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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Spicer: Trump "Evaluating the Situation" with Flynn; NH Governor: "Not Aware of Any Widespread Voter Fraud"; NH Gov: "Not Aware Of Any Widespread Voter Fraud"; Fear Spreads In Latino Community; Flooding Fears At Nation's Tallest Dam; Trudeau: We Welcome Refugees Without Compromising Security; People Seek Asylum In Canada In Trump Presidency; Report: White House Was Warned Flynn Could Be Blackmailed by Russia. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired February 13, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Thanks for joining us.
It is the start of the fourth week of the Trump presidency and the messages coming from the White House are painting -- well, a tumultuous picture.
President Trump met with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a short press conference, the president took a few questions but none notably on the biggest question mark surrounding his administration. Right now, that would be national security adviser, General Mike Flynn.
If given the chance, reporters might have asked about what the president knows regarding General Flynn's alleged conversation about sanctions with the Russian ambassador or why General Flynn says he changed his story about the conversations or why Vice President Mike Pence denied any such conversations took place. Those are just for starters.
What we do know is that General Flynn's situation is according to a CNN source is fluid.
Jim Acosta joins me with the latest.
What do you know, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, there has been some whiplash today at the White House. Earlier today, the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Michael Flynn had the full confidence of the president, while Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the national security adviser's fate is being, quote, "evaluated".
Tonight, a senior administration official tells me the best way to put it is that Flynn is in a gray area.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): A senior administration official said, the knifes are out at the White House, where there are fears Washington is hunting for Flynn's scalp. Flynn was at the president's side as top officials huddled over how to handle North Korea's weekend launch of a ballistic missile, a meeting held on an outdoor's patio at the Trump Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where guests were watching as aides used cell phone flashlights to illuminate potentially sensitive documents, raising security questions.
But the White House was vague about Flynn's future when asked directly on the Sunday talk shows.
CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS MODERATOR: Does the president still have confidence in his national security adviser?
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That's a question that I think you should ask the president.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: General Flynn has said up to this point that he had not said anything like that to the Russian ambassador. I think now, he's saying he doesn't remember whether he did or not. So, that's a conversation he's going to need to have with the president and the vice president to clear that up.
ACOSTA: White House senior adviser Stephen Miller is also under scrutiny after his super heated criticism of the federal appellate court froze the administration's travel ban on seven majority Muslim countries.
MILLER: There's no such thing as judicial supremacy.
ACOSTA: Miller suggested the president's powers when it comes to national security should not be subjected to second-guessing.
MILLER: Our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a simply stunning statement, the idea that a senior adviser to the president would go on camera and say the president's authority will not be questioned shows both a striking lack of understanding of the structure of our government.
ACOSTA: But the president loved the performance, tweeting, "Congratulations. Great job."
Friends of the president are also beginning to point fingers at White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: I think there's a lot of weakness coming out of the chief of staff. I think Reince Priebus good guy, well-intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work.
ACOSTA: A criticism the publisher of the conservative news outlet, Newsmax, later walked back.
RUDDY: They are my criticisms. I don't speak for the president.
COOPER: Jim, about those pictures of President Trump with the Japanese prime minister on the patio of Mar-a-Lago, I understand the White House are responding to allegations that any sensitive material was being discussed or being viewed there.
ACOSTA: That's right, Anderson. This evening, White House officials are emphatic that no classified material was discussed between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe on the patio there at Mar-a- Lago. Those pictures you're seeing that we've all been talking about all day long, that classified discussion, we're told, took place in a specially installed secure location away from the patio, away from those guests.
What we saw in the pictures, officials say, was the president and the prime minister going over logistics for the statement that they made to the news media that night on Saturday night, but, Anderson, they are emphatic, they are stressing that no classified material was on the table when they were having that discussion.
COOPER: And, Jim, when Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC that Flynn had the full confidence of the president and Sean Spicer about, what, like an hour or so later said that it's being -- I don't want to mischaracterize exactly what he said, but said something completely different, did she -- is there any explanation for that? I mean, was that just she didn't know?
She was just saying something she had no knowledge of, or that's what the president believed then and then it changed, or do we know?
ACOSTA: I was in Sean Spicer's office, Anderson, this afternoon. We were all brought into his office presumably to ask these questions because, you're right, Kellyanne Conway was on MSNBC, and she said that the president had confidence in Michael Flynn. And we went into Sean Spicer's office after he had a conversation with Kellyanne Conway as Kellyanne Conway quickly walked out of his office. We walked into Sean Spicer's office.
And what he emphasized to me and other reporters in the room is the reason why he was putting out the statement that Flynn was being evaluated was based on the latest assessment, the latest information coming in to the president.
[20:05:08] They were not trying to make a judgment or a statement about what Kellyanne Conway said, but they said essentially this is where we stand right now. As I told you earlier, Anderson, a senior administration official said Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, is in a, quote, "gray area".
Anderson, it's difficult to get out of that position once you're in it. That usually means things are not heading in a good direction when a top official is described in that fashion, Anderson. COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, appreciate that.
A lot to talk about with the panel. Joining me tonight is Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent of "The New Yorker", "New York Times" political reporter Alex Burns, "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, Trump's supporter, contributing editor of "The American Spectator", Jeffrey Lord, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Republican consultant Margaret Hoover, and "Daily Beast" senior columnist Matt Lewis.
So, Maggie, let's start with you. The Kellyanne Conway thing, he has the full confidence of the president. And then, an hour later, Trump Spicer says he's being evaluated. Can you explain that?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Great thing about Trump land is both statements could actually be true, depending on who you're talking to. There appears to be a split within the Trump White House over exactly what to do with Michael Flynn. There are some people who would like to see him hang on. There are many more people who think he has created an untenable situation for himself as Jim just said.
He is not in a good position. People close to Mike Pence in particular seem to be agitating for him to go. Remember, he has now twice told Pence something that turned out not to be true.
COOPER: And Pence went on television and assured the country that Flynn did not have this conversation with the Russians.
HABERMAN: That's right. And I think the longer you see this go on, it suggests a potential weakness in terms of Pence's position and his ability to push something within the White House. I think it's a little tough to do this week if they're going to get rid of Flynn, given you have all these foreign leaders this week. But I think you will see a resolution to this in the coming days in the coming days, one way or the other.
COOPER: Alex, I guess part of the calculation for the president, a president who does not like to look weak if that's not, not saying that he would, but he might be afraid that this would look weak or disorganized if the national security adviser gets fired so early on.
ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely, and you've seen the administration take that attitude with Mike Flynn. You've seen them take that attitude with White House senior staff and a whole list of cabinet nominations that he has -- President Trump has sort of rammed through these selections that a different president faced with the same political pressures, faced with the same baggage, coming to light certainly would have withdrawn his selections by now.
But, look, Trump needs to come to grips with the larger landscape here at some point, which is -- and there are people in his orbit trying to communicate this to him that every day that Mike Flynn remains in the administration, he is a giant target for Democrats and for hostile Republicans to go after on a whole suite of issues related to Russia. So, this isn't just about the internal politics of the White House and who has been honest with who. It is the larger issue that Flynn represents and Trump's opponents can very, very easily latch on to.
COOPER: Ryan, I saw you raise the question on Twitter today of whether or not the president could have or would have known Mike Flynn was going to -- what he was going to say to the Russian ambassador about sanctions.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To me, that's the elephant in the room here. If Donald Trump fires his national security adviser, the first question is, well, why are you firing him? Well, he talked to the Russians about sanctions before we were in office and then lied to Pence about it.
Well, who told him to talk to the Russians about sanctions? He's a very close adviser to Donald Trump? They were joined at the hip through most of the transition. Donald Trump tweeted after Vladimir Putin decided not to act on the Obama sanctions, Trump himself tweeted, praising Putin for that action. So, this was not some peripheral issue. This is an issue Donald Trump was looking at very closely. His national security advisers having conversations with the Russians about this.
How does he fire that person without raising very, very troubling questions about what he knew and what he told Flynn to do?
COOPER: Jeffrey Lord, should Flynn be fired?
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If it turns out he looked the vice president of the United States in the eye and told him and delivered an untruth. You know, I don't know how that's going to be avoided. The question is, is that what happened? I don't know what happened.
There has to be some perspective here and it was the same -- before we went on, I typed in the name of the last several presidents along with White House turmoil, and it's there for all of them. Let me read two lines to be bipartisan. I don't want to give my friend Paula a coronary because I'm going to be defending Bill Clinton here.
This is from 1995. This is the "Christian Science Monitor". Quote, "The picture here is of an incompetent White House. It is no laughable Keystone Cops incompetence but a bright, yet inexperienced people finding their way in a very loose and ineffective organization that Clinton appears in these pages as an unsteady president, and of the Bush 43 White House," quote/unquote.
This is in Newsmax, "The senior staff, the senior White House staff, is feuding, leaking, and going for each other's jugulars."
My point is this is sort of de rigueur if you're going to be president of the United States. People do -- the press looks for these kinds of stories and, you know, built them up.
[20:10:04] Now, Ronald Reagan went through six national security advisers. His first one was fired fairly quickly after he got there. So, in other words, you know, relax. You have four years to go.
COOPER: Paul, is this --
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a very valid point.
COOPER: -- normal?
BEGALA: It is. But when you through these things, one of my rules is, focus on the organ grinder, not the monkey. Staff people are all monkeys. They come and they go.
What does this say about the president? And if he fires General Flynn because Flynn has ties to the Russians and has been dishonest to the country? Wait a minute, what does that say about Donald Trump? Does he have ties to the Russians? Has he lied to the country?
In fact, in fact, as has been suggested, Russians have compromising information about our president, the chance is very, very high that General Flynn knows what that information is. He should, he was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Now, he's the national security adviser.
You cut him loose, Mr. President, you solve one problem right now. You know, Maggie Haberman gets off your back for a day. But you create a huge problem because he's going to turn on you and he may well have a lot of information that people want and he will no longer be protected by executive order.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Flynn will not take being fired well in the past, right? I mean, this is a guy who left DNI and this is why became a Trump supporter, right? This is a life long Democrat who worked for the last administration.
So, I mean -- this wouldn't go over well. This is something you have to think about collateral damage. But to Jeffrey's point -- yes, you're right. There is always back stabbing and fighting and positioning and trying to jockey within the context of power circles in the West Wing, but there is lying to the American people this early because you have individuals who are lying to each other. I mean, that's sort of a new level that makes this a little different.
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITIICAL COMMENTATOR: I was just going to say, I think Jeffrey is right that this is not that weird. People come and people go. So that's an encouragement to Donald Trump to do the right thing to get rid of Flynn. I think you're actually feeding his -- Paul, you're feeding a bad impulse which is for him to double down, to invest in cost, to stick by this guy because if I don't, people like Paul Begala are going to say that I had bad judgment when I picked him.
COOPER: Or maybe Paul has an ulterior motive.
LEWIS: I think he might.
BEGALA: That can't be.
LEWIS: I think he might but here is my advice. This is the sincere advice, which is, do the right thing.
BEGALA: Which is?
LEWIS: Which is, cut him loose, do the right thing and don't be afraid of looking weak. You will look like a leader if you do the right thing and let this guy go because he deserves it. You don't look weak. You don't look --
BEGALA: I agree with that. I watched Bill Clinton fire his defense secretary, Les Aspin --
BEGALA: Barely a year in. Les had made really important mistakes. Clinton had to fire him ruthlessly. It was the best thing for the country, and it was strong.
The difference is Les didn't know compromising information about Bill Clinton. And it may well be General Flynn --
HOOVER: Well, I don't know about that. Hold on.
BEGALA: Oh, those were the days. To be in bed with the woman is different than being in bed with the Russians.
COOPER: All right. Let's take a quick break. More with the panel ahead.
Also, voters are bussed in from out of state in New Hampshire. That's the claim from the White House and it's, quote, "widely known," unquote, according to a top adviser to the president. We sent a reporter to New Hampshire to ask voters about those unsubstantiated allegations. We'll have details on that.
Plus, nearly 2,000 people downstream of an aging dam are ordered to flee after safety features fail. We got a live report on the current conditions ahead.
[20:16:40] COOPER: And welcome.
We've been talking about some turmoil at the White House on several fronts, including North Korea. As we reported, the president learned of a missile test while at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. And club members who are at dinner posted pictures and accounts of a strategy session done out in the open among guests is obviously raising questions about security.
Back now with the panel.
Maggie, I mean, these photographs, which were taken by a guest. Now the White House says no classified material was being discussed and actually what they were discussing was sort of details of a joint appearance and that classified discussions were held in a secure room. It's an unusual scene, though.
HABERMAN: You don't usually see the iPhone flashlight picture.
Look, there was always a question about how this was going to work with him going to Mar-a-Lago on the weekend. So, when it became clear that he was going to do that a fair amount of the time, that essentially anybody could just walk up and get face time with the president if they were a member or a guest of a member. This, I think, is a different order of magnitude that people weren't anticipating. It's not clear to me why they couldn't just go inside. You know, we have to take them at their word there was no classified information.
I hate the formulation if a Democrat did it or if another person did it, but the reality is that this whole campaign played out about questioning Hillary Clinton's focus on sensitive information and how she handled it and it's just not clear why this would be taking place this way on the patio of his private club. It is literally a picture of him intermingling his business and the White House, and there were photos along with that one on a recent member's Facebook page of him posing with the guy who carries the nuclear code.
COOPER: Right. The member posing with the guy with --
HABERMAN: Right. It's just -- it's sort of --
COOPER: And then he deleted --
HABERMAN: And then deleted the Facebook. But it goes to the question of, you know, you have this idea of sort of White House advisers as sort of theater for Mar-a-Lago attendees and that does become a problem, I think.
COOPER: Ryan, is there somebody in the president's inner circle who can say to him, you know, Mr. President, the optics of you doing this over the iceberg lettuce is not great or whatever they happen to have at the table?
LIZZA: I mean, they clearly were worried the story was sort of bubbling all day and finally came out with a statement saying, wait a second, this was not any of the classified conversations or classified documents. We did that in the area that the White House always sets up for the president and his entourage to have those conversations.
But I think Maggie hit the two points. It's about access and it's about just sort of putting -- access to the people -- to the club members at Mar-a-Lago. It's a $200,000 a year club. They have access to the president that no one else does.
And just putting the presidency sort of on display, was almost like the White House -- this traveling White House show. There was a sort of sense of showing off, Trump coming down there as the conquering hero, the owner of the club who is now president. Look, the White House would compare this to Bush's ranch in Texas,
right? He had a private home. Of course, Reagan had a private home in California. The difference is there's a public nature to this place as well.
COOPER: By paying guests.
Paul, you were a top adviser to President Clinton. Is this an unusual scene?
BEGALA: It's unprecedented.
I spoke to somebody who used to do intelligence, and he used the word staggering, somebody not given to hyperbole. This is staggering. And the reasons that Ryan states, there are so many soft targets there -- every bus boy, every waiter, every doorman, every bellman, every guest, every member.
[20:20:02] This is a security nightmare in terms of information, and I heard Jim Acosta's report, which I had not heard before, that they do have a SCIF there, sensitive compartmented information facility. You can parachute those in. You can put a SCIF anywhere. And the fact that they I thought they didn't have one it would have been dereliction of duty.
What you do in these certain situations, they haven't, is you pull the president into the SCIF. You brief him, you get secure communications with the experts from around the world, and you hold him there until you take him out to the press because you don't want new inputs coming in from the guy who won the member/guest tournament, you know?
You to lock him down until he speaks -- and he gave a great statement by the way, a very good statement. He left out North Korea but he said, "We stand by Japan 100 percent."
I watched that statement on Saturday night. As a strong disliker of Trump, I thought good for him. That's what I want my president --
LIZZA: Paul, there was a wrinkle with that. He actually did not deliver the statement that was prepared.
BEGALA: Is that right?
LIZZA: Yes. So that's sort of another sort of question mark. He had a prepared statement and he didn't read it.
BEGALA: I thought it was quite good. I wish he didn't include South Korea, but OK, it's on the fly.
COOPER: We've got. Let's take another quick break. We want to take a look at the debunked voter fraud claim that President Trump and his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, keep doubling down on. Details on that ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:25:14] COOPER: Breaking news on the Trump administration. Claims of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire, the Republican governor there Chris Sununu, again, I should point out, the Republican governor, telling NH1 News tonight that he, quote, "is not aware of any widespread voter fraud here in New Hampshire", unquote.
It is significant because it comes in response to President Trump's senior policy adviser Stephen Miller repeating his boss' unsubstantiated claim that thousands of people were bussed from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to vote illegally in the swing state on Election Day. Here is what Miller told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I've actually having worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire, I can tell you that this issue of bussing voters in to New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who has worked in New Hampshire politics. It's very real. It's very serious.
This morning, on this show, is not the venue to lay out all the evidence. But I can tell you this, voter fraud is a serious problem in this country. You have millions of people who are registered in two states, who are dead and who are registered to vote.
And you have 14 percent of noncitizens, according to academic research, at a minimum are registered to vote which is an astonishing statistic.
George, go to New Hampshire, talk to anybody who has worked in politics there for a long time. Everybody is aware of the problem in New Hampshire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Apparently not the governor or the state's top election official.
Miller did not provide any evidence, we should point out. Not a shred to back up his claims. So, what is the reaction in New Hampshire?
Well, Jessica Schneider reports.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this snow covered state where people are digging out from the second storm in a week, the president's claims of widespread election fraud drawing an icy reception.
(on camera): How would you characterize these claims that there are thousands of people who are bussed in?
AL HOTALING, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Balderdash, I guess. That's the only way I could claim -- I don't know. I couldn't explain it. SCHNEIDER: Al Hotaling perplexed.
Amy Greenlaw flabbergasted.
AMY GREENLAW, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTERS: I think it's insane. I think he's literally crazy because --
SCHNEIDER (on camera): Does it offend you as someone who lives here and votes here?
GREENLAW: Yes, like our votes don't matter.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In Durham, the ballots are still under lock and key.
TODD SELIG, DURHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE TOWN MANAGER: If President Trump has any doubt, he can come down and feel the vault himself.
SCHNEIDER: Town manager Todd Selig oversees the local elections, is a registered independent and insists President Trump's assertions are impossible.
SELIG: It's unpresidential. It's inappropriate. And I say to the president of the United States, if he has proof, bring forward his proof. And if not then please stop saying it because it's just wrong.
SCHNEIDER: The conspiracy theory didn't original with President Trump. It started swirling in the 1990s when the then-Republican governor opened up same-day voter registration. Simply show up to the polls, present your ID, and proven you live here.
The rumors return every election cycle that buses filled with people from solidly blue Massachusetts cross over the state line and make a beeline for the voting booths.
FERGUS CULLEN, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOP CHAIRMAN: This is absolutely preposterous the idea people are being bussed in by the hundreds or the thousands absolutely not true.
SCHNEIDER: Fergus Cullen was a never Trumper who has so far had stayed silent. But when Trump and his aides repeatedly made the voter fraud claims, Cullen took to Twitter.
CULLEN: I will personally pay the first person to produce proof that buses are being used to transport people to New Hampshire to vote. I will pay them a check for $1,000. So far, there's been no proof. You've got thousands of people standing around the polls with smart phones and none of them have snapped a picture of this.
It's like the tooth fairy or the Easter Bunny. You would think somebody would get a shot of them.
SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton took the Granite State by close to 3,000 votes. The attorney general, though, says there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Todd Selig points out the polls are staffed by local volunteers. They know most people and bus loads of out of staters would certainly stir suspicion.
SELIG: We are dealing with neighbors and friends and colleagues. We're not typically dealing with strangers from out of town who look nefarious in their intent and are trying to cause national disruption with fraudulent votes.
SCHNEIDER: And if they did show up, you would probably notice.
SELIG: If they did show up, we'd be all over them.
COOPER: And Jessica Schneider joins us now.
Do we know anyone in the Trump administration has even been to New Hampshire to investigate these alleged allegations?
SCHNEIDER: Anderson, there have been no indications that anyone from the White House has been up here to investigate, and that's probably because there's nothing to investigate. The attorney general has stressed there is no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.
As for the White House, they have not responded to our request for comment and, of course, they haven't provided any evidence of the thousands of people they claim have been bussed up here to vote -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.
Back now with the panel.
Jeffrey, I've got to start with you.
So, it's been --
LORD: I'm shocked.
COOPER: It's been three weeks since the White House claimed that they were going to launch an investigation on what they called -- initially, President Trump, first of all, was talking about, you know, millions of illegal votes. Then, they morphed to including people who were dead on the rolls or, you know, registered in multiple states.
[20:30:13] JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Couple of the Trump's ...
COOPER: This is no actually voter fraud it's just bad organization and ...
LORD: It could be that.
COOPER: Then real people are bussed in to pretend ...
COOPER: ... to be those people.
COOPER: But if they really believe this is such a great huge problem in the United States, that it's, in fact, the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the American electorate, why aren't they actually doing anything?
LORD: Well, I thought I understood that Vice President Pence was going to head up an investigation into this and, again, Anderson, when you go look at John Fund's column in the National Review Online in 2014, non-citizens are voting, you look at the "Wall Street Journal" in 2016 saying the same thing at greater length, the question is how much of it?
COOPER: But you asked to pull up those columns as I recall from like a month ago it was, you know, six people here, seven people there. And in all the columns you pull up, I think it totaled like nine people.
LORD: Well, they're giving it as evidence that it happens.
COOPER: ... if the "Wall Street Journal" had been able to find 3 million or 4 million people ...
LORD: But the question is ...
COOPER: ... they found would enough ...
LORD: The question is find out. I don't understand the hesitation no not look.
COOPER: I agree. The White House isn't doing that. They've talked about huge, you know, this would be the biggest voter fraud, millions -- I mean, thousands ...
LORD: Again, as I understand it, the vice president is going to do this, so.
COOPER: OK. You think shows -- you think that shows huge priority? I mean, because nothing has been done on this. I mean you would think wouldn't Republican -- the Republican governor, Republican election officials in Hampshire be up in arms?
LORD: Anderson, I think they're going to do it and I think it's a good thing to do it to play this to rest for good, period.
COOPER: I think it's laid to rest.
LORD: I don't think so. ALEX BURNS, NEW YORK TIMES, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It's important to view these comments from Stephen Miller in the context of the sort of Trump ecosystem that he's living in, right, that this is a position that the president has taken, that there was this massive fraud perpetuated in American elections for which there is no evidence.
BURNS: But if you're Stephen Miller I think the risk for us in interpreting his comments is seeing it as an on the level statement of policy as opposed to an effort by a staffer who is pretty far out on a limb in a number of areas to carry favor with the boss by standing by him in an area nobody else has.
COOPER: ... the White House is putting out some 31-year-old staffer who is trying to curry favor as being the voice of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But that is what this White House has done. That is what this president did throughout the campaign as a candidate. I mean, essentially, you used to have -- and Paul would be able to speak to Mr. Jeffrey better than I would. But my memory of previous administration is that you would not primarily have west wing staffers talking about policy to this extent. You have had -- it gives it a political tinge. Essentially you have Sean Spicer, Stephen Miller, and I agree with Alex in what he said, you know, Kellyanne Conway, all of these people are coming out, essentially, not with an audience of millions in the country of trying to shape policy or explain where the administration is or trying to set the tone for foreign leaders or trying to calm Wall Street Markets or talk to Capitol Hill. They're speaking to an audience of one, all of them.
COOPER: The president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's exactly right.
COOPER: I mean, Matt, that's the surreal situation, isn't it?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Every time he gives a speech it's about keeping your job and making the boss happy and maybe that's part of the problem.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, but they're getting -- the face time they're getting with him, right, it's all about-face time. Are you in this Oval Office? It's not about that. It's a face time. This is the time on television and he's watching TV.
COOPER: And we should point out, Pres. Trump actually tweeted out congratulating Stephen Miller on the great job.
LORD: Yes, ...
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I mean, loyalty is not repeating the things the boss wants to you hear. Just going to the boss and saying, hey man, you can't say this anymore. And there is proof. The Bush administration, the last Republican presidency, was obsessed with this too. And so they had a task force and they dug into it. They spent five years looking into this. They got 86 convictions out of tens of millions of voters, hundreds of millions. They got eight votes cast. They got 86 convictions in a five-year effort, and they really believed it was true. So even if you don't believe all the independent academics the Brennan Center for Justice.
COOPER: And by the way, we'll have them on in the next hour.
LEWIS: I do think ...
BEGALA: Hold them in.
LEWIS: U.S. Senate race is stolen, gubernatorial races stolen, maybe JFK stole West Virginia, who knows, or Lyndon Johnson. I mean, these things happen. It's possible. But did 3 million people vote for Hillary Clinton?
BEGALA: The election fraud here, Trump projects, he always know what he's worried about by what he attacks others on. He's worried that his victory is tainted because of Russian involvement. And so he's got to concoct some theory of Democratic voter fraud to counter ...
LORD: ... to speak of Richard Nixon, I had the opportunity to meet Richard Nixon in 1987. I can tell you that man went to his grave thinking the presidency was stolen from him in Chicago in 1960.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you know.
BEGALA: Did you tell him that even if you give him Illinois he still lost?
COOPER: Are you trying to help Donald Trump?
[20:35:12] LORD: I'm just trying to tell you that there is a belief out there and there are people out there with all sorts of data and everybody just says, oh, it's not true.
COOPER: I mean there are people believe 9/11 was an inside job and I mean that doesn't make it true.
LORD: I believe Donald Trump was going to be elected president.
BEGALA: Well, that's true.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, think of the toxic environment that is being created in the White House with this. You have a president who says something that is false. And inside the White House instead of getting together and saying, all right, how are we going to tell the boss that he's wrong about this? The media has condemned it as false. Every fact checker says it's not true. How do we get him to pull back and no longer talk about it? Instead on three occasions that Maggie brought up, you have Sean Spicer going out and saying, well, the crowds were actually bigger than all of you in the media are reporting.
On the first day of the administration you have Kellyanne Conway going out and talking about Ivanka Trump s brand because she thought it would please the boss. And now you have this young man spreading a lie in New Hampshire.
LIZZA: And they all get praised by the boss after it's over.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It starts with the president.
COOPER: Right. That's what it comes down to.
All right, an immigration sweep leads to nearly 700 arrests nationwide. Some Latino community activists are calling it a roundup. The government says, look, it's business as usual. It's what happened under the Obama administration. We'll talk to Univision news anchor, Jorge Ramos. That interview next.
[20:40:25] COOPER: Department of Homeland Security says a series of immigration enforcement operations around the country has netted more than 680 arrests. The operations carried out by Immigration Customs Enforcement agents, I.C.E., over five days were described as routine much like those conducted during the Obama administration.
DHS says most of the people taken into custody are criminals. The arrests are sparking fear among the immigrant communities across the country they're being targeted and also protests, in among, many Trump supporters' cheers, we should point out. Lots to discuss with Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos who joins me tonight.
Jorge, you've been very critical of these raids. I know you're now calling Pres. Trump the deporter-in-chief. Department of Homeland Security says that about 75 percent of those detained in recent days are criminals including people convicted of murder or drug trafficking to viewers watching, you say why shouldn't these people deported, you say what?
JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION NEWS ANCHOR: The fact is that, Donald Trump has became in just a few days, the deportation to South. That's the reality. He's the chief destroyer of American families at this point.
And I know that you are referring to the 75 percent of criminals. The fact is that they are changing the definition of criminals. During the Obama administration criminals meant something. And right now with Pres. Trump is something completely different.
The "L.A. Times," I don't know if you read that article about a week ago, they estimated that 8 million out of the 11 million undocumented are now considered criminals, are considered a priority for deportation. So that's precisely what we're seeing.
I'm sure you saw these example that the -- but let me, let me just remind the viewers. Guadeloupe Garcia, she had been here for 22 years. She came here when she was only 14. And she has a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old. Well, Donald Trump has decided to do this. Donald Trump is ripping families apart. She had been here for 22 years. There has been no problem with her. Of course she was undocumented. But her son and her daughter, they are U.S. citizens, and there are 4.5 million children in this country who have at least one parent who is undocumented. This is precisely the problem that we're facing right now. That's why there is so much fear. And I'm citing the Hispanic community.
COOPER: You're pointing to the fact that under an executive order the president has signed, you're saying -- when you say that they've changed the definition of a criminal, essentially that -- it's anybody who is suspected of having committed a crime or anybody who has misrepresented themselves if they were using a fake social security number at some point in the past, you're saying that can be a reason to deport someone?
RAMOS: It could be anyone. There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants. With that definition almost anyone qualifies as a criminal because it's not only that you are convicted of a crime as it used to be with the Obama administration, simply that an immigration officer might think that you could have committed a crime.
COOPER: The woman in particular who you referenced and showed the picture of, she had been arrested years ago I think for using a false social security number in order to get work.
COOPER: And every year she checked in with I.C.E., for years, but they would just basically talk to her a little bit and then they would let her go. This time when she went to check in ...
RAMOS: She was not a priority.
RAMOS: Exactly, she was not a priority. She had been visiting I.C.E. offices for eight years, I understand, and then she did it again and this time everything change and the only difference is that Donald Trump is pressing.
COOPER: When the head of Department of Homeland Security though says that, you know, these latest arrests and deportations were routine, that essentially they were no different than what has happened under the Obama administration, do you not believe that or do you believe that?
RAMOS: No, that's precisely the problem, their routine. And with the Obama administration, even though Pres. Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president ...
COOPER: But you referred to him as the deporter-in-chief I think -- if memory serves me in an interview.
RAMOS: Exactly, I was quoting Janet Murguia from La Raza. And he was known by many in the Hispanic community as the deporter-in-chief simply because Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in history of United States.
But it seems now that Donald Trump wants to do much better than Obama and those routine stops or those routine raids, they don't even want to call them raids, that in the past would only suffice for the officer to identify the person and let them go, now they are stopping them, detaining them, and deporting back to Mexico and Central America.
[20:45:4] COOPER: You know, the White House will say or Donald Trump has said in the past, look, you know, they -- this is what he campaigned on. He campaigns on cracking down on undocumented immigrants. And -- this is what those who voted for him wanted to see, and it's very popular to those who say, look, this is -- it's not -- this is not a surprise. This is what he campaigned on.
RAMOS: Exactly. It's not a surprise. I think Donald Trump is terrorizing the Hispanic community as we speak. I talked to many Latinos every single day and right now there's a lot of fear, there's people who don't want to go to war because they are -- they fear that they're going to be stopped and deported.
Donald Trump has a 10-year-old, right? Just imagine how many 10-year- olds, and nine-year-olds and seven-ye-olds are right now at home thinking that they might not see their parents tonight because Donald Trump might deport them. That's the kind of anxiety that we're living within the Hispanic community.
COOPER: You're saying the president is terrorizing the Hispanic community, though.
COOPER: I remember you and I talking before Donald Trump won the election and, you know, I think and even afterward, you know, there were many Hispanics who ended up voting for Donald Trump. Is it really fair to say he's terrorizing the Hispanic community? I considerably (ph) understand among those who are undocumented this would cause widespread anxiety and fear, but can you extrapolate it out?
RAMOS: What I'm saying that he's terrorizing the Hispanic community, I'm not exaggerating. You can go to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York, to Miami, and see the kind of fear and reaction that many people are having when they're being stopped. Forget about I.C.E. officers. When they're being stopped by the police, that's precisely what Donald Trump is creating right now in the Hispanic community.
And, unfortunately, it seems that this is not going to stop right here. He's going to continue. And then we have to find a solution for those (inaudible) who work here and it is impossible to deport 11 million. But so far it seems that Donald Trump is going to try.
COOPER: Jorge Ramos, I appreciate you being with us, thanks.
RAMOS: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up tonight refugees trying to get out of the United States. Growing number of refugees escaping to Canada in the middle of the night in dead of winter, why they say they have no other choice that's next.
And our precarious situation. The nation's tallest dam. The latest from California where tens of thousands of people evacuated because of flooding fears, fears that are not over.
[20:50:55] COOPER: After meeting with the president in the White House, today, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees his country's led in, welcoming with open arms, people fleeing war in chaos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADA PRIME MINISTER: We continue to pursue our policies of openness without towards immigration, refugees without compromising security. And part of the reason we have been successful in doing that over the past year, welcoming close to 40,000 Syrian refugees is because we have been coordinating with our allies, the United States and around the world to demonstrate that security comes very, very seriously to us, and that's something that we continue to deal with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, as you know, Pres. Trump's travel ban, even though it's on hold for now takes the opposite approach. It's created a new wave of people who have gotten into the United States and now are trying to leave to go to Canada. They're facing danger to do it. Sara Sidner now reports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop following me, OK.
SARA SIDNER CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Men, women and children picked up in the middle of the night in the dead winter, looking for refuge after being denied it in the U.S. This is the latest wave of asylum seekers who have snuck across the United States border, not trying to get into the U.S. but trying to get out. Destination? Canada.
These four men were among them. What was it like trying to get here?
HUSSEIN AHMED, SOMALI ASYLUM SEEKER: I cannot believe now speaking to you that I'm alive. I was almost dead to be freezing.
MOHAMED HOSSAIN, SOMALI ASYLUM SEEKER: It was very, very difficult.
SIDNER: At one point, they all thought they were going to freeze to death.
This is an easy entryway into Canada, because this is a decommissioned border crossing. This is actually one of the routes. People were walking in knee-deep snow, in sub-zero temperatures for hours, and they did it all in the dead of winter in a panic for one reason.
AHMED: When Donald Trump was elected. So, I feel that I will not have an opportunity to be granted and to live as an asylum, or refugee in the United States, because Donald Trump hates the refugee.
HOSSAIN: They don't want any immigrants, especially my country, Somalia. They ban.
SIDNER: How many of you left the United States because of Donald Trump's executive order? Raise your hand. All of you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us.
SIDNER: All of them ended up stumbling into the small border town of Emerson, Canada and calling 911. Here border jumpers are nothing new, but the numbers coming over are.
BRENDA PIETT, EMERSON RESIDENT: I guess it started with a trickle. And now it's increased to like a flood stage.
SIDNER: We witnessed 21 people, including an entire family come into Canada near Emerson in just 24 hours. The mayor of Emerson says he feels for the asylum seekers but he's also worried about the safety of his town.
Are you worried about terrorism? Are you worried about the people coming across the border at all?
MAYOR GREG JANZEN, EMERSON, CANADA: Well, that's always in the back of your mind like when you're getting these people coming across. For one thing, they're breaking the law when they jump the border. So right away they're criminals.
SIDNER: Not everyone we saw was from the list of banned countries, but they all have their reasons for making the journey. Seidu is from Ghana.
SEIDU MOHAMMED, GHANAIAN ASYLUM SEEKER: Right now I'm wanted in my country.
SIDNER: Wanted he says for the crime of being gay.
What would they do if they caught you?
MOHAMMED: I'll been -- if they didn't kill me, I'll be -- I'll go to jail. SIDNER: Tell me how this happened to you. How you lost your fingers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) my life.
SIDNER: They had never heard of frostbite until all of their fingers had to be amputated, save one thumb. When asked if it was worth it, they said they have no choice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel like we are home. That's what we feel. And the Canadian people opened their hands for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Sara Sidner joins us now. I mean it's shocking to see, I mean all their fingers were amputated except for their thumbs. Once person -- I mean over -- once these people get to Canada, what happens to them?
[20:55:13] SIDNER: You know, usually what happens, and we've seen this ourselves, the people will come over, and then if their cell phones are working, they, themselves, will call 911, hoping authorities pick them up, and then at that moment they can say we want asylum. But they've also -- all around here and this Emerson, they've been knocking on people's doors in the middle of the night trying to get someone else to call for help because their cell phones are gone dead or they have lost them on the journey. And then they're taken just a few hundred feet away to the Canadian border where Canadian border services try to vet them the best they can. They check them for weapons and then they also ask them detailed questions about who they are and see if they have any paperwork, but in the end, Anderson, even those two men who had all of their fingers except for their thumbs amputated, they have not been given asylum yet. And there is absolutely no guarantee that they will. Anderson.
COOPER: Sara Sidner, thanks very much.
And nearly 200,000 people remain under evacuation orders near Northern California's Oroville Dam. The concern is a hole that is developed in a spillway that serves the country's tallest dam. If the spillway fails a mountain of water would swamp downstream communities. Water in the lake that's held back by the dam resided (ph) a bit today easing concerns of a catastrophic failure, but there is more rain in the forecast as early as Wednesday. We're going to go live to the area in the next hour for a full report.
Much more ahead in this hour including a new report from the Washington Post that we've just published during this last hour, it's raising new questions about on National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The report details how the White House was warned Flynn might be susceptible to blackmail by Russia. We'll talk to the reporter on that story, next.