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Yates To White House: Flynn "Could Be Blackmailed"; Trump Tweet: "Russia-Trump Collusion Story Is A Total Hoax"; Obama Personally Warned Trump About Hiring Flynn; W.H. Defends Kushner After His Sister Woos Investors With Visas; Trump's Son Denies He Said Russia Funded Dad's Golf Courses. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 8, 2017 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:44] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Topping this hour of "360" from Washington, the nation's former top law enforcement official speaks out for the first time about her warning to the White House.

Sally Yates telling Senate panel that she delivered a sobering message, namely that man advising the president on matters including global thermal nuclear war was potentially risk of becoming a puppet of this country's greatest nuclear adversary. Michael Flynn who was then the national security adviser was vulnerable she warned to Russian blackmail.

What the White House did with the warning is with one thing. What Democrats and Republicans have done with the investigation is another. And so is how the president is reacting tonight. All of it comes together right now starting with the hearings today and our Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, former acting attorney general revealing for the first time when and why she alerted the White House about her concerns regarding the now dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL FIRED BY PRES. TRUMP: We felt like it was critical that we get this 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Ryan (ph), please.

BROWN (voice-over): Sally Yates testifying to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee that she spoke to the White House on three different occasions about Flynn. The first two visits happened in the White House where she said Flynn lied to Vice-President Pence about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador and that the vice- president maybe unintentionally disseminating that information to the American people.

YATES: We felt like the vice-president was entitled to know that the information he had been given and that he was relaying to the American public wasn't true.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: So what you are saying is that General Flynn lied to the vice-president?

YATES: That's certainly how it appeared, yes, because the vice- president went out and made statements about General Flynn's conduct that he said were based on what General Flynn had told him. And we knew that that just flat wasn't true.

BROWN (voice-over): And she said her biggest concern was that the Russians would use that as leverage over Flynn.

YATES: Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

BROWN (voice-over): Yates said she first alerted White House Counsel Don McGahn to her concerns in late January. Two days after the FBI interviewed Flynn and a full 18 days before Flynn was fired following a bombshell "Washington Post" report that revealed the Justice Department's warning to the White House.

YATES: We told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate.

BROWN (voice-over): Yates' testimony contradicting the White House assertion that she nearly gave a heads up.

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

BROWN (voice-over): But Yates testifying today, she even gave the White House the opportunity to look at the classified materials proving Flynn was lying in a phone call with the Russian ambassador. On the same day, she was fired by President Trump over her refusal to back the travel ban.

YATES: We would allow them to come over and to review the underlying evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that was the end of this episode? Nobody came over to look at the material?

YATES: I don't know what happened after that because that was my last day with DOJ.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: And Pamela Brown joins us now. Do we know if in fact the White House ever looked to this classified materials sent over by Sally Yates?

BROWN: Well, we reached out to the White House, Anderson, and are still waiting for a response from the Whiter House about whether anyone there, including White House Counsel Don McGahn, did in fact look at the classified material that Sally Yates was referring to that prompted her concern about Michael Flynn.

We don't know all of the classified material that she used to make that judgment, but sources say that it did include the transcript with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and his conversation with Michael Flynn where Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with him, even though he denied he talked sanctions to him -- to Mike Pence as well as others within the administration.

Now, Sally Yates did say, though, during the hearing today that this was a White House request to look at these materials that Don McGahn called her back to the White House and asked if, in fact, they could look at the underlying evidence.

[21:05:05] So it's unclear whether or not that happened, but this certainly undermines the argument from Sean Spicer there that Sally Yates just came and gave a vague heads up. It's clear from the testimony today that the White House had the opportunity at the very least to look at this evidence and it's still unclear why it took 18 days for the White House to take action only after "The Washington Post" bombshell article about this Justice Department warning to White House officials, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

As you mentioned, the president is reacting, and no surprise, it's on Twitter this evening. "Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today, she said nothing but old news," he said. Also, "The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax. When will this taxpayer funded charade end?"

Earlier this evening I spoke with one lawmaker, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.


COOPER: Congressman, earlier today on CNN when asked if you've seen classified evidence of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia you said yes. There obviously a lot of things you cannot say. Can you give a general sense of what you've seen that's pointing in your opinion to collusion?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Anderson, there is evidence of collusion, both on the classified and unclassified side. And my hope is that the world will soon see it. And also, Anderson, I want to be clear that, you know, evidence is, you know, kind of a collection of documents and testimony and different witness accounts and it has to be tested. It has to be developed. And it's much different than guilt.

So to say you've seen evidence of collusion is also different than saying that somebody is guilty of collusion. It takes time to go from taking evidence to a guilt phase in a trial or, you know, for a country to review a House Intelligence Committee's report and to make their own determinations.

COOPER: I mean, I guess on the unclassified side, you know, people know about Paul Manafort's history with, you know, in Ukraine, about Roger Stone, you know, allegedly in contact with (inaudible) 2.0, Carter Page and others. Is that basically what you are pointing to as what you see as, you know, evidence?

SWALWELL: Well, there's also the evidence of how individuals acted once they were confronted about their prior ties. In a courtroom, you would call this consciousness of guilt evidence. Meaning, the only reason would you lie about a fact in an investigation is to cover up something that had occurred in the past.

And so we saw that certainly with the attorney general. You know, he twice was asked about ties to Russia and twice said he didn't have any contacts with Russia. And then he had to go back and change that account once it became public. We saw the same with Michael Flynn.

We saw -- we've seen that with Jared Kushner who left his SF-86 Security Clearance form blank when asked whether he had any foreign contacts. And we have learned that he indeed was meeting with sanctioned Russian banks at the time of the transition.

And so, Anderson, again, these are either a lot of coincidences or there are very good reasons that they didn't want the world to know about their prior ties to Russia.

COOPER: Your committee has been trying to get former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify in an open setting as she did today in front of the Senate. I wonder what questions remain for you unanswered in your mind. I mean, it -- I mean, she -- you know, it seems like there's only a limited amount of information she can give in an unclassified setting. What else would you want to learn from her when she appears?

SWALWELL: Learned a lot from Sally Yates today as she testified, particularly just how hard she tried to tell the White House about Michael Flynn, perhaps being compromised, and just how little that they cared. But I would like to bring her in. I think, you know, people want to make sure that the House is doing our own investigation.

What I would also like to test and hear from -- with Sally Yates is other evidence that they had with respect to other officials in the Trump administration, because it does appear that this is a pattern of people on Trump's team who said one thing publicly about contacts with Russia and then did something else privately. And so I would like more time with her to understand that.

COOPER: Have you set a date for when she might appear? SWALWELL: We've sent an invitation. And we hope -- because our hearing was actually supposed to be public and it was supposed to occur before the Senate's hearing, so we hope that we put that in place that the world can hear from her.

But there's also other witnesses, Anderson. And, you know, to show people that our committee is independent, credible and making progress, I hope when we get back in a few weeks that we are interviewing those witnesses both publicly and then privately.

COOPER: President Trump tweeted this evening actually about the hearing, "Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows. There is no evidence of collusion with Russia and Trump." Is that what you heard from Clapper today?

SWALWELL: No. It was very, very disturbing when DNI Clapper laid out the gravity of this attack, that another country violated our sovereignty and that, you know, from the appearance they are celebrating and congratulating themselves to use his words.

[21:10:06] And what bothers me, Anderson, is that this hearing was on Russia meddling and over half the members on the Republican side talked about anything but Russian meddling.

And so we need to get serious about this. There is evidence, not only of collusion, but there's deep, deep evidence that Russia interfered with our election and intend do it again and this demands a serious investigation.

COOPER: All right. Congressman Swalwell, appreciate your time. Thank you.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.


COOPER: And we're back with the panel, Ryan Lizza, April Ryan, Matthew Rosenberg, Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Lord, and Brian Fallon.

Jeffrey, we haven't heard from you tonight. Is it appropriate for the President of the United States to be calling an ongoing investigation by the FBI a total hoax?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, this is the point he's been making all along here. And, you know, God bless -- I know people -- some people don't want him to tweet. I'm glad that he does, because he does get the opportunity to get right out there and say what he feels on these things, you know.

And, one, there is no evidence of collusion. I mean, how many months has this been going on? Where are we? Where is the evidence? It just isn't there. I mean, they can drag this on --


LORD: Well, right. But, did he collude with the Russians to steal the election? I mean, there's no evidence of that.

COOPER: There's an ongoing investigation.

LORD: Well, what, for the next two years, five years, 10 years? I mean, there -- well, and that, frankly, is the hope of Democrats in the media that this will just keep going forever and there's basically no there, there.

COOPER: Brian, is it appropriate for the president to tweet about an active FBI investigation?

BRIAN FALLON, PRESS SECRETARY, HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: No. And it's unrealistic to expect that Sally Yates was going to come to this hearing today and present in an open hearing in an unclassified setting, you know, some bombshell set of evidence. There may well be evidence as the congressman alluded to in his interview with Anderson. But we're not going to hear about it in a public setting like that.

I think what was interesting today and is getting sort of overlooked is that when Sally Yates recounted what she told the White House Counsel Don McGahn, the first thing that she said that she told the White House Counsel was that Michael Flynn's underlying conduct was troubling. And that contradicts what the White House told us when they dismissed General Flynn.

At the time Sean Spicer said that the only basis for his firing was that he had lied to the vice-president and figures within the administration. Now we're learning from Sally Yates that it was the underlying conduct that was actually the subject of an FBI investigation and Don McGahn use that conversation to try to probe Sally Yates about how his interview with the FBI went and what was the scope of the investigation and she rightly shut him down.

But that suggests that there's some underlying criminality here and that perhaps there's some exposure on Michael Flynn's part, which would explain why he's going around seeking immunity from federal prosecutors.

COOPER: I mean, the other interesting part of this is how the president himself is kind of sticking by Flynn, you know, saying nice things about him. Where is other in the White House seem to be trying to put distance between the president and Michael Flynn. And we don't know if Michael Flynn talked to the president or president-elect about his conversation with the Russian ambassador or this was Don -- if Donald Trump knew in advance. We don't know if there's something there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, he's an orphan right now from everybody, except for Donald Trump. And I think it tells you something about Donald Trump which may be a good trait, although, maybe an extreme trait in this particular case, which is that he was warned by President Obama don't, you know, hire this guy.

There were people on his initial transition I've been told who said to the president-elect, you know, you really need to be careful about Flynn. And I was told that he always said back to them, on the transition, he's been a very loyal guy. And I think that Donald Trump doesn't want to throw him under the bus completely. Everybody else is willing to do it for good reason it seems.

FALLON: He doesn't want to run the bus over me.

BORGER: He doesn't want to run the bus over him. He did fire him.

COOPER: Well, it's also not always wise to throw somebody completely off the bus when somebody who has been attached to your hip for an entire campaign and heard everything you've heard.

BORGER: And who is ask for immunity in a criminal --

COOPER: Right.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he's saying he has an interesting story to tell, right?

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: He is throwing that out there. And, Anderson, as you pointed out, we don't know -- one of the big mysteries of this whole case is did Donald Trump know exactly what went on between the Russian ambassador and Flynn? And did he indeed know that Flynn lied to the vice-president and other White House aides?

I think there's a good amount of evidence that there's a good chance that he did actually know. I mean, he tweeted and celebrated Vladimir Putin's decision not to impose reciprocal sanctions, right?

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: So that chain of events still hasn't been totally uncovered.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And also mean that he would have let his vice-president go out and basically lie or tell non-truths, which, you know, I think Trump understands that would be terrible for the relationship and terrible for his relationship with many other Republicans. I think that the real question here is who knew what, when in the White House? We don't know.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But, one of the questions to that piece is, I believe there either was a learning curve they didn't understand or they wanted to totally move past this. And Michael Flynn rolled himself under the bus and stayed there, if you want to talk about the bus.

BORGER: So, yeah.

RYAN: So -- and then unfortunate -- I mean, he did.

[21:15:03] And the unfortunate thing is that if he had not lied to the vice-president, Michael Flynn could still actually be the national security adviser. So the issues are -- COOPER: Or if he had not lied or if he lied and there had not been a leak about it.

RYAN: Right, right.

COOPER: He could still be the national security adviser.

RYAN: Exactly. Exactly

BORGER: What would be so wrong with calling Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, before a congressional committee and finding --

LORD: Executive privilege.

BORGER: Well, an executive session. I mean, you know, there are answers to these questions that we don't know. We don't know about the underlying evidence. You know, we don't know about what they knew when they knew it. I guess he'll claim executive privilege.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to pick up the conversation right when we come back. Also later, it was all just fairly (ph) banter or did Eric Trump let something slip in the golf course about big league Russian funding for Trump organization. That and more when we continue


COOPER: In some ways you could see today's Senate Judiciary proceedings as a tale two of hearings. Democrats from most part focusing on General Flynn and Russian meddling, Republicans for their part directing most of their questions toward leaks and unmasking Americans swept up in surveillance operations against foreigners.

There were some exceptions, and some acknowledgement of one side by the other, some of it no doubt done out of politeness. There were also questions like this one, which seemed to be aimed at getting some exonerating testimony on the record. You can decide whether it not it worked out that way.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: General Clapper, during your investigation of all things Russia, did you ever find a situation where a Trump business interest in Russia gave you concern?

[21:20:11] JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Not in the course of the proliferation of the intelligence community assessment.

GRAHAM: Since?

CLAPPER: I'm sorry?

GRAHAM: At all or any time?

CLAPPER: Senator Graham, I can't comment on that because that impacts an investigation.

GRAHAM: It wasn't enough to put into the report?

CLAPPER: That's correct.



COOPER: Back now with the panel. Gloria, what do you make of that? So basically Director Clapper saying Trump business ventures didn't end up in the January 6 report, but also suggesting they were somehow relevant to the investigation.

BORGER: Right. I think he tried to walk a fine line there because he didn't want to divulge anything classified, but he seemed to kind of indicate that there was something that raised eyebrows and we don't, you know, we don't what it is. I mean, we -- but clearly it wasn't in the original -- in the January report. But he didn't say no, right away.

COOPER: Matthew, I mean, there's so many things in these unclassified hearings that we just don't know.


ROSENBERG: That's one of the problems. And I want to go back something Jeffrey said earlier and Brian said earlier, which is -- that we don't know and at some point it is unfair. I don't know when that time is. I don't know if it's now, but at some point if there is evidence, somebody have to show it.

It's doesn't mean that an independent prosecutor, special prosecutor would have an easier time doing. They'll need more politically palatable. I don't know. I don't know. It could probably be complex process.

The CIA, the NSA, these are people who -- they don't want to be classify anything. Everything is a compromise source of methods, but at some point we are taking the word of people whose evidence we haven't seen and that is something that, you know, that White House does have a point to say that there is a cloud over us unfairly.

LIZZA: Well, yeah. This is something that's been bugging me about this question of collusion and we sort of raised the bar now with these investigations to illegality. So, this statement will sound kind of crazy coming out of left field, because it's -- but there is overwhelming evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the election. And what do I mean by that?

I mean that Donald Trump celebrated WikiLeaks on a regular basis. He jokingly or not called for the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's campaign. There was an active program by Republicans to take information that the Russians stole from John Podesta and the Democratic Party and once it became public to fit it into the information stream and we all talked about it. So that is collusion, but not necessarily illegal conspiracy or coordination.

So if these guys are looking at what the FBI is looking at and what this committee is looking at is something beyond that into a criminal conspiracy or something. But the fact that the Trump campaign colluded with these released -- their information, I think is -- it seems so shocking to say because we were constantly looking for a smoking gun about something illegal. But they did collude with the Russians, right? They took the information that was stolen and used it to advance their campaign's interest.

LORD: But it was in the public domain.

LIZZA: Absolutely.

RYAN: But it was stolen.

LZZA: Absolutely. I'm not saying it is illegal.


LORD: -- you know, the Trump campaign.

FALLON: But that doesn't matter. And I think that to Ryan's point, everything that the Trump campaign engaged in and the way that we as a country reacted I think looks into more untoward given the counter example that we have just from the last few days with the French election where you had the ultimate victor in that election, also be the subject of an 11th hour intrusion likely by the Russians. And you saw discretion exercised in how that was covered.

LIZZA: You'll have a choice. If your country is being attacked by a foreign power, if they are stealing information from one party and dumping it into the public domain, you as a party have a decision to make. Do you encourage it, talk about it, raise it as the issue of the campaign? Or do you say, "You know what, this is an attack on both parties, on America and we're not going to talk about it."

RYAN: And that's the issue --

LIZZA: And we saw what Trump did. He colluded with that effort.

RYAN: And that's the issue going back to the original point. When do you say when? How long do you allow these investigations to continue? The process is about what? It's about the fact that our democracy was challenged, our elections were challenged, because Russia interfered. And that's what people are forgetting. And then that takes precedent. It's not about how long. It's about getting to the bottom because that affects 2018 and --

LORD: Russia has interfering or wanting to interfere in American --

RYAN: But is it right? And do you cut it all?

LORD: Well, I'm not saying its right, but all I'm asking for is consistency. I was in the 1984 Reagan campaign. And after the Soviet Union -- (CROSSTALK)

LORD: I know. I know.


LORD: Wait, after the Soviet Union fell and a British reporter for the Financial Times for one of these British papers got into the archives. There was a letter from no less than Ted Kennedy trying to arrange some sort of deal with Gorbachev to damage the Reagan campaign.

[21:25:04] Where was the big investigation? I mean, in other words, if we're going --

LIZZA: Jeffrey, Jeffrey, that did not dominate the 1984 campaign. You're talking about historical footnotes. This is an issue that dominated the campaign.

BORGER: Jeffrey, wouldn't it be nice, though, if you had a president who said, "This is awful. We need to get to the bottom of this, because this is threatening and challenging our very democracy."

RYAN: Every day there are thousands, tens of thousands of electronic attempts to break into government computers.

LORD: And they've been going on through the Obama administration. Where was the outrage?


RYAN: And it's from foreign governments.

LORD: Right.

RYAN: So there needs to be some kind of solution, some kind of way in order for a democracy in this country to continue.

LORD: If in fact the president has appointed Rudy Giuliani to head up a commission on justice and they're hiring --

RYAN: OK. So where is the information?


LORD: Well, they're starting their investigation.

FALLON: Lindsey Graham today to his credit opened the hearing by saying this is bipartisan issue. It could be the Republicans that are on the receiving into these hacks the next time.

RYAN: Yup.

FALLON: So let's not short-circuit this investigation. Let's just get behind it. No one is questioning any longer whether Donald Trump is the president, like it or not, even I will admit that he is. LORD: All right. Right.

FALLON: Let's get to the bottom of this to guard against the next intrusion.

LIZZA: In the old days the Soviets would use our own weaknesses against us, our civil rights record, times where we were standing up not for democracy abroad, but supporting a dictator, right? That's what they used against us.

Today, they're using our partisanship against us. And that's what they were successfully did in that campaign, because they knew that we would not be strong enough with a polarized partisan country to resist the temptation of seizing on the stolen documents.

COOPER: We have nothing (inaudible).

ROSENBERG: It wasn't just stolen documents, you know, there are talking points that started in fake news stories that really did start (inaudible) --

BORGER: Right.

ROSENBERG: -- about Clinton's health, about $6 billion being stolen from the State Department, as if the State Department had $6 billion bill. But then it went straight from there and within days were Trump talking points. Look, and that's an issue were they a victim of this or were they collusion? I don't know, but that's a real issue.

COOPER: All right. Thanks everybody.

Coming up next, the White House response to today's hearings. As we mentioned, there's a whole lot of tweeting going on. Also, what is the White House have do now in the way of damage control? I speak with the one and only David Gergen about that.


[21:31:13] COOPER: We're live in Washington tonight. An explosive day on Capitol Hill with Sally Yates and James Clapper testifying about Russia's interference in the election and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's contact with Russia. As we reported, the White House response to today's hearing consist many tweets from the president.

CNN White House Correspondence Sara Murray joins us now with the latest. So, the tweets by the president amongst other things referring to the investigation as a "taxpayer funded charade," what else?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What we've really seen today is the president downplaying the events in these hearings. For instance, even though we know the FBI has been investigating ties between the Trump campaign and suspected Russian operatives, Donald Trump tweeted this tonight. "The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax. When will the taxpayer funded charade end?"

Now, he also tweeted this. "Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today, she said nothing but old news." But, of course, Anderson as we were all watching today, we saw Yates delve into detail about how she outlined to the White House Counsel the risks of putting -- keeping Michael Flynn in the position he was in, the notion that he had misled the vice-president and the fact that that could open him up to blackmail, particularly from the Russians. But you can see the White House trying to draw attention anywhere else about the story.

COOPER: And Sean Spicer has been batting back reports that former President Obama warned President Trump about hiring General Flynn.

MURRAY: That's right. This was another instance of downplaying even though we heard from former Obama officials that the former president made the case that President Trump should not hire this man to be his national security adviser.

Today, Sean Spicer made it sound like Donald Trump -- President Trump sort of took this as a notion of bad blood between the Obama administration and between retired General Michael Flynn, sort of didn't seem to take it seriously.

Of course, he would dismiss the idea that someone like this who would criticized President Obama, who would criticized Hillary Clinton would be part of President Trump's administration. And they also seem to lay the blame on the Obama administration saying this administration gave him a security clearance in the first place. That they had such concern about him, why do they allow him to keep that security clearance.

What they didn't address is why President Trump still gave Michael Flynn this coveted position within the White House and what kind of vetting they may have done outside of just a security clearance, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. Sarah Murray, thanks very much.

Joining me now is CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen. He's been an adviser to four presidents. Just to put this all in perspective, David, is it wise for the president to be tweeting about this hearing when there's an ongoing FBI investigation looking into ties between his campaign associates and Russia?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so, Anderson. He's got some legitimate concerns about leakage of classified documents. Republicans obviously want to pursue that. But as a general proposition, I think for the president even to be watching and so absorbed in all of this and then tweeting on a moment to moment or half an hour basis, you know, I think it degrades the presidency.

You know, most presidents on situations like this turn off the T.V. set, get down to business and keep trying to be president and govern rather than getting into this. COOPER: He also sort of pre-tweeted. I mean, he tweeted about Sally Yates ahead of the hearing today saying, "Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspaper soon after she explained it to White House Counsel." I mean, have you ever seen a president publicly tell members of Congress what to ask a witness ahead of a hearing?

GERGEN: No. There's so much about this. You would also think kind of, you know, we're into pretty serious matters here. We're into deep water. And you would think that the president would have legal counsel or somebody in the counsels by his side when he tweets so he says things that are appropriate to the moment.

But let me get back to the central question, Anderson. What do they do now that they're in here? And I -- you know, one of the oldest adages in politics, of course, is when you are in a hole, stop digging.

[21:35:03] And I think, you know, sending out those tweets is a form of still digging. But there is, I think, precedent for how to deal with emergency or crisis like this.

And, you know, to go back to Republicans favored President Ronald Reagan when he had the Iran-contra controversy and he was mired in it. And, you know, he -- there were impeachment proceedings that were starting up on Capitol Hill about this. It was very serious. And what did Reagan do?

First of all, he ordered all of his aides to be willing to testify on Capitol Hill. He said, "We're not going to invoke executive privilege." He unlocked all the documents in the White House that pertained to it. He fired people left and right. He brought in one of the most respected people in Washington, David Abshire, who've been Ambassador to NATO to take a hard look at his whole operation and figure out how it could be done.

In other words, he turned himself inside out to show we made a mistake. He took blame for it. He said that we made a mistake. We did some bad things. He didn't blame everybody else the way the Trump people are doing and came clean. And he took his hits and he moved on and he finished his term in very good shape with the American people.

He almost was impeached, but he ended up very well, because I think it was one of the best cases of how you do damage control in recent history.

COOPER: And it is sort of contrast obviously to how this White House has been handling. They say, "Look if people want to investigate, go ahead." But they're certainly not being proactive about it and supportive.

GERGEN: They're not being proactive and they're not sort of actually helping us. You know, in your conversations tonight you -- repeatedly people have come up with good questions that are still out there.

COOPER: Right. GERGEN: And the central question now is, now that we know that Sally Yates went and talked to the general counsel of the White House three times about her concerns. And "The Washington Post" reported according to White House officials, again the general counsel, went immediately to the president and told him what had happened.

We now know that at least two weeks before Flynn was fired, the President of the United States was told by his general counsel there were real problems with Flynn. And I -- we have to presume he was told that Flynn had lied to Pence.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: And the president apparently sat on that for two weeks and only fired Flynn when the story emerged in "The Washington Post," that Flynn has lied to the vice-president. All that time then, there's a very good possibility that president knew the vice-president had been lied to and didn't tell the vice-president.

COOPER: Yeah. It's really --


GERGEN: What is going on here? I think they need to answer those questions.

COOPER: Yeah. David Gergen, thanks very much.

Just ahead, more breaking news. The White House defending Jared Kushner after his sister drops his name during a sales pitch to Chinese investors. I'll talk to reporter who was in the room until she was kicked out.


[21:41:45] COOPER: There's more breaking news. Tonight, the White House defending Jared Kushner after his sister tried to court Chinese investors with a controversial visa program and also dropped her brother's name while making the sales pitch in Beijing.

The event was aimed at raising money for a Kushner company's real estate project. Organizers at the sales presentation tried to bar reporters from covering it, although they didn't quite succeed.

Jared Kushner is, of course, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. He's no longer involved in family's -- family company's operation. Joining me is "Washington Post" Correspondent Emily Rauhala who was at the Beijing event.

Emily, I want to know, first of all, how you found out about this event, because I understand you saw it advertised in Beijing. Did the advertisements mention Jared Kushner by name or show his picture?

EMILY RAUHALA, CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: That's right. This is a publicly advertised event, so we saw this in a hotel elevator -- sorry, building elevator, initially. And when we looked into it, we saw that it was advertised at a Kushner event featuring Jared's sister. And it did not specify which sister although, only one sister, which is Nicole, is publicly involved in the business. So, we saw the Kushner name and thought, this is pretty interesting.

COOPER: Did it specify as Jared Kushner's sister or just somebody, you know, just the sister's name?

RAUHALA: It said Jared Kushner's sister in the stuff that we saw, although there may have been other promotional materials out there.

COOPER: And just -- so I understand it's for Chinese investors. These were people who -- what, the Kushner company is looking to invest in some of their businesses?

RAUHALA: It's called the EB-5 or Immigrant Investor Visa Program. So these are wealthy Chinese looking to invest in Kushner projects in return for a potential pathway to citizenship. So, it's a legal visa class in United States that allows individuals to invest $500,000 into projects and that opens up a pathway to citizenship for them.

COOPER: So, you were seated separately from your colleague. You were then asked to leave?

RAUHALA: I was asked to leave. I went out to the hallway to sort of try to negotiate. I said this is a publicly advertised event. It's in the public interest. I really want to see what happens. My colleague was still inside recording. And then she was later asked to leave and some of her footage and audio was deleted by the event organizers on the Chinese side.

COOPER: They actually deleted her recordings?

RAUHALA: That's right, inexcusable, also rather common in China when people get nervous about the press.

COOPER: So Jared Kushner's sister, did she mention the president or her brother at all?

RAUHALA: So in the first part of Nicole's speech, which we did see, she started with a reference to her family. So she didn't connect this directly to the White House in that part of the speech, but this was presented as a Kushner family event.

And at one point, according to someone else who is in the room, she did mention that her brother, who used to be in charge of Kushner companies, had now joined the administration.

COOPER: Did she show a picture of her brother or picture of the president?

RAUHALA: When I was in the room, there was no picture of either man. I later heard from another reporter who tweeted a picture that there was indeed a picture of President Trump under -- on a slide that said key decision makers during the discussion of the EB-5 visa rules. So while I was in the room, there was not. Though, it turns out that there was indeed a slide mentioning President Trump in some capacity. [21:45:05] COOPER: I would imagine most of the people in that audience knew who Jared Kushner is, knew who the Kushner family was and obviously his role in the White House.

RAUHALA: Absolutely. These are Chinese investors that have a lot of money. They have, you know, potentially up to $500,000 to spare. And the person that we talked to after the event said that absolutely the Trump name is what was the draw and it was also the source of concerns. So, the event generated a lot of interests from the Chinese side precisely because of the connection to Trump.

COOPER: Emily Rauhala, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

RAUHALA: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, a lot to discuss. Joining me now is CNN Contributor Norman Eisen who served as White House Ethics Czar for President Obama and as a former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Ambassador Eisen, I've heard you said that the apology from Jared Kushner's sister is, "a tiny band-aid on a gaping wound" and you're really not buying it. Why is that not enough that -- her apology?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson thanks for having me. The reason that Nicole's apology is not sufficient is because Mr. Kushner has joined his wife, Ivanka Trump, and his father-in-law, Donald Trump, in the White House. And it's as if this is the latest episode. They've put a for sale sign on the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

We heard it from people in the audience there who said they were interested because of Mr. Kushner's proximity. We saw Mr. Trump's face on the slide that was shown. Nobody is fooled by this. They are trading on Mr. Kushner's proximity to the president. And that's wrong.

COOPER: And there were -- she was talking about the -- that President Trump basically has an influence or is in line of who decides these visas. The message seemed to be pretty clear.

EISEN: There's no ambiguity about what's happening here at all. Look, if this were an isolated episode, Anderson, that would be one thing. What we've seen in again and again with Mr. Kushner, with Ivanka, with the president, with so many others in the White House and in the administration, they want to hang on to their business interests in a way that we have never seen in American history.

It's peculiar enough that you have a father being advised his two closest advisors, his son-in-law and his daughter, but all of them with enormous business interest that impact on America. With all of them having China ties, copyrights, conflicts, other issues.

How can we know when they sit to decide whether they're going to push China on to deal with the North Korean missile threat, whether they're going to hold back because of their business interests or whether they're going to stop this flow of American jobs to China or not? Will that be affected by their business? It's unprecedented. It's also against the rules.

COOPER: I mean, the fact that the White House says, "Look, Jared Kushner was not involved in the presentation. That he stepped away from the company's day to day business." So given that, should he be held responsible for what his sister did?

EISEN: Well, the question is not just what his sister did. He has maintained -- he stepped away from this particular investment, but he has maintained ties through a complicated series of trust. He hasn't disclosed all of the lenders and other business partners in the businesses that he does maintain an interest in.

And all under federal law, all of Ivanka's China conflicts, and there are a bunch, including intellectual property that was handed to her when she was sitting with President Xi and her father and Jared in Mar-a-Lago. All of those Ivanka conflicts are imputed to Jared.

So as a matter of law, he's got to step back and so does she. They should not be working on China issues.

COOPER: Ambassador Eisen, I appreciate your time tonight. Thanks very much.

President Trump's son, Eric, says he never told Golf writer James Dodson that Russia funded his father's golf courses. Dodson is standing by his account sharing the details tonight.


[21:52:54] COOPER: As we reported, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified today that she warned the top lore in the Trump White House that the National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia.

Now as you know, multiple investigations are looking into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia that interfere the election. President Trump insists that he has no ties to Russia. Tonight though a prominent golf writer says that doesn't square with what one of Trump's sons allegedly told him. Randi Kaye reports.


JAMES DODSON, GOLF WRITER: I hate this. I mean, I really do.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What author James Dodson hates is being caught up in the conversation about Russia and its alleged ties to the Trump organization. His connection to it all started three years ago on a golf course in Charlotte, North Carolina called Trump National Golf Club.

Dodson, who has written best selling books about the world of golf was invited to play by Trump P.R. rep. and ended up writing with Trump's son, Eric Trump.

DODSON: Eric was a very sweet kid. We played nine holes and it was fun. KAYE (voice-over): In the course of that fun, Dodson asked the younger Trump who was funding the Trump's renovations of distressed golf courses he buys. Here's how Dodson remembers the conversation.

DODSON: I said to Eric, "Well, you're the head of this golf services development company, who's funding all of this, this growth, because nobody else in America is doing it?" I said, "Which American banks?" And he said, "We don't rely on American banks." And I said, "No kidding." I think I said, "So who is it, the Israelis or the Chinese, because they were the ones that really spending money." I remember very clearly what he said. He said, "No, we don't need American banks, we get -- we have all the funding we need out of Russia. We have investors there who really love the game of golf."

KAYE (on camera): Yes, you heard that right, Russia. James Dodson recalls Eric Trump telling him Russia was their funding source and that he had access to $100 million. Now, years later with his father in the Oval Office and on the hook for alleged ties to Russia, Eric Trump denies he ever said that.

(voice-over): In response to Dodson's comments, Eric Trump told "The New York Post," "We own our courses free and clear. Insisting Dodson's story was categorically untrue and complete garbage." He added, "We have zero ties to Russian investors."

[21:55:09] We reached out to him for comment, but no response. Despite Eric Trump's denial, James Dodson stands by his story.

DODSON: It did happen. It happened on the golf course as we were walking and -- because that simple. There was a conversation between two guys. I guess I understand their concern now. It seems to be he's referencing their connections.

KAYE (voice-over): And this isn't the first time one of Trump's sons has spoken of business ties to Russia. Back in 2008 at a real estate conference in Manhattan, Donald Trump Jr. revealed that Trump's businesses see a lot of money pouring in from Russia for projects such as those in Dubai and in Manhattan.

Back to this latest case involving Eric Trump, author James Dodson recalls when the younger Trump told him about their funding from Russia, he said it seemed like he had nothing to hide.

DODSON: He was not even remotely uncomfortable. And there wasn't a whisper of any issues with the Trumps and Russia. It was -- that was still a year and a half in the future. It was very cordial. It was very golf buddy issue.

KAYE (voice-over): Despite their friendly game, you can bet the White House is keeping score now.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: More news ahead. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:00:03] COOPER: OK. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts now.