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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Report: W.H. was Warned Flynn Could Be Blackmailed by Russia; White House Continues Pushing False Voter Fraud Claims; Senate Confirms Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary; 4 GOP Senators Withholding Support for Pudzer; Spicer: Trump "Evaluating the Situation" with Flynn; NH Gov: "Not Aware of Any Widespread Voter Fraud; U.S. Treasury Dept. Slaps Sanctions on Venezuela's V.P.; Passports in the Shadows; Officials Race to Prevent Catastrophe at Failing Dam. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 13, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:42] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us for the second hour of "360". We begin tonight with breaking on President Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn in a new story that just posted to "The Washington Post". The Trump White House was told last month that Flynn had misled senior administration officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador and could potentially be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. And as I said, this just broke from "The Washington Post".
Joining me on the phone, one of the reporters who broke the story, Adam Entous.
Adam, thanks so much for being with us. So, just explain what you have learned because according to your reporting -- tell me what the White House knew and when they knew it regarding Michael Flynn and his contact with Russia prior to Trump taking office.
ADAM ENTOUS, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. So this came to head at the end of the Obama administration. Literally on the last full day that Obama was in office on the 19th of January. And there was a debate within the intelligence community and the Justice Department and the FBI. And basically, you had the intel chiefs, Brannon and Clapper and Sally Yates, who was the deputy attorney general, wanted to basically go to the Trump White House, after the inauguration and let them know that the way Pence, the vice president-elect and other administration officials in the incoming administration were mischaracterizing based on a conversation they had with Flynn, his conversation with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.
And so Comey, the FBI director, initially, on the 19th of January, opposed going to the Trump White House that -- to let them know this information. After, you know, Trump comes to office, Sally Yates, who's then acting attorney general, basically makes the case again and convinces Comey, sometime after the 23rd of January but before the 31st, that this information needed to be passed on, and so they shared it with the White House. COOPER: So they, in terms of the intercepts between -- of the conversations of Flynn with the Russian ambassador, those were looked at once, according to your article, after intelligence officials were surprised that Russia didn't retaliate for U.S. actions against Russia, is that correct?
ENTOUS: Correct. So the FBI has a wire tap on the Russian ambassador and other diplomats, and they collect that all the time. And so after Putin didn't respond as many officials had expected, intel analysts were scratching their heads, trying to understand what happened, why didn't Putin do what was expected.
When they looked through the intelligence, they saw these communications between Kislyak and Flynn. When Sally Yates, who was again the -- at that point, the deputy attorney general, when she saw them, she was really alarmed. She felt like Flynn had crossed the line, in particular, the Logan Act, which is a very obscure statute, which would bar a U.S. person like Flynn before that person becomes part of the government, from trying to lobby or influence the policies in another government.
She -- but she knew that the Logan Act was something that was not going to be pursued and that the FBI had an ongoing investigation looking at basically Trump associates and their ties to Russia. So it wasn't an issue, really, until you started to have the mischaracterizations publicly.
And so the idea is, is that the Russians knew what Flynn and Kislyak had spoken about. And they could tell from the way Pence, Sean Spicer and the chief of staff were talking that they were mischaracterizing, based on what Flynn was telling them, what was discussed in those calls.
COOPER: Which is fascinating, because you had the vice president, Vice President Pence going out on television saying Mike Flynn never talked about sanctions with Russia's ambassador, Sean Spicer and others as well. So you're saying, because the Russians knew that wasn't true, that Flynn -- there was concern by Sally Yates and others in the intelligence community that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to blackmail.
ENTOUS: Exactly, that he put himself and the administration in a position that could be compromised because, you know, basically what could happen down the road is the Russians could say to Flynn, knowing that he had mischaracterized or potentially mischaracterized his conversation with Kislyak and use that and hold that over him.
[21:05:04] And so by Sally Yates going to the White House and letting them know, the goal there was to kind of remove that leverage that the Russians might have.
COOPER: We should also point out, and correct me if I'm wrong, didn't Mike Flynn actually, in an interview with "The Washington Post", with your paper, say that sanctions were not discussed, and then the following day, call you back, call the paper back and say well, actually, I can't say for certain what was discussed? ENTOUS: That's right. So last Wednesday in an interview, he said no, no, no. There was no discussion of this. You know, and --
COOPER: So, I said Flynn, not Pence, obviously. Flynn.
ENTOUS: Yeah, sorry, but that -- Flynn says no, no, no. And then the next day, you know, we hear back from his spokesperson just to clarify, who revised the statement to say that Flynn no longer recalls but that it might have come up in that communication.
Now, as we also are reporting in the story, according to officials who had been briefed on the wire tap and the transcript of that wire tap, it was a main -- sanctions was a main topic of conversation. So they are skeptical that Flynn doesn't recall this.
COOPER: Wow. So that's bears repeating. Sanctions were a main topic of conversation. It wasn't as if it was an off-handed remark of, you know, it wasn't just kind of an off-handed one-note remark.
ENTOUS: That's right, according to two officials that we spoke to who have been briefed on this. It was, as they described it, a main topic of the discussion. It wasn't something that Kislyak maybe threw out at the end or anything like that.
COOPER: And according to your sources, and I don't know if you have sources on this or do you know this or not, were others in the Trump administration aware what Flynn was doing at the time? I mean, was he asked to have this conversation with the Russian ambassador? Do we know -- was there someone -- were others aware of this conversation before or even during or immediately after it happened?
ENTOUS: Yeah, I mean, I don't know the answer to that.
ENTOUS: I mean, basically, you know, what the officials told us is that they believed that Pence had been misled, along with Spicer and along with the chief of staff. But they do not know if maybe some other officials, you know, were aware of what Flynn was saying and doing with regard to Kislyak.
COOPER: And for those who are watching and remember the name Sally Yates, I mean, the odd, I don't know if it's coincidence or just the odd part of this, Sally Yates was the acting attorney general who has since been fired by the Trump administration because of her public -- or ostensibly because of her public statement telling DOJ lawyers not to defend Trump's executive order on immigration.
ENTOUS: Correct, yes. And obviously, Sally, when she provided this information to the White House Counsel, she was accompanied by another national security official, a professional, a non-partisan person, a person who's not, you know, a person associated with the Democrats, let's say, because she really wanted it to be seen as a non-partisan presentation that they were genuinely concerned that this stuff was being mischaracterized and they want it to basically ensure that the Trump White House was aware. COOPER: Wow, this is fascinating. Adam Entous, I appreciate you coming on talking about this. The story was just posted, we should point out, on "The Washington Post".
Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS", joins us, as well as CNN senior political analyst and former advisor to four presidents, David Gergen.
David, I mean, it doesn't stop. It just --
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It doesn't stop.
COOPER: Again, we have -- we don't have the reporting on this. This is from "The Washington Post".
GERGEN: What's missing from the story so far is the president of the United States. When did he know? And when did he know it? If they had a report to the legal counsel, the general counsel would have reported presumably to the president. Why then is Flynn still there?
COOPER: And in "The Washington Post" reporting, we should point out, they're not sure what the White House General Counsel did with that information. They don't have reporting on who he told or did not tell.
GERGEN: Right, but it's unimaginable that the White House General Counsel would sit on it and not tell anybody else in the White House. At the minimum, he would tell the chief of staff. In every White House I've ever known, it would go to the president like that. This is very serious stuff. And you've got -- if you're told that your national security adviser's potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians, that is extremely serious.
So the question becomes, did Michael Flynn call the Russian ambassador on the instructions of the president? What was his role in all this? And why hasn't he acted for now? I think those questions are now front and center. They haven't been --
COOPER: Right. Did the president actually ask Michael Flynn to call, or did Michael Flynn take this upon himself, which again would -- I mean I don't know if --
GERGEN: Right. If he was -- if he took it upon himself, why isn't he gone?
[21:09:58] COOPER: Right. President Trump was asked about Flynn just a short time ago at the swearing in of Steve Mnuchin, who's now been sworn in as Treasury Secretary. Here's what the president said. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that's the first time I'm seeing it. Clearly I should have said what the president didn't say, because he just refused to answer the question whether he still has confidence in Mike Flynn. There's been competing or conflicting accounts say Kellyanne Conway came out on MSNBC earlier today saying that Flynn had the full confidence of the president. About an hour or so later, Sean Spicer said it's being evaluated, his role.
Fareed, pretty stunning.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: It's pretty stunning, and I think just to go back to the point that you and David were discussing. Just imagine a circumstance where the -- essentially the incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn is confronting this issue of Russian sanctions, the Obama administration put sanctions on. What is the chance that he would freelance on that and reach out to a foreign government and make contact and make promises about sanctions without checking with the president-elect?
COOPER: It seems hard to imagine.
ZAKARIA: It is hard to imagine that that would be a circumstance. And so, the crucial question here is -- has to be, did Donald Trump tell Mike Flynn to make contact with the Russians and tell Putin, don't overreact to these sanctions, we're going to water them down when I come in. We don't know, but it also fits into a larger pattern here, which has been puzzling.
Donald Trump's world view, as we know it, is the rest of the world has always been trying to screw the United States. Our allies try to screw us. The Chinese, his words are raping us. The Japanese, you know, don't pay for their own defenses. We know what he thinks of all these Muslim countries. The one exception has always been Russia. He has never said anything nasty about Russia or Putin. Always been conciliatory, always been nice. And then you begin to see these, you know, series of actions and events, and so you do have to ask yourself, what is going on.
COOPER: We should also point out, David, if memory serves me correct, he tweeted, praising Vladimir Putin for not responding to the U.S. So, again, it raises the question, did he ask Flynn or approve in advance Flynn calling up the Russian ambassador and having a conversation, which according to "The Washington Post" recording didn't just mention sanctions, it -- that was the main topic.
GERGEN: It was right there at the center.
GERGEN: His latest story is, Flynn's, though, I forgot, I can't remember whether I talked about it or not. And he clearly was on a mission. And I do think -- we've got to be very careful here, because we're playing with serious, serious issues. But I do think the country deserves some answers. We need to -- the president, the White House, need to square up on this and tell us what is going on. Why, you know, when did the president know, the famous question, what did the president know and when did he know it? The Howard Baker question some years ago.
You know, you don't want to go that far in this analysis, but I do think it's murky enough and it's suspicious enough, and particularly the fact that they have been sitting on this now for three weeks. They didn't -- you know, they clearly wanted to ride it out, you know. They were hoping that this would never become public.
COOPER: This story is breaking tonight because "The Washington Post" through sources --
COOPER: -- has just learned about it, but we should point out, the White House has known about it since they were informed by Sally Yates, who then substantially --
GERGEN: Before they fired her.
COOPER: Right, before they fired her. Which, again --
ZAKARIA: And here's the question that I think one has to wonder about. What did Flynn tell the Russian ambassador with regard to President Trump? It's quite possible that he said something to the effect, I have a message from the president-elect. Here's -- in other words --
COOPER: And those recordings --
ZAKARIA: So FBI, U.S. intelligence officials have heard recordings that either confirm that President Trump knew about this --
ZAKARIA: -- or perhaps leave it ambiguous. So we're in the situation where you're right. We have to be very careful. But there is actual hard evidence here out there somewhere.
COOPER: The other question is, how did Flynn, who, you know, ran the Defense Intelligence Agency who's been, you know, had a career in intelligence not think or know that the phone calls of the Russian ambassador would be intercepted and recorded?
GERGEN: There are a lot of veterans in Washington today asking that question. That seemed very odd. Because he -- anyone with that kind of experience would know that there's a lot of phone, you know, wire tapping going on for diplomats in Washington, especially the Russians.
COOPER: All right. Fareed, David Gergen, thank you so much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up, multiple sources describe a toxic environment inside the Trump White House, leaks, uncertainty through your backstabbing. Well, the latest on that. Plus a new sign tonight that Donald Trump's pick for Labor Secretary may be in jeopardy.
[21:15:00] Also, the White House continuing to push false claims of voter fraud. The latest chapter in that book of falsehoods coming up.
COOPER: A short time ago, the Senate voted to confirm former Goldman Sachs executive, Steve Mnuchin, as Treasury Secretary. President Trump had this to say a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: American should know that Steven, our nation's financial system is truly in great hands. With him, we're going to have no problem, believe me. Once again, with this appointment I am following through on my promise to appoint only the very best and the very brightest.
Steven is a financial legend with an incredible track record of success. I've watched this over the years. He's been my friend for many, many years. Everything he touches turns to gold.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Meanwhile, President Trump's pick for Labor Secretary may be in jeopardy with four GOP senators withholding support for fast-food executive, Andrew Puzder. His hearing is scheduled for later this week and his nomination has been mired in controversy, including his admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper.
Now, these Republican senators are saying they are still not yet on board, and if they don't get behind him, it could be a steep climb for confirmation. Senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, joins us now with the latest.
So we have four GOP senators withholding support. Exactly, how difficult would that make confirmation if they continue to? How many Republican votes are needed?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Anderson, if they did vote no, then Mr. Puzder will not get that job as Labor Secretary. Now those four senators, I've talked to all four of them. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Donnie Isaacson of Georgia.
Now, each of them are saying that they want to review his record. They want to hear what he has to say. And some of them have different levels of concerns, based on his views, his record running a fast-food empire, as well as the controversies in his past. As you mentioned, hiring an undocumented immigrant as a household employee.
[21:20:01] There was an emergency meeting last week at Senator McConnell's office where the majority discussed these issues at length with these senators and others who sit on that key committee. And the Republican leadership and business groups, Anderson, I'm told, are putting in a very tough sell, a hard sell. They want to get him confirmed, because they believe he'd be helpful for big business. One reason why there's still some confidence among Republican leaders that they can get him confirmed but they know it will be a fight.
COOPER: There obviously been a number of issues surrounding the nominee, one of them though involves Oprah Winfrey. Can you explain this?
RAJU: Yeah, that's right. This actually involves a rather messy divorce between Andrew Puzder and his ex-wife back in the 1980s. Now, at that time, his ex-wife actually leveled some domestic abuse allegations against him during their divorce proceedings. Now, she has since withdrawn those allegations and has actually apologized for making them and is vouching for his character in these confirmation hearings. But at that time, Anderson, she actually appeared in disguise at the Oprah Winfrey show and talked about the issue of domestic abuse.
Now, she has revealed in a letter that I have here from the two of the committee that she actually only appeared on that show because she wanted to get a free trip to Chicago and said that she apologized for even appearing on that show. But the senators on that committee are reviewing tape of that show and expect that to come up at the confirmation hearings this Thursday, which could be rather contentious, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Manu Raju, thanks. We'll follow that.
In these early weeks of the Trump presidency, multiple sources are painting a picture of turmoil in a staff that's anxious and fearful. Leaks and backstabbing are nothing new in Washington, certainly. This time around, sources are describing an environment that's, well, kind of toxic, to the point that some campaign aides who were upset about not getting White House jobs now say they feel like they dodged a bullet. Dana Bash has details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A joint White House press conference with the Canadian Prime Minister, a standard drama free event for the cameras. While behind the scenes, the Trump White House is in turmoil.
Multiple Trump sources described aides as worried on any given day about getting fired because of a leak or because another White House staffer maybe out to get them.
As for the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, sources inside several Trump's (inaudible) tell CNN that for now he is on safe ground despite the conservative Newsmax CEO, Chris Ruddy, dissing Preibus this weekend.
CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: 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.
BASH: Priebus then called Ruddy, who then played cleanup. Sort of.
RUDDY: If I see great results from him, I'm going to walk back everything I said on your show yesterday.
BASH: One alliance that appears solid right now is that of Priebus and chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon. Multiple administration sources tell CNN that they have a close working relationship and that Bannon sees Priebus as a partner. One source jokingly said Bannon and Preibus are co-parenting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To support President Trump.
BASH: In fact, Priebus is with the president a lot. Trump has kept a relentless schedule of meetings and photo ops and Priebus is almost always there. Priebus critics argue he should spend more time making the White House function.
But sources say Priebus wants to be at the president's side so much for an important reason. President Trump is firmly in charge of his White House from the big picture to the in the weeds decisions. So Priebus feels he needs to be there to cheer on what he sees as good decisions and try to steer the president away from bad ones.
Another dynamic inside the White House staff, the president rewards those who tow his line, especially on fact-free statements like claims of widespread voter fraud.
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I can tell you this, voter fraud is a serious problem in this country.
BASH: Trump sources tell CNN that the president loves policy adviser, Stephen Miller, his campaign travel buddy and speechwriter. Miller was instrumental in writing Trump's ill-fated travel ban. The president was furious at the way that was handled. But comments like this, keeps 31-year-old Miller in the president's favor.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: As for the most visible of White House aides, Kellyanne Conway, despite having a bumpy week or two, sources say that President Trump still has full confidence in his counselor. Anderson?
COOPER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.
Just ahead, we have breaking news and a claim that Trump administration keeps making about voter fraud in New Hampshire, which Dana mentioned. A Republican governor in -- from New Hampshire is speaking out, says, he isn't aware of any widespread voter fraud. Details ahead.
[21:28:44] COOPER: Breaking news tonight in the Trump administration's claims of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire. The Republican governor there, Chris Sununu, again, Republican governor, telling NH1 News tonight that he "is not aware of any widespread voter fraud here in New Hampshire."
It's significant because President Trump and his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, have been doubling down on their unsubstantiated claim that thousands of people from Massachusetts were bussed to New Hampshire to vote on Election Day. Jim Acosta joins us now with the latest.
Has the White House provided any evidence yet on any of these unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, they haven't, Anderson. As a matter of fact, ever since the president made that claim that 3 to 5 million people have voted illegally, throwing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, the White House to this date, to this hour, has not provided any evidence of this. They continue to point to a study from the Pew Research centers that found that some people are voting perhaps, you know, being registered in multiple states where that perhaps there's still deceased people on voter rolls.
But as for this whole situation up in New Hampshire, you heard Stephen Miller, the White House policy director, say on ABC yesterday what President Trump said last week privately to senators, that people were being bussed into New Hampshire from Massachusetts to vote illegally.
[21:30:01] Anderson, not only is the New Hampshire governor saying this is not true. PolitiFact gave Stephen Miller a pants on fire for that. And in addition to that, we did talk to an administration official earlier today who said basically the White House has no evidence of this.
COOPER: And we should point out, Jim, I mean, the thing they keep pointing to about people on multiple, you know, registered in multiple states or dead people on the rolls, that's disorganization and bad recordkeeping, that is not voter fraud --
ACOSTA: Not the same.
COOPER: -- unless --
COOPER: -- then real people are taking the place of dead people and voting in the name of dead people. And several people in the White House on the staff are registered in multiple states.
ACOSTA: That's right.
COOPER: Has the administration taken any steps toward actually launching that investigation? Because I know they -- didn't they task the vice president with that? ACOSTA: That's right. President Trump mentioned that Vice President Pence is going to be tasked with this. But what we heard from Sean Spicer earlier this evening, he was asked about this in his office when he was fielding questions about the fate of Michael Flynn. He said that the vice president has yet to sit down with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, about this, mainly because Jeff Sessions was just sworn in and is just getting situated as being attorney general. But according to Sean Spicer, once they have that conversation, this effort is going to get underway.
But, Anderson, it's important to note to our viewers as you just noted, to this day, to this hour, to this second, the White House has produced no evidence of vote fraud and so, it is -- or widespread voter fraud. So it's unclear what the attorney general, what the vice president is going to find once they launch this investigation, Anderson.
COOPER: We should also point out, multiple states review records from the vote to look for this very kind of stuff.
All right, Jim Acosta, thanks.
Joining me now is Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, also David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, he's also author of a study that President Trump keeps claiming found evidence of voter fraud, it did not.
Fergus, let's start with you. I mean, you actually live in New Hampshire. You were Republican State Party chair there. Trump's spokesman, Stephen Miller, saying anyone who goes and talks to anyone who's been in politics for a long time in New Hampshire, knows that widespread voter fraud is happening, people are being bussed in. Your response?
FERGUS CULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN PARTY: Yeah, it is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. Anyone who's been involved in campaigns in New Hampshire knows this is not true. It's a rumor that gets circulated probably since they invented the bus. But there is simply no evidence of it whatsoever.
COOPER: But you're a long-time Democrat, right?
CULLEN: No, I'm a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
COOPER: I know. I kind of knew that. I just want to throw that out.
David, I do want to play a short vid of what Stephen Miller said yesterday to our viewers. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILLER: You have millions of people who are registered in two states or who are dead, who are registered to vote. And you have 14 percent of non-citizens, according to academic research, at a minimum are registered to vote, which is an astonishing statistic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So that 14 percent is a stat cited multiple times by multiple members of the White House and they've cited different sources for it. We looked into it, the origin seems to be a study published in January of 2014 issue of electoral studies issue, which has seemed to be found to be based on faulty data analysis, is that correct?
DAVID BECKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ELECTION INNOVATION & RESEARCH: Yeah, that's right. And I think the authors have already publicly multiple times said you cannot cite this report for the idea that 14 percent of non -- of registered voters are non-citizens. It just doesn't pan out repeatedly time and again. And this goes also for the Pew report that I was the lead author of time and again, the people who've done the research say it doesn't show what the White House is saying. I author the report. And again, what we found was five years ago, the voter rolls did have some administrative inefficiencies with people who are registered in multiple states, mostly because people moved. But had no absolutely findings with regard to fraud.
COOPER: Fergus, in -- would you have considered, you know, because there's voter fraud, which is people voting illegally, which Donald Trump, President Trump said initially, you know, 3 to 4 -- 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. Now they're including multiple registrations in states and dead people on rolls. Would you consider dead people on rolls or, you know, somebody is registered in New Hampshire as well as registered in New York because they moved and they didn't, you know, inform the state that they had moved, would you consider that voter fraud or is that just, you know, a bad recordkeeping?
CULLEN: Well, that would certainly be bad recordkeeping, and it's really not critical. It only becomes a problem if somebody is trying to vote more than once in the same election, voting in two different states, voting in two different communities. And what the Trump administration, what the president himself is alleging is that people are coming up on buses, specifically to engage in a felony, you know, exposing themselves here New Hampshire to a $5,000 fine and a year in prison if they're caught casting a vote improperly like that. It simply isn't happening, certainly not in any kind of organized way. Anyone who thinks that buses are being employed for this has never tried to rent a fleet of busses. It's very hard to do, I can tell you from personal experience.
[21:34:59] COOPER: So, you're saying that this has been a rumor for a long time in New Hampshire politics?
CULLEN: Oh, sure. This is an old canard and an old shibboleth that comes up every election cycle. You know, New Hampshire does allow for same-day voter registration, which is what gives this whole thing a little bit of, a kernel of truth in which people can -- then exploit it to suggest that there's massive fraud going on. But that's entirely different from suggesting that fraud is happening. People are casting legal votes here when they show up and registered a vote on the day of an election. That's legal in New Hampshire.
You can argue that that's a bad law and ought to be changed. And in fact our legislature here is thinking about doing that, but that doesn't constitute massive fraud on behalf of individuals or any group of people.
COOPER: And, David, this whole thing of people registered in multiple states or dead people on the rolls, obviously, I'm sure all election officials would like that not to be the case, why is that still a problem? Why is that still out there and why cannot just be eliminated?
BECKER: Well, actually in the five years since we published that report about the voter lists, the voter lists have gotten a lot better in this country, thanks to efforts like the Electronic Registration Information Center, which is something that several states have spearheaded to try to keep election rolls up to date, share data better, find out if someone moved between states. So the voter rolls are much better off than they are today. They're going to continue to get better, and Fergus is quite right.
I mean the difference between an out of date voter roll and someone then going through the checks and balances that are in place to commit a felony, for the big payoff of casting one additional ballot in an election which 140 million ballots are cast, it just doesn't happen in any substantial degree -- to any substantial degree.
I was looking at the voter turnout numbers in New Hampshire for 2016 versus 2012. And actually, the Democratic turnout in the three counties that border Massachusetts actually went down in 2016 compared to 2012. So there's zero evidence that any of this kind of thing is going on.
COOPER: Interesting. Fergus Cullen, really appreciate you being on, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Also David Becker, appreciate your expertise. Thanks so much.
Just ahead, are Venezuelan passports falling into the wrong hands? This is really must-see reporting as the result of a year-long CNN investigation. We started this last week, now part two of our investigation coming up.
[21:41:15] COOPER: There is breaking news tonight about one of the subjects of our investigation into fraudulent Venezuelan passports. The U.S. Treasury Department is calling Tareck El Aissami, the vice president of Venezuela, an international narcotics trafficker.
Just hours ago, the Department announced sanctions against El Aissami and prohibiting anyone in the country from doing business with him. U.S. authority say he oversaw multiple shipments of drugs in Venezuela to the U.S. and Mexico and say he helped protect a Colombian drug lord and helped a violent Mexican drug cartel.
We've reached out to the Venezuelan government but we've not received a response. And as the court battle over President Trump's travel ban plays out and debate over border security continues, we've uncovered new and, frankly, startling details about fraudulent Venezuelan passports. For criminals and terrorists, it doesn't get much better than Venezuelan passports, which can be used without needing a visa to enter more than 130 countries, though, we should point out, not the United States.
A year-long investigation and we did in partnership with CNN en Espanol, found passports and visas that were allegedly sold through the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad. Tonight our investigation goes even further. Turns out the warnings about fraudulent Venezuelan passports have been raised for years and the U.S. government has known about it. What's more, the issuance of the passports has been linked to people with ties to terrorism and to the highest levels of the Venezuelan government. Here's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, with "Passports in the Shadows".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Marco Ferreira is now at peace, living in Miami with political asylum, courtesy of the U.S. government. The former Venezuelan general was in charge of Venezuela's immigration office, but he had to flee after backing an aborted coup against the then President Hugo Chavez in 2002. He says he took something very valuable to U.S. officials. Inside information about how passports and visas were being issued to thousands of criminals and potential terrorists on orders from his own government.
It happened when you were in charge?
MARCO FERREIRA, FORMER VENEZUELAN OFFICIAL: When I was in charge, it happened a lot of time.
GRIFFIN: Do you believe it's still happening now?
FERREIRA: I think now it's easier.
GRIFFIN: A CNN investigation has uncovered a long history of the Venezuelan passports and visas apparently being issued and sold to non-citizens, an alleged scheme that involves corrupt officials with terrorist ties.
What were you finding was wrong with the documents that Venezuela was handing out?
FERREIRA: One of the problems was the -- were the corrupted people that were working in that place. But the second one was the fragility of the system because everything was very odd and they have a lot leaks in the process.
GRIFFIN: So I think what you're telling me is that in Venezuela, if you're holding a Venezuelan passport, maybe even have a Venezuelan birth certificate, there's no reason to believe you were ever born in Venezuela or are Venezuelan.
FERREIRA: Yeah, because you have the birth certificate. You have the access to everything.
GRIFFIN: And you can become a brand-new person?
FERREIRA: Yes, perfectly.
GRIFFIN: A Venezuelan passport is one of the world's best, since you can travel to more than 130 countries without a visa, although the United States is not one of them.
What Marco Ferreira says he witnessed more than a decade ago in Venezuela is remarkably similar to what this man says was taking place as recently as 2014, out of the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq when he was the embassy's legal adviser. Misael Lopez reported to Venezuelan authorities about the scheme he says he found in Baghdad, that included selling Venezuelan passports and visas to people from the Middle East.
[21:45:05] He says his report went nowhere. The Venezuelan government denies the allegations. General Ferreira said that should come as no surprise.
FERREIRA: No, no. Absolutely, no.
GRIFFIN: The claims of passports for sale aren't a surprise to U.S. officials either. In 2006, this congressional report warned that Venezuela is providing support, including identity documents that could prove useful to radical, Islamic groups. And at the time, the State Department warned Congress that Venezuelan travel and identification documents are extremely easy to obtain by persons not entitled to them.
Roger Noriega is former ambassador to the Organization of American States. He now works for a conservative think tank in Washington.
You testified a couple years back that there's thousands of these passports floating around, connected to people that we won't -- we don't want to be able to travel the world.
ROGER NORIEGA, FORMER OAS AMBASSADOR: Very early on, around 2003, Chavez, at that point, have been in office about five years, evidence started to emerge that his passport office and those that issue the national identification cards were issuing identification, legitimate identification to people of middle eastern background.
GRIFFIN: Making them Venezuelans?
NORIEGA: Giving them documentation to allow them to allude detection as they're moving across borders.
GRIFFIN: This confidential intelligence report from Latin American countries obtained by CNN says from 2008 until 2012, 173 individuals from the Middle East were issued Venezuelan passports and IDs, among them were people linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The information was also presented to a U.S. congressional subcommittee in 2015. The man behind the operation, the intelligence report says is someone well-known to U.S. authorities, Tareck El Aissami. He is the former minister in charge of immigration and now vice president of Venezuela. El Aissami, the report says, "Took charge of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing citizens from different countries, especially Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, and Iraqis. El Aissami did not respond to CNN for this report.
And this man, Ghazi Nasr Al-Din, is wanted for questioning by the FBI for his fund raising efforts with Hezbollah contributors. A former Venezuelan diplomat who worked in the country's embassy in Syria. U.S. officials say he has facilitated the travel of Hezbollah members to and from Venezuela. He could not be reached for comment.
NORIEGA: If we do not get our arms around this problem, people are going to die. Civilians are going to be attacked by networks abetted by the Venezuelans. We have --
GRIFFIN: And aided by Venezuelan passports.
NORIEGA: Absolutely. Passports are a critical part of this. They're literally their ticket into the hemisphere.
GRIFFIN: This is not just a Venezuelan issue. Today, there's any doubt that passports are linked to terrorist groups like ISIS. Just listen to Rob Wainwright, he's the director of Europol, which coordinates major criminal investigations throughout Europe.
ROB WAINWRIGHT, EUROPOL DIRECTOR: A whole network, an architecture, a criminal architecture of a very sophisticated passport forgers, document facilitators that are providing these facilities to criminal syndicates in the main, but increasingly, we're seeing connections with the terrorists.
GRIFFIN: He says the level of sophistication terrorists are using to alter thousands of lost or stolen Syrian and Iraqi passports is astounding.
WAINWRIGHT: Some of these terrorist groups have the ability to alter the biometric data, especially on these real stolen passports, to suit the identities of on of their members who needs to move. And, you know, the quality of what they do is pretty good and difficult to spot at the border as they cross.
GRIFFIN: Back in Miami, Marco Ferreira worries about the consequences of where all those Venezuelan passports and visas ended up.
Would you be surprised if someday there is a major terrorist attack and somewhere in the rubble they find the suspect has a Venezuelan passport in his pocket?
FERREIRA: I am begging God that that never happened. I'm very concerned for my country to see be involved in that. But totally, I'm not going to be surprise if someday it happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[21:50:02] COOPER: And Drew joins us now. I mean, has there been any reaction yet to this story?
GRIFFIN: Well, yes, in Venezuela, the national assembly there has ordered an investigation into allegations of passports and visas were being sold out of the country's embassy in Iraq. The assembly also asking for an investigation into the Iraq Venezuelan vice president named as a drug dealer by the U.S. Treasury Department tonight, Anderson. Venezuela's lawmakers want answers too, they're demanding to know if Tareck El Aissami was involved in issuing passports and IDs to Middle Eastern individuals with terrorist ties.
And here in the U.S. tonight, for the second time in a week, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has raised our reports on the Senate floor. He and many others concerned about the possible selling of Venezuelan passports, especially, Anderson, to terrorists.
COOPER: And what about the State Department, have they been responding?
GRIFFIN: You know, the State Department is only referring us to its most recent terrorism overview that concluded there were credible -- excuse me, credible reports that Venezuela maintained a permissive environment that allowed for support of activities that benefited known terrorist groups, those were their words and they're sticking basically to that statement, Anderson.
COOPER: Wow. Incredible. We'll continue to follow it. Great reporting, Drew. Thank you.
Just ahead, the race to prevent a catastrophe of the nation's tallest dam, nearly 200,000 people have been ordered to flee to safer ground in Northern California. Report ahead.
COOPER: Tonight, mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for counties downstream of an aging dam in Northern California. Nearly 200,000 people have been told to flee to safer ground. The dam is holding back some of the highest water levels since it was built. And one of its spill ways has failed with new storms in the forecast. Ryan Young has more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dramatic Instagram video shows a close look at the massive amounts of water rushing from the Oroville Dam spillway in Northern California, the tallest dam in United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really, really flooding, and it's really loud.
YOUNG: The water overtaking trees, land and whatever else stands in its way, it's an emergency that led to frustration and confusion, as more than 180,000 residents were suddenly ordered to evacuate three counties near the dam. Many residents stuck for hours in massive traffic jams as they left. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our phones started going off, and we just immediately loaded up the kids and took off.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter called me and told me we had to get out. And I have a handicapped daughter that can't walk and the ambulance won't come in and take her. Please help.
[21:55:00] YOUNG: Residents fleeing to high ground while at Oroville Dam, the main spillway design to prevent flooding during heavy rains, now has a gaping hole, nearly the size of a football field. The only remaining protection, an eroding emergency spillway, that according to the California Department of Water Resources hasn't been used in 48 years since the dam was put in service.
Emergency crews are moving large rocks into place to help shore up the area. Measures they hope will prevent a catastrophe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that is not addressed and we don't take care of that, and mitigate it properly, essentially what we're looking at is approximately a 30-foot wall of water.
YOUNG: In 2005, environmental groups claimed the dam's auxiliary spillway wasn't designed to be the permanent emergency backup. Officials didn't pay for the fix at the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And Ryan joins us now. Do you know when people might be able to return to their homes? Is there anyway to know?
YOUNG: Well, that is the big question right now. In fact, there was a rumor all day long in the neighborhoods that people would be allowed back in. Officials would quickly say no, that is not the case just yet, even after the last few days, there hasn't been any rain. So people were thinking maybe they'd be allowed back in. But we heard 100,000 cubic square inches of water is being let out. And they believe, maybe in the next few days, after doing some analyzing, they'll be able to open the residents and the neighborhoods back up again, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Ryan Young, thanks very much. We'll be right back.
[22:00:10] COOPER: Hey, that's it for us. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN TONIGHT starts right now.