Return to Transcripts main page

CUOMO PRIME TIME

Recordings Show Trump Knew In Early February Coronavirus Was Highly Contagious, Airborne And "More Deadly" Than Flu; Trump Claims He Downplayed Coronavirus Threat To Avoid Panic; DHS Whistleblower Accuses Trump Administration Of Downplaying Russian Interference And White Supremacist Threat. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Just a reminder, tomorrow night, a new CNN Global Town Hall, "Coronavirus Facts and Fears," Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and I'll be taking your questions about the virus, potential vaccines. That is tomorrow night, 8:00 P.M. Eastern on CNN.

The news continues. Want to hand it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, CUOMO PRIME TIME: Coop, thank you very much.

I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.

I'm sorry to say this. But tonight, I have to tell you, the worst thing I ever have about Coronavirus. It is a really ugly truth. Our President knew that COVID-19 was going to be much worse than he was telling you.

He lied. He pressured others to lie essentially, to underplay and, worst of all, to underprepare. As a result, more of us got sick, more of us died than needed to happen. He let us get sick and die because he thought it was better for him.

This isn't hearsay. I wish! It's not my opinion. I wish it were. It's not an unnamed source. It's Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It goes, it goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don't have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so, that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, your, even your strenuous flus.

This is more deadly. This is five per, you know, this is 5 percent versus 1 percent and less than 1 percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: He knew it was going to get worse. He knew it was worse than a flu. He knew the numbers. And he knew he was being recorded. He was talking to Bob Woodward for a new book that's coming out. That's where the tape comes from.

Now, why would he do that? My suggestion, before I even get into the meat of this thing, before people start telling me, I'm talking too long, although this is the most important thing I've ever had to tell you, is that he knows that his supporters won't give a damn, and I want you to hear that. I know a lot of you watch this show.

He was OK telling a reporter, on tape, that he was going to lie to you. At the same time, he said that to Bob Woodward, this is what he was saying to us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, you talked about the flu. And in comparison to the Coronavirus, flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between 2 percent and 3 percent.

TRUMP: Well we think - we think.

GUPTA: Given that and the fact - we think.

TRUMP: We don't know exactly what it is.

GUPTA: Based on the numbers so far--

TRUMP: And the flu is higher than that.

Because we're ready for it. It is what it is. We're ready for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: "It is what it is" means, "Can't do anything about this," expression is used a lot where he and I grew up.

This was the exact opposite.

Now, listen, the end of the day, we're all brothers and sisters. I know everybody's upset about stuff. But at the end of the day, none of it matters when you start looking at the big problems we have in life.

What do we start with? If you don't have your health, you have nothing.

None of you can support what you know for a fact you just heard that this President did. Trump - not Trump, Biden, whoever, your families got sick. You know people who died. Many of you, especially his followers, many of you took it easy because of his false assurances. What he just said to Sanjay, he knew was a lie. How can this be

forgiven? And remember, there is no accident. This is on purpose. How do we know? Because he knows it's out there.

I'll play you what his defense is in a second.

And he knows it's out there, so he's starting to attack. He wants to tweet about bad people and bad acts and liars, even though he can't spell the damn word.

Well, I say, to our President, who right now is preparing to go on with his buddies, the Fox frauds, "Hide, not have to respond to the tape, just talk about Joe Biden being worse, talk about how the media's bad," they're pushing another virus on you there, because they don't want you to see this sound the way you are here.

He's going to go there, he's going to lie his ass off, and they're going to lap it up. And then, anybody who tells you differently, they'll attack because they don't want there to be any truth. They want you angry, not informed.

[21:05:00]

So I say this, this is easy. Mr. President, I'm the dope. You're the genius. Don't talk about me. Come on my show and talk to me. Show everyone how right you are, that this was the right thing for you to say at the right time.

Now, I don't expect that. I expect others will defend him, and I expect that there will be lots of attacks of those of us, who keep asking these questions. And I will never stop, because this is the time to fight power, not to cower. There is no price worth forgiving this kind of perfidy.

Mr. President, you stand accused of lying, denying and thereby endangering too many of us for too long, causing illness and death. Here's his excuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I wanted to - I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.

BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I--

TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You didn't want to create panic, so instead you ensured it and a pandemic. Tell us why it was OK.

Our kids in so many places not back in school, because you didn't push for the prep on testing, and resources that you could have. Families compromised now, not being able to work the way they could have. The economy suffering in a way it didn't have to. You made it all more likely to happen by your intentional lying about the reality, because people weren't preparing, and you kept your agencies from doing the same. And you knew it was worse than the flu. You knew it was airborne. You knew the percentages would be bad.

All those rallies, the people you say you love, encouraging to come to a place in concentration, discouraging masks, not providing testing, when you knew they'd be exposed to something potentially deadly?

These people love you. They love what you represent. Some of them support you despite you, that's how forgiving they are, and this is how you rewarded them?

While so many of us were begging them to wear masks, begging them to social distance, not wanting them to go through what we did, and you were telling them the opposite, and not to listen to us, and you knew you were full of it. The medical implications, for you, it was all political implications.

And, by the way, this is why it's the worst thing I've had to tell you. It ain't just him. You think he's the only one who was in those briefings? You think he's the only one who knew he was lying, and that he was going to hide the reality from you?

You don't think there are all these people in the White House and in Congress who say, "You know, I love my country." We will find out who knew. They should be exposed and they should be shamed.

Again, we know the charges. The tape is him. He did it willingly. And here is how he defends what's on that tape as he found out about his neglect, today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength.

We don't want to instill panic. We don't want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody.

We have to have leadership. We have to show leadership. And the last thing you want to do is create a panic in the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You can't buy that.

We all tell people things that - a certain way when we don't want to worry them too much, our kids, or spouses, or friends, right? This is not some unique dynamic to being President.

So, you tell them "Don't wear a mask?" You tell them "Keep everything open, don't shut anything down?" When you know it's airborne and you know it's going to be worse? That's how you don't create panic? You don't believe that, or he might. Who knows what he - who care for - see, forget about him. This is about us now. I've been telling you this for months. You want to protect yourself and your family? You cannot look to help from above.

I know his evangelical friends tried to say that I was saying "There's no God. Don't look to God." It's all part of the same deal of hate, and dissembling and lying and defying, and making you think that they are the right ones.

[21:10:00]

There is a way to lead and warn people about danger, imminent danger, deadly danger, without instilling panic, and instead actually instilling a sense of purpose, not panic. That's leadership.

That's Winston Churchill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Churchill rallied his people in what he called their "Finest Hour." He had offered them nothing but blood and sweat, toil and tears.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: I want you to see this. Remember the context. They're getting killed in World War II by the Nazis. They're getting crushed. They're coming. They're coming to the U.K. They're going to bomb the hell out of London.

"It won't be that bad. It will be all right. Yes, forget about the shelters. You know what? You don't have to enlist. No, no, no, there's no need for that. We're good." You think that's what he would have said? Where do you think we'd be today?

He fed his country the truth not a farce, because he believed in their resolve. The Germans were going to try to bomb the British into submission, and he needed everybody to fight with everything they had.

So, here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WINSTON CHURCHILL, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: That's leadership.

"You're going to wear your mask. You're going to socially distance. We're all going to go home. I'm going to take care of your pay. The government's going to figure it out. It's going to be hard. We're going to get through it. We're going to find a way to put our kids back.

I'm going to own testing like it meant everything to this country. I'm going to get the manufacturers to do it. If I have to use the Emergency Production Act, I will, the Defense Production Act. I'll capitalize them. I'll give them output contracts. I'll buy everything they can make to keep us safe.

I'm going to make MAGA a reality manufacturing here the things we need the most to stay alive against the deadliest health risk in a generation."

"What I have been told is the biggest national security threat of my Administration," and his head popped up, says Bob Woodward. We would have been better off it had popped off.

That's leadership. "Here's the truth. Here are the stakes. Here's what we need to do. And we'll get through it together."

Nobody has ever lived that reality more than America has - it has. The only thing that's worse than panic is ensuring that people don't have a chance to protect themselves that they don't do the things that they could do to help them families, because they're listening to you.

Was it really just about protecting your election bid? What a stupid idea somebody gave you! How did you think it was going to help you win by making a pandemic worse, or did you really not trust the American people to handle the truth?

Did you really not believe that if you gave Americans the truth, they'd know what to do with it, and fight for themselves, in this country, that only gets better when things are hard?

Hard times make strong people. That's why America is who she is. Your decision was "Let me just lie to them. They're better off just being victims?"

Now, how big a deal was this perfidy? Let's bring back Dr. Ashish Jha, OK?

Doc, tough night to have you! I got to tell you, these tapes, I had given him the benefit of being dumb, of not listening to briefings, of not wanting to believe the data. That's bad enough. But he knew.

He took Sanjay's question, and he lied about the numbers. He lied about the relative severity, during the same period, he told people not to wear masks that places should open up. He attacked those who didn't. He attacked those of us who gave a different message.

And now, you know he knew. He knew he was falsely accusing the rest of us, and lying to the country.

What do you think the difference was medically between what he was doing, and if he had gone the other way of, "We all have to do the following things. We've got to get testing right now. We got to get through it, got to get through it together. This is our national resolve. This is our big moment. Let's do it."

What would have been the difference? Is it measurable?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, so Chris, thank you for having me on.

Look, we are - 190,000 Americans are dead. I believe that if the President and this Administration had acted with resolve, with vigor, in late January, and decided to put the full weight of the American government behind protecting the American people, 80 percent, 90 percent of those people would have been alive.

We could have saved 100,000, 150,000--

[21:15:00]

CUOMO: On what basis?

JHA: --or maybe more.

CUOMO: How can you measure it? How do we know?

JHA: Well we know, because we can look at other countries that have taken the virus very seriously, some of the countries that have done badly, not as badly as us, but have done badly, didn't take the virus seriously. Their leaders didn't take it.

Now we know that our President knew how serious this was. He knew that young people got infected. He knew this was not the flu. And if he had acted on that knowledge, the same knowledge that all of us, in the public health world, were screaming about, we would have been in a very different situation.

We could have been a South Korea or a Japan or a New Zealand or even Germany, which has not been stellar, but their mortality rate per population is dramatically better than ours.

CUOMO: And, by the way, it's even worse than the Woodward tape that's going around, when it comes to old versus young.

I think they have on March 26th - the Control Room will tell me what the date is, when Woodward was talking to him. But I did some rooting around, my sources around the CDC and the Task Force.

He knew well before that, that it's not just an old person's disease that young people can get it. And yet, he was patting his boy DeSantis on the - on the head about Spring Break, and saying that that was the right approach, "Young people don't get it."

He knew how many of those cases that wound up being bad were transmitted by young people who didn't know they were symptomatic.

JHA: Yes, it still continues to plague us, right?

You still see all of this misinformation of people out there saying, "Young people, it's not a big deal. They" - actually, even his latest Healthcare Adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas has been out there saying basically "It's fine for young people to get sick."

There are two problems with that, Chris. First of all, it's not fine. Those - some of those people end up getting very, very sick. And second, it turns out though young people end up interacting with older people and they pass it along.

So, all around, this strategy of "Let the young get sick" is a disaster. And what is amazing to me, is that the President has known that it's a disaster, probably back since March.

CUOMO: March 19th was the date that he was talking to Woodward. It's right around the spring break time.

And you hear Lindsey Graham and other Republicans. First of all, they give their one standard thing. "It's just so shameful. I really want to go back to - I got to talk to the boss."

I really want to start jumping these guys again, like they're walking somewhere, and you jump out with the camera, "Oh, I didn't see the book. I didn't see." You don't need to see - hear the tape. You don't need to see the book. I just told you what he said.

And you knew too. You know they knew, Ashish. You know they knew.

JHA: Yes.

CUOMO: This isn't some top security national - that's our next story, about briefers being told to not talk about Russian interference anymore with the President. That's my next story, tonight.

This one, they knew.

JHA: Well--

CUOMO: Ashish, you knew.

JHA: Well that's my point, Chris. I mean, if like, a schmo like me knows, the President of the United States knows, right? We all knew.

CUOMO: And the Congressmen know. And his guys around him know. And none of them said a damn thing, except to echo what he was saying, and we wonder why our kids--

JHA: Right.

CUOMO: --can't be in school, in any real way, and why this has taken so much longer than it has all around the world. We don't have any proof that any other leader in any other place that made it through, lied like this, at critical points, do we?

JHA: Yes, this whole thing is stunning. In some ways, I don't know if it makes me feel better or worse. In some ways, it makes me feel worse that the President knew and yet could not marshal the forces of the U.S. government to act.

In some ways, I don't know, like I'm glad he knew. It's amazing to me - what's amazing to me for months, this idea that he couldn't have known what I and every other public health person knew. But it's all stunning.

And the biggest part is it's all so unfortunate, and so preventable. So many people have died needlessly because of this.

CUOMO: All right, Doc, I appreciate it. We'll move on.

The next time I have you on, we'll be starting to get more productive because hopefully, at least people will be like, "All right, look, we got to stop swallowing this lie that this is no big deal."

Put on your damn masks, please, my brothers and sisters, socially distance. I know cases seem to be coming down. They're just spreading out in other areas. This is what virus does. Doesn't mean it can't come back.

And just because you live in a community with few people doesn't mean, by percentage, there just aren't going to be too many sick people, and God forbid people die.

Wear the masks, socially distance, please, please. I do not want you to go through what too many have. I don't even want you to be in my position, professionally or personally.

Now, what's going to happen? This is a part that you need to think about. Trump ain't going to take this. He's on Fox right now. I know, you're never supposed to talk about who else is on TV against you. I don't give a damn about any of that.

[21:20:00]

This is about the truth. They are going to kill people like me, and the people who say that they knew, and Woodward, everybody's going to get a beat-down now, to protect Trump.

So, we're going to bring in Tom Friedman. He's got a theory that he wants to explain about why that is, the politics of humiliation, what it is, why they use it, what it looks like, and God willing, how to counter it, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Let's bring in Tom Friedman. The politics of humiliation, you should read his article about it. It is a very interesting and intelligent look at how powerful humiliation is, in pushing human behavior.

[21:25:00]

And what is more humiliating than to learn that your President thought you were too weak and too stupid to give you the truth about the severity of a pandemic, such that he didn't even think you had the right or the ability to protect yourself and your family. If that isn't humiliating, I don't know what is!

How do you think this plays into the dynamic that's going on in this election, which, you are dead-right, is about the politics of humiliation?

TOM FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUTHOR, "THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE": Well Chris, the argument I made in my column in "The New York Times," which I really wrote with my friend, Michael Sandel, who's written a book called "The Tyranny of Merit," which is about this question of political humiliation, really makes the point that Trump voters, from the beginning, I think, have actually not been paying that much attention to Trump. They actually hate the people who hate Trump more than they care about Trump.

CUOMO: Yes.

FRIEDMAN: And they hate those people, liberals, progressive, elites, because they think they look down at them.

CUOMO: Yes.

FRIEDMAN: And these are White working-class Americans for the most part, people without college degrees, at a time when we've kind of valorized college degrees, and made them really the badge for a dignified work and social esteem, and basically said to people who don't have college degrees, that your work, whether it's with your hands, or whatever else, doesn't quite measure up.

And so, that has really produced a certain resentment among part of the population. And, as a result, they don't follow Trump for his policies. They follow him for his attitudes.

And his biggest attitude that they follow him for is the way he sticks it to liberals, elites, and progressives, the very people they think look down at them.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

FRIEDMAN: And that's why, Chris--

CUOMO: You are exactly right. People don't get that. I hope they get it.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. CUOMO: The concision on it is many of his supporters support Trump despite Trump, the person, because of his attitudes about the people, who they don't trust and who they think are trying to humiliate them.

That's why that foppish fraud, over on Fox, tries to pretend he's anti-elite, when he's got four names, and a daddy who was gifted from being a fundraiser, and a wife, who's family's got all this money, and used to wear bowtie. Now he's anti-elite, because that is who they want people to be angry at.

How does this play into that though, Tom? They now have proof on tape that he lied to them and thought it was OK for them to pay the price for his own political ambition?

FRIEDMAN: Well I was talking to a friend tonight, Chris. And we decided that the uber book on the Trump years, at least the uber book by journalists, should be called "Surely! Surely! This is the story that will bring him down."

I'm afraid there is no story that will bring him down. Trump has Teflon, OK? He has the Teflon of these people, again, who are looking at him, and they're actually looking through him, and seeing him as a club, a stick they poke in the eye of the people they don't like.

He has another kind of Teflon. There have been so many stories about his misbehavior. Trump's Teflon is mud. When you're covered in mud, and I throw more mud at you, nothing really sticks anymore.

And so, I would suggest that because we - you've alluded to this. He's on Fox right now. That's a whole group of people not watching your show, not reading about this in the "Washington Post" and "The New York Times."

We live in alternative information ecosystems. So, first of all, what outrages you is not even going to get to those people, because in the Fox ecosystem, or the Breitbart ecosystem, it's not going to be presented that way.

And secondly, even if it did, they've made up their minds because humiliation is the single most powerful human emotion.

CUOMO: Yes.

FRIEDMAN: And when you trigger that in people, it trumps everything.

CUOMO: And that's why White privilege is such a powerful tool against the Democrats.

Because now, you're taking people who feel that they are struggling to get by, who are frustrated and failed by a process, who believe their kids are disadvantaged because everybody has got to check a diversity box now, and you're telling them that they're the privileged ones, and it is really dynamite to that group of White working people that are a paycheck and a half away from not having any money in the bank.

What's the anti-dote? FRIEDMAN: Well you know - one of my all-time favorite movie lines is from Jerry Maguire, where Renee Zellweger is Jerry Maguire's - the agent's assistant.

She's sitting in the first seat in the economy, looking at someone getting dinner in first-class, and she says to her son, "You know, first-class, it used to be a better meal, now it's a better life."

And so the income gaps that we've seen widen in this country between working-class people without college degrees and people with college degrees let alone senior executives that's also feeding into this.

What's the antidote? Well I think one of the antidotes is I would love to see Joe Biden go into Trump Country, spend five days traveling through the countryside, sitting with people, listening to people.

Yes, I'm a huge believer that listening is a sign of respect. What you say when you listen is so much more important than the words.

Do I think he is, Joe Biden, with one trip into rural Minnesota, where I come from, or Michigan, or whatever, it's going to turn around the Trump base? No.

[21:30:00]

But you know what the margins? When people do feel that you're respected - that they're respected, when they think you don't look on them as deplorables, that can make a difference, maybe the difference of just not voting, maybe just staying home.

It may be the difference of a few at the margin, actually seeing in Biden. The guy, the working-class guy from Scranton is the real person they should trust.

CUOMO: Well this is the opportunity.

Look, and forget - forget about Biden. I mean I think you're right. I think he should. I think he's got to get out there and get his message out, and show why he's better.

Just saying "Trump stinks" isn't going to be enough because, as you said, they are not voting for him, because he's a good man. They're voting for him because--

FRIEDMAN: Yes, they--

CUOMO: --he is a virus, of his own, into the political corpus that will make it sick because they hate that political corpus. And they're hoping he either changes or dies and he's the virus for them. We get it. Some people don't get it. But we get it.

They have to prove that they're an antidote that they're something better that they respect people, and this is their opportunity, because the President just said more than anyone I've ever read about, his own words, Tom, he admitted that he was lying to his own supporters about the safety of their families, because it was better for him.

He knows it's not about--

FRIEDMAN: Well--

CUOMO: --causing panic. He's knows there's no better way to cause panic than by leaving people unprepared for a pandemic.

FRIEDMAN: Well one of the key pillars of leadership is, trusting people with the truth. And when you trust people with the truth, they tend to trust you back. So, I would just say two things, Chris.

One, the President is saying, "I didn't want to get people worried and anxious." He just spent the last two weeks basically, trying to frighten White Americans--

CUOMO: Right, and not to vote.

FRIEDMAN: --that Black people are coming to take over their neighborhoods, OK?

CUOMO: Yes.

FRIEDMAN: So, this is the guy who's trying to make the whole country terrified, when he wants to, and he thinks it serves his interest.

We need to go back to the very beginning, Chris. I think this is the real criticism of Trump. From the very beginning of this pandemic, we needed a policy, a plan that maximally saved lives and livelihoods.

We needed to do both. Just focus on saving livelihoods, many more people will die than should have. Focus just on saving lives and people will die deaths of despair from lost jobs many more people than should have.

We needed a plan for both. And what Trump never gave us was that. So what he said was, "I stopped the Chinese flights from coming in."

CUOMO: Yes.

FRIEDMAN: That's great. And then three weeks later, a month later, he told people in Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota to rise up against their governors for closing down their economies. So, Trump took lives and livelihoods and he put them at war with each other--

CUOMO: Right.

FRIEDMAN: --rather than synthesizing them into a single plan. And I believe that is what history should and will truly damn him for.

CUOMO: Tom Friedman, thank you very much, always a plus, stay healthy.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks.

CUOMO: Closed down China, late, after it went to Europe. And 40,000 more people from China got in here because of his exemptions. He doesn't want to cause panic? But he tells you that "The Black man's

coming with his crazy White friends to take your homes, led by this animal named Cory Booker."

He doesn't want to cause panic? "Your election is going to be rigged, can't vote by mail. Fraud!" He doesn't want to cause panic? Irrational fear, what are those things? That's your truth.

Now, Tom Friedman has a best-selling book, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations." Now, when I read the book, I was like, "I don't understand this title."

What it does when you read it is it tells you about how to deal with the cycle of information and how things move in the society today, and how to feel your way through it, in all deliberate speed, as we used to say.

Tom Friedman, he's the man!

Let's take a break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The President's top guys at Homeland Security are accused, in a new whistleblower complaint, of trying to shut down reports about the threat of Russian election interference and White supremacists.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and his Acting Deputy Ken Cuccinelli are accused of ordering career officials to make sure that threat assessments line up only with what the President says.

The complaint was filed to the DHS Inspector General by Brian Murphy, who used to oversee the Intelligence Division but got reassigned after it was revealed that his office gathered Intel reports on two American journalists.

The DHS' response to Murphy's complaint tonight "The Department generally does not comment on the specifics of OIG referrals, but we flatly deny that there is any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy's claim."

I also asked Ken Cuccinelli to come on. He declined. Murphy's attorney, Mark Zaid, joins me right now.

How are you doing, Counselor?

MARK ZAID, ATTORNEY FOR DHS WHISTLEBLOWER BRIAN MURPHY: I'm good, Chris. How are you?

CUOMO: So, what is the meat of the allegation? How does your client know that briefings were changed to just mirror what the President wanted to be known and said?

ZAID: Well because they were conversations that he had with both Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli. These were not hearsay allegations. These were direct conversations.

Brian Murphy was in charge of the Intelligence side of DHS. And they were coming up with Intelligence analysis that was not favorable to President Trump or at least not favorable to what spin the Administration wanted to put out there, and Mr. Murphy was specifically told to change some of the dynamics of it, and he declined to do so.

[21:40:00]

CUOMO: In ways that is always done, he always trying to line up the President's message, "Stay on message, this is no big deal?"

ZAID: Well I certainly hope not. And I'm certainly not going to say that prior administrations have not tried to politicize Intelligence. But this Administration obviously has gone beyond that, too many times.

And I'm just dealing with the here and now. And, in this particular case, Intelligence analysis that came into the Department of Homeland Security, they were told to change it.

And at least this one whistleblower refused to do so, and now he's willing to step up to the plate and come forward and say so.

CUOMO: Pushback, "Murphy's a bum, was looking up journalists' Intel information. He's a sneak. They reassigned him. He got upset, so now he's working with the Democrats to try to hurt the President."

ZAID: Yes, well his performance appraisals are the top of the top, highest marks ever.

And at least in a conversation with Acting Secretary Wolf, who admitted to Mr. Murphy that in fact he was only being reassigned because it made him look good, because he wanted to be the nominee, to be the actual Secretary, which of course he now is.

And, in fact, these - the allegations that he has filed, the whistleblower allegations, date back two years, obviously long before he had anything of what you just rattled off, as the possible response by the Administration.

He filed some of those anonymously. But now he's said - he's acknowledged they were his.

CUOMO: Why should the media and people trust him when he was investigating the media?

ZAID: Well because he wasn't. And that's the long and short of it, and we'll certainly, can address that further. It's not a direct part of the whistleblower allegations.

But actually what he was doing, because he would never do that, what he was doing was trying to determine what Russia was doing, in looking at American media. They weren't focusing on the American journalists. They were trying to see what Russia was doing with that information to see if they were conducting disinformation campaigns.

And Wolf, in fact, told him, he didn't believe that Brian Murphy had, or his office had done anything like that. And, to the extent, anything was done, was done with - following the regulations of the Department.

Whether or not those need to be changed, I'll leave that to Congress and the Executive Branch to determine.

CUOMO: Any proof other than his word? Did he tape anything? Does he have any emails, any documents?

ZAID: There's a lot of information. I mean this complaint scratches the surface. If you look at it, you're going to see repeated references to "We can't provide this information because it's classified."

And so, there are classified emails, classified documents, there are other witnesses absolutely, there were other people in the room of a senior--

CUOMO: Does he have this stuff?

ZAID: He would not - I mean he still works at DHS, but obviously--

CUOMO: Right.

ZAID: --classified information would only be maintained in secure systems. And we hope to be able to provide that information to the Inspector General as well as any Oversight Committee of Congress.

CUOMO: Counselor, appreciate you making the case.

As you know, your client is welcome here. I know he still works at the Agency. But he is welcome here. He's going to have to make his voice heard for people to understand these allegations, especially in this environment. But thank you for setting the table.

ZAID: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Now, one of the reasons I wanted to do this story is one, I don't like people hiding things from you, and shaping them in a way that is just good for their agenda. Left, Right, we got to be reasonable about those things.

And Russian interference is real, and all the reporting reveals that we're just as set up for it, as we were the last time, that literally we're no better off.

I've got a good voice for you on that, former FBI agent, Peter Strzok. You know his backstory. You haven't heard much from him directly.

What does he think of this whistleblower claim? Why does he call this President a national security threat? What does he think about the election? What's going on with his book? What's going on with him? Next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[21:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: They were the text messages that launched everything from conspiracy theories to congressional investigations, not to mention more than 50 presidential tweets and countless hours of programming on State TV, a.k.a. Fox.

Now, Peter Strzok is telling his story in a new book called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump."

Welcome to Prime Time.

PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF COUNTERESPIONAGE SECTION, AUTHOR, "COMPROMISED": Chris, it's great to be here.

CUOMO: So, let's deal with the order of the moment, OK, because contextually within your book, this is why you're warning people in the book anyway, is because of a situation, exactly like the two we have today.

One, the Russian Intelligence report, do you believe Murphy that Wolf and Cuccinelli would say to him, "Listen, this stuff's got to be tailored to what Trump is saying. Don't go outside the lines on this. We got to be on message."

STRZOK: Chris, I recruited spies and supervised counterintelligence investigations for over 20 years. And not once in that time was I ever told "Don't report this Intelligence. Ignore what you're seeing." And I haven't seen those reports. But what's critical to understand,

in the context of this new information, the Administration itself has already said "Russia is actively interfering with our elections right now, and they're aiming to help Donald Trump get re-elected." This is his Administration who said that.

Now, if you take that comment in the context of these new allegations, the fact that they would be seeking to not only ignore but outright suppress Intelligence that would tend to corroborate that information, that's stunning to me.

[21:50:00]

CUOMO: So, their defense would likely be "Well Peter, you just - you just gave us our own out. I mean it's already out there that they're trying to infiltrate it, so obviously we weren't trying to hide it. We already said it.

We were just doing message consistency. We're taking the Intel and making sure it was articulated in a way that is familiar to this President's messaging."

STRZOK: Well, Chris, look, it's one thing to sit there and say that you have the information or you're trying to understand it, but to actively suppress it is an entirely - entirely different matter altogether.

But there's a bigger issue behind that.

When you know that a foreign nation, I don't care who it is, and I don't care if they're supporting you, your opponent, or anybody else, what Administration an American citizen, who is the President of the United States, would find it acceptable for any foreign nation to be interfering in our democratic process?

Why have we heard absolutely nothing? The Administration says they're concerned about Russia, they're concerned about China, they're concerned about Iran, what have they done about it?

What have you heard President Trump say or do to Russia, to China, to anybody else, to prevent them from interfering in our elections?

CUOMO: And what good reason is there to be--

STRZOK: The answer is plain.

CUOMO: What good reason is there - you're right. I mean the plain answer there is that you don't like it, and you think it plays to your advantage.

But what's the reason to sit on the neo-Nazis and the White nationalists, same thing that there's some kind of perverse belief that leaving them alone may be good for you?

STRZOK: Look, I haven't read the report. And so, I don't know what's in it, or what it says. But I can say this. When you look at some of the statements coming out of the Department of Justice, it's clear that the range of domestic activity that's going on spans the gamut from a variety of actors, from White - Right- wing or White supremacists type actors, all the over to Antifa and other elements that span the political gamut.

What has been shown, time and time again, are that the most violent elements, within these various groups, historically, provably, have been from various Right-wing elements, not from the Left.

And so, you have to ask yourself, when you hear the repeated drumbeat about Antifa and others, is that based on fact and what we have seen, or is that based on a political agenda based on what the President receives is going to help him in his reelection.

CUOMO: Yes. I believe we should just take down bad guys wherever you find them. If they're people saying they're Antifa, and they're creating crimes, go after them. You got people who are White Nationalists--

STRZOK: That's absolutely right.

CUOMO: --who run around, trying to shoot and kill people, go after them.

Two more things. One, how do we sit, in this election, in terms of what we've done to keep Russia's efforts minimized compared to the last time? Are we in better, same, worse position?

STRZOK: Chris, we're in a worse spot. I have not seen anything that reassures me that there is a whole of government approach going onto combat the threat.

Right here, right now, as we're speaking, there are people in Russia, sitting behind computer terminals, looking at all the news of America, trying to figure out where those flashpoints are that most divide us, internally as a nation. They are probing each and every state, the voting systems, the electoral systems, the hardware that we're using.

And, at the same time, they're doing all the things that they've always done, seeking to infiltrate campaigns, or place agents within, or around those campaigns.

I'm concerned that though individual agencies, after 2016, for instance, the FBI did a lot, to bring together a group to kind of look at, across the board, from counterintelligence to organized crimes, to cyber experts, to look at the threat of foreign influence but what hasn't happened, look at what happened when former Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, tried to bring up at the White House, whether the U.S. should be confronting this threat, she was laughed out of the room.

She was told "Don't you dare bring that up in front of the President. If you mention Russia, he's going to lose his mind."

The only place the United States can effectively combat what's coming at us from overseas is a whole-of-government approach. That has to come from the NSC. It has to come from White House.

CUOMO: One personal thing that people have to get more context on, in the book, as you are well-aware, I don't report on people's personal lives. I had - never had any interest in you and Lisa Page, and what was going on personally.

I do want to ask you though, from a personal perspective, how haunted are you that those text messages loom so large in the defense of the supporters of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump himself that they relied on that as proof that everything else had to be false? How does that haunt?

STRZOK: Chris, look, I understand that question, and I regret.

I will always regret those texts, and the way they were used, and they relate to the worst mistakes of my life. Having said that, I do also understand the enormity of the way that those have impacted just, my personal life, the professional life, the work of the FBI.

But I can tell you this, and I would tell all your viewers, repeated looks at everything the Bureau did, things that I did, things that all the people around me did, whether Inspector General, U.S. attorneys and Congress, conclusively determined that all the time we were doing an objective good job for the American people.

[21:55:00]

So, while I carry a significant amount of regret, I know that we did a good job that we did the right job for the right reasons, and it's something America can be proud of.

CUOMO: I appreciate you not ducking the question. Thank you very much.

Good luck with the book. It's called "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump," while - why Peter Strzok believes that our President is a national security threat. Thank you, Sir.

We'll be right back.

STRZOK: Thank you, Chris.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Best part of the night, "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: Really?

So, here's what I have to say. I caught the end of your interview with Peter Strzok, and interesting. I didn't get to see the whole thing. But it's fascinating what's going on right now, especially in light of the Woodward book, right?

You've got the Peter Strzok book. You've got the Woodward book. And you've got the Michael Cohen book, by the way, which I'm going to interview him in a little bit.

If you haven't seen it, "Disloyal," yes.

CUOMO: I've seen it.

LEMON: Yes. Anyway, let's talk about the Woodward book.

It's fascinating to me to watch politicians go on television, and say, "This is a gotcha book," when the President - when he's doing almost what we're doing, playing the President's words back for the audience to hear, but somehow it's a "Got you" hit job, and they don't want to really respond to it. It's just--

CUOMO: I haven't seen it.

LEMON: --fascinating to watch.