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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Justice Department Drops McCabe Criminal Investigation; CNN: Trump Had Idea of AG Barr's Comments Before Interview; Federal Jury Convicts Former Stormy Daniels' Attorney Michael Avenatti On All Counts; Trump Administration Diverting $3.8 Billion in Pentagon Funding To Border Wall; Interview with Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired February 14, 2020 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We begin tonight keeping them honest with yet more signs the president of the United States is turning the Department of Justice into a tool for rewarding friends and perhaps punishing enemies in the impeachment of Russia investigations.
And in case you think that's overblown, consider this. In just a week and a half since his acquittal, President Trump has already used his administrative authority to retaliate against those who did their duty and testified in the impeachment hearings or oversaw criminal cases against associates. He's already interfered in the justice system to help his friend, Roger Stone, for one, and boasted today that he has every right to do exactly that.
And now, CNN has learned that Attorney General Barr, who only yesterday said that no one tells him what to do, appears to do -- to be doing with one notable exception, exactly what the president wants done in this regard. Officials telling us he's assigned an outside prosecutor to re-examine the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who like Stone, the president says was treated very unfairly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's very tough what they did to Roger Stone, compared to what they do to other people, on their side. He got very hard, as did General Flynn and as did a lot of other people, they got hit very, very hard. And now they're finding out it was all a big hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, just for the record, Stone was convicted by a jury of seven federal charges, including five counts of lying to Congress and one of witness tampering.
Tonight, we've learned he's seeking a new trial for his second time in just days. No word yet on the basis of their quest this time, because it's under seal, but it does come one day after his friend, the president, tweeted, quote: Now, it looks like the foreperson in the jury and the Roger Stone case had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the quote/unquote Justice Department.
And yes, the president put the word "justice" in quotes. The president of the United States is questioning the justice his own Justice Department is seeking.
As for Michael Flynn, he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russians. He's now seeking to withdraw that guilty plea, which might not even be necessary now that his case is being re- examined along with several others on the attorney general's orders. The same attorney general who claims he is staunchly independent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: As I said at my confirmation hearing, I think the essential role of the attorney general is to keep law enforcement, the criminal process sacrosanct, to make sure that is no political interference in it. And I have done that and I will continue to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, just a day after saying that, we learned that he's reviewing the case of a confessed felon of who his boss, the president, has loudly defended on numerous occasions.
Also, a day after that, his boss, the president went online and tweets this, quoting Barr and then making a mockery of his own words, quote, the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case. A.G. Barr. This does not mean that I do not have as president the legal right to do so. I do. But I have so far chosen not to.
Those boots won't lick themselves, I guess. It's not like that the only incident -- that's the only incident the president being totally out of front -- out front about all of this. This got lost in all the other noise yesterday, but it turns out that while talking with Geraldo Rivera, the president admitted something he's long denied, that he himself ordered TV lawyer and former LifeLock spokesman Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt for him in Ukraine.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GERALDO RIVERA: Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?
TRUMP: Not at all. I deal with the Comeys of the world or I deal with Rudy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, he'd said -- he said before that he never directed Giuliani to do anything in Ukraine. Now, he's outright admitting it.
Impeachment seems like so last week. It seems the president is not through yet.
Today, his golfing partner, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, said that he is seeking interviews with several key officials in the Russia investigation. That's despite the recent inspector general's report, which while identifying a number of procedural mistakes, concluded the probe was not the result of political bias, as the president claims, and continues to claim, as he rails against the people behind that probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you have Lisa and Peter, the lovers, the FBI lovers, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and if I didn't fire James Comey, it was the top scum, the FBI lovers. They were going to try and overthrow the government of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: In a strangely quiet voice, the president of the United States is claiming that the FBI personnel, that FBI personnel were going to try to overthrow the government of the United States.
You heard the president mention Andrew McCabe there. He's the former deputy director of the FBI, who was put through the official grinder for the perceived offense of being the official launch of the Russia probe. Today, after two years of waiting and countless attacks by the president, McCabe learned that he will not face any federal charges in the matter. He joins us in just a moment.
Right now, some late reaction to the White House to that very development. CNN's Jim Acosta joins us for that.
So, what do you learn about the reaction to McCabe's investigation being dropped? Did he know that was coming?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't sound like he knew it was coming today. He did know that there was going to be a result of this investigation at some point and he wasn't happy about it. I talked to a White House official earlier this afternoon who said that the president was angry when he found out that prosecutors were not seeking charges against Andrew McCabe.
But at the same time, you know, the president, as he often does inside the White House, he was letting these officials know it. They were trying to essentially calm him down.
And, Anderson, I think you just laid out, you know, some of the conversation about Michael Flynn and how that case is being revisited just a short while ago. You know, I will tell you that inside Trump world, the president's aides and advisers, they are latching on to that news as a cause for celebration.
I talked to a Trump adviser earlier this evening who said, you know, if the president were one to drink champagne, and he's not, he would be sipping some down at Mar-a-Lago this weekend.
So, clearly, they're happy about the Flynn news. Not so much about the McCabe news, but they're looking at the past couple of weeks and seeing that the president is very much on a winning streak in their view.
COOPER: And what about the attorney general's interview yesterday. Is it known if there was coordination with the White House on that?
ACOSTA: We don't know if there's coordination with the White House. We do know that the president had some sense of what William Barr was going to say in that interview with ABC. And as we were told by numerous officials after the interview was over, the president was not upset about that at all.
And, of course, when you hear from Democrats as we've been hearing throughout the day, they are essentially saying at this point that perhaps the fix was in. That the reason why William Barr was complaining about the president's tweets is that he essentially wants cover to do the president's bidding, to carry out his wishes. And when the president is tweeting and sounding as intervening in these investigations, that doesn't make William Barr's life easier.
COOPER: Jim Acosta, appreciate it. Long day, thank you.
ACOSTA: You bet.
COOPER: Joining us now, Andrew McCabe, former deputy director of the FBI and currently a CNN contributor.
Andrew, first of all, what's your reaction with the investigation being dropped. How -- after two years.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, so, Anderson, it's obviously a huge sigh of relief. It's been incredibly stressful and trying time for my family, and so, I'm incredibly glad to have that behind us, finally. I'm, of course, glad that the department came around, finally, to making the right decision.
But I'll tell you, it's just an absolute disgrace they let this thing drag on as long as they did and put my family, you know, through what we've gone through over the last two years. And they should be, you know, they should be -- they should -- I'm just disgusted at the way the whole thing has been handled.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, to have it drag on like this, is there any actual reason why it would have dragged on for two years, other than to keep you kind of twisting in the wind?
MCCABE: No. No, Anderson, there's not. This is not a complicated issue.
The fact -- there were no facts in dispute. There's a small number of people they needed to talk to. I.G. referrals to U.S. attorney's offices are handled typically -- many times a year and very quickly. Typically, they're declined before the ink is dry on the I.G.'s report.
This one, they decided to spend two years thinking about. I'm sure a lot of that time was thinking about how frustrated the president would likely be when they came to the inevitable conclusion that there was no case here, but that's just a theory on my part.
COOPER: Well, also, I mean, the whole -- it fits into the larger theme of weaponizing the Department of Justice against perceived enemies or just people the president doesn't like. They could have been holding it because they were afraid of what the president would say about it. It could have also just been, you know, just to leave you twist in the wind, paying up legal fees and having the stress and this sword of Damocles hanging over you.
MCCABE: That's certainly true. And, look, I've said from the very beginning, the attacks on me, from the way that I was removed to the FBI, to the ultimate criminal investigation, I believe, were designed to undermine my credibility as a potential witness against the president, for the decisions that I made in essentially initiating the Russia case and ensuring that that got handed off to a special prosecutor.
I think this -- the part of their goal here was to, you know, intentionally destroy my reputation and my credibility in an effort to kind of put me behind, you know, any usefulness in those investigations.
This is the way this administration responds. When someone steps forward to tell the truth or to represent any facts that the administration finds uncomfortable, they attack people personally. It's not just me. This is a much bigger situation than just me.
We've seen it time and time again. We saw it most recently with the witnesses. Those government servants who stepped up and followed the law and responded to lawful subpoenas and told the truth as they know it have now all been attacked and vilified and some of them fired from their positions for doing so.
So that's what they do. This president's M.O. is to attack people personally when he doesn't like what they have to say.
COOPER: Yes, and not just that, but, oh, yes, let's fire Vindman and let's fire his twin brother, which seems an odd exclamation point on it. There was a transcript released today in which the judge in this case previously told Justice Department attorneys that the handling of case was disturbing in the judge's words and getting close to a banana republic.
Do you agree?
MCCABE: Absolutely agree. I mean, that's one of the things that concerns me most about not just the president, but the way that the Justice Department has handled these matters that are clearly so important to this president. If, you know, we don't expect to live in a country where the previewed political enemies of the president suddenly become the subjects of criminal investigations in a pursuit to -- you know, to throw political enemies in jail, which is clearly what the president himself has said time and time again, he said it just from the Oval Office a few days ago, decrying the sentence that had been recommended for Roger Stone and in the same breath, calling for the imprisonment of myself and James Comey.
That is an absolute abrogation of everything we know and expect from our system of justice here as Americans. And it's disturbing to see the department of justice playing a role in that politicization of the work that DOJ should be doing.
COOPER: You know, our system is set up, you know, in a very well- thought-out way with checks and balances. But when you start to look at what has gone on, you know, the president has -- they've packed the courts with a lot of judges. You know, it hasn't got a lot of attention over the last couple of years, but they've been very successful in getting a huge number of judges appointed by the president.
Obviously, the Senate is not standing up to the president. At least, the Republicans in the Senate are afraid, clearly, of the blowback of contradicting this president and Mitt Romney is now a case study in what can happen if you do.
There's the Justice Department, which now seems to be weaponized. I mean, the next step, I guess, is sort of weaponizing the military in some way. You know, talking about steps towards a banana republic. That is essentially the next step.
MCCABE: It is. And it's frightening to think through these potential developments, but when you look back on the recent past and the experiences we've had as a nation, you can't help but be very concerned for our future. And, you know, the founders had the brilliance to conceive a structure in which there were three co-equal branches of government that each imposed checks and balances on each other.
Well, we've seen congress' complete and total failure to follow through on that responsibility, they have to put any sort of check on the administration. Thank God we still have independent fair-minded judges in our system, like Judge Walton, who you referred to earlier, who are not afraid to call the prosecutors and the Department of Justice to account, to explain why they are handling, in this case, my situation in such a arbitrary and unfair way.
So, thankfully, we still have folks in place that are willing to live up to that oath and to that responsibility that they've taken through their positions. But it is -- it is really concerning.
COOPER: Aside from being understandably anger about all of what you've been through, has it been in a way surreal? I mean, the past couple of minutes, while you've been on with me, on Fox, there's a banner font calling you a liar. Did you ever expect in any way to be dealing with anything like this? MCCABE: Anderson, I spent 21 years in the FBI. As the part of an
institution that prides itself on fidelity, braver, and integrity. And to be removed from that organization and unfairly branded a liar because that was the desired outcome by the president has just been one of the most sickening and demeaning experiences of my life.
It's horrendous. And it is unfortunate that having listened to propaganda like Fox News, there's -- you know, there are many people in this country that will believe that forever. I can't do anything about that, except continue to live and to speak out in the way I've tried to do over the last year, to stand up for what I believe in, and to tell the truth, however inconvenient for the president or anybody else.
COOPER: Yes. Andrew McCabe, I appreciate you being on. Thank you.
MCCABE: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: Coming up next, we're going to hear from two other former top justice professionals, including one who believes that when Attorney General Barr talks about independence, he's, quote, full of it.
Later, one lawmaker's reaction to the president's new plan for spending billions of dollars on the border wall without doing the one thing the Constitution says he needs to do, which is asking Congress for that money. We'll tell you how he's going to get it, next.
COOPER: We're talking tonight about the president who appears to be weaponizing the Justice Department and the fear that he'll use that power to investigate, prosecute and punish for his own aims and obsessions, namely to do with impeachment and the Russian investigation.
Now, before the break, you heard from the former deputy director of the FBI, who's already experienced the brunt of it for two years. Perspective now from two others, former FBI general counsel, James Baker, and Preet Bharara, both CNN legal analysts. Preet served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York before President Trump fired him.
So, Jim, just looking at everything that's happened this week, the Roger Stone case, Attorney General Barr's interview, the Flynn case getting re-examined, do you think this Justice Department is being weaponized?
JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Boy, it seems as though that is certainly what is going on and that's what I'm afraid of. Whether it's working or not is another matter. I mean, you saw, for example, the resignations this week. I think that was an effort by line people to say, no, we're not going to let this happen. That whatever is going on at the top, whatever the president is saying, we are not going to allow that to happen. And we're going to put our foot down.
Now, they're gone, and so other prosecutors come in and those folks have to have the same level of integrity that the other -- the people who have left had.
But, look, I'm quite worried about what's going on. It is a very bad week for the Department of Justice, I think, from what I'm hearing. There are a number of people who are dismayed. The moral is suffering, as a result of this. And so, it's something that all Americans should be concerned about.
COOPER: Preet, I mean, you tweeted, I think Bill Barr is shrewd, delivered smart, calculating, careful, and full of it. I mean, he's doing exactly what President Trump wants. Does anyone actually think that he isn't kowtowing to the president here?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, some people are suggesting that maybe he's not. That maybe he's finally, you know, seeing that there's a straw that has broken the camel's back. In my mind, you have a track record that's gone on for a year or more of Bill Barr basically acquiescing whatever the president wants. The way he treated the Mueller report, the way he delayed the Mueller report, the way he has given special treatment to Roger Stone.
Whatever you think of the sentence of seven to nine years, that involvement at the level of the attorney general I have never seen before in any case. And when you do it when it's a person who's a crony of the president, it looks terrible.
And I think that what maybe is going on is that he's realized that it's such a boiling point within the department, with moral so low, and waning, and you have -- as Jim mentioned, four career prosecutors withdraw from a case, one resign from the department altogether, he's got to do something about his internal leadership responsibility as well. And so at a minimum, he thought he had to say those things that he said on television.
You know, I would love it to be, you know, a turning point, an inflection point where he and others do things more than just talk about how they want to do their job. But speak up to the president and resist the president's commands whether they come directly or on Twitter.
By the way, this whole business of the president communicating through Twitter and Bill Barr announcing his reservations on an interview with ABC News is bizarre to me. I think they have each other's phone numbers. I think they know where the offices of the other are. They should have a conversation about this. And if Bill Barr wants to say, I told the president I'm going to uphold the traditions of the department rather than pursue your vendettas, that would be a welcome thing to hear.
COOPER: Right. It seems odd that this is the way that they would go about such a discussion, to just have it in the public. It does sort of, Jim, you know, it raises the question of, which essentially just some sort of set-up by the attorney general to give himself cover, to mollify some people in the Department of Justice, who may be feeling that what's going on is inappropriate.
Barr has never stood up to the president's assault on the rule of law. So for him to be standing up suddenly for the independence of the Justice Department, does it seem -- does it seem calculated to you? Does it seem -- or do you buy what he's saying?
BAKER: Well, look. He did make forceful statements. And what he said was good and appropriate. And I think he deserves credit for that.
Now, the reality, though, is from what the reporting is, is that he had pre-coordinated this, I guess I'll use the neutral word, with the White House to some degree and perhaps with the president directly. And so, because the words that he said yesterday in that interview really sounded like the words of somebody who was prepared to resign at that moment or if the president, you know, didn't back down.
So at the same time, he also had to say those words in order to keep folks from really rebelling within the department. And so, I think he's in a tough place now. He has to try to -- if he wants to keep his job, he's got to keep the troops happy to a certain degree and keep his boss happy. And that is not very easy in this environment.
Look, the fact that they're communicating through this way, as Preet was talking about, doesn't shock me, because, you know, the people that I've talked to, like Jim Comey, Andy McCabe, and others, who have tried to have a conversation with the president, it's extremely difficult, because he basically talks all the time and doesn't really listen.
And so that it has devolved into this type of interchange doesn't shock me.
COOPER: Preet, the reporting for "The Washington Post," that as the impeachment trial is winding down, federal prosecutors with the Southern District of New York took new steps in the probe related to Giuliani. What do you make of that? How do you read that?
BHARARA: So, if it's true, it's within the -- you know, the convention of that office, which is, it doesn't matter who you are, how much money you have, how much power you have, or if you even ran that office once upon a time, if there's a basis to investigate, they will. And they'll go with the facts and the law (ph).
What I think is incredible about that development is that at the same time, you're hearing that the Southern District may have an investigation, a criminal investigation into the personal lawyer of the president, Rudy Giuliani. You have, on the other hand, Bill Barr and others suggesting that Rudy Giuliani has some special place and role and back channel to provide information that he is gathering in Ukraine and other places with respect to the president's other political foes.
That's not a role that anyone gets if you're a private citizen. And it shouldn't be the role that you get if you are otherwise under criminal investigation. The whole thing is extraordinary -- I'm running out of words to use, but it's highly -- highly extraordinary, if I can use that phrase. It's kind of unbelievable.
COOPER: Jim Baker, Preet Bharara, these are fascinating times. I appreciate you coming on. Thank you.
BAKER: Thank you.
COOPER: Well, stay with us. A lot more news straight ahead. A federal jury in New York City has handed down its verdict in the attempted extortion charges against Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' former attorney. Their decision when 360 continues.
COOPER: A federal judge in New York City today found Attorney Michael Avenatti guilty of trying to extort the company Nike millions of dollars. The case is just one of several Avenatti's facing. He's also been accused of stealing of money from the adult film actress Stormy Daniels when Avenatti represented in her lawsuit against President Trump. CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, good evening. I think there were really two themes that prosecutors really tried to hammer home in their prosecution of this case. And one of them betrayal and the other one, extortion. Now, when it comes to that, according to prosecutors, Avenatti essentially called Nike, reached out to Nike and demanded that they pay him millions of dollars or he would publicly accuse the sports apparel maker of illicit conduct, specifically that they were illegally paying amateur basketball players.
And then the other side of this -- of the argument here, Anderson, was that betrayal factor here. That he betrayed his comment by advocating for money for himself versus his actual client. But ultimately, at the end of the day today, conviction secured for Avenatti as he was found guilty on all three counts including wire fraud and attempted extortion.
COOPER: What was Avenatti's reaction as the verdict was read?
SANDOVAL: It was interesting before they actually read out that verdict, Anderson, he actually did the sign of the cross before they declared him guilty on all counts. And then he turned to his lawyers, thanked them, hugged one of them, and then led out by U.S. marshals.
COOPER: And the sentencing, it's set for June. I assume they are going to try to appeal. What potential sentencing is this?
SANDOVAL: Yes, could look at potentially over 40 years here. But you're absolutely correct here. His attorneys will certainly push to appeal this case. However, you also have to take into account that he has these two other pending cases. Two more trials, one in New York for allegedly stealing proceeds from Stormy Daniels' book, and the other for fraud in California. We should mention, he has pleaded not guilty on those charges.
So, yes, there is sentencing in this separate New York case that's scheduled for this summer, but as his attorneys made very clear today, Anderson, that will likely be rescheduled for later.
COOPER: Polo Sandoval. Polo, thanks.
It's difficult to imagine a more dramatic fall than this. With me now, CNN's chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. An old-fashioned shakedown is what they were calling it.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I -- today, I was thinking of -- I'm sure many people remember, he was on CNN a lot of times.
COOPER: I did stories, not just the Stormy Daniels interview, that he was -- that he was part of, I did previous stories with him on "60 Minutes," on other cases.
TOOBIN: And I got to know him. And I remember once at the peak of all of this, we went to lunch in Midtown, when our offices were in Midtown, and we walked back together to CNN, and it was like walking with a major, major celebrity. People came up to him, it's like, you know, go for it. Go get Trump. You know, he had this hashtag bossta. People remember that.
And at the peak of this, he even announced he was considering running for president and he went to Iowa, he went to New Hampshire. And to call it hubris is not even -- doesn't do it justice. I mean the craziness of this. And when you look at this case and the three cases -- he's 48 years old, he could be looking at decades in prison.
TOOBIN: Oh yes.
COOPER: So there's this case which -- I mean Polo Sandoval said 40 years is possible?
TOOBIN: I think that's unlikely, but the way the sentencing guidelines work is that it's based on the amount of money at issue in the case. And he's accused of trying to extort $15 million. So if they use that $15 million as the number in the sentencing guidelines, he could be looking at decade in prison. And the California case is worse. No question.
COOPER: One of the cases is -- one of the California cases is the Stormy Daniels case?
TOOBIN: No, the -- Stormy Daniels is here in New York. And it involved him taking approximately $300,000 of a book advance that she was supposed to get that instead he just pocketed and spent on his own money. [20:35:07]
The California case is much worse, because, first of all, it's millions of dollars. And also, he was the lawyer in cases where there were awards to his clients and again, he pocketed the money. People in need, people had, you know, problems, that's why they got this award in the first place, also stealing money from his law partners. Again, millions of dollars is an issue. And all of these sentences are based on the amount of loss. So, I mean, these are big numbers.
COOPER: Avenatti's attorney said that they are planning to file a motion to change his conditions of confinement, because they are inhumane.
TOOBIN: Well, he's in the MCC, which is where they hold people in federal court before trial. You know, it's a lousy place to be. It's worse than being in prison, because it's a much more confined condition. He had his bail revoked, so he's been locked up during this trial. He's obviously now that he's convicted, he's certainly --
COOPER: He had his bail revoked because he was accused of trying to hide money, correct?
TOOBIN: Trying to hide more money involving a divorce that he's going through. I mean, the total collapse of his life is really sort of extraordinary. And frankly, you know, I feel kind of snookered, because I took him seriously. I think we all, you know --
COOPER: Well, I mean he was -- I mean, prior to even this Stormy Daniels story, he had won a large judgment in a class action lawsuit, I think it was, in California.
COOPER: And I had actually done a "60 Minutes" report about the case that he had and interviewed people. I mean, he won a large jury verdict that then got reduced later on.
TOOBIN: Right. And he did -- and, you know, he did represent Stormy Daniels and I think in retrospect her legal strategy was kind of insane. I mean, the fact that, you know, she was suing to be cleared of a nondisclosure agreement that they weren't enforcing at all. I mean, he just -- he wanted to gin up a fight with the President. But he lost every case that he brought on Stormy's behalf. And now he's accused of stealing money from her, as well. But, you know, there was a real pathology at work.
COOPER: Right. The accusations would show I mean an extraordinary pattern of abuse.
TOOBIN: And it's all involving stealing money. It's all involving taking money that was destined for clients, that was destined for law partners. You know, he had this really extravagant lifestyle. He drove Ferraris and races. I mean he had like a Ferrari and private planes. And I think it's clear at this point he afforded it by taking money he wasn't entitled to. COOPER: Jeff Toobin, appreciate it.
A well-known former television correspondent and anchor is breaking precedent to endorse presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. We'll tell you who and he will tell you why, coming up.
[20:41:40] COOPER: Sam Donaldson has spent years has a prominent White House correspondent, anchor for ABC News, never strayed from the ethic that journalists should not take sides and should at all cost, avoid endorsing political candidates. Sam Donaldson has retired from the news business and now he has publicly endorsed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the Democratic nomination. We wanted to talk to him about why he decided to do this. He joins us now.
Sam, thanks so much for -- good to have you back. Your career obviously speaks for yourself. You've held candidates, presidents on both parties, you've held their feet to the fire. Why endorse Bloomberg and why now?
SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR CORRESPONDENT: Well because I think Mike Bloomberg is best suited to take on Donald j. Trump this November and beat him. And that's something I think is very important for the country. You're right. When I was a working reporter in Washington for 52 years, I never did anything like this. I never gave any money to candidates. I didn't even register for a political party. But when they threw me out at age 80, six years ago, I was free to do this.
And I think it's very important now. We are in the grip, Anderson, of a sick, ignorant man. He's mean, he's corrupt. And if we don't get this right, we may lose the things that have made this country the best place no live in the world and that shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan used to talk about, which was the envy of the world. So I'm in it.
COOPER: Mike Bloomberg, as you know, obviously, didn't compete in Iowa or in New Hampshire. I talked to Bernie Sanders the other day, not only who is concerned about him being a billionaire, of course, and Sanders saying he's trying to basically buy the election and that he hasn't spent the months on the ground in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in doing the work that everybody else is running for the nomination has done.
DONALDSON: Well, yes, unfortunately, money buys elections. And thanks to citizens united, the Supreme Court case, everybody's money can do so. Bloomberg is putting his own money in. He's not going to be beholden to anybody when he wins this race. On the other hand, Mr. Trump is getting money from Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate in -- that's OK, in Las Vegas and other fat cats. So he's got a big war chest. And Bloomberg has a big war chest. And I'd rather have Bloomberg's money than their money, OK?
COOPER: And how do you address the, you know, the past record of Mike Bloomberg as mayor? Certainly, you know, there's been a lot of questions raised about his support for stop and frisk, the comments he made about it about throwing people up against the wall. As late as 2018, he was speaking favorably about stop and frisk. He's since apologized, but there are a lot of people, obviously, who are skeptical about that.
DONALDSON: That's right. Mike Bloomberg made a mistake. He said he made a mistake. He was convinced that somehow we had to reduce the murder rate in New York City, which was affecting minority communities, frankly, more than some other parts of the city. And he was frustrated, wrongly, he says, that this stop and frisk business might help. I don't know whether it helped or not, but he finally has decided that, no, not only did it not help that much, but it made victims of people who were innocent. And it was not constitutional, as a matter of fact. You've got to have probable cause, kids.
And he said, I'm sorry, I apologize, I was wrong. How many people do that? Well, we all make mistakes. But I know a lot of people think you can't trust him now.
He's a very prominent "New York Times" columnist who wrote that you can't trust him now, look what he did. Well, as Harry Truman said, let's look at the record that Mike has in supporting minorities, women, and people in need, not just when he was running for president, but for many years.
In New York, for instance, he began to launch the young man's initiative in 2011, which helped men of color, black men particularly, and their problems. And that led, I'm told, and I have it right down here, to President Obama's my brother's keeper initiative. Now, there's an organization in this country that for years has tried to help women and minorities buy businesses, get into business. And Mike has for years and years supported that organization. And he's grown contracts there by over $3.5 billion.
COOPER: And you think he really has a shot?
DONALDSON: Wait a moment, can I just -- I'm on a roll here and I won't go too long. $5 million to Stacy -- to Stacy's initiative in Georgia. I mean, she might be governor today if the vote had been counted properly, but it wasn't and now she has his money to help her. I could go on, but I get your point. I've gone on too long. But if you look at his record and you hear someone say, you can't trust this man. With all due respect to columnists or anyone else, you don't know what you're talking about.
COOPER: Sam Donaldson, appreciate it. Thanks very much for being with us, Sam.
DONALDSON: OK. All right, Anderson. Thank you.
COOPER: Take care.
Just ahead, President Trump's cash grab. Congress is upset with his latest attempt to fund the wall and he promised Mexico would be paying for. A lawmaker from the Armed Services Committee joins me when we come back.
COOPER: President Trump is extending his national emergency on the southern border to build his signature wall that Congress does not want to pay for. He found a loophole so he can keep taking money from the Pentagon's budget. This time, to the tune of nearly $4 billion. Earlier today, the President gave a status report, complete with pictures to members of the National Border Parole Council.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don't know if you can see this. But it's pretty impressive. These are different pictures, different shots that get spray painted black. The black makes it extraordinarily hot, especially in areas along the Mexican border. Not known for cold weather. It's known for quite hot weather. You don't have too much snow in this area, right, we just say, Chad? Not too much.
In fact, if you had any, that would be climate change, right? When they do that, I'm there. I'm a believer.
When you want to get money for a wall that most of the people in the Democrat Party wanted five years ago, they just didn't like it when I announced that we were going to build it. But we got it built. And I made your jobs a lot easier. Say thank you, Mr. President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Democrats and a number of Republicans are not thanking him. They're angered by the $3.8 billion diversion of funds that were intended for military equipment.
I want to bring in Democratic Congressman John Garamendi from California who sits on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks for being with us. First of all, isn't it the job of Congress to decide what gets funded and by how much? Is the Trump White House taking fund from the Pentagon legal under the Constitution?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Well, the constitution's quite clear. It is the power of the purse given to Congress, not to the president. That's absolutely clear. However, the President did find a loophole in two places. The first is that he was able to use what is known as the counter-drug interdiction money and move it around.
The fact is that this $3.5 billion is going to come out of the taxpayers' pocket and also out of national guard units all around the nation that will not have $1 billion, $500 million of necessary equipment so that they can help our citizens with fires, floods, tornados, hurricanes, and the other disasters that befall us.
And for the U.S. marines, they're going to lose $1,400,000,000 of 94 new assault ship from which they can launch their helicopters and they will not have two F-35 vertical takeoff fifth generation fighters. This is just really a horrendous problem. Not only with regard to the constitution but even more so with regard to the necessity of maintaining a strong national defense.
COOPER: And -- I mean, is there anything, at this point, that Congress can actually do about it?
GARAMENDI: Yes, there is. Unfortunately, last year, the Senate would not let the House version pass. In the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, we prohibited these transfers. Unfortunately, the Senate refused to go along with that. The Republicans there, once again, kowtowed to the President and they allow -- they took that particular provision out. I will assure anybody that cares to watch what happens this year that there is going to be a monumental fight in the National Defense Authorization Act that will, ultimately, hopefully, culminate in removing the President's power of the purse and restoring the power of Congress, the power of the purse, the power of appropriations.
COOPER: This is not the first time the administration has redirected funds from other military projects to go to the wall. NPR last month I think citing numbers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They put the cost of the wall at like $11 billion, which is a far cry from what Congress has authorized. You're on the Armed Services Committee. Doesn't the pentagon need that money for other things? I mean $11 billion. Is it all going to be coming from the Pentagon?
GARAMENDI: Thus far, almost all that Congress did appropriate, last year at the end of that 40-some day shutdown of government, did appropriate about a billion and a half dollars for border security, some of which was available for the wall. The President immediately turned around in 2019 and stole $7.5 billion using some very -- really stretching the law.
[20:55:06] And set about to build his wall. Most of that money, more than 50% of that money, has not been spent. It's sitting in some account someplace. And now, this year, he's at it once again to the tune of at least $3.5 billion. And we expect $7 billion total. That's some 7 -- $15 billion of taxpayer money that's going to the wall. That's money that was specifically appropriated for necessary military projects all around the world for equipment and planes and tanks, as well as ships.
COOPER: It's so interesting because obviously the President ran not only on this wall, but that Mexico was going to pay for it. There is obviously no mention of that now. And certainly, the idea that it's taxpayers paying for it, which is what a lot of -- frankly, a lot of Republicans said at the time, you're not going to do this and have Mexico pay for it.
GARAMENDI: Well, here's what happened. The Congress decided to spend a billion and a half dollars. The President just went around the power of Congress and did it. Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans refused to stand up once again. We saw that in the impeachment. They refused to stand up to their constitutional obligations to carry out the Article I powers given to them in the constitution. And here we are, the President running wild, once again, running over the constitution and usurping the power of Congress.
COOPER: Congressman, I appreciate your time.
GARAMENDI: Thank you.
COOPER: Reminder, don't miss full circle. It's our digital news show that gives us a chance to dig into some important topics and having depth conversations. You can catch it streaming live weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern at cnn.com/fullcircle. You can watch there anytime on demand, cnn.com/fullcircle.
Still to come tonight, the latest in how Attorney General Bill Barr may be working to do more of Bob Mueller's work bringing fresh scrutiny of the possible political motives behind his actions.