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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Trump Threatens Comey: "Better Hope" Conversations We're Taped; White House Adviser: Pence "Rattled" By Events This Week. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening. Thanks for joining us.
So, what would you call a day in which the president of the United States issues a thinly veiled threat against the man he just fired, while that man was investigating him of possible improper Russia ties? What would you call the day in which he denies that he demanded a loyalty pledge of him, refuses to deny he secretly records conversations in the Oval Office and then hints that maybe all those pesky daily press briefings should simply disappear? What would you call a day like that?
Around here, we call it Friday. It began with the president tweeting this about his dinner with fired FBI Director James Comey, which took place the day the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House again that the president's national security adviser was vulnerable to blackmail.
The president tweeting, quote, James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.
The implication: I, the president, do have tapes. Now, at issue: whether or not the president demanded Director Comey's loyalty, presumably to himself.
Here's what he told FOX News' Jeanine Pirro in part of an interview just released
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: Did you ask that question?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no, I didn't. But I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know I mean it depends on how you define loyalty, number one. Number two, I don't know how that got there because I didn't ask that question.
PIRRO: Uh-huh. What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?
TRUMP: That I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest and I hope he will be. I'm sure he will be I hope.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The president not denying he records White House conversations, nor did his press secretary when asked directly. More on that shortly.
He was also asked about how his surrogates, including Vice President Pence all put out a account of the Tuesday Comey firing that turned out not true. We know it was bogus because yesterday, the president himself offered a completely different account. Here's how he addressed it today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIRRO: Are you moving so quickly that your communications department cannot keep up with you.
TRUMP: Yes, that's true.
PIRRO: So what do we do about that? Because --
TRUMP: We don't have press conferences and we do --
PIRRO: You don't mean that?
TRUMP: Well, just don't have them, unless I have them every two weeks and I do it myself. We don't have them. I think it's a good idea.
PIRRO: Yes --
TRUMP: First of all, you have a level of hostility that's incredible, and it's very unfair. Sarah Huckabee is lovely young woman. You know Sean Spicer.
TRUMP: He is a wonderful human being. He is a nice man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Today, that nice man, as the president called him, picked up the topic of how and why the White House was caught up in its own spin cycle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he is a little dismayed, as well as a lot of people, that we come out here and try to do everything we can to provide you and the American people with what he is doing on their behalf, what he is doing to keep the nation safe, what he is doing to grow jobs, and yet, we see time and time again an attempt parse every little word and make it more of a game of gotcha as opposed to really figure out what the policies are, why something is being pursued or what the update is on this.
I think that's where there is a lot of dismay. I don't think it's something that just alone the president feels.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, keeping them honest, it is a little rich just generally that the president's chief spokesman is complaining about being held accountable for what he actually says, especially about something so freighted with controversy as the president firing a guy in charge of investigating him, his associates and his campaign.
More specifically, it is really quite something to hear just hours after Sean Spicer and so many others, including as we said, the president of the United States, spent nearly two days putting out what with he know were phony talking points, I should say the vice president, phony talking points on why Director Comey was fired.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump made the right decision at the right time, and to -- to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president accepted the recommendation of his deputy attorney general.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein the deputy attorney general.
PENCE: He brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed.
SANDERS: Look, I think when you receive a report that a is so clear and a recommendation by someone like the deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act.
PENCE: He provided strong leadership to act on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.
CONWAY: He is taking the recommendation of his deputy attorney general.
PENCE: And I personally am grateful that we have a president who is willing to provide the kind of decisive and strong leadership to take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove an FBI director who had lost the confidence of the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that was the drum beat. Kellyanne Conway with me, the vice president, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sean Spicer, the White House even gave us a time line on paper pushing the phony narrative. So, as you can see, there was no game of gotcha to use the word Sean Spicer used today. It was what it was. And we reported it.
Then, the president said it was something else entirely and we reported that. What apparently bothers Sean Spicer is that we and so many others because it doesn't take a rocket scientist, notice the difference between the two and reported that.
More on a very busy day from CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He joins us now from the White House.
Jeff, you've been following the day's twists and turns. What is the latest right now?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as we end the week here, there are so many questions still hanging offer the White House. One is the question of credibility, of course. One is the question of who the next FBI director is going to be. But we're doing some new reporting tonight, and talking to so many people here in the West Wing.
A top adviser to the vice president says he was, quote, little rattled by what happened this week, was taken unaware by the president's sudden change in story line here. But now the question tonight is, does the president have recording -- a recording system in the Oval Office? Is he recording, you know, some phone calls he is making?
This is what Sean Spicer said about that today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Did the president record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?
SPICER: I assume you're referring to his -- the tweet I've talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: Why did he say that? Why did he tweet that? What should we interpret from that?
SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: Is there recording -- are there recording devices in the Oval Office or in the residence?
SPICER: As I said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: Does he think it's appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?
SPICER: I don't think that's -- that's not a threat. He's simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Sean Spicer may be moving on, Anderson, but the reality here is that question hangs over this White House. And there is reason to believe tonight that the president intentionally sent that message out this morning to sort of create a bit of diversion as he has done before, you know, for several times over the last four months or so to try and change the story line. We do not know tonight if he does have a recording system. He has
talked about before in previous sort of stations of his lives about how he likes to record phone calls -- you know, back when he was at Trump Tower, et cetera. But this, of course, is an entirely different matter. This would be Nixonian if he is actually recording phone calls.
This became -- you know, it's certainly alarmed Democrats on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats, House Democrats sent a letter to the White House to the office here, the chief counsel here, and said, look, if there are recordings, you must turn them over. This is part of something that we would like to know about here.
So, at the end of the day, we'll find out going forward if this is something the president just short of threw out there as a diversion, or if he's actually recording these conversations.
But the director, the FBI director, said, look, I have nothing to hide here. He told our own Pamela Brown, our sources to Pamela Brown about that he has nothing to hide.
The reality, will the White House release those tapes if it serves their interests? At this point, they're not saying. But I can tell you, Anderson, at the end of this week, an exhaustion over this West Wing and simply wondering how they change the subject and move forward.
COOPER: Jeff, I mean, you've covered politics for a long time. You know, the president said to Jeanine Pirro on Fox and the statement that was -- this interview that was released on Fox, that he is basically so fast-moving that none of his spokespeople can keep up and get all the accurate information. And that's -- it seems the idea is that's why there is inaccurate statements being made by his own spokespeople because he is so fast-moving, he is like the fastest moving president in history, that they just can't keep up and get the facts, even though he does seem to have an awful lot of time on his hands to watch an awful lot of TV, probably more than any president in certainly really modern -- well, probably since TV was invented. So --
ZELENY: No doubt about it.
COOPER: Right. So, this idea that he is so fast-moving, they can't even pin him down to get facts from him and get their stories straight, does that make any sense?
ZELENY: It doesn't. And it's not fast moving as much as changing his mind. I mean, he is minute by minute, hour by hour, certainly changing. There is not a long-term strategy here for any of this. If there was a long-term strategy to replace James Comey as some advisers here have said, they would have had a replacement immediately. They would have, you know, announced someone the next day and that would have changed all of this.
But people here do, one top White House adviser speaking to me confidentially called him the hurry up president. He said it's filled with risk and reward. Well, this week, we have seen the risk in that because they simply did not have a strategy going forward here.
So, at the end of the day, was he throwing his staff under the -- the bus if you will, or offering them a life line? Some people saw it differently here. But he may be right that he -- it's impossible to be accurate when he is constantly changing his mine, because the person who writes the narrative the story line is him. And in fact, he is changing his mind a lot.
So, a lot of staffers here tonight, the morale was very low. He actually talked to people individually tonight I am told earlier today, to try and build them back up.
Anderson, but the reality is one thing not discussed this week -- Afghanistan, his legislative agenda, any of that. Now, all of that is bogged down in this James Comey firing.
COOPER: Jeff Zeleny -- Jeff, thanks very much.
A moment ago, you heard Sean Spicer objecting to reporters, trying as he put it to parse every little word -- that was his phrase -- rather than he seems to believe get at the truth.
[20:10:05] Keeping them honest, though, you can make the case both he and the president did just that today, suggesting that former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and others have cleared team Trump of collusion with Moscow.
CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has the reporting on that and joins us.
So, I just want to read, Jim, exactly what the president tweeted this morning. He wrote, quote: When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end?
But that's just not true, right? That is not what James Clapper said.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's not true. It's not what James Clapper said, let's be clear. Not just what James Clapper said in an interview today, but in testimony before. And I've spoken with him about this directly many times.
One, he hasn't said there is no evidence of collusion. He said there's no conclusive evidence and he has made it clear he would not see the whole range of evidence because he was the head of the intelligence agencies, he left issues of law enforcement, criminal matters to the FBI, particularly issues that involve U.S. citizens because that's the way the law works.
Listen to James Clapper today.
(BEGIN VIDEOI CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: So, I left it to the judgment of the FBI and that was certainly the practice I followed here. But that was consistent with what I did during the whole six and a half years. So, it's not surprising or out of -- or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or even more importantly, the content of that investigation.
So, I don't know if there was collusion or not. I don't know if there is evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: And you were not intending to clear -- to convict or clear anyone of exclusion it just was outside of your scope.
CLAPPER: That's correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The White House in effect is cherry-picking a misunderstanding of Clapper's comments. And keep in mind, Anderson, you and I talked about this before, you have the FBI director, he testified under oath in March that collusion is still being investigated, not to mention the Senate and House Intelligence Committees and Democrats and Republicans on both those committees saying that this is still open an question, still something they are investigating.
COOPER: And, Jim, "The Wall Street Journal" I saw just before we went on air posted a story that a Treasury Department unit focusing on money laundering is going to share financial records with the Senate Intelligence Committee to aide in the investigation to possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. What are the implications of something like that?
SCIUTTO: It's potentially significant. We reported earlier that the Senate Intelligence committee had asked this Department -- this Department of Treasury for this information. And it's key here. Their specialty is money laundering. They are experts at tracking the money, following the money in effect. They do it in terrorism cases, they do it in money laundering cases.
So, if there is a there-there in terms of unseemly financial interactions between Trump associates, Trump himself and Russia, that there is a group that could find it, and this is the group. We turn over the records and the committees and the FBI will see where that information leads.
COOPER: And we should point out , it doesn't mean there is a there- there. It just means this is the committee that would be able to help them find it if there was.
SCIUTTO: Exactly right. And they are in effect fessing up. They're going to provide documents if there are documents that provide evidence of that.
COOPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks.
When we come back, more breaking news, the justice official overseeing all this weighing on the growing calls for special prosecutor. And later, was Sally Yates's warning to the White House connected to the alleged loyalty demand of Director Comey just hours after Yates repeated her concerns.
[20:17:16] COOPER: A lot to talk about with the panel tonight, including Jeff Zeleny's new reporting that the vice president was in the words of Zeleny's source rattled by the events of this. And also that staff morale at the White House is low and there's yet more breaking news tonight, this time from the much mispronounced deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
Did I get it right? Yes. I did, I got it right. I'm sorry. It's all week.
He tells CNN he doesn't yet see a need for a special prosecutor in the Russia probe. Once source telling us he is not inclined to make change unless the FBI investigation appears to be imperiled.
Back with the panel: Jason Miller, Bakari Sellers, Kirsten Powers, Amanda Carpenter, Jeffrey Toobin and Phil Mudd.
Jeffrey, let me just start with you. The whole notion of tapes in the White House, obviously, we have been done this road before. Is that legal now? Is that --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, it's certainly legal and I think as a matter of course, every president tapes phone calls with foreign leaders, for example. I mean, I think it would be irresponsible not to do that. The question is, what about every day conversations?
This is something that could be cleared up very easily and it would be an interesting test of how serious these investigations are. Have the House and Senate committees write a letter, send us a subpoena, have the FBI in their investigation send a subpoena for any tapes that exist that are relevant to the investigation.
The Supreme Court in 1974, nine-to-nothing, said the president would have to answer a subpoena like that. So, it's -- this question can be answered. This doesn't have to be a mystery. But the committees have to show they're serious in order to find out that answer.
COOPER: Amanda, I mean we haven't talked to you this week or at least I haven't. The end of in week, how do you see -- where are things in more your mind?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, here's what I'm reflecting on. The president asked Jim Comey about loyalty. And I think everyone in the Republican Party should be asking themselves about loyalty, and whether they are loyal to the office as a figure or the oath of office that all public officials take to uphold the Constitution, but we're no longer in this world of binary choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And right now, I see way too many fence sitters all over the media on
the Republican side who want to take this position that we're just anti-liberal. They can't defend Donald Trump on the merits. And so, they blame liberals. They blame the media.
They say you can't understand the situation unless you live in a one stoplight town in middle America and that you have to take the president, you have to believe the best about what might be in his heart rather than what he says on Twitter every single day. This is ridiculous. It's not tenable.
And Republicans, if they -- just think politically, this cannot last. So, go ahead and start holding the president accountable. The boogey man is not going to come out from under your bed. Donald Trump's special police are not going to come get you in the middle of the night if you say, Mr. President, please respect the three branches of government, please respect the American institution as it's supposed to work and you'll be much better off.
[20:20:11] COOPER: Jason, I mean, the president saying this was not a threat against Comey, saying, you know, you better watch what you say because there may be tapes, I don't want to miss -- I don't have the exact wording of his tweet about this.
But, you know, there's two people who know what happened in that thing and clearly, information of things Comey had said to other associates was leaking out and the president was reacting to that. How was that not a threat?
JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, since I don't work in the White House and I haven't spoken with the president about this, I can't speak directly to a conversation that obviously I wasn't a part of.
COOPER: But the tweet itself, how can not be a threat? The White House is saying that's not a threat.
MILLER: Well, I mean, it seems pretty straight forward. I mean, look, Comey ran a pretty leaky shop. So, I mean, it was pretty evident that there were tons of leaks, and all last year, Democrats are crying the leaks that were coming out during the Hillary investigation.
But the bigger point here, Anderson, is just two days ago, I thought the outrage was supposed to be about Comey getting fired. Nobody cares that Comey got fired. I haven't seen anyone on TV out there saying Jim Comey was doing a good job, I wish he was still there.
COOPER: It was mostly the timing of it, people -- those were --
MILLER: Yes. And you know what? The White House could have had a tighter job in announcing that, rolling it out. But the fact of the matter is, I mean, look, I wish the president would have fired Comey when he took office at 12:01 on January 20th.
COOPER: A tighter job, that's one way to describe it. I mean, it was a pretty discombobulated job, with outright falsehoods being said.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: With respect to my friend, Jason, in fact, I think the White House probably misses Jason, because one of the things that we've seen is that communication shop is fundamentally in shambles.
But we go back to this conversation that you were talking about, and we can have a conversation about tapes and all of these other things, but I want someone to tell me how what Donald Trump did by asking the FBI director, I believe it was three days after the FBI interviewed Flynn, it was a day after Sally Yates came over and warned him that his national security advisor could be blackmailed. I'm trying to figure out how that is not obstruction of justice.
Jason Miller and Amanda Carpenter and Republican after Republican after Republican, they had their moments of pearl clutching when you had Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton on a tarmac, and they were raising pure hell about that being a conflict of interest. So, my question is how what the president of the United States did, just questioning the person who is investigating him about the investigation, not obstruction of justice, and then firing him, how is that not outrageous to every sensibility?
MILLER: But this goes to the point about Comey. Look, you can't have it both ways. I mean, Democrats wanted Comey fired last year, and then now he finally gets fired.
SELLERS: You actually can have it both ways, though, because my point to you is that, I can be -- I can be deeply disturbed by the way that Jim Comey handled the Hillary Clinton investigation, and I can also say that it offends all of my notions of justice that you cannot fire the person who's investigating you. I can have that cake and eat it, too. Those things aren't mutually exclusive.
MILLER: But Comey told him they weren't investigating him.
SELLERS: I don't believe that.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Allegedly.
MILLER: Three times. I mean, three times.
SELLERS: I don't believer that.
MILLER: He hasn't denied it. Comey hasn't denied it.
POWERS: Highly improper if he did that. I mean, so, your -- they don't even acknowledge that they're doing an investigation, let alone tell somebody that they're not under investigation.
It's possible that Donald Trump heard something like that, maybe Comey was sort of broadly speaking like it's not an investigation only focused on Donald Trump, right? It's broadly focused on his campaign.
But there were plenty of improper things that he has said even by his own words that we can look at the interview with Lester Holt, of all of his commenting on how the investigation should go longer, it should be shorter, it should be over. That's not his decision that, you know, he said that, you know, she should -- Hillary Clinton should never have been exonerated. That Comey never should have exonerated here.
None of these things are his really placed to be opining on and then for him -- it's all sort of wrapped in him firing him, right? So, it sort of suggests that he fired because he didn't like the job that he was doing. He disliked what he was doing.
MILLER: He really didn't like the job he was doing.
COOPER: Phil, you -- sorry, Phil, you were on CNN earlier, I just want to read something that you said about the president's tweet storm today. You said, quote, you feel like you have to give the president of the United States a pacifier and a rattle and then put him in a crib.
I let you explain that.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, if you're sitting there 100 days ago at the FBI or the CIA, you have to take the president seriously. He disrupted the American political cycle in a remarkable way. He won states he never should have won. He did things in terms of communicating directly with the American people, without a standard communications protocol that was remarkable. He said outrageous things on the campaign trail that were obviously effective.
So, he comes in office and if you're sitting in my old seat, you got to say what is this guy going to do? I was paid, I am paid, if you're in the FBI or CIA today, to respond to what the American people say through the vote.
We're 100-plus years and -- or 100-plus days later, and he's evidently had a conversation with the FBI director that involved whether the FBI director was loyal and allegedly whether he was under investigation.
[20:25:03] What would you think if you were an American citizen and you had that conversation with the president? Would you think it had nothing to do with whether you are going to drop the Russia investigation? I don't buy it.
My bottom line in making that statement, it's 100-plus days in when people at the FBI saw that statement, they didn't cringe, they weren't concerned, I think a lot of them were angry and some of them laughed. The president is losing credibility by the day for childish comments that undercut his ability to have traction as president. Bottom line.
COOPER: All right. I want to thank everybody.
Coming up, is dinner with the president -- with President Trump and now fired FBI Director James Comey plays into the timeline of another person the president fired, national security advisor Michael Flynn? Next, we'll take a close look at two days in January and what we now
know the president was doing on those two days.
COOPER: Now that we know President Trump in the early days of his presidency had dinner with now fired FBI Director James Comey, it's worth to look back at what else was going on on that particular day. The timeline of two days in particular has gotten clear and potentially more significant. Randi Kaye tonight looks back.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The warning came January 26, from then acting Attorney General Sally Yates to White House Counsel Don McGahn.
[20:30:08] SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I called Don McGahn first thing that morning and told him that I had a very sensitive matter that I needed to discuss with him.
KAYE: A sensitive matter concerning then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who had just been interviewed by the FBI at the White House two days before. Yates warned that Flynn hadn't been forthcoming about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about U.S. sanctions during campaign 2016.
YATES: That created a compromised situation, a situation where the national security advisor essentially could be blackmailed by the Russian.
KAYE: After Yates' warning.
SPICER: President was immediately informed of the situation.
KAYE: On January 27, the day after her warning, Yates testified she returned to the White House for a second meeting with McGahn.
During that meeting, Yates said McGahn asked her if he could look at the evidence that had her so concerned about Gen. Flynn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: The date of January 27 is key, and here's why, Pres. Donald Trump has revealed that he had dinner with then FBI Dir. James Comey on that very same evening, January 27 at the White House. A private dinner soon after the president learned that his NSA director was being investigated for ties to Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: In his interview with NBC, the president said he can't remember who called the dinner. But new CNN reporting reveals Comey says it was at the president's request. So was the timing of this dinner just a coincidence? What exactly had the president been told that the Department of Justice and FBI had learned? And would it have been enough to trigger a dinner at the White House and a test of loyalty. Trump apparently had a few questions of his own for the man leading the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: I said, if it's possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation? He said, you are not under investigation.
KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the president admitted in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt that he asked James Comey if he was under investigation. Sean Spicer was asked about that at the White House today, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president ask the White House counsel whether it would be appropriate to ask such a question given that it was against generally Justice Department guidelines to indicate whether or not investigations are ongoing against any individual, let alone one at the White House?
SPICER: I don't know, I will tell you that I know several legal scholars including Alan Dershowitz and other have said there was nothing inappropriate about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: If only we could find legal scholar Alan Dershowitz. Hey, he's here. Alan Dershowitz is with us and CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
So, Professor Dershowitz you heard Sean Spicer invoke your name. Is that accurate? Do you believe the president has been completely appropriate in his dealing with James Comey?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, everybody wants to know if they're under investigation. Every time I have a client I call the U.S. attorney, I call the FBI, I try every way to find out whether they're under investigation. I know they're not supposed to tell me, that that doesn't mean I shouldn't try. Sometimes they do give me hints, for example they'll say, well, if you haven't gotten a target letter then you should know he's not a target. Or if you've gotten a subject letter, you know, so you do get information. But the president is different. Of course the president --
COOPER: Also at a dinner where, according to president, James Comey is basically saying he wants to stay on. So I guess that adds to the dinner of I'd like to stay on my job, you know, are you loyal to me, am I under investigation?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, it is not -- at that point, if he's under investigation, he's not going to stay no, you're not under investigation and I want to keep my job. He's just trying to find out a fact and presumably he did not find out that fact at least in other than the most general terms.
I suspect what happened is that Comey did say something like, you haven't gotten a target letter, you're not a target, and the president then interprets that as I'm not being investigated. If we had a tape of this, and I don't think there's a tape, I think the president is bluffing. But if we had a tape about this, I think you would hear words like loyalty, I think you would hear words like investigation, but you would hear words that each side could easily interpret in a somewhat different way.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But I just think, and I don't know what was said. But it was inappropriate for the president of the United States to ask the director of the FBI whether he, the president, was under investigation, period. It is just an inappropriate.
First of all, there is an established policy going back to the days of Jimmy Carter, about how much a president or any White House official is allowed to know about pending White House -- about pending criminal investigations, that is -- I mean that's been followed by presidents as a matter of course for decades. But just think about it, this is not some defense attorney asking about his client, he's the boss of the Justice Department for which Jim Comey works.
[20:35:10] COOPER: You don't make that --
TOOBIN: -- so inappropriate.
COOPER: For you that's not --
DERSHOWITZ: No, it's relevant. It doesn't turn it into a crime. It doesn't turn it into a specific ethical violation. Should he have done it? If he had asked my advice, I would have said have your lawyer ask about it, have White House counsel asked about it? Have your personal lawyer ask about it? It's better that you not have this conversation.
COOPER: When you saw the tweet from the president today tweeting what some interpreted it as a threat against Dir. Comey, basically, you know, leaking there maybe tape, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press." Do you see that --
DERSHOWITZ: I don't see that as a threat. You know, everything is so over -- let's go back for one second to the blackmail. I think this whole blackmail thing is utter nonsense. If they were afraid that Flynn was going to be blackmailed it's the easiest way out of it. Sally Yates goes to Flynn and says, oh by the way, we know that you had this phone call with the Russians, no more blackmail, it's over. So, why are they talking about blackmail? Why are they putting the responsibility on other people? It's easiest thing to end the blackmail. You just tell him then the Russians have nothing over him.
TOOBIN: I think that tweet is a good example of how we are normalizing behavior that would have been seen as completely outrageous by any other president. I don't think if you want to call it a threat. I think it's certainly a taunt. It's inappropriate for a president to behave that way towards someone who was until 24 hours ago a very senior government official. I don't know what -- I mean, also, he is essentially challenging all of us to ask about whether these tapes exist. I mean it's just inappropriate for a president to behave.
DERSHOWITZ: It's also foolish, because it opens the door for subpoenas.
DERSHOWITZ: There are so many foolish things he has done. The president had called Comey in and said, Mr. Comey you know how much I admire you, you were in a terrible position, either way you did the Clinton thing, you would have disqualified your self from further service. So I have to, very politely, ask you to please submit your resignation. Comey would have done it. There would have been no story.
COOPER: As an attorney, I mean if you were advising the president, would you use advice him to stop giving interviews to stop talking publicly --
COOPER: -- about an on-going FBI --
DERSHOWITZ: -- take away his tweet, his Twitter -- Twitter account. I would stop him, but he won't listen. And clients don't listen to lawyers.
COOPER: -- other presidents would simply say, look, there's an ongoing FBI investigation. We are cooperating fully. We want justice to run its course, and that would be the end of it.
DERSHOWITZ: No, that wouldn't be the end of it. They would do that publicly and then they had their people try to figure out what's really going on.
TOOBIN: But also, I mean this is just an example of how different Donald Trump is from other president.
Now, if you were Donald Trump, you were going to say to yourself, you know what? I got elected president of the United States by behaving this way, where everyone told me that you can't say this stuff about Megyn Kelly, you can't say this stuff about John McCain and I am who I am and I'm not going to change. It's worked out pretty well for him so far.
COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, good to have you on, Jeffrey Toobin as well.
Coming up the president's threat about the possibility of taped conversations, is not threat or comment, isn't the first time. We have heart about White House recording, of course. But take a look at how former presidents ran the tape recorders and when and why that system was shut down, next.
[20:42:23] COOPER: As we have been reporting, the president of the United States has threatened a fired FBI director with possible tapes of their recording, something our source tell CNN Comey is not worried about if they even exist. As you know, this is not the first time secret recordings have been a part of presidential history. It certainly goes beyond Nixon's famous tapes. It's just the first time the specter of secret tapes has been raised on Twitter. Brian Todd tonight has more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former White House staffers tell us the technical capability exists for the president to tape phone conversations, but that's different from a built in White House taping system. President Kennedy used one, as did Pres. Johnson, here trying to convince someone to be his campaign manager.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any way you want to do it, but I want you to do it.
TODD: Among Nixon's legendary recordings, a 1972 Oval Office conversation on how to push back on the Watergate investigation.
RICHARD NIXON, 37TH U.S. PRESIDENT: What the hell, did Mitchell know about this thing?
TODD: This one is often referred to as the smoking gun tape.
NIXON: Play it tough. That's the way they played it, and that's the way we're to play it.
TODD: That White House taping system was shut down in the summer of 1973, at the height of the Watergate scandal.
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: The American people, the press or the media, they didn't know about the taping systems until Alexander Butterfield, a White House aide in July of 1973, told the Senate Watergate Committee, told the staff that there was a taping system. At that point, Richard Nixon had an opportunity to destroy the tapes, he decided not to.
TODD: Nixon was asked about that in a 1980 interview with ABC's Barbara Walters.
BARBARA WALTERS, ABC HOST: Are you sorry you didn't burn the tapes?
NIXON: You know, interestingly enough, everybody in Europe that I talked to said why didn't you burn the tapes? And the answer is, I probably should have.
TODD: As for the one-on-one dinner between Trump and Comey at the White House, former staffer tell us they don't know of any built-in systems in the dinning room to tape conversations. They say the president could bring in a recording device or have an aide take notes on the conversation, but it's unlikely he would. Could Comey have taped the phone conversations on his end? We got no comment from the FBI.
Former top bureau officials tell us that would only be allowed if the president himself was under investigation, which Trump says he's not and if the FBI chief got a warrant to tape him.
JAMES GAGLIANO, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: I can't imagine that happen. The FBI director does not tape conversations with the president or members of the Hill or staff members, I cannot see what happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: If there are any tapes of Pres. Trump and James Comey recorded at the White House, there is now significant pressure on Mr. Trump and his team to produce them. This letter we just obtained from top House Democrats, John (inaudible) and Elijah Cummings of two top House oversight committees. He's calling on the White House to turn over copies of any recordings, emails, any communications between Pres. Trump and James Comey in this matter, so far, no comment from the White House on this letter. Anderson.
[20:45:16] COOPER: All right, Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Joining me now is presidential historian and Rice University history professor, Douglas Brinkley. I mean it wouldn't -- obviously there have been taping systems in the White House before, it would be unique to have not only a sitting president tape their FBI director over dinner, but then to kind of, I mean it's already unique to have them raise the specter of it in a tweet.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yeah, I mean the key about Nixon was that he developed a voice activated system. So it would pick up things all over --
COOPER: So every -- Oval Office --
BRINKLEY: Yeah, and you also hear drinks being stir and people walking. So, it was that you -- (inaudible) the Nixon White House. However, he didn't do any taping in 69, he did none in 70. But by 71 he starts thinking, I'm doing pretty well. I better start making some tapes.
COOPER: And with that -- he wanted for history?
BRINKLEY: He was speaking though Winston Churchill wrote a multiple volume of World War II, maybe I'll do the 10 volume Richard Nixon's states person of the world. He also thought it was (inaudible) for himself and ammunition against people that he didn't like, somebody would say he said something, he'd say I have the transcript. A little bit with -- like Donald Trump did. He wanted it as ammunition against people that met him.
So it's plausible that Donald Trump had bugged that dinner, knowing that the stakes were high as head of the FBI, but I think it seems to me like a bluff. He would have had to put a taping system in very, very quickly and made it a priority here and --
COOPER: There would be nothing illegal. I mean, Washington, I've just talked to Prof. Dershowitz about this. It's not a two-party consent state. Florida, if he was recording stuff in Florida, he would have to have the consent of the person he's recording, but Washington and New York, you can record.
BRINKLEY: That's right. And all presidents tape some amounts of international calls, I mean FDR had some tapes that he made, of course, Kennedy mentioned in the package of the Excomm Cuban missile crisis. It's a record. But the phone is different. If you're calling Donald Trump you got to think somebody is listening in on the White House phone, but apply to dinner, one-on-one, what an intrusion of Comey's privacy if Trump had done that.
COOPER: We also just, you know, Brian mentioning that letter asking for, you know, information on taping, or the tapes. Unless it's a subpoena, the White House doesn't have to go along with it. And it was Nixon's refusal to hand them over for the subpoena that that is what led to his downfall.
BRINKLEY: Absolutely, and by the way, with but the big difference, Nixon didn't want anybody to know he had a taping system. Not Henry Kissinger, --
BRINKLEY: -- not Haldeman. Not John (inaudible). It was secret. Donald Trump is kind of bragging. I'm, you know, I might be listening there might be a transcript coming. So, that wasn't a Nixon stunt in that regard, Nixon did anything to squelch anybody knowing that he had those tapes.
COOPER: Just a historian, what do you make of this last week we've seen?
BRINKLEY: It's just gets stranger and stranger all the time. I mean one can't understand why there's so much obstruction going on in the Trump White House, why they're so afraid to just talk cleanly and openly about Russia, this has to be put behind Donald Trump, but he seems to feed the beast of the story regularly with odd, tweets and the firing of Comey, and it's not going to go away on him. He has no strategy in mind, except to have war with the press over it.
COOPER: It's also interesting to hear his spokes people say, look, you're holding us to unreasonable standard of being factual and being accurate on what we're saying, you know, our boss just moving too fast, he's doing to many things, he's too gradable (ph), you know, I believe, quick of a leader in order to be pinned down and get all of the details out of. That doesn't seem to hold water.
BRINKLEY: Of course not. (Inaudible) to tell the truth. Obviously somebody might story tell once in a while, and we do the Pinocchio game with him. But his first 100-days are documented some like 485 out and out lies coming from Donald Trump. I mean historians someday are going to have to do books, the lies of Donald Trump. But we are now starting to understand that he doesn't know when he's lying, if you're a compulsive liar or inventor of things then you don't even think that you're doing it. So, I think we're dealing with the kind of condition that he has. I mean maybe living with it for while.
COOPER: All right, Douglas Brinkley, I appreciate you being on. thank you very much.
Just ahead, anger boils over town halls across the country as constituents confront House Republicans. And vendor outrage over the GOP health care bill, that and more ahead.
[20:53:16] COOPER: The extraordinary events of this week have been unfolding in Washington. The House has been in recess. The break began just after the House passed by a whisker the GOP health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Some Republican lawmakers have been holding town halls in their home districts where the reception is not exactly been warm. Gary Tuchman has more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump said during the campaign he would be a great unifier for the country. But there's been no evidence of that at Congressional town halls this week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the rich benefit --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut your mouth.
TUCHMAN: Many of the Republican congressmen who held town halls during this recess have heard the wrath of many of their constituents.
In New Jersey, Congressman Tom MacArthur got an earful. It was his amendment to the health care act that helped push it over the finish line.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is rape considered a pre-existing condition under your amendment? Yes or no?
Yes or no? Yes or no? One word, please. One word please.
REP. TOM MACARTHUR, (R) NEW JERSEY: Folks, you get to ask the questions. And I get to answer them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, so answer them. So answer them.
MACARTHUR: I will not describe a violent act against a woman as a pre-existing condition. I -- that, to me -- but what I will say is that this bill does not allow discrimination in health insurance based on that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point you can say what you want. But I think we all know the truth here. And thank you. TUCHMAN: In North Dakota, Congressman Kevin Kramer heard from a woman with a disabled child. She asked him not to repeal Obamacare with her family facing bankruptcy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what $5 million looks like. And she is three years old.
TUCHMAN: A man upset for the woman started walking toward the congressman.
[20:55:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut your mouth.
TUCHMAN: Another town hall participant grabbed his neck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise my taxes and give it to that woman and take the billionaires money and give it to that woman. Here. Don't be -- here you go. Take it.
REP. KEVIN KRAMER, (R) NORTH DAKOTA: I think that's too far.
TUCHMAN: Both he and the man who grabbed his neck were taken out by police.
Then, there was this woman asking a question to Republican Congressman Rod Blum in Iowa about how he could still support Pres. Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How come Bill Clinton can get impeached over -- and this thing that's in the White House now brings the Russians into the Oval Office with their news cameras. Why has he not being impeached?
TUCHMAN: The answer didn't satisfy most in the audience.
REP. ROD BLUM, (R) IOWA: No proof so far of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
TUCHMAN: Representative Blum held three other town halls this week and ended up leaving this mostly combative one without even telling the audience good-bye. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Much more ahead on a day that left a lot of heads spinning in Washington in the week as well. The White House still struggling to get the story straight about why Pres. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey even as Mr. Trump threatens Mr. Comey in on Twitter outburst and won't rule out that he has tapes of their conversations.