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Yates to White House: Flynn "Could Be Blackmailed"; Obama Personally Warned Trump About Hiring Flynn. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 8, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening from Washington.

Today, the nation's former top law enforcement official testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the president has weighed in on that testimony. The hearing took place just a few blocks from here in a world removed from anything remotely conceivable until now, except perhaps unless in a spy thriller.

Former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, talking publicly for the first time today about how she went to the White House twice to warn them that the president -- the president's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

What's more this troubling notion was neither the only headline from the hearing today, nor the only big story tonight. However, it's a good place to start.

Jim Sciutto has today's key moments.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russian.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a hearing sharply divided along partisan lines, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates sharply contradicted the White House version of events regard fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. Yates told senators that she gave the White House a forceful and detailed warning. That Flynn lied when he denied discusses U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

YATES: We walked the White House counsel, who also had an associate there with him, through General Flynn's underlying conduct -- The contents of which I obviously cannot go through with you today because it's classified. But we took them through a fair amount of detail of the underlying conduct what Flynn had done and then we walked through the various press accounts and how it had been falsely reported.

We also told the White House counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI.


SCIUTTO: In February, the day after his firing by the president, Sean Spicer claimed Yates had only give a much less substantive heads up about Flynn's comments.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, a heads up to us and some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what the -- he had sent the vice president.

SCIUTTO: But Yates said it was much more than just a heads up. She spoke with the White House three separate times, warning that the president's closest adviser on national security was in danger of being blackmailed by Russia.

YATES: We felt like it was critical that we get in information to the White House, because -- in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.

SCIUTTO: The hearing was intended to focus on Russian interference in the U.S. election, on the key question of whether Trump advisers colluded with Russia in that interference, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said he has not seen evidence as he said in the past.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Is that still accurate?


SCIUTTO: Yates however was less definitive.

GRAHAM: Ms. Yates, do you have any evidence? Are you aware of any evidence that would suggest that in the 2016 campaign, anybody in the Trump campaign colluded -- colluded with the Russian government or intelligence services in an improper fashion?

YATES: And, Senator, my answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information and so I can't answer that.

GRAHAM: Overall, the hearing was a tale of two hearings. Many Democratic senators focused mostly on Flynn, many Republicans focused on leaks.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Have either of you ever been an anonymous source in a news report about matters relating to Mr. Trump, his associates or Russians attempt to meddle in the election?


YATES: Absolutely not.

SCIUTTO: And unmasking.

GRAHAM: Do we know who unmasked the conversation between the Russian ambassador and General Flynn? Was there an unmasking in this situation?

CLAPPER: I don't know.

GRAHAM: Do you, Ms. Yates?

YATES: I can't speak to this specific situation.


SCIUTTO: Jim Sciutto joins us.

So, despite all these different topics, this was actually a hearing about Russian interference in the U.S. election. Did we learn actually anything new about that today?

SCIUTTO: Well, Director Clapper today confirmed, we reported this before, that Russian hackers targeted both Democratic and Republican Party affiliates, et cetera, but only leaked on the Democratic Party. That's part of the intelligence community's assessment that the Russian intended to advantage Trump. But looking forward, agreement that Russians will, they believe, attack again, and attack both parties. Oddly, we did not hear much about what to do in this hearing.

One more note, Director Clapper contradicted both Sean Spicer and the president, saying that for the most senior level national security officials, when they come into a White House post like national security adviser, they are normally subject to a far more invasive clearance process than the clearance that Director Flynn already had. That coming from Director Clapper, and, of course, he's been through numerous administrations and seen this process go through before, Anderson.

COOPER: And that's significant because the Trump administration is essentially saying that Flynn was vetted by the Obama administration and they're the ones who, you know, messed up.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. I mean, they're saying that because he basically had a courtesy clearance as a lot of retired officials coming out of positions like Flynn had several years ago in the Obama administration did.

[20:05:06] But when I you go no the White House for the senior positions, they are in that word invasive is the one that Director Clapper used, subject to more invasive security clearance process.

COOPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much. As we mentioned, the president has weighed in, firing off a string of tweets just a short time ago, including these two, quote, Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today. She said nothing but old news.

Also, quote, the Trump Russia collusion story is a total hoax. When will these taxpayer funded charade end?

Certainly not before the panel gets to have its say tonight. Ryan Lizza, April Ryan, Matthew Rosenberg, Gloria Borger, Jason Miller, and Jen Psaki.

Gloria, was today's testimony problematic for the Trump administration?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was -- I think it's troubling for them because they have been talking -- telling a story about Sally Yates effectively giving them just a heads up as they put it about some issues with -- with General Flynn. What Sally Yates described today was her telling them that there was a category 5 hurricane aimed directly at them and that they had better do something about.

I mean, imagine somebody who is the acting attorney general calling the White House counsel saying, I've got to come down there. We have to have this discussion, and then explaining to the White House counsel that your national security adviser could be subject to blackmail by -- by the Russians.

That's not a heads up. That's something that needed to be dealt with very quickly and from what we now understand from the time line that we know of, it took 18 days for that -- for that to occur. And only after the "Washington Post" reported that in fact Flynn had lied to the vice president.

COOPER: And Matthew, I mean, the president has tweeted, again, a short time ago. Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media, already knows, there is no everyday of evidence of collusion with Russia and Trump.

I mean, what Clapper actually said was that based on what he had seen January 6th when he left, he saw no evidence. But he also didn't even know about the FBI counterintelligence investigation.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I mean, Clapper made it pretty clear that he was staying out of the way of this, that the FBI was doing their thing. And we've heard this from people at the White House, too, that they saw the FBI investigation as separate, that they couldn't meddle in, they should be talking about.

So, what Clapper knew and didn't know is there's a big question at this point. So, Clapper's statement, he undercuts his own statement on that. And we know that Yates, when she was asked about it, she kind of said, well, I can't talk about it, that doesn't mean yes, it doesn't mean no, it does mean I'm not going to talk about it.

So, it's really inconclusive.

COOPER: And, April, that's important because the Clapper statement is the something that the Trump White House has pointed to all along --


COOPER: -- saying, look, there is no there there. James Clapper didn't see anything by the time he left.

RYAN: Well, what I'm hearing from sources close to this White House, they are concerned about the issue of Russia and they're trying to downplay it, of course. But there are tentacles. When you hear Sally Yates who is not being partisan in this, she's doing her job saying that she had information and she went directly to the White House counsel's office, not once but twice to tell them the category 5 hurricane was happening about the fact that -- that Flynn was trying to overturn the sanctions that the president -- President Obama had put in place. There are tentacles here and this could be prosecuted if indeed there is something more that is deeper than this.

COOPER: Although, Ryan, there is plenty of people on the panel, Ted Cruz among them, who believe she is being partisan.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, he brought in some extraneous issues such as Hillary Clinton's emails. I don't know. To me, it didn't like a partisan Democrat at that -- at that table. I mean, remember, this is someone who's hired by Bob Barr, and anyone those around them in the 1990s knows Bob Barr is probably one of the most conservative Republicans of the time.

Before she was thrust into justice, she had a representation reputations a prosecutor who put away a lot of Democrats in Georgia. So, I didn't see a -- you know, a partisan person. I mean, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, maybe those are slightly more partisan. People at the head of the Obama Justice Department.

Sally Yates and I've talked to a number of people at Justice Department, that was not her reputation.

Just one quick point on what Matt was talking about. I mean, it was interested what with showed there, the different responses to the collusion question. Clapper, who is DNI, and did not have visibility into the FBI investigation said he didn't know about collusion. Yates who was at Justice did have visibility into the FBI investigation, I can't talk about that.

To me, that is incredibly revealing.

COOPER: Jason, I mean, one of the things that the White House hasn't really talked about is and the question wasn't answered because Sally Yates doesn't really -- can't -- isn't able to speak to that is, 18 days from when she warned them Mike Flynn, to the time he was actually fired, why that length of time?

JASON MILLER, FORMER SR. COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, if you go back and look at some of the original reporting, some of the things that were said at the time, was there was a bit of a gray area, that it wasn't completely clear what exactly happened in that conversation, what exactly was said. That was also backed up by what General Flynn said in his public statement.

[20:10:01] It would have been insane for the White House to have just gone and immediately fired General Flynn right on the spot without having done their own investigation and go on and review all the facts. I think it was good that they took their time and got this right. COOPER: Should he have been sort of not -- well, I don't know if

isolated is the right word. I mean, he was sitting in on some key meetings. He was in phone conversations with Vladimir Putin. If you've been told that your national security adviser is subject to blackmail, should he have been in on these meetings?

MILLER: Well, again, I think it was important that the White House had to go through and clarify things on their own. And also, too, we're talking about a retired general who had been in the military for 33 years, who had been given top secret clearance by the previous administration.

But I think that the bigger takeaway today is that we have -- all day, we were told there was going to be this bombshell. I mean, I went back and looked on Google. There were a bunch of reports that started on Sunday saying there was going to be this bombshell testimony. That there --

COOPER: And nobody -- I didn't -- I mean, a week ago, it was -- a week ago, it was leaked out what Sally Yates was going to say, and it was specifically saying there's not going to be a bombshell.

MILLER: And there wasn't one single piece of evidence saying that there was coordination between the campaign and some foreign entity. So, again, we're now into May of 2017, there still hasn't been one single thing that's been put forward. And I think at a certain point, this is getting really ridiculous.


JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, I would say, one, Clapper said something that we've heard a lot before, which is that there remains a risk that this is ongoing. Putin is not a registered Republican. He's after creating confusion. He's going to get into our system again. We've seen that recently in France. We've seen that in Italy.

So, that -- we've heard it before, but that was interesting. Unfortunately, there wasn't a ton of focus on the actual Russia investigation really by either party frankly today, and there's probably a lot more questions that should be asked.

But I will say, it's an entirely different scenario, but I was there when Stanley McChrystal was fired. Not as bad and certainly a different situation. But that was a 36-hour turnover. And when you're president of the United States, when you have a person who may be vulnerable to a foreign government, you put every resource toward that and make a quick decision and that didn't happen. So, it is perplexing that there was three weeks. That's not how it goes in any White House.

COOPER: We've go to take a quick break. We're going to continue this discussion when we get back.

But we'll also talk about then-President Obama's warning to President- elect Trump about Michael Flynn. And Jared Kushner's sister, her pitch to wealthy Chinese investors.

The question is: was she trying to cash in on the first family's name? We'll be right back.


[20:16:11] COOPER: President Trump is on something of a tweet storm about it this evening and we're all talking about it, James Clapper and Sally Yates' testimony today. Ms. Yates speaking publicly for the first time about her warnings that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn might also be a national security risk. She did.

She told a Senate committee today, so the White House could, in her words, take appropriate action. She didn't say what that action should be.

Before she was even sworn in as a witness, though, another story was swirling around this town, namely that her warning wasn't a first. Another came several months earlier from President Obama to President- elect Trump.

More on that now from our Jim Acosta.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PERSIDENT: Well, I just had the opportunity to have an excellent with president-elect Trump.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the surface, it seemed like a cordial meeting between an outgoing meeting and his successor in the Oval Office, just two days after a bitter election.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The meeting lasted for almost an hour and a half, and I could have -- as far as I'm concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer.

ACOSTA: But behind closed doors, former Obama administration officials tell CNN, President Obama offered then-President-elect Trump a clear warning, don't hire retired General Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

One Obama official said Mr. Obama told Mr. Trump there were more qualified people for the position. That caution from one president to another came more than a month and a half before Flynn spoke with the Russian ambassador about sanctions on Moscow, and nearly two months before Flynn was fired by President Trump for not coming clean on the conversation.

SPICER: It's true that the president made it -- President Obama made it known that he wasn't exactly a fan of General Flynn's.

ACOSTA: Still, the White House is putting the blame, on the Obama administration, for granting Flynn a security clearance in early 2016. The president tweeted, General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration, but the fake news seldom likes talking about that.

SPICER: Why didn't he suspend General Flynn's security clearance, which they had just reapproved months earlier? There were steps that they could have taken, that if there was truly a concern, more than just a person that didn't -- had bad blood.

ACOSTA: The former Obama administration officials point out Flynn was, in fact, fired by the Obama administration over his contentious management style.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: It's a huge effort at distraction. In April 2016, Mr. Flynn was no longer working for the Obama administration. He'd been let go in 2014.

ACOSTA: President Trump has repeatedly defended Flynn since firing the general himself. In late March, the president tweeted: Mike Flynn should ask for immunity, and that this is a witch hunt, excuse for big election loss by media and Dems, of historic proportion.

Similar to the complaint the president aired two days after he showed Flynn the door.

TRUMP: I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media. As I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.

YATES: I'm pleased to appear before you this afternoon.

ACOSTA: The president has also questioned the credibility of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who raised internal questions about Flynn and warned the White House before she was fired by Mr. Trump over a different matter. He tweeted, "Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to White House counsel."

REPORTER: But does the president believe that Sally Yates was the leaker?

SPICER: Again, I think the tweet speaks for itself. What he is saying is the Senate should ask those questions.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House is still not saying much about its own efforts to vet Flynn for the job of national security adviser, but aides have said the retired general simply did not undergo a vigorous vetting process, as he was already a favorite of President Trump, not only as an adviser, but a surrogate who regularly appeared at his rallies during the campaign.

Asked how much vetting Flynn he received, one former Trump transition official told me, Anderson, in one word -- none. And we should point tonight, a White House official is telling us in reaction to those -- the testimony that we heard today at the hearing, that their big takeaway from all this is that no evidence of collusion was presented at that hearing earlier today, Anderson. [20:20:05] COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel.

It is interesting -- I mean, I hadn't realized that the vetting for a national security adviser would be higher than what he had previously received as the director of -- or the Defense Intelligence Agency.

LIZZA: Yes, that was a bit of news coming out of the hearing that was really kind of a bit of fog around that issue this week, because the White House was saying, it was blaming the Obama administration for the security clearance.

COOPER: The president himself tweeted that was the highest vetting he had had that won have been the case.

LIZZA: Yes. And, look, this is ridiculous. Barack Obama fired Flynn and warned Donald Trump not to hire him. There's no universe by which you can blame Flynn on the Obama administration.

I think one other piece of news that came out today, just to answer Jason's point before, Sally Yates said something very interesting. She talked not just Flynn's lying to the vice president and others but the underlying conduct. Now, she was a little unclear what the underlying conduct was.

But I know some Democrats like Adam Schiff on the House Intelligence Committee have really seized on this, saying that's a bit of news here. There was something else that Flynn was doing, this underlying conduct, and it's not just that he was lying to his superiors.

COOPER: Jason, do you still blame the Obama administration for the vetting of Michael Flynn and not the Trump administration, given that, according to Clapper, he would have had a higher vetting for new position?

MILLER: So, while I can't speak to what additional background checks would have needed for the NSA position, I can say, you know, why did the Obama administration go and reauthorized his top secret clearance? And further, it really fires me up is the fact that President Obama told President Trump not to hire General Flynn. This is a Thursday, when on Monday, President Obama out telling the entire world not to hire Donald Trump.

And so, you can't go on and make that pivot, and say, don't go and hire this guy, when just a couple of days earlier, he's arguing against him.

But here's the thing where I think President Obama had a responsibility. If he saw something that was so untoward, that was so over the line, then he had a responsibility to go and say something and make that public.

RYAN: He fired him. He fired him.

MILLER: No, but this is -- but this is immediately after. If he saw something --

RYAN: He saw something and he said something and he fired him.

MILLER: The reason why President Obama didn't want General Flynn brought into the administration is because General Flynn had been a sharp credit of President Obama.


RYAN: It was about the good of the country.


COOPER: Jen, you were there at the White House.

PSAKI: So, one, the night that Donald Trump won President Obama invited him to the White House, he wasn't his choice for the president, but he felt it was important to do that for the continuity of government, he came in, he had a meeting with him and gave him honest advice. And he was concerned about the suitability of Flynn and the competence of Flynn.

He was right. And that was from his experience having fired him two years before. And that was a concern that was shared by a lot of people in the national security community.


PSAKI: What's important for people to understand is that there are security clearance updates and you know that are reviewed that are done by -- by the -- by the career staff. And DIA was his home -- was his home agency. So, he is somebody who had been at a high level. He came back and asked for update on his security clearance. That was done in February, long before the campaign was done.

MILLER: But it was in regard to 2015 trip. It was from a trip that was earlier. Why did any reauthorize his top secret clearance?

PSAKI: It's a courtesy done --


MILLER: So, we're just giving out top secret clearances as a courtesy?

PSAKI: First of all, there's four million people about who have security clearances. That doesn't mean that they meet the bar to be the national security adviser. And it is -- it is the right of every new president to pick who they want that to be and it is the responsibility --

MILLER: We don't just give out top secret clearances as a courtesy.

ROSENBERG: We're also not clear that he disclosed.

PSAKI: Exactly. ROSENBERG: We don't know he disclosed that trip when he is getting the security clearance updated. There is some talk there.


MILLER: But it was like a public (INAUDIBLE), they should have known.


ROSENBERG: They should have know, that it was public, but how often do you watch RT? I don't.


MILLER: Do you guys not think it's at all hypocritical that the president is out there -- President Obama is out there saying, do not hire Donald Trump on Monday then --

RYAN: Can I say something? Can I say --


BORGER: I think sometimes you can speak as president of the United States to the incoming president, just as -- just as Sally Yates can go to the White House counsel and clearly you know she is knots going to be their choice for attorney general and she knows it. Sometimes, you do a job that is above partisanship.

COOPER: OK, April?

BORGER: Everything is viewed through that lens, then you're not getting anything done.

COOPER: April?

RYAN: I have watched the transition of power from several presidents. I've seen Clinton go to Bush and work with Bush.

BORGER: Right.

RYAN: I have seen Bush to Obama, work with Bush and Obama -- Bush worked with Obama. And I saw Obama take that favor from Bush to do the same thing with a man that he did not necessarily agree with.

But -- I want to take you back to that room. I was in that room that day when in the Oval Office when Donald Trump and Barack Obama were sitting side by side, talking. They talked so long. It took us long time to go into the Oval Office and they kept talking.

[20:25:02] Donald Trump even called then President Obama on numerous occasions to get more information. There was an olive branch for the sake of the American people, the continuance of the democracy.

So, when you say, yeah, they had their differences but for the good of the country that's what that was about. And then when he said that about Flynn, he did that again for the good of the country. The stakes are very high when it comes to issues of national security. And it's not about personality. It's about the American people and --

MILLER: Unless when it suits your needs to go and leak it -- leak classified information.

RYAN: OK, there's been a lot of leaks. You say Yates. But let me say this, even the Trump administration, I'm in that room as well, they have they have said there are leaks within their own administration. So, OK, let's say Sally Yates did leak something, let's say that the hypothetically. There are a lot of leaks in this White House they can't control.

COOPER: All right. We're going to have to leave it there. The panel returns throughout the next two hours.

Coming up, a big day on Capitol Hill and the Russia White House watch. I'll speak with one of senators who questioned Clapper and Sally Yates, next.


COOPER: The big news from here in Washington tonight. Fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she warned the White House that President Trump's pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was compromised, that he could be blackmailed potentially by the Russians.

Yates was questioned by a panel of senators today, including Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said he believes there has to be a special prosecutor to uncover the truth about Russian interference in the election. Here's what he said.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You said, Ms. Yates that we're not going to prosecute our way out of the Russian continued attack on this country. But putting Americans in prison, if they cooperate, collude, aid and abet, or otherwise assist in that illegality, might send a very strong deterrent message, correct?


BLUMENTHAL: And there are indeed, criminal penalties existing on the books, we don't need new laws which involve criminality and potential criminal prosecution for those acts, correct?

YATES: Yes, that's right.


COOPER: And Senator Richard Blumenthal joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: President Trump tweeted out some time ago that nothing new was learned today it was all old news. To you what was learned from today?

BLUMENTHAL: The headline from today is that Trump Administration waited for two and a half weeks before it took action against Flynn to fire him.

COOPER: It is clear to you why they waited so long because it was really there was a leak in the "Washington Post" report and it was after that that he was fired.

BLUMENTHAL: And that is in fact a very important point. Michael Flynn might still be there but for "The Washington Post" report that in effect shamed them into getting rid of him. And while he was there for two and a half weeks, he presented a real national security threat.

The other takeaway is the need for a special prosecutor is well illustrated by Sally Yates herself who was fired for disagreeing with the president. She was acting attorney general -- deputy attorney general under President Obama and she was fired when she disagreed with the president. And them the president now has tweeted out that the investigation is a hoax, a charade, a waste of taxpayer money.

COOPER: Would a special prosecutor, an independent investigation, how would that be different in what we're seeing in the Senate, what we're seeing in the House?

BLUMENTHAL: That is the key question. What we're seeing in the House and the Senate are well intentioned and well organized determined investigations. But even if they're successful, the most they can do is produce recommendations for a report and perhaps a referral for prosecution, they can't themselves take action to hold people accountable.

And what I hear, as I go around Connecticut and I hear my colleagues saying the same from their town halls is people want to uncover the truth and they want accountability. And a special prosecutor is the only way to have an independent, impartial objective prosecutor to hold people accountable.

COOPER: Have you heard any evidence of what the Trump White House was doing in those 18 days after being informed? I mean it's pretty damning to have, you know, to have Sally Yates go to the White House and say, look, your national security advisor has a potential to be blackmailed and yet Mike Flynn is allowed to sit in on meeting even a phone call with Vladimir Putin.

BLUMENTHAL: Allowed to sit in on meetings, allowed to lie to the vice president, to be in national security briefings, where he is party very important classified information, and at the same time, vulnerable to blackmail.

COOPER: Is there any evidence of what White House say during those 18 days whether they were investigating?

BLUMENTHAL: That will be the next part in our investigation I think to determine what they did during those 18 days because Sally Yates was fired a few days after she warned the White House counsel about it and of course Jim Clapper wasn't around. So, that's the next step.

COOPER: It's so much when you watch these hearings because there really is a tale of two hearings in many ways. You know, there's Democrats like yourself who are asking about any potential collusion about the Russia and the election. It seems like all the Republicans are asking about are leaks and we saw that again today, we seen that in the House and on the Senate side.

BLUMENTHAL: That's absolutely right, it is a tale of two hearings, except they are importantly for Senator Graham, Senator Schatz (ph), some of the Republicans and my hope is there will be more of them who will see what Jim Clapper described very, very powerfully. If there is another takeaway here, it's Jim Clapper's reference to the power and seriousness of the threat to our democracy, a foundational threat resulting Russian hacks, the cyber attack, really an act of cyber war.

COOPER: A threat that's still ongoing, that's still out there?

BLUMENTHAL: Still very much ongoing as we saw in France --


BLUMENTHAL: -- it will be a threat again and they tried to hack into our election equipment, they are leaving no stone unturned and the answer is we have to act.

COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: Senator John Cornyn today tried to drill Sally Yates about her opposition to President Trump's travel ban. We'll have that exchange. Plus news tonight from the courts about the travel ban, next.


[20:38:59] COOPER: In addition to questions about President Trump's fired national security advisor, Senator as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates today about the issue that caused her own job. Yates was fired after she refused to defend the President's travel ban against Muslim majority countries. The White House said that the time that she "betrayed the Department of Justice." And today is hearing Senator John Cornyn asked her about her opposition to that ban. Take a look.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: I have to tell you that I find it enormously disappointing that you somehow vetoed the decision of the Office of Legal Counsel with regard a lawfulness to the President's order and decide it instead that you would counter manly executive order the President of the United States because you happened to disagree with it as a policy matter.


CORNYN: -- that through (ph) works. I just have to say that.

YATES: I appreciate that Senator and let me make one thing clear. It was not purely as a policy matter. In fact, I remember my confirmation hearing, in an exchange that I had with you, and others of your colleagues where you specifically asked me, in that hearing, that if the President asked me to do something that was unlawful, or unconstitutional, and one of your colleagues said, or even just that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice, would I say no?

[20:40:11] And I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful. I also thought that it was inconsistent with the principles of the Department of Justice and I said no. And that's what I promised you I would do and that's what I did.

CORNYN: I don't know how you could say that it was lawful and say that there is within your prerogative to refuse to defend it the court of law and leave it for the court to decide.

YATES: Senator, I did not say it was lawful. I said it was unlawful.


COOPER: Well, the travel ban is cut up and of course right now. Today, the Trump administration tried to defend it against accusations that the ban discriminates against Muslims in a hearing in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that President's history statements promising to ban Muslims during the campaign were issue. Got audio of the hearing in this section, a judge questioned the government's lawyers about the statements.


JUDGE ROBERT KING, U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT: Has the President ever repudiated the campaign statements that he made on a Muslim ban?

JEFF WALL, ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Judge King, he has. And again, as I say some of the briefs, we walk through this. He said, look, over time I've made it clear.

KING: Well he changed it from religion to nationality. He explained that he wasn't going to call it religion anymore. He was going to call it nationality and Mayor Giuliani advised him to do it that way. He did do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Territories he said --

KING: But he called the territories -- but he -- he has never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban. It's still on his website. The district court here found that it's on his website -- campaign website today.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: They're talking about a press release touting candidate Trump's plan to ban all Muslim travel into the United States but we still on Mr. Trump's campaign website. Today, all the way it was taken down shortly after Sean Spicer told the reporters he didn't know it was still up there. This next part of the hearing that we heard a different judge. There were 12 in all pressing and ACLU attorney who is representing the plaintiff about how far back President Trump should be held to account for some of the things he'd said on the campaign trail, listen.


JUDGE DENNIS SHEDD, U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT: Can we look at his college speeches? How about his speeches to businessmen about 20 years ago? Are we going to look at those too?

OMAR JADWAT, ACLU'S IMMIGRANT'S RIGHT PROJECT DIRECTOR: No, Your Honor. We're not giving you any of that sort of evidence in this case. What we're looking at here the statements specifically about --

SHEDD: I know --


SHEDD: -- statements as a college student perhaps. Perhaps he made it to business club in New York, during a speech 20 years ago. Perhaps he ran for office earlier and made similar statements. Are we going to look at all of those too?

JADWAT: Your Honor, those would obviously be much less probative that the statements he made over the last two years --


COOPER: All right, joining me now is Kenneth Cuccinnelli, Laura Coates and Jeffrey Toobin. Jeff, first of all, they came multiple times in Sally Yates's testimony today with some which we just heard. The bottom line -- her decision to not defend that executive orders. Has it been supported by the court to far?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So far it has, that's where the -- why this appeal was -- is going -- is taking place. There's another appeal on the west coast, because courts in Miami and Washington State took a position that the executive order was unlawful.

But I tell you, Anderson, I think this is a very hard case. The Fourth Circuit now has a very substantial majority of Democratic appointees. So I think it is likely that the Fourth Circuit will rule in favor of the challenges against the Trump administration.

But when this case gets to the Supreme Court, I think it's very difficult to call because this is about national security. And national security is an area that the courts have traditionally very much deferred to the judgments of the executive branch and when the executive branch says, these people are dangerous, it's -- judges tend to defer to that kind of conclusion.

COOPER: Ken, I see you nodding your head. I mean, do you believe that Sally Yates was on any firm legal ground when she refused to --

KENNETH CUCCINELLI, SENATE CONSERVATIVE FUND PRESIDENT: No, I don't, and also understand while the attorney general is unique in the Cabinet, and that they do need to make independent legal decisions, for instance prosecution decisions and so forth. When the President gives a directive, the standard is, is this legally defensible not will I win or do I agree with it?

And that was standard Sally Yates appears to reply. And that is -- that is not an appropriate standard. Your option at that point is resignation or implementation. And it doesn't mean you'll succeed in court, but do you have a legitimate argument to make on behalf of your principal, the President of the United States she clearly did and she went another --

COOPER: And Laura the fact that other lawyers in the Department of Justice felt that there is illegal argument to be made. Doesn't that make Sally Yates in his position difficult to maintain that there was no legal basis for lawyer (ph)?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. And I think that to suggest that the court was just saying there's no deference given here is the President, actually little erroneous here. What she was saying I believe is more keen (ph), look, I don't have the basis for me to make straight-faced arguments in court, but this actually will pass (ph) constitutional master at this bigger point and the court supported that.

[20:45:05] And if national security was in fact, the real motivation, which he argues that it is, then why hasn't there been the vetting, has taking place. Part of the hearing today was, well, you had a 90- day ban, he talk about the vetting and review those processes. You haven't done that. Leading the court to believe that you prioritized litigation over national security and that does not bold (ph) well for the argument that says, give me deference national security grounds, when I have not been urgently trying to achieve just that.

CUCCINELLI: And let me make one other point. I sued over Obamacare as an attorney general. And we tried to bring in the president's statement, this is not a tax. Famously said, bounding the chair with George Stephanopoulos. No court, no matter who appointed the judge allowed those to weigh in to decisions. And yet here, the shoe has been put on the other foot. Now the Justice Department is being ordered to defend positions from outside the boundaries of the document that defines the legal standard and that is the executive order.

COOPER: Jeff, should the courts look at those past statements by candidate Obama, obviously the candidate Trump?

TOOBIN: You know, I don't think so, but that's certainly a controversial position, especially since he was so explicit about calling for a Muslim ban. But it is worth noting that the Supreme Court of the United States in its entire history has never had a case where they said, oh, well the candidate said X, Y and Z. So we're going to use that as a factor in evaluating the constitutionality of the law.

We've never had a president like Donald Trump. We've never had anyone talk as explicitly against the religion.


TOOBIN: So, maybe this is the time that they will take it in to consideration. But it is worth noting that it is never happened before in American history.

COOPER: And Laura, you know, Sally Yates was asked that he was by Ted Cruz today during the hearing about has this ever happened in the history of Justice Department where somebody refused to do what you did and she said no.

COATES: Well, her response was particularly important. Because what she said was, but there's also never been a case that I know about where the Office of Legal Counsel was instructed not to inform the Department of Justice prior to make me roll out as this. And keep in mind we have two separate issues. There's the first travel ban which essentially indefensible for the first amendment establishment clause and the second one is she is being questioned about now primarily.

And so there's a distinction at the time of this decision, she was the perfect and the only person to make the calculus that she actually did. It wasn't a policy decision. We were talking about the constitution unless that somehow a policy at this point. It is the constitution of the United States and whether it will be successful in a long run, as a career prosecutor and a line (ph) attorney, that was part of the calculus. If you have the preserve --

COOPER: So that's a prosecutor don't you make arguments that you may not personally believe and don't you argue cases which you may not think aren't you can win, but you think it -- there is technically a legal basis for you to make those arguments?

COATES: Absolutely, Anderson. And people routinely do that and that really is the burden and the honor of being on behalf with the United States of America. However, you don't make arguments that you not only personally disagree with, but that the constitution absolutely says is not in good argument to make.

Remember, at the time, that first travel ban did include references to (INAUDIBLE) were violate the constitution. The second one, I agree with Jeffrey and I think Ken made the same point earlier. It's a harder case for to not defend. Because that's a different trial then believe it more neutral facially.

COOPER: All right, Laura Coates, Ken Cuccinelli I appreciate it, Jeff Toobin as well.

President Trump's son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner facing here tonight ever what his told Chinese investors during the recent sale speech. The question is did she cross an ethical line, we'll look at that out.


[20:52:15] COOPER: More breaking news tonight we've said today in a Federal Appeals Court of Virginia. The Trump Administration tried to defend a president's travel ban against accusations of discriminates against Muslims. Well this was happening.

The white house was facing a new firestorm part by this sister of Mr. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The controversy centers on a visa program that gives wealthy foreigners in the immigration fast track and a sales pitch that Kushner's sister made in china to investors. What she said in the meeting has renewed allegations that Kushner a senior advisor of the president has not resolved the conflicts of interest involving his family's company. Dana Bash has details.



DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An American real estate Company courting Chinese investors in Beijing. It would be an unremarkable event except that it was Kushner Companies. And Nicole Kushner Meyer Jared Kushner's sister dropped her brother's name during her pitch saying "In 2008 my brother Jared Kushner joined the family company as CEO and recently moved to Washington to join the administration."

(on camera): The goal of the event was to raise funds for a real estate project in New Jersey, telling wealthy Chinese investors that if they give half a million dollars to the project, they could also secure a green card. It is completely legal if not highly controversial, a visa program known as EB5 used by many real estate developers.

(voice-over): At issue here was the context. An ad for the Kushner properties event said "Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States", plus during the event there was a warning that the special visa program might soon end. And a photo flashed of president Trump.

RICHARD PAINTER, FMR WHITE HOUSE LAWYER FOR PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: This needs to be investigated. We need to find out what was said in that room to the Chinese investors and whether it in fact did amount to the solicitation of a bribe. And further more, based on what we know thus far, I believe it is clearly inappropriate for the Kushner family to participate in this program. They should be disqualified from the EB5 program investments with the Kushner family.

BASH : Government ethic expert Richard Painter has long been critical of Donald Trump for not doing enough to shield himself from potential conflicts of interest as president.

(on camera): But when Jared Kushner became a senior adviser in his father-in-law's White House, he complied with the law by resigning from his family's real estate business and selling his assets. The issue is that his sister's presentation a half a world away left the appearance that his family may be trying to profit from his position.

(voice-over): A Kushner's spokesperson said an event organizer put up the president's image without them knowing and in the wake of the controversy; Nicole Kushner Meyer insisted that in mentioning her brother Jared's name she was trying to make clear he had stepped away as CEO. "Kushner Company's apologizes if the mention up her brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors," said the company. Damage control at the white house, too.

[20:55:12] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared has done everything to comply with the ethics rules to make sure and that had nothing to do with him, for say. He wasn't involved. And secondly, I think we talked about this before, as the president and Congress are looking entire at how to look over the entire visa program, all the various visa programs and whether or not they are serving the purpose that they were intended to.


COOPER: Dana Bash joins us. Now you've been talking in your sources. What do you learning?

BASH: Well that according to a source who is familiar with that -- what Nicole Kushner Meyer was trying to do insists what she was trying to explain at the time that she dropped her brother's name is the history of the Kushner family talking about her father and talking about her brother and so forth. But did she realize now that there's a backlash that that was regrettable. She shouldn't have done that.

But one thing we don't know still is whether or not when Jared Kushner divested himself and really moved away from his company, whether he explicitly said to his family, don't use my name, don't say anything about me, because that would in effect be at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. That's what some ethics experts say he should have done. We don't know if that happens.

COOPER: It's a little hard to believe though that and they're blaming whoever people that -- I mean I don't know who she's blaming for having a picture of the president in there. But the fact there was a picture of the president in there -- I mean --

BASH: There's no -- we don't have the answer to that yet.

COOPER: For whole point in being there was do the slide show.

BASH: Yes.

COOPER: This on (INAUDIBLE) show.

BASH: Yeah.

COOPER: And in part of the (INAUDIBLE) show somebody else -- it's hard to believe somebody else inserts a picture of the president.

BASH: Right, it is, it is. And we don't know -- there are a lot of unanswered questions. One of them is who the event organizers were, if it was not the Kushner Company --

COOPER: Right.

BASH: -- that actually decided to flash the picture --

COOPER: Right.

BASH: -- of the president. And the answer was not available when I asked.

COOPER: All right, Dana thanks. Appreciate it.

Just ahead today's testimony by a former acting attorney general Sally Yates and former Director Of National Intelligence James Clapper was certainly highly anticipated. What they said and the tweet storm it sparks from President Trump, next.