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President Trump Lawyers to Meet with Special Counsel As Early As Next Week; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes; President Trump on a Flynn Pardon: "We'll See"; GOP Tax Bill Doubles Standard Deduction for Individuals; Final GOP Tax Bill Released: Corker & Rubio to Vote "Yes;" President Trump Judicial Pick Fails Legal Quiz; The Legacy of Omarosa Manigault Newman. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:09] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with keeping them honest, with the president for the first time leaving open the possibility of open pardoning the first person inside his administration to be charged in a special counsel's Russia investigation, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as you know, pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI, about conversation with Russia's ambassador. He's now cooperating with Robert Mueller's investigation.

Today on the White House south lawn, the president was asked whether he would consider pardoning Flynn. Here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to talk about pardons with Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens. Let's see.


COOPER: We'll see, let's see, is among the president's favorite phrase. A vague cliffhanger he's used to talk about the fate of everything from the Paris climate accord to war with North Korea. We'll see could suggest there is consideration being given to pardoning Michael Flynn. We'll see could be a message to Flynn that no matter what Mueller threatens him with, he can still be bailed out.

It's the first time the president has opened the door to the possibility of pardon, which, of course, set off a lot of alarm bells. Attempting to tamp the whole thing down, the White House attorney Ty Cobb said this in a statement a bit later after the president's remarks.

Quote: There is no consideration being given to pardoning Michael Flynn at the White House.

Now, that's what we call a walk-back, and it's in keeping what Sarah Sanders said about whether a Flynn pardon was on the table ten days ago.


REPORTER: Would he consider pardoning him?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware that has come up, or any process or decision on that front.

REPORTER: So you haven't talked to him about it?

SANDERS: No, I haven't asked the president whether or not he would do that. I think before we start discussing the pardons for individuals, we should see, you know, what happens in specific cases.


SANDERS: No, I just said I haven't had the conversation with him, because I don't feel it's necessary until, you know, you get further down the road and determine whether or not that's even something needed.


COOPER: As I said, that's pretty close to Ty Cobb's statement that that isn't something that is being considered.

Now, either the president is saying something that's not true, or it's true, and he hasn't told some of his closest advisers about it. Or maybe those advisers know it's being considered by him and they're not telling the truth in their statements. None of those are great options, at least if you're one of those people interested in getting the facts.

But, frankly, the mixed messaging on things like this from the White House is not anything new.

Let's go back to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Here's what the president said in April.


INTERVIEWER: Is it too late to ask him to step down?

TRUMP: No, it's not too late. I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.


COOPER: We'll see what happens.

Less than a month later, on May 9th, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer had this exchange in the press briefing.


REPORTER: Does the president still have confidence, full confidence in FBI Director James Comey? SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no reason to

believe -- I haven't asked him -- so I don't -- I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.

REPORTER: The last time you spoke about it, you said he did have confidence, but you're not sure to say that again now?

SPICER: Well, I don't -- in light of what you're telling me, I don't want to start speaking on behalf of the president without speaking to him first.


COOPER: Well, now, that was a good call because Comey was fired hours after that press briefing.

Steve Bannon also got a "we'll see" from the president. In August, the president was asked if he still had confidence in Bannon.


TRUMP: We'll see. Look, look, I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came in very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that.

And I like him, he's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.


COOPER: We'll see what happens. Bannon, by the way, was out three days later, but his fingerprints, of course, remain. And he figures into the president's remarks today in other ways as well. A super PAC aligned with him, a group called Great America Alliance, has been running an ad in local cable markets calling for members of Robert Mueller's team to be fired.

The ad features a Fox News commentator. And it fits right in with a campaign Fox News has been to try to discredit the Mueller investigation, a campaign that the president is, of course, fully on board with.

Here's a longer version of what the president said about Flynn today.


TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens. Let's see. I can say this, when you look at what's going on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.


COOPER: One can assume that the very, very angry people the people are talking about are himself, Sean Hannity and other Fox News anchors who have been on a campaign against the Mueller investigation, which is fine, the president can watch whatever TV programs he wants.

But he probably should also be getting intelligence briefings about Russia's interference in the election, or perhaps holding a cabinet meeting or two about that interference.

The recent reporting, "The Washington Post" says that doesn't happen, because if someone tries to talk about that particular attack on American democracy, it upsets the president and takes the briefing off the rails. So, just think about that for a moment. The daily briefings are structured to avoid upsetting a president who deems anything that he doesn't like fake news, and anything Russia related an effort to delegitimize him.

[20:05:06] Nothing, it seems, can break his feedback loop of Fox News talking points. Certainly not intelligence he refuses to hear. In fact, he refuses to accept.

As to what's going on at the FBI, that's supposedly making people very angry, one dose of gasoline on that outrage fire was when reports came out that two FBI officials texted each other about their personal opinions about then-candidate Trump. One was an FBI agent, a top Russia expert at the bureau, who worked briefly on Mueller's team. He was taken off the team after Mueller learned about the text messages sent before the Russia investigation.

But current and former officials tell CNN, this FBI agent's role in that investigation, it doesn't fit the way Republicans and Fox News are trying to paint it. In fact, officials say this FBI agent was among those who didn't see Michael Flynn's answers to the FBI about his conversations as purposely false, the whole issue that led to the guilty plea and Flynn's cooperation and where we are today.

As to the text messages that the FBI agent and a lawyer of the FBI texted back and forth, a lot of trashing not only then candidate Trump, but also Senator Bernie Sanders, Chelsea Clinton, House Speaker Paul Ryan. Again, not fitting the narrative.

Last night on this program, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said delving into the personal political views of FBI agents is a meaningless exercise.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We don't look into that. That is not part of our legal system, and here you have a situation where, you know, if the standard is what offends Sean Hannity, there's nothing that's going to satisfy him. And that's why we don't investigate the political views of the people who are enforcing the law.


COOPER: Now, as you know, Mueller's investigation isn't the only one looking into Russia's attack on American democracy and the electoral process, an attack U.S. intelligence agencies agree happen. As the president continues his attempt to undermine any and all Russia

investigations, a warning came this afternoon from House Intelligence Committee member, Representative Adam Schiff. He says he's increasingly worried that Republicans will shut down the House Intel Committee investigation, refusing to contact outstanding witnesses and sitting on document requests.

He tweeted this, quote: Beyond our investigation, here's what has me really concerned. The attacks on Mueller, DOJ and FBI this week make it clear they plan to go after Mueller's investigation aggressively and soon. By shutting down the congressional investigations when they continue to discover new and important evidence, the White House can exert tremendous pressure to end or curtail Mueller's investigation or cast doubt on it. We cannot let that happen.

Now, the question that comes more clearly into focus every day that the president ignores intelligence and lashes out at facts is a simple one: does Russia's unprecedented attack on the American electoral process matter, and does it matter that they'll try to do it again?

To borrow a phrase from the president, we'll see.

We've got breaking news tonight about what's next for the Mueller investigation.

Our Pamela Brown joins us now with that.

Pamela, what did you learn?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, sources are telling us that the president's lawyers are planning to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, and we're told this could happen as soon as next week. This is viewed as a key meeting for what the president's lawyers hope will be a chance to find out the next steps in the Mueller investigation.

The Trump legal team led by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow is hoping that they can see signs that the end is near in Mueller's investigation. They've had other meetings, but here's one that is viewed as significant. The White House says everyone who works there, and who Mueller has asked to interview, has now gone in for that interview. One of the last happened earlier this week when White House counsel Don McGahn sat down for his interview.

The White House also finished turning over the documents requested by the special counsel. There's been no request, Anderson, to interview the president or vice president yet, but, of course, they know that Mueller could still come back, ask for more interviews, more documents.

And it's important to note here, Anderson, that there's no requirement for Mueller to give them any information, but they're hoping, hoping that he's going to show his cards. Of course, there's a chance that won't happen. The bottom line is the president and the Republicans -- they are getting impatient and want this cloud of the investigation lifted. COOPER: Is there a sense -- I mean, of how quickly the investigation

is moving?

BROWN: Well, the Mueller investigation is actually moving relatively quickly in comparison to typical white collar criminal investigations that often stretch years -- into years. You know, if you think about it, Anderson, he's only been on the job for seven months or so, and already, Mueller has brought charges against four people, including two who have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.

Now, other lawyers representing people involved in the case -- they don't see signs of this wrapping up soon. Sources tell us the questions being asked by investigators deal with the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the details of the White House handling of that 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump, Jr. set up with Russians offering dirt on Clinton, Hillary Clinton.

We know that some members of Mueller's team are assigned specifically on the issue of obstruction of justice. And we don't know what else Mueller is still digging into, Anderson.

[20:10:00] COOPER: All right. Pamela, thanks.

Just before air, I spoke with Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, a Democrat.


COOPER: Congressman, this new reporting from CNN that the president's private lawyers are slated to meet with the special counsel's team as soon as next week for what the president's team considers an opportunity to gain a clear understanding of the next steps. I'm wondering how significant do you think that maybe.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, it's really hard to say, Anderson. One of the positive attributes, of course, of the Mueller investigation has been that they -- there have not been leaks. He's done this investigation the way it should be done, without signaling a lot of where he is. I think it's fair to say the indictments he secured, the guilty pleas he secured in the last week or so, I should say month, were surprises to most of us.

So, it's a little hard to know what to make of this, but obviously it shows progress, and, you know, presumably we'll hear from the president's people after that meeting about what the -- what the topic was.

COOPER: Adam Schiff, Congressman Schiff, a ranking Democratic member of your committee, says he fears Republican members will try to shut down the committee's investigation into Russian interference at the end of this month. I'm wondering if you share that concern and why you think they'll try to do that.

HIMES: Yes, I really do, Anderson. Look, we have at least a two- track effort to make these investigations go away, to make them irrelevant, to make them marginal. And what I mean by that, of course, is Adam Schiff is right.

On Monday, we will have three different depositions, three witnesses come in. We're a small committee. There's no way we can cover three different depositions in one day effectively.

We've had witnesses come in before we have gotten a chance to hook at the documents that they submitted. We've had requests for witnesses that have not moved. And so, there is a very real risk that I think Adam Schiff shared with you, that this gets shut down early.

On the flipside, I don't need to tell you about the truly awful effort that is being conducted by the president himself and his allies like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, to throw mud on the storied American institution, the FBI, all in the service of creating some question about whether Robert Mueller is capable of producing an impartial report. It is a profoundly damaging thing, not just today, but to the confidence that Americans should have in their presidency and in their government.

COOPER: Is that something you think is being orchestrated by the White House?

HIMES: Well, you know, is it being orchestrated in the sense that there's, you know, direct lines from the Oval Office to Fox News? I don't think so.

But I did hear the president say that this investigation, he hates it and wants it to go away. If I recall correctly, he sort of said, do something. You know, when people hear that, they are doing something.

In the Congress, I think, there is effort, particularly on the House side, as we just discussed, to make this investigation go away well before it should, before we can credibly say we've talked to everybody. And look, we can see it on TV. The president said something, and I'm pretty fired up about it, Anderson. I provide oversight as a member of the Intelligence Committee, of the FBI. I'm never afraid of saying, hey, I think you overstepped here.

But that the president of the United States would call this an organization in tatters, that he would call it politicized, that he would throw mud on an institution that is comprised of some of the best young men and women in the country, whose lives are at risk every single day to protect us against criminals and terrorists, it's hard to say this about the president, but he's way, way beyond the pale in his criticism of the FBI and the DOJ.

I mean, just in terms of the investigation, what does Congress do about it? I mean, Democrats, obviously, are far outnumbered in the House. Would you look to the Senate to try to protect Mueller, keep the White House in check?

HIMES: Well, if -- you know, with respect to our own investigation, if the Republicans seek to end this by the end of the year, let's say, because that's sort of what it feels like, we're going to come out and tell the American people exactly the witnesses that we asked to see that we weren't able to interview. We'll tell them the documents that have not been received, so that the American people can see we have not finished our work.

And, by the way, you know, if Mueller comes out with new indictments, with new information, and the House is clueless on that stuff, how is that going to look?

With respect to the Mueller investigation, look, people need to understand that you don't have a democracy unless you have an impartial, de-politicized Department of Justice and FBI.

And, you know what? FBI agents having political opinions is not politicizing the FBI. There is nobody in the FBI or in the Marine Corps or in the Congress or in the Army or in the Air Force that doesn't have political opinions. And when these agents, when it was shown that they shared their political opinions with each other, Robert Mueller did exactly the right thing and took them off the case.

And so, the American people need to be prepared to respond to the firing of Mueller or to further attacks on the DOJ and the FBI. And the way you would respond to a hostile act against our democracy, because that's exactly what that would be.

COOPER: You heard the president heave the door open today to pardoning Michael Flynn. His legal team tried to walk that back pretty quickly, obviously, saying there's no such plan in the works. Do you think this president could resist using the pardoning power, whether it's on Flynn or anyone else close to him who gets tangled up in this?

[20:15:00] HIMES: Well, who knows? I don't -- I've long since given up trying to predict what this president will or won't do. He obviously pardoned Joe Arpaio. You know, who knows what he would do? What's -- and I have no idea what he had in his mind when he made that comment.

One thing I do know is that it looks like Michael Flynn is cooperating with Robert Mueller, and the president just injected sort of a get out -- a potential, I should say, a potential get out of jail free card to Michael Flynn. Stop talking, because whatever it is that Mueller does to you, whatever indictments are issued, whatever jeopardy you were in, I will fix that for you.

That is not either helpful to the investigation or, Anderson, you know, as parents, you get used to innocent behavior and guilty behavior. That is not the behavior of somebody who knows that they are innocent.

COOPER: Congressman Himes, appreciate it. Thank you.

HIMES: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Coming up, more on what the president said today about the possibility of pardoning Michael Flynn and his attacks on the investigation. We'll hear from John Dean and Michael Zeldin. Also ahead, the long awaited details of the Republican tax plan. We'll take a look at what's in it and the chances of it actually passing, coming up.


COOPER: The breaking news tonight: the president's private lawyers are scheduled to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team as soon as next week. Meanwhile, today, the president left open the possibility of pardoning his former national security adviser who's pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with the investigation.

Joining me now is former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor, John Dean, and CNN legal analyst and Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department, Michael Zeldin.

So, John, what do you think the president leaving the door open to pardoning Michael Flynn?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think he's suggesting big trouble if he's actually seriously thinking about it. Obviously, a president has unique powers. One of his almost uncontestable powers is his pardon power.

But I think also, if he did it in a way that obstructed justice, the Congress could certainly impeach him for it. And it would be very conspicuous if he interrupted this investigation at this point with a pardon.

COOPER: So, is he even -- John, do you think the idea of leaving the door open, is that potentially a message to Flynn or to Flynn's attorneys that, you know, look, you know, it doesn't matter what you say to Mueller or -- you don't have to cooperate because you can be pardoned?

[20:20:05] DEAN: Given the messages that have been sent out about Flynn, I think that's a clear reversal of where they've been, sort of distancing themself. He certainly did not reject that today and was sort of friendly feeling that something could happen along this line. So, yes, it's message.

COOPER: Michael, I was speaking earlier with Congressman Himes, a Democrat who sits on the Intelligence Committee. He raised the idea of whether this is President Trump trying to send that signal to Michael Flynn, as we were just talking about. Is there no need for Flynn to continue to cooperate with Mueller if the president decided to just, you know, pardon him?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, ROBERT MUELLER'S FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT AT DOJ: No, actually to the contrary. The fact that he would be pardoned and it would depend on what the scope of the pardon is, but let's see he was being pardoned just for his criminal plea of one count of lying to the FBI. He's still under an obligation to testify if he's subpoenaed to testify. And he's under an obligation to testify truthfully or he can be charged with perjury. So, a pardon of Flynn in this case does not foreclose Flynn from

testifying if Mueller calls him to testify. And Mueller presumably knows everything that Flynn already has proffered to him. And so, he knows as well that if he's going to lie, he's going to get charged with that lie.

And then the president is enviable position legally and politically of having to pardon him again for lies. So, I just don't see it as a viable strategy for the president.

COOPER: That's interesting. I mean, John, if you're Donald Trump, Jr. or Jared Kushner and you know that your father-in-law has the power to absolve you from any federal or legal exposure, doesn't that sort of loom over whatever you're telling or not telling investigators, or does it?

DEAN: Well, it could. Again, the president could be confronted with impeachment for misuse of the pardon power if he deliberately disrupted an investigation and tried to immunize these people and let them lie and what-have-you. It would be not only unseemly politically, but as I say, Congress would very easily declare it impeachable.

COOPER: Michael, when you see the president's allies in Congress, you know, right wing media attacking the integrity of the Mueller investigation, do you think they're trying to help lay the ground work for the president to try to fire Mueller?

ZELDIN: So I think that politically, it's impossible for the president to fire Mueller without implicating the types of abuse of office, impeachable offense that John has been speaking about.

But I do think what they're trying to do with Mueller and perhaps even with the FBI generally, and maybe even the Justice Department generally, is to damage their credibility. So, that if there are indictments or if there's a report that is sent forward to the Justice Department and on to the Hill that says that the president has abused his office, they'll have laid the ground work for discrediting that.

I just -- I've written about this, and I think about it a lot. I just think that the firing of Mueller is so tragically terrible for the president legally and politically, that it's impossible for me to believe that wise counsel that are in the White House would allow that to happen. But as John and Congressman Himes said, it's very hard to predict what is going to happen in this White House.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, John, your perspective is obviously unique. The Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, wanted to talk to you, but before he could, President Nixon had fired him in the so- called Saturday Night Massacre.

How bad would it be if Trump did try -- if the president did try to get rid of Mueller?

DEAN: Well, I was in a similar situation that Flynn is in. I actually had pled and talked to the prosecutors. They knew my testimony well, because I testified on Capitol Hill for five days, for eight-hour days. So they knew what I would testify about.

And I pled knowing there was a high likelihood that he would be removed. I calculated that Nixon could not get away with it. I think the same thing is true here. I don't think that he can make a special prosecutor disappear. If he gets rid of Mueller, someone else is going to step in. It's just not going to go away, Anderson.

COOPER: Interesting.

ZELDIN: In your case, John, after they fired Cox, you got Jaworski and everything went forward. It's not as if these cases end when a particular named individual, Mueller or Cox or whomever, is fired. The cases go on, and perhaps with some renewed vigor, because they now have the additional mandate of determining whether there was abuse of power, impeachable offense, or further evidence of obstruction of justice.

It's just not sensible.

COOPER: John Dean, Michael Zeldin, thanks very much. Interesting.

Coming up, more breaking news. Republicans revealing their final tax bill and how it could impact you. Also obviously, the question is, do they have the votes? Details from Capitol Hill, next.


[20:28:02] COOPER: Breaking news from Capitol Hill. Republicans have released the final version of their tax plan. They have locked in two key yes votes, but the question is, is it enough to get the bills for the president's desk by Christmas?

Phil Mattingly has looked over the deal, joins us now with the latest details.

Let's talk about what is in this bill, first of all.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, Anderson, it's a $1.5 trillion proposal. It's 503 pages. It will impact every pretty much stage of American life, business or individual. So, it's extremely important to state the obvious here.

But let's start on the individual taxes, because it's obviously very important for a lot of people. Republicans pledged that they would, A, simplify things and, B, cut rates across the board.

On A, not quite. In the current law, there's seven rates. In the new law, if it gets signed into law, there are also seven.

I want to go through 'em real quick. As it stands currently, lowest rates at 10 percent. That will stay the same, also 10 percent. As it stands currently, 15 percent is the next rate. The proposal brings that to 12 percent.

I just want to roll down through the rates right now. The Republican rates are also 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent, and the one we've been paying a lot of attention to, 37 percent. Now, that's down from the current law of 39.6 percent.

A lot of Democrats have attacked that. Why are you giving the highest earnings a tax cut? The Republican trying to defend that from the rationale, that helps for people who get the state and local tax deduction. It helps for people who have pass-through businesses that they pay through the individual side.

There are also a lot of other elements here that are extremely important. Take a look at the corporate tax cut, going from 35 percent down to 21 percent. There's no question, Anderson, in this plan, it is tilted towards the corporate side. That is by design. Republicans believe that will boost wages, that will help boost growth. It's a gamble that they're making, that their economic theory will pay off and they believe that it actually will.

Now, go down some of the other key items here. The Obamacare individual mandate, a key component of the Affordable Care Act, that will be repealed under this bill. The standard deduction, that is doubled under this bill, something that will help on the individual side as well.

There are a series of key proposals here that Republicans have seized on, trying to sell the bill. And then a lot of the things Democrats have attacked. Take for instance the estate tax, while that won't be repealed, as a lot of Republicans wanted, the exemption for will be doubled in all, Anderson, right now as we continue to kind of plow through the pages of this bill.

One thing is very clear. Republicans feel like this will do something that Democrats absolutely do not, but at this point in time, Republicans feel like passing this will be the win that they need, Anderson.

COOPER Do they feel like they have the votes?

MATTINGLY: Look, it's been the big open question for weeks. Just take 24 hours ago, Republican leaders were scrambling. What a difference one day makes. They feel like they are in a very good place right now.

Senator Marco Rubio, coming around today, saying he's a yes. Speaking by phone with President Trump, according to a White House official, as he got to that place, his change, the child tax credit is in this bill, increased from $1,000 and current law up to $2,000.

But Senator Rubio wanted the refund the ability piece, basically the amount of money people would get after their income tax liability boosted. And it -- that did occur, from $1100 up to $1400. Senator Mike Lee was working with Senator Rubio on that. While he hasn't said he's a yes vote yet, he said he's very pleased by that.

I would also point out, Anderson, Senator Susan Collins voted yes the first time around. It looks like she's on her way to that this time around, putting out a statement, lotting this Senate bill. And the kind of the big surprise here. Senator Bob Corker, he was a no the first time around because of concerns about the deficit. Anderson, this conference report, this compromise, doesn't do anything to address that he had the concerns that he had the first time around, he flipped to yes today. This gives Republican leaders a lot of cushion as they go into next week. And keep in mind there are still two ill senators right now, Senator Thad Cochran and Senator John McCain. There are a lot of questions about whether or not they're going to be back.

Anderson, Republican leaders, when you talk to them right now and you talk to their top advisers, they say, we want them to get better. Right now we feel we have the votes to do this on our own.

COOPER: Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. A lot of details.

Up next, President Trump says he hires the best people, and Kennedy often said that for some senators Republicans on a less or unquiet so sure when it comes to some folks he's nominated for federal judgeships.


JOHN KENNEDY (R), SENATOR, LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.



[20:36:26] COOPER: President Trump's efforts to remake the federal courts are off to a quick start. The Senate has confirmed 12 appeals court judges, in the President's first year, that's a modern record.

Some of these nominees have come under fire for extreme lack of experience or basic legal knowledge. Just the latest example is Matthew Petersen is currently a Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. Here is part of a pretty jaw-dropping exchange with the Republican Senator John Kennedy from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination. You got to look at this.


KENNEDY: Have you ever tried a jury trial?

PETERSEN: I have not.



KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever taken a deposition?

PETERSEN: I was involved in taking depositions when I was an associate at Wiley Rein when I first came out of law school. But that was --

KENNEDY: How many depositions?

PETERSEN: I'd be struggling to remember.

KENNEDY: Less than 10?


KENNEDY: Less than five?

PETERSEN: Probably somewhere in that range.

KENNEDY: Have you ever tried taken a deposition by yourself?

PETERSEN: I believe no.

KENNEDY: OK. Have you ever argued a motion in state court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?


KENNEDY: When's the last time you read the Rules of Civil Procedure?

PETERSEN: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? I -- in my current position, I obviously don't need to stay as invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed.

KENNEDY: If I could ask you -- I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we're only given five minutes for five of you. So, when's the last time you read the Federal Rules of Evidence?

PETERSEN: The Federal Rules of Evidence, all that way through would -- well, comprehensively would have been in law school.

KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table.

KENNEDY: OK. Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?

PETERSEN: I've heard of it, but I, again --

KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine?

PETERSEN: I heard --

KENNEDY: You all see that a lot in federal court.


COOPER: If confirmed Matthew Petersen would be a Federal Judge on the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C. for a life term. Potentially decades after President Trump is out of office he would still be on the bench.

Joining me now to discuss it is Walter Shaub former Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, and CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a former Federal Prosecutor.

So, Walter, these were incredibly basic questions for this nominee. How does somebody like this get this far?

WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE U.S. OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Well, this is a testament to the poor vetting process at the White House. I saw much of the same thing when I was processing their non- judicial nominees for the executive branch.

But truth is, these are just really basic questions. And I think just about every attorney in America had their jaw drop to the floor when we saw this video.

COOPER: Jeff, I mean, I want to remind people, this gentleman is nominated for a lifetime appointment. I'm wondering what your reaction was to his testimony?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think you have to keep in mind what the Trump administration wants to do with the Federal Courts. They believe this is a very important area to move in a conservative direction. Judicial appointments have been a priority for the Republicans. I mean, remember, Mitch McConnell shut down judicial nominations virtually during 2016. So President Obama couldn't fill Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court seat with Merrick Garland, and the Republicans have nominated people whose qualifications that are often very good, but always very, very conservative, like Mr. Petersen. And that's really the priority here. It's idealogy over competence, at least in this case.

[20:40:36] COOPER: But Jeff, I mean, in terms of his knowledge base, were you shocked?

TOOBIN: Yes, I mean, you know --

COOPER: Or lack of knowledge.

TOOBIN: Lawyers can be obnoxious, but I mean, to know that the Daubert rule is about expert witnesses and motions in limine are about restricting evidence in a trial. I mean, that stuff that I think you really only have to watch "law and order," you know, that's right, you can know that the little sound it makes. But no, I mean, it's real. It was deeply bizarre.

And Kennedy, you could tell, was appalled. Because, you know, if he had a questionnaire there from Petersen, which answered all those questions about have you ever tried a case? So he knew the answers to those questions, and he was intentionally trying to embarrass Petersen, because Kennedy, who is a very serious person, was so appalled that such an unqualified nominee was put up by the President.

COOPER: I mean, Walter, it's also important to point out, you know, this is the President who ran as a candidate on he picks the best people. You know, he knows -- he is always is surrounded by the best people. It's hard to imagine that this guy is, you know, the best candidate.

SHAUB: Well, this was him on his best day, because he hasn't been practicing in this area. He knew he had a Senate confirmation hearing coming up. And if you were going to study three things, you would study civil procedure, criminal procedure, and the rules of evidence. And the man didn't even do the most basic homework.

So we're looking at him on his best day when he had advanced time to practice for the test. Imagine what his courtroom would be like if he had to make decisions on the fly in the rough and tumble world of litigation.

COOPER: Also, Jeffrey, I mean, he didn't just say no, I don't. I mean, he sort of went into these painful explanations like, I mean, reminding me of just somebody in a class who was trying to figure out a way to not look like a complete, I don't know what the word would be, I'm trying to be polite.

SHAUB: Not an "A" student.

TOOBIN: Yes, well, I mean, look, it was excruciating to watch. Because Petersen knew how badly he was doing under that questioning. But really, you have to ask who thought he would be a federal judge. You know, he was a Republican political appointee to the Federal Election Commission. He's a friend of Don McGahn, the White House Counsel. And it is certainly true that historically being a friend of a senator is a very good way to become a federal judge.

But, you know, it is also true that federal judges -- and this is just my own opinion -- Republicans and Democrats alike, are one of the glories of our federal government. These people, by and large, are terrific. And to see someone so unqualified nominated is painful. And it really has the potential to embarrass and disgrace really one of the best parts of our government in a bipartisan way.

COOPER: Yes. Jeffrey, Walter, thank you.

SHAUB: Thanks.

COOPER: All right, coming up, controversial Senior Staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman is out at the White House. As you know, she resigned from her job of improving African-American outreach while she was there. The question is, did she actually help or hurt the effort.

Our Randi Kaye digs in next.


[20:47:55] COOPER: Omarosa Manigault-Newman, former reality show contestant and best selling author of "The Bitch Switch" -- just kidding wasn't actually best seller, but it was a book she wrote -- stepping up her post White House press tour since her drama full departure as the top ranking African-American staffer in the West Wing. The latest in appearance on "Nightline" yesterday where she said this.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR THE WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF PUBLIC LIAISON: Donald Trump is racial, he is not a racist. Yes, I will acknowledge many of the exchanges, particularly in the last six months, have been racially charged. Do we then just stop and label him as a racist? No.


COOPER: Well, her discussion of race is hitting a nerve among many in the African-American community, where some people say she did not represent people very well.

CNN's Randi Kaye tonight has more.


RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the White House, Omarosa Manigault-Newman's job was to reach out to African Americans. Improve relations, and get their support for the President's agenda. But if you listen to the reaction of her work and her, you might think she did more farm than good.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": She's really a pariah in the African-American community. She's always would have been the villain, and her job as a director of outreach in the African-American community was almost a slap in the face to the African-American community.

KAYE (voice-over): On co-host Whoopi Goldberg piled on.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": I hope that you find your people, because maybe they're looking for you. He's just been so nasty to so many women, and so many women of color.


GOLDBERG: You know, so many women of color.

KAYE (voice-over): Women like radio and talk show host Wendy Williams.

NEWMAN: Did you have a nose job?


NEWMAN: It looks like you had a nose job.



No, I mean, I just looked at it before and that's funny straight forward and after, before and after --

WILLIAMS: But, it's like and suggest is the only thing I had done to my face is a little Botox. I would suggest to you some (INAUDIBLE).


WILLIAMS: And I would suggest a wig that doesn't sit off my head three inches that was --

KAYE (voice-over): After she took the White House job, Spike Lee had an especially strong reaction, slamming her on Instagram, posting this picture of her wearing a clown nose. And despite all her claim, she supported President Trump only to help the black community.

[20:50:13] NEWMAN: I will never forget the people who turned their backs on me when all I was trying to do was help the black community. It's been so incredibly hard.

KAYE (on camera): Omarosa Manigault Newman was also known for hostile exchanges with the community, including one at a gathering for the National Association of black journalists earlier this year.

NEWMAN: Ask your question, but don't lecture me.

KAYE (voice-over): Asked for her assertion that she saw things in the White House that made her upset.

NEWMAN: I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people. And what I -- KAYE (voice-over): At least one late night, critic simply had enough.

TREVOR NOAH, DAILY SHOW HOST: Oh. When she says "her people," does she mean reality-show stars? Because she was not fighting for black people in the White House. My people. Slow down, Omarosa Parks. Slow down. You can't roll hard with President Trump for a year and then come back to the neighborhood like, hey, that was really weird, right? Anyone else notice that? Was just me, anyone? Oh, and if you're wondering whether black people were buying it, just ask Robin Roberts.


KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Joining me now is Paris Dennard, the former White House Director of Black Outreach for President George W. Bush, also Angela Rye, former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Angela, this role that Omarosa Newman has had, I mean, I've heard some people say and we had people on last night talking bout this, they were talking about among others in the entire (INAUDIBLE) that they consider a slap in the face in some ways to the African-American community that she would serve in some type of outreach role and that in some ways she may have kept people out of the White House or made it more difficult for outreach. How do you see it?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think that she's ill- equipped regardless of who's the administration it is to serve in any outreach capacity. You saw her reaching out to at least figure of this, Wendy Williams, in the face in that last clip. So this is someone who has -- who exercises the strategy of burning bridges that she has to cross later, much like the President and whose administration she served.

So, it's no surprise here. I think really the issue for me at this point is, yes, and I'm kind of over this, like I don't know why Omarosa is getting this much attention at this point, like we know the truth now and that we know she's not going to tell, you know, any type of honest or giving any type of honest reflection about her time in the administration. So I don't even understand why we continue to spend time on this.

The reality of this is, whether it's Omarosa or it's Bruce (ph) (INAUDIBLE) sometimes or it's Paris, or it's Pastor Burns with the great context, so whomever, any black person serving in the Trump administration to reach out to black people, to Latino people, to gay people, to any community that has been marginalized in any way by President -- by Donald Trump's politics is going to have a tremendous issue. It is not just the person in the job it is also the person sitting in the office as commander-in-chief.

COOPER: Paris, I'm wondering how you see it and did her sitting in the job make outreach more difficult? PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that, number one, Omarosa's job was not the Director of Black Outreach. Unfortunately, what she decided to do was take on that role because she felt she was the assistant to the President in the highest ranking African-American official in the White House. But that was not what she was hired to do. She decided not to have someone else come in that role like I had and many others had during the eight years of the Bush administration as well as the eight years of the Obama administration, and actually do sustained strategic outreach to the African-American community on both sides of the aisle.

Point two is that we all know that Omarosa was and is a reality T.V. star. If you watch "The Apprentice," if you watch her performances, you saw the type of person and personality that she was. There are many people who are coming out now stating she was abusive to staff, she was disrespectful to staff, she was verbally berating people, her colleagues. And there are many people coming out now saying, listen, we were blocked from getting access to the White House because we wanted to be a part of the President's agenda, we wanted to have a seat at the table, we wanted to do good things for the community as black Republicans, and Omarosa was not a Republican. She said she was a Trump Republican, and she said at one point that she might have changed her registration, but she spent the majority of her life as a Democrat.

And so, yes, people like me who were not in the administration and not in the administration before, had a seat at the table because of other people in the West Wing and people in the White House who gave me this opportunity when I went in there during the Black History Month date, the very first thing. I talked about HBCUs and raised that issue because in the survey, that causes university is something that's important to me and the (INAUDIBLE) which I worked for.

[20:55:15] And so, that was brought to the table and that was why I was there. But I was also surprised to see the lack of actual black Republicans who have long been in the trenches, long been fighting for our people, but just on the Republican side of the aisle. What I don't want people to understand is or to see is that Omarosa was black Republican. Omarosa is the only person that can do and that was concerned about the community. There are many people out there, myself included, who are on the Republican side who wanted to have access and who want to use this opportunity now to do more for our community from the Republican standpoint.

COOPER: Angela, it is difficult, I mean to kind of -- for me to imagine anybody who has worked in the White House who has this extraordinary opportunity to serve the American people, this incredible opportunity, and the day after leaving goes on television essentially pitching a book in which you're sort of hinting that you're going to have some big revelations about things you were concerned about while you were in your past job. I mean, what would anybody else hire you if that is the kind of person you are?

RYE: Well, and Anderson, and I think that we all know to Paris' this last immediate point, she's a reality T.V. star who operated in this same vein on the reality shows in which she was a part of. So we shouldn't be surprised by this behavior.

Again, I say that birds of same feather flock together. She acts very much like the commander-in-chief. I don't know that she's worried about getting her next job. I think she's worried about, to your point you said it now a few times since yesterday, perhaps getting a book deal, maybe she wants to be a CNN Contributor, Anderson, I don't know. I don't know if there's space for her here given that that she said disparaging things about Don Lemon, right? Like, she has represented herself to be a terrible human being. Like forget about black outreach, forget about direct and communication. I'm just --

COOPER: Just usually, you would want a contributor who has a certain knowledge base. I'm not sure what her knowledge based would be.

RYE: You know, we don't even -- what her job description is, Anderson, we have no idea what she did. I think she's struggling to figure out what she did. But the bottom line is, the Republicans have just been pushing for this tax reform bill. I think Omarosa would be at football game on Sunday. Like this is the time where she should have been -- and the rubber should have been meeting the road in communities all over the country to talk about whatever this tax reform bill is supposed to be to them. I think it's trash, but she should have been selling that bill. So, that's where we are.

COOPER: Yes. Angela Rye, Paris Dennard, appreciate it. Coming up, the GOP reveals the final tax bill. The details impact nearly every American. The question now, will it pass and what's in it? The latest from Capitol Hill.