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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Andrew Puzder Withdraws as Labor Secretary Nominee; Flynn's Security Clearance Suspended "Pending Review"; Source: Pence Demanding Answers on How He was Misled; Feinstein, Grassley Seek Full Briefing, Transcript of Flynn Calls. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired February 15, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Thanks for joining us tonight.
Another high-level departure from the Trump administration. Andrew Puzder, the president's choice for labor secretary, facing a likely no vote in the Senate, taking himself out of consideration. Now, that, of course, comes two days after national security adviser Michael Flynn was should be the door. And 3 1/2 weeks into an administration now mired in controversy of all kinds.
We're going to bring you the breaking news tonight on General Flynn, as well as the larger story surrounding it, which CNN first reported last night -- constant contact during the campaign with high-level Trump advisers and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. That from multiple sources.
First, CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us with the latest on today's departure of Andrew Puzder.
Do we know what was behind his decision to withdraw?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, officially, there was frustration with the process. There was disappointment with the attacks that he was facing.
The reality, he didn't have the votes. What I'm told from senior GOP officials is that there were as many as four GOP senators that were firmly against him. To put that in perspective, he could only afford to lose two. And there were as many as the 12 totals that had serious reservations.
When it came down to it, the numbers just didn't add up. Senior GOP officials told the White House that it was time to withdraw the nomination, and that's why Andrew Puzder will not be the next labor secretary, Anderson.
COOPER: What specific issue created the opposition among the Republicans?
MATTINGLY: It's that there were so. And I think you don't see this very often with the nominee. But over the course of the last 48 hours, I've talked to multiple Republican senators and almost every single one had a different. There was the reality that he at one point employed an undocumented worker. There were his personal views on immigration reform.
There was also allegations from an ex-wife about domestic abuse. Domestic abuse that was outlined in a 1990 interview on "Oprah." The video of that interview was circulating on Capitol Hill.
Senators were watching all of these issues, Anderson. There was also a blitz by labor groups on the outside, really putting a lot of pressure not just on the Democrats who were opposed as a bloc to this nomination, but also running ads in some of these Republican home states. It all kind of created a perfect storm.
The idea that a Trump nominee would be sunk, with only 51 Republicans needed to support those nominees to move through, it seemed like an impossibility just a couple of weeks ago. Not the case anymore. The first Trump nominee has officially gone down, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.
Michael Flynn, meantime, gets good news from the FBI, but takes a hit from the intelligence community. He's off the hook with the FBI.
However, the Defense Intelligence Agency has suspended his access to classified information, pending a review. That, we should point out, is standard operating procedure, in cases like this. And perhaps the only standard aspect of a story unlike any we've seen before.
And there are more details tonight. For the latest, let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.
What do you know, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, for now, Michael Flynn is off the hook with the FBI. We're learning that the FBI is not suspected to pursue charges against Donald Trump's embattled former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. While Flynn didn't remember all of what he talked about, they don't believe he was intentionally misleading to the FBI agents about his phone call with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions. The officials, say, though, there is still an ongoing broader FBI review of Flynn, and now Trump campaign aides on their Russia-related dealings.
BROWN (voice-over): During his presidential campaign, high-level advisers close to Donald Trump maintain constant communication with Russians known to U.S. intelligence, multiple sources tell CNN. The sources, current and former law enforcement intelligence and administration officials, say the frequency of the conversations and proximity to Trump of those involved raised a red flag with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. The timing, as it became clear to investigators, that Russia was seeking to undermine the U.S. elections by hacking e-mails of Democratic institutions added to the alarm. And CNN is told that then President-elect Trump and then President
Barack Obama were briefed on concerns about the extensive communications in January.
Trump, in January, denying any knowledge of contacts with the Russians.
REPORTER: Did you or anyone in your campaign have any contact with Russia, leading up to or during the campaign?
BROWN: Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied there was any contact.
REPORTER: Can you still say definitively, that nobody on the Trump campaign, not even General Flynn, had any contact with the Russians before the election?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My understanding is that what General Flynn has now expressed is that during the transition period -- well, we were very clear, that during the transition period, he did speak with the ambassador.
REPORTER: I'm talking about during the campaign.
SPICER: I don't have any -- there's nothing that would conclude me that anything has changed with respect to that time period.
BROWN: Officials say the communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collections targeting Russians known to U.S. intelligence. And among those who regularly communicated with Russian nationals, then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn, who resigned his post as Trump's national security adviser, Monday night, after news reports about a call with Russia's ambassador regarding U.S. sanctions.
[20:05:04] Manafort denied the claims in an interview with CNN, calling the allegations, quote, "boggling," saying, "That is 100 percent not true, at least as far as me. I don't remember talking to any Russian officials, ever. Certainly during the time we're talking about."
COOPER: So, Pamela, do investigators know why, apparently, Trump aides were talking to Russians? And it's clear, I mean, you said the Russian were known to U.S. intelligence. Does that mean that they were intelligence officers in Russia? And was that known to the Trump people? Or did the Trump people know exactly who they were talking to?
BROWN: So, as you know, U.S. officials monitor a lot of foreign officials. We're not -- we haven't been able to determine, and I'm not sure the FBI has been able to determine that they were Russian intelligence officials. But what we're learning from the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies is that they continue to try to determine what the intent was for the communications between people close to Trump and the Russians.
So they're trying to answer the why. Bottom line, though, is the reason is inconclusive. One concern, that they continue to look at, and try to figure out was whether Trump associates were coordinating with Russian intelligence operatives over the release of damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign, as one source said, if that were the case, and that would escalate things.
But again, there is nothing to prove that at this stage in the investigation. But it is ongoing, and it is a broad probe.
COOPER: So, just to be clear, we don't know what the nature of these conversations were, whether it was some ongoing business deals that people in the Trump campaign may have had. Paul Manafort, obviously, had history in the region. It's possible that that's what it was?
BROWN: So, from our sources, what they're telling us is that these communications raised a red flag that it could be something beyond that. What we're trying to figure out, Anderson, bottom line, is of course, the content.
We've been told about the Russian-to-Russian conversation. Some of those intercepted conversations talking about access and being able to influence Trump, though it's unclear whether they were inflating that. But in terms of the conversation between Russians and people within the Trump's orbit, it could just be metadata or encrypted communications, which makes it difficult, more difficult to know the content. This, of course, is what we're still pursuing and trying to figure out, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Pam Brown, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
There's more breaking news tonight surrounding this story. It's coming from the office of a vice president who was kept in the dark about it for weeks.
CNN's Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House with that.
So, new information tonight that Vice President Pence is focused on getting to the bottom of exactly how he was misled. What do you know?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Anderson, there's another Mike in the middle of all of this, Vice President Mike Pence. We're told by a senior administration official that the vice president is focused on getting to the bottom of this. Specifically, this source tells CNN that he wants to know how this information got to the president on January 26th, that the Justice Department was concerned about this phone call, that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador. And yet that information did not get to the vice president.
And at this point, the source is saying, listen, we don't want to pass on any kind of implication here that the president and the vice president, that there's some friction between these two men. This source is saying that does not exist. Anderson, keep in mind, this is the sort of thing that is going to
create impressions out there, that the vice president, obviously, is being kept in the dark, and out of the loop. Consider what these former spokeswoman for Vice President Joe Biden just tweeted in the last several minutes. If we have it, we can put it up on screen.
She says, "Would President Obama have kept Vice President Biden in the dark for two weeks about information directly related to the vice president's credibility? No." That is from Kendra Barkoff Lamy who was a spokesman for Vice President Biden.
So that just goes to show you, Anderson, these are the considerations that go on inside the minds of the people who work inside the vice president's office, when he's kept in the dark, people are not happy.
COOPER: And, Jim, just so we're clear, last night we were reporting the vice president wasn't told about this by the president or somebody in the White House. That he actually learned about --
ACOSTA: He learned about it from the news media.
COOPER: So, that's for sure. That he actually, after, being kept in the dark, it was -- he watched it on television or read about it?
ACOSTA: That's right.
Our understanding is that after the president found out about this on January 26th, and that was relayed to him by the White House counsel, Don McGahn, that nobody thought it was important enough inside the administration to inform the vice president until the February 9th. Anderson, that is last Friday or last Thursday, I believe. And that is when the vice president, apparently, through his officials, heard about this from reporters in the news media, who were about to report on all of this.
[20:10:00] COOPER: That's incredible.
ACOSTA: So he was clearly kept in the dark.
COOPER: You were at today's news conference, obviously, where the president didn't refute any details regarding the Flynn story, but instead he called -- it was interesting, he called Flynn a wonderful man, and then said that basically he's been treated terribly by the media, making it sound almost like the media had fired him, when, in fact, it was supposed to be the president himself?
ACOSTA: It was pretty puzzling. It was as if Michael Flynn had not been fired by the president, the way the president was talking today. He described General Flynn as a wonderful man and was extolling his virtues.
But, you know, keep in mind, we have heard conflicting stories from this White House all week. First, it was that Michael Flynn had stepped down on his own and then we heard from the press secretary that, no, he had been fired. And that was really the only Russia- related question that was asked during this news conference with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Anderson, I tried to shout a question to the president about whether he had any comment about these contacts, these constant contacts as we've been reporting on CNN between his campaign advisers and officials and associates during the campaign and Russian operatives over in Russia. He appeared to hear the question, Anderson, but just did not respond. He turned and then decided not to respond, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's bring in the panel. "USA Today" columnist and CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers, Mary Katharine Ham, CNN senior political commentator and senior writer for "The Federalist", CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, host of "Axe File" podcast and former top Obama adviser. Also with us tonight, CNN political analyst and investigative journalist, Carl Bernstein.
Kirsten, there's obviously a lot of different stuff to talk about. What do you want to take first?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, there's a lot of different things. I do think it's fascinating that they didn't think this was important enough information to get to the vice president.
COOPER: To even tell him! I think --
POWERS: Yes, I mean, this seems like it would be top of the mind information you'd be sharing with people, even if they weren't going out public, to discuss it. That this would be something that they would be alarmed about.
And I think when you look at what Donald Trump said at the press conference, in terms of, he was a wonderful man and all of this stuff, and it seems like he didn't want to fire them, I think we can deduce from that he didn't want to fire him, and the only reason he did is because it went public, not because he was actually concerned.
COOPER: Right. I mean, backing that up is it was only after "The Washington Post" first broke the story, I guess, what, two nights ago?
POWERS: Right. It was only once it came into the public eye, even though they had known about it for quite some time from the attorney general. So --
COOPER: That did seem to be confirmation to me, at least, today that --
POWERS: That's how I took it.
COOPER: Yes, the president based -- I mean, Mary Katharine, is that how you saw it, as well? That the president essentially did this because, oh, now it's out in the public. So, now, he's blaming the media.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he's so mercurial, also, that whenever he's talking to the next person, he's going to give them what they want to hear. So there's a bit of that involved here, too.
But, you know, he says it's fake media that did this. Well, he was real fired. So, this is how that went down.
Look, I think -- I'm old enough to remember a president who often didn't hear about things until they report it in the media, scandals and whatnot. So, Pence and President Obama have some of that in common.
But look, I think this is a serious problem. And the thing about a lot of this is you don't know, often, with this White House or with the intelligence community, why is this being leaked? Why are we hearing this particular thing? What are the motivations?
So, I want to be careful about that.
HAM: In this case, the principle himself, Flynn, walked back his denial.
Now, it may be the fact that these actual transcripts show that it was not as salacious as some have been saying. I think that may be the case. But he still lied about it.
COOPER: And again, I talked about this last night, probably too much. But it's the something I don't understand, is if what he did was fine and approved and there was no issue with it, and it wasn't legal or anything, why lie about it? Why lie about it to the vice president? Why lie about it to Sean Spicer and others? I mean that's --
HAM: Doesn't make sense.
COOPER: Carl Bernstein, what we're hearing from the White House, their focus seems to be this story is really about leaks coming from various quarters of the U.S. government, possibly the White House, or the intelligence community or whatever, you know a thing or two about leaks.
When you hear the White House saying, that's the real story, what do you think?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That they're trying to make the conduct of both the press and the outgoing intelligence community under President Obama the issue here, instead of the conduct of President Trump and the men in his campaign and those in his business organization. And that's what's under investigation and that's what has so alarmed the FBI officials looking at this, as well as people in Congress, including Republicans, as that preliminary indications are that these extensive contacts that are inexplicable so far. And they're partly inexplicable because there's been no comment from the people involved, including those closest to the president of the United States.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, David Axelrod to Carl's point, one could -- there's a lot of questions right now. And again, we don't know, from based on the reporting and the sourcing on it, we don't know what the contacts exactly were, what conversations were had. But there's an easy way to solve that problem, by having people in the campaign come forward and say, this is the person I was talking to.
[20:15:04] I mean, there are people in the campaign who know who they were talking to and why, and there's probably -- you know, they may well be an innocent explanation for it. How do you look at how the White House is handling this?
Paul Begala last night was making the point that, you know, this is just going to snowball until answers start to be provided.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Anderson, in my experience, generally, if there are innocent answers, they come forward pretty quickly. If they're not innocent answers, they don't come forward pretty quickly.
Look, a few things. One is on the subject of leaks, what seems pretty clear is that were the media not pursuing these things, I'm not sure Mike Pence still would know that he was lied to by General Flynn. So that's -- let's set aside the leaks question for a second. But, you -- everybody suggests they're bewildered as to why. And it is bewildering that the president would be so effusive about someone who he essentially fired yesterday.
Well, here's a theory. One of the issues is, who authorized General Flynn to have these conversations with the Russian ambassador? Apparently multiple conversations, in which the subject of sanctions came up. Did he do it on his own?
There are only people who know the answer to that question, and that's Mike Flynn and the president of the United States. Likewise, if General Flynn was, as may be the case, having discussions with the Russians that related to the campaign during the campaign, did the president-elect, then a candidate, know about that. Mike Flynn is the guy who has the answers to that.
So, if the president was kind and embracing of Mike Flynn today, he may have a reason for that.
POWERS: I was going to say, there's also the question of, if this happened -- if the president knew or if he didn't know, either way, why it happened, right? So, why would you tell Russia this when the sanctions were for interfering in the U.S. election. So why would you suggest to them that you're going to let up on them for doing something that most people agree is unacceptable, right? I mean, that they should be punished for, even if you don't like your political opponent.
He's basically letting them know, it seems like, that it would be OK -- it's OK what you did, with, right? I mean, I don't know --
COOPER: And then you have the president tweeting praise of Vladimir Putin for not reciprocating on actions --
POWERS: Yes, it's pretty unprecedented behavior for a government official to do this.
COOPER: We've got to come pack. We'll have more conversation with the panel and pick it up, along with more breaking new -- this time on a new bipartisan effort for a congressional investigation. Details on that.
And later, seemingly casual remarks from President Trump, reversing decades of U.S. policy in Israeli Palestinian conflict. We'll talk to a former peace negotiator about any potential impact it may already be having, when we continue.
[20:21:10] COOPER: We have new reporting tonight on breaking news on how Republican lawmakers plan to look into the Michael Flynn affair, and the larger question of Russia's role in the U.S. election. Now, this as you might imagine, not a comfortable moment for the GOP.
CNN's Manu Raju joins us with more tonight from Capitol Hill.
Manu, you spoke to lawmakers about the status of the investigation to the administration's ties to Russia. What did they tell you?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that one, to look into this even deeper. There are a number of investigations ongoing on Capitol Hill, and one tonight, from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the two leaders of that committee, Chuck Grassley, the Republican, Dianne Feinstein, the Democrats sending a letter to Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, and FBI Director James Comey, asking for a briefing for more information about exactly what happened, and other committees, including the Senate Intelligence Committee looking very deeply into the ties between Trump campaign and Russian officials during the time of the election.
Now, I had a chance also to talk to another chairman of the committee, who was looking also into this matter. John McCain of Arizona, who was very concerned about what he views as turmoil in the White House.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Do you think there's any evidence of cooperation between the Trump campaign and --
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZOINA: It's too early. I think it's too early. But it raises serious questions. And also, my concern is also that with now no national security adviser and the turmoil within the administration, makes it very difficult for us to exercise responsibilities as to defend the nation. There is a turmoil as far as national security is concerned, within the White House and that needs to be fixed, as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, there is disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about who will actually conduct the investigation. Democrats wanting a separate bipartisan commission to look into this very deeply. Republicans believe it can be done with the existing committees in Congress since Republicans control Congress. That's where it's going to be.
So, the question will be, will any of this actually become public, especially the ones done in a classified setting by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
COOPER: Well, Manu Raju, thanks to the update. Back with the panel.
Joining us also is Democratic strategist Jonathan Tasini, and Jeffrey Lord. He's a Trump supporter and contributing editor to the "American Spectator", which, by the way, came into current existence, we should add, just a few years before the Reagan administration.
JONATHAN TASINI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So, it's how old he is.
COOPER: I got to mention -- I got to mention Ronald Reagan before you do it tonight.
JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: That's good. I wasn't sure I was going there tonight.
COOPER: I haven't had a chance to ask you this, before a break, but can you understand the reason why the Trump campaign would be in constant contact with Russian officials during the campaign? I mean, does that make sense to you?
LORD: I don't know what we're talking about here. Are we -- are they -- were there officials in the campaign who were in touch with them? I don't know the answer to that --
COOPER: Right, and we don't know the nature of the contacts --
LORD: Right, right. But based on my experience in presidential campaigns, when you get to the point where you're a nominee of a political party, foreign folks want to get in touch to see, you know, who are these people?
I was listening to Pat Buchanan the other day. And he said, after Richard Nixon was elected, but before he was sworn in, he was contacted by a Russian guy, whom he assumed to be KGB. He told Dr. Kissinger, who was then going to be the new NSC guy, that this contact was made. He went, he had the meeting and reported on it, et cetera.
There's nothing unusual about it in that sense. COOPER: Mary Katharine, is there anything -- you know, obviously, the
backstory is Russia is believed to be hacking into the DNC and others.
HAM: Yes, I'm somebody that's been wary about these connections throughout the election and skeptical. But a lot of times the headlines for these stories read like, oh, there's a constant contact, and you read down and you say, there's not proof that they're colluding in any way, which seems to me to be a pretty big part of the story.
So, I think that part concerns me. And I think the Trump White House is in a weird situation where they have to prove a negative.
[20:25:01] They can come out with explanations and I think they should. And maybe not all of them are perfectly innocent. But this is all sort of classified information. It's going to happen in these briefings. The intel community can leak what it wants.
And then you end up in a situation where no one really knows the full truth. So, I do think that's a tricky situation to be in. But the whole time, they've been falling on the friendly side of the Russia ledger.
POWERS: But if we don't know what it says, OK, we don't know what it says. But we know it says enough that makes Mike Pence think that something happened, right?
HAM: Well, in that case, yes, I'm talking about the campaign connections.
POWERS: But the Flynn thing in itself, is pretty damaging.
TASINI: To Anderson's question, before, if there was no big deal, why did Mike Flynn lie about the others?
LORD: I mean, I don't know what the answer is. I genuinely don't know. I think -- if they're going to investigate, there are plenty of other things that are important, more important, that we should be dealing with.
But if we're going to look into this, let's look into the whole deal. It is a federal crime to be leaking classified information to anybody not entitled to have it. You can go to the slammer for up to ten years here.
So, I think -- I would like to find out who's doing the leaking in the intelligence community, because you can't be having that.
COOPER: David Axelrod, when you hear the White House talk about leaks and focus on leaks, obviously, you worked in Washington. I mean, leaks have been around a long time. Is this anything particularly unusual?
AXELROD: Well, leaks have been around for a long time and presidents complaining about leaks have been around for a long time, including the president that I worked for. I mean, there are a lot of reasons why this is unusual.
There seem to be multiple sources around this. And by the way, some of them may be in the White House itself. It was the White House who was informed by the acting attorney general about General Flynn's conversations with the ambassador. And who's to say that there wasn't a source within the White House, who leaked it?
But -- and that is a discussion that can be had. And I'm sure there'll be an attempt to try to pursue some of that. But as I said earlier, it's also true that without the leak, perhaps Mike Pence, the vice president, would never have been informed that he had been lied to. Perhaps General Flynn would be operating in that position even today.
And one of the things that's not easy to understand here is, if you have someone in as sensitive as a position as national security adviser, and you know based on what you've been told and presumably they've read the transcripts, the classified transcripts, that he wasn't forthcoming, that he didn't tell the truth, not just to the vice president, but to the country, why do you wait for the thing to leak before you take action?
And it may go back to the point I said before, which is it may be that the president and General Flynn have a relationship and share some experiences that they hope not to become public.
COOPER: Carl, it does seem, to the point that Kirsten was making earlier, based on the president's comments today, criticizing the media for how they treated General Flynn and speaking about him in such glowing terms, it did make it sound as if he only asked for the resignation because this story broke publicly.
BERNSTEIN: I think that's been Trump's behavior throughout all of this. That he has done absolutely nothing in a forthright about anything having to do with Russia, with the hacking of the Democrats, that every little piece has been pulled out by investigators, by the press.
But let me try to enlarge the picture a bit here in what we're talking about. One of the things that investigators are looking at and that the Congress will look at are relationships -- relationships in the Trump organization of Donald Trump and his businesses to Russians, Russian nationals. There's larger playing field here that may or may not relate to what happened during the campaign. And we know precious little in the press so far about what has been found out and what might be found out.
But the landscape of this investigation is vast, and to find out what happened in the campaign, is going to involve, so I'm told, looking at these past relationships involving Donald Trump, involving Mr. Manafort, involving others. There are business relationships, and it's not just Russia itself, the Russian federation, it's greater Russia. The former republics that are adjacent to -- of the former Soviet Union, that are adjacent to Russia, that are still largely under control and auspices of Russian intelligence officials.
So, there's much larger playing field here, that we're going to be seeing to have a big federal investigation, congressional investigation, than we're talking about. It's not just General Flynn, et cetera.
COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We're going to have more from our panel in just a moment. We'll continue the conversation in just a few minutes. Stick around.
[20:30:02] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- that we're going to take a quick break. We're going to have more from our panel in just a moment. We'll continue the conversation in just a few minutes.
COOPER: As Manu Raju just reported, Senators Grassley and Feinstein, Republican and Democrat, respectively, have asked the FBI and Justice Department for a briefing and full transcripts of the intercepted calls between Trump advisers and Russians. In his calls for investigations into the matter intensifies, some of the left are asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to be part of any investigations related to the Russian connection.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer saying Justice Department guidelines are clear on this, and says he expects the attorney general to follow them. As you may remember, Mr. Sessions was fully on team Trump, obviously, during the campaign.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I believe there's nobody run for president in years who understands how to negotiate more effectively than Donald Trump.
Donald Trump is speaking for the American people against a corrupt international Washingtonian establishment.
Thank you for the work you've put into the immigration issue. I'm really impressed with your plan. I know it will make a difference.
[20:34:58] Donald Trump is the leader who will bring change. Will build the wall, will kill Obama trade. Donald Trump will make America great again.
COOPER: And back now with the panel. Kirsten, I mean should the attorney general recuse himself from anything revolving around the Russian investigation?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think he should. But to be fair, this, you know, Eric Holder was obviously very closely --
COOPER: Sure, of course.
POWERS: -- aligned with President Obama. But that doesn't mean that he shouldn't have recused himself in certain instances, either. And it wasn't as overtly, I think, partisan in this way like campaigning, so, you know, high -- in such a high-profile manner.
Look, I don't think really anybody who's on team Trump or even a lot of the Republicans can be trusted to investigate this fairly. Even if they investigated it on the Hill, they're saying now not to do a select committee, they'll do the intelligence committee. It's very hard to believe that they're going to go after Trump in any kind of serious way, because they finally are in control of everything, and they're going to be able to get all of their wish list done, because Trump is president. And so they all apparently have a conflict of interest, right. Because they don't want to take him down.
COOPER: And David Axelrod, I mean are all investigations, scathing committees equal?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think one of the issues is the one that's been raised, which is, if it all is conducted within the intelligence committee and a lot of it is classified, there won't be a public airing of these issues. It seems important at this juncture to reassure the country and give them full visibility on what happened. So whatever happens here, you want there to be that transparency. You want there to be that level of exposure to what actually happened, so people have a clear sense.
Let me just make one other point, though, on General Flynn, that I think should be part of whatever review, and probably is, and that is, one of the things that distinguished him over the course of the campaign was that he and his son were occasionally transmitting through Twitter what has become known as fake news. The providence of some of which began overseas. We know from the intelligence community that among the mischief the Russians were engaged in was encouraging this fake news. Most of it aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton.
What did General Flynn know about this? How did he happen to be following these sites? And what does that trail lead back to some of these Russian actors that they -- that the intelligence community believes was involved -- were involved in this? I think this is also an element that needs to be reviewed.
JONATHAN TASINI, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: We already know the Republicans are not interested in investigating Trump and it won't happen. To Kristen's point, putting -- setting aside this issue, from the very first day that Donald Trump was sworn into office, he's violated the constitution, he's violated the emoluments clause, both Domestic and International by investigating his business holy (ph). The Republicans have basically sidestepped that and refuse to look into even though Democrats have called for an investigation that I doubt that they're going to now follow up with this.
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Was there an investigation --
TASINI: It has nothing to do with --
LORD: It does. If you're saying, why aren't they doing this, why wasn't it done when you guys were in charge --
TASINI: We're talking about -- well we're talking about -- tell me what parts the constitution --
COOPER: It's an arguable point about the emoluments clause.
COOPER: I mean I think --
TASINI: That's right, but it's critical -- he has not fully divests himself --
COOPER: But it's clear to you, but it's not really clear. I mean that's a violation of --
COOPER: -- I mean I think it's an --
TASINI: But Republicans are not even -- nobody's willing to actually even convene an investigation.
TASINI: So look at that.
COOPER: David? Or David do you want to get in?
AXELROD: Yeah -- one other quick --
COOPER: David Axelrod?
AXELROD: One of the things that I think gave people some pause yesterday was when Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee said he thought this matter was resolved by General Flynn's resignation.
Now, remember, he had announced before the election that he was prepared with two years of investigations that he was going to hold relative to Hillary Clinton, if she got elected president, he then said after the election, they were not relevant anymore. And yet he sees nothing here to investigate. And when those things happen, it does create suspicion about how sincere the Republicans are about pursuing this and getting to the bottom of it.
COOPER: Mary Katherine?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, breaking news politicians act like politicians and they are partisan, and that's going to be part of this discussion, it was part of the discussion during the Obama administration.
TASINI: But there's no balance. That's they control the --
COOPER: All right, Carl Bernstein and we got to go. Carl?
HAM: Because they lost.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The purpose here is not to go after Donald Trump. The purpose here is to find out what happened, particularly during an American election. And I'm very wary of Watergate comparisons, but there is one. And that is the Watergate investigation by the Senate was about the campaign activities of the president of the United States. And we have a similar situation here, where, we do not know what happened in the presidential campaign, and it is essential to our democracy to found out what happened in our presidential campaign.
[20:40:12] And thus far, the president of the United States has not been helpful to that process. It's not about going after Donald Trump. It's about finding out what happened, and he and his people ought to be cooperating and in terms of the attorney general of the United States, he ought to recuse himself, because he was one of those involved deeply in the campaign itself, and could be a principle here.
COOPER: All right.
BERNSTEIN: He needs to recuse himself.
COOPER: I want to thank everybody.
Coming up, President Trump seeming to break with his past two predecessors when it comes to Middle East peace process. What he said today at the White House in a press conference with Israel's Prime Minister, next.
COOPER: After his first face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today, President Trump said he would like Israel to, quote, hold back on settlements for a little bit. At a joint press conference, the president was asked about his vision for Middle East peace and if he was ready to give up the notion of the two-state solution.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two.
[20:45:14] But honestly, if Bibi, and if the Palestinians are -- if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best. (END VIDEOTAPE)
COOPER: Joining me is the former United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace in the Obama administration, former Senator George Mitchell.
When President Trump says he likes the policy, whichever one Israel and the Palestinians like I mean, that's, first of all, a shift in U.S. policy, the idea of not just a two-state solution. When you heard that, what did you think?
SEN. GEORGE MITCHELL, FMR U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST: I thought immediately of a speech that President George W. Bush made in Jerusalem in January of 2008, in which he set forth persuasively the rationale for what has been American policy through a Republican and Democratic presidents in favor of a two-state solution on grounds, that's what's best for both Israelis and Palestinians. And he argued to the leaders of both sides that they should be vested in the other's interest, because that's the only way they could get what they want.
I think, frankly, that there is no viable or feasible one-state solution. But difficult enough for anyone, in every circumstance, but I think it will circle back, eventually, to two-state solution, because that has to be a separation.
COOPER: Words matter a lot in the Middle East. I mean, people are looking for signals on all sides of this. And to see Donald Trump, in some ways, it seemed like kind of talking extemporaneously, which I thought was very interesting, there are those who will say, look, you know, the U.S. policy hasn't worked in the region to bring peace. Why not try something new?
MITCHELL: That's a fair statement. And of course, words that are spoken casually may well be calibrated. The casualness may be part of the calibration. Who knows? But I think the reality is to the contrary. What he said was what the two of them want. And of course, the problem is what the two of them want are different.
MITCHELL: Otherwise, there would have been an agreement long before now. And that will have to be worked out. But, the one-state solution assumes that the Palestinians will give up their search for a state. In fact, they have no better example of persistence and determination than the Israelis themselves.
There is no comparable event in history to the Jews being forcibly dispersed 2,000 years ago and then regrouping and getting their state through determination and persistence. There's no reason to believe that the Palestinians are any less determined.
COOPER: The president did seem to kind of push back and directly talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu during the press conference. I just want to play a moment from it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right? As far as settlements, I would like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We'll work something out. But I would like to see a deal be made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was a fascinating moment, to see him turn to the prime minister and say that. What do you think is behind President Trump's seeming shift on settlements? Because during the campaign, he had blasted President Obama's White House for abstaining on a vote, and the UN condemning settlement expansion.
MITCHELL: Right. Well, I think he's confronted with the realities now. You can say anything you want on the campaign trail. You can promise anything you want. But when you confront the hard realities, when you're in office, when you get information that makes it clear that what you said in the campaign just isn't realistic, then you have to modify your views.
COOPER: The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the one that Donald Trump has said, you know, is going to be kind of focusing on the idea of getting a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He has said to kind of be looking at an outside-in strategy, looking to other players in the region, in the Arab countries, to basically bring Palestinians along in order to get them to the table. Is that feasible?
MITCHELL: It is feasible. We tried that. I tried very hard in behalf of President Obama to get the Arab states to take steps in the direction of normalization, based on the Arab peace initiative, proposed initially by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. And we asked everybody to do something, the Israelis to a settlement freeze and the Palestinians to take steps to reduce incitement and hatred, and so forth. But everybody wanted the other rule first, so nobody would move at all.
Now circumstances have changed somewhat. The threat of Iran looms larger in the region. The gulf Arabs are deeply concerned about Iran. They like that part of what President Trump is saying, the hostility toward Iran, although they don't like the part about the Palestinian- Israeli issue.
[20:50:10] And so there is a possibility. They do have a common interest. And so it makes sense to try get them going, I applaud that. And as far as Jared Kushner is concern, I don't know him, but a new face, look we have 12 presidents (ph), 20 sectors of state a new broil invoice like myself have been able to get two-state deal, maybe someone from the outside can do it. I wish him very well. I do think though that will end up sooner or later back with a two-state solution.
COOPER: All right, Senator Mitchell, thank you so much for your time.
MITCHELL: Thank you. COOPER: Appreciate it. Well, just ahead, America uncovered. Gary Tuchman heads to Yuma, Arizona and hear what Trump supporters are saying about the turmoil in the White House.
COOPER: President Trump tweeted today that he's holding a rally Saturday in Orlando at the airport. It will cap another tumultuous week in his presidency, from Michael Flynn's resignation to the flood of new leads back Trump's campaign adviser communications with Russian contacts, to the withdrawal of Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder. And it's only Wednesday.
Now, this program would like to bring you as many perspectives on the days news as possible from as many different pasts of America as possible. So in tonight's "America Uncovered", Gary Tuchman speaks to Trump supporters in Deep Red Arizona.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yuma County, Arizona is Trump is Trump country, was before the election, still is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's done fantastic at that y compared to what we had before.
TUCHMAN: But what do Trump supporters here make up the controversy swirling around the White House. Many believe its pure conspiracy.
Who do you think is behind all this bad news about Donald Trump?
CHARLENE ELLIOTT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, I think part of it is the Democrats, but I also think a part of it is the media.
TUCHMAN: Do you think any part of it is Donald Trump? Is he responsible for any of this?
ELLIOTT: At this point in time, I don't have a feeling that he is.
[20:55:00] TUCHMAN: Many people in Yuma County who voted for Trump agree, but are far angrier about it.
KEN MANI, TRUMP SUPPORTER: There's still people in Donald Trump's administration that are left over from Obama. And I feel they're sabotaging Donald Trump.
TUCHMAN: But Ken Mani does believe that General Michael Flynn had to go for the sake of the boss.
MANI: He stepped away so Donald Trump can continue with his administration.
TUCHMAN: A similar sentiment about General Flynn from it this man visiting from Michigan, also a red state in this election.
BRUCE HOFFMAN, TRUMP VOTE: Maybe the guy was in over his hid to start off with. He was a good man, he's a general in the army, had to know what he was doing, but made some political mistakes and paid the price for it.
TUCHMAN: We go inside Loot's casino, which is said to have the state's oldest pool hub (ph) and definitely has a largely restaurant and bar, which lively opinions about the Trump administration and its Russian connections.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I like have in our side, I believed.
TUCHMAN: You have no problem with our relationship?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
TUCHMAN: And what may have been done during the campaign?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
TUCHMAN: However, this Trump supporter feels a bit differently.
Do you think his people could been talking to Russian operatives and does it bother you?
LEANN CHERRY, TRUMP VOTER: Yeah, it does, it does.
TUCHMAN: Does it affect your feelings about the man you voted for Donald Trump?
CHERRY: There's going to be something wrong with everyone in that office.
TUCHMAN: But as for the turmoil at large, many say they have no worries at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love, I'm elated every day.
COOPER: Gary joins me now. So the Trump supporters as you talk, did any of them seem to be less loyal to the president due to any of his controversies?
TUCHMAN: Well Anderson, a few of the Trump voters we talked to seem to be less comfortable with Donald Trump than they were when they cast their ballot for him on November 8th. I talked to one woman who said I'm happy with 75 percent of what he's done, not so happy with 25 percent of what he's done.
But none of these people seem to have any diminishment and loyalty. You saw the gentleman in our story about General Flynn, he doesn't -- General Flynn did anything wrong but that he felt General Flynn became a lightning rod, and that's why he needed to go, because he didn't want him to affect Donald Trump, the man he is loyal to. Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Gary, thanks very much. We appreciate all those people participating. Much more ahead on a busy news night, Vice President Pence now demanding answers as to why he was misled about Michael Flynn's calls with the Russian ambassador, while President Trump tries to deflect blame for the Flynn mess onto the media as well as the leakers.