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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
NYT: 2 W.H. Officials Helped Give Nunes Intel Reports; Flynn Seeks Immunity For Testimony; Russian Billionaire's Ties To Team Trump. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 30, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:02] RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: That's not what this is about.
LIZZA: Jack, you should be mad -- Jack, you're the one who should be mad here. Someone who comes on T.V. to defend the administration, you should be mad that they've made your job so difficult over the last week.
JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: No, no, no.
LIZZA: Look what -- they could have done this so easily, Jack. Let me just make one point. They could have easily just given the information to the committee.
COOPER: And by the way, Devin Nunes gave an interview to Eli Lake in which he lied. He said something that was not true. Eli Lake, in fact, now has come back out and said, this wasn't true that -- what Devin Nunes told him. I mean --
LIZZA: He may have lied to Speaker Ryan as well.
KINGSTON: Let me ask you guys a question. Why isn't Adam Schiff saying, yeah, let's go look at it. Instead, just like yesterday when he said --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He'll go look at it.
KINGSTON: -- well, I'm going to sign -- well, just let me finish. He was almost about to sign the invitation for Comey to come testify, but suddenly there are stipulations. There was no reason to have stipulations. Same thing today, he was invited --
COOPER: Jack, you're rewriting -- Jack, you're rewriting history. Stipulations, what are you saying? All right, OK, well, let me answer the question. And I know this because -- not because I've talked to him, but because I've actually read the documents, read the public reporting, which you can read as well and you probably already know, which is that he was willing to sign the letter.
In fact, he said today, he's willing to have Comey and Rogers come in behind closed-doors testimony, but he also wants a guarantee that Clapper, that Yates, and others are going to testify openly and that hasn't been assured. Even today, he still hasn't gotten assurances from Nunes that that's going to occur.
BORGER: And, Jack, let me also ask you, if you were Devin Nunes right now and say you just walked into this, unwittingly, do you think you were set up for this? Or were you a part of it? Or is this just innocent?
That all of these -- if you look at this timeline, if you look at the timeline, everybody is -- I'm a former English major. I know about foreshadowing. Every action was foreshadowed from the president to Sean Spicer and suddenly Devin Nunes is over at the White House. I mean, it just --
COOPER: Jeff Toobin, other than collusion, what is the explanation here?
KINGSTON: I really do not think that the White House -- and I say this respectfully, but I don't think they're organized enough to have such orchestration of this in a way --
LIZZA: Jack --
COOPER: Hold on. Jack, if you call this orchestration, you know, god helps us all, because that's not orchestration.
KINGSTON: No, but what you're assuming is the president said, OK, on Monday, I'm going to say this. Sean, on Wednesday you're going to say that. And then Devin, on Friday you're going to do this and then you're going to have -- I don't think that's possible.
COOPER: So, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. What we're forgetting about the Ryan Lizza's reporting.
LIZZA: I was going to say that.
COOPER: Ryan, explain your reporting, because you have a senior White House official saying -- I mean -- well, explain.
LIZZA: Senior White House official who would have had, if he wanted it, access to this information. But, I mean, the bottom line is, he knew what Nunes was going to say on Monday, before he said it. So, that --
COOPER: Right. He told you watch what Nunes is going to say. He's going to lay the predicate and he referred you to a Hill article, which talked about incidental collection.
KINGSTON: Ryan, the question is why would somebody hate his job or his employer so much that he would be that disloyal? I mean, I understand how it's useful to you, if I had that kind of mold, but, I mean, that sounds like a real sleazy person, frankly. And I'm not going to make that the subject. But I want to get back to Adam Schiff.
LIZZA: Well, we were talking about the hearing and I was asking what we should expect --
KINGSTON: But he's undermining his team. If he goes around saying things --
COOPER: Are you surprised that a White House official would leak something, from this White House?
KINGSTON: You know it gets back to what we, Republicans, say about the deep state.
LIZZA: But, Jack, they wanted us -- but they wanted us in the press to focus on incidental collections.
KINGSTON: Well, I don't know how they're there. But let me say --
COOPER: All right, no, no, no, Jeff Toobin, we haven't -- Jeff, heard from you. I mean, other than collusion, is there any explanation for this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I mean, you know, I do think that Devin Nunes is such a uniquely clueless individual and so out of his depth in this whole investigation that ascribing too much planning and motive to him might be wrong. But it is true, also --
KINGSTON: So, does that mean you're on my side?
TOOBIN: I'm not sure. I think your side basically wants to make the whole thing, what did Evelyn Farkas know and when did she know it. It's like, who cares?
BORGER: And who is she?
TOOBIN: But the question that I think, you know, that we need to focus on, is, what is the underlying truth here of what were the relationships between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and Russian oligarchs? And how can that information come to light in the most fair and efficient way?
[21:05:03] I think it's quite clear that the House Intelligence Committee is a hopeless mess. The Senate Judiciary Committee seems to be doing a better job. But giving Devin Nunes any responsibility for this, and trusting him to be doing the public's good as opposed to Donald Trump's good is just -- it's a fool's game.
KINGSTON: It seems to me, actually, I was thinking about it tonight. I think that the Senate committee is going to come out with a very balanced report that some people are going to like. The House committee report is going to be called political regardless of what they find, because both parties, you could argue, have been very, very political and running to the press, as opposed to what Warner and Burr are doing, it's a totally different approach.
COOPER: All right, everybody --
BORGER: And Warner and Burr say they're not going to be diverted? They're doing an investigation into Russia, period. Not into leaks.
KINGSTON: Well, they should be.
COOPER: I want to thank everybody on the panel.
To our viewer who are just joining us, President Trump's former national security adviser, who was fired for lying about contact with Russia, is now offering to testify to the committees investigating that contact and talk to the FBI as well in exchange for immunity.
"The Wall Street Journal" broke the story just about two hours or so ago. We're doing our own reporting. Just a short time ago, General Flynn's attorney put out a statement. It reads in part, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it. No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution."
Again, the story first broke in "The Wall Street Journal." I spoke with Correspondent Carol Lee in tonight's first hour. Take a look.
COOPER: Carol, first of all, what have you learned that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has offered to the FBI and others?
CAROL LEE, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, we've learned that through his lawyer, he has had conversations to achieve some sort of immunity in exchange for his testimony, or for cooperation, in terms of the FBI. Those discussions, our understanding is to have happened in recent days.
There's a statement now out from Michael Flynn's lawyer, who saying that he would agree to testify under certain circumstances and that they have had these conversations. And his lawyers are saying that their concern is not so much that Michael Flynn has something to hide. They're saying he doesn't or that he has something that he should be concerned about, but that in this political environment, he would not be treated fairly.
And so, he's asking for immunity from any prosecution to be able to give his testimony and cooperate and not have any consequences should something arise that could be criminally prosecuted. COOPER: And I think, in your story, you cited the FBI as well as the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate that the House Intelligence Committee spokesman for Chairman Nunes has said that Michael Flynn has not asked for immunity. The lawyer's statement does talk about the House Intelligence Community and the Senate. I just read it very quickly. It doesn't directly mention the FBI, is that correct?
LEE: No, his statement -- I just took a quick look at it. It does not. But the FBI is obviously a natural place to go and -- if you're trying to seek immunity or if you're going to be investigated.
We know that the FBI had interviewed Michael Flynn a couple of months ago, when he first was under scrutiny or it was reported publicly that he was being -- his communications with Russian ambassador were being investigated. And other potential communications between him and Russian officials were being looked at. And he was, at that time, interviewed by the FBI.
And so, it would be -- it would make sense for him, obviously, to have that discussion with the FBI, because they're conducting an investigation. And then, obviously, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are, as well.
COOPER: I guess the statement -- I mean, when I first read the statement from Chairman Nunes' spokesperson saying that he had not asked for immunity before the House Intelligence Committee, it seemed at odds with your reporting, but also the lawyer's statement. But when you read the lawyer's statement closer, it basically -- it doesn't use the term "immunity."
COOPER: So -- and the lawyer does say that they have had talks with the House Intelligence Committee. So really, it's kind of maybe a question of semantics.
LEE: It's maybe a question of semantics. But, you know, if you look at the lawyer statement in our discussions with various sources, you know, he is seeking immunity. What he's asking for is to be able to cooperate and to deliver testimony in exchange for not being prosecuted in some way, because of something that he were to say or something that may arise in that.
And so, it's -- everyone's kind of parsing words here. But, certainly, his lawyer -- as his lawyer says in the statement, it has discussed this with the House committee.
COOPER: And do you have any details on what Flynn has offered to talk about?
[21:10:02] LEE: No. We don't know what he has offered to talk about. We don't know if it's, you know, specifically things that he did or experiences that he had when he was on the Trump campaign. We don't know if it has to do with some of the things that he himself has did a consultant. You know, there are a number of things that Michael Flynn had, also for foreign governments.
We know he did some work for the Turkish government. We know that he's been paid tens of thousands of dollars by Russian companies and he has -- he has made a very, what was got a lot of attention and appearance in 2015, for instance, for the Russian media organization, where he sat at the table with Vladimir Putin. So we don't know exactly what he's offering to talk about or what they want him to talk about.
COOPER: Do you know if the FBI or congressional officials from the House or the Senate have -- have they responded to Flynn's offer of immunity?
LEE: No, we have not. Our understanding is that there has not been any sort of deal as yet worked out and that these discussions were ongoing and that they've been happening in different forms over the last couple of days.
COOPER: That was my conversation earlier tonight with "The Wall Street Journal's" Carol Lee.
Let's go now to the White House and CNN's Jeff Zeleny. Has the White House responded to the new reporting about Michael Flynn in asking for immunity?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I talked to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer just a few moments ago. He was still in the briefing room here, just about to leave his office. And he said the White House will have no comment on this tonight, the whole discussion of General Flynn. Of course, the White House is watching this, but they are not having their official comment on this tonight, Anderson.
COOPER: Flynn resigned from the White House, I guess, a month ago, or a month and a half ago. Clearly -- I mean, his shadow still looms over this White House.
ZELENY: It looms large over this White House, Anderson. And I think it will for some time to come, largely, because he was so engrained in the campaign. Michael Flynn was so close to this president. He wasn't some adviser who was brought on sort of at the end. He was, you know, along for the ride throughout here.
But the -- all these questions of Michael Flynn, if he would testify at some point in the future, it is all hinging on what is happening here at the White House right now. All these classified documents, all the conversations between Russian meddling, that's why this is a potential very serious issue for the White House, because it goes directly into the heart of everything that's hanging over this.
This Russia cloud is, you know, hanging over everything the White House is trying to do and Michael Flynn is still at the center of it, even though he is not here. But I can tell you, Anderson, the White House would certainly be concerned and worried, if he would get that immunity and would testify.
COOPER: Yeah. I mean, Michael Flynn was a guy leading chants "lock her up." He was the guy on -- I think it was at "Meet the Press," you know, back in September, a year ago said, you know, people asked -- essentially, people asked for immunity have committed some sort of a crime. You don't ask for immunity unless you've committed some sort of a crime. He's now asking for immunity. It's an incredible development. Jeff, appreciate it.
Joining us now is CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen and the multi-fascinated David Axelrod, CNN Senior Political Commentator, former Senior Adviser to President Obama. Axe File podcaster now hosted "The Axe Files" on the T.V. premier Saturday night at 9:00 right here on CNN. We look forward to that.
So, David Gergen, I mean, you said earlier tonight that, "The clouds are darkening over the White House tonight." Any way you look at it, and Congressman Kingston was trying to spin this as -- or trying to say this was a good thing for the White House. Any way you look at it, though, I mean, this doesn't seem to be good for them, no?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, first of all, we've never had a national security adviser embroiled in a legal dispute that potentially has criminal implications since John Poindexter back in the Reagan years over the Iranian arms deal.
We've never had -- never, ever had a president in the first hundred days whose White House is so embroiled in controversies that are increasingly suspicious. So, yes, this is very bad news for the White House, darkening clouds.
I'm not quite sure how they deal with it, but, you know, if the national security adviser is ready to sing in exchange for immunity, you know, that has to be worrying to them, because, you know, this goes to the heart of what the investigation and the FBI is investigating two central issues.
One is, to what degree did the Russians threw the election toward the president. But the second issue is to what degree were the Russians colluding with Trump associates. And Michael Flynn is right at the top of that list.
And to have him now asking for immunity, you know, sends this message that there's a -- there is a fire here of some sort. And that what we've been seeing for the last two, three, four weeks is the effort to create a lot of clouds so we can't see the fire. But the Flynn story says there is a fire.
COOPER: David Axelrod, I mean, to put this all in perspective, I mean, Flynn was President Trump's national security adviser, one of the president's closest advisers, not just in the White House, but -- I mean, on the campaign trail up until six weeks ago. What's your reaction to all of it?
[21:15:12] DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Well, without question. I mean, he was an integral part of the Trump campaign, when the Trump campaign was a very trim operation. And as David said, the danger for the White House here is -- I mean, the link that will make this a full-blown crisis is if a link can be made between people in the Trump campaign organization and Russians or others who are familiar with the fact of the hack and what was to come. And I think that's the big question that people are asking.
And Flynn would be one of the people who you would look at most closely, because of the ties that he's had in the past, because we know he's had conversations with Kislyak, perhaps others. So, this is a really, really alarming development from the standpoint of the White House.
And I quite agree with David. You know, part of why people are so keenly interested in this and following this so closely is the freneticism with which the president has reacted to any suggestion of collusion between the Russians and his campaign and these kind of fantastic charges that he's dropped from time to time to try to avert the discussion. So, this is a big deal.
And by the way, it comes at a particularly inconvenient time, because on the very day that this news surfaces, we learn that one of Flynn's appointees in the White House was involved in this Nunes escapade. So, it really -- it couldn't be worse. This is -- as David Gergen would say, a bad news day at the White House.
COOPER: Right. I mean, David Gergen, not only, you know, somebody that Flynn appointed to the National Security Council, but someone who -- the new head of the National Security Council, the new national security adviser, tried to get removed from the National Security Council. And according to the reporting by Matt, by Matthew of "The New York Times," President Trump himself intervened to stop that removal.
I want to play a clip of something that General Flynn said on "Meet the Press" back in September. I spoke about this. He was speaking about Secretary Clinton and the people around her asking for immunity. Let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The very last thing that John Podesta just said is no individual too big to jail. That should include people like Hillary Clinton. I mean, five people around her have had -- have been given immunity to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity that means that you've probably committed a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, we should say -- I mean, he was, you know, clearly had a political reason for saying that. You can argue that somebody can ask for immunity for a whole bunch of reasons and it's not necessarily because somebody's committed a crime, David Gergen.
GERGEN: That's very true, but at the same time, it's generally true that somebody asking for immunity to protect themselves from criminal prosecution. And it's also true that the lawyer's statement for General Flynn, which came out tonight, CNN has been reporting on, says in the last line that this is all about protecting his client from prosecution. So that seems to be the central motive behind it.
And I think the point you made about H.R. McMaster, who was highly regarded in the military, and is now the national security adviser, General Flynn's successor, and tried to oust this person, tried to send him off the staff, because Flynn had recruited him. And this same person was deeply involved in Nunes, giving stuff to Nunes and the collusion with Nunes tried to fire him, and the president personally intervened.
GERGEN: I just never heard of anything like that, Anderson. And it happens, but I -- you know, I hope for the country's sake, frankly. I hope for the president's sake, that this is more of a smoke than fire, because I think it would be calamitous for the country if it went the other way. But they're behaving in such a suspicious way that it has to make you doubt.
You know, when Sean Spicer stands up there and says things that you know are not quite true, it makes you doubt. I just wish for the country's sake that they come forward, be honest, let's face it, let's deal with it, and let's move on, because it does not helpful to have a corruptful (ph) president. If that's what this comes to, it's extremely bad news for the country.
AXELROD: And this is how these scandals unravel when -- and they tend to morph into other stories as events develop. So, now there's going to be a great deal of interest in exactly why this young man who McMaster wanted to fire, who Flynn brought to the National Security Council, was saved by the president. And it also raises the question of whether he had a pipeline to the president in some way. I mean, the big question --
COOPER: Right. And if he had a pipeline to the president, why did he need Nunes to pass along information?
[21:20:02] AXELROD: Exactly. And, I mean, the curious thing about the whole Nunes, as Lindsey Graham said in Inspector Clouseau episode, is that he goes down to the White House. He gets briefed on this information, and then he breathlessly runs back to the White House the next day to tell him about the information that he had obtained the previous day, from the White House. And so, you know, I mean, it is a hot mess right now.
GERGEN: Yeah. And I just can't -- David Axelrod is so on point on this. And I must say, I think he speaks for a lot of people who have worked in White Houses over the years. People who work there, you know, feel so privileged. They really want their presidents to do well. They want it to be clean. And this is just a deeply disturbing, you know, moment for -- of a lot of people who have tried hard.
AXELROD: I think, Anderson, one other thing that should be said. I was one who was really disturbed by General Flynn's behavior at the convention, when he led those "lock her up" chants. It was kind of a low point in the campaign of 2016 and perhaps in presidential campaigns over time. And so, you know, it is the height of irony now that he finds himself from the position that he's in.
COOPER: Yeah. Again, "The Axe Files," 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Saturday night, look forward at that right here on CNN. David (inaudible) Senator John McCain.
Coming up next, we're going to check for reaction on Capitol Hill to all of this. A lot happening tonight when we continue.
COOPER: Well, breaking news tonight, President Trump's former national security adviser has offered to testify in exchange for immunity. In a statement, Michael Flynn's lawyer says he certainly has a story to tell.
Joining us now with reaction from Capitol Hill, CNN's Jessica Schneider. What are you hearing?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Anderson, out here on Capitol Hill, no direct confirmation as to whether or not they'll take General Flynn's lawyers up on that offer, for testimony in exchange for immunity.
You know, out here on Capitol Hill, we have heard from a spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee, they say that there has been no request from General Flynn, and in addition, the Senate Intelligence Committee just not commenting on this.
[21:25:09] But, of course, like you mentioned, somewhat of a tantalizing offer from General Flynn's lawyers saying, "That, yes, he has that story to tell. He will tell it, if the circumstances permit." But no reaction just yet here from Capitol Hill.
COOPER: Yeah. Richard Burr, who's the Senate intelligence chair, I mean, he did mention Michael Flynn yesterday. What did he say?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, it was interesting, Anderson. You know, yesterday, Chairman Burr held that press conference in advance of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings that started today.
And in that press conference, you know, he was asked, who exactly are you talking to? He said that there are many people on that list of people they wanted to talk to. He said General Flynn, of course, is one of those people. So I reached out to General Flynn's lawyers yesterday, they confirmed to me that, yes, General Flynn's lawyers have been talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
They're saying General Flynn himself has not been talking to the committee. But now it just remains to be seen whether or not any deal is in the works, whether any deal will actually happen. Anderson?
COOPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, appreciate the update. I want to bring in the panel, Kirsten Powers, Paul Begala, Matt Lewis, Juliette Kayyem, Jeffrey Lord, and back this hour, Jeffrey Toobin.
Juliette Kayyem, you've said a few days ago you that you thought this could be in the works. What do you make of this where General Flynn is indeed open to, I mean, seeking it out?
JULLIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Yeah. So we don't know -- just to be clear, we don't know quite yet what he's willing to proffer and whether he'll speak without the immunity that we're hearing about. But, just going back a little bit, this shouldn't be that surprising for people who know about how these cases unfold.
Several months ago, we learned about that weird interaction regarding Flynn and Sally Yates. Her concern, the former deputy attorney general, her concern about Flynn that she relates to the White House, they keep Flynn for several weeks, and then he's finally fired.
We then, next, hear that Flynn was sort of cleaning up some of his affiliations with foreign government, in particular, Turkey, which a number of people who I know who work these cases said that's a clear sign that someone is sort of trying to sort of, you know, make themselves clean in anticipation of a proffer.
And then the third thing, which I thought was interesting last week and why I raised the possibility on air was you kept hearing about Carter Page and Manafort, and Roger Stone, all of them willing to talk. And the one you did not hear about was Mike Flynn. And so those three things plus, you know, other background noise made it seem like this was the moment that we were heading to.
And I just want to make it clear to viewers, we do not know what he's willing to proffer. And so it may be he knows nothing or he's worried about his own criminal liability. So the idea that this goes directly to the Oval Office, we're not there yet. These cases take a long time, but certainly, this is -- basically, horrible news for the White House at this stage, though.
COOPER: Paul Begala, as somebody who worked in the Clinton administration and saw some tough days there, what do you make of this offer by Flynn's people?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think Juliette is spot-on. I would add to it that immunity does not immunize you from perjury. The most important thing for all these witnesses is to tell the truth.
And, you know, I know that prosecutors want to prosecute people. But what I want, I just want the facts. I want the truth, that's why I've been wanting an independent commission as well as a special prosecutor, who kind of keep the politics out of it.
But believe me, at the White House right now, they're tight. They're tight right now and there's a knot in their stomach, because somebody who knows an awful a lot has now volunteered to share that. And it may be that everything he knows is just all sweetness and lights and puppies and unicorns and then that's just great, then it has good news, as Jack Kingston was arguing to you in the last hour. But it's just not. It's just not. It's like saying a tumor is good news because, well, you'll lose weight. Yeah, maybe, ain't good news.
COOPER: But, Jeff Toobin, I mean, if everything he says is, you know, look, there's no there, there, everything is fine, everything I did was aboveboard, why would prosecutors give him immunity for him in order to say that, if they don't feel there's a reason?
TOOBIN: Well, it depends. I mean, you know, they want a complete picture of what happened here. And he is such an intricate -- integral player in so many parts of this story.
I mean, he has had enormous numbers of contacts, it seems, with Russian government officials, with people associated with the Russian government. If you want to know what the Trump campaign was doing with them, you want to talk to Mike Flynn, even if there was nothing illegal about what he did.
I mean, sometimes prosecutors in an effort to just get a complete story will give someone immunity, even if they don't implicate other people in criminal behavior, just because they are so critical.
But, again, I keep returning to this. You know, witnesses are important, but documents and tapes and transcripts, they are even more important because they are not subject to the people lying.
[21:30:12] COOPER: Right.
TOOBIN: These tapes exist in the world, and if the judiciary -- if the intelligence committee and the Justice Department are doing their job properly, and I think they will be, they've got to see that first before they make an agreement about giving anyone immunity.
COOPER: Jeffrey Lord, I want to re-read that first line from General Flynn's attorney, their statement that they put out short time ago. He said, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."
Isn't that the type of the comment that typically would send shield (ph) through Washington, somebody saying there was at the heart of thing saying, "Wow, they have a story to tell?"
JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Only if you got something to hide. I mean, I'm not at all convinced that there's anything to hide here. I mean, there just-- there seems repeatedly to be no there, there. But let's find out.
I mean, I'm all for this. And I find it very interesting that in the whole tale of Devin Nunes at the White House that then there were "leaks of classified information to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee." This is a mammoth story. But when the Obama administration leaks like a sieve to "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," this is no big deal. This is why you need to get all the players on both sides from President Obama on down, on both sides, in front of some committee or commission or whatever, and testify and let's find out.
COOPER: Kirsten, I want to play what General Flynn said when he was talking about immunity for people around Hillary Clinton during the whole e-mail server story. This is what he said last September.
(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)
FLYNN: The very last thing that John Podesta just said is no individual too big to jail. That should include people like Hillary Clinton. I mean, five people around her have had -- have been given immunity to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity that means that you've probably committed a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, Kirsten, is there any way for the White House to amidst-- to get a good spin on this?
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: No. Look, I mean this is really makes him a hypocrite, because it's actually not true that you necessarily --
POWERS: -- committed a crime if you have immunity. So he's a hypocrite. That's a minor offense, frankly, in Washington I think. You know, it looks bad for him.
The bigger issue is, if there is a Russia connection, Mike Flynn knows about it. This is somebody who was with Donald Trump for a long time. He had a lot of face time with him. He was very much there during the Manafort period. He knows where the bodies are buried. And he's embittered.
This is somebody who's not happy. He was fired by the White House after being left to twist in the wind. So, if he wants to get back at anybody, now is the time. And as people have pointed out, he also is obligated to tell the truth. Now that he's struck this deal, if there's a story to tell that implicates the White House, he has to tell it.
COOPER: And, Matt Lewis, I mean, he's play another good example of why Attorney General Sessions recused himself for the Russian investigation because it's his Justice Department that who would be making a deal with General Flynn, and the two of them obviously were very close advisers throughout the president's campaign.
MATT LEWIS: That's right. And Himes said it looks like a really good move that Attorney General Sessions did that, even though Donald Trump, President Trump at the time didn't want him to do it. It's one of the few things that I think the Trump administration has sort of gotten right, you know, when we see this mess with Nunes and everything like that. Look, General Flynn is someone who has been with the campaign and in the administration very intimately. As Kirsten said, he knows where the bodies are buried, if, in fact, any bodies are buried.
And I have to say, I think I feel like today was a turning point in this story at least in terms of-- the way the media is going to cover this. That's bad news for Donald Trump. This feels like now you're in the feeding frenzy. I think that this story is going to be really the dominant story going forward now, for.
You know, we've had -- this period of time where the news cycle, every day Donald Trump tweets something and he could change the narrative, I don't think that's going to work anymore. It feels like something changed today.
And, again, you know, why do you -- why would your lawyers said you have a good story to tell and that you want immunity if you don't (inaudible)
COOPER: Yes. Paul Callan was saying earlier, legal analysts, that those are very provocative words for defense attorneys or for any attorneys to use.
We're going to continue the conversation. Next, beyond all the drama that we've been talking about tonight, former Obama official is taking heat with some conservative news out that's blaming her of leaking classified intelligence. She says her words are being twisted. You heard her name, Evelyn Farkas, earlier used by Jack Kingston. We'll talk about her, ahead.
[21:37:12] COOPER: Well, the breaking news tonight, former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has told the FBI and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia that he's willing to testify in exchange for immunity.
Meantime, the White House is not denying a "New York Times" report that at least two White House national security staffers provided House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes with intelligence reports.
In a day of fast-moving developments, the White House also released a letter inviting House and Senate Intelligence Committees to review new documents related to the potential unauthorized disclosure of classified information about U.S. persons.
Here's the part that grabbed our attention, "In light of recent disclosures regarding possible inappropriate accumulation or dissemination of classified information, e.g., the comments of former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas on MSNBC on March 2nd, 2017, our hope is that the committee will investigate the following questions."
It goes on to outline five questions, but what grabbed your attention was the mention of Evelyn Farkas, the name that's new to most people, but who Jack Kingston brought up in the past hour. And he's hardly alone. In recent days, in certain circles, she's become a major talking point. Randi Kaye tonight reports.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A former defense department employee from the Obama administration, now taking heat for saying this earlier this month on MSNBC.
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their -- the staff, the Trump staff dealing with Russians that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence.
KAYE (voice-over): Her name is Evelyn Farkas and she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia until 2015. Something else she said now has conservative media blaming her for leaking classified intelligence. Here's what she said about wanting to inform lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
FARKAS: So I became very worried, because not enough was coming out into the open and I knew that there was more. We have very good intelligence on Russia. So, then I had talked to some of my former colleagues and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill.
KAYE (voice-over): Even though she says her comments were based on media reports, those on the right suggest that Farkas basically admitted she was responsible for leaking information that the Obama administration had collected on then President-elect Donald Trump. Conservative media has run with it. Suggesting her comments prove there was surveillance on Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Farkas is referring to surveilled information on the Trump transition team. Listen next, as she admits that there was unmasking, in other words, revealing the identities of those Trump team members.
KAYE (voice-over): Early this morning, Farkas defended her original remarks.
FARKAS: We were having now transition of power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.
[21:40:04] And if, indeed, there was an investigation ongoing, if, indeed, there was information that the Obama administration had about Russian interference and possible American involvement, I wanted to make sure that Congress knew about it. I do not, absolutely, do not condone leaking. You know, it's against the law.
KAYE (voice-over): White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reacted on conservative talk radio this morning.
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This is an incredible statement, you know, and how, what it means and what she meant by that, and whether that has anything to do with the issues in regard to surveillance of Trump transition team members is something that we need to figure out.
KAYE (voice-over): By mid-afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was laying blame.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you look at the Obama's Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense that is out there, Evelyn Farkas, she made it clear that it was their goal to spread this information around, that they went around and did this. And she said, "That's why there are so many leaks". They have admitted on the record that this was their goal.
COOPER: Randi joins us now. You spoke to Evelyn Farkas tonight. What more did she said?
KAYE: Anderson, we called her tonight to get reaction with what White House is now saying about her, and by phone she told us once again that she had nothing to do with leaking intelligence, that she had no access to this intelligence information anymore, because she was out of government.
She said that she was trying to make sure that Congress was being notified correctly, if there was indeed any information to know about. She also said whoever started this whole thing took her words out of context. She said it was to make it seem like she was some part of a big conspiracy. She said that the White House is now spreading fake news, that was her words, and picking on her. She called it obnoxious.
I also asked her if she thinks that she might be called to testify before the intelligence committee, I know you're talking about that with the panel, and she said that she doesn't think that they're going to make her testify, because she doesn't know anything, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Randi, thanks very much.
Back now with the panel. Kirsten, I mean, do you see substance to the claims by allies of the president that this person, Evelyn Farkas, is somehow relevant or crucial to anything being investigated by Congress?
POWERS: No. And, in fact, snoops, which, you know, exist to debunked sort of conspiracy theory that's already debunked this. And even the clip that you played, she doesn't talk about surveillance. She's talking about information that was already reported in "The New York Times" at length.
And, in fact -- I think she might have even been referencing that that the Obama administration have been basically preserving intelligence and disseminating it, because they were concerned that if there was an investigation down the road that it wouldn't be available. And that's exactly what she was talking about. So, I really -- I'm struggling to even understand where they're getting the idea that she is in anyway confirming that there was surveillance of Donald Trump.
COOPER: Jeffrey, I know you gave Evelyn Farkas the chance to comment in her own words in "The American Spectator," which I think is obviously commendable. I read what she said. She left government in September of 2015. She's now -- I guess a pundit on cable news. You know, nothing wrong with that. And no one has presented any evidence that she did anything wrong, nor do her comments really indicate that, do they?
LORD: Well, she believes-- I mean, I spoke with her this afternoon, and just for the record, it turns out that we are both graduates of Franklin and Marshall College, which I did not know. I did not know her. She contacted me, based on hearing me mentioned her name last night on your show.
She -- I thought it was only fair to let her get it out there as I did with Carter Page at "The American Spectator" in her own words. She believed she's been wildly misinterpreted. That the videos were, you know, cut and pasted in essence to make her say something that she didn't say.
Now, I -- and I said directly to her that my view was that whoever leaked classified information has broken the law and should pay a price for it. So, this is why you have investigations. And she was very-- from her perspective, I'm sure, very forthright.
And I can tell you as you played clip there that Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh, have been very tough on her in the conservative media, they believe that this is some degree of a smoking gun. This is why you have an investigation. And I think, you know, go to it. Let's find out what is the story, what is going on here.
COOPER: What is surprising or controversial about a former Pentagon expert on Russia saying that there were people in the outgoing administration concerned the incoming administration, you know, allies of which are under federal investigation for possibly colluding with Russia would try to bury relevant intelligence. I mean, does that actually make sense? And by the way, she's not in the government anymore.
LORD: What's controversial is that whatever went on in the administration and the Obama administration turned up in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," repeatedly. You know, anonymously leaked, which they quite frankly said. So, somebody was leaking classified information within the Obama administration, and that's the point. It may well not be Miss Farkas. I mean, I just want to know who it is.
[21:45:04] POWERS: But Jeffrey, I thought the whole -- but-- well, I just saw Sean Hannity claiming that it proved that President Obama was having Donald Trump surveilled. I mean, why does she say that?
LORD: Well, clearly, clearly Donald Trump was being surveilled accidentally, incidentally, however you want to phrase it --
POWERS: No, that's not surveillance. Incidental collection is not surveillance. But-- isn't that the crux of what the smoking gun is that you believe that she's saying that there was surveillance?
LORD: Kirsten, Kirsten, come on. If you are picked up on tape by the government of the United States accidentally, that information is supposed to disappear into the depths, never to be --
POWERS: No, I'm just asking you, where did she confirm that the President Obama had Donald Trump under surveillance?
LORD: Well, what she says -- she says in there that the people in the administration were concerned. "The New York Times" says --
POWERS: But, that's not anything about surveillance.
LORD: What? Well, where --
POWERS: Because she doesn't say anything about surveillance.
LORD: If it's not from surveillance, how did they get the information? Please them.
POWERS: She's talking about incidental collection. I mean, I feel like we've had this conversation so many times.
LORD: Well, that is surveillance. That is surveillance.
COOPER: All right. Paul Begala, do you -- Paul, do you think the White House or its allies will be able to distract from all of this by continually bringing up Evelyn Farkas?
BEGALA: Not just by that, but by everything. It's not a smoking gun, it's a smoke screen. And Donald Trump is not very good being president. He's only had 10 weeks, but he's driven himself to the lowest percent of approval in American history for an incoming president.
But what he's great at, great, and I mean this, the best I've ever seen is distraction. He uses weapons of mass distraction. That's what the Farkas fracas is. It's just a way to distract us.
By the way, today, 10 minutes before the Senate Intelligence Committee convened a really interesting informative hearing. 10 minutes before, what did Donald Trump do? He tweeted out an attack on the House Freedom Caucus for primary elections that are 20 months away. He didn't do that because he really has a strategy to unseat Republicans in primaries. He did it because he wanted to distract attention from the Senate Intelligence Committee. We will see this every single day.
COOPER: Well, Matt, I mean, to that point -- good. So, Matt, to that point, he also was tweeting about, you know, bringing back -- or changing libel laws against papers like "The New York Times," which is -- I mean, that's an old chestnut from back in the campaign. It just seems, again, we're not even reporting on it, because, again, it just seems like such a distraction.
LEWIS: Yeah, we're not. But I tell you what, there was a time when he really could drive the media narrative with a tweet. And the media would just chase after that story and he would get a news cycle or two out of it. That's why I think this is different.
I think things have shifted. I'm -- it feels like there is now -- that I think it's the Flynn's story, you know. And we've had -- there have been, you know, this has been a developing story for weeks and months now.
I feel like the Flynn news has the potential to take this into a game- changer where there's a feeding frenzy. And then, I just don't think he can distract and that's when you're in danger of having a presidency that is invaded day in and day out by questions. Once -- if you finally get people under oath to testify --
LEWIS: -- that opens up all sorts of cans of worms.
COOPER: You know, we've got to wrap it up.
BEGALA: OK, I'm sorry.
COOPER: Very quickly, Paul.
BEGALA: The way to handle these scandals, and I've handled a lot of them, is not distracting with other things. It's actually to tell the American people, I know other people that are worried about General Flynn and his testimony. I'm here to create jobs and do my job as president.
He never seems to get back to the core reasons that 62 million Americans voted for him. Reasons that are mysterious to me, but I suspect they have a lot to do with jobs and the economy, not with attacking Evelyn Farkas.
COOPER: All right. Just to ahead, we've been covered a new connection to add to our flow chart of ties or connections between team Trump and Russia, involves a Russian billionaire who's already connected to former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Drew Griffin is (inaudible) on that. More details ahead.
[21:52:21] COOPER: Again, tonight's breaking news, former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn offering to testify presumably at Russian in exchange for immunity. His lawyer's reach out to the FBI, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
As we mentioned, the Senate investigators held their first public hearings today on Russia's meddling in U.S. elections. They said the investigation will go wherever the facts lead. Two nights ago, we laid out some facts about seven Trump associates and their connections to Russia. We ended up with a flow chart, you see there. It looks a lot like a busy subway map.
One on those lines connects former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, to Russian billionaire named Oleg Deripaska. Just today, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked about the possibility Deripaska appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss his relationship with Mr. Manafort. Putin say, "That's his right. Let him do it."
We don't know if the Senate Intelligence Committee actually plans or if they want to talk to Mr. Deripaska. Tonight, though, there's another connection you should know about. Drew Griffin tonight has the latest.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His name is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire many calling oligarch, typical of Russian billionaires. He's well-known to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has been given awards by the Russian government. There is no indication Donald Trump has ever met Oleg Deripaska, but it turns out the two men do have connections.
CNN has learned Donald Trump and Oleg Deripaska's company have over the years shared the same attorney, his name is Mark Kasowitz. And on his website, Kasowitz prominently list President Donald Trump as a client, who he's represented in a "wide range of litigation matters for over 15 years."
Oleg Deripaska isn't on Kasowitz list of clients, but records show Kasowitz is the attorney in a federal lawsuit where he represents an investment vehicle wholly owned by Deripaska, just one attorney with two billionaire clients, perhaps.
But consider this. Oleg Deripaska has another shoestring connection to Donald Trump and it's tied to this man. Donald Trump's former campaign chief, Paul Manafort. Manafort and Deripaska are former business partners. The Republican strategist who ran Trump's campaign for five months also started several offshore companies with Oleg Deripaska.
Legal filing show the Russian billionaire entrusted nearly $19 million to Manafort in 2008, the money to be invested in the Ukrainian telecom business. It was part of a major deal to make "significant long term capital." But the investment and relationship fell apart.
For several years, Deripaska tried to contact Manafort and get answers about the missing money. Court papers filed in 2014 showed Deripaska's attorneys had not been able to reach Manafort and determined Paul Manafort had simply disappeared.
[21:55:10] Then, Paul Manafort began running Donald Trump's campaign in 2016 and Deripaska's legal claims against him appeared to have gone away. Manafort spokesman tells CNN, "Mr. Manafort believes the matter is dormant and will not be pursued further."
Ethics expert and CNN Contributor Larry Noble says while there may be nothing inherently wrong with Kasowitz representing both Trump and Deripaska in unrelated matters --
LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It raises questions and it raises just in the larger context of what's been going on with Manafort. Every time you see something like this, you wonder whether this is perfectly legitimate. It's just an isolated issue where you have a lawyer who is involved representing various clients, or whether or not it fits into just a larger narrative of involvement with Russia.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Paul Manafort has confirmed to CNN he did work for Oleg Deripaska, but rejects the allegation that he was pushing the political interests of Vladimir Putin. That denial came after the Associated Press reported on a 2005 memo.
The memo according to the A.P. was from Manafort to Deripaska reaching a business claim that could greatly benefit the Putin government and influence politics, business dealings, and news coverage inside the United States.
CNN has been unable to verify the memo and Oleg Deripaska has seen taken out advertisements in American newspapers to resolutely deny this malicious assertion. Adding, "Context often creates an illusion of 'might be true' information though it's based on complete and full lies."
As for the fact, Donald Trump and Oleg Deripaska share the same attorney, there is no prove of anything nefarious. But in the greater context of Russian investigations, it is at the very least curious.
COOPER: So, Drew, do we know how it ended up that Donald Trump and this Russian billionaire's company had the same attorney?
GRIFFIN: Well, the White House and Oleg Deripaska did not respond at all to us, Anderson. But that attorney did, Mark Kasowitz. His firm says they don't represent Deripaska, never have. They represent the company, Veleron, which is wholly owned by Deripaska.
In his statement (inaudible) that, "Our representation of Veleron did not emanate from and has nothing to do with our representation of any Trump personnel or entities, and we have never relayed information or facilitated communication between Mr. Deripaska and his representatives and President Trump and his representative." A lot of legalese there, Anderson, to say this may be just a coincidence.
COOPER: All right, Drew Griffin. Drew, thanks very much. And we'll be right back.
[22:00:01] COOPER: Time to hand things over to Don Lemon with "CNN Tonight." I'll see you tomorrow. DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, General Michael Flynn is willing to testify in exchange for immunity.