CNN's Cooper Grants Tribe Platform To Boost Birther Issue, Rip Cruz

CNN's Anderson Cooper donated over four minutes of air time on Thursday night to Laurence Tribe, and gave the liberal Harvard Law professor a platform to advance the birther issue against his former law student, Ted Cruz. Professor Tribe slammed Senator Cruz for his defense of his "natural born citizen" credentials at the GOP presidential debate earlier in the evening: "Most of what he said is nonsense. I mean, all of these examples about Rubio and Jindal are simply distractions." The academic also hinted that the Republican presidential candidate was against rights for homosexuals and women. [video below]

Cooper turned Professor Tribe near the bottom of the 11 pm Eastern hour during a special edition of his AC360 program devoted to the presidential debate. During the segment, on-screen graphics trumpeted, "Harvard Prof.: Cruz Had 'Lame Response' On Citizenship Question; Cruz Is Wrong On The Facts And The Law." The anchor first noted that Cruz "said you're a left-wing, judicial activist, Harvard Law professor, Al Gore's lawyer in Bush versus Gore, and a major Hillary Clinton supporter." He first asked, "What did you make — A., of being brought up in that way tonight; and also, do you think Cruz does need to answer — does a court need to answer this eligibility issue?"

The liberal legal scholar immediately went on the offensive and outlined his reasoning as to why the question of Cruz's eligibility to be president hasn't been settled:

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR (via telephone): Well, I think Cruz certainly needs to answer it. I agree with those of your guests who said  he hasn't really put it to bed. If he did put it to bed, he's certainly sleeping alone (Cooper and panelists laugh) — because real serious scholars think there's a serious question. It's just obvious....

...[M]ost of what he said is nonsense. I mean, all of these examples about Rubio and Jindal are simply distractions....the question of how you interpret that document isn't a joke. It isn't funny. It matters a lot...I mean, his whole approach on issues, where he likes the result of a very rigid view of the Constitution, is that it hasn't changed since 1788....Well, in 1788, I assure you, natural born citizens did not mean simply citizens from the time of birth....this odd phrase 'natural born citizen' — that's kind of a black hole in the Constitution. We don't know quite what it means.

Cooper followed by noting the "two different, kind of, ways to interpret the Constitution" — the "living, breathing document" approach versus "original intent." Tribe responded with his thinly veiled attack on Senator Cruz as someone who is against "gay"/"women's" rights:

TRIBE: ...[T]he fact is, I'm one of those people that Cruz has long criticized. When he says I'm a judicial activist, what he means is that I believe its meaning isn't static. Over time, we come to new understandings; we have new experiences; and the meaning changes somewhat. We have a constitution that has formally been amended only 27 times, but it certainly means something very different — in words like 'equality,' which has never been amended to include women. But now, we understand it does include women.

The odd thing is, that if you read the Constitution the way Ted Cruz has always insisted on reading it — in a way that doesn't help gays or women or reproductive freedom, then — and that's — you know, that's, kind of, the originalist view — then he loses, and he loses the lawsuit which could easily occur. I mean, if some secretary of state refuses to put his name on the ballot if he's the nominee, there's no way out of it — other than to have Cruz or the Republican National Committee sue the secretary of state. And that issue would then have to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The CNN anchor ended his interview by gushing over Professor Tribe: "I would have loved to have sat in your class when you were teaching Ted Cruz. You must have had fascinating discussions.... I would like to very much — put cameras in your classroom and put them online. It would be great to watch."

Cooper then turned to his panel, which included NewsBusters contributor Jeffrey Lord and former Cruz staffer Amanda Carpenter. Lord asserted that Tribe was "perfectly right in his analysis of this." Carpenter attacked both Tribe and Trump for bringing up the birther issue: "I find it funny that Laurence Tribe now wants to be an originalist on the Constitution when it comes to the question of Ted Cruz....what I liked about Cruz's answer during the debate was that he explained that Donald Trump's kooky, conspiratorial view would not only disqualify Ted Cruz; it would disqualify Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Marco Rubio" [video below]

The transcript of the Lawrence Tribe segment from the January 14, 2016 special edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, as well as the transcript of relevant portion of the panel discussion segment:

Tell the Truth 2016

ANDERSON COOPER I want to bring in Professor Tribe, who was a topic of conversation. Professor Tribe, thanks very much for joining us on the phone.

I just want to read what your former law student, [Ted] Cruz, said about you. He said you're a left-wing, judicial activist, Harvard Law professor, Al Gore's lawyer in Bush versus Gore, and a major Hillary Clinton supporter. He didn't mention that — that you're also his former professor at the university — he went to the law school at Harvard. What did you make — A., of being brought up in that way tonight; and also, do you think Cruz does need to answer — does a court need to answer this eligibility issue?

[CNN Graphic: "Cruz, Trump Spar Over Citizenship Question"]

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR (via telephone): Well, I think Cruz certainly needs to answer it. I agree with those of your guests who said  he hasn't really put it to bed. If he did put it to bed, he's certainly sleeping alone (Cooper and panelists laugh) — because real serious scholars think there's a serious question. It's just — it's just obvious.

I think what's really interesting is that he's much more interested in, kind of, playing games, sticking daggers into people who are criticizing him — often, untrue daggers. I mean, it turns out I'm not a Hillary Clinton supporter. I didn't endorse her in 2008. I didn't endorse her this year — but it makes — you know, it makes a good talking point.

But most of what he said is nonsense. I mean, all of these examples about Rubio and Jindal are simply distractions. He says the Constitution — you know, I think he said — hasn't changed since September — of course, not! But the question of how you interpret that document isn't a joke. It isn't funny. It matters a lot — regardless of whether he is or is not kicked off some ballot because of his birth outside the United States. I mean, his whole approach on issues, where he likes the result of a very rigid view of the Constitution, is that it hasn't changed since 1788 — not only in the last six months. It's a rigid document. It always means what it meant before. Well, in 1788, I assure you, natural born citizens did not mean simply citizens from the time of birth. All the laws he talks about since 1788 that have said you don't have to get naturalized if it turns out that you were a citizen at — you know, if your parents — sometimes, they required, in these laws, both parents; other times, they required just the father — you don't have to get naturalized. But they weren't talking about this odd phrase 'natural born citizen'—

COOPER: So Professor, you're essentially—

TRIBE: That's kind of a black hole in the Constitution. We don't know quite what it means—

[CNN Graphic: "Harvard Prof.: Cruz Had 'Lame Response' On Citizenship Question; Harvard Prof.: Cruz Is Wrong On The Facts And The Law"]

COOPER: Well Professor, you're essentially saying there are — there's (sic) two different, kind of, ways to interpret the Constitution. One is a — as a living, breathing document that — that changes with time, and that can be interpreted. And you're saying if — if you believe it to be that, then — then Cruz stands on — on pretty firm footing—

TRIBE: Right—

COOPER: But if you believe the original intent; if you believe it to be what the founders actually wrote, then he doesn't—

TRIBE: You got it—

COOPER: Can you explain those interpretations?

TRIBE: You've got it, Anderson — and the fact is, I'm one of those people that Cruz has long criticized. When he says I'm a judicial activist, what he means is that I believe its meaning isn't static. Over time, we come to new understandings; we have new experiences; and the meaning changes somewhat. We have a constitution that has formally been amended only 27 times, but it certainly means something very different — in words like 'equality,' which has never been amended to include women. But now, we understand it does include women.

The odd thing is, that if you read the Constitution the way Ted Cruz has always insisted on reading it — in a way that doesn't help gays or women or reproductive freedom, then — and that's — you know, that's, kind of, the originalist view — then he loses, and he loses the lawsuit which could easily occur. I mean, if some secretary of state refuses to put his name on the ballot if he's the nominee, there's no way out of it — other than to have Cruz or the Republican National Committee sue the secretary of state. And that issue would then have to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

But the fact is — you know, it's a serious cloud. It has to be taken seriously. It's not just a matter of coming up with great talking points or winning some debate. I think it's — he does a disservice to the Constitution and the country when he thinks he can slide his way — slip-slide his way around this serious constitutional issue.

COOPER: Professor Tribe, I appreciate you being on. I would have loved to have sat in your class when you were teaching Ted Cruz. You must have had fascinating discussions—

TRIBE: It was even more fascinating when I was teaching Barack Obama or John Roberts—

COOPER: I'm sure — yeah—

TRIBE: But we'll talk about that another day.

COOPER: I would like to very much — put cameras in your classroom and put them online. It would be great to watch. Professor Tribe, thank you so much.

As we wait to hear from the candidates themselves, let's get some quick thoughts from our panel — also about Professor Tribe, because—

JEFFREY LORD, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, AMERICAN SPECTATOR: The moral is—

[CNN Graphic: "GOP Candidates Clash In S.C. Debate"]

COOPER: Talked about — because it is interesting — and perhaps, that's one of the dilemmas that Cruz has in answering this — that — I mean, his — the way he interprets the Constitution—

LORD: Right—

COOPER: By those — by that way of interpreting it, it doesn't really back up what he's saying.

LORD: The moral of the story, Anderson, is if you're running for President of the United States, don't tick off your old law professor (Cooper and panelists laugh)—

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: Oh, this isn't the first time he's angered the Harvard Law School (unintelligible), and it won't be the last (laughs)—

LORD: Because he will come on CNN and — right — and explain in some depth — I happen to be an originalist, as they say. He's perfectly right in his analysis of this. So, to the political point at hand, what is Ted Cruz going to do?

CARPENTER: Well, I find it funny that Laurence Tribe now wants to be an originalist on the Constitution when it comes to the question of Ted Cruz. That's what I think is fascinating about this—

COOPER: Well, he doesn't — he doesn't, though — but no, he doesn't—

CARPENTER: But he's trying to switch around and box Cruz into saying something differently.

Listen, the easiest answer to this question, in my mind: I don't need to Supreme Court to tell me that the sky is blue, and that this month is January. But now, Donald Trump wants Ted Cruz to march into the Supreme Court and settle this question. Most people agree that Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen. And what I liked about Cruz's answer during the debate was that he explained that Donald Trump's kooky, conspiratorial view would not only disqualify Ted Cruz; it would disqualify Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Marco Rubio. That is Donald Trump's view of the world. That is not in line with what we believe as Americans, and not in line with the truth.

GLORIA BORGER: Congress could vote on this, right? Congress could vote and say

CARPENTER: They could pass a resolution—

BORGER: That Cruz is a natural born citizen — right? Except he doesn't have a lot of friends in the Senate.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center