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White House Denies Wrongdoing in FBI Conversations About Russia Reporting; Trump Versus the Media. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

Two big stories tonight, more reporting on contact between the White House and the FBI surrounding the investigation into alleged contact between the Trump campaign and Russia. New details and concerns with the White House about the story.

Also, the administration taking what appears to be a swipe at us and a number of media organizations over the kind of reporting that brought it all to light. President Trump today lashing out to the news media yet again for using unnamed sources in this case, even though he cited them himself when it suits his own purposes. He said today, quote, "Nobody loves the First Amendment" more than me, while again calling members of the press enemies of the people

It's been quite a day.

We begin tonight with the FBI story in Russia. CNN's Jim Sciutto broke it for us last night. He's got more for us right now.

Jim, what's the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Anderson, the White House vehemently defending asking the FBI do deny reports of communications between Trump campaign associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence. The administration's intense pushback following CNN's exclusive reporting of that request, senior administration officials insisting that it only asked for the denial after a top FBI official himself volunteered that the "New York Times" story on the communications was inaccurate.

I should note, the White House is not disputing CNN's reporting, which specified that these communications during the campaign between advisers to Trump were with Russian officials and others known to U.S. intelligence. We did not say with Russian intelligence specifically. That appears to be what the White House is disputing.

COOPER: Right. That was the "New York Times" reporting which is what the White House has been calling out.

How did this all play out? SCIUTTO: Well, this is the timeline that the White House laid out. They say that conversation happened February 15th, this after a 7:30 a.m. meeting led by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. The FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe asked Priebus for, we're told, five minutes alone after the meeting ends, according to senior administration officials, and calls a report, this being the "New York Times" report, linking Trump campaign advisors to Russian intelligence, in his words, quote, "total BS."

Priebus, the White House says, then asked McCabe, can we do anything about it, whether there is something that the FBI specifically can to do to set the record straight. Later, in separate conversations, both McCabe and the FBI director, James Comey, they told Priebus the FBI cannot comment on the reports, Priebus then asked Comey if he could cite McCabe and Comey as, quote, "top intelligence officials," and pushing back on the story himself in TV interviews on Sunday and that's exactly what he did.

COOPER: So, I mean, this is unusual, correct?

SCIUTTO: It is. Listen, you know, direct communications between the White House and the FBI, unusual. There are decades old restrictions on such contacts concerning what are pending investigations.

And Mr. Trump also criticized -- he took it to the FBI directly. He tweeted today, quote, "The FBI has totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to the media that could have a devastating effect an the U.S. Find now."

And, Anderson, as a final note, to be clear, in the midst of all this media criticism, the White House is not denying the essence of the story, which is that there were communications between advisors to Trump and Russians and Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the campaign, at the time that Russia was interfering in the U.S. election, and that's really the center of the story.

COOPER: Yes, and we'll stay on it.

Jim Sciutto, thanks.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

COOPER: More now on this story from inside the White House. CNN's Sarah Murray has the details and joins us now.

So, what can you tell us about how all of this is playing out in the White House at the moment? What do we know?

SARA MURRAY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's been a very interesting day here at the White House. Obviously, they have been denying the notion that chief of staff Reince Priebus may have done anything wrong, denying that there was anything improper about these communications. But I was told by someone close to the president that there is a little bit of consternation, a little bit of heartburn about these communications between Priebus and senior officials over at the FBI. This person said this is the kind of distraction the president really does not need right now. He wants to be focused on his top line agenda items and he's grown frustrated with these staff stories.

Now, in reality, this played out in sort of an odd fashion at the White House today, where White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer opted to hold a gaggle this afternoon with some reporters, but rather than just having a pool, a small group of reporters, the White House decided to just cherry pick the news organizations they wanted to let in, they chose news outlets that are more conservative leaning, have offered more favorable coverage to the president into that briefing. And they excluded other outlets, including myself from CNN, "The New York Times", "Politico", and others. They have not responded to my questions about why they would go through and cherry pick those outlets -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sara Murray, appreciate that. Thanks very much. We'll talk more about that.

But let's stay on the FBI story right now.

Joining us former FBI deputy director, John Pistole, Phil Mudd, who's not only a former senior official at the FBI and CIA, but he's also our counterterrorism analyst.

[20:05:06] And CNN political analyst, Carl Bernstein, who's got just a little bit of experience reporting on the administrations leaning on the FBI. Watergate happened a while ago, but the guidelines against contact between the White House and the FBI date directly back to that scandal.

Carl, let's start with you. I mean, to be precise, if Reince Priebus was told by the FBI that reporting about campaign ties to Russian intelligence was BS, and again, CNN did not report campaign ties to Russian intelligence, CNN reported and Jim Sciutto pointed out, campaign ties to Russians known to Russian intelligence, there's a difference.

Can you blame -- I mean, on the one hand, can you blame Priebus for wanting to get that out there publicly? The flip side is, the FBI and the West Wing are not supposed to be talking about ongoing investigations, right?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, if Hillary Clinton did this, there would be calls by Republicans on Capitol hill for a select committee for criminal actions and perhaps possible impeachment, though that might be exaggerated, that's what would probably happen.

Second of all, what we don't have out of this White House is a real explanation, from the campaign, the Trump administration or anybody else connected with the president, including the president himself about his dealings with Russia, his business dealings in that part of the world, his finances. This is a huge story, it is the subject of two congressional investigations, an FBI investigation and the press is investigating.

And one of the reasons we are watching Donald Trump make the conduct of the press the issue in this country instead of the conduct of Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is because they are not cooperating. They are stonewalling, I don't know why, but we're seeing a side show here about the press, got the First Amendment, when there's information the president could give us, including his taxes, that might put an end to all of this if there were plenty of explanations easily given.

COOPER: So, do you think some of the kind of machinations against the press, particularly today, is a way to detract reporters from this FBI story? Carl?

BERNSTEIN: Oh, yes, I do. But again, I think the larger thing is that Donald Trump is a creature of media. His whole career and professional life has been based on a media frenzy of his creation, he's a master manipulator, and we're watching it. We have so many stories up in the air we can't keep track of them. And I think that's exactly what Donald Trump wants, he wants to make the conduct of the press, as I say, the real issue that will divide the country, appeal to his base, keep Republicans in line, and I'm not at all sure it's going to work in the long run, because he has no interest in the truth whatsoever.

And the best obtainable version of the truth is really what the media is engaged in here, it's time for us, I guess to do more reporting, more investigative reporting.


BERNSTEIN: We don't need to defend ourselves. We need to get down to work and keep reporting this story as well as his agenda.

COOPER: Which is why we're leading with this story tonight and not the media story, which is we'll also covering next hour.

John, let me -- John, you were the former FBI deputy director. Would you have ever reached out to the West Wing to discuss a politically sensitive investigation of the West Wing, or would you have deferred that to the fire wall that at least in theory is supposed to be in place?

JOHN PISTOLE, FORMER TSA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, I think there are two fundamental issues at play here. One is the FBI needs to be independent in its conduct of investigations, whether those be criminal investigations or national security investigations.

The second principle, though, is that the FBI, particularly through the Department of Justice, and usually the attorney general or deputy attorney general, need to keep the White House informed of significant matters, particularly as it relates to national security.

So, I think some people are conflating the two at times here to say what is appropriate and what's not. The question for example, on the national security side would be just what happened when acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House about the concerns with General Flynn. And so, that's something that was ongoing and so, they took the appropriate step.

It would not be appropriate for the FBI to unilaterally inform or brief the White House on ongoing on either criminal or national security matters.

COOPER: Phil, I mean --

PISTOLE: The times --

COOPER: Yes. Sorry, go ahead.

PISTOLE: Yes, I was going to say that, yes, the times that I did briefings at the White House, either in the Oval Office or Situation Room, it was always with the attorney general or the deputy attorney general because there was a unified briefing team there.

COOPER: Phil, does it make sense to you that the deputy FBI director would initiate contact with the chief of staff to discuss news reports about an ongoing investigation, especially when involving the president's allies?

[20:10:02] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, hold on, we made a big assumption here. We assume that he's talking about an ongoing investigation.

I think John is right. There's a lot of information being conflated here. Let me give you a scenario, Anderson, because we don't know exactly what happened here. The scenario is that the White House is building a relationship with different agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, and then there's a major news report about an ongoing FBI investigation.

I don't think it's inappropriate in the least for the FBI deputy director, who's one of the best officers I ever worked with, Andy McCabe, to go over to the White House and say, we're sorry about what happened in that news leak, we're not responsible for that news leak, we want to develop a relationship with you, and that relationship is built on trust. That report was overstated, understated, misrepresented our investigation.

That to me is not inappropriate, nor is it a revelation about what kind of investigation the FBI had going on. Precision of language, Anderson, is important here.

COOPER: Is it then appropriate if Reince Priebus then ask that the FBI kind of make that public?

MUDD: I think it's inappropriate if you pressed it. Look, we have Reince Priebus who was with the RNC, the Republican National Committee, his transition to the White House, where a month into the White House, he might not know how this game works, he may not know it's inappropriate to ask the bureau to talk about an ongoing investigation.

I think the real question, the fascinating one is why the White House characterizes this as a leak at all. A leak is in when you reveal national security information, for example, about a CIA operation. This is something that embarrasses the White House. That's not a leak. That's a news story.

I participated in a leak work at the CIA, for example, when the news media got information about us chasing down an al Qaeda terrorist and I talked to a major newspaper 12 years ago, to prevent them from running that story because we were afraid that terrorist would go to ground.

That was a potential leak. This is an embarrassment. The two are not the same.

COOPER: Carl, do you make that difference as well?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, I think that it's not -- look, this is a news story, it is a legitimate news story. What the White House is engaged in is trying to knock down any story that goes into the facts about the status of investigations, about the substance of investigations, about Donald Trump's relationships with Russia, with the nations around Russia, with ethno Russians. They want to stomp on these stories. That's the objective.

And it's inappropriate to go to the FBI in a way that Priebus did --

COOPER: We just lost Carl. It happens on live TV.

Phil, just to state the obvious, though, I mean, the head of the FBI works with the attorney general who works for the president, it can get complicated in a hurry when you're talking about mixing politics and investigation into the president's allies. I mean, just talking in general.

MUDD: I can understand that, Anderson, but let's cut this apart a bit. Let's talk about the FBI interactions with the White House. I can't remember how many White House meetings I went to. You sit next to somebody who's a White House official, and you say something like, let's talk afterwards. As I mentioned before, I'm sorry about that leak.

We see those people and I'm sure John Pistole did all the time. A five-minute conversation between a deputy director of the FBI and a senior White House official should not be seen as an aberration. Let's focus though on what's happening here. In the past day or two, the White House is talking about leaks and the FBI investigation of leaks and nobody's talking about foundations of White House interactions with the Russians and congressional investigations of what the campaign did during the elections Russia.

This is a shell game by the White House to say, we don't want to focus on what the story is. That is Russia. We want to focus on false allegations that the FBI leaked something sensitive, which is incorrect. COOPER: We've got to leave it there.

Plenty more to talk about in this creature of the media, as Carl described the president and what Phil just called a shell game, harsh words from the president talking about so-called leaks and using unnamed sources from a chief executive who according to published reports, let's keep in mind, used to call up reporters when he was a civilian, pretending to be his own press agent to give leaks about himself.

More details ahead.


[20:17:48] COOPER: President Trump began his day as you saw, by venting on Twitter about leaks on the FBI story. He continued with a full throated attack at CPAC on the people who turned those leaks often with a lot of added reporting into the information that voters use to hold the powerful accountable. Mr. Trump is not the first president certainly to take issue with how the press does its job. Rarely, though, has it been so publicly and so frequently on display.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to fight it, folks. We have to fight. They're very smart, they're very cunning, and they're very dishonest.

So, to conclude, I mean, it's a very sensitive topic, and they get upset when we expose their false stories. They say that we can't criticize their dishonest coverage, because of the First Amendment. You know, they always bring up the First Amendment. And I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me, nobody.


COOPER: Also along those lines, the president said he's not anti- media, just anti-fake news and especially unnamed sources.


TRUMP: So, I'm not against the media, I'm not against the press. I don't mind a bad story if I deserve them. And I'll tell you -- I love good stories, but we won't talk. I don't get too many of them.

But I am only against the fake news media or press, fake, they have to leave that word. I'm against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there.


COOPER: All right. So, just keep him honest on the whole confidential sources thing, we actually looked at the president's Twitter feed. We discovered at least five occasions, mainly questioning President Obama's citizenship, when then citizen Trump decided either a, quote, "extremely credible source or a confidential source" without naming him or her.

We will however name Carl Bernstein who is back, along with CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. Also with us tonight is former Georgia Republican Congressman Jack Kingston.

Maggie, I noticed you tweeted out a quote from Steve -- one of Steve Bannon's favorite books, "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu.

[20:20:02] And the quote, "The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent.

Is that what's going on here with kind of Donald Trump's constant refrain about the media?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think that -- I think it's a combination of factors. I think that some of these he genuinely feels and you know as well as I do, that he takes genuine issue with or seemingly genuine issue with a bunch of coverage. He does not react well to negative stories, never has, or stories he perceives as negative, even if they aren't objectively.

But I also think that some of these, in terms of what we saw early today, not so much what we saw with Trump at CPAC, but the in total events of what he said and then there was this background briefing at the White House, where some media outlets, including this one and the "New York Times" were left out. I think a lot of that is about creating, you know, this sort of cacophony of noise and outrage and throwing people off balance. There's a lot of other stuff going on with the White House right now --

COOPER: Right. It also gets reporters focused on talking about reporters, which I frankly find just boring and whining at times.

HABERMAN: Boring and whining, and frankly, a lot -- there was a lot on Twitter especially about how this is a strike at the First Amendment, what happened with this briefing. It is not a strike against the First Amendment, what happened with this briefing. It is a strike against transparency. And that's a different issue, but this is not inhibiting anybody from doing their jobs necessarily.

I think that reporters like nothing better than talking about ourselves as a group. And I think Trump has a great way of making people sort of mirror him, right, in terms of sort of behavior and interactions, and this is another one of those examples. His complaints about the media, delegitimizes the issue with his supporters, it clearly plays well to his base. This was a speech at a Conservative Political Action Conference.

COOPER: Carl, I mean, you know, you heard the president today at CPAC attacking the press, calling them the enemy. You've heard his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, saying they should just keep their mouths shut and just listen. Then the White House barred, you know, news organizations.

I mean, do you agree with Maggie, that this is sort of a -- part of it is a distraction and a play for the base?

BERNSTEIN: Yes. And also part of it is that we are in the midst of the ultimate battle of the cultural wars with Donald Trump's presidency. And it's going to go on and it's going to scorch the earth and it's going to be fierce. And our job now is to increase the tempo and depth of our reporting, especially investigative reporting to stay on the presidency and focus on Donald Trump.

And I do have other idea and that is, we need to take a break and look in our reporting, perhaps in a different format, an investigative biography, that all of the networks might be involved in separately, but it's part of the basic news agenda, about the life of Donald Trump. Let's go back and look at the man, how he got to the presidency. What his first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 120 days look like. We need to do in depth reporting.

And we're doing a good deal of it, but we need to go even deeper. That's our obligation here.

COOPER: Congressman Kingston, how do you see this battle?

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Well, getting back to what Maggie said about the context of today's speech, it was an audience that was both a support base philosophically, but also a fan base. They agree with what he's done, they agree with his platform if you will, but they love him as a person.

And as a Republican, I can say it's always been a little red meat-ish to say something about the press, because we feel that sometimes the press isn't exactly fair to us. And so, I think what he was saying, it was an easy audience to do.

I think taking on the issue about the FBI and the nine anonymous sources, I think it was -- you know, maybe it was very fair criticism. Well, who are these people? As he said, why don't they come out and say their names?

But as you know, when you exclude a network from your press gaggle, you're playing with fire. President Obama did it with the pay czar in October 2009 and he excluded FOX News. And oddly, the "New York Times" led the boycott.

HABERMAN: Not oddly.

KINGSTON: Well, oddly, to me, Maggie.

HABERMAN: Perhaps, but it's not oddly if you're actually just talking about what this is.


COOPER: Sorry, Carl, go ahead.

BERNSTEIN: Jack, how many times when you were on the Hill as a congressman were you anonymous source?

KINGSTON: I don't think I was ever credible enough to be anonymous source. So I don't know.

BERNSTEIN: You never were?

COOPER: Carl's point is there are plenty of Congress people, there are plenty of people in the White House right now who are anonymous sources. The president of the United States, according to reporting, as a citizen used to make up a fake name and call up reporters to drop items about himself using a fake name.

HABERMAN: And sometimes his own name as a background source.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but it was a long time.

COOPER: So, what is he talking about?

KINGSTON: I think probably and this kind of sounds like a little bit of a copout, but what he did as a private citizen versus now as president of the United States, maybe there should be a higher coverage standard.

[20:25:08] And if you're accusing the president of the United States, particularly his campaign team of coordinating with Russia, that's a very, very serious charge, and to say to source anonymous people, you know, that would be what the question is.

COOPER: But I will say, it was anonymous sourcing, Gloria, which led to the stories about Mike Flynn which actually then led the White House to let go of Flynn.

BORGER: Yes, absolutely, and there are anonymous sources at the White House, people like me and Maggie talk to every day and this is a president who always tweeted people are saying, I don't know if those were real sources, but they were certainly anonymous sources. I think there are a couple of things going on here.

For those of us who have done a bunch of reporting on Donald Trump's life, we know that he it's used to signing his nondisclosure agreements with these people he does business with.

COOPER: Right. Nondisclosure agreements are people who you work with, when they leave your employ, they cannot badmouth you in any way.

BORGER: They can't badmouth you. And maybe he has done with a bunch of people he works with at the White House, I have no idea. But you cannot do that with the government.

HABERMAN: Exactly.

BORGER: And you cannot tell everyone, you're not allowed to leak. And this drives him crazy.

If there are leaks coming from the administration, he wants to be the one who does it. If there's a spokesman for the administration, he wants to be the spokesman, as we saw at his press conference last week.

Then I think there is something else going on here, I think it is something diversionary. I think he probably knows there are more stories coming, that perhaps there are more stories on the ties to Russia coming, and to add on to what others have said here tonight, I think he's sort of laying a predicate here, that you can't believe those either. And I think this goes along with what Steve Bannon said, as he spoke at CPAC this week, where he said if you think the media's going to give you your country back without a fight, you're sadly mistaken.

Then, you go to Donald Trump calling the media the enemy. And then you go to what Sean Spicer did today --

COOPER: Maggie, you agree with this?

BORGER: -- which was to tell some press, we don't like you, you can't be a part of it.

COOPER: Right. Maggie, you --

HABERMAN: I do. And I think Gloria's dead on. I think Bannon made pretty clear what his strategy is and he has for a while, and he certainly again in this very long appearance relatively long for him at CPAC. You know, they don't have an actual opponent, so they are turning the media into opponent, the mainstream media.

It is also a way to try to destabilize and to try to convince Trump supporters that maybe there isn't, you know, a full kernel of truth here in everything you're reading. Maybe there is some reason you should be suspicious of what is happening and these things you're reading about me.

And it is also a way to sort of confuse reporters. The term gaslighting has been sued repeatedly. I'm not sure it's completely apt here, but there's a kernel of it that works.

I don't think that that is a sustainable strategy for the long-term when you are running the White House. I think that there is so much, as I said before, going on. It is not just this Russia question.

The president has his first major national address next week. We've heard almost nothing about the prep for that, whether they're ready for that. This is the first major test of his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, in a lot of ways.

And so, I think it is -- it is a good way to throw everybody off balance.

COOPER: Well, if the White House hires a new spokesperson named John Miller tomorrow --


COOPER: -- all of the president's behalf --

HABERMAN: We need to see a picture of him.


COOPER: A lot more to talk about ahead. More on President Trump's CPAC speech. The other issues he discussed, in addition to bashing the news media, he talked about military crime and illegal immigration, terrorism, vowing to deliver on his core campaign promises. We'll look at that ahead.


[20:30:47] COOPER: President Trump's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference today came exactly five weeks after his inauguration. The timing is notable of course. He's the first sitting president since Ronald Reagan who addressed the group so early in his term.

President Trump's appearance at CPAC was also a reminder of how much his political fortunes have changed in a span of just a year. His remarks today sounded very much like candidate Trump speaking to his supporters who helped him defy the odds.

Phil Mattingly tonight reports.


TRUMP: The era of empty talk is over. It's over.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump, the man who surprised the Republican Party and its conservative activists --


MATTINGLY: Laying out his hard line agenda to a movement that has become his own.

TRUMP: As we speak today, immigration officers are finding the gang members, the drug dealers and the criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out of our country.


TRUMP: And we will not let them back in. They're not coming back in folks.

MATTINGLY: Pledging to send Congress a request for a major boost in funding for the U.S. military.

TRUMP: We're also putting in a massive budget request for our beloved military.


TRUMP: And we will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything, bigger, and better and stronger than ever before.

MATTINGLY: And again leveling an attack on an American ally, this time Paris, France, citing an unknown friend, named Jim, who told him --

TRUMP: Paris? I don't go to there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris.

MATTINGLY: -- which quickly guard this Twitter response from the city's mayor, a picture from the Eiffel Tower with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Trump's campaign style speech even targeted his former rival, Hillary Clinton, for once calling Trump's supports deplorables.

[20:35:05] But it was his sharply consistent pledge to stick to the very agenda he laid out during the campaign that resonated with the crowd.

TRUMP: So let me state this as clearly as I can, we are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.

MATTINGLY: All as Trump promised new anti-terrorism actions in the days ahead.

TRUMP: In the matter of days, we will be taking brand-new action to protect our people and keep America safe. You will see the actions.


COOPER: And Phil Mattingly joins us now. It is interesting, Phil, because president Trump skipped the event when he was candidate Trump last year, today he said he skipped it because it would be too controversial. At the time his campaign blamed it on a scheduling conflict to talk to people there. Are they all onboard with the Trump administration now? And this clearly sounded like a Donald Trump crowd.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, no question about. But the crowd response is everything the Trump administration would have wanted, a lot of red meat for a red-meat loving audience.

I think the interesting element here is this is a conservative conference, not any of the establishment republican conference. There were a lot of people who are very cool or opposed to his candidacy, and they haven't necessarily come around. One of the interesting things I've done throughout the last 48 hours here, every time I talk to somebody, I ask them "Do you really believe the president is a conservative?" And most can't say yes plainly.

And I think this is an important point to what we saw here in the audience today, Anderson. His agenda, what he's done over the first 35 or 40 days in office really resonates from his Supreme Court pick to what he's done on regulation to the path forward on health care that he's laid out. These are things that everybody here likes. So while they might not trust him ideologically, they are absolutely supportive with the direction that his administration is taking and that is extremely important because these are the people, the activists that this administration is going to need going forward as they try to fight the battles to move through what pretty much everyone would acknowledge as a very ambitious agenda, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much. A lot to talk about with the panel. Jack Kingston is back with us, joining the conversation also, CNN political commentator Symone Sanders, Kayleigh McEnany, and Angela Rye. Also Carl Bernstein is back with us.

Kayleigh, you and I, we're talking before we went on the air. You were saying how the crowd was very different this year than it was last year. Talk about that a little bit.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Undoubtedly, and I think that was almost emblematic in Steve Bannon's first statement when he said, "I was invited this year," because in previous CPACs, I feel like at least the populist swing of the party was not included.

This time to have a room that applauded when you talked about economic nationalism and these kind of blue collar ideas, it was very different. It was about half young people, which is usually the case. But the other half were kind of the excluded wing of the Republican Party and the wing that put president Trump over the top.

COOPER: And Jack Kingston, I mean this is now Donald Trump's Republican Party, but it is I mean in terms of like conservative orthodoxy, economic nationalism, against free trade, that's heresy.

JACK KINGSTON (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN, GEORGIA: It is interesting, because I was there last year and I was there with Ted Cruz, and it was hiss home audience, it was his home court. Donald Trump came in third in the Straw Poll, which Ted Cruz just ran away with the Straw Poll last year.

But what Trump talked about at the beginning of his speech is I have come here several years ago and then I came here two years ago. And it seems like it was official consummating the relationship that I've proven now that I'm a conservative, you and I together are doing a movement. This is a big movement. He talked about I am fighting for you. Those are words that people love to hear.

COOPER: Do you believe he's really a conservative?

KINGSTON: I actually think he's grown into being a conservative. I don't know that -- you know, I think he took a while to figure out exactly, you know, maybe where he was heading, and I mean over a decade's period of time. But I think now, if you look at his cabinet and you look at him keeping his cam pain promises as compared to so many other republican presidents that we've had, well, I'm going to do that, but I'm going to do that later, right now what we're seeing is a president who can't wait on Congress, a president who's moving along with his agenda rather than carefully trying to orchestrate, get everybody on the same page and be happy.

COOPER: Symone, I mean did you hear anything from this president that you as a democrat can work with? SYMONE SANDERS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. I mean when Donald Trump talks about trade, for example, you know, clearly, Senator Sanders is very strong on free and fair trade, that's something Donald Trump talks a lot about. But when we get down to the details of trade, that's where the questions differ.

Look, I think that the conservatives have ceded the ground to Donald Trump here. I think instead of fighting him where necessary and when it's necessary, they've totally exited the ground, they have just let Trump come in and take over. So now, conservatism doesn't look like what it usually looks like, it looks like Donald Trump.

COOPER: Yeah, I mean the party of Ronald Reagan, you know, as we've been talking about seems to disappear.

ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, and one of the things that is interesting to me, you started that segment talking about it. It sounded like he was back on the campaign trail. He absolutely did.

[20:40:00] He's back on Hill. He's back talking about drug dealers and criminals, et cetera. But one of the most divisive things I think he said today is, "You finally have a president. It took you a long time. It's patriot like you didn't made it happen." Well, he's going back to campaign 2012, where he's undermining the president who just left. So he's not even sounding like the country's chief diplomat, he's sounding like candidate Trump.

COOPER: Well, I got to take a quick break. I want to however, but you need to hold your thoughts. I'm bringing Carl.

As soon as we come back from the break, we'll talk more about President Trump's speech today and the agenda he laid out following again to deliver on his core campaign promises, including building a wall.


COOPER: As we have been talking about, President Trump's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference today was vintage candidate Trump. He outlined the same agenda he campaigned on hit again the same core issues, including this one.


TRUMP: By stopping the flow of illegal immigration, we will save countless tax dollars, and that's so important, because the tax, the dollars that we're losing are beyond anything that you can imagine, and the tax dollars that could be used to rebuild struggling American communities including our inner cities.


[20:45:12] TRUMP: We are also going to save countless American lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Back now with the panel. Carl Bernstein, you know, we're talking before the break about how this is Donald Trump's party, how this was Trump's event. I mean does it surprise you the extent to which how much the Republican Party has embraced this sort of economic nationalism?

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I think two things are happening. The base of his victory have embraced it and we're watching at CPAC a narcissistic demagogue even going farther with his message of anger and with his message of exclusion.

While on Capitol Hill, what is happening, he is scaring the hell out of a lot of movement conservatives, and a lot of senators and congressmen who worry about his stability and are well aware that he is presenting all of this in a fact-free universe.

There's great concern on Capitol Hill. I'm sure that others on this broadcast can attest to that. And so we're heading in two different directions, where there's some real skepticism in his own party in Washington about his approach and whether he really is a president who knows what he's doing, while at the same time, he's energizing those who brought him to the dance. But it's a really ugly mood as well.

COOPER: Congressman Kingston, I mean what about that?


COOPER: Because there are a lot of sort of mainstream republicans who did not go to CPAC who are in leadership positions who weren't there at least.

KINGSTON: Well, a lot of mainstream republicans never have gone to see CPAC. In fact, the CPAC originally really was more of a porous kind of a love fest for the most conservative members of congress.

But, you know, I have to say to our friend, Carl, a narcissistic demagogue? That's what base republicans called Barack Obama. I think that's partisan rhetoric. I don't think it's accurate at all. This is a guy taking a victory lap and he check off, as you pointed, check off all the issues from immigration to the military, to the evangelical community. He's singled out the direct of the NRA. For example, these were all base republican type issues that he's talked about.

COOPER: Is there a concern? Did you hear concern from folks on Capitol Hill who are republicans who may be worried about where the party is going?

KINGSTON: No, I don't. At this point, they're happy that things are finally moving that the gridlock is going to be broken. I'd say there's more worry about renegade republicans who are worried about their political leveraging. And I knew -- you know, I learned that many years ago when Newt Gingrich was a speaker as a Georgian, any time I wanted to make press, I could just say something about Newt.

Republicans and Democrats too can always speak about your own party leadership and you become the darling of the day, but it doesn't help move the train forward. What they have to do is stick together and they've got to deliver on the promises collectively, from health care to immigration security to ISIS.

MCENANY: and Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus both said that there have been people who come into the president's office and say you have to moderate on X, Y, or Z promise you made. They both said that. And he to his credits said, "I said this. I made this promise to the American people. I'm going to deliver that promise." And he's doing that despite the fact that his policies will be misconstrued as I would argue they just were as excluding people or isolating people who are angry. He's delivering. And I think that's a very good thing. We finally have someone who's walking his talk despite pressure. I don't know if it's from republicans or democrats, they were mentioning despite pressure to moderate.

RYE: Not only that. It's also despite human decency and also compassion. I think the role of the commander-in-chief is also to take into consideration things that you may not have known while you were campaigning. There's nothing wrong with moderating and/or compromising. That is of course the purpose of the house and the senate. And I don't know which republicans you're talking to. Maybe you're talking to too many folks who went to CPAC, Congressman Kingston, but there are several republicans on the Hill who are also still very concerned. In fact, he's asking very vocal. Well, he's doing town hall next week.


RYE: Yeah. So I think that you do have quite a few who are concerned.

COOPER: Right. We got to take a break. I want to take everybody coming up. One piece of the mystery solved, but so many remain in the death of Kim Jong-un's half brother. The story is so bizarre and fascinating. Authorities saying an internationally-banned nerve agent was what killed him. The latest on that and the questions that still have to be answered, next.


[20:53:05] COOPER: Now, the twist in the internation murder mystery surrounding the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother. Authorities in Malaysia say the internationally-banned chemical weapon was what killed him, V.X. never agent. It's an odorless liquid.

That finding only brings out more questions. Barbara Starr tonight has the details.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one of the deadliest chemical agents in the world, V.X. The Malaysian government says it was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of Kim Jong-un. And local authorities believe North Korea may have been behind the murder.

A U.S. official told CNN "it certainly appears" North Korea attacked using a weapon of mass destruction agent. All of it caught on security cameras. You can see two women approach Kim Jong-nam in the airport in Kuala Lumpur where they put a substance on his face and quickly flee the area.

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Given the fact that V.X. is not only one of the most lethal nerve agents out there and never agents out there, it's also something that you just can't make in your basement. It is step across airline.

STARR: Intelligent services worldwide are watching closely.

HALL: The exact methodology is to how it got into a controlled area of an international airport, I think will be the subject of continued intelligence collection.

JIM WALSH, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: If they had active storage site with V.X., that they could have confidence in, they would not have to transport very much of it. And you know, no one would know what it was without opening it, unfortunately, and dying from it.

STARR: Malaysia has already asked Interpol to put out an alert for four missing suspects. But the fear is they are already back in Pyongyang. The Malaysian Police report details that after he died, Kim jong-nam's eyes and face were swabbed by investigators, they found V.X. nerve agent. That has not yet been confirmed independently.

[20:55:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm only saying that the cause of his death is by that chemical. The rest will be subject of our investigation.

STARR: V.X. is an internationally-banned chemical weapon that can kill in minutes. It causes convulsions, paralysis, loss of consciousness and death due to respiratory failure. While North Korea has not acknowledged it has chemical weapons. South Korea estimates the regime has stockpile of up to 5000 metric tons. The U.S. says it's always prepared for a North Korea attack. And the 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea regularly practice operating in a chemical assault.


STARR: North Korea has continued to push back saying that it is not responsible for the attack and saying if the two women who did attack had lethal agent on their hands, how did they survive? Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Barbara Starr, thanks very much. We'll have more in this story the next hour. Also in the next hour of 360, the White House is defending asking the FBI to flash reports about now President Trump's team communicating with Russians known to U.S. intelligence. At the same time, the president is criticizing the FBI, for his own opinion, not being able to stop leaks from within the bureau. The latest when we continue.


[21:00:05] COOPER: What this hour of 360, new reporting on the story the CNN first broke, the White House pressuring the FBI to knock down reports of Trump campaign contact with Russia.