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Pence Kept In Dark About Flynn Probe; WH: Trump Asked Flynn to Resign Over "Eroding Trust"; Interview with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; WH: Ongoing Leaks Are the Real Story; Pence Kept In Dark About Flynn Probe; WH: Trump Asked Flynn To Resign Over "Eroding Trust"; Dems Call For Independent Investigation Of Flynn, Trump; WH: Ongoing Leaks Are The Real Story. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, for the first time, official answers to the question of what President Trump knew about his national security adviser's vulnerability to Russian blackmail and when he knew it.

Also, breaking news on how long he kept Vice President Pence in the dark about it.

That and new questions about Michael Flynn's relationship with Moscow and what the president knew about or whether he condoned it. Or why, knowing General Flynn had lied about his phone call to the Russian ambassador, the president waited three weeks before cutting him loose.

Questions, too, about whether the Republican-controlled Congress will fully investigate and what all this says about the Trump administration after less than one month in office.

The only reaction the president has had so far is a tweet saying the real story here isn't all of that, it's the leaks -- the leaks about all that.

First CNN's Sara Murray joins us for the very latest, starting with the breaking news.

You got some new information about exactly when Vice President Pence found out about Flynn. What are sources telling you?


Mike Pence was out there publicly saying Flynn did not discuss these sanctions with the Russian ambassador. Turns out even though the president knew for weeks that was not the case, that the Department of Justice was looking into Flynn's contacts in the call, Mike Pence only knew for a couple days he found out on February 9th.

This as people are raising questions about why the president didn't cut his national security adviser loose sooner. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation.

MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is doing damage control, trying to explain why President Trump didn't fire National Security Adviser Michael Flynn until last night. Even though the White House revealed Trump has known about Flynn's calls with Russia for weeks.

The Justice Department warned the Trump White House in late January that Flynn misled officials about his communication with the Russian ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail from Russians.

According to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the president was informed immediately. The White House determines Flynn's actions didn't run afoul of the law, but the loss of trust was too damaging to overcome.

The fallout sparked about a whiplash for administration officials. Last week, the president told reporters he wasn't aware of reports that Flynn had discussed Russian sanctions before he took office.

REPORTER: What do you make of reports that General Flynn, the conversation with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

MURRAY: Today, Spicer said the president meant he had not seen a "Washington Post" story on a matter but said the president took immediate action after the Justice Department's warning.

SPICER: The president from day one, from minute one, was unbelievably decisive in asking for and demanding that his White House counsel and their team review the situation.

MURRAY: Before Trump assumed office, Spicer told reporters in mid- January the conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador only focused on scheduling a call between the two world leaders.

SPICER: They exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it. Plain and simple.

MURRAY: Today, he said senior administration officials were misled.

SPICER: This was an act of trust. Whether or not he actually misled the vice president was the issue. And that was ultimately what led to the president asking for and accepting the resignation of General Flynn. That's it. Pure and simple.

MURRAY: As recently as Monday evening, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway insisted Flynn had the president's confidence.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

MURRAY: Today, she struggled to explain his departure.

CONWAY: The fact is that General Flynn continued in that position and was in the presidential daily briefings, was part of the leader calls as recently as yesterday. But as time wore on, obviously, the situation has become unsustainable.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle still have questions. John Cornyn, the Senate's second ranking Republican, and Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, both called for an investigation into ties between President Trump and Russia. And they want to see Flynn testify.


COOPER: So, Sara, the FBI has interviewed Flynn about the call to the Russian ambassador. What more is known about that? Do we know when it took place and do we know what Flynn actually said?

MURRAY: Well, we do know it took place in the early days of the administration. Remember, these calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador were taking place during the Donald Trump transition before he assumed office, before Flynn officially became the national security adviser -- very early on is when the FBI set up these interviews of Flynn and after that, the Department of Justice raised these warnings with the Trump administration saying that Flynn could potentially be blackmailed. So far, sources say that Flynn has cooperated with the FBI.

COOPER: So, we don't know whether Flynn lied to the FBI during those interviews or not.

[20:05:02] We don't know if he admitted what he talked about.

MURRAY: Right now, we are hearing that Flynn is cooperating with them. So, presumably, he's telling them the actual tale of what happened on these calls but we don't have a good indication. And remember, Flynn is the one who was misrepresenting these calls to senior administration officials including now the vice president. That was really the concern that put the president over the edge and caused him to cut Flynn loose.

COOPER: Right, but we don't -- just so I'm clear because it's a confusing time line. If the FBI interviewed Flynn soon after they took office and we don't know if Flynn told the truth to the FBI or not, because later, Flynn then did not tell the truth to other people in the White House including to the vice president. So, I guess as far as we know, do we know if he told the truth then? I mean, he may be cooperating now with the FBI, but do we know about that?

MURRAY: What we were told is that he was cooperating essentially from the outside. We don't have any indication he didn't cooperate with the FBI. And remember, when he was misleading administration officials, this was before they came into the White House. Mike Pence being out there saying that Flynn didn't discuss the sanctions and the president essentially being out there saying he believed Flynn, all of that was during the transition effort. Now they're in the White House and it was after this "Washington Post" story came out on the issue on February 9th.

That was the moment where mike pence began to realize he had been misled today, there were discrepancies between what Flynn had told him and what Flynn apparently said in phone calls with the Russian ambassador, all of that came after the meetings or the interviews with the FBI. So, you know, we will see if anything else comes of these interviews.

COOPER: And, Sara, in Flynn's statement, his resignation, he claims that he was just -- and I don't want to -- I'm paraphrasing it, but that he was basically just really busy and in his rush he forgot about the details of the phone call when he was talking to the vice president. He's not admitting he lied, right?

MURRAY: No, he's not admitting he lied, but he does appear to indicate that he did indeed talk about the Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador, which is something U.S. officials have told CNN. And I think, Anderson, this is why you're seeing so many officials on members of Congress on the Hill, both Republicans and Democrats say we need more information about what exactly Flynn talked about with his Russian emissaries and what the interaction was like between Donald Trump's transition effort as well as the Russians.

That is one of the things we have not gotten a clear answer on. What exactly was discussed when it was discussed. Now, like I said, we're hearing that Flynn is cooperating with the FBI. What exactly that means going forward I think remains to be seen.

COOPER: All right. Sara Murray, appreciate it. Thanks.

The FBI's investigation of General Flynn is not limited to the phone calls and what he said about them. The bureau's interest goes beyond that and beyond Flynn, we should point.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is working that angle and joins us.

So, what is the wider focus of the FBI investigation?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, Anderson, the FBI counterintelligence division's investigation of Flynn's contacts with the Russian government developed from this broader probe of ties between Donald Trump surrogates and the Russians and an effort by U.S. investigators to better understand Russian activities in the United States. And law enforcement officials tell us that Flynn was not, is not the target of the investigation.

In the December calls that Flynn had with Russia's ambassador, we're told Flynn didn't make any promises about Russia sanctions and appeared to be trying to be vague during the phone call about the sanctions according to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials we've spoken to. And now, as we know he denied speaking about sanctions after that when it came to light. And then, nearly a month later, the DOJ warned the White House Flynn was withholding the truth about discussing sanctions -- Anderson.

COOPER: Any idea what happened between the time the DOJ found out about the calls and when the White House was alerted?

BROWN: So, we're still trying to piece together why it was almost a month after Flynn's phone call with the Russian ambassador that DOJ warned the White House. So, some FBI and Justice Department officials reviewed transcripts of the calls and found the contents concerning and decided to brief top officials in the Obama White House. And then, one person familiar with this matter says in the waning days of the Obama administration, the new acting attorney general, Sally Yates, discussed telling the White House with leaders in the intelligence community and they reached this agreement that it should be done.

Now, when specifically Sally Yates found out about the contents of Flynn's phone call is still unclear. We know Michael Flynn was interviewed by the FBI after President Trump took office. So, today, Sean Spicer as you heard tried to pin the blame on the Department of Justice for not coming to the White House sooner.

But that also begs the question, why did it take the White House nearly three weeks after DOJ's warning for the White House to take action against Flynn only after "The Washington Post" broke the news of DOJ's warning, Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, Pam Brown, thanks very much.

Much more on what the Republican controlled Congress plans to do about the Flynn affair if anything. The answer depends on which Republican lawmaker you ask.

As you saw a moment ago, a number of GOP senators favor some kind of investigation. It's not clear whether that means full, formal open hearings.

[20:10:00] Some like Senator Rand Paul say it makes no sense to investigate fellow Republicans.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, head of the powerful House Oversight Committee, says there's no need for hearings. The problem he says is, quote, "taking care of itself" -- meaning with Flynn stepping down.

Congressman Devin Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, also declined to hold hearings. Both lawmakers drawing fire from House Democrats, no surprisingly, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

We should note, we asked Chairmen Chaffetz and Nunes to come on the program. They declined.

I spoke to Congressman Hoyer a short time ago.


COOPER: Congressman, some of your Republican colleagues in the House think that Michael Flynn's resignation resolves this matter. Representative Chaffetz saying, quote, "The situation is taking care of itself." You disagree, right?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Absolutely. There's no way that his resignation takes care of this event. And very frankly, Mr. Chaffetz nor Mr. Nunez, who chairs the intelligence committee, would have thought that had this been Mrs. Clinton in the same position. I'm absolutely positive of that.

It is -- it is not enough to say, OK, the national security adviser has resigned. We have here a pattern, not just a single incident of failing to disclose to his superiors, at least that's our supposition, that's what they say, that it wasn't disclosed, that he had talked about an ongoing matter of sanctions, sanctioning behavior that was adverse to the United States of America.

And in effect, one could draw the conclusion because the Russians did not respond to those sanctions that they had been assured that they would be alleviated in the future.

Now, I don't know that. I'm just speculating that's the fact, but it is a very critically important question. And it's a critically important question as not only what the national security adviser did, but what is the relationship between President-elect Trump himself and Russia and Putin.

COOPER: The White House today said repeatedly, Sean Spicer said today repeatedly it was clear to everybody in the White House that there was no legal issue with that Michael Flynn did, that his resignation was a matter of trust. I don't understand, if there was no legal issue, if Flynn did nothing allegedly illegal, why Flynn would lie about it repeatedly to so many people in the White House including the vice president.

Is it clear to you that no law was broken?

HOYER: No, it's not clear to me. It's not clear to me that this was the only conversation. It clearly is the conversation in focus now. But it is I think clearly deserves investigation because, frankly, they knew about this three weeks before it became public. It was only when it became public that the national security adviser's position was at risk.

And Kellyanne Conway just hours before the resignation which Spicer now says was asked of Flynn and Flynn, of course, says he decided to resign, we don't know which is the truth here, but I think there is great doubt as to whether something illegal was perpetrated or something was done that is contrary to the interest and the security of United States and shows a compromised position vis-a-vis one of our principal adversaries in the world, Russia.

COOPER: Would any investigation be able to, whether it's in the House or the Senate, or independent, would it be able to hear the phone intercepts between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador?

HOYER: I would certainly hope so, even if it had to be in camera or in secret. Plus, the fact I think the transcript of the conversation ought to be made available certainly to the members of the Congress who represent the American people and with consideration that security was not breached that that transcript would be available to the American people so they could make their own judgment.

COOPER: And, finally, the White House says categorically, the president did not know in advance that Flynn would have this conversation or at least was going to talk about sanctions. Do you have 100 percent confidence in that?

HOYER: I do not.

COOPER: You think it's possible the president knew?

COOPER: Very frankly, President Trump as a candidate and frankly going forward has said things which are not corroborated by facts. Kellyanne Conway may like alternative facts but Senator Moynihan said we're all entitled to our opinion but the facts are the facts. And I'm not confident of that, I don't think the American people are confident of that, and if they are the facts, then I would think the president would want to make sure we set the record straight by having a full and fair investigation.

COOPER: Congressman Hoyer, appreciate your time. Thank you.

HOYER: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Well, let's bring in the panel. "Daily Beast" senior columnist Matt Lewis, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker", also Trump supporters Kayleigh McEnany and Jeffrey Lord. Kayleigh contributes to "The Hill". Jeff's a contributing editor with "The American Spectator". We should also add, you know, Ronald Reagan.


[20:15:02] COOPER: Ryan, so let me start with you. I mean, you've been working sources. There are so many moving parts to this.

Where do you see this going?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think a couple things happened today. One, a lot of Republicans especially on the Senate side by the end of the day did concede that this needs to be looked at.

COOPER: House side not so much.

LIZZA: Not so much. Most Republicans that I saw interviewed today were not interested in pursuing this investigation. On the Senate side, it does looks like they're moving towards something like a serious investigation of all of the allegations of Russian hacking in the election and with respect to people around Trump who had ties to Russia and obviously Flynn now will be at the center of that.

COOPER: It -- what I don't understand, though, is if the White House said today clearly they don't think Flynn did anything wrong in making that call or calls in talking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador, if that is, in fact, the case and Flynn didn't think he did anything wrong, why is he lying to everybody in the White House?

LIZZA: That is great question. He -- this may be completely innocent, right? It maybe that he talked to the Russian ambassador as is his right to do as an incoming national security adviser. It's not totally unusual.

But the question is, why then did he deny it? Why then did he lie to Pence? Why did he lie to the White House press secretary? And --

COOPER: Do you buy when -- I mean, in his resignation, he said in the rush of everything being so busy, I misrepresented and I basically just forgot?

LIZZA: Look, I think the thing that's strange in that the intelligence community has said is that Barack Obama initiated these sanctions on December 29th. The entire Russian system immediately said, "We will be doing something reciprocal in the next 24 hours." Right?

You had the foreign minister, you had Putin's spokesperson, you had the foreign ministry spokesperson, all say we're going to do X, Y, and Z. In the period between that and when Putin decided not to do anything, Michael Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador. And that's --

COOPER: Trump tweeted, praising Vladimir Putin for not doing anything.

LIZZA: Right. So, that suggests that Trump was very much involved paying attention to this. That's what originally attracted investigators to Flynn. They said, wait a second, why did Putin pull back on the sanctions, on the response, that he and his people said he would publicly do? That's what put Flynn in the crosshairs.

COOPER: That's what made them look at the intercepts.

LIZZA: Exactly.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We'll bring this up with the full panel in just a moment.

Later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's role in all of this. And the question, can he make a scandal go away by claiming the leaks about it are the real scandal? More on that ahead.


[20:20:40] COPPER: Well, we're talking tonight about the kind of news day where every story resembles one of those Russian nesting dolls. You open one up, there's another inside, and you get an answer, and it raises another question, perhaps in Russian.

Back with the panel.

Paul Begala, I mean, you've seen some White House scandals. What do you make of --


PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I've seen a lot of them, sadly. PhD in White House scandals.

And here's the thing -- they gain velocity over time. I think Jason Chaffetz maybe right when he says this thing is taking care of itself, but not in the way he hopes. It's taking care of itself the way a snowball takes care of itself, as it goes down a mountain. It's simply gaining velocity and gaining force and gaining momentum and gaining mass.

The White House has to get ahead of this. The problem is they haven't been forthcoming, and that's really hard to regain credibility when you've lost it in the first day of a scandal. But they have to.

Their big fear now, I guarantee, is no longer what did the president know and when did he know it? That's bad enough. What will General Flynn do now? They're throwing him under the bus and backing it up. Is he going to turn on them now?

Is he going to -- he'll be called to testify, apparently, if these Hill investigations are real. Apparently, the Justice Department is looking into it.

I think that they are terribly worried now about what General Flynn is going to say because the story is not Flynn. It is Trump and the Russians. That's the story. It was the story of the election. It's the story of this presidency. And his connections to Russia are really important.

COOPER: Matt, I mean, the White House says the story is the leaks. That's what the real story is.

I mean, every White House -- you know, especially a new president gets up in arms about leaks. I mean, it's infuriating there are leaks for anybody in public office, and yet also the White House itself leaks. So --

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think both things can be true. I mean, people are entrusted with highly sensitive information. These could be career bureaucrats, Obama holdovers, and some of them are leaking and I think it's a problem.

That doesn't obviate the other problem, the bigger problem, the Russia problem. The good news for Donald Trump is he's got a Republican Congress and Senate. Imagine if he didn't. What would be happening now? He could be on the verge of we won't even use the "I" word. The bad news for Donald Trump as you were saying earlier is he doesn't

have a natural constituency amongst politicians or conservative opinion leaders. He doesn't have natural loyalty. They're loyal to him -- he's a transactional, not a transformational, a transactional leader.

They will support Donald Trump as long as they think what they get from him is more than they give up for supporting him. So, there is a danger for Donald Trump that even his own party at some point could give up on him.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think that's the case. Look, I think what matters are the Trump voters who so far according to the CNN poll, 90 percent of Republican voters are pleased at with this presidency.

Look, I think it's important to consider what Donald Trump, President Trump went through when he received this information from Sally Yates on January 26th about Michael Flynn, right? Sally Yates, a politicized attorney general, an attorney general who would not even defend his executive order while working for the president of the United States, comes in with an intel officer and gives him this information.

Why trust a holdover from the Obama administration over your own national security adviser? President Trump was trying to take care of this internally over the last 19 days, news broke in what we should be very concerned about, of course, are the actions of Michael Flynn. I don't dispute that. I agree with you there.

But why are we not outraged that the United States intelligence community is leaking selective information to the press to destroy a presidency and to hurt in the long run the United States interests? That is preposterous and there's no outrage over this. It's disproportionately aimed at Donald Trump for political reasons.

COOPER: But doesn't stuff leak from the intelligence community all the time? I mean under Democratic presidents and every president?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not like this. I would suggest.

COOPER: Really?

LORD: Let me get my Reagan reference out of the way here. In 1981, President Reagan lost his first national security adviser. In brief, the situation was that a Japanese magazine paid a fee of $1,000 and interviewed Nancy Reagan, wanted to give her the money, he stepped in, didn't want her embarrassed, didn't want to alienate the Japanese, so he took the money, put it in a safe. He moves his office, forgets.

The money is found in the safe. That launched an investigation, a Justice Department investigation, all of this, you know, not in public. Someone from the Justice Department leaked the story, became a huge deal. He was cleared.

[20:25:00] But Reagan said, you know, too much has been made of this, I can't bring you back.

Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary that he saw this as "bureaucratic sabotage," quote/unquote. I have a column on this in "The New York Daily News" tomorrow. It's posted online. Saying the real target here was not Richard --

COOPER: You agree the leaks are the issue, not what Flynn himself did.

LORD: Yes.

BEGALA: He's complaining about leaks that's like Jack the Ripper complaining about --


BEGALA: He's only president, he's president in part because of leaks, because of a foreign intelligence agency hacking the Democratic Party and the candidates -- opposition candidates campaign chairman and then leaking it.


LORD: There's more here, an explosive story in "The Washington Free Beacon" that says Obama folks and people in the intelligence community were deliberately trying to sabotage --

COOPER: But there's no actual evidence in that article.


COOPER: It's explosive article, there's no actual details in that "Free Beacon" article about stories that are being placed.


LORD: Congressional investigation, I'm saying bring it on. Let's get all of this out --

LEWIS: The thing about leaks, though, is they are by definition true. This is someone who may -- and so, the line between a whistle-blower and a leaker is sometimes hard to define. I do think we have to be very careful.

Look, it may be that some of these bureaucrats have committed a felony by leaking some of this stuff. But that does not obviate the actual story, which is about Flynn for now and if Donald Trump is lucky --

COOPER: The thing about this Logan Act, though, I mean, I don't think it's ever -- it's an obscure law from, you know, I don't know how many hundreds of years ago. So, it's a pretty -- the White House could be right when they say that Flynn didn't do anything wrong. Again, my question is, if he didn't do anything wrong, why is he lying about it to so many people in the White House?

LIZZA: Or they could be right that he did talk about sanctions, he did make some kind of vague assurance to the Russians but that no prosecutor would actually, you know, prosecute a Logan Act violation because it's never --


COOPER: Again, what did the president know and when? Did the president ask him to talk to the Russian ambassador or was he briefed on it afterward by Flynn?

LIZZA: I think that's -- right now, I think that's the most important thing is what did Trump and other officials in the White House know about this. And did they actually instruct Flynn to say let's make a deal with the Russians before we get in here?

LORD: And even if he did.

LIZZA: And even if he did, what's the problem there?

LORD: He's the incoming president.

LIZZA: Now, you have a situation where they essentially, if he did instruct him, you have a situation where the White House has covered that up.

COOPER: Right. And the White House just lied about that because the White House said that President Trump did not know about it at all in advance. I mean, that Trump --

LIZZA: So, it might have been find if he said it and defended it and said it's not a violation of the Logan Act. But now, they've lied about it.

COOPER: We're going to take a pause here.

Coming up, there are multiple investigation into current and former Trump advisers' ties to Russia, as well as the dossier that Russia has some sort of compromising information on Donald Trump himself. What we know about Trump's ties to Russia and what we still do not know, next.


[20:31:58] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Michael Flynn being asked to resign is clearly not the end of the story. It adds even more questions to what is already a mountain of questions about the president's ties to Russia from why Trump has praised Vladimir Putin time and time again to how deep the ties would go, what they were made of and how much they may have influenced if at all the election. There's seemingly a giant Russian knot waiting to untangled. Jim Sciutto tonight has details.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's resignation is raising new questions about the Trump administration's ties to Moscow. In particular, when Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions, was he acting on orders from higher up?

SEN. LINDSET GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Did Gen. Flynn do this by himself? If he didn't do it by himself, who directed him to engage the Russians?

SCIUTTO: And did any direction go as high as the president himself?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It certainly begs the question of whether Flynn was doing exactly what the president wanted, whether with the president's knowledge, with the president's approval.

SCIUTTO: Today, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said emphatically no.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, absolutely not. No, no, no. But that -- no.

SCIUTTO: Still the FBI is now leading multiple investigations of current and former Trump advisers and ties to Russia, including a yearlong investigation of former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and his alleged connections to pro-Putin figures in Ukraine and alleged meetings between former Trump adviser Carter Paige and Russian individuals under U.S. sanctions. Manafort and Paige have denied any wrongdoing.

The FBI also continues to investigate a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleging that Russia has compromising personal and financial information about Donald Trump.

CNN was first to report on Friday the intelligence agencies have now corroborated aspects of the dossier, specifically calls between Russian officials and other Russian nationals known by U.S. intelligence for sharing information damaging to Hillary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump.

Former top Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tweeting today, "When campaign chairman and national security adviser both resign over Russia ties there is more. Manafort and Flynn had nothing in common except Russia and Trump."

President Trump for his part continues to make public statements seemingly defending Vladimir Putin, telling Fox News he respects the Russian leader earlier this month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin is a killer.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: A lot of killers. A lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?

SCIUTTO: Today, the White House said the president is in fact tough on Russia, even if the statements are coming from staff other than himself.

SPICER: His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, stood before the U.N. Security Council on her first day and strongly denounced the Russian occupation of Crimea.


COOPER: Jim Sciutto joins me now. There was another in a string of military provocations by Russia today only weeks into the administration. What's happened?

SCIUTTO: Exactly right. This is Russia deploying a new more advanced cruise missile, one that the U.S. sees as being a violation of an existing U.S./Russian missile reduction treaty. There's that.

[20:35:01] You have a Russian spy ship now sailing off the coast of Delaware. And you had a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea with several close calls from Russian warplanes.

So, multiple provocations, and as yet, Anderson, you haven't heard a critical public statement from the president of these kinds of actions yet despite what Sean Spicer said you might hear from him, youo might hear from Nikki Haley, we haven't heard that from the president.

COOPER: Yeah. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, and CNN's Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, former advisor to Pres. Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

David, I'll start with you. And you've worked in the White House as I said for Republicans and Democrats. What to you make of what you are seeing and where this thing potentially goes? And what are the questions you want answered?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that this White House unfortunately has fed us so many misleading statements and so many lies over time. It's really difficult to know what to believe about their account of what happened.

And clearly, the question is out there whether Flynn was freelancing it when he called five times on December 29th to the Russian ambassador. It seems unlikely someone would call five times unless he were on a mission that was encouraged by the president or by somebody higher up in the White House.

I think there's a very big question, Anderson, when the White House did learn that the Justice Department, the FBI both concluded not only might there have been a violation of the law by Flynn, this obscure law but very importantly that he was vulnerable to blackmail. Why would they leave him in place and why having pinned their entire story now and we got rid of Flynn because he lied to Pence and Pence is our vice president yet they themselves kept Pence in the dark for two weeks when they knew in the White House that he'd been lied to by Flynn.

It looks like they were trying to ride it out. Only when the thing - when the leaks came was a cover blown away and it was exposed that, you know, indeed Flynn had been on the phone engaged in talks about sanctions. So there's a lot here that I think still has to be pinned down. I frankly think it's going to go to congressional investigations. And when those come there going to be big, big questions about whether Gen. Flynn will be called to testify, whether he will testify, whether he'll invoke executive privilege. There's much more to come on this story.

COOPER: And for an administration which keeps labeling news it doesn't like fake news, I mean time and time again the reporting turns out to be accurate and, you know, and now we're seeing the results. I mean but only because of the reporting last night the story broke by "The Washington Post" that Flynn then, you know, apparently does the president asked for Flynn's resignation.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

COOPER: If that's, in fact, what happened. Fareed, how do you see this?

FAREED ZAKARIA "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" HOST: I think that, you know, what's important to understand here is that not only do you have the specific scandal of Mike Flynn doing all the things that he seems to have done and whether or not it was at the president's behest.

But as part of this larger pattern which is Trump has had a policy that was without any question not just, you know, soft on Russia but kind of almost bizarrely so. Putin has had a series of goals over the last five or six years to weaken NATO, to weaken the European Union, to, you know, to tarnish the legitimacy of western democracy, to argue that Syria should be left to Assad. All these issues Trump during the campaign essentially sided with Putin rather than the traditional policies of the United States, of West Germany, of Britain, of NATO, of all our European allies.

So Trump had take a very bizarrely pro-Russian stand on all these issues and nobody could quite figure out what was going on. This is-- as I've said, Trump is a guy who believes that the rest of the world has always been outfoxing the United States as we've been too soft on all of them, except Russia.

COOPER: And now you have provocative actions by Russia as Jim Sciutto was reporting.

ZAKARIA: And now you have the Russians clearly violating the line (ph) of treaty. The treaty they violated in testing this intermediate missile is a treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev, 1987. It's been honored since then. There's one other time when they tried something like this.

So, the Russians seem to be pressing forward and now it seems, you know, to make some sense when you think about the fact that Trump has been trying to reach out to the Russians, has had these pro-Russian positions and now we learn his national security adviser five times tried to contact the Russian ambassador.

COOPER: David, the other thing I can't I can't understand, I brought this up earlier, and maybe there's no answer to this, again, if the White House really believes as they said today at the press conference that Flynn didn't do anything wrong by having these conversations with Russia's ambassador, then why did Flynn lie about it repeatedly to Sean Spicer, to Mike Pence, to other people allegedly in the administration? I mean, if he felt it was all above board and there was no problem, why lie about it?

[20:40:01] GERGEN: I think he lied about it for the same reason the White House kept silent once they knew and they've been alerted by the Justice Department, and that is they did wanted to do it surreptitiously and they wanted to keep it undercover. They didn't want the world to know. So Flynn lied about it. Who else knew he lied about it? There is a real possibility other people knew in the White House that he had lied to Pence.


COOPER: ... but there's also questions about who in the White House knows what. I mean, you have Kellyanne Conway who supposedly a top adviser ...


COOPER: ... to the president coming forward I guess -- I mean I'm forgetting the time line now if it was yesterday on MSNBC saying, you know, that Flynn has the full confidence of the president, an hour later Sean Spicer is saying, well, you know, things are in flux, it's being evaluated and by that night, you know, Flynn is being told to resign. So, who knows what in the White House actually knows what's going on? I mean, the president could know something and the top advisers not know anything.

ZAKARIA: There are more centers of power ...

GERGEN: One of these things, only the shadow knows.

ZAKARIA: I mean I don't think there are four, five significant centers of power in this White House. So, lots of chiefs and very few Indians.

COOPER: Fareed, thank you, David Gergen, as well.

Coming up, Trump tweets -- The president tweets that the story is actually that leaks are happening and Sean Spicer agrees in the press briefing room. With all due respect, we disagree but we'll talk about hwo the White House is trying to control the message, next.


COOPER: As we reported, Pres. Trump tweeted that, "The real story here," here meaning Michael Flynn being asked to resign," is that people are illegally leaking information." In the press briefing today Sean Spicer, of course, echoed that that is the real story. Respectfully, we beg to differ. But here's how the White House is trying to control the message.


[20:45:05] SPICER: We have an issue where classified information, of which this would be, is handled in such a way that is being given out. And I know in some cases it's a good story and I understand that and that's to some degree your responsibility to write that. But I think there's also a story here with the amount of leaks that are coming out of people that are entrusted with national security secrets and classified information are leaking it out. That's a real concern for this president.


COOPER: Well, joining us now someone who knows a thing or two about crafting a message, Pres. Obama's White House Communications Director, Jen Psaki, who is now a CNN Political Commentator. Also Trump supporter, Jeffrey Lord, and CNN Reliable Sources host, Brian Stelter.

Jen, let's start off with you. I mean, what would your advice be? I mean you were Communications Director in the Obama White House. Putting aside you're a Democrat, what do you see playing out here in the White House in terms of how they are crafting this message or miscrafting this message and what do you advise?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, boy. I think one of the only things you have sometimes is your credibility, and the story here is not about leaks. Sure they should investigate leaks internally if they want to. It's about what the president knew when. It's about who directed this. And it's about a long trend of questionable ties with the Russian government.

So, really, if I were them, I would say get out in front of this. Call for an independent investigation. If you have nothing to hide, then be transparent about it. And you'd send a more clear message to the American people.

COOPER: But, Jen, I mean it's interesting because again you had Kellyanne Conway coming out saying one thing, you know, and on MSNBC yesterday, and an hour later Sean Spicer calling reporters into his office saying something else, you know, completely. It seemed like something else completely.

PSAKI: Well, I think they have a number of internal communications problems right now clearly. The other challenge they have is they don't have a lot to sell. They don't have a clear agenda. They talk a lot about how it's very active and there's a lot of executive orders that have been put out. But the fact that the vast majority of those are toothless and the only one that's really significant is the one that was struck down by a court. So one of the challenges they had is also that they're not driving a narrative, they're not driving an agenda forward, and that coupled with the challenge of this big controversy and potential scandal around Russia it makes it pretty hard to communicate from there.

COOPER: Brian, I mean, clearly, you know, from what we heard from Sean Spicer and Pres. Trump's tweet this morning the White House would love to shift the focus, you know, to leaks, which are certainly nothing new in Washington, although certainly, you know, cause for concern if it's coming from the national security establishment. Do you see that as a winning strategy?

BRIAN STELTER "RELIABLE SOURCES" HOST: Certainly Washington's always leaky. Right now, though, this is a faucet that seems to be pouring out. And f or a variety of reasons. There are people leaking because they have agendas. These are government officials with various agendas. And it is hard to always know what axes they're trying to grind and things like that.

But this is a clash we knew was coming. Trump's anti-media rhetoric coming up against the reality of investigative reporting. Whether these sources have agendas or not, the most important point is what you brought up earlier in this program, that so far the information has been accurate, but we're not seeing the White House challenge the accuracy of these leaks.

We're seeing them challenge the existence of these leaks. So we're seeing some Trump loyalists call for prosecutions, for investigations. I thought it was notable Spicer did not go that far today. He did not say there were going to be formal investigations into these leaks although we're hearing some on Capitol Hill already calling for that.

COOPER: You know, Jeffrey, I think back to early one when Pres. Trump was, you know, kind of, I don't know if mocking is the right term, but sort of -- I don't know, putting the word intelligence in quotes, saying things about the intelligence community that were negative and there were a number of people saying publicly, you know, you should not -- you should be careful about going after the intelligence community as president of the United States before you're even in office, because they can get you back pretty easily.

And I'm wondering if part of what -- part of the leaks we're seeing -- and again, I'm not saying I don't know if it's coming from the intelligence community or not -- is in reaction to some of the things the president himself had said.

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It is entirely possible. I think there are two things that work here. Number one, the bureaucracy at large, a lot of people in the federal government bureaucracy don't like Donald Trump, you know. They belong to unions. They're contributed heavily to Democrats. They just opposed. So that's number one. Ronald Reagan used to call this, it's kind of thing bureaucratic sabotage. Could he have ...

COOPER: But Donald Trump said everybody at the CIA voted for him, most people voted for him.

LORD: Yeah, but I mean, I'm sure there's one or two. And I would -- the reason that Jen -- Jen was fabulous in her job. And you just saw her do it right there. Is framing what the real issue is. And it is up to the White House to frame that issue. And their message, was I think is a good one, is about bureaucratic sabotage as Reagan called it and leaks. And our people in the bureaucracy, I mean this is a pretty amazing thought. The people, the American people, elect the president of the United States and then bureaucracy, those folks you don't like that president, then go out to their way to sabotage the president.

[20:50:08] COOPER: Jen.

LORD: That's not a good ...

STELTER: The only thing it's honorable to make sure the country knows about what Flynn was doing? I mean, I spoke with the head of the "Washington Post" about this yesterday (inaudible) his standard and the standards for the CNN of the "New York Times" of the world, so is news worthiness?

And under any standard, often these leaks were ...

LORD: Brian, I'm not criticizing the press for publishing the leaks. I'm criticizing the leakers. There's a difference there

COOPER: Jen, I want to give you the final word on this.

PSAKI: Yeah, I would say there were plenty of leaks in the Obama administration from, you know, the White House, from across the administration. I worked in the State Department ...

COOPER: And by the way, the White House, your White House went after leaker, I mean -- more harshly than prior administrations.

PSAKI: That is true, and we can discuss that as well. But listen, I think that's a slightly different circumstance, but I will say, I worked in the State Department for two years the people who serve in government agencies who are civil service, who are foreign service they're not political at all. They're trying to protect the institutions, and I think that's what we're seeing here.

COOPER: All right, Jen Psaki, appreciate it, Jeffrey Lord, Brian Stelter, as well.

Just had America uncovered. What rural Trump supporter are saying about the president's first week in office and their view the country shaped the vote. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Well, first 26 days of the Trump White House have been fast moving to say the least. Keeping track of all the executive actions, the leaks, court battles, cabinet controversies, it is really a lot. Not every Trump supporter following every twist and turn. But the broad strokes are registering certainly. Martin Savidge talked with Trump supporters in Missouri before the new developments concerning Michael Flynn. Here's what they told him in tonight's America uncovered.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Annie Donovan loves her job.

What do you love most, what is?

ANNIE DONOVAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Taking care of the babies. The baby pigs.

SAVIDGE: It's called farrowing. And if you knew that, well, you're probably a Trump supporter. If you didn't, you're probably not. It's an example of how life is different in rural America, and it's the differences that shed light on why voters in small towns are so big on Trump.

Here in Mercer County, Missouri, population just 3,500, he got 85 percent of the vote.

You think that people who say the east coast look at America differently than you do?

WOOD HOLT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Yeah, I don't know how they see it, but I think they look at it different than we do. And what makes you think that one?

HOLT: Just what you see on TV, being out there, being with them and around them.

[20:55:07] DONOVAN: They're raised it different. You know, we're raised family, you know, home, your country. Your -- even your community.

SAVIDGE: You might think rural life is simpler. These folks say think again.

BILL HECK, TRUMP SUPPORTER: A farmer, but what that's that? Fifteen, 16 hours a day, that's what I work, and I'm 67 years owed.

SAVIDGE: Many here don't just work long hours, they work multiple jobs.

HECK: We come up with the idea of having a bar and grill.

SAVIDGE: Bill owns a restaurant, a liquor store and sells fireworks besides farming was also a truck driver and sales guns. This as he says took a big hit after the election.

HOLT: Obama sold more guns than anybody ever did. Hillary would have sold even more. Trump is bad for a gun shop.

SAVIDGE: Because rural voters see Trump as pro-gun, meaning they don't have to stock up fearing gun control. They also want Trump to cut regulations, taxes and people's dependence on government. Here, they rely on each other, not Washington.

DONOVAN: It doesn't matter what your political beliefs are, if somebody needed help, we're all there to help.

SAVIDGE: There's another Trump trait rural Americans love, something his detractors often criticize.

HOLT: I tell you I'm going to do something, and I'll do it.

DONOVAN: Yes. SAVIDGE: People say what they're going to do and then they do what

they say.

And so far, they like everything Pres. Trump's said and done, from his cabinet to his Supreme Court nominee to his promises of dismantling Obamacare, the wall, even Trump's travel ban, which they see as anti- terror, not anti-Muslim.

HOLT: I don't care where they ban them from. If they're sending people over here that's doing stuff like that, then ban them.


COOPER: Martin Savidge joins us. Now you checked in with some of the people that we just saw in your piece today about Michael Flynn's resignation, what did they say?

SAVIDGE: Yeah, I talk to Annie, for instance, and she told us that she blames Michael Flynn. She sees this as a man who lied to the administration or lied at least to Vice President Pence, and, as a result, he did the right thing. He should have resigned, and he did resign. She does not though blame Pres. Trump.

And then you've got Wood, that's the farmer there. He sees this in a broader political perspective, and it's basically as politics as usual that, a fault is found this time with the Trump administration, and the Democrats and those who don't like Donald Trump are going to exploit it to the hilt just as many Republicans did when they found things they didn't like when Pres. Obama was in office.

They were on obstructionist, and what happens? Nothing happens in Washington. And Woods says he is sick and tired of just that.

COOPER: Great to hear their perspectives. Martin Savidge, thank you. Much more ahead the next hour of 360, the latest on fallout from the forced resignation National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, he's gone but the questions, well, they keep coming.