The POTUS’ ongoing obstruction

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the most significant thing that we have seen is the attempt by the President of the United States and those around him to impede and obstruct the investigation. Instead of saying, “Hey, here’s everything we know. Here are all our logs. Here is everything that we know. Here is where the President of the United States who said to my campaign officials and to my family, go down there, tell those committees everything that you know.” That’s not what has happened.

Trump keeps saying that people are trying to delegitimize his presidency through these investigations. He is the legitimate President of the United States and the only thing — and certified by the Electoral College and nothing is going to change that. The only thing that is delegitimizing his presidency are his actions in trying to inhibit and impede these investigations, because he is calling into question for Republicans and Democrats alike why not open up and show us what is truthful here.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Yeah. I mean, this idea, though, this notion that Trump is allowed to sort of become president and be president on training wheels, that somehow it’s OK that all this madness is going on and that Carter Page is running around the world and Manafort did this but we fired him, it’s just wrong. He is President of the United States. And the most I can say right now is that where there is smoke, there is smoke.

COOPER: There’s a breaking news tonight on Capitol Hill where Vice- President Mike Pence is meeting right now with key Republican law makers about finding way to pass a new GOP health care bill.

Last night, the vice-president presented a new proposal to House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservatives who wouldn’t back the bill the last time. Jeff Zeleny joins us now with the latest. So, how serious is the White House about a new health care plan? President Trump didn’t address it today, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, that’s a good sense. I mean, the president talked at a couple public speeches today. The words health care did not come out of his mouth, so we hear from the White House that the president is intent on reviving this. And the vice-president as you said is up on Capitol Hill as we speak. He was there last night as well.

ZELENY: You don’t get the sense there’s a full throated effort here at the White House for the president to get this done.

Now, one of the reasons is, the same issues, you know, are standing now that happened, you know, a couple weeks ago. If you push this bill too far to the right, the moderates won’t be into it. If you change it too far to the left, the House Freedom Caucus won’t be into it. But, a lot has happened since that big collapse of the health care bill. The president has gone after the House Freedom Caucus members.

So, what the vice-president is doing at this hour is trying to reassure these Republicans that look, we want to get this done eventually. Before, Anderson, this was anything but a full court press here today.

COOPER: I mean is there a strategy that the more the White House talks about health care, that’s the less time they have to respond to questions about Russia? Or is there concern that if they talk about it too much or if the president is too much out in front on this and just let the vice-president work behind the scenes, that, you know, if it doesn’t happen the second time around, then there’s no blow back on him?

ZELENY: There’s going to be blow back on the president regardless of this. And I think a couple of things are happening here. One, the White House is very aware of what the, you know, the electorate is thinking, Republican voters out there. They’ve been wanting this as their priority for seven, eight years here or so.

So, Republican members of Congress and Democrats as well are on the cusp of going back to their districts for two week spring recess period here come Friday. So, they want to show some motion. But, Anderson, there’s no question. Today was a day of changing the subject at the White House.

The top advisers here at the White House want the president to be surrounded by news other than Russia. It’s been all but consuming over the last, you know, few weeks or so. So they had have been very friendly audiences, hearing campaign applause, campaign-style applause, talking about infrastructure, health care, other things. But at the end of the day, Russia, of course, hasn’t gone away.

The question is how much has that impacted the legislative agenda. And it actually has, because this president has less juice than he had, you know, a month or two ago.


ZELENY: And we are not even at the 100 day point tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: Congressman Garrett, you and the Freedom Caucus have been meeting with Vice-President Pence in trying to put together a health care bill that will get through the house.

Pence is coming up to the Hill, again, tonight to talk with your group as well as the moderate Tuesday group. What do you want to hear from the vice-president to vote yes on a health care bill?

REP. TOM GARETT, (R) FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER: So there are two things primarily that hung us up last time and we talked about essential benefits, but the community rating was also one that I think a lot of the members of Freedom Caucus that had hang up on.

What we’ve had so far is I think, and with good intent and good faith, a series of hypothetical. If this, then what? And so, we’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re trying to get there. And I think that’s why the vice-president has been so attentive. And we look forward to talk to him again.

COOPER: The proposals from the Freedom group that would allow states to apply for federal waivers exempting them in certain mandates like essential health benefits, is that — isn’t that going to — to not get moderates on board? I mean, is there a sweet spot for this?

GARRETT: Well, yeah. I think there is. What the president’s team has come back with is, how about if we power this down to the states? So, if you can get to health essential benefits removal, you can get to a community rating removal, you can get to a work requirement, that sort of thing, but it’s powered down to the states, we like that.

I will say, the way it was originally drafted or presented to me was there would be at the desk of the governor of the various states. I would submit it belongs in the purview of the legislature, but I’m not going to let little tiny things get in the way in success here, so.

COOPER: There were some talk when it failed the last time about not trying to do one kind of overarching, you know, health care repeal and replace and try to kind of go piece by piece by piece over time. It doesn’t seem like that’s now on the table.

GARRETT: Well, you know, look, there are 435 members of House, 100 in the Senate. I’ve said all along, I sat on your show, I think more than once. What I’d love to see is a repeal consistent with that with what Tom Price put forward in 2015, that every single Republican voted for.

And then you take, you know, the ACA and I believe I could vote for 18 out of 20 pieces of it if it were broken on pieces. Again, we’ve said the road to hell is paved with an omnibus legislation. It’s funny because it’s true.

COOPER: What do you say to those who believe this is essentially a smokescreen from the Trump administration to try to distract from the failure the first time around on health care. They’re trying to make up for not having a Plan B.

GARRETT: Yeah, look, I mean, there’s a certain component of American society that right now if President Trump cured cancer, they wouldn’t like it because it would have to do with President Trump. If you want to create a smokescreen to distract from having not succeeded on your first run in health care, by all means, don’t talk about health care.

COOPER: You know, Congressman, you were saying you would vote, you know, 18 out of 20 of the items on this are things you can support probably right now. For a lot of lawmakers, that would be enough.

I mean, to say that, you know what, I can never get 100 percent of everything I want. I got to compromise a little bit, 18 out of 20 isn’t bad.

GARRETT: Well, a 16-ounce soda with one ounce of strychnine will still kill you. There — I mean, there are just certain things that we’re not going to swallow. The way they attached credits were initially stretched and I felt created an entitlement.

I think we did not take — the core functions of Title I were still there. We know that if we remove the community rating, if we remove essential benefits that we’ll see premiums go down for the vast bulk of the people. That’s what we’re trying to do, is make health care affordable.

Turn this paradigm into one where you don’t have coverage where you can’t actually get care, because you can’t pay your deductible, but one where you actually have access to care. And that’s what the argument should have been all along.

COOPER: You know, last week, I watch the President Trump talk to Twitter calling out the leader of the Freedom Caucus as well as Congressman Meadows, as well as Congressman Jordan and Labrador. The president’s director of social media urged the primary campaign against GOP Congressman Justin Amash.

How much lingering bitterness is there? I don’t know if bitterness is too a strong word, but how — what are the lingering feelings between Freedom Caucus members and the White House?

GARRETT: I will tell you that I have led soldiers in a designated hazardous duty area. I have tried murder trials. I’ve done a lot stuffs in my life and I can’t describe the pressure that I felt during this process, and I’m one of 435.

COOPER: Really?

GARRETT: I believe the president is — oh, absolutely. But I think the president is trying to do what he thinks is best for America. He didn’t get it done the way he wanted to get it done the first time and he was frustrated. That makes him human just like the rest of us. And he has my forgiveness and my support. But he doesn’t have my vote until we get a bill that will be consistent with what I told the voters who I ran for election in front of.

COOPER: Bottom line, what do you think the chances are the Republicans are going to be able to get this done?

GARRETT: Well, we’re going to pass the health — look, we’ve already passed McCarran-Ferguson repeal. We’ve already passed association plans. We’re starting to work on the surrounding edges. We should declare victory of those like that. We haven’t. I’m not sure why.

But if you break this thing down into subcomponent parts, we could pass the vast bulk of it now. I understand there’s some, you know, concern with the rules of the Senate. I also know that the Jordan repeal bill that mirrors the Tom Price 2015 repeal bill passed the Senate last time. So, I’m curious what the difference is now other than the president who actually signed it.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I find it more than ironic that some of the same people who are still — voice suppressing condemning the leaks of classified information or condemning me for not leaking information about these classified documents.

COOPER: Those comments follow a presidential tweet on Sunday. The real story turns out to be surveillance and leaking. “Find the leakers,” said the president. Whether that’s a deflection or a real complaint, there’s one thing no one can dispute, leakers, well, they have shaped history.

COOPER (voice over): Mark Felt, the high ranking FBI official who for more than three decades was known to the world only as “Deep Throat,” after helping fuel Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s blockbuster reporting on Watergate.

MARK FELT, “DEEP THROAT”: Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

COOPER (voice over): But Felt was neither the first nor last Washington figure to rock the country with insider knowledge.

In the early 1970s, a military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg leaked a top secret Defense Department study to “The New York Times”. The resulting bombshell known as the Pentagon papers revealed that government had lied to Congress and the American people about the scope of the Vietnam War.

DANIEL ELLSBERG, LEAKED THE PENTAGON PAPERS: The smallest chance of having some affect on the war was worth my going to prison for the rest of my life.

COOPER (voice over): Charged with espionage and facing 115 years behind bars, Ellsberg went free after a federal judge dismissed the case citing improper government conduct.

In 2003, Conservative Writer and former CNN Host, Robert Novak, wrote a “Washington Post” column blowing the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: My name was intended to be leaked in retaliation against my husband who was a fierce critic of the Bush administration, the Iraq War.

COOPER (voice over): Then Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby ultimately was convicted in connection with the leak. His sentence commuted by President Bush.

Seven years later, WikiLeaks posted hundreds of thousands of classified documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A young army private now known as Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison for giving the documents to WikiLeaks.

Just before leaving office, President Obama ordered Manning to be released in May of this year.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The sentenced that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received.

COOPER (voice over): But there’s been no presidential reprieve for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose 2013 revelation of secret government surveillance programs left him fleeing charges of espionage.

TRUMP: This guy is a bad guy. And you know, there is still a thing called execution.

COOPER (voice over): And accepting asylum in of all places, Russia.


COOPER: Well, a lot to discuss. Back with us, Jeffrey Lord and Carl Bernstein. Jeffrey, you know, we saw Deep Throat there. Do you think Deep Throat should have stayed silent?

LORD: You know, this is a difficult question, because you know where this led. But the problem I have with this is the classified nature of this. I mean, I can see my friends at the Harrisburg Patriot-News editorially and journalistically waiting to see if I’m going to say they shouldn’t have leaks.

COOPER: Where is Daniel Ellsberg, who —

LORD: Right, right.

COOPER: — leaks classified information?

LORD: What bothers me here is it’s not up to a private citizen in the government somewhere to make the decision unilaterally that they’re going to leak classified information. I mean, that is at least in the case we’re currently talking about. That is against the law, the Espionage Act. That’s what troubles me.

On the other hand, I am a First Amendment crazo (ph) here and I want Carl to have the right or you to have the right if you’ve got a story, get it out there. I mean, the onus is on the government to stop the leaking, it’s not on the press. And no reporter should ever be going to jail, period.

COOPER: Carl, I mean, you know, it’s an interesting thing. You know, there are leaks which lead to important changes. And there are leak, you know, Daniel Ellsberg, you know, was revealing lies that the government had been perpetrating for years.

BERNSTEIN: The real whistle-blowers know that they risk going to jail. It’s a risk that they take. Ellsberg took that risk. Mark Felt took the risk.

But let me say something about the mythology of leaks, including Deep Throat. Most of our sources in Watergate and the important ones were Republicans who worked for Richard Nixon. The information we got from Deep Throat primarily was to confirm what we had learned already from, for instance, the treasurer of the committee to re-elect the president.

So, in the current instance, I think it’s very important for people watching shows such as this to understand the reportorial process, which is about trying to get to the best obtainable version of the truth. Not to come to a conclusion that convicts Donald Trump, that says Donald Trump is innocent of something. We’re trying to get to what has happened or has not happened.

And what we are seeing is for our process to be called into question as the central issue in what has happened in our government or not happened. And that’s the problem here. We should not be, nor should the whistle-blower, be the issue here. The real issue is the national security of the United States according to the intelligence community, all of it, has been endangered by a hostile power trying to undermine our election.

COOPER: There —

BERNSTEIN: What happened?

COOPER: There are also —

BERNSTEIN: That’s the question.

COOPER: You know, just for viewers out there, there have been plenty of instances where newspapers and news organizations have gotten information about, you know, classified events and the government, you know, and gone to the government for a comment. The government said, “Look, if you publish this, this is going to put lives in danger or this is going to put an operation in danger.” And they have held back on reporting it —

BERNSTEIN: Right, responsibly.

COOPER: — responsibly.

BERNSTEIN: Can I add one other thing to his discussion and then you should — I’d be interested in your thought on this, Jeffrey. Every day of most presidencies, the President of the United States and those who work for him in the national security bureaucracy, “leak national security information” on background as it’s called to reporters who cover the White House, the State Department, et cetera, the Defense Department. That is their process.

Many of the same people that we are watching decrying leaks up on Capitol Hill, all of them practically have been anonymous sources, “leaking classified information” at one time or another in their careers. There is so much hypocrisy about this. What about that, Jeffrey?

COOPER: Well, Fox News and their star prime time host, Bill O’Reilly, are undergoing pressure tonight. At least 20 advertisers, including BMW, all state and others have now pulled their commercials from “The O’Reilly Factor”. This comes after “New York Times” report over the weekend revealed five settlements with women who alleged sexual harassment or verbal abuse by O’Reilly and for the second night in a row, he did not address the allegations on his program.

Fox’s ad sales had released a statement today saying “We value our partners and are working with them to address their current concerns about the O’Reilly Factor. At this time, the ad buys of those clients have been re-expressed into other Fox News Channel programs.”

Joining us is Brian Stelter, host of “Reliable Sources” and CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates. How serious is this, Brian?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This is a very unusual situation to have 20 advertisers publicly say that they’re going to distance themselves from “The O’Reilly Factor.” There’s more advertisers that have also done that privately, that have called up Fox and said, “We don’t want to be anywhere near O’Reilly.”

We’ve seen this before though. Glenn Beck, for example, was a subject of an ad boycott many years ago. Eventually, his show at Fox went away. This could be different.

COOPER: But the thing with O’Reilly is — I mean, some of the charges are not new. I mean, who — you know, the one that he allegedly paid out of, I think nine —

STELTER: $9 million.

COOPER: — according to “New York Times,” $9 million from his own pocket years ago to a book or a producer. I mean, that’s been known for quite a while and he seemed to have weathered that.

STELTER: What’s new now is the spotlight. What’s also new is Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes.

COOPER: Right.

STELTER: Other giant stories, other giant scandals including O’Reilly’s old boss. You know, Roger Ailes, last summer resigned under pressure amid sexual harassment allegations from many women, including Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly.

Now, O’Reilly is at a network that says it’s cleaned up its house. That that institute new policies, hired new executives, things like that, and yet O’Reilly is still the top man there. The question is, is he invincible?

COOPER: Laura, I mean, about the complaints, about the culture of harassment at Fox, how do all these past settlements from Fox affect, you know, other lawsuits that Fox is basically may face, because when you hear just the sheer volume of lawsuits and the behavior that was going on there, I mean it’s — I can’t imagine. I just can’t believe that this went on for so long. It’s just stunning. LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know that shock and awe that everyone had is one that was shared presumably by Fox News may have dealt with the Gretchen Carlson case and said, “We didn’t really know about this. We didn’t know there was a culture, this hostile sexualized work environment.” And that was one of the things that many employers across the country cling to with both hands to say, “Listen, if there was a problem, it was either an isolated incident or we’re not liable because we had no knowledge of it.”

Well, now that you have a track record of known settlements within the workplace that’s kind of near, when you’re talking about Gretchen Carlson, you can’t hide behind that claim of ignorance anymore.

And going forward, it portrays’ every single potential future allegation and lawsuit against Fox News to say, “Listen, this is so ingrained that you renewed the contract of the person who was one of the biggest offenders.”

COOPER: You know, one of the arguments that Bill O’Reilly has made publicly is look, I’m a magnet for lawsuits and anybody in the public eye is a magnet for lawsuits. I mean —

STELTER: Is that —

COOPER: With all due respect, I mean, I was sued once, you know, years ago not anything to do with workplace, you know, someone felon in my house.

STELTER: And that’s the case for Sean Hannity, for Seth Meyers or Jimmy Fallon —

COOPER: Right.

STELTER: — anybody on T.V. news or entertainment. COOPER: These are all very specific kinds of lawsuits.

STELTER: Exactly. And I cannot point to anybody else in television news that has had this pattern of harassment lawsuits and settlement.

COOPER: Right. Laura, I mean, if this person was accused of this behavior and had paid out settlements in any other business in a corporation, I guess the question is, would they be allowed to stay?

COATES: They would be a liability and, therefore, the employer would be liable at that. And so, it would tend to show you that other corporations and other environment, this behavior is not — not a casual practice. And so, while it maybe known in this — presented within that organization, that’s the problem they have to face.

A hostile work environment claim is very difficult to prove with just innuendos or isolated anecdotes. Now, you have a company who is aware of a pattern and practice of behavior and you have a series of women making the same allegations. It starts to smell like fact and culture and that’s a lawsuit.

COOPER: Right. STELTER: (Inaudible), as they follow the money here, ultimately —


STELTER: — it’s about the Murdoch and how much money they’re willing to lose maybe from advertisers.


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