to climate change and other scientific evidence, about environmental degradation, from sulfide mining and all sorts of things. And now, we even have politicized weather reports.

What are they going to come up with? Tornado watches in certain counties of Pennsylvania and Ohio on Election Day? I mean, this is crazy. And we tolerate this is crazy.

We need to have an investigation, a criminal investigation, of what happened here, and the United States House Oversight Committee to convene a hearing.

COOPER: Monica, you worked at NOAA under two -- under -- in the Clinton administration and also in the Obama administration. Would this have happened -- I mean, has this ever happened before?

MEDINA: This is completely unprecedented in the modern era. And it's why those rules about and the criminal statute was put in place. There's a criminal statute to protect the accuracy of the forecast, so that everyone speaks with one voice, clearly.

In the past, that wasn't the case. A long time, a hundred years ago. And that really was a dangerous situation, caused people to die. And so, the bureau, at the time, the weather bureau set procedures in place and Congress put that law into place to protect the public.

[20:20:08]

COOPER: I mean, Richard, you know, there are a growing number of Democrats who are already calling for Secretary Wilbur Ross to step down. "The New York Times" is reporting the inspector general from the Commerce Department is going to be taking a look at the NOAA statement. Do you think he should resign?

PAINTER: Yes, he should. The president of the United States should also resign. He's been lying, you know, right and left about everything. And once again, this is affecting our weather reports, intelligence reports, other scientific data. Economic data will also certainly be distorted before election day.

This is a president who has no understanding of the truth. He needs to be impeached. And this is just one more example of it. We can't even get an accurate weather report with Donald Trump in office. And yes, people's lives are in danger.

COOPER: I mean, you know, and for days, people have been discussing this and saying, well, this is ridiculous that we're even discussing this, talking about, you know, a sharpie thing on a map and, you know, a false statement the president made and then refusing to correct or even just move past. But if the head of the Commerce Department is spending time trying to get and threaten with firings people in NOAA, there's no telling what else -- if you're willing to do that for something as meaningless as trying to cover up for the president making an error, there's no telling what else is going on.

PAINTER: Well, exactly. You have no idea what's going on with nuclear weapons in North Korea, for example. And do you trust this Pentagon? Do you trust the intelligence services under Donald Trump to present accurate information about whether there is a nuclear threat from North Korea? I certainly don't.

And that's just one example. It's a very dangerous situation, where this president lives in a world that consists entirely of his own lies.

MEDINA: Anderson, I agree. And I really worry that this was the kind of thing that the commerce secretary might have done when I saw that statement. It looked like it was under duress. And to me, it crossed a line. And he should resign.

COOPER: Monica Medina, I appreciate you being with us.

And, Richard Painter, thank you.

MEDINA: Thank you.

PAINTER: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: On this busy Monday, a lot more straight ahead, including CNN's exclusive reporting on a covert intelligence source who was secretly smuggled out of Russia in the beginning of the Trump administration. A secret maneuver began after President Trump discussed classified intelligence with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. We have fascinating new details tonight, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:26:30]

COOPER: Well, it sounds like something out of a spy novel, only it's true. In a CNN exclusive, CNN's Jim Sciutto reports that at the beginning, the Trump administration, the government secretly extracted a high level covert source inside the Russian government. According to a person directly involved in the discussion, part of the concerns were that President Trump and his administration had mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the source.

So, Jim Sciutto joins us now.

So explain what you've learned about this, because it's fascinating.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: For sure. Multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge tell me that in a previously undisclosed secret mission in 2017, the U.S. successfully extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government. A person directly involved in the discussion said that the removal of the Russian was driven in part by concerns that President Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence, which could then contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.

We should note the decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

The intelligence concerning ISIS and Syria had been provided by Israel. A disclosure of the Russians by the president, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew discussions about the potential risk of exposure. This according to the source directly involved in the matter.

At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the asset. And I should note, Anderson, that the concerns about this source and the safety of this source did not beginning at that moment. But going back to the Obama administration --

COOPER: There was concern even in the Obama administration about the source being revealed.

SCIUTTO: There was. Partly due to length of service there, but also because you remember the 2017 assessment on Russian interference in the U.S. election, which concluded that President Putin ordered it, but also preferred Donald Trump as the winner of that election, that that assessment was based on part on information from this source. So, the concern was that since that intelligence was out there, that that might also contribute to the person's exposure.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Vladimir Putin, former KGB guy, certainly would be aware of this possibility --

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

COOPER: -- and on the lookout for this.

The -- you broke this story. You held back or you -- SCIUTTO: Yes.

COOPER: -- decided not to reveal some details out of concern and respect for the individual, that it might somehow affect them. Is that right?

SCIUTTO: Exactly. We made an editorial decision, now "The New York Times" has confirmed our story and they've put out details about the particular aspects of this source. Some of which we have, but we also have additional details and it speaks to how high-level this asset, this Russian spy was.

It is our understanding that this was a Russian national who had been serving as an informant for the U.S. for more than a decade.

COOPER: Wow.

SCIUTTO: So a number of years. That this person had direct access to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the remarkable ability to take photos of documents on the desk of the Russian president. So, imagine the depth of knowledge that this provided.

COOPER: That's incredible.

SCIUTTO: This person, over those years, has risen to the top levels of Russia's national security infrastructure, again, providing remarkable access. We also learned that during the Obama administration, senior U.S. intelligence officials offered to extract this source at the time, made the offer to the asset, the asset refused at the time.

[20:30:00]

And it was only months later into the Trump administration when another offer was made. The asset accepted that offer and the extraction took place successfully.

COOPER: What's been the administration's response?

SCIUTTO: So the administration's response, a U.S. official suggested that there was media speculation at the time about the covert operative, but could not point to any public reporting about it.

Asked for comment, the CIA's Director for Public Affairs, Brittany Bramell, told me the following and I'm quoting here. "CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence, which he has access to each and every day, drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate."

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment for this story. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, "CNN's reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger." Of course, that issue is the reason that we initially held details about this person's identity.

COOPER: And "The New York Times" by the way has now --

SCIUTTO: And they have. And they've put that out there now, so that makes that to some degree moot. But I should state this, despite those statements and those denials, I spoke to five officials who served in the Trump administration, who served in the intelligence agencies and served in positions on Capitol Hill where they had access to intelligence and they told me that the concerns in the Intel community about President Trump's handling of intelligence are broad, they're consistent, and they're not based on just one instance. They're based on a series of instances.

And in our story, we report an additional one. This was in July 2017 after that Oval Office meeting with the Russians, when you'll remember that President Trump met with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany, this was during the G-20 summit there, where he took the remarkable step of confiscating the translator's notes after that meeting.

COOPER: That he had had a kind of a side meeting with Putin --

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

COOPER: -- there without anybody else except a translator.

SCIUTTO: A private meeting. He took away those notes afterwards. I am told by an intelligence source with knowledge of the Intel community's reaction to that meeting, that the IC was concerned that in that meeting as well --

COOPER: The IC is intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: -- that the President may have shared improperly discussed classified intelligence with the Russian president.

COOPER: Wow. It's fascinating reporting. Jim Sciutto, appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much.

COOPER: Thank you very much. Obviously, this is both important, chilling at the same time. We're going to talk more about it.

Retired CIA Chief of Russian Operations, Steve Hall, who's also a CNN National Security Analyst, also Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA Intelligence Officer. Appreciate both of you being with us. Obviously, I know you are both limited in what you can or would say, so I would just leave it to up to you obviously to answer or not answer.

But Steve, what is it -- I'm wondering what you make of this extraction and also the new details which Jim wasn't reporting, but "The Times" has gone ahead and reported, so Jim mentioned them tonight.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, as you alluded to-- I mean, I hate to sound like the CIA spokesperson, but I really can't confirm or deny anything that Jim has reported.

COOPER: Sure.

HALL: What I can say, though, is that what he said there at the end with the intelligence community being concerned about how this President handles intelligence writ large, you know, when the president handles the intelligence that is collected by the U.S. government as his own personal coinage, where he handles it as though he can do whatever he wants with it, then you are going to get both foreign intelligence services, allies of ours who cooperate with us, who are going to want to talk less about that, because they're concerned that it's going to pop up on Twitter or something like that.

So this is a concern to anybody who's contemplating providing intelligence to the United States government. Just look what happened, again, Jim was talking about this. I mean, you have the now-infamous meeting with the Russians in the Oval where he talked about Israeli intelligence, that the Israeli service hadn't approved for that.

COOPER: Talked about it to the Russian ambassador.

HALL: You know, you have him there (ph) just a few days ago. Yes, to the Russian ambassador. You've also got a president who just a couple of days ago put out what looked very much to me like secret overhead, secret classified overhead of Iranian launch sites.

And then if there were any question as to whether or not they were secret, he tweeted shortly there afterwards, "Hey, the law says I can do whatever I want with this stuff. I declassified whatever I want."

And then, of course, lastly, Jim's point about, you know, him disappearing on a regular basis behind closed doors with Vladimir Putin when we really don't know exactly what is going on and whether there was anybody there to hold him accountable later on.

So, those are all really serious concerns to those entities which would be interested in providing intelligence to the United States government.

COOPER: Yes. Rolf, I mean, if somebody doesn't -- you know, President Trump doesn't have a career in diplomacy or intelligence, if somebody does -- and have a lot of experience with intelligence, they can inadvertently reveal information that they shouldn't, even if they aren't intending to.

I'm wondering, again, Rolf, I know there's probably a lot you can't say on any of the details of this, but the removal of a high-level Russian asset, does -- I mean, one, if it's -- if it's true that the person had been in place for 10 years, that seems like an extraordinary amount of time and I imagine the danger just increases with each passing year.

[20:35:13] Does it leave a void if somebody like that leave -- you know, is exfiltrated? ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Yes, of course it would leave a void, Anderson. But I prefer to focus on three important successes of this reported exfiltration. And like Steve, I can't confirm it because I simply don't know, which is also good news. If someone like I were aware of this operation, that would be a bad thing.

But first, the fact that we had a source like this, I sometimes question whether we continue to be as successful against Russia in the counterterrorism age, and apparently, we have been. And so I think we have to first salute this success of this operation to go on as long as it did in such extraordinary, difficult circumstances operating in Moscow.

Secondly, the fact we got him out alive. And I can tell you from history that that doesn't happen all the time that we successfully exfiltrate our agents. And I know that Vladimir Putin and the FSB right now are very upset about that and that's another success for the intelligence community.

The third thought, though, and I think it's an important part of this, where we can look at the success of getting him out successfully from a practical perspective, is that now his information can be more fully exploited.

In other words, presumably there were tremendous sensitivities in sharing his information, that's always the problem when you have a uniquely placed asset is if you share the information widely, you're going to risk leaks and compromises, which certainly looks like it was a huge factor in deciding to exfiltrate him now.

So in this particular case, now that he's out, perhaps he can answer some very big questions for us. For example, what was Vladimir's intentions -- Vladimir Putin's intentions in 2016? What are his intentions in 2020, vis-a-vis the U.S. election? Did members of the Trump administration collude or conspire with Russian intelligence? Presumably, if this source was as well placed as he sounds, we can -- we would know some of the answers to those questions.

COOPER: Wow, it's fascinating. Steve Hall, I really appreciate it. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, thank you so much.

President Trump went after the three Republicans so far who have said they'll run against him for the Republican presidential nomination. Coming up, I'll talk to one of those the President went after today, former Congressman Joe Walsh, and also explore why the Republican Party is actually trying to limit the number of GOP primaries next year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:41:13] COOPER: Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford says he'll join two other Republicans, former Congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, and run against President Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. On the south lawn today before he left for a campaign rally in North Carolina, the President was dismissive of all three. He didn't mention any one of them by name, but he did referred to Walsh obliquely, sarcastically noting he served only a single term in Congress. I'll talk with Congressman Walsh after we hear what President Trump said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I don't even know who they are other than I know that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Walsh --

TRUMP: I guess you could say -- no, but I don't know them. I don't know them. I would say this, they're all at less than 1 percent. It's a -- I guess it's a publicity stunt. We just got, right, a little while ago 94 percent popularity or approval rating within the Republican Party. So to be honest, I'm not looking to give them any credibility. They have no credibility.

One was a person that voted for Obama, ran as a vice president four years ago and was soundly defeated. Another one got thrown out after one term in Congress and he lost in a landslide. And the third one, Mr. Tallahassee Trail or Appalachian Trail, he's the Appalachian Trail, right? The Tallahassee Trail is nice, too, but I think he was the Appalachian Trail, but he wasn't on the Appalachian Trail. He was in Argentina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, the President also dismissed complaints that Republican officials is either already have canceled or plan to canceled Republican primaries in four states, thereby obviously limiting the exposure of any Republican opponents to the President.

Joe Walsh, whom you heard the President say was thrown out after one term, joins me now. Congressman, thanks for being with us. I'm wondering, just first of all, your response to the President today calling your candidacy a joke, "laughingstock" and saying you have no credibility.

JOE WALSH (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, Anderson. Good to be with you. Look, I stopped paying attention to anything this President said a hell of a long time ago, because virtually everything out of his mouth is a lie. I look at what they do. And if this President-- if he's so popular, Anderson, and he's such a big tough guy, well, then, why is he trying to shutdown and eliminate primary elections all over this country?

COOPER: The President said that you're running as a publicity stunt. Obviously, you've, you know, been a radio host provocateur. You've said, you know, racist things. You've said President Obama was a Muslim, which you've recently said you regret. If you said all of those things and maybe -- and if you didn't believe some of them at the time, why shouldn't people think you're running just for publicity now?

WALSH: Look, I'm running because this guy is unfit for office. And you know it Anderson, I know it and I think most Republicans know it. I mean, look at what happened in the last 24 hours. The President of the United States -- I want to say that again, the President of the United States tweeted last night about an American citizen that she is a filthy-mouthed wife.

That came from the President of the United States, the same guy who invited the Taliban on American soil, the same guy who probably ordered Wilbur Ross to fire, to threaten to fire our national weather service folks because they had the temerity to speak the truth about Alabama and the hurricane. He's unfit for office, Anderson. That's why I'm running because that truth needs to be told.

COOPER: The -- I mean, fact that multiple states are canceling their primaries already, what does it say about where the Republican Party is right now, writ large? I mean, you know, the same could be asked about, you know, why are no Republicans talking about deficit -- the deficit, which seems like under Obama there were a lot of folks talking about the deficit, you included and now, you know, Republicans are just silent.

[20:45:00] WALSH: They're on their knees, Anderson. They're on their knees, prostrated in front of their king. Look, I apologize for my language, but this is absolute undemocratic bullshit, what Donald Trump, Anderson, and the Republican Party is doing, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada and Kansas. I mean, think about this, Anderson, they are denying Americans the right to vote. Voters --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: This has been done -- I mean, this is rare, but it has been done in the past, I with think George H.W. Bush when he was running and Pat Buchanan was challenging him. I think there were several primaries that weren't actually -- never took place because of that.

WALSH: Never -- and Obama -- it happened with Obama and the Democrat Party when there was no presidential primary opposition at all. You've got -- right now, Anderson, you've got three credible challengers, two former Republican governors, a former Republican congressman.

Again, just -- look, I know we get numb and I get numb in this world of Trump, because every day there's a scandal. Every day there's an outrage. Every day, Anderson, there are attacks on our democracy. But this goes well beyond.

Donald Trump is trying to prevent people from voting. Think about that. He's in cahoots with the Republican Party to disenfranchise voters. Every voter in South Carolina, Arizona, and Kansas ought to be marching with pitchforks right now into the corporate --

COOPER: But if -- right. The argument, you know, that the President's supporters will say is, well, look, if you don't have a real chance, and clearly Donald Trump is going to be the nominee or that's certainly the way it looks right now, why should a state go through the expense of holding a primary?

WALSH: Because voters have a say. Voters have a say, Anderson, and there will be other choices on the ballot. And I know you know this. And I know the President knows this as well. There will be other choices on the ballot. And again, forget about the money, forget about all of that, that's a bunch of BS. They're doing this because they're afraid.

Look, the Republican Party is afraid because this President is imploding every single day. I mean, look what's happened in the last 24 hours. Who knows what Trump is going to say next week. They don't want any primary opposition, Anderson.

COOPER: Congressman Joe Walsh, I appreciate you being on. Thank you. Just ahead --

WALSH: Thank you, my friend.

COOPER: -- we're going to go live to the Bahamas for a report of the search and rescue mission and the places still cut off by Hurricane Dorian.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:51:38] COOPER: Politicized weather reports, the Taliban almost to Camp David, Russian spy extractions and three 2020 challengers for President Trump, a lot going on tonight. I want to check with Chris to see what he's going to focus on tonight. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: That is a lot. A little bit overwhelming. We're going to have Tennessee --

COOPER: Every day feels a little overwhelming.

CUOMO: A little bit, a little bit, because I have to keep my wig on. So we're going to have Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen on the show tonight. He is one of the people saying, hey, it's time to move forward, enough waiting for Nancy Pelosi, we're going to have the big vote this week.

He says we're going to start this impeachment march with a little bit of a quicker step. Why? We're going to test his position, why he thinks it matters and what he believes the chances that anything gets done in this already abbreviated session to Congress that started today.

Then guess who we have on? Valerie Plame. We want to talk about spy game with her about what's happening in Russia, what she thinks is reasonable or not, what happened to her, her run for Congress. So we're going to take all of that on tonight.

COOPER: Wow. Chris, I look forward to it. That spy story is so fascinating. I want to hear more what Ms. Plame has to say about it.

Still to come, a live report from the Bahamas on the humanitarian crisis there as well as President Trump's thoughts on allowing evacuees from the Bahamas into the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:56:53] COOPER: The situation in parts of Bahamas remains dire. Tonight, the death toll now stands at 45 with hundreds still missing. Some 70,000 people are now homeless as relief agencies try to rush food and aid there.

Some residents are trying to flee or trying to leave, however, dozens tried to board a ferry to Florida returned back this weekend due to not having proper visas. Today, President Trump dismissed the idea of waving visa requirements on humanitarian grounds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Everybody needs totally proper documentation because, look, the Bahamas has some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren't supposed to be there. I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come in to the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We asked the White House for some specifics about that claim that you heard there, we've not heard back. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has spent most of his waking hours last week detailing the plight of survivors. Today, he was in another hard hit section. He joins us now from Freeport in the Bahamas.

So, Patrick, I you know you went to the place that Bahamian officials say over the last 24 hours that officials haven't gotten to yet. What did you find there?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know, it was an area that's cut off. The road has been washed out and we just have not heard any word from the people there, so naturally we wanted to go and visit. And when we got in, there was a bit of a shock. The channel had been completely washed out. So it was as much shallow (ph) as a little dicey getting in.

And then there were probably 10 or 20 submerged cars. We couldn't see if there were any people that have been in those cars when they had been pushed out into the harbor. But we had navigator, our captain had to navigate the boat over.

We got into this that's called McLean's town. It's the eastern most point, one of the hardest hit areas. And the rubble we saw was six feet high at least everywhere we looked. And of course, there was a stench of things rotting, animals or perhaps people underneath that rubble. It was just a total ghost town.

And when we're leaving, a Bahamian police officer arrived by boat and he was the first official to reach here. So as happens when we go all these places, people ask us for water, which we always give them, and they always ask us to borrow our satellite phone, which we're lucky to have, and they make that call to the relatives to say they're alive.

And that's a -- it's a heart-wrenching thing to hear and it's also heart-wrenching to realize that a lot of these communities were probably never recover. They're just wiped off the map.

COOPER: Yes. And if you think of all those families waiting for that call, I mean, it's just still -- the scale of this thing, I don't think we know we've got, frankly. Is there any indication of how or when authorities are going to actually get to an area like this?

OPPMANN: No. And I'll tell you something amazing, Anderson. The first help that arrived there yesterday came from people, regular Bahamians who came from Abaco, which as you know has been destroyed.

So, how people will come in a boat with water and gas from Abaco is amazing and it speaks to the strength of Bahamians. But why is it that these people are coming first rather than the government? Why is it that we can get there but the government can't get there?

COOPER: Yes, it is a good question. Patrick Oppmann, thank you very much. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

END