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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Under Investigation: Is He or Isn't He?; House Dems, Flynn Failed to Disclose Trip on Russia Deal; American Dies After Returning from North Korea in Coma; Senate Dems Hold "Talkathon" to Protest GOP Healthcare Bill Secrecy; Will Newt Gingrich's Old Turf Go Blue? Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 19, 2017 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, as we continue to follow the twists and the turns in the Russia investigation, we also continue to follow the twists and the turns in what the president and others have said about it. And lately, those twists and turns have gotten twistier. Or maybe it's turnier, I'm not sure.

[21:00:06] Friday, the president tweeted that he was under investigation for firing James Come. Then his surrogates and spokespeople said, no, that's not what he said. Then some said something else yet again, and so it went, so it goes.

The result, as you might imagine, was confusion and didn't clear up today at all. More right now from CNN's Jim Acosta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you under investigation?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No surprise as President Trump offered no answers on whether he's under investigation in the Russia probe. Though, he had this to say to the president of Panama.

TRUMP: Panama Canal is doing quite well. I think we did a good job building it, right?

JUAN CARLOS VARELA, PRESIDENT OF PANAMA: Yes.

TRUMP: We did a very good job.

ACOSTA: Even though the president raised the specter that he's under investigation himself when he tweeted, "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt."

JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: Let me be clear, the president is not under investigation.

ACOSTA: One of the president's personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, oddly insisted the president is not under investigation, then he all but admitted he can't be sure.

CHRIS WALLACE, "FOX NEWS" ANCHOR: You don't know whether he's -

SEKULOW: But I've not been notified. No one has been notified that he is.

WALLACE: You don't know whether he is under - you don't know whether he is under investigation or not.

SEKULOW: Chris -

WALLACE: You don't know whether he's under investigation or not.

ACOSTA: A contradiction he repeated on CNN.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Why you haven't picked up the phone to find out. It's a little odd. If I hired you, I'd want you to make that phone call.

SEKULOW: Well, you haven't hired us because we represent the President of the United States.

ACOSTA: The stonewalling continued in the White House briefing room, which was the scene of an off-camera no audio briefing where Press Secretary Sean Spicer provided more non-answers.

Can the president fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Spicer, "I think the broader point here is that everyone who serves the president serves at the pleasure of the president."

Does the president have recordings of his conversations at the White House, Spicer, "I will tell you I believe the president commented in the next couple of weeks. It is possible we have an answer on that by the end of the week."

Members of Congress want to know where are the tapes.

JIM HIMES, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: They have not been turned over, but the House Intelligence Committee has asked that those tapes, if they exist, be produced.

ACOSTA: The information blackout comes as the White House began what it's calling technology week, by rolling out the president's son- in- law Jared Kushner to tout the administration's innovation of government services.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: By modernizing these systems, we will meaningfully improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans.

ACOSTA: Kushner is now seeking additional attorneys for his own legal team after discovering his personal lawyer once worked with the special counsel.

That personal lawyer Jamie Gorelick said in a statement, "After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advisable lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should continue with us as his counsel."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Jim Acosta joins us now. So, why does the White House continue to hold these briefings off-camera?

ACOSTA: It's puzzling, Anderson. We get a different answer every day. During the foreign trip, they held these off-camera briefings and insisted that the officials who being recorded be referred to as senior administration officials. That was baffling.

Today, the reason was because the president was speaking in front of the Panamanian president earlier today. Of course, when he was with the Panamanian president, he was asked point-blank, are you under investigation, and he didn't answer the question.

So, none of those makes any sense. My sense, Anderson, is that they tried to pull this on us. Tomorrow, they'll give another nonsensical answer.

But I think what it all boils down to, Anderson, is that this is the people's White House. The briefing room is the people's briefing room and the people's answers deserve to be seen and heard.

I think one of the big questions moving forward is whether or not we see some sort of boycott of these gaggles, if they're going to be holding them without any kind of ability to record them. I think that's going to be the next thing moving forward.

Whether the press collectively decides, you know what, maybe we can do without this.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Now, Jim Sciutto, with breaking news on Michael Flynn and two trips to the Middle East that are raising questions. So, what are you learning about these trips, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is based on a letter that was sent to Michael Flynn's lawyer.

CNN obtained it today from the ranking Democrats on both the House Oversight Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asking General Flynn about a visit in September 2015 to Saudi Arabia not reported on a form as required by law when he applied for security clearance as national security advisor.

And a second trip to Saudi Arabia later in 2015, where he did not provide key details, such as why he went there or who he traveled with.

And then, in addition to that, when he was applying for security clearance, again, to enter the Trump administration, he did not report any meetings with foreign officials for the previous seven years, again, as required on that security clearance form. I reached out to Michael Flynn's lawyer that this letter was addressed to. He confirmed that they received the letter, but he would not comment on the allegations contained in the letter.

COOPER: Hang on. But we should point out, it is a crime not to report foreign travel on a security clearance force. I mean, that's what -

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right.

ACOSTA: It's one of the big things security clearances want to know about.

[21:05:02] SCIUTTO: It's printed on the form and it's mentioned in the letter from the House Democrats as well. Title 18, code 1001, knowingly falsifying or concealing material on this form. It's a felony and it's punishable by up to five years in jail, not that General Flynn will necessarily face that kind of penalty.

But the question is here, why did he not follow the law on this report, especially since we know that he didn't disclose previous, for instance, discussions with the Russian ambassador.

So, this is following a pattern of non-disclosure from President Trump's former national security advisor.

COOPER: And how does this factor into the ongoing congressional investigations as well as the special counsel investigation?

SCIUTTO: Well, with General Flynn, it's added to a list of very hard legal questions that he's facing. So, now, you have non-reports in effect on a security clearance form. That is, by law, a potential felony.

You have the discussions that he had with the Russian ambassador during the transition. What was the subject of those discussions? Why were they not disclosed?

You have prior payments that he received from Russian entities when he traveled to Russia, speaking engagements that he did not report as well. That's required to be reported.

So, you have a whole series of things that become the subject of investigation for him that have - that carry real potential legal penalties.

Then, for the broader investigation, they raise questions of another pattern here, which is a lack of disclosure by a number of Trump advisors, whether it be Jared Kushner or the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And that's one reason why these investigations continue to churn on because you have these questions to be answered.

COOPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, appreciate the update.

Back with the panel, Ryan Lizza, Jeffrey Lord, Christine Quinn, and David Gergen. So, you heard - Ryan, you heard Jim Sciutto's reporting. I mean, again, it raises the questions about General Flynn and whether or not - could he be cooperating with the FBI.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes. As Sheldon Whitehouse made some news tonight on our air that he thinks he is, I don't know what that was based on, but there has always been this question of whether Flynn was talking to the FBI.

COOPER: What would that mean if he was?

LIZZA: Well, if you remember his lawyer, when he was trying to get Flynn immunity, he dangled this -

COOPER: He said he had a story to tell.

LIZZA: A story to tell. We don't know what that story is. But the original thing that Flynn was looking at was Flynn's conversations with the Russian Ambassador when we know that the FBI was wondering whether it was a violation of the Logan Act, whether Flynn was on his own making foreign policy in a way that violates this 18th century law.

That was the first thing that caught the FBI's attention. If the classic thing you do something like Flynn is you flip them and try and get someone above them. There was only one person above Flynn in the White House, right? He was at the highest level in the White House. And that would be President Trump.

So, if he's a cooperating witness, he's either telling the FBI about other people who were on the Trump campaign or the president himself. We don't have any evidence of that, but that would be - that's what logic tells you if you're flipping him, he's going to give information about associates or people above him.

CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NYC CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: If they haven't flipped him yet, all the new information that seems to be continually coming out, the new news today, he's going to flip soon because he's got nothing but a world of hurt ahead of him.

And whatever story he has to tell, and we don't know what it is, is the only commodity he has in this right now to try to save his own skin. So, there's every likelihood that, if that hasn't happened, I would anticipate it's going to happen very soon, just knowing how these kind investigations work.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The interesting thing is the more emphasis on General Flynn and whatever problems he has, the more emphasis it puts on the fact that there's no there-there with the president and the whole Russian collusion story, which is what the beginning of this was all -

COOPER: How do you say that?

QUINN: Yes. LORD: Well, I mean, this is - so, now, we're hearing that General Flynn didn't fill out something about relationships with Saudi Arabia, what does that have to do with colluding with the Russians? Nothing. Zero.

COOPER: David Gergen?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN AND CLINTON: No, no, no. No, Jeffrey, please. My friend, Jeffrey.

Listen, the pattern that Jim Sciutto talked about very properly is a pattern that involves a number of undisclosed relationships, many in contacts, many of them with Russians. It wasn't just a Saudi trip. It was a Saudi trip to talk about a US-Russian deal worth $100 billion.

LORD: But to collude and steal an election, David -

GERGEN: (INAUDIBLE) nuclear power capacity. A, you don't forget $100 billion and leave it off your national security clearance form. You just don't do that. You can go to jail. We all know that.

But the more you see a pattern of Flynn as a guy who's got himself in a variety of things, it raises the question front and center, is that why the president is trying so hard to protect him, to take him out from under the investigation?

And that is where it leads to the question of obstruction. Is the president - what does the president know about Flynn? His lawyer knows a lot. Says he has one hell of a story to tell. What does the president know and why is he trying to protect Flynn?

[21:10:05] COOPER: And Jim Sciutto - I mean, the other thing we don't know - Jeffrey saying this leads things away from the president, but what's not clear - and David Gergen raises the point, which is the president has always defended Flynn whereas he hasn't defended other people in the same way nearly as much.

Was the president directing Flynn to do stuff? Was Flynn keeping the president apprised of whatever it was he was doing? And was there anything improper with that?

Again, we don't have any evidence that there was, but that seems to be what the investigation would try to figure out.

SCIUTTO: Well, there are a couple of open questions. To David's point, yes, it was a trip to Saudi Arabia, but he says it was about a Saudi-Russian nuclear deal.

In fact, General Flynn mentioned this trip himself in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in June of 2015. He said, I just came back from a trip to the Middle East talking about nuclear development there.

So, oddly enough, he said it in congressional testimony, but then later left it off his SF86 for a security clearance form. So, Flynn's own words contradicting himself to some degree.

On the question of Trump to Flynn, when you speak specifically of those conversations during the transition with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, when the issue of sanctions came up, something that General Flynn hid, we know from the vice president, perhaps from others, was that something that was directed by the present?

We don't have evidence of that, but that is a question I know that at least Democrats on the committee are asking as part of the investigation.

COOPER: There's also - sorry, go ahead.

LORD: But what does this have to do with colluding to steal the presidential election? That's the charge. And that charge came about because a couple of days after the Clinton campaign ended with a defeat, according to the book Shattered there, and I think you've had on the authors of this book, she was so angry that they decided to, since she couldn't accept responsibility for her defeat, pick up this story of the Russians did it.

What does this have to do with that?

QUINN: But, Jeffrey, that's actually -

SCIUTTO: Let me step in just - Jeffrey, October 7, 2016 is when the intelligence community released their statement, one month and a day before election day, so long before we knew who the winner was going to be, blaming Russia in the highest levels of the Russian government with high confidence for interference, interfering in the election. So, that assessment had nothing to do with the result of the election.

COOPER: But, Jeffrey, you were just saying that it was Hillary Clinton who motivated this after she lost but he's just pointing out this happened long before.

LIZZA: The FBI investigation -

LORD: Where is the evidence that this turned the election? There is none.

QUINN: But it doesn't matter. Hang on. No, it doesn't matter in my opinion if it turned the election. And you really all need to let go of Hillary Clinton. She lost, stop blaming everything on her.

But you know what, it does matter - it doesn't matter who won or lost. If the Russians, which all indications are from the intelligence community, got involved in our elections, hacked into our systems, that's enough.

Like, if it didn't turn the election, which I believe it may have, but let's find that out, that's enough. That's a huge problem that the Russians tried -

LORD: Did Donald Trump say go do that?

QUINN: I have no idea what he did or didn't say.

LORD: Of course, he didn't.

QUINN: But you don't either, Jeffrey. With all due respect, you don't know. That's why we need an independent investigation that the president is not pressuring anybody on. And we need that to play out.

And we also need the president and his surrogates, with all due - not respect, but direction at you to stop criticizing and undermining Mueller. He's moving forward in this. And as soon as you guys start to sweat, you attack the messenger.

COOPER: All right. I want to dig deeper into more legal angles when we come back with our (INAUDIBLE) Professor Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Toobin joining us.

Also tonight, the sadness, the fury and, of course, all the unanswered questions in the wake of a young American's death after being held captive in North Korea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:17:19] COOPER: Well, is he or isn't he? And if he is, why can't they just say so? We're talking about the president, of course, and who tweeted on Friday that he's under investigation for firing James Comey.

Then his spokespeople and surrogates spent the weekend and today saying he was not. Turned out maybe he was.

It was at times like some weird undergraduate quantum mechanics lecture where the cat is both dead and not dead at the same time and your head hurts until you hear that it's made Einstein's head hurt as well, and so you feel a little bit better.

So, with that in mind, listen to Jay Sekulow, one of the president's new lawyers, essentially declaring the cat is both dead and alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEKULOW: Now, he's being investigated by the Department of Justice. So, he's being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take, by the agency who recommended the determination.

There should be no confusion. No confusion the president is not under investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: No confusion there. Joining us Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz as well as one of his students, Jeffrey Toobin, and David Gergen is back with us as well.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Two of my students. David was my student. COOPER: Before we get to all of that mishegas, I want to ask you, professor, you came in here saying I know what Flynn is doing.

DERSHOWITZ: I figured it out.

COOPER: What did you figure out?

DERSHOWITZ: Flynn's lawyer is playing this very tough game. He is sending a message to the president. He's saying, my client Flynn is not going to jail. He can either make a deal with Mueller or you can pardon him. And if you don't pardon him, we're going to Mueller. That's the two options you have ahead of you.

COOPER: So, you think that's the message Flynn's attorney is sending.

DERSHOWITZ: I absolutely think. He's a very shrewd lawyer. We know that he went public earlier.

He's trying to send a message to the president that I have options and my options are with Mueller. If you don't want me to go there, you have a way of preventing that. It's called pardon. It's what Bush did to Weinberger. Follow that path.

Because he has only one interest, Flynn's lawyer - keep Flynn out of jail. It's very tough. It's very uphill. And the only way to do it is not on the merits because he's going to lose on the merits, it's by either making a dealer or getting a pardon.

COOPER: Jeff, what do you think about that? Because earlier - I mean, months and months ago, Flynn's lawyer was talking about getting some sort of immunity and hinted at, boy, he had a story to tell.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Boy, for once, Alan and I are going to switch places. I'm going to be the Trump defender here.

First of all, it's not clear to me that Flynn committed any crime. False statements on a form is only a crime if you knowingly make a false statement. And it's going to be some challenge to prove that this was an intentional false statement.

But putting that aside, what is the evidence that Flynn can give up Donald Trump? Give up Donald Trump for what?

[21:20:00] I mean, it's not clear that Flynn has anything to offer the prosecutors here. So, I think everybody needs to slow down and - this is not - I don't think any deals will need to be made. Donald Trump doesn't need to pardon anyone right now.

I just think this investigation should proceed a little more slowly, in a little more orderly way, and we'll see whether Flynn makes a deal and whether he has anything to offer.

DERSHOWITZ: That's your approach. But from Flynn's lawyers point of view, he knows his client is vulnerable. Why does he go in the public and say, I have something to offer? Lawyers don't do that. They generally go behind the scenes to the prosecutor and say I have something to offer.

When you go public, you have an audience. I think he has an audience of one. I think the audience is sitting in the Oval Office.

COOPER: I like this theory. It's interesting. It's fascinating. I just liked it when Professor Dershowitz came in saying, I know what he's doing.

DERSHOWITZ: I was singing, I figured it out, I figured it out.

COOPER: Wish I could have seen that.

All right. Let's talk about what's going on with Jay Sekulow. I mean, Jeff, we saw the president's attorney basically saying a couple of contradictory things this weekend. What do you make of that?

TOOBIN: I saw Jay Sekulow, who is a really smart and good lawyer, feeling Sean Spicer's pain because he was up there saying Donald Trump is not under investigation because Donald Trump does not want to be perceived as under investigation -

COOPER: Despite having tweeted that he's under investigation.

TOOBIN: Right, right. But he's - of course, he's under investigation. I mean, look at Comey's testimony. Look at the fact that Mueller is now interviewing the head of the NSA, Rogers, the head of the DNI, Coates.

Those are witnesses to possible obstruction of justice of Donald Trump. That's the only reason to interview them. This - it doesn't mean Donald Trump is guilty. It doesn't mean that he's going to be charged with anything.

But is he under investigation? Of course, he is.

COOPER: David, do you buy Sekulow's explanation that the president's tweet was in response to "Washington Post" article that cited unnamed sources that the president was under investigation.

Kellyanne Conway said that it was - I think she said he was employing irony, if memory serves me correct.

GERGEN: Oh, yes. No, it's too clever by half. When anybody says, well, Donald Trump didn't really explain the whole story because he only had 140 characters to play with, and so therefore, he just didn't - Donald Trump, if he had a real story to tell, would have done five tweets in a row.

But I think what was going on here, Anderson, is that - something very similar, in a very positively way, by the way, years ago when President Eisenhower used to come out for press conferences on really sensitive subjects.

He will be totally confusing. Nobody had any idea what he was trying to say. He was on three sides of every fence. And when he came back in, his aides would look at him and puzzle when he said, I did that very intentionally. I created a fog bank. I wanted to keep my options open.

I think, in this case, the lawyer - Trump's lawyer was doing was creating a fog bank. He wants to have it both ways. You can see it anyway you want.

But I do have one question for the professor and his student. Can Donald Trump ultimately pardon himself?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, we don't know that for sure. The Constitution's own terms don't impose limitations.

It would be political suicide, I think, to pardon oneself.

GERGEN: Right.

DERSHOWITZ: But, legally, the president's pardon power seems untrammeled. We've never had a case like that in history.

It would be interesting to go back to the common law where the pardon power originates and see if any kings or queens - I doubt that we've ever seen an example of anybody pardoning himself. So, I don't think we know the answer.

TOOBIN: But the one thing we know for certain, though, is that Donald Trump cannot pardon himself from impeachment. The constitution is very clear about that. That process is entirely up to Congress.

COOPER: Good discussion, all. Thank you very much. Up next, more breaking news. All the questions now that the American student held by North Korea has died just days after he returned home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:27:25] COOPER: Well, there's nothing worse than a parent mourning the death of a child. And for Cindy and Fred Warmbier, it is even worse. Their son Otto died today after he was taken from them and held by North Korea.

After he was subjected to a sham trial, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for at most a misdemeanor, then subjected to who knows what in custody, and returning home in a coma.

Today, he died. The pain, the confusion, the misery, the horror surrounding his death, that all survives. The latest from CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time, Otto Warmbier was in a US hospital, doctors said his condition was dire.

DANIEL KANTER, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI MEDICAL CENTER: No signs of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surroundings. He has not spoken, he has not engaged in any purposeful movements or behaviors. TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Warmbier's parents say their son has, "completed his journey home" that Otto Warmbier died today at 2.20 p.m. Eastern Time.

The family says when he arrived in Cincinnati last week in a vegetative state, Warmbier's face looked anguished, but within a day they say his face changed. He was at peace, they say.

From President Trump, a somber response.

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He just passed away a little while ago. That's a brutal regime and we'll be able to handle it.

TODD (voice-over): Warmbier's doctors told reporters they've discovered he had lost much of his brain tissue due to cardiopulmonary arrest and that two brain scans sent by the North Koreans suggested he'd been in a vegetative state for at least 14 months.

Experts say, while they're surprised North Korea would allow an American being held to reach such critical condition, they say mistreatment in North Korean jails is not uncommon.

GREG SCARLATOIU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: We know that they apply very brutal treatment, torture, beating, rape to their own people and also to foreigners who are held in custody.

MICHAEL GREEN, SENIOR ADVISOR AND JAPAN CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: All of a sudden, he was thrown into this hell hole. So, anything is possible. He could have suffered shock when he was sentenced to hard labor. He could have been beaten. He could have tried to take his own life.

Whatever the circumstances, it is likely the result of the fact that the North Koreans put him in this situation.

TODD (voice-over): There are key questions still unanswered after Warmbier's death. Why did Kim's regime keep Warmbier's condition a secret for so long?

SCARLATOIU: Perhaps they waited hoping that he would come out of the coma. He didn't. Eventually, they panicked.

TODD (voice-over): And how might the United States retaliate for the death of this 22-year-old University of Virginia student who the North Koreans had sentenced to hard labor for allegedly pulling down a propaganda banner in a hotel.

[21:30:10] Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US would hold North Korea accountable for Warmbier's imprisonment.

GREEN: One reason to be careful about military retaliation is the fact that North Korea now has missiles and nuclear weapons that could strike Japan, Korea, and potentially threaten the United States.

The other reason is there are other Americans who are hostages and imprisoned who we also want to get out.

TODD (on camera): Otto Warmbier's family said in its statement, "The awful, torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced."

When we called the North Korean mission at the UN to respond to that, they hung up on us.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, CNN's Will Ripley has traveled numerous times to North Korea. He's monitoring developments now from Tokyo where he joins us tonight.

I mean, I know you've been in touch with Otto Warmbier's parents throughout this ordeal. It's hard to imagine what they are going through tonight, Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I spoke with him last month before my latest trip to North Korea. I was in the country last week when Otto Warmbier was released.

And as of a few weeks ago, they believe that his homecoming was going to be the happiest moment in their lives. They had been keeping a family journal to make sure they didn't forget any milestones to update him.

They bought him a Cubs jersey when the Cubs won the World Series. They bought him a shirt when the family took vacation in Hawaii. They couldn't wait to talk about all the political developments, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

They had been planning for this reunion. They thought that he, with his upbeat personality, was charming his captors and would have so many stories to tell. They never could have imagined that he was going to come home in the condition that he was.

And, of course, less than a week later, now he's gone.

COOPER: What about reaction from North Korea? I mean, you've been inside the country more than just about reporter I know. I mean, have we heard anything from them yet? What do you think is going on there?

Well, no official reaction to the news of the death of Otto Warmbier. The last official statement from Pyongyang was that he was released on humanitarian grounds. Hard to imagine how somebody being in a coma for a year and then being released is a humanitarian act, but that was the official government spin.

I can tell you from conversations on the ground with officials in Pyongyang, when I relayed this news to them last week, they were visibly shocked. They didn't believe that it was true. They thought perhaps it was the United States fabrication and that, in fact, he hadn't been in a coma for that length of time.

And when I showed them article after article that he was, they really didn't have a whole lot to say about it other than that they seem visibly very, very surprised.

COOPER: There are what, three Americans still being detained in North Korea right now. Does this change the calculus and the efforts to get them released?

RIPLEY: I think it certainly accelerates the efforts of the US State Department to try to get them released. This strategy of the Obama administration, the strategic patience, clearly not the strategy of the Trump administration.

So, you have two American professors, Kim Hak-Song, Tony Kim. They were teaching at a university in Pyongyang. They haven't even gone on trial yet. You have Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized US citizen who was sentenced to ten years hard labor on spying charges. And now, the United States really has to try to get these American citizens home.

In terms of other potential retaliatory action, they're really limited. They could impose more unilateral sanctions, but North Korea is already very heavily sanctioned. They could put pressure on China to do more as they've been doing about the nuclear and missile programs.

But at this point, the number one priority of the United States has got to be to try to secure the release of these remaining three US citizens and to continue to encourage Americans not to travel to North Korea.

COOPER: Yes. Will Ripley. Will, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Up next, the fight over the healthcare bill escalating tonight with Senate Democrats trying to bring the chamber to a halt to protest the Republican's closed-door process to get Obamacare. The question is can they actually succeed. More on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:37:45] COOPER: Well, the fight over the healthcare bill escalating tonight with Senate Democrats holding what they're calling a talkathon, attempting to bring the chamber to a halt, to protest the Republican's closed-door process to get Obamacare.

The GOP has been trying to cut a deal without involving the opposition in any of the usual committee hearings. Our Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill with the latest.

So, I mean, the secrecy surrounding the healthcare bill, what's the reason for it, stated or otherwise?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's strategic. And if you talk to Senate GOP aides and they're being candid with you, they're willing to acknowledge that. Anderson, they are keenly aware of what happened in the House. It was a very public debate, kind of a torturous one at that. They want to avoid that. They recognize, inside their conference, if they want to get at least 50 of the 52 members of the Republican Senate conference to agree on this vote, on this bill, they need to give them ample opportunity to hash out their differences behind closed doors.

And those differences are severe in some cases. The ideological spectrum here in the Republican Party, when it comes to healthcare, there are significant divides on things like the Medicaid expansion, the growth rate of Medicaid, abortion, the structure of the Obamacare regulations.

All of those things, it was designed by Senate Republican leadership that those arguments take place behind the scenes. That can insulate their members from outside pressure, give their members ample opportunity to have candid discussions about the direction of this bill.

This is by design. Make no mistake. Republicans know they are going to get hit by this, hit about this. But, Anderson, the key goal here and the thing I keep hearing over and over again is it's the endgame. The endgame is to get to 50 votes.

And if this process allows them to get to that point, that's a victory, Anderson.

COOPER: Senate Democrats, I mean, they can slow the process down. They can't really stop it, can they?

MATTINGLY: Yes. I think that's a key thing here. They're going to do everything they can to slow it down, whether they're giving consistent floor speeches over and over late into tonight, early tomorrow morning, whether they use procedural grounds to try and slow things up, shutdown committee hearings, slow the process on the floor.

The reality is - and I have one Democratic Senator tell me earlier tonight this exactly. We don't know what kind of effect this will actually have.

But here is what's most important. I think here's the end game for them here. They want to draw light to this process. They want to draw attention this process. They know for the Senators that are sitting on the fence right now, particularly the moderates, the phone calls, the emails, the pressure coming from the outside can and likely will make a difference if it is intense enough.

That's what they're going for right now. That's why you see this action on the floor and why you're going to see this going ahead.

[21:40:02] Anderson, key point here. They are planning, Senate Republicans, to have a vote next week no matter what. That's why this pressure is extremely important right now as they try and finalize any type of bill.

COOPER: We'll have to watch for it. Phil Mattingly, thanks. Unhappy with the version of the healthcare bill that the House narrowly passed last month, seven governors from both parties sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The letter says the bill "calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant cost to the state."

Joining me now two of the governors who sent it, Republican John Kasich of Ohio and Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Governor Kasich, I mean, what are you hoping to achieve by sending this letter? What would you like to see happen ideally?

JOHN KASICH, GOVERNOR OF OHIO: Well, I mean, the first thing is that a Republican and a Democratic can get together. I mean, we have seven people on the letter. John was able to get four. I have three governors.

And designed to find some common purpose, which is, we all can agree that we want to make sure that the exchanges which provide people with healthcare don't collapse.

And we know that they are at risk in many places. And so, we've looked for points in which we could agree, hopefully, to be sort of set an example that it's best for people to work together if you want to have something that's going to last and something that's going to involve both parties. I think it's important and that's the message, I hope.

Governor Hickenlooper, where do you see those areas of agreement?

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, GOVERNOR OF COLORADO: I mean, in the letter, we lay out four basic components.

Enhance affordability in the private exchanges. We want to promote innovation and allow states more flexibility in doing that innovation. Let states have more responsibility around - within the regulatory framework to really find savings. Really enhanced ability in the private insurance market. And that was the fourth one.

So, those basic framework items give us a place to start. But from there, you go in a million different directions because each one of those can lead not only in cost savings, but allow us to not have to roll back coverage on who-knows-how-many thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people.

COOPER: Governor Kasich, I mean, the fact that the Senate bill is being crafted in secret by a small group of Republican senators, it's unclear at this point what exactly is in it. As a Republican, is that lack of transparency acceptable to you?

KASICH: Well, no. What do you think? I'm going to say yes Anderson. Of course, it's not. I mean, they've got to let people know what they're doing. This is like a sixth of the United States' economy. And they've got to have an analysis of this bill and know how many people it affects and how much it's going to cost.

But, look, I was there when we went through a government shutdown. And then the Clinton administration and the Republicans and the majority on the Hill got together, found common ground, some basic principles and we sat down and negotiated the first balanced budget since man had walked on the moon. And it provided surpluses and we had strong economic growth.

There is no reason - in fact, there's every reason in the world for people like John Hickenlooper and some of the other governors that signed on with the Republican governors to be able to be an example to the Congress.

I mean, reach out to the Senate Democrats. I mean, work this thing together because, if you don't, frankly, Anderson, it's not sustainable and the next administration is going to overturn this. And we never get to the fundamental issue of what's driving increasing healthcare costs, which we also have to do on a bipartisan basis.

So, of course, do it in the open, reach across the aisle. That's what I hope the message that's being sent. And we have practical solutions. We're not saying you can't do anything. We're saying there are some things we agree upon that must be done to make sure that people can have health coverage.

COOPER: Governor Hickenlooper, there's been a lot of talk about bipartisanship and unity on the heels of what happened last week. How much would this healthcare bill benefit from actual cooperation? How much would that change the equation?

HICKENLOOPER: I've never had a good idea in my life that the moment I start talking about it with staff or people around me, it didn't get suddenly better. And to think that a small number of one party are going to come up with the right solutions is kind of crazy.

Governor Kasich was talking to me a couple of weeks ago and we kind joked about - if you went through the whole list of issues, there's probably only 5 percent that we really disagree on. We could find compromises on almost everything.

I think not only should the Republican senators reach out to the Democratic senators, but I would volunteer - there are a bunch of governors who actually have to implement what they come up with, who could give some substantive and meaningful suggestions on how to control costs and how not to have to roll back coverage.

COOPER: Governor Kasich, before we go, I just want to extend our condolences to Otto Warmbier's family. He was from your state, obviously. And I know you fought hard to bring him home.

It's got to be a very difficult time for you and, obviously, for many people in the state.

[21:45:01] KASICH: Well, I mean, for the family. I talked to the family when he was first held there. And what an ordeal to have your loved one being held in North Korea and then you get the word that their health has been basically destroyed and you finally get him home and then you lose him.

This is - we have to all keep the family in mind and pray for them because this has got to be so extremely difficult and really kind of underscores what that regime is about over there.

But it's not about that tonight. Tonight, it's about them losing a very young son who was full of promise.

COOPER: Yes. That's just so sickening. Governor Kasich, I appreciate your time. Governor John Hickenlooper, thank you so much.

And coming up next, tomorrow, election day in the most expensive House race ever. You're not going to believe how much this race has cost. The Georgia 6th congressional district.

The Democrats and Republicans, each one approves its narrative about the Trump presidency. The question is, will the home turf of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich actually turn blue? Our Gary Tuchman spoke with voters there about the race. That's next.

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COOPER: We're just hours away from the special election for Georgia's 6th congressional district. It's been seen as a bellwether of President Trump's power in the mid-terms or lack thereof.

[21:50:06] Both parties have poured huge amounts of money into the race, making it the most expensive House contest ever. It also happens to be the district formerly represented by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

So, how could this GOP stronghold actually be up for grabs. Here is what Gary Tuchman found out.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to one of the most Republican of block in one of the most Republican of neighborhoods in this Republican-dominated district in Georgia. So Republican that for years, this guy lived on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Probably not. But I'd go over and say Merry Christmas.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Newt Gingrich's ex-wife still lives in the same house in Cobb County, Georgia.

But despite the Republican pedigree on the street, this now looks like a hot spot in the race between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Gary Sanchez has lived her for 34 years, right next door to the Gingrich house.

TUCHMAN: Did you vote for Newt Gingrich over the years?

GARY SANCHEZ, NEWT GINGRICH'S NEIGHBOR: Yes.

TUCHMAN: And this year, voting for the Republican or the Democrat for the seat?

SANCHEZ: I am voting for the Democrat.

TUCHMAN: Sanchez, who says he is an independent, proclaims one of the reasons he is voting for Democrat Ossoff and not Republican Handel has to do with Donald Trump.

SANCHEZ: You hear the president, let's drain the swamp. But here we are in the 6th congressional district, right? Thirty-eight years of the same style, the same approach, the same thing.

TUCHMAN: It has been nearly four decades since a Democrat has held a congressional seat in this district, which is troubling others on the street too.

GLENN SCHMUDDE, GEORGIA 6TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT VOTER: It's time for a change.

TUCHMAN: Glenn Schmudde says it's kind of cool to live on the street where Newt Gingrich used to live. But he and his wife, Susan, are Democrats. And have the only political yard sign on the block and it's for Jon Ossoff. They say this vote is a referendum on the performance of Donald Trump.

SCHMUDDE: I can't remember any president going back from Ronald Reagan or even earlier who has been as crude and coarse to other people. I can't imagine Ronald Reagan talk in the way that Donald Trump talks.

LINDA PETKUS, GEORGIA 6TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT VOTER: I am going to vote for Karen Handel.

TUCHMAN: But the street will still deliver votes to the Republicans. Linda Petkus has lived here for over three decades.

PETKUS: My vote is really more of a negative vote against the Democratic Party.

TUCHMAN: Among residents we talked to on and off camera in this quiet street, a clear Republican-Democratic split. Which also plays out within one of the homes.

ZOEY KING, GEORGIA 6TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT VOTER: I am a registered Democrat.

BRUCE KING, GEORGIA 6TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT VOTER: And I, a Republican.

TUCHMAN: So, you're still able to stay married?

KING: Forty years. KING: Most of the time.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCHMAN: Zoey King says she will vote for Ossoff, Bruce King for Handel.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Most congressional candidates are aware that polls indicate the race is very close. Which also appears to be the case among voters here. On New Gingrich's old street.

And even the former neighbor himself sees the race as nip and tuck.

GINGRICH: I think that the - it's probably even money who wins Georgia.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Cobb County, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining me now, CNN political director David Chalian and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

David, I know you make the point that it's hard to overstate just how important this race is.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I think the stakes are pretty huge for both parties here, Anderson.

Let's look on the Republican side. If Handel was able to pull out a victory on what is Republican turf, that could go a long way to calming some pretty big concerns out there that Trump may be a drag on the ticket for all Republicans in 2018 for the mid-terms.

However, if she loses, the exact opposite will happen. It will be - that concern will go to a near panic. And I think you'll start seeing a lot of Republicans in competitive districts start dealing with that very difficult straddle of wanting to distance from Trump, but not do anything to dampen enthusiasm among the Republican base. That becomes a very tricky proposition for Republicans.

COOPER: Gloria, both sides - I mean, they each have their reasons to be expecting a win here.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, this has been a solidly Republican district since the 70s.

Tom Price, who left his seat to become HHS secretary, won with 62 percent of the vote. So, Republicans should win this. This is a Republican seat.

But it is also exactly the kind of seat that Democrats believe they can capture in 2018 because you have a large minority population, an upscale college-educated population. Those are the kinds of people that they believe that they can bring into the Democratic tent.

COOPER: David, as Gloria just mentioned, it is interesting that the district is even up for grabs.

CHALIAN: Yes. And as Gloria said, and I really think this is hugely important, it's not just the kind of place that Democrats could capture. They will need to capture these kinds of places if indeed they're going to win the majority of the house back in 2018.

The college-educated white suburbanites are exactly the kind of Republicans that have been proving elusive to Donald Trump. And so, if they are up for grabs, if you will, to the Democrats, well, then it's not just the 23 districts Hillary Clinton won that have a Republican Congress person sitting in it right now, the universe of targets for Democrats expands dramatically to look at some of these Republican districts with those kinds of voters.

[21:55:13] COOPER: Just the cost alone, Gloria, I mean, it's insane. It's the most expensive House race in the history. More than $50 million is going to be spent when all is said and done.

BORGER: It is insane. You're absolutely right. And don't forget, this election hasn't gone on for that long.

And there are some groups that are studying where the money is coming from, Anderson. And one group says that, for every penny of local money, there is $10 worth of outside money that is coming into this district.

So, you know that the state - the campaign committees on both sides are pouring money in here, that the Democrats are raising money out of state to pour it in here precisely because, as David said at the outset, the stakes in this race could not be higher for both parties.

COOPER: And, David, you had the president of the United States tweeting again about this race today. It shows those stakes are high.

CHALIAN: He did. He's sort of lending his name to Karen Handel, saying get out there and vote for Karen Handel. He misspelled her name initially, but then fixed that.

But I think that it is the other portion of the tweet there that's really interesting, which is he hits John Ossoff, the Democrat, for living outside the district. This has been one of the talking points for Republicans and Trump needled him on it on Twitter today.

COOPER: Yes. David Chalian, Gloria Borger, thanks.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll be right back.

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