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2018 Report: "Major Structural Damage" In Parts Of Building; New Book Details Chaos, Conflict In Trump's COVID Response; Sources: Prosecutors Likely To Announce Charges Against Trump Organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg This Week. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 28, 2021 - 21:00   ET



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And they're going back to buildings, John that they've already re-inspected, to do it again now, in the wake of this.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Brian Todd, really interesting to be part of this inspection. This new phase, I think, for these condos that line the coast, here in Florida.

TODD: Right.

BERMAN: Really appreciate your report.

TODD: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right, the news continues now. So, let's head over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thanks, John.

I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

This is the fifth day. It is agonizing for those who are waiting. And it is very difficult, for those who are doing the search and rescue, for victims in Surfside.

The death toll has now climbed to 11. We know that number is going to change. We know this is going to be difficult. And we know that the dread is looming around the number of 150. That's how many people they're still looking for, old, young, parents, grandparents.

So, we went down to Florida. CNN has had a presence there all throughout. And on Friday, I got to see the devastation up close. I was given the access to the site. And I was able to show you things that we hadn't seen before.

And yes, there was that eerie reminiscence of when the World Trade Center towers fell, and not because of the source that was terrorism, and not because of the scale. There's no comparison in terms of the loss. But tell that to the families in Surfside.

And once again, you had first responders, risking their lives, and they still are, with toxic fires then, on Friday, burning all around them, but also equal and greater to what is outside was the fire burning inside them, to bring victims back to their families.

Now, with each day, where we don't find the miracles, and God willing we do, each day we don't, the idea of why becomes more pressing.

Now, we have to have a word of caution here. There's a lot of scattershot speculation going on. That's not unusual in the media. And sometimes you need it, especially with legal issues. You have to understand what the law is, what the application is, what the various analyses are.

But this is going to be a fact-based investigation. And having a bunch of different experts tell you what they think, what they know, they built, they saw, they this, I don't know how useful it is. And I know it's not helpful to the families, because I've been hearing it from them.

So, let's sort out what we know and what we need to know. We have help. We have brand-new pictures, surfacing from the "Miami Herald," of areas of concern, because remember you can't inspect this building anymore, not the part that fell.

Two days before the condo collapse, a pool contractor photographed this damage in the Champlain Towers South garage. Now, he claims to the "Herald" that he saw a lot of standing water, and claims to have found cracks in the concrete in a pool equipment room. He reportedly was struck by the lack of maintenance in a lower level.

Now, take a look at this. This is the building alone, OK? The building is obviously highlighted for you. There're going to be three areas that have to be focused on. Obviously, the building itself, the ground underneath, and outside stresses.

You keep hearing the term spalling, rusting, cracking. Cracks, there are two types of concrete. Cracked, and concrete that is about to crack, OK? Not all spalling, not all cracks are the same. Not every picture, you see, is instructive. So again, let's start with the best information we have.

This 2018 report that found "Major structural damage to the concrete" below the pool deck. That sounds bad, "Major structural damage." But is that the kind of language that is often found in these reports? And the answer is yes, cracking and spalling, like this in the parking garage.

Now, who knows, if a car hit that column, or whether or not it's just corrosion? We don't know. But it matters, because the parking garage is underneath, right?

This was yellow before. Now this is yellow.

It's holding all the weight is what that means. And obviously, it was designed to do so.

So, let's keep going. The 2018 report gave no indication the building was at risk of collapse, which means that language that would scare you or me didn't scare the people, who are doing the appraisal.

And we know that town officials reviewed the report, and told the Board "It appears the building is in very good shape," so, two possibilities.

One, they don't know what the hell they're talking about, and didn't read the report, or two, they do, and this doesn't mean what is as incendiary as what is - how it's feeling. So, you have to think about that.

There are a lot of people digging up information, including this 2015 lawsuit, filed by a resident of the building. The suit was about an exterior wall. We see echoes of the same thing in the 2018 report, balconies in need of repair.

Is that unusual? Listen to this engineer.


JASON BORDEN, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER WHO EXAMINED CHAMPLAIN TOWER SOUTH LAST YEAR: I saw cracks in the stucco facade. I saw deterioration of the concrete balconies. I saw cracks and deterioration of the garage and plaza level. But those are all things that we are accustomed to seeing, and it's why our job exists, to maintain and repair the buildings.

BERMAN: You're accustomed--


CUOMO: Now, John went on to say, John Berman, accustomed means that you didn't think it was anything even or - no, because that's what he meant by accustomed. These are the kinds of things they see.


Now, why does he matter? He's not some random expert. He's the guy, who did the analysis that was in the report.

Now, another thing, keep in mind, it's an ocean-facing building, all right? What does that mean? Storms, right? 10 have passed through the area in the life of the building, the most serious being Andrew and Katrina, those two hurricanes. There's a lot of strain on a building.

Now, what helps our understanding in that? They have a strain wall on the ocean-facing side. In other words, they are built to handle force from the wind. So, where are they most vulnerable? Inside, the interior, all right?

Let's take a look. What does this tell us? What was going on deeper than the parking garage? Specifically, want to show you something here.

Put up the full screen that shows us this different thing.

This top dot that's highlighted, why? It's the only one, this building, on the eastern side, of this study out of the Florida International University's Institute of Environment, the only one in the east side of this, this tower that had signs of sinking.

Wrong word, why? These guys, these engineers, say things only sink into water. This is called subsiding. Who cares? It's about whether or not it's moving down or not, right?

And Champlain Towers, according to this Professor, said it was moving down. He says he was focusing on dangers like flooding. He told "USA Today," listen to this, "He doesn't believe anybody in the city or state government would have had a reason to be aware of the findings."

And I have to tell you something. I've seen him interviewed a lot. There was a lot about him before this. He never said that before. And there was a lot of concern about this.

And I asked the lawyer for the condo, "Did you know about this report?" They'd never heard of it. Nobody had ever heard of it. But it was given a lot of weight, and it made a lot of people upset that this building has always been in distress, and was literally sinking.

Now the Professor who did the research was like, "Oh, yes, I don't think it was that big a deal. It's certainly not why it collapsed." But then why are we talking about it so much?

We talked to a lot of people, who had concerns about that, and something that I think is an acute issue that you'll hear about in this investigation, recent construction next door, OK?

Again, commonsense, these are big buildings. There's a lot of noise. It's not just about the habitability, how it sounds, and the nuisance. But structurally, could it have made a difference, this construction project that took place, right next door, a building named Eighty Seven Park?

The building put in an underground garage. Unusual for the area, right, literally straight shakes the foundation? When people describe the shaking that comes with it, you can't say it's common or not uncommon, but that's what construction sound can sound like, and feel like.

Miami Beach is in the middle of a major construction boom. It is far outpacing the rest of the country. And if you just go down there, you see there's big buildings all the way up. They're all being built. They're all being worked on. So, what does that really tell us?

Well, for all the talk about naval (ph) tests, and contractor shortages, we've only had one building like this fall. And that means two things. One, we shouldn't be in a panic, or trying to spread panic that this could be in all these other buildings. That's why you need an answer, is so that people can feel safe where they live.

But the flip side of it only being one is we've never had this happen before. And we need to know why. So, let's be focused on what we need to know here, and how it will be brought about, most quickly. Let's bring in a better mind. Rick De La Guardia is a Miami-based engineer. He performs forensic investigations of building component failures, meaning exactly what happened here.

Thank you for joining us on PRIME TIME.

RICK DE LA GUARDIA, FORENSIC ENGINEER: Thank you for having me, Chris.

CUOMO: Now, before we get to the what, and the how, let's start with the who? In your mind - we heard the Governor say, we need answers. We heard Members of Congress, say that Biden Administration is going to help.

Who needs to figure this out? And what kind of team needs to be assembled? And as far as we know, nothing's happened. But what needs to happen here? Who needs to do it?

DE LA GUARDIA: I think the state has to lead. And we have to have a radical change in the 40-year certification process, because I believe there's many flaws in it.

This was a preventable collapse, if proper maintenance and proper oversight was given to the design professionals that are tasked with performing these, and not only the design professionals, at the 40- year certification, but education of the process.

A lot of the engineers that are doing it don't even have a standardized idea of what to check for. And the city municipalities don't enforce that. They just leave it up to the engineer.


And, by the way, I do want to, before I go further, offer my condolences to the families, of those that are - that are lost and missing, and also my appreciation to the first responders.

CUOMO: Well, absolutely understood, and respected.

But with them in mind, let's be careful about what we say because look, you know they're listening. There's so many people, who are waiting for word about their loved ones. And I just want to be sure about what you're saying, Rick.

You are a forensic collapse expert. I mean, this is what you do, is look at things that fall down, and fail, and figure it out. It's a specialization within engineering. And it comes with a lot of time.

You're saying that you think a lot of engineers don't know what they're doing, who are involved with buildings like this?

DE LA GUARDIA: In my opinion, the condo association boards have the power to hire the engineer that they want for a 40-year recertification.

Yes, the engineer ultimately has the power to approve it. But if a Board does not like the fees, or doesn't have a budgetary constraints - that has budgetary constraints, they're just going to go with another engineer, that's cheaper, that may not be as qualified.

And unfortunately, I don't think we have a properly-vetted group of engineers that have a standardized process for exactly what to look for.

And maybe not let the associations have too much power deciding who. "If I don't like you, your fees, or you're going to make me make too much corrections, I'm going to go with somebody else, who is going to be willing to meet my budgetary constraints."

CUOMO: I hear you. You know more about this than I do, obviously. But a couple of points of pushback would be, one, we don't know that that happened here.

DE LA GUARDIA: We don't.

CUOMO: And two, I don't know why I would. If I was sitting on the Condo Board, high fees, yes, I may want to stay away from that. But if someone were telling me "This building's going to fall down," and I'm living in the building, I think I'd care more than I would about whatever it did to my maintenance.

That said, let's talk about what we've seen, and what we're worried about here. These pictures of the underground garage, near the pool, the report about this guy seeing water, we haven't seen that seconded by anybody.

But the types of spalling or cracks that you've seen, does any of this really raise your eyebrows? Or is this what we're used to seeing, and it just continues to be a mystery until you can get deeper down in - below the wreckage?

DE LA GUARDIA: Yes, in my opinion, the engineer who performed the 2018 investigation, he did a very good job, in expressing that the building was in poor shape that the building needed immediate action.

However, that's, in my opinion, a typical condition for a building, 40 years that's been unmaintained. So, it's not unusual to me to see those levels of spall, those levels of disrepair, for a building that has not been kept up for 40 years.

So, I'm not - I don't think that was a - and I think you said it correctly. I don't think that was the red flag some people are making out to be. Certainly the Board should have taken immediate actions to make corrections for what he observed.

But in my opinion, I don't even think he thought this was an imminent - the building was in imminent danger. If not, he probably would have stressed shoring the locations that are in question, having further investigation, and really highlighting and stressing what he found.

So, I feel that this report, unfortunately, is common for a building that has not been properly maintained for 40 years.

CUOMO: Last thing for you, for now. And by the way, Rick, I'd really appreciate you coming back, when I have more for you to go on. As you heard me say at the top of the show, even though you're a big pro, I wouldn't put you in a situation of asking you how this happened.

You don't know. You haven't been able to examine the things that you'd need to do, if you were doing your job on this site. I'm not going to put you in a bad position. And I don't want to do it to the families.

But in terms of the waves of fear or anxiety that are spreading out now, all the way up and down, this community, in South Florida, "Was my building next? Is my building?" is there any reason to believe that us having this one-off, we've never had a building collapse like this before that this is proof that there's a cascade event that could happen that there are a lot of buildings that are in as bad a shape or worse?

DE LA GUARDIA: No, no, I would - I would reassure people, living in the coast, in high-rise buildings that this, in my opinion, was a anomaly, something that may have occurred with a successful - I mean successive events occurring that was uncommon.

In my opinion, there was catastrophic column failure. And yes, you're right. I'm not going to speculate as to the cause of that. But I wouldn't be so fearful, in the conditions of similar buildings.

My own condo is experiencing a 40-year recertification currently. And if I showed some people pictures of what I see, they may fear as well too. But I've reassured my wife that this is common.

I think what happened at those towers is unfortunate. But it was - the expert will tell - the experts will tell. But it was an anomaly, I believe.


CUOMO: Well, we know it was an anomaly because it's the only time it's ever happened. But you're making good points about perspective.

And here's the good news. I guarantee you, buildings are going to get inspected, and people are going to be paying attention to what's being said. And there's going to be a lot of work going around for people who want to make sure that buildings are absolutely as good as they can be.

Rick De La Guardia, the more we learn, I'll bring you back, so you can help us make sense of it. Thank you very much.

DE LA GUARDIA: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

CUOMO: All right. So look, these new images matter, right? Damage in the garage area, what does that mean, should they have known, should they have done more?

I want to turn to the lawyer for Champlain Towers South Condo Association. We spoke before. These new waves of information raise new questions, and we will get answers, next.









CUOMO: All right, we have new pictures from inside Champlain Towers South. Once again, we see cracks in concrete, exposed rebar, standing water.

Question is what do they mean? Is this about aesthetics? How it looks? Is it structural? Did they know? Is this maintenance that they should have taken more seriously? Let's ask the lawyer for the Condo Association, Donna DiMaggio Berger.

Counselor, good to have you again, and thank you.


And I have to say, I was appreciative of hearing you say that you want to conduct a fact-based investigation, because what we've heard so far, since this tragedy has occurred, is a lot of speculation.

CUOMO: Yes, I hear you. And look, I don't like it, because I had so many of the families down there, you were there with us, and obviously been dealing with the Board, and they were listening to the broadcast, and they were so worried.

And there were so many other residents, from different buildings, in the area, who are worried, because they say, "Are we next?" And I don't want to contribute to that. That said, let's deal with what we know, and see how you can help advance our understanding.

First, what do you make of the last guest, who is a forensic expert? He looks at failures, and said, "A lot of engineers who do these reviews basically are not up to snuff, and that condo boards are looking for cheap, as much as they're looking for good."

Is there a chance that your Board went cheap on who they had do the 40-year recertifications, and other maintenance appraisals?

DIMAGGIO BERGER: I'm so glad you asked that question because I actually jotted down a note when Rick La Guardia was speaking.

First of all, I want to address a bit of misinformation that's out there that Rick actually reinforced. He consistently referred to the Board as "He." He said it several times. People need to understand that this Board was composed of seven unit owners, people who lived in the building with their families, actually invited other family members to join them, invited friends to come live in the community.

This is not a "He." It's also not a faceless, nameless corporation that ran this Board. These are unit owners. They're unit owners, who are now homeless, one of whom is missing, along with her adult children. And they're grieving as well.

But to answer your question, with regard to Rick's comment, about cheaping out, and it almost seemed like he was going towards "The state should mandate that they hire certain types of engineers, at certain pricing points." I don't know. That might be something lawyers look at too.

I don't think the issue here was whether or not a board was cheaping out. I think if there are ineffective engineers out there, Chris, that speaks more to the licensing requirements in Florida, and potentially the continuing legal education requirements.

CUOMO: Do you believe that there's a fair basis for saying that this complex, the Champlain Tower building was not well-maintained that these were things that should have been repaired and weren't?

DIMAGGIO BERGER: No, I think those statements reflect probably in familiarity with what it means to have a 40-year old building, on a coastal barrier island, that's subject on a daily basis to corrosive effects.

You've got the - that building was buffeted on the one side by the Atlantic Ocean, on the other side by the Intracoastal. And I think Chris, you said it at the outset of your program, this building was also hit by 10 different hurricanes, and three tropical storms, during its lifespan.

CUOMO: But it's the only one that fell! And that's why it's maintenance record, and the pictures from the "Miami Herald," and then reporting from the guy, who saw the water, and the thing, and he was surprised by the level of disrepair, what do you make of those?

DIMAGGIO BERGER: I think that is exactly why we have to find out what happened to this particular building.

There's other buildings, out there, with engineering reports, as they near their 40-year certification that revealed more drastic spalling, and pitting, delamination, rebar corrosion.

We need to figure out what were all the factors that went into making this building fall. And we need to figure out exactly what happened. There's time to do that.

Right now, my Board, we've been focusing. The Board of Directors is focusing. We still have an active rescue mission going on. The Board hasn't lost hope that some of these people might be found. We have months and years to dig into what happened. And we're going

to. The Board is already in the process of hiring an engineer to also try to figure out what happened, and they will be evaluating who's responsible.

CUOMO: Yes, look, I don't know that the building is the right one to do it, to be honest. I do think that it should be a government oversight.

I think that the community is concerned. I think that you have to take it out of the building's hands. And I'd be surprised if it remains in it. That said, I don't mean that in any way as a condemnation. I am aware that the Board represents part of the victim base here as well.


And as you well know, I'm not asking these questions just for me. These are what the families of those who are still in that pile that they're going through, they're going to want to know.

And the idea of $15 million in repairs, help me understand that is something not as shocking as the price tag, that they got letters in April, saying, "We need a lot of heavy repairs, it's going to be $15 million." That's a major assessment. Why isn't that proof that you had major problems with the building?

DIMAGGIO BERGER: First of all, to huge assessment, let me go back to what you said though. The Board hiring an engineer is certainly not in lieu of having local, state and federal resources brought to bear, to figure out what happened here. That's only in addition to.


DIMAGGIO BERGER: I don't think we can have too many experts looking at what went wrong here.

But to answer your question, the scope of the work again, close to a building like this, a 12-storey building, on a barrier island, that's 40-years-old, it's going to need a lot of work.

It wasn't very large special assessment. Perhaps if there had been reserves, over the years that assessment would have been lower. But guess who waives reserves, Chris? It is not the Board.

Under Florida law, the Board has to create a schedule, a reserve with - an operating budget with reserves, but it's up to the members. And the members, a majority of the members can vote to waive reserves each year.

And in far too many communities, we do have members voting to waive reserves each year, so much so that the Florida Legislature mandated that there be disclaimer language on the voting materials, so people understand, so the owners understand that if they continue to fail to fund reserves, it's going to potentially subject them to very large special assessments, like the one we saw here.

CUOMO: I understand. And look, I think things are going to change.

I don't know about the cash - the cash collateral that you need, versus any kind of expected expenditures. But in terms of inspections, frequency, and reporting requirements, of what are in them, I think things are going to change, and probably not a bad idea.

But let's do this. I'm also not doing this for sport. So Donna, as I find out more things that are relevant, for consideration, and response from the Board, I'll come back to you. And I appreciate you giving us the answers. And I know, as you can imagine, the families appreciate it.

DIMAGGIO BERGER: Happy to do so. And our hugs go out to everybody, Chris.

CUOMO: Donna DiMaggio Berger, thank you very much.


CUOMO: All right, so look, everybody knows it's a nightmare scenario. We've only had one happen, OK? But we turn to another one ahead, all right? We have to look at how government handles things in these situations. That's going to be an issue in Florida, I guarantee it.

And it was a huge issue and what we just lived through collectively with this Pandemic. You cannot tell the story of what we're living through right now without the deep denial that started at the governmental level. And it's not about speculation. It's about fact.

I have two authors who just wrote a whole book about it. They have a lot of new information. Did Trump think about sending Americans with COVID to Gitmo? I bet you can imagine the answer. What's the proof of it? Next.









CUOMO: The story of the Pandemic, the shame of it, is in the legacy of more.

The more people who got tested, the better we would have been. The more who wore masks, the better we would have been. The more who socially-distanced, the better we would have been. The more who get vaccinated now, two shots, the better we will be. That is experience and fact analysis.

So, why is GOP Senator Ron Johnson pushing fear, questioning the safety of the vaccine, not on the basis of science, but on the basis of his feelings? It is not logical, based on the facts. But that's not what this is about.

And remember, this guy, when I first started interviewing Johnson, "I'm just a businessman, here to try to keep our costs down." Now, he is a kook culture warrior.

But considering how often he takes cues from Trump, I guess it's just a different way of him doing business, isn't it? Dismiss the science, politics before people, good for you, keep you in power. It was the hallmark of the last administration.

Take Trump's response, in the early days of the Pandemic, when Americans aboard cruise ships were infected with COVID. Remember that? He was obsessed with keeping the numbers down, because he said it would magically disappear. "We'll only have a dozen or so cases."

He reportedly remarked, "We import goods. We're not going to import a virus. No, why don't we send it somewhere. Don't we have an island that we own? What about Guantanamo?"

Stunning? Not really. Is there any depth to the depravity that he would enlist when his own interests are on balance? This is one of the things that our next guests uncovered in their new book, "Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History."

Damian Paletta, Yasmeen Abutaleb, both good, welcome on the show. Good for you doing this book.



CUOMO: Yasmeen? The answer is yes, Trump wanted to send infected Americans aboard cruise ships to Guantanamo, to keep case numbers low. What did that mean to you in the course of the reporting about what was going on at that level?

ABUTALEB: For this book, we really wanted to document, from start to finish, or at least through about the election, and provide the first comprehensive narrative of what happened last year.

Because so much was happening at once that it was hard to process, and we knew that after the election, and even after Trump left office, that more people might be willing to share their experiences more candidly, including the Guantanamo incident.


But I think the takeaway for us was outside of any one individual kind of crazy anecdote was the totality of all of this, of the government's response, from the White House, to the health agencies, and elsewhere, was far more devastating than any single incident, or any single outburst, or crazy proposal that came from the President, or one of his aides.

CUOMO: To me - and you do a good job with this, Damian. It's not just what is said. It's what is allowed to be said, and what is enabled with silence.

And you did a good job with that about, you know, we're seeing it now on a different level with Barr and McConnell that we'll get to later in this show, about election fraud, but it happened with the Pandemic too. People shut their mouths, so they could stay where they were.

Let's put up this excerpt.

"Officials scrapped a plan in March to send masks to every American household, mocking how it looked. "We can't send these out," Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan told Azar. "It looks like you have a pair of underwear on your face." Pete Gaynor, the FEMA Administrator joked that the mask looked like a jockstrap. Another official said it looked like a training bra."


PALETTA: I mean, can you imagine if in an inflection point like that, they had decided "You know what? Let's just send two masks to everybody. And the President's going to model it. And it's going to normalize the whole thing," imagine what would have happened in March?

There's all - our book is full of all these inflection points, if a decision had been made in a split-second. The bleach comment, for example, if they had decided to rein in the President, not let him say things like that the country could have rallied behind him.

But instead, there was all these decisions that broke in the wrong direction. And just it was catastrophic what happened after that. The country was cleaved into. We spilled into the summer. The virus picked up more steam. And it was just devastation after that.

CUOMO: Yasmeen, what did you learn about just how sick Trump was?

At the time, we had heard reporting that we had to back off because he kept denying it. And he got better relatively so quickly, that it took the steam out of the idea that he had been in any kind of distress.

What did you find out?

ABUTALEB: We learned that the President was much sicker than his doctors and officials were reporting at the time. His oxygen level fell dramatically. It fell into the 80s, at one point.

His doctors feared he would have to be put on a ventilator. They convinced him to go to Walter Reed because they told him, "You can walk to Marine One right now. But if you wait much longer, you might need to be taken out there on a wheelchair, or on a gurney." What we learned about the fast recovery is that the President was given access to an experimental drug at the time, called a monoclonal antibody, which is now authorized, but wasn't at the time. And one of his advisers called the FDA, the FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn directly, and asked him to make this available under a special kind of use.

And one of the people, briefed on Trump's medical condition that weekend, said that they believed that the monoclonal antibody was responsible for his rapid turnaround.

CUOMO: Last word on this, Damian. I want people to read the book. So, I don't want to give them too much. It's part of the business. If you want it, get it and read it, right? They got to pay their bills too!

So Damian, in terms of 180 different interviews, a lot of them are insiders, people exactly as Yasmeen suggested.

They want to be on record because they do not want to be tied to the Trump tripe about this Pandemic, which is some of the most embarrassing lying we've seen at that level, because it had a deadly cost tag, price tag.

What do you believe was the biggest eyebrow archer for you, in just what you learned in these interviews, and why people should know what you've written?

PALETTA: Yasmeen and I have talked about this a lot. We interviewed, as you said, more than 180 people. Not a single person, Chris defended the response. Not a single person said, "We did the right thing." Everyone knows it was a failure.

And these are people that made the decisions every day. Some people feel terrible about it. But often they blame other people. "You know? It was so-and-so's fault. It wasn't my fault. I did the best I could," or "There was a fog of war," and that kind of thing. Not a single person, defensive response.

And in a moment, when the people needed the government most, the government failed, and they're going to live with that legacy, for the rest of their lives.

CUOMO: I'll tell you though, one more excerpt, I don't want to give away too much. But and now - I'll let you go on this.

But Birx with Pence, "Those people only listen to you, Mr. VP, and the President. They don't listen to me." In two sentences she had captured the whole year, the whole mess, the whole tragedy. The country had broken in two. There were "These people" and "Those people."

That is spot-on. And I am happy Damian and Yasmeen, that you did this work as real journalists, cobbling it together.

And you know who it will be helpful to? Me! Because with the COVID brain, from long-haul, I don't remember a lot of this stuff that I lived through, at the time, with my present sense impression. And we got to remember it, so we don't repeat it. "Nightmare Scenario," on sale, tomorrow. Damian Paletta, Yasmeen Abutaleb, doing the job. And thank you.

The disgraced ex-president, and that's why he's disgraced, and that is the right term, but he's consumed with revenge on his own people, and he's going to get it.


Bill Barr, he did everything he could. He weaponized the Justice Department for him, protected him like a human shield. But he did something worse than that. And it's the same thing that that book is about.

It's what he allowed to happen, and be said when he knew it was BS. And that's what he's doing now. He didn't mean to. It's part of reporting. And I'm sure he's going to get hurt for it. But look, you reap what you sow.

And we are learning what the reality was, about the people around Trump, and what they didn't tell you then, but they want you to know now. Next.








CUOMO: You know the poem "Oh what a tangled web they weave, when first," and last, in this case, "they start to deceive." Walter Scott, "Marmion," poem had nothing to do and nothing on Trump enablers.

Now, the former Attorney General says he always suspected Trump's election fraud farce was just that, "Bullshit." So, why did he enable it?


Don't allow the media or these men and women themselves to redefine their dastardly deeds. Bill Barr was no good guy, and he wasn't your agent of any kind of truth.

Here's what he said, when it mattered.


BILL BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm saying people are concerned about foreign influence.

And if we use a ballot system with the system that, you know that states are just now trying to adopt, it does leave open the possibility of counterfeiting, counterfeiting ballots, either by someone here--

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So, you think a foreign country--

BARR: --or someone overseas.


CUOMO: Look, Wolf was right. He was pressing him because he was being hypothetical, on a situation that was practical. Either you had proof or you didn't. And he knew there was none.

But he played lawyer games, because he was trying to protect Trump. And that's not his damn job! It was BS, and he knew it. And it turns out Barr wasn't the only one faking the facts!

McConnell, two weeks ago, in high dudgeon, over the possibility, that Democrats would dare go after Barr, listen to him.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Attorney General Barr served our nation with honor and with integrity. These latest attempts to tarnish his name bear the telltale signs of a witch-hunt in the making.


CUOMO: That guy calls everything a witch-hunt that is about finding the truth!

It turns out McConnell was privately urging Barr to blow up Trump's main objective, namely his lies about the election.

It's also telling what McConnell wasn't saying in front of the cameras. He too clearly thought Trump was dangerous. But McConnell was doing what he does best. He was playing the game.

Proof? Jonathan Karl, ABC News Senior Washington Correspondent, reporting that McConnell believed if he spoke the truth, Trump would sabotage the Senate races in Georgia. So, there it is. To keep power, McConnell plays the game, and says things he reportedly doesn't believe.

Is this another one?


MCCONNELL: There is no effort in any state in America, to suppress votes, based upon suppression of minority participation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: He knows that there are 22 states doing that, to one degree or another. So, should anyone, can read, if you can read, you should know that's what these laws are about.

The question is not that whether or not they were lying to you. You know they were. They were either doing it outright or they were being silent. And that makes them complicit. The only question is how many of you care enough to demand better than the damn game?

We'll be right back.









CUOMO: Big question, has a lot of people buzzing, is the Trump Organization going to face charges this week? I don't know why they would.

Trump Organization lawyers met with prosecutors today, in an effort to change their minds. It's not that unusual. Given the level of representation that President has, I don't know how successful they might be.

Prosecutors have focused on fringe benefits the company has given to top executives, like rent-free apartments, and cars, and whether the company paid taxes on them. It may sound petty to you. But if you think about it, many organizations have been cracked from a tax perspective.

The point is to zero-in on the money man, Allen Weisselberg, who's handled Trump's corporate finances for more than three decades.

Asked about it by CNN, here's what we got from Weisselberg.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there any information that you would like to give us regarding the case?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you currently pay taxes on the apartment or car that you own? WEISSELBERG: No comment.

That's not nice.



CUOMO: CNN's Legal Analyst, and former White House Ethics Czar, Norm Eisen is here.

That wasn't particularly instructive, although it is different than how most Trump people deal with lawsuits, which is to just fabricate the basis for him, and what the rationale is, and pretend there'll be an outcome that never happens.

But in terms of what we will see here, I don't know that it happens this week. I don't know why the media is buzzing about it. Do you think there is an imminency? And what is the likelihood of what the charges are about?


It does seem that charges are imminent. We've talked about this before. The storm clouds have been gathering a number of signs.

And now, with this last-chance meeting, for the Trump Organization lawyers, to plead their case, to talk about the harm to the company, I think we can expect something, whether it's this week or next week. It's coming.

CUOMO: Right. But one thing, Norm, and tell the audience about this. You know about these meetings.

The reason I believe it wouldn't be like imminent-imminent, right after you meet with them, is it gives prosecutors a chance to go to school, on what the defense will be, and to think about their charges, and think about how they word things, and think about their pleadings, and talk a little bit more.

So, the meeting is suggestive of a little bit more in the process, no?

EISEN: There's no doubt about that, Chris.

I have a new Brookings report out that goes through the kinds of arguments that the defense lawyers are undoubtedly making, about why this case is going to be so difficult, how the statutes of limitations have run. No company has ever been criminally charged for these kinds of fringe benefits before, and the harm to the company.

But from all appearances, it looks like there is a core tax fraud case here. They gave these cars, apartments, private school tuition. Those are supposed to be treated as compensation. It appears, we don't know for sure, we'll see later, but it appears

that they warned - they defrauded the State of New York of payroll tax. That is what the allegation seems to be.

CUOMO: Is there anything that is suggested to you of an ability to get Weisselberg, which is, this golden goose, who would then tell them the truth about the former president?


EISEN: Well, Weisselberg, as we saw from the clip that you played, is a different creature than the usual in Trump-world, because he's disciplined. "No comment. No comment." Would you ever hear President Trump say that?

So, I think they're putting the screws on him, not just him but potentially family members. We'll see if that works or not. At times, it has worked. Manafort and Gates held tough for a while. Then, Gates broke. So, we'll just have to see what happens.

CUOMO: Quickly, Norm, do you still believe that this could mean anything significant for the former president?

EISEN: I do. And in our Brookings report, we lay out the mass of evidence, pulling it together for the first time, about the significant risk that the President may face, from prosecutors, for falsifications of business records, tax fraud, bank, insurance fraud, enterprise fraud.

So, there is a substantial case. They're still looking. We don't know how it'll turn out. Substantial risk for President Trump, ahead. Not unusual that the big fish is not charged, in the first case.

CUOMO: Norm Eisen, thank you very much, as always.

We'll be right back.


CUOMO: All right, thank you for the opportunity tonight. It is now time for the big show, "DON LEMON TONIGHT," and its star, D. Lemon.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thank you, sir.