Return to Transcripts main page


Exclusive: FBI Refused W.H. Request to Knock Down Recent Trump Russia Stories; Exclusive: W.H. Intel Report to Help Justify Travel Ban; Chief W.H. Strategist Steven Bannon Takes Center Stage; Chief W.H. Strategist Pushes Ambitious Plans; Florida Lawmaker Strategizes How to Deal with Angry Constituents; Some Lawyers Face Anger, Others Stay Away; Tillerson, Kelly Visit Mexico to Soothe Tensions; President Trump's Oval Office VIP List. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:55] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, topping this hour of "360", two stories you'll only see right here, exclusive CNN reporting. The White House pushed the FBI to knock down reports, some of which CNN also broke on contact between Trump campaign advisors and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. Also, another exclusive, new insight into White House efforts to provide factual justification for the upcoming rewritten travel ban. We've learned which agency is spear heading it and who among it are worried they are being asked to cook intelligence to fit the administration policy.

We begin, though, with the FBI story that the White House wanted and how the Bureau responded. CNN's Jim Scuitto and Evan Perez joining us now with that.

So, Jim, what did you find out?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So, Anderson, CNN has told that the FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications during the 2016 presidential campaign between Donald Trump's associates and advisors and Russians that are known to U.S. intelligence.

Multiple U.S. officials tell CNN that the White House sought the help, not only of the Bureau, but other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, these officials said. You may recall that CNN and "The New York Times" first reported on this just over a week ago. So far, there has been no White House comment on the record.

COOPER: And, Evan, this is not a typical request. So, how did it start?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. You saw law enforcement official says that this began with the FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting on the day after the stories were published. Now a White House official says that McCabe told Priebus that "The New York Times" story vastly over stated what the FBI knows about these Russian contacts.

But the official -- but an official tells us that McCabe didn't actually discuss aspects of the case and we don't know exactly what McCabe told Priebus. The White House official says that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to the FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute these stories. The FBI refused. And I should add, the FBI declined to comment for this story, Anderson.

COOPER: So, Jim, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denied that story. This is what he said a week ago on "Fox News Sunday".


REINCE PREIBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: "The New York Times", last week, put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous-type accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this.

I can assure you, and I've been approved to say this, that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate but it's grossly over stated and it was wrong and there's nothing to it.


COOPER: But, Jim, I mean, the investigation is still going on and also, I should point out, Priebus is focusing on "The New York Times" reporting talking about Russian spies, the CNN reporting said Russians known to U.S. intelligence. So there is potentially difference there.

SCIUTTO: That's right. A couple points here. First of all, if Reince Priebus is saying there is nothing to reports of communications between Trump advisors and Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the campaign, that's not accurate. We know that the FBI is still investigating these alleged communications. Several members of the House and Senate intelligence committees tell CNN that Congress is still investigating those alleged contacts. That investigation has just begun, they're starting to collect documents, records, et cetera. They're going to call other people to testify.

Now, on the issue of the difference between "The New York Times" and the CNN reporting on this, our reporting is multiple repeated contacts between advisors to the Trump campaign during the campaign and Russian officials and other Russians known to U.S. intelligence. The "Times" said with Russian intelligence operatives, I think the Russian spies that Reince Priebus might have been referring to there, that is a difference.

Now, what it doesn't deny, though, is that there were contacts between Trump campaign advisors and Russian officials and Russians known to U.S. intelligence and that is still significant enough by itself, Anderson, for not only FBI but Senate and House intelligence committees to continue to investigate.

[21:05:08] COOPER: And Evan, this is not a typical back and forth between the White House and the FBI, right?

PEREZ: That's right, Anderson. This communication between the White House and the FBI is unusual because of a decade hold restriction on such contacts. Now, the White House -- the request from the White House would appear to violate procedures that limit just these types of communications with the FBI on pending investigations.

Now, a White House official said that the White House only did this because McCabe initiated the conversation. In other words, it was only after he brought it up. But either way, the White House asking the FBI to help refute stories runs contrary to the Justice Department procedure memos that was issued -- that were issued in 2007 and 2009 that they're supposed to limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Evan Perez, appreciate it, Jim Sciutto, as well.

A lot to talk about tonight. Tonight's second CNN exclusive concerns the White House travel ban, which is currently being redrafted, as you know, to pass judicial muster. We have new reporting on administration efforts to provide a factual basis for it. We're also learning about the push back from some in the intelligence community who have been given the job of evaluating the evidence. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has the new reporting on this for us tonight.

Pam, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, according to sources who spoke to my colleague Jake Tapper and I, the White House made this request to DHS to bolster its case for why the seven countries listed in the travel ban should remain after it was blocked by the courts. As senior White House official tells CNN that the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, "Are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and that these seven countries have all been exporters of terrorism into the United States. The situation has gotten more dangerous in recent years, and more broadly, the refugee program has been a major incubator for terrorism."

Now this report was requested in light of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals conclusion, as you know, that the Trump administration saying in that ruling has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. But CNN has learned that some current intelligence officials within the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere are concerned about this assignment.

COOPER: Concerned in what way?

BROWN: So we've learned from our sources that some disagree with the Trump White House position on the seven countries. Sources tell CNN that the Department of Homeland Security in house intelligence agency, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, otherwise known as I&A, has filed a report, actually, disagreeing with the White House view that blocking immigration from all seven countries, even temporarily is justified. They disagree with that assessment and some DHS officials have said that they do not think nationality is the best indicator of potential terrorism.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security press secretary confirmed this saying to CNN, "While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official robust document with thorough interagency vetting."

In fact, Anderson, the Department of Homeland Security basically disparaged its own intelligence divisions report saying, "The I&A report does not include data from other intelligence community sources." A DHS spokeswoman telling CNN, "It is incomplete pointed internal discussions about the merits of various intelligence products and whether they have sufficient supporting data from the broader intelligence community is an integral part of developing any official DHS intelligence assessment."

COOPER: So, I understand, there's also concern among some within the intelligence community that the White House is kind of going about this the wrong way.

BROWN: That's right. So the notion of the Trump White House seeking an intelligence report to fit its policy instead of the other way around is an issue for many in the intelligence community, according to people we have spoken with.

Our sources tell us that there are those within the Department of Homeland Security, with concerns that intelligence at the Department itself might even be politicized, particularly by the new head of I&A, David Glawe, who initially objected to his division's assessment that was at odds with the White House assessment, according to the sources, though the Department call that acquisition absurd and not factually accurate.

A White House official telling my colleague, Jake Tapper, that the White House intends to bolster its case for the ban pointing to non- lethal and failed terrorist attacks as well as investigations and convictions of individuals attempting to join or support terrorist groups. The White House says the new travel ban executive order will be signed next week. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Pam, thanks very much for the update.

BROWN: Thanks.

COOPER: All right. Just ahead tonight, he says he wants, in his words, to deconstruct what he calls the administrative state in Washington, he's also the President's top political advisor and he rarely speaks in public.

[21:10:00] Coming up next, hear what -- hear for yourself, what Steve Bannon has in mind. Some call it ambitious, others call it dangerous.

Later, how embattled GOP lawmakers are handling the town hall heat from constituents just ahead on "360".


COOPER: We got a rare chance today to see President Trump's chief political strategist layout, in no uncertain terms, his political strategy. Steve Bannon made his first public appearance since Mr. Trump took office, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC. It was more than just a rare occurrence, it was also the purest expression yet of the direction he sees for the administration and for the country. We got a few of the key moments starting with an attack from the press.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think if you look at, you know, the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they're portraying administration, it's always wrong. The center core of what we believe that we're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being. And I think that's what unites us and I think that that is what's going to unite this movement going forward.

We're the top of the first inning of this and it's going to take just as much fight, just as much focus and just as much determination. And the one thing I'd like to leave you guys today with is that, we want you to have our back. If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day, every day it is going to be a fight.


COOPER: CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the CPAC for us. What more did Bannon talk about?

[21:15:03] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we expected the broadsides directed at the press. That's kind of far for the course for the administration on the hole and certainly Steve Bannon. But I think one of the most interesting elements here is, as you noted, we haven't heard publicly from Steve Bannon since he stepped foot in the White House. This is an individual sort of the last people Donald Trump speaks to, President Trump speaks to before he makes any decisions. Stands just a few feet away from the Oval Office.

His world view is important. And that world view he laid out in three pillars. Economic, or national sovereignty, economic nationalism.

And as you noted, Anderson, deconstruction of the administrative state. It was really kind of that last one that caught everybody's attention, kind of a jarring comment. And Steve Bannon tried to kind of elaborate on that saying the Cabinet officials that were brought on for the Trump administration were essentially put into place to kind of take a part how these agencies actually work, how the regulatory structure actually works.

This is something that Steve Bannon spoke on pretty much at length before he joined the White House, before he even joined the Trump campaign, when he was the editor in chief of Breitbart News, kind of the fringe conservative publication, making clear, his views haven't changed and those views have kind of fueled Trump's policy beliefs throughout the campaign. And as Steve Bannon stated repeatedly, Anderson, wasn't just campaign talk. This is exactly what the President wants to deliver on in the weeks and months ahead.

COOPER: And the Vice President also spoke tonight.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's right. What you heard from Mike Pence really can be encapsulated in the last four words of his remarks, "Let's get to work." And the message was really two of the individuals that are here at this conference. You think about CPAC, what it actually means. It is representative of the conservative movement, not the Republican Party on the hole, the conservatives, who many of whom, obviously, identify with the Republican Party. This is the grassroots, this is the energy, the energizing kind of aspect of that party.

And there's a recognition while they dismiss it publicly, Anderson, that what they're seeing around the country right now, at town halls and congressional districts and states with senators that might be up for reelection in 2018, they need to get to work in matching that head on as quickly as possible. The individuals that attend CPAC, those are the individuals they are relying on to do just that. That was the Vice President's message today.

It's time to activate, it's time to get to work because if they don't, we're not just talking about their majorities perhaps being threatened in 2018 or 2020, they're talking about their very ambitious agenda, an agenda that's going to take a lot of work, a lot of political know-how to get through, that could be threatened as well. And if they can't accomplish what they promised on the campaign trail, especially with everything they've said over the last couple of weeks, everybody in the administration knows that is a serious, serious problem, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Phil Mattingly, fascinating day, appreciate it. Thanks very much, from CPAC tonight.

Plenty to talk about with the panel. Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, joins us. Jeffrey Lord is back. And joining us is CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, it was so interesting to see Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus side by side. I mean, there's been so much talk about divisions in the White House, chaos in the White House, in their relationship, who has the President's ear. What did you make of what you saw?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That they were trying very hard to tamp down on that by coming out. I mean, the symbolism of just, you know, the -- whacked us like a two by four on the head. It doesn't take a lot to read into that, right? OK, we get along. Got it. Got it. They called each other partner a lot. I do know that this is not new, the whole concept of the two of them trying to say that they work well together. And for example, Steve Bannon told me last week that he was livid that his former publication Breitbart did really big hit job, splashing front of the website on Reince Priebus saying that, you know, he was done.

Now, that very well could be that he needs Reince Priebus as a partner, not that he, you know -- that they truly have a lot of love for one another ideologically. And I think that is -- there is something to that. This is kind of an arranged marriage. Reince Priebus kidn of runs -- has the trains running on time, which is what his job is as White House chief of staff. And Bannon made very, very clear in this rare appearance that he sees himself and he truly is kind of the intellectual foundation for the Trump brand.

COOPER: But that -- what's so interesting about that intellectual foundation is that it's not traditionally conservative or, I mean, he's addressing CPAC, he's addressing an audience of conservatives and yet, you know, he's talking about populism, he's talking about nationalism, things which are not traditionally conservative.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not at all. One year ago, CPAC was attacking Donald Trump for saying he was gutless for not showing up. He'd been there two years before and then last year chose not to attend. Now, this is his movement, this is his party. The takeover is complete and you saw it today. The dominant partner between Preibus and Bannon is clearly Bannon.

Priebus, four years ago, sponsored this autopsy for the Republican Party. So we have to reach out to women, do better with minorities and back off, bashing gays. All that is over. This is Steve Bannon's movement and it's Trump's Republican Party. And it's a remarkable thing for me to watch because it means that -- and I'm going to beat Jeffrey to the Reagan reference. The Reagan Republican Party is dead.

[21:20:03] Ronald Reagan, who was created by CPAC in part, not really, he had quite a career, but he -- his presidential ambitions were first launched at CPAC many decades ago. He stood for free trade. Bannon completely shut the door on that. He stood for open immigration, in fact, signed amnesty and Bannon shut the door on that. Bannon went out of this way to criticize something I never heard Republican criticized globalist, capitalist corporations. Ronald Reagan worked for G.E., which is like the predominant globalist capitalist --

COOPER: Globalist, capitalist media.

BEGALA: Right.

COOPER: Globalism is a big enemy.

BEGALA: Apparently so. And for party, Ronald Reagan was the intellectual god father of NAFTA. Took two more presidents to get it in. But Bannon bragged about rolling back the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which had strong Republican support on the Hill, now, is dead. This is a new Republican Party. It's a revolution. BASH: He branded it. He called it economic nationalism.

BEGALA: Right.

COOPER: Jeffrey, I mean, when you hear Bannon say we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being, what did that mean to you?

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, when you listen to Ronald Reagan and his first inaugural address, he says we are Americans. I think that's what he's saying here. At least that's how I interpret it. I mean I read Breitbart every day, I see this notion of Breitbart as some white separatists or nationalist. I mean, this is just balonga. I mean, this is a conservative -- a conservative media outlet here. And it does have streak of populism, there's no question. In terms of free trade and things like that -- I mean, I have to say, if you go back to Abraham Lincoln, you go back to William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge, those folks, Republican presidents all were very much protectionists.

COOPER: Yes, but you're going far back there.

LORD: Well, but I'm just saying that this is in the Republican genes here, that we may have forgotten it and --

BAGALA: That's the kind of work for Reagan. It's got to break your heart to see his movement dead.

LORD: One of the things that Ronald Reagan was good about was realizing that the world moves on. I mean, the things that Ronald Reagan did in his presidency, I mean, the amnesty for example. I mean, I think, you can certainly make more than a reasonable case that the American people feel it didn't work.

COOPER: But do you see -- do you agree that this is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan? The Ronald Reagan's Republican Party is --

LORD: I think you have to say that every president, the party belongs to them. The Clinton party gave way to the Obama party and the Reagan party somewhat uncomfortably for me gave way to the Bush party and the Bush party has now given way to the Trump party. There's no doubt.

BASH: Speaking of the party, it is two months ago that Reince Priebus who's now the White House chief of staff was the chair of the Republican Party and yes, he was trying to kind of be broker between until the Trump nomination all of these different candidates but the party that he started out as chairing, looked to your point looked nothing -- nothing like, very, very different from the one that he's working for now and the president that he's working for now. And it is Reince Priebus and those in the Republican Party that moved, not Steve Bannon.

LORD: One of the things that -- in terms of the White House and you were talking about the presence of these two guys there together, Donald Trump has a style that's not as an operating officer, not unlike Franklin Roosevelt who liked a little bit of chaos, he liked competing power centers. Ronald Reagan liked this. This is why we had Jim Baker, but he had Ed Meese. And I don't know all what's going on behind the scenes here and they're saying things are fine.

BEGALA: But there was tension in the Reagan White House, but it was good tension. The difference is, Ronald Reagan and FDR, they came to the office with a fully formed world view and this President doesn't. He didn't. He was like the largest donor to Chuck Schumer a couple years ago. Now, Chuck Schumer's (inaudible) to Senate Democratic leader.

LORD: He's always said sort of the same things, though, like this.

BEGALA: No, he was very pro-gay, he was very pro-choice --

BASH: On the social issues, he's changed but on economic issues, he's always been anti-free trade and kind of more populous and socialist that's where you're right --

BEGALA: Yes, maybe that's where Bannon sort of -- was able to find cause of him.

BASH: Yes.

BEGALA: But I was really struck at the mannequin world view that Steve Bannon has. It is all black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, and that's not how the American government works. Ronald Reagan was the master --

COOPER: We should also point out, it was Steve Bannon who really came on board late in this. I mean, Steve Bannon, you know, had a radio show with Breitbart, he was interviewing then candidate Trump, he's actually the one who's relatively -- of all the people who have been close to Donald Trump, it's Steve Bannon is relatively late and yet, clearly has the President's ear and is able to shape an awful lot of his agenda.

BEGALA: Absolutely. This is the Bannon presidency. We'll see if he last --

LORD: I wouldn't go that far. This is definitely the Trump presidency.

COOPER: Paul wants to repeat that as much as possible.

LORD: I know. I know what's going on here.

BEGALA: Bannon is a movement guy, Priebus is a campaign guy, he's a party guy, right? You know what they didn't talk about that really pricked my ears up? The 2018 midterms. I went back and read President Reagan's speech to CPAC, his first year of his firs term, he was already teeing up the midterm elections because that's how politicians think. Nancy Pelosi was very happy with that appearance because Republicans are in big trouble in the polls, Bannon doesn't care because he has a mannequin world view. We are good, they are evil. I'm going to ramp through as much as I can for as long as I can. That's bad politics.

[21:25:05] COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Thank you all. Appreciate it.

LORD: Thanks.

COOPER: Well, coming up, tense town halls as emotions boil over across the country. We'll look at one Republican congressman strategy for facing some angry constituents and speak with another who is in the hot seat earlier this week.


COOPER: Well, Republican lawmakers have been facing some tough questions and in some cases angry crowds at town halls across the country. Some have chosen to not face their constituents at all, others are trying to come up with strategies for hearing the voices in their district without letting things get out of hand. Jason Carroll tonight reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for calling the office of Congressman Gaetz.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The phones at Congressman Matt Gaetz' office in Pensacola, Florida have been ringing nearly nonstop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. One second, sir.

CARROLL (voice-over): Many callers are threatening to disrupt his town hall but those threats have not stopped Congressman Gates, nor has some of the advice he has received.

REP. MATT GAETZ, (R) FLORIDA: I have spoken with many of my colleagues in the Republican conference who have said, you know, maybe town hall meetings where you invite everybody that's angry with you isn't the best way to make your first impression.

[21:30:01] CARROLL (voice-over): Gaetz has seen the anger at other town halls so he and his staff have been holding meetings like this to strategize how best to deal with it should it arise.

GAETZ: Let's be slow on the trigger. If people throw water on me, like they've been saying on social media they're going to do, I won't melt. I'm not the wicked witch. It will be fine. I don't want a circumstance were someone taps me on the shoulder and they think that's like we're in the middle of an aggravated assault. So, you know, that's obviously not what we want to portray.

CARROLL (voice-over): The Republican freshman congressman is expected to face fire for a number of his positions. He supports eliminating the Department of Education, repealing Obamacare and he introduced a bill to abolish the environmental protection agency. If Gaetz is met with opposition and unable to get his message across, his staff has a backup plan.

AMANDA COGAN, CHIEF OF STAFF FOR REP. GAETZ: And we've had some intuitive ideas of, you know, a non-verbal town hall with signs that relay the message he wants to get across.

CARROLL (on camera): A non-verbal town hall? How does that work?

COGAN: So we have a speech that the Congressman would deliver and we've put it on boards, like foam boards and he'll literally hold it up, read, move to the next one.

CARROLL (voice-over): His staff hopes it won't come to that. In the meantime, Gaetz is not shying away from his constituents in this district nestled in Florida's panhandle, one which he describes as deeply Republican. He's holding what he calls an," Open Gaetz Day."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, welcome.

CARROLL (voice-over): This morning, words of encouragement on local radio.

GAETZ: I appreciate that you're not allowing yourself to be intimidated by those who try to shut down the dialogue.

CARROLL (voice-over): Then an afternoon stop at a middle school followed by a lunch town hall at a barbecue where outside, he got a taste of what could come later.

CARROLL (on camera): You're getting out there, you're snagging. What would you say to some of those who are ducking and hiding, frankly?

GAETZ: We as Republicans have the best argument. We've just got to be courageous enough to make it. I just think that part of public service is letting folks show up and tell you what they think of you, good, bad or otherwise. And so, I didn't take that advice and we'll see how it turns out.


COOPER: And Jason Carroll joins me now. I mean, this is solidly Republican territory, doesn't seem like he got a great positive reception? How did it go?

CARROLL: He really didn't. At one point, though, he did receive a positive perception, Anderson, and I could say that I was probably the only point and it was when he was asked a question about whether or not the President should release his tax returns, at that point Congressman Gaetz stood up and addressed this crowd and said, "Yes, I do believe this president should, in fact, release his tax returns."

Remember, this is someone who was an early supporter of Donald Trump, so surprising for some here to actually hear him admit something like that. He was received by a great deal of applause but that was really the only point when he started talking about wanting to abolish the EPA, wanting to repeal and replace Obamacare. He was overwhelmingly met with boos in this particular crowd.

A number of people here, Anderson, came from as far away as Tallahassee and Panama, Panama City coming here wanting to voice their anger, voice their opinions. But you heard the Congressman say, he said, "Look, this is what I was prepared for." He doesn't believe that other Republicans should try to shun town halls like this one even if they're met with protesters like the ones that are standing behind me. He says operating in an echo chamber is not something that Republicans should be doing going forward. Anderson?

COOPER: Jason, just very briefly. Did he have to use his signs, his non-verbal speech?

CARROLL: Not yet. But the night is still young.


CARROLL: And this town hall is not over. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Jason Carroll, thanks very much.

One Texas lawmaker who is not having in-person town halls is Congressman Louie Gohmert. He says it's because of safety and what happened to Gabby Giffords six years ago. In a letter, constituents, Gohmert says, "Violent strains at the leftist ideology, some even being paid are preying on town halls and that since Giffords was shot at a public appearance, there is danger to civilians."

Giffords was shot in the head at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in 2011. Today, in response to Gohmert, Giffords notes that said she was shot on a Saturday morning and her offices were open to the public on Monday morning and urges politicians to, "Have courage, face your constituents, hold town halls."

Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Taylor has certainly not avoided town hall meetings. Listen.


REP. SCOTT TAYLOR, (R) VIRGINIA: Let's not engage in that, please. I do work for you. Look, I think it's legitimate concern. I think it's a legitimate concern about the cost of security and the travel of the President and his family. It's a legitimate concern, absolutely. Just like it was at the last administrations well too.

Thank you for your question. Appreciate it.


COOPER: All right, that was Monday, Congressman Taylor has held three events this week, not all of them quite so contentious. He joins us now. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

[21:34:57] You know, Some Republicans have suggested that some of the angry crowds are paid protesters, which frankly is the same argument Democrats made against Tea Party protesters back in 2009. Is that what you're seeing or to you is the anger real? Are these folks from your district from the area who have real concerns?

TAYLOR: Well, thanks for having me tonight. I really appreciate it. I have no evidence of any paid protesters in my area for sure. There are folks, I think, there's a couple different groups of people. There are people with legitimate concerns, there are folks who are organic, who have never been to town halls before that wanted to show up and voice their concerns. And I think that's a good thing, whether they agree with me or, that's a good thing to have folks engaged.

We had a couple folks that were there that were agitators that literally were like trying to get the crowd going as you very well know, it doesn't take much in a room like that to sort of get emotions going. Calm is contagious, but the opposite is true in those types of events. So we just try to remain calm. You know, I want people in my district to know that they have a voice and everyone has a seat at the table no matter what side of the isle you're on.

COOPER: You're a former Navy SEAL. You've obviously dealt with enormously difficult circumstances. How do you handle these kind of, you know, events, kind of give and take? Because, again, you're not running from this. In fact, you scheduled, you know, three of them.

TAYLOR: Absolutely. We did Facebook live and then we did three and we're going to have plenty more. And we know going into this that, you know, that most of the folks that would show up to that are against you. That's just the nature of the beast. We signed up for this. There are certainly security concerns. I've had members who had security concerns and I have a similar background as I do.

You know, we certainly took precautions, security precautions not just from my staff but also just for the people in general who would show up, some visible, some not visible. You sort of, you know, emotions can run really high and really quickly and I've watched some members who have tried to talk over the crowds that are yelling, that doesn't happen. You let it simmer down.

If there is someone that you know is agitating that's not there really to engage but really just to try to drive the crowd, you isolate them and you have the crowd help you as well to isolate them so that you control that sort of emotion. Because the reality is, the goal and my certainly goal is I want to hear. I want to hear the concerns, I want to address their questions, I want them to know where I stand and everyone has a seat at the table in this district.

COOPER: You know, I've talked to some Democrats and say, look, anger is one thing, this kind and mobilization is one thing but there's got to be kind of a coherent message in order to actually turn this into legislative action for Democrats. I'm wondering what the main issues you're hearing about? Obviously, I assume Obamacare is probably top of the list.

TAYLOR: Obamacare is a huge issue, of course, for the folks that I heard in three town halls, and you mentioned we had three. The first one was contentious, last night was completely fine and everything was great and it's sort of progressively got calmer, if you will. That's an issue. Russia medaling into our election is an issue.

Sure, there are folks who are not supportive of course of the President and anything that surrounds that, whether it's travel that you played a clip there or whether it's his Russian -- potential Russian ties or not, those things. Some of the things are, I think, I believe are valid concerns, some of them are over blown, some of them are -- they're not really substantiated yet or not.

But, like I said, there are valid concerns but those are big issues. Obamacare, Russian medaling, the President himself and anything surround in that.

COOPER: Congressman Taylor, I appreciate your time. It's been a busy week. Three town hall meetings and more ahead. I appreciate your time. Thank you.

TAYLOR: Any time. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

COOPER: All right, Congressman Taylor, thanks.

Just ahead, making nice in Mexico, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly trying to reassure Mexican counterparts about President Trump's new immigration policy and it was a tall order. Take a look if they were able to deliver.


[21:42:38] COOPER: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have wrapped up their meetings with Mexican officials. The visit wasn't warm and fuzzy by any stretch. President Trump's new immigration policy has ramped up tensions between the U.S. and Mexico, the levels not seen in decades.

Just hours before the U.S. envoys arrived, Mexico's foreign minister signaled his country is prepared to fight the new policy vigorously. That was the backdrop. Michelle Kosinski, tonight, reports.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House trying to smooth out the suddenly rocky relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. But Mexico didn't hide its frustrations during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly's trip.

MIGUEL ANGEL OSORIO CHONG, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, MEXICO (through translator): We do not agree on the different measures that recently were stated by the government of the United States that affect Mexico. We had expressed our concern about the increase in deportations.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Tillerson and Kelly tried to publicly reassure their Mexican counterparts about new U.S. policy.

JOHN KELLY, SECRETARY, HOMELAND SECURITY: Let me be very, very clear. There will be no, repeat, no mass deportations. All deportations will be according to our legal justice system, which is extensive and includes multiple appeals.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Insisting deportations will focus on criminals. REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no mistaking that the rule of law matters along both sides of our border.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): And acknowledgement that the U.S. also has work to do.

TILLERSON: We underscore the importance of stopping the illegal firearms and bulk cash that is originating in the United States and flowing into Mexico.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): But today, President Trump painted a different picture.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said that's going to be a tough trip because we have to be treated fairly by Mexico. You see what's happening at the border. All of a sudden, for the first time, we're getting gang members out, we're getting drug lords out, we're getting really bad dudes out of this country and at a rate that nobody has ever seen before.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Donald Trump famously kicked off his campaign with controversial remarks about Mexico.

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they are rapists.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Now, the White House is trying to put the best face on things.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): But Mexico is still insisting they will not pay for a border wall, which no one even mentioned publicly today and that they can't be forced to accept deportees who are not Mexican.

[21:45:03] LUIS VIDEGARAY CASO, SECRETARY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, MEXICO (through translator): What would be most important would be the facts.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): One U.S. official saying, "The Americans on this trip did a lot of listening. Forced to acknowledge that the relationship at the border is the responsibility of both sides, as is accountability."


COOPER: And Michelle Kosinski joins us tonight from the State Department. This was much more than a routine diplomatic visit. I mean, especially this early into a new administration is pretty remarkable.

KOSINSKI: Right, Anderson. And it ended up being another weird day in foreign policy. I mean, you have the president at home, again, using phrases like bad dudes and military operation. You have his Cabinet members in Mexico City sounding like they are just bending over backwards to tell the Mexican government what it needed to hear, even saying that the U.S. has problems that flow south. I mean, it's not something you hear every day.

And then you have the Mexicans just not sounding happy, emphasizing human rights for immigrants within the United States and saying that they need facts before they can move beyond negative feelings. Also, you know, for all of the controversy there has been over this, the one word that you heard absolutely nowhere today, in any of these public statements, was "wall." Anderson?

COOPER: Also is interesting to hear, the President say more people are getting kicked out than ever before, they are moving more, you know, as you mentioned, bad dudes, and yet you have from ICE, you know, they are saying look these raids are like we've seen under the Obama administration. So some conflicting facts there.

Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.

The White House Sean Spicer said that when the President said a military operation he was using the term as an adjective not meaning actually a military operation.

Earlier, I talked to Univision anchor, Jorge Ramos.


COOPER: Jorge, well, in Mexico, the Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly made clear there'll be no mass deportations and that they'll be focusing in on what he called the criminal element in the United States. Do you believe him?

JORGE RAMOS, ANCHOR, UNIVISION NEWS: Obviously, we have to believe him. But, this contradicts exactly what President Donald Trump had to say at the -- a few hours before, that deportations were going to be a military operation. Maybe he misspoke.

But, if General Kelly is telling us the truth and there will be no mass deportations and no military force will be used in the deportations, then how do you explain the memos? How do you explain 15,000 new ICE agents to do what, to watch movies, to go to Disney Land? No. Of course, there's a lot of fear.

COOPER: The White House has said he meant military as an adjective, meaning a precise operation. And Kelly says absolutely no military personnel. But, I mean, as you and I have talked about before, you know, their are many who believe that the definition of criminality is now, under these new orders, is so broad that it really can affect just about anybody. And there's huge discretion on the part of law enforcement more than there was before about who they want to deport.

RAMOS: I agree with you and that's precisely the problem. Because if their new definition of criminal is anyone who cross illegally the border from Mexico to the United States, then we have 11 million criminals in this country and that is not true. I think also the problem is that Donald Trump is criminalizing the immigrant population. Let me just give you an example. Since 1990, the undocumented population grew from 3.5 million to about 11 million, which is the number that we have right now. At that exact time, according to the FBI, violent crime decreased 48 percent. In other words, the more immigrants that you have, the less crime that you have. I know this goes against what Donald Trump is saying but that's the truth. Those are the numbers.

COOPER: In the shadow, the expansion of immigration, of course, in the Trump administration, they're leaving in place the protections they say that were put in place for Dreamers and the documented parents of U.S. citizens. What do you make of that decision? Does that -- do you think that is permanent? Does that calm some fears?

RAMOS: I hope so. I've been listening to Donald Trump for a year and a half and he's been saying that he has a big heart. I hope that he shows that big heart with the Dreamers, we're talking about 750,000 Dreamers. He hasn't done anything against them right now but he can do much better. He can legalize them if he really wants to and just go beyond that.

Right now, President Trump has control of both the chambers of Congress. He could have legalization of 11 million with one signature. And he simply doesn't want to do that.

COOPER: Jorge Ramos, thanks for being with us.

RAMOS: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up is a businessman, President Trump said he had an open door policy without much structure. Does that hold true now that he has the Oval Office? That's next.


[21:53:17] COOPER: In his book "Art of the Deal", then businessman Donald Trump said his door was always open and that he didn't like a whole lot of structure. Now, President Trump may be bringing some of that same philosophy to the Oval Office with some tweaks, after all, it is the White House. Athena Jones, tonight, reports.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the most exclusive address in America, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, making space near the Oval Office prime real estate.

BANNON: I have a little thing called the war room. He has a fireplace, you know, nice sofas.

JONES (voice-over): But when it comes to power, it isn't just having an office near the president that matters, it's having so-called walk- in privileges to the Oval Office that sets staffers apart. Vice President Mike Pence does, so does Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, one of the President's closest advisers, and the man he's entrusted to negotiate everything from a meeting this morning with manufacturers.

TRUMP: I want to thank Jared Kushner who has been so involved in this.

JONES (voice-over): To peace in the Middle East.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

JONES (voice-over): The President's time and attention are perhaps his most important resources. And managing who gets to occupy that space is key.

PRIEBUS: As you can imagine, there are many things hitting the President's ear and desk every day.

JONES (voice-over): In the Obama White House assistants posted just outside the Oval Office, often termed the Outer Oval, acted as gatekeepers. And while key aides, like the White House press secretary, could get time with the President to check in, they would never just pop in without warning.

One goal of such gate keeping, according to a former Obama administration official, was to make sure their president wasn't having multiple conversations on the same topic with different staffers.

TRUMP: We have a great team. We have a team of all-stars.

[21:55:03] JONES (voice-over): In the Trump White House, a long albeit informal list of aides has walk-in privileges, including Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks, and Counselor Kellyanne Conway.

But even the term "walk-in privileges" is a misnomer, according to one senior administration official who explained, "We are asked to come in or request to see him." After all, just popping in to any president's office without a warning could disrupt an important meeting or phone call already in progress.

A better way to measure influence in the White House, according to President George W. Bush's former Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, is who's included in structured meetings, because those are the people the president wants to see, whereas, drop-ins are people who want to see the president. Trump has long prided himself on having an open door approach to managing his businesses and telling tech industry leaders in December.

TRUMP: We're going to be there for you. And you'll call my people, you'll call me. It doesn't make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.

JONES (voice-over): Athena Jones, CNN, the White House.


COOPER: We'll be right back.


COOPER: Hey, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. We'll see you again tomorrow night 8:00 p.m.