Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Source: Allegation About Susan Rice Unmasking Improperly is "False"; Secretary of Everything: Jared Kushner. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired April 3, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.
We begin tonight with new tweets and a new chapter in the president's ongoing effort to spin the Russia story and divert attention from the ongoing investigations by the FBI and Congress. And just moments ago, pushback from a close associate of the Obama administration and national security official he was referring to.
Just like the president's early morning tweets more than a month ago that accused President Obama of wiretapping his phones, the president's latest allegations are heavy on insinuation and short on evidence. This morning and over the weekend, apparently after watching FOX, the president fired off a string of tweets. These on Saturday, quote, "Wow, @foxnews just reporting big news. Source, official behind unmasking is high up, known intel official is responsible."
"Some unmasked," he continues, "not associated with Russia. Trump team spied on before he was nominated." "If this is true," president went on to say, "it does not get much bigger, would be sad for U.S."
Then yesterday, more tweets, including this, "The real story turns out to be surveillance and leaking, find leakers." And finally this morning, "@foxnews, from multiple sources, there was electronic surveillance of Trump and people close to Trump. This is unprecedented."
Now, all of that sounds ominous, but by now, it shouldn't be any surprise to learn that there appears to be far less here than the president of the United States would have us believe.
Jim Sciutto joins us for tonight's "Keeping Them Honest" report.
So, let's start with the unmasking that the president mentioned. What's the latest on that?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a short time ago, I spoke with someone close to Ambassador Rice, and this is the first comments from someone close to Rice today on these allegations. I'll read it in quotes.
"The idea that Ambassador Rice improperly sought the identities of Americans is false. There is nothing unusual about making these requests when serving as a senior national security official, whether Democrat or Republican." That coming from someone who works for Ambassador Rice.
But let's go beyond that, because I spoke today with senior -- former senior U.S. intelligence officials, the senior most who served both Republican and Democratic administrations, and this is what they have told me about this story.
They said, "One, this is not unusual. This happens. When you are briefed on intelligence communications like this, sometimes senior national security officials can ask the intelligence community to identify the Americans either mentioned in those conversations or on the other side of those phone calls. It's not up to that senior U.S. national security official to make that decision, it's then up to the intelligence agencies, the NSA, they decide what's appropriate to then unmask for that senior official. It is legal. There are protocols that have been put in place since 9/11 to allow this to happen."
And I'm told, this very meticulously logged, someone said to me, described it, it's like Catholic baptismal records. It's so well- logged. You can't do this in secret and you have to do it without the approval of the intelligence community.
And, finally, Anderson, I would just say, why would someone do this? Every day, they're getting briefings on intelligence. Their briefer chooses what they are briefed on, including Ambassador Rice, in those briefings, an official such as Rice might say, to further understand it, I would like to know who those names are. And that's why they would make that request, which then as I said would have to be approved by the intelligence community.
That's what I'm told. And again to note by senior intelligence officials who work for both Democrats and Republicans. This appears to be a story, largely ginned up, partly as a distraction from this larger investigation.
But I will say, Anderson, you're aware of this, the investigations continue, but particularly on the House side, there are now questions coming from both Democrats and Republicans about how bipartisan this investigation can be.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, members of the House Intelligence Committee, meet to try to find a way forward in the committee's Russian investigation. Even GOP Senator John McCain says any hope of a bipartisan effort under the committee's Republican Chairman Devin Nunes is now lost.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we're really going to get to the bottom of these things, it's got to be done in a bipartisan fashion. And as far as I could tell, Congressman Nunes killed that.
SCIUTTO: On Friday, the top Democrat on the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, examined classified intelligence reports of intercepted communications, referencing Trump campaign officials. This several days after his GOP counterpart Nunes first viewed them and claimed they showed evidence of possible surveillance of Trump advisors. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:
How does the White House know these are the same materials that were shown to the chairman if the White House wasn't aware what the chairman was being shown? These materials were produced in the ordinary course of business. Well, the question for the White House and for Mr. Spicer is the ordinary course of whose business? Because if these were produced either for or by the White House, why all of the subterfuge?
SCIUTTO: That is raising questions among Senate Republicans as well.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think the whole episode is bizarre. If he did in fact receive intel from White House staffers, to then go brief the president is a bit odd.
[20:05:04] Why can't they just show the president what they've got? So, that whole episode was kind of strange.
SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, new revelations about dismissed National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. White House disclosures show that Flynn failed to report thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Russian companies before joining the administration. Flynn has requested immunity to testify in the House investigation, but the intelligence committee is so far not interested. President Trump backed Flynn's request in a tweet.
Congressman Adam Schiff told CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," that move has a clear political purpose.
SCHIFF: The president is pretty transparent in his tweets. I think he wanted to get across a message that he is not afraid of what General Flynn has to say, and basically daring Congress to give him immunity. And then if we make a judgment that, no, we shouldn't be giving him immunity, the president can say, we don't want the story to come out. So, I think it was a strategic move by the president and a pretty transparent one.
TRUMP: A lot to cover.
Jim Sciutto, stay with us. I want to bring in our panel.
Joining us now is national security professionals, Mike Doran, Juliette Kayyem and our own Gloria Borger.
Jim, let me just clear up a few things with you, because this is confusing. This whole thing about Susan Rice, you're being told by people close to her and also former -- other I guess former or intelligence officials that you're talking to, this is not completely unusual for a national security advisor to ask for some of these to be unmasked.
How widespread, though, I mean, I got too many questions, how widespread would the name of somebody unmasked be distributed throughout the upper echelons of what was then the Obama administration? It wasn't just Susan Rice who knew that I guess Mike Flynn's name or whoever it was.
SCIUTTO: It's a good question. I have asked both people close to Rice, but also former senior intelligence officials who have been given similar requests and they told me that information was shared from the briefer to that senior national security official.
So, Ambassador Rice would ask her briefer if the intelligence committee approves that request, would then come back and share that information exclusively with Ambassador Rice. Now, the open question is, does an Ambassador Rice or someone else in that position that's requested unmasking then share that information with someone else? That's possible. We don't know that at this point, but it's not sort of put on a memo and distributed around 35 people in the White House, at least by protocol.
COOPER: So, then, the next question is, if that information is leaked out, I think it was David Ignatius at "The Washington Post" who initially broke the story, if my memory serves me correct, about Michael Flynn's -- you know, being the person who had talked to the Russian ambassador. Is that a clear line from the American who unmasks the name to -- who gave it to a reporter?
SCIUTTO: Well, it's not clear. It's depends on how many people knew, right? We're in a zone here, which I'm certainly aware of, I think we should be aware of where intelligence is being politicized, right? There's no question, and frankly you can argue about both sides.
And listen, leaks are not new in Washington. We have seen that many times before in multiple administrations, and the fact is that the argument from the Trump administration is that there were leaks in the Obama administration, which there clearly were. But, of course, some of the information we're getting regarding this are due to leaks from the Trump administration. It's sadly the way things work in Washington, as we have seen for some time.
COOPER: Gloria, what do you make of this reporting that a person close to Susan Rice telling Jim Sciutto, the idea that Ambassador Rice had properly sought the identities of Americans is false, there's nothing unusual about making this request and serving as a senior national security official, whether Democrat or Republican as an inquiry?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I was talking to a former senior intelligence official who basically said the same exact thing to me today. He said to me, look, no one was a target, this wasn't about surveillance. This is about trying to understand the information that has been presented to you. And if you are trying to understand what you're reading and you feel that a name needs to be unmasked in order to understand the context better, then you're going to ask for that to be unmasked.
BORGER: And I was also told, this is audit trailed. This goes to NSA professionals to look at. This isn't like lifting a post-it from a document saying, oh, by the way, here's the name. That's not the way it works. There are lots of checks and balances here and it's not widely distributed once the name is known.
COOPER: So, Mike, I mean, I read what you have written about this, and the question, I guess keep coming back to, though, is fine, unmasking for senior official to ask somebody to be unmasked is one thing. For that name to leak out, assuming it's that name to leak out to reporter, that does raise questions about who leaked it, obviously. And if that senior official took the extra step of leaking it, that's a different issue, isn't it?
[20:10:00] MIKE DORAN, DR. DIR., NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL UNDER PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Absolutely. You brought up the case of Michael Flynn's name being leaked to David Ignatius. And that's the key event that what we need to think about here, because that's just not -- that's not a normal leak, that was the use of surveillance intelligence for political purposes.
They leaked the name to Flynn -- I mean they leaked the name to Ignatius, together with a lie that Flynn was engaged in illicit negotiations with the Russians. This wasn't true. So, they mischaracterized the nature of the intelligence that they were seeing.
This is a very, very serious issue because it's -- there's supposed to be a firewall between the national security information and our domestic politics, and the Obama administration and possibly Susan Rice ran a truck through the firewall. We really -- we need to investigate this seriously and find out exactly what happened.
COOPER: Juliette, what do you make of that? Do you believe that?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER U.S. ASST. SECY. FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: No, I mean, look, the law recognizes that senior national security officials will seek to unmask it. There's a series of rules. And let's just remind everyone, we're presuming there's a FISA wiretap itself was authorized by a court.
This would be a story if it wasn't Susan Rice, that asked for it but it was President Obama's chief of staff or his political adviser. The fact that Susan Rice asked for it in a context of trying to understand the information, look, when she asked for the unmasking, who is this U.S. citizen? Let's assume going to the David Ignatius column, let's assume that it is about Mike Flynn. She hears that the ambassador is talking to someone, an American, American A, person A, citizen A, and about the election and about cyber attacks on the election.
She does not know at that moment that Citizen A, citizen 1 is a Trump person. So, the idea this idea that she's unmasking Trump people, no, they're unmasking themselves because they're in these conversations with people under foreign intelligence wiretap. So, the Trump assumed the opposite.
But, Mike, you're not arguing --Mike, you're not arguing that it's inappropriate for, say, Susan Rice or some senior official to request somebody be unmasked in order to understand. What you're arguing is, how did they use that information? Are they then using it for political purposes by leaking it, is that correct?
DORAN: Well, I'm actually arguing both. Look, the unmasking is not a crime, but these names are masked for a reason, because frivolous unmasking is a backdoor to domestic surveillance.
COOPER: Right. But you don't know whether it's frivolous or not. I mean, it --
DORAN: No, but we shouldn't jump to the conclusion -- I think the other panelists are jumping to the conclusion that this was all done on the up and up.
COOPER: Fair enough.
DORAN: But we know -- we know for a fact that this information was used illegally. I mean it was a crime, this leaking of Flynn's name and it was a political crime. And so, this is taking place in a certain context, we have to be worried about it.
SCIUTTO: Anderson, if I --
COOPER: Jim, go ahead.
SCIUTTO: If I could just add for clarity there, when I have been speaking to Ambassador Rice's people there, they made the point that she's not sure clear exactly what they're talking about. I think that -- it's not clear that the unmasking we're talking about was Flynn, which was then led to the David Ignatius story, right?
The fact is, it's been explained to me, there's an intelligent briefing every day, through the course of months and years in this job, you might ask for unmasking of any number of people from any number involved in conversations with officials from any number of countries. In fact, even Nunes' public comments did not specify that this was Russia specific, right? So, to unmask over the course of a career in that position of national security advisor, some names, it's not clear that we're talking about the one that led to the Flynn leak, right? That connection has not been established.
The point they will make, and other intelligence officials have made to me, that in that position, you might ask for unmasking so that you can better understand a series of intelligence reports over time. So, to be clear, what we know right now, we don't know that the unmasking led to the leak. No one has established that. I think that -- we have to make that clear.
DORAN: But we do know -- but we do know that there was an unmasking of Flynn's name. That's the only way it could possibly leak. So, somebody unmasked it, and then somebody leaked it. They might be the same person, they might be different people.
Susan Rice may have been one person that was doing unmasking. There may be other people who were doing unmasking.
DORAN: But we know that senior officials abused this for political purposes.
BORGER: Well --
DORAN: And that's a very serious issue.
BORGER: I'm not sure we know -- I'm not sure we know that. I mean, it was described to me today as sort of looking behind the curtain, you don't know who's behind the curtain, until you lift it. And that if you have, and it was described to me last week that these conversations were diplomat to diplomat largely. And so, if they're talking about something and they mention citizen A, and it involves national security, then whoever it is is going to unmask it because they're trying to understand the context and the meaning and the importance of this conversation.
[20:15:09] So, only when you lift that veil, do you really -- do you really know who it is.
COOPER: The other question, though -- the other side of that is how does that information leak out to the reporter?
COOPER: And the leaking is a whole other issue, which Mike has raised.
We've got to leave it there. There's more to talk about, Gloria, we're going to have more to talk about with you, shortly, including the latest on the president's first Supreme Court nominee and why getting him confirmed could change the way the Senate has been doing business for decades, the nuclear option. Just ahead tonight.
And coming up next, he's being called the secretary of -- well, pretty much everything. He's got no Washington credentials at all. And now, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is on a mission to Iraq. A look at whether that's a good idea, his many responsibilities and the way official Washington is reacting.
COOPER: Well, not since Robert Kennedy served as his brother, President John F. Kennedy's attorney general and closest advisor, has anyone in any presidential orbit wielded the kind of influence that Jared Kushner apparently does. He's, of course, the president's son in law and senior adviser. He's also overseeing relations with China, Mexico and Canada. He's the chief Middle East's troubleshooter and the man in charge of reinventing government. And now, he's in Iraq at the request of the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If it seems like this 36-year-old with no government, national security or foreign policy experience, has a lot on his plate, you're certainly not mistaken. And if you're wondering where this leaves the secretaries of state and defense -- well, you're not alone. The conversation on that shortly. But, first, the background from Michelle Kosinski.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a seat at the table, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner seems to be at the head of nearly every table at the White House, from streamlining the government to solving peace in the Middle East.
[20:20:05] President Trump told one newspaper, "Jared is such a good kid and he'll make a deal with Israel that no one else can."
Tonight, Kushner is in Iraq, invited by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to see the situation firsthand and get an update on the fight against ISIS, prompting this bewildered tweet from President Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, "Kushner in Iraq before the national security advisor or secretary of state. Totally normal."
But it's not just Iraq. Kushner has been designated the president's point person on a list of issues, including trade deals, communicating with China, heading up the new office of American innovation, which includes updating the entire government's technology infrastructure and tackling the opioid crisis.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's very good at politics.
KOSINSKI: He's held important meetings with foreign leaders, even when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was noticeably absent.
Today, the White House was asked how exactly he can do all of this.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's a lot of relationships that Jared's made over time with different leaders, Mexico being one of them you mentioned, that are going to continue to have conversations with him and help facilitate that. It doesn't mean by any means that it's being done without coordination with the State Department. Quite, in fact, the opposite.
REPORTER: He's a direct line to the president whereas the other institutions are not?
SPICER: OK, great. That's even better then. I think that's a win for our government.
KOSINSKI: So, is Jared Kushner, who sources say has won the president's confidence by projecting a lot of confidence, even when he doesn't have the experience or knowledge of the de facto secretary of state?
To many, it appears that way, and appearances have influence, to the point that some To many, it has appeared that way and appearances affect influence, to the point that some diplomats like the Chinese ambassador have been dealing directly with him. Sources say it's also worked well for Middle Eastern delegations like the Saudis. For them, government is a family affair.
Kushner also was at the center of negotiations to get the president and Mexico to the table in D.C., which then collapsed after Trump's executive order on immigration, as well as some presidential tweets.
TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: And the larger question is, up until now, we haven't seen a lot of regular order in this administration when it comes to making foreign policy. It's supposed to be centered around the National Security Council. They debate the policy, they decide the policy, they speak the policy. That doesn't seem to be happening. There's a lot of freelancing going on.
KOSINSKI: Tonight, as Kushner works in Iraq and prepares for the president's high stakes meeting with the Chinese President Xi on Thursday, the man with his zero diplomatic, government or foreign policy experience may now be the most high profile member of the administration doing just that. Why and how are the lingering questions, outside the White House and around the world.
COOPER: That was Michelle Kosinski reporting.
Joining us now is retired Army General Mark Hertling, who served obviously in Iraq, also Jack Kingston, and Amanda Carpenter.
General Hertling, let's start with you. What do you make of Jared Kushner? Obviously, he doesn't have foreign policy or military experience. He certainly does have the president's ear and I give him credit for wanting to learn something and going to Iraq to see for himself what it's like because President Trump, you know, during the campaign, was talking about taking Iraq's oil and saying there is no Iraq and there are no Iraqis.
I get why the chief -- the head of the Joint Chiefs would want him there because he knows that Kushner has the president's ear. But is it weird that the secretary of state's not involved in this?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. AMRY (RET.): I don't want to comment on that, Anderson, but I will say that if I were chairman of the joint chiefs, I would do exactly what General Dunford has done.
HERTLING: I would ask Kushner to go with me not only to Iraq but to other places because he does have the trust and confidence of the president. And this is something in the military we call leading up. You get to the principal through other people by informing them and helping them become part of your argument.
And I think since Mr. Trump, Mr. Tillerson and Jared have not been to Iraq, just the very visit to Baghdad, meeting with Prime Minister al- Abadi, some of the generals were, and the pictures, and it's interesting seeing those pictures, I know some of those guys, and they are going to say, is this the guy we deal with? And Kushner I think will suddenly get some real quick information in a
very short period of time on the ground in Iraq. But he will also get a 16-hour plane ride back and forth with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and get a whole lot of information not only on Iraq, but on other parts of the world. And that will allow Chairman Dunford and Secretary of Defense Mattis to help lead up when President Trump perhaps might be making a decision which is contrary to the national security of the United States.
COOPER: So, Amanda, is there a downside as you see it?
AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, here are my questions. What is the job of Jared Kushner when advising the president? But also, what is he advising? Given that he doesn't have a lot of foreign policy or diplomatic experience, how is he synthesizing this information? I for one would like to read something, a position paper, something to know where his world view is and how he approaches these problems.
COOPER: We really know nothing about him.
CARPENTER: Yes, that's a reasonable standard. But it's even more necessary because Donald Trump hasn't flushed out many foreign policy positions.
[20:25:02] We do not know where the Trump administration stands. So, it's very much up for grabs.
But lastly, what is his qualification for this job and how is it not nepotism? I think it's completely fair to say that had Jared Kushner not married the president's daughter, he would not have this job. And so, for that reason, he needs a lot more scrutiny, because there's a lot of the stake here.
I mean, just recently, a lot of civilians were killed in Iraq, he'll be going there. We need someone who has a strong position, that request implement whatever the president wants to do, but also communicate what that is to the American people because that is the big asterisk they're hanging over the White House right now.
COOPER: Congressman Kingston, what about that? I mean, should Jared Kushner be the one going to Iraq before secretaries of state, before others?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know what? I don't think it really matters, and I'll tell you why, he is the president of the United States. When he goes over there, they're going to think this is very, very important, otherwise, President Trump would not have sent his son-in-law.
And I can tell you, all the information that the general talked about that he's going to get on the ground and then the plane trip, he's going to go back to Donald Trump, and he's not going to go through five layers of people to get to the president to give his report. He's going to sit down across from him at the breakfast table and say, here's what I learned. COOPER: Right. I guess, my question though, I mean, does government
work that way? Is that the best way our government works when it's a question of who has the president's ear? I mean it sounds like a royal court more than sort of an organized system of government as we traditionally know it. Maybe it works, but you have concerns?
KINGSTON: You know, well, think about this, what was Hillary Clinton's background when Bill Clinton turned over one sixth of the economy over to her and said redo our health care laws? Robert Kennedy, I guess he was a lawyer of some note, maybe, maybe not, but when his brother John said, you're going to be my attorney general, he probably did not -- he probably wasn't the most qualified in the land, but these are intelligent.
COOPER: Fair enough.
KINGSTON: I know Jared Kushner well enough. Not very well, but very well. But he's a very bright, capable guy. He's a successful businessman.
And I know one thing that he's going to come back with, General, you'll probably agree, because I have been over there many times, the first thing they're going to ask him, is how committed are you? Will the United States be here? And that's going to be probably the number one lesson that he's going to learn is that we have to have the commitment and he's going to go straight back to Donald Trump and say, they want to know, what is your commitment level?
HERTLING: I would actually hope --
CARPENTER: But I would say, that's one (INAUDIBLE) message that Jared is sending to these foreign leaders and dignitaries, with no training. If -- we should be concerned about the messages that he relates to the president, but also sitting as a representative of the U.S. government, given that we're so involved in foreign conflict, what message is he sending optically to those foreign leaders? But just look at those pictures, he often looks like the youngest, most inexperienced guy in the room. And so, even obviously in that perspective, I think --
KINGSTON: Amanda, let me remind you that most of the grades of people who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan are younger than Jared Kushner.
CARPENTER: Of course, yes.
KINGSTON: He is very capable and they are used to dealing with people who are family members or people who are intelligent.
COOPER: We should just point out, he's never served in the military, nor has he served in diplomatic service. I mean, he's worked for his dad's company and that's why he's so rich, because he -- you know, I mean he works for his dad's company and now he's working for his father-in-law.
General Hertling, I mean, the truth is, U.S. foreign policy on the ground in Iraq, a lot of it is being determined by the U.S. military right now. I mean, they are bearing the brunt as they have for years. So, it seems like it's going to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs who's really doing the talking in these meetings, because it's really about what the U.S. military is doing on the ground there. Isn't that?
HERTLING: Well, here's the thing I'd say to that, Anderson. The thing that concerns me the most is yes, you are absolutely right, a lot of the actions that are taking place around the world not just in Iraq, are currently left in the hands of the military, and that's not a good thing. I'm a military guy, and I'm saying we need national security strategy and we need national security policy, we don't need more executive orders. And I don't see any of that happening.
Now, if Jared Kushner comes back after a four-hour tour in Iraq, with some ideas, that, hey, we have got to give some guidance to the military, that's a very good thing. But as Congressman Kingston said, you know, having been in Iraq for many years of my life and seeing these visits and congressional delegations come over, there aren't a whole lot of policymakers that come over to determine what kind of policy or strategy we have. They just want to see the game and go back and report on TV. And that's unfortunate.
What we really need is for Kushner to go back to the president and saying, hey, this actually working pretty well over the last year and a half. We've got to get some strategy. If you're continuing to say things in tweets and on speeches that don't link up with what the diplomats and the military think they're doing, we've got to get -- to use that expression from that great 1980s movie, "One band, one sound" from "Drumline", you got to get on the same page, and right now, not everyone is on the same page.
It's great for him to visit. It's great for him to be with the chairman and I think the chairman probably took the approach of, hey, I'd rather roll up my sleeves and wring my hands with this administration. So let's teach these guys some things we're going to look at.
[20:30:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Smart move. Thanks everyone. Just ahead, late developments in the Senate battle over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. One more lawmaker, I should say, now saying he'll push the Senate toward what they're calling the nuclear option. We'll explain that. And also, live update next.
COOPER: One more Democratic senator has added his voice to the effort to block Pres. Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, New Jersey's Bob Menendez went on record a short time ago saying he will vote no. In fact Democrats already have enough votes to block the nomination unless Republicans resort to an extreme measure.
Sunlen Serfaty has the latest. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Judges Gorsuch's answers were so deluded with ambiguity, one could not see where he stood.
SUNLEN SERFANTY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The partisan battle lines are now fully drawn.
SEN. ORRIN, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The first time in history to conduct a filibuster, I think that's unworthy of the Senate, I don't think it's the right thing to do.
SERFANTY (voice-over): The Senate is now headed toward a high stakes showdown over Pres. Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
[20:35:04] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Democrats are setting a very dangerous precedent.
SERFANTY (voice-over): Today, Democrats (inaudible) enough support to successfully filibuster Gorsuch, basis the full Senate later this week.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm not ready to end debate on this issue. So I will be voting against closure, unless we are able as a body to finally sit down and find a way to avoid the nuclear option.
SERFANTY (voice-over): According to CNN's vote count, Sen. Coons' support today marks the 41st Democrat to sign on to a filibuster. Make it impossible by the math for Republican to get the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster.
SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It's an amazing theater that we have created here to create this pretext for a partisan filibuster, that's not going to be successful.
SERFANTY (voice-over): Meaning Republican will have to make good on their promise to invoke the so-called nuclear option to get Gorsuch through.
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell not minting (ph) words about what he is hence to do when Gorsuch faces the full Senate.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY: What I can tell you is that Neil Gorsuch will be confirmed this week.
SERFANTY (voice-over): The nuclear option will change Senate rules so that Gorsuch and future Supreme Court nominees will only need a simple majority, 51 votes to get through, rather than the 60 votes that have been established under long standing Senate rules.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yeah, this is going to be very bad. Let me tell you what's going to happen. The judges have become more ideological because you don't have to reach across out to get one vote any longer. This is going to haunt the Senate, it's going to change the judiciary and it's so unnecessary.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We're now ready to vote on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch.
SERFANTY (voice-over): Today, Gorsuch's nomination advance along a party line vote out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the last step before reaching the Senate floor, giving Democrats the opportunity to sound off on the process.
FEINSTEIN: So this nomination is not the usual nomination. It comes in a different way, and it has proceed in a way of excessive spending of dark money that in the time I have been on this committee, I have never seen before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: So here's what happens next, tomorrow at some point, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he'll move to end the floor debate on Neil Gorsuch, that will set up a key procedural vote to come Thursday here in the Senate, we expect that filibuster to not be defeated. That will be what triggers Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to set up the nuclear option. This set up a final confirmation votes potentially for Neil Gorsuch on Friday at some point, but again, Anderson, 51 votes under this new rules would be all that he needs to get through, just a simple majority.
COOPER: Sunlen, lots to discuss. Thanks very much. A lot to discuss with panel, Jeffrey Toobin, Amanda Carpenter, Christine Quinee and Gloria Borger.
Jeff, I mean, it is remarkable, because it seems like this is almost as much about the next possible Supreme Court nominee who've might come along than it is about Neil Gorsuch.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is. But the overwhelming factor here is that the Democrats are arguing from position of weakness. They have 48 votes. They can't stop a majority -- the Republicans from getting a majority.
So, the Republicans either will confirm with a simple majority, or they'll change the rules, so they need a simple majority.
Neil Gorsuch is going to get confirmed one way or another and Democrats with 48 votes just can't stop it.
COOPER: How much of this also is just kind of anger over what happened to Merrick Garland?
TOOBIN: It is that to a certain extent. But it is also just the nature of our politics today. And it's the stakes of what's before the Supreme Court. I mean the Supreme Court is where abortion, affirmative action, campaign spending, it's where all the final decisions are made on those subjects and those are the most controversial decisions in American politics and Democrats and Republicans disagree about them.
So it's no surprise that the fight is so intense over who gets on the court.
COOPER: We're going to have the rest of our panel join in just a second. We'll pick up the conversation. The fury we're seeing play out in the Senate has roots in -- as we said, the blocked domination of Merrick Garland, Pres. Obama's Supreme Court pick one year ago, how it is shaping the battle also over Neil Gorsuch in a moment.
[20:43:00] COOPER: Well, as we've been reporting on the battle over Pres. Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch is heading toward an epic showdown in the full Senate. Democrats have enough votes to filibuster the nomination and Republicans are vowing to use the so- called nuclear option to push Gorsuch over the finish line. It was almost exactly one year ago when Pres. Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat of Justice Antonin Scalia after Scalia's sudden death. Senate Republicans refused to hold hearings and in many cases wouldn't even meet with Judge Garland. Here's what they said about it at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: The right of center world does not want this vacancy filled by this president.
SEN. MIKE LEE, (R) UTAH SENATOR: It doesn't have nearly as much to do with who the president nominated. It has entirely to do with the fact that we're in a presidential election year.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R) MAJORITY WHIP: There's just simply too much at stake to leave this decision in the hands of a president who is headed out the door.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA SENATOR: I don't think we should be moving forward on a nominee in the last year of this president's term. I would say that it was a Republican president.
SEN. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH REPRESENTATIVE: I think the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it pretty clear, they're not going to vote on this until after the election.
HATCH: Almost all Republicans agree that it should be brought up after the elections to avoid the politics.
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: The Senate which is a co-equal branch of government has every right not to act on that nomination.
HATCH: The Democrats and their liberal allies say do your job, they really mean do as we say now, not as we did then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I'm back with the panel. I mean, Gloria, the idea that a filibuster can be avoided if both sides agree that the next nominee, whenever and whoever that is, would be required to have the 60 vote threshold and that neither side would invoke the nuclear option at that point. Who would believe the either side would ever stick to such a deal?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Not me. You know, I don't think that that's an option. I think given the world in which we live and the politics that govern our world, I don't see that happening. And you know, you talk to Democrats and Democrats will say, you know, Republicans invoked the nuclear option when they refused to consider Judge Garland, all those clips you just showed.
So, you know, the finger pointing will continue. Each side will say the other one invoked the nuclear option.
[20:45:00] But in the end, I think Lindsey Graham was right earlier in your show when he was quoted saying, "Look, if we end up just approving judges by, you know, majority vote, they're going to be more ideological. And that's just the way unfortunately, Anderson, it's going to be because nobody will have to reach across the aisle anymore.
COOPER: Yeah. And then Christine was talking about the political strategy for the Democrats. I mean I guess the -- how is it good for your party to do what the Democrats are doing?
CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NYC CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Well, I think it's good for a party because the positions of Judge Gorsuch are in total disagreement with many of the core values of the Democratic Party. And I know there's been a lot of discussion about, why not wait till the next one?
This is the Supreme Court of the United States. Every person on it matters. Every person on it matters if you're outraged about citizen union, if you want to protect marriage equality, if you want to protect the workers' rights, the environment, a woman's right to choose. So this is an extraordinarily important position.
And let's put this into perspective, every nominee except Thomas, except -- set him aside, except Thomas, every nominee since Eisenhower has either been appointed or approved unanimously or with 60 votes or more. So we're not asking for a standard here to be held that is unusual --
COOPER: The Democrats went nuclear a few years ago to ram through pretty much everything but Supreme Court justices. I mean, do you really have the moral high ground here?
QUINN: You know, I think if you look at the history of the Democratic Party as it relates to filibuster, et cetera, it wasn't a very dramatic time. We had in the first four years of the Obama administration, the Republicans filibustered about 79 nominees. Let's put that in perspective, from George Washington to George Bush, 68 filibusters. So we were responding to an overuse of a procedure that was really putting things into, you know, park and not allowing things to move forward.
COOPER: Amanda, are there any other options for Republicans other than changing the rules of the Senate? AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, I mean not if Democrats aren't going to give them the votes. I mean, I think everyone should be concerned about the Senate losing the 60-vote threshold, whether it comes to nominees, whether it comes to legislation, whether it comes to judges.
But I do worry about this rhetoric coming from the Democratic Party that this was a stolen seat. The seat wasn't stolen at all. The Senate was well within their rights not to consider Merrick Garland and I think it was very beneficial for the campaign on both sides to make the Supreme Court a ballot issue. Donald Trump was very clear about what kind of person he would nominate. He gave a list which was unprecedented for a presidential candidate to do. Hillary Clinton didn't do nearly a good job making a case for why she should be picking the next Supreme Court justice. And let's remember, no one thought Donald Trump was going to win. So the Republicans were taking a very big risk in making this election issue, and they won. And so everyone knew it's coming.
TOOBIN: What I don't understand is what's so great about a filibuster? You know, the Senate is an undemocratic institution already. You know, Wyoming with a tiny population has the same number of senators as California. It's already undemocratic. So why should 40 senators be able to stop anything? What's wrong with just having a majority rule?
CARPENTER: Don't they want a consensus so that the Senate is different than the House? Doesn't that help people by into the process? And listen, I want to see Gorsuch get confirmed, but I really don't want do go down to the road where the Senate loses 60 votes for legislation, which will happen at some point in time. We are getting closer to that. Look at how quickly the Senate has changed in the last five years into something that's openly talked about among many staff.
TOOBIN: I understand there is this believe that the Senate is this wonderful deliberative body. I think it is an undemocratic body. I think there is nothing wrong with operating with 51 votes.
CARPENTER: But so why make --
QUINN: What you're talking about is a problem and making it worse.
COOPER: By the way, Wyoming residence --
COOPER: -- address their e-mails directly to Jeffrey Toobin. Gloria, final thoughts from you here.
BORGER: You know, I want to disagree with Jeffrey on this because honestly I don't think you want the Senate to be the same as the House. Is the House such a great role model for legislating in this country? I'm not saying that the Senate is, but I also say that there is some utility in having people have to reach across the aisle once in a while and try and bring some people over to their side to pass major pieces of legislation on a bipartisan basis so that both sides have a buy in. I think it kind of helps the country run.
COOPER: All right.
BORGER: I'm not saying the Senate has been brilliant, but I don't think you throw that -- I don't think you throw that away.
COOPER: I don't think you've convinced Jeffrey Toobin. Up next --
BORGER: I don't think so.
Cooper: Up next, the new legal battle for Pres. Trump that's connected to one of his campaign rallies last year. The question, did candidate Trump actually incited violence and can he be sued? Hear what a judge had to say.
[20:53:22] COOPER: And welcome back. President Trump faces a new legal battle tonight. This time, it's for something he said on the campaign trail last year in the middle of a stump speech. The accusation, his words incited a riot. His legal team certainly disagree saying there was no riot and tried to make the case he was protected by free speech. But a federal judge said no and is letting the lawsuit against the pPresident to the supporters including a right nationalist proceed. The moment in question was caught on video.
Our Gary Tuchman tonight has details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORREPOSDENT (voice-over): This is the incident that led a judge to declare it's plausible Donald Trump incited violence.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Get out. You know, in the old days which isn't so long ago, when we were less politically correct, that kind of stuff wouldn't have happened. Today, we have to be so nice, so nice. We always have to be so nice.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The woman getting pushed and two other anti- Trump protesters accused supporters of assault and battery and accused Donald Trump himself of incitement to riot. The judge in Lowellville, Kentucky ruling there is enough evidence against the president to allow the case to go forward.
During the campaign, then candidate Trump clearly enjoyed being a tough guy.
TRUMP: Get out of here. Get out. Out, out! Get him out of here!
TUCHMAN (voice-over): And the lawsuit identified other rallies where the president allegedly incited violence. Such as this one in Las Vegas in February 2016. [20:55:08] TRUMP: Bye-bye. Let's see, he's smiling. See, he's having a good time. I love the old days. Do you know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): A few weeks earlier in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Mr. Trump told the crowd he had been warned protesters might have tomatoes.
TRUMP: So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The president's verbal attacks, a reliable way to stir up the audience. Although on this October 2016 day in Green Bay, he didn't know he was insulting a supporter.
TRUMP: Get him out. Get him out.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): A supporter who had fallen ill. The commotion coming from people shouting for a doctor. Starting a chant of medical.
But Mr. Trump didn't realize what was going on and kept on with the lines that normally got him cheers.
TRUMP: There's always one.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Typically though, that kind of talk was red meat for his supporters during the campaign. And on that day in Cedar Rapids when he said he'd pay the legal fees of any supporter who knock the crap out of somebody, he also added --
TRUMP: There won't be so much because the courts agree with us too.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But that certainly remains to be seen. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, up next, breaking news on the Russia investigation on Pres. Trump's latest tweets and allegations and whether there's any evidence to actually back them up.
Also what the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee which is under fire obviously for its investigation doing now to try to get the probe back on track.