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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Washington Post: Trump Shared Highly Classified Information with Russians. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 15, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.
We begin tonight with breaking news with a striking bottom line. According to "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times", the president of the United States revealed highly classified, beyond top secret information to this country's chief global adversary, Russia, during a meeting last week in the Oval Office. This meeting with Russia's ambassador and Russia's foreign minister a day after he fired FBI Director James Comey who was obviously lead tinge investigation into possibly improper contact with Russia.
Now, "The Post" broke the story, they're reporting suggests that when the president revealed this intelligence reportedly gathered by an ally and not to be shared with other countries, he was boasting to the Russians about what he had. As you might imagine, this is touching off a five storm in the intelligence community, on Capitol Hill and beyond.
We have our own new reporting on that and what the intelligence covered and late reaction from the White House. Reporting for us, we have a team of correspondents, Jim Acosta, Evan Perez, Manu Raju, Jim Sciutto.
But, first, Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House.
So, Jim, explain how the White House is reacting because several people who are in that office have put out statement, although in some cases they're not really addressing what actual reporting said.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think it's safe to say, Anderson, at this hour, the White House is knocking down that story in "The Washington Post". They are saying it is false as reported, but in a carefully worded statement, you could hear the national security adviser to the president, H.R. McMaster, addressing reporters earlier this evening, really tailoring his words to declare this story is just not accurate.
Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation.
At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.
Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and had said so. Their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. And I was in the room, it didn't happen.
Thanks, everybody. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And that was it, Anderson. H.R. McMaster did not take any questions from reporters. There were reporters asking, including myself, whether there was a recording of this meeting between the president and those Russian officials. He did not answer that question.
But we should point out you heard H.R. McMaster there say that the president did not reveal any sources or methods. He did not specifically say that the president did not reveal classified information. That's a pretty important distinction there. We should note that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, just went back into the west wing a few moments ago, talked to reporters and said there would be no further statements from the White House on this later on tonight, Anderson.
COOPER: It's also important that the story, that first appeared in "The Washington Post" specifically did not say that the president revealed sources and methods in what he said to the Russians.
ACOSTA: That's right.
COOPER: So, for H.R. McMaster to be saying the president didn't reveal sources and methods, "The Washington Post" didn't say that's what he did.
ACOSTA: That's right. And there are additional statements that were provided by the White House tonight from the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, from a deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, that sort of dance around that distinction.
We can put up a statement from Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, that says: During President Trump's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed among which were common efforts and threats regarding counterterrorism. During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.
And then, Dina Powell released a statement through the White House saying: The story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced. But, Anderson, nowhere in these statements that were released by
Tillerson, Powell or that statement that was delivered by the national security adviser is there any -- any kind of denial that the president released classified information to the Russians. And, of course, that's a deeply sensitive topic in that the president during the campaign time and again went after Hillary Clinton, accusing her of repeatedly leaking classified information, releasing classified information through her private e-mail server.
We should also note one final thing I think is interesting to pass on to our viewers, during the briefing today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said H.R. McMaster would be briefing reporters tomorrow on the president's upcoming foreign trip. I've asked the White House whether McMaster will still be at that briefing tomorrow, have not gotten a response.
Obviously, if McMaster does not show up at that briefing, that's a pretty telling sign that they're trying to really circle the wagons on this one, Anderson.
COOPER: We should also point out, Jim, it's not a coincidence that most of those statements pretty sound almost word for word the same. And that they are specifically, the fact that they don't specifically say he didn't reveal classified information, that's just not an oversight, that's just not an accident that the White House put out statements that forgot to address that.
[20:05:02] ACOSTA: It's a lot of spin, Anderson. It's not a lot of clarity.
And this is the sort of denial speak that you get from administrations when there are very serious questions being raised. And, obviously, up on Capitol Hill, they're raising some very serious questions tonight, and Republicans are tearing their hair out, wishing they could just get through a day in this town without this White House doing serious damage to itself, Anderson.
COOPER: Jim Acosta, appreciate that.
We got new reporting what the shared intelligence was all about. CNN's Evan Perez joins us now with more of that.
How does this tie into the reporting that you've done on the airline laptop ban?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, back on March 31 when we were reporting that story, we worked with the intelligence agencies for a couple of days, specifically to remove any references of the type that the president is allegedly -- allegedly discussed with these top two Russian officials there in the Oval Office.
Now, they specifically did not want us to mention the city and they said that specifically if you mention these types of things, the terrorist groups will be able to figure out that we have certain collection methods, our allies have certain collection methods, and this could lead to lives being put in danger. Not only sources or methods are being put in danger, but perhaps people who are inside the Islamic State, people who inside ISIS might be put at risk as a result of this reporting.
So, we worked with the intelligence agencies over a couple of days. We removed the things that really we didn't have any interest in trying to put people's lives in danger.
PEREZ: We wanted to make sure that the public understood the grave danger that this laptop bomb, this intelligence showed, but we didn't really want to put anybody's lives in danger. So, we worked with the intelligence agencies to remove this from the stories.
COOPER: So, Evan -- Evan, let me ask you, when McMaster says in his statement the president didn't reveal -- talk about sources and methods, from your reporting what it sounds like is if there had been any level of detail discussed with these Russians.
COOPER: Just as if there had been a level of detail in the story you first reported weeks ago, that could have allowed adversaries, our enemies in ISIS and elsewhere, to figure out what sources or methods perhaps were being used.
PEREZ: Right, exactly.
COOPER: It wasn't a question of whether the president actually said, oh, this is how this was collected, by just telling the details, it's possible the information -- the Russians, in this case, could figure out what the sources and methods were?
PEREZ: Right. They could reverse engineer the information to figure out how it was collected, to figure out how the U.S. had obtained it.
And, Anderson, here is the other part of this, I think the broader context here is that, you know, the president I think still regards Russia as not the adversary here. He really believes that the United States and Russia should be able to partner in the fight against ISIS, and that obviously is not a controversial issue.
The issue is that the Russians have other motives as well. They have others, other agendas there. They want to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, and if they figure out how the United States is collecting certain information there, then that could put those sources of information at risk. We don't know where that information can go, and that was what was really emphasized to us when we were reporting the story back in March.
COOPER: Right. Evan, thanks very much.
We should note that we invited anyone from the White House obviously to join us tonight but have since been told that they are done for the night. Our invitation, of course, stands throughout the hour. Joining us now, our team of national security intelligence, legal and
political experts: Steve Hall, retired Lieutenant Mark Hertling, John Kirby, Philip Mudd, Laura Coates, Jim Sciutto, and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Jim, I know your communication devices have been blown up with people you've been talking to. What's the reaction you are getting? What do you have to add to this?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Their reaction is exasperation and deep, deep concern on a number of levels. One here because it is classified information, that's obvious. Two, that the Russians were the ones who received this classified information, a prime adversary in the view of the U.S. intelligence community today. Three, that it appears to relate to a sensitive intelligence sharing relationship, which is very difficult to build over time.
There are countries that you share intel with as a matter of alliances. The U.K., France, et cetera, that's natural. There are others that you don't want public because of the nature of those relationships. That country doesn't want it public that it's sharing this kind of sensitive information with the U.S.
Those three things make this particularly serious. A former senior U.S. intelligence official described it to me this way: I have never before seen a senior government official so carelessly share information that endangers a sensitive relationship. Unprecedented, in their view.
COOPER: If an ally of ours, which is gathering intelligence, sharing intelligence, with us believes that the president cannot be quiet about that information in front of the Russians and others, they're less likely to share intelligence?
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And it's the first time we've heard that kind of concern from other allies, concerned about what they share with the president and what comes out.
I would just add to something Evan said.
[20:10:00] This relates to the laptop threat, the idea of getting a bomb hidden in a personal electronics unto an airplane. I've been speaking to sources. There is a debate going on today about extending the laptop ban from those eight Muslim majority countries to Europe, possibly even to the U.S. This is something talked about right now because this threat is considered right now the greatest, most immediate, clear and present terror danger to the U.S.
So, you're in beyond the obvious sensitive territory you're in with the nature of the information, the relationship. The nature of the threat makes it about the most sensitive territory you can get into.
COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, I herald you say if what "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" reported is true, how did you characterize this? ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: This is the
most serious accusation ever made against a sitting president relating to national security.
DERSHOWITZ: If it's true. I can't think of any other president who has ever put in danger the national security, if it's true. Remember, that Russia gives information to Iran that gives it to Hezbollah, gives it Syria. We are talking about agencies like Jordan, Israel, England that may have worked five years to get somebody into ISIS at a leadership level. He's going to be killed. If it's electronic, they're going to disclose this information.
This is so serious, and now, we have to unite. We have to put aside all of the stuff about Comey, all of the stuff about whether the campaign coordinated. We have to focus on this issue because Republicans and Democrats alike will not be able to defend the president against this if it's true.
Now, we have to find out if it's true. First step is damage control. The second step is doing something to protect us. Do we have to ban the laptops tomorrow or this week?
We have to focus on this. Do not politicize this issue. That's the greatest risk we face now.
COOPER: Steve Hall, you certainly know about your classified information in your career with the CIA. You certainly know about Russia.
I mean, the White House is saying the president didn't share sources or methods with the Russians. "Washington Post" is reporting he shared classified information with specifics about a looming threat. That's not the same thing as sources or methods as the White House characterized this.
But to Evan's point, can you kind of reverse-engineer if you get some information and figure out what the sources and methods are that might endanger whoever gathered that?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA SENIOR OFFICER, RUSSIA EXPERT: Well, Anderson, if anybody can reverse engineer something, it is certainly the Russians.
But actually, my greater concern here is that this is going to -- this is going to have a widespread chilling effect on all of the intelligence relationships that we have with all of our allies. The ripple effects are going to be incredible, regardless as to whether or not it's true. Because having run these relationships myself a number of times, years overseas, our allies pass this information with the expectation that we are going to keep it to ourselves and not share it with others, certainly not the Russians, without talking to them first.
And when we don't do that, and if it's true that the president spread this without the -- without the approval of the liaison service that gave it to him, they're simply going to become more conservative. They're going to stop sharing information. And that puts the United States of America at significantly greater risk of what we share most with our liaison relationships with, and that's counterterrorism information. So --
DERSHOWITZ: But, Anderson, that risk -- that risk was created by "The Washington Post," that second risk. "The Washington Post" published this material. I don't blame them. Somebody leaked it.
We now learn from something the editor of "The Washington Post" reporter told us that the leak had to come from within the United States. It wasn't from Russia. How do we know this? Because the reporter has said that the leaker, the source, quote, "didn't want to compound the problem." Russia would want to compound the problem.
So, we now know an American intelligence source leaked this information. It's the leaking of the information that creates the compounding problem of intelligence services. It would have been bad enough if this had happened, but nobody knew about it. But now, we have two problems. One, sources and methods now can be found by the Russians and, two, our allies know that this was disclosed.
COOPER: Although you could make -- I would assume, Phil, that you could make -- Jim Sciutto, that you could make the argument that the United States would have to inform allied intelligence services that this information had been -- had been disclosed?
SCIUTTO: That's right. And that would be part of the damage control. We're not talking about message damage control here, right? We're talking about risk damage control, which is obviously far more important.
COOPER: General Hertling, I mean, the president the information the president reportedly revealed, we're not talking about confidential. We're not talking about secret. We're not talking about top secret. This is code word information.
Can you explain what that is? What kind of dots can you connect with that?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes, code word is ultimate in security clearances, Anderson. It means that the programs are so significant, the sources and methods are so critically important that any discrimination or any leaks of information about that might giveaway damage that the program exists.
I've been read in on code word programs before, both in combat and peacetime, and you're not only read in, you're also read off when you leave the program, which means you say, I will never disclose that I know anything about this program, that I will give any information about it or even say what the code word is that describes program.
[20:15:13] And it's because it is so dangerous, and any kind of information that comes out on a code word program could affect the fight for an adversary for that intelligence. So when you're trying to connect the dots, any specific item might be able to lead you to the source and the methods.
Even though the sources and the methods and the military operations as General McMaster said were not given, if anything was given up that might lead a very wise intelligence service, the Russian intelligence service to find out more things and connect dots, it could destroy the program, ruin the relationship with the other country, generate a lack of trust with all other nations because whatever country that this came from, others are going to see it as, well. It's not just going to affect that one-on-one relationship, it is going to affect everybody that shares intelligence with our intelligence community because they're afraid to give it to them because they don't want it given to the president who might give it to Russia.
COOPER: Phil, you worked at the CIA and the FBI. What do you make of the fact that this was a statement, according to "Washington Post" and "New York Times", made by the president of the United States to Russian officials who are -- one of them is at the center of the ongoing investigations and who were allowed into the Oval Office, you know, the day after the FBI director is fired? I mean, you would think of all of the times any -- somebody would be careful of what they said and how they said it, it would have been that meeting right there, photos of which are being provided by the Russians because U.S. reporters were not allowed in the room at the time.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Anderson, I have a very different perspective. There was a mistake here. It wasn't what the president said.
Look, in October 2015, the Russians lost 220 plus people in an attack by ISIS on an aircraft over the Sinai, 220 plus. If the president had not warned them about threats to aircraft and a Russian aircraft went down tomorrow, what would we say? Would we say the Americans shouldn't tell the Russians about threats from ISIS?
Two mistakes were made here and they are significant. The first was a minor mistake. It was not a moral sin. You have got to tell your foreign partners if you're the president of the United States, I'm going to reveal your information to the Russians. I don't believe the Russians are going to leak that to ISIS. They're killing ISIS periodically in Syria.
The second mistake, which I think is significant, was by General McMaster. I respect him, but he's playing us for fools. There are two elements of intelligence, what you know and how we know it. What you know about threats to aircraft and who told you.
What he told us today is the president did not reveal sources and methods. Who told us? He said nothing about what the president said in terms of the actual threat.
Don't play us for fools. If the president revealed the actual threat without revealing the source of the threat, please tell us and don't play us for idiots. General McMaster really lost credibility today. He should have been honest with us, he was not.
COOPER: Rear Admiral Kirby, what do you expect Russia to do with information like this? And also, the reporting from CNN earlier was that Rex Tillerson's statement sounded like it was coordinated with the White House. It didn't come from the State Department itself because a lot of State Department people had no idea that the statement had even been made.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER STATE DEPT. SPOKESPERSON, OBAMA ADMIN: Yes. So, on the second part, I have talked to some colleagues at the State Department. It seems like this was moving, the statement was moving so fast and the White House wanted to present one coordinated set of cabinet official statements all at once to kind of rip the band-aid off. They went so fast that not everybody in the communications shop was fully read in on the idea that he was doing a statement and what it said.
That's unusual. Honestly, I have never seen that happen before, but it does -- I do see the logic there. They were moving fast.
On your first question, Anderson, it really depends on the kind of information it was. I would just say this, the Russians are not only our friends, particularly in Syria, they're acting in an inimical way to our interests in Syria and directly opposing what we're trying to get done in Syria. And they have done little to nothing to fight ISIS in Syria.
So, whatever this information was, if it was ISIS-related, I fail to see the great benefit. And on this point, I kind of disagree with Phil. I don't -- I don't see the great benefit here in sharing sensitive information about the fight against ISIS in Syria.
If, however, you know, there was -- there was -- they were in peril of being in an attack, then, OK, you might want to share some, but you do it in a more deliberate, scheduled, measured fashion. You discuss this with the intelligence community before you sit down with the Russians and you layout the degree to which you're going to share what with them and how much. It doesn't sound to me like this was -- this was done in any kind of a coordinated fashion.
The only thing else I'd say is, you're talking about a president who doesn't get the intel briefing every single day.
[20:20:01] When you get it every day and you really absorb it and you take some time with it, then you know the nuance. Then you know the complexity. Then you are more careful when speaking in a public or even a private meeting.
This is a man who is not getting it every day, and I worry that because he's not, he's lacking that nuance. He's lacking that touch of fidelity about what information is really too sensitive to put out.
COOPER: All right. We have a lot more to talk about tonight. This is a fast-moving story, including their latest reaction from Capitol Hill, especially from number of influential Republicans with some very strong views about dysfunction in the White House.
I'll speak as well with the Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee who is obviously investigating proper ties to Russia. This will no doubt come up at tonight's CNN's town hall with House
Minority Nancy Pelosi. That is at the top of the next hour.
Tomorrow night, our exclusive interview with fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, her first televised and only televised interview. Stay with us.
COOPER: The breaking news, President Trump shared more than smiles and handshakes with Russia's ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office last week. "The Washington Post" broke the story. "The New York Times" has followed up.
The president revealed highly classified information gather by a U.S. intelligence partner on ISIS. The White House is attacking the story without denying key details of it. We should point out.
Deputy national security adviser for strategy, Dina Powell, saying, quote, "The story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced."
Democratic and Republican lawmakers are expressing concern and no one who spent time covering the Trump campaign can forget when it was candidate Trump who had plenty to say on the subject classified information.
Here is a tweet from last July: Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. Not fit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the first thing we must do is to enforce all classification rules and enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information.
Hillary is the one who endangered national security by sending classified information.
Put classified information in the reach of our enemies.
What happens when I'm dealing with the problems in the Middle East? Are you folks going to be reporting all of that very, very confidential information, very important? We've got to stop it. That's why it is a criminal penalty.
She sent vast amounts of classified information, and this is where they said that she was extremely careless and, frankly, I say grossly incompetent. She will be such a lousy president, folks.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
COOPER: Well, joining us now is Matt Lewis, Kirsten Powers and professor Alan Dershowitz, Jeffrey Lord, Gloria Borger and Matthew Rosenberg.
Matthew, (AUDIO GAP) "The New York Times," Matthew. How did your reporting jibe with -- and the reporting of your colleagues jibe with the statements made by the White House thus far?
[20:25:02] MATTHEW ROSENBERG, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, you know, the White House have carefully worded denials it looks like, and they're saying the president didn't discuss any sources or methods or military operations that are ongoing and that were secret.
The thing is nobody is saying he did that. What they're saying is that he was sitting with the Russian ambassador and Russian foreign minister and he got excited. He said, oh, you won't believe the intelligence I see. And in that, he then disclosed incredibly granular detail about some of this intelligence.
So, this, you know, he talked about the city where the plot emanated from, things that could help anybody kind of figure out how this is being collected and from whom it's being collected. And it's a problem because, you know, the Russian interest is not the same as our interest in Syria. They're working -- they're there mainly to prop up the government of Bashar al Assad, and, you know, allowing a country that's not a clear ally, that's for sure, that is in many ways an adversary in a lot of realms, into kind of -- insight into how it is collected is a problem.
On top of that, this intelligence came from an ally, a very close Middle Eastern ally that we're now reporting has previously warned the United States that if this kind of stuff was leaked, it would not share the information in the future. And it is an incredible breach of kind of espionage etiquette to do this, to share information from an ally that hasn't given you permission to share it.
COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, does the intent of the president in sharing this information matter? I mean, that he -- if he didn't intend to give up classified information, he just -- you know, he is inexperienced in these realms?
DERSHOWITZ: If he were a private citizen, it would because the espionage statute requires an intent to harm the United States. But as the president, he is exempted from any laws regarding classified material, although there's a process for declassifying. The separation of powers prevents Congress from really preventing the president from doing what he wants with classified information.
So, he's probably not guilty of any crime. Probably hasn't committed an impeachable offense because the Constitution talks about high crimes and misdemeanors. But he has put at tremendous risk -- imagine if this -- and it sounds more and more like it might be Jordan or Israel.
I know there were rumors early on that Israel said it was having difficulties thinking about whether it would share information. Imagine the information gets to Iran, Israel's most crucial enemy, or through Iran to Hezbollah. This is going to create a terrible problem particularly for the president as he's going to the Middle East this week.
COOPER: Yes. Kirsten, let's talk about the political problems for this White House. I want to read something that Bob Corker who chairs the Senate Foreign Relation Committee said, he's obviously Republican, who was a Trump ally during the campaign, he said, quote, The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order. It's got to happen. Obviously they're in a downward spiral right now and they've got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, and Speaker Ryan's office, that's obviously very critical coming from somebody who is, you know, on pretty good terms with President Trump and who's obviously a Republican, and Speaker Ryan's office put out a statement expressing a certain amount of dismay and wanting more information about it.
So, I think this is something everybody recognizes is pretty serious. And, often, I think for people watching the news and we have different controversy with Donald Trump and sometimes people will think, well, this is the worst, this is the worst thing that's ever happened. This is the worst right here by far. And it's --
COOPER: How many times has that been said?
POWERS: But the reason -- I'll tell you, the reason it is the worst is because he's put people's lives in jeopardy.
DERSHOWITZ: This is qualitative.
POWERS: In a very serious -- in the immediate and in the long-term. Because when you think about this, not only has he harmed relationships currently, you have to wonder what any other ally is going to think about in the future in terms of working with us.
COOPER: Gloria, the fact that the White House put out a rebuttal statement from Secretary Tillerson without key officials at the State Department even knowing, and basically rebutting facts that were not really in dispute, that were different than what was actually being reported is interesting.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You know, they're scrambling. And, you know, General McMaster came out and specifically said that "The Post" story as reported, which are two important words, was inaccurate. So, if there's one tiny little mistake in it, maybe it's inaccurate as reported. But the gist of the story it seems to me, nobody has denied.
And I think this goes to a larger question, Anderson, which is the question of the competency of the president. I think you hear a lot of people whispering about it here in Washington, and I think now, they're starting to talk about it out loud. Because if you have a president who doesn't know how to handle or talk about highly classified information to one of our adversaries, there is a problem.
COOPER: Yes. BORGER: And there's a big line in "The Washington Post" story that
really struck me which said that Trump seemed to be boasting about how great his intelligence is. And we all know Donald Trump by now, and he likes to kind of brag about things.
BORGER: And you can just see that occurring. I've got great intelligence, Lavrov, here is what it's telling me.
COOPER: Jeffrey Lord, I mean, you know, then candidate Trump railed against former Secretary Clinton being careless with classified information. How do you square with -- that with this?
JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, a couple of things. I mean I guess wish we would all slow down and take a good long look at what is really here, and none of us, clearly, at this point knows what's really here.
He was talking in terms of Hillary Clinton about, what, hundreds of thousands of e-mails that were put on an unclassified server. I mean that's a lot. What we're talking about here is one, "mistake." We don't even know that that's the case.
COOPER: But this was -- but the allegation is that this is code word level, which is incredibly highly. I mean that's as high classification as it gets and it was given directly to the Russians.
LORD: Anderson, what really disturbs me here is let's just say for the sake of the argument and I don't know this. Let's just say for the sake of the argument that's true. The thing to do would be to go -- there were only three people from the administration, as I understand it, in that room, the secretary of state, the national security advisor and someone from the NFC staff. And then we see in this "Washington Post" story, in the very first line, it talks about current and former administration officials knowing this. Well, how does that happen?
COOPER: Let me ask Matthew Rosenberg from the "New York Times" who's reporting on this. Matthew, what do you say to what Jeffrey is saying?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: First of all, Hillary Clinton's e-mails, there were a small, select few that can handle classified information. And there is no evidence that that was exposed to the public to an ally that was -- came from ally is expose to the public or that it went to a foreign government, never mind an adversarial foreign government, number one.
Number two, there was a note taker in the room. There were notes in this meeting disseminated throughout the government. These things get around. There's never just one or two people in the room when you're sitting with these Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador. There are number of sources this get around. I'm not going to get into further more how we know it.
ROSENBERG: But to kind of compare this to Hillary Clinton's e-mail, which was never publicized, it's like look here, the e-mails, this comes up time and time again. And the fact that we're talking about Mr. Trump, the President Trump, and the issue here, which is you're sharing foreign intelligence, incredibly sensitive intelligence, provided by an ally, who has already asked and told you that if you share this stuff, they're going to cut you off.
COOPER: Professor Dershowitz --
ROSENBERG: That's a real issue.
COOPER: -- what is the next step? I mean --
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, I'm worried about your show at 9:00 tonight. I'm very worried that Nancy Pelosi was just the kind of person to politicize this issue. It should not be politicized. We should put aside all the stuff about Comey, we should put aside the stuff about whether the campaign had any connections, we should -- as Americans, Republicans and Democrats focus on how serious this is in a nonpolitical way, damage control must occur first.
We must now react to it on the assumption that this information has been disseminated, that the worst case scenario is the source of information may have been cutoff. We may have to take drastic measures now to stop any kind of lap tops from getting on airplanes because this may speed up ISIS's need to bring this to fruition. We have to look forward, do not politicize this issue.
COOPER: Matt Lewis, well, how do you see this?
MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, look, the fact that this is Russia, right, he -- this -- he could have done this to another country, he could have revealed this information to a different country. It wouldn't have been quite as that or quite as shocking, quite as news worthy. So Russia --
COOPER: Right. And Russia and to the guy who --
COOPER: -- you know, has a phone call with --
LEWIS: Right. And on top of that, I think it does seem very clear that Donald Trump views Russia differently than most of us do. I think he sees them as more of an ally in this war on terror. But I think Gloria and Matthew really --
COOPER: Which does not look at the actual evidence on the ground in Syria?
LEWIS: Yes, in terms of what they're actually doing to fight ISIS in Syria. But, you know, to be completely speculative, but this -- the reporting seems to comport with this speculation. It seems like Donald Trump is the type of guy who likes to brag, and I could see a negotiation, we're talking, and I want you to like me, or I want you to reveal something to me. If I tell you something secret, that's almost like a negotiations ploy, a strategy. And I can see it working in business, right? A little gossip, a little something I know.
Guess what, though, this is highly classified information and I think that Donald Trump, you know, may -- I think inadvertently --
COOPER: Well as anybody's ever interviewed, they will tell you, he is desperate for affirmation from the person. I mean he wants you to like him. He wants -- I want to get reaction now from Capitol Hill. Some of it is scathing. CNN's Manu Raju joins us for that.
Manu, what are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Bipartisan concern, Anderson. A lot of questions from Republicans and Democrats tonight exactly what happened. There was a vote tonight on the Senate floor and senators were really buzzing about it, trying to figuring out what exactly the president revealed in this private meeting, even Republicans raising concerns.
You noted Bob Corker, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying earlier that it creates a worrisome environment to provide -- to potentially divulge classified information to the Russians.
[20:35:00] And earlier tonight, Anderson, I caught up with Senator John McCain who did also raise concerns that if this report is true, this is troubling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: It turns out, according to "The Washington Post", that President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russians last week. What's your reaction?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Well, if it's true, obviously, it's disturbing. But I think we've got to find out more before I could comment. I just can't comment on every news story, but obviously it's not a good thing.
RAJU: Will you be part of the investigation here going forward?
MCCAIN: I don't know. Let's wait and see what this was all about first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And Anderson, the question is also whether or not the Senate Intelligence Committee will get briefed on this matter or will look into it further. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr saying that he was not right in on this issue. He said he was just reading about this when he flew into Washington earlier today. So a lot of questions from members of both parties, even ones who get that sensitive classified briefing really don't know much about it at this point, Anderson.
COOPER: Manu Raju, thanks for that.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting one of the four congressional investigations into the Trump campaigns Russia ties.
Representative Swolwel, I mean, just first off, what do you make of this potential release of information by the president to the Russians?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D) CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Anderson. You know, the cost of the president's ties to Russia cannot be our national security. And if this is true, that is a price that we could pay. And if you step back and look at what happened here, the president is alleged to have given classified information to a foreign adversary, who I would argue, Anderson, when you look back at this a few years from now, people will ask why were the Russians even in the Oval Office after the attack they carried out.
So information given to a foreign adversary that could really affect our sources and methods and also put American lives at risk. So I hope that the administration comes to Congress this week particularly to our committee and updates us just as to what was revealed and also tells us is this a change in position in how we view Russia and how we share information with Russia because that certainly something that will affect our relationships with other allies.
COOPER: You know, there's lot that we don't know, but, you know, based on what Matt Lewis who work for "New York Times" was saying and what the what "The Washington Post" has also reported, it does sound like it was more of a boast by the president, than a particular desire to pass along, you know, specific information to these two Russians.
SWALWELL: I want to learn more, Anderson. I'm not going to jump to conclusions just yet, but remember this was somebody who fired the FBI director the day before the meeting because he was too much of a show boater. So if our president was show boating or grandstanding with U.S. intelligence in such a reckless way, you know, that something that we should all be concerned about.
COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
Coming up next, more in the entire controversy. The story today became a part of the question of campaign collusion with Russia, the House and Senate investigations, the firing of James Comey as the Congressman mentioned and whether the president recorded conversations with him and who knows, were these conversations with the Russians recorded? More on that ahead.
[20:40:29] COOPER: It is too soon to tell, but it would not be surprising if tonight's breaking news the report that President Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to the Russians underscores the doubt that people have about the larger Russia collusion probe.
New NBC News/Wall Street Journal polling show 78 percent support for an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate. Only 15 percent for Congress to handle it. As for the president's decision to fire FBI Director Comey, just 29 percent approval for that, 38 percent disapprove about one and three, 32 percent told polls Thursday don't know enough to say. And as for the president's tweets suggesting he might have recorded the his dinner conversation with Dr. Comey, the White House again today seven times by our count avoided answering our questions about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I assume you are referring to the tweet. And I've talked to the president, the president has nothing further to add on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did he say that? Why did he tweet that?
SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add on that. As I said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does anyone in this White House have audio recording of what unfolded during the January 27th dinner?
SPICER: I'm not aware of that. I think I made it clear last week that the president has nothing further on that.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS: Why won't you just explain whether or not there are recordings of --
SPICER: I think the president's made it clear what his position is.
JACKSON: That's not my question.
SPICER: I understand that.
JACKSON: Why won't you explain it?
SPICER: Because that's what the president's position is. Hallie, I've asked -- HAllie, I've answered the question over and over again in the same
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that is certainly true.
Back with the panel. Gloria Borger, I mean, you know, Gloria, there's this quote from Republican Senator Susan Collins, she currently said, after talking to reporters, "Can we have a crisis free day? That's all I'm asking." It does feel like virtually every day there's some new situation arising out of the White House that the White House is trying to clean up and has to come back out and make news statements about it, a new statements that offer often raise more questions.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And usually by the way, a lot of the confusion flows from the top down.
BORGER: I mean this is a president who tweeted about, you know, Comey better hope that the conversations aren't taped. And this is a president who sat in the Oval Office with two Russians and apparently said some things, you know, he shouldn't have said. And this is why, I talked to a couple of Republicans from the House today, who were saying to me, this is why we're worried that our whole agenda's going to be derailed, because we're not trying to do tax reform, for example.
And this is also why, Anderson, that you don't see a whole lot of Republican surrogates out there rushing to defend the president every time he does something like this because they're not sure they should. And that's why you saw a Republican like McCain, who's been quite critical, saying, OK, I have to learn more about this, because they're getting hit by this every single day. And they don't know what to think from day to day.
COOPER: And Kirsten, it's interesting, unlike the reaction on the day that Comey was fired, which they put out, you know, Kellyanne Conway, put out everybody on different networks to just try to get their message out then it turned out what they were actually selling was not with the president himself decided to talk about the next day which contradicted.
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY Columnist: Yes.
COOPER: Tonight, they sent out McMaster in a very carefully worded statement, that didn't really address the actual reporting, same statement basically from Tillerson. And now, they're saying, we have no more statements tonight.
COOPER: It clearly like in the bunker or to somewhere.
POWERS: Yes. Well, I also think it's interesting that you think of Dina Powell and H.R. McMaster, two pretty respected people who haven't really been tarnished yet in this administration and they're sort of like the last people standing and now they have been sent out and are probably going to be tarnished by what just went down tonight, which was very unorthodox and these sort of non-denial denials.
And so, look, this all starts at the top with Donald Trump and you can try different people giving different statements. But ultimately the problem is with him and he creates this chaos and then sort of sends these people out to try to clean up these messes. But until he stops doing the things that are causing the messes, no communication strategy is going to solve the problem.
COOPER: I mean, Matt, I guess the question is what point do Capitol Hill Republicans start to distance themselves from the president, or senators or congressmen?
LEWIS: Yeah. Look, I think Gloria made a very interesting point which is that this is almost a game theory. So if you're a Republican, if you're a conservative commentator or writer or whatever, or Republican politician, you're sort of balancing like is he Nixon? Is he McCarthy? Is he Reagan? Right?
[20:45:08] And there were conservatives like George Will who attacked -- now Reagan didn't have until late in his administration the scandal part, but there were conservatives like George Will who attacked Reagan and that look kind of silly and stupid because he became this iconic, you know, president and conservative figure.
Is he Nixon? It's unclear. And so I think that you're having people hedge bets and I don't know when the tipping point is going to come, but at some point, people will abandon him.
COOPER: Well, Jeffrey Lord, I mean if the president did what "The Washington Post" says he did, what the "New York Times" says he did and basically what H.R. McMaster has not denied that he did, nor has Rex Tillerson, if the president did that, gave code word level classified information to the two Russians in the Oval Office that then they could then go back and figure out the sources and methods and may put an ally's intelligence operatives in danger or whomever it may be and may affect intelligence sharing from our allies with the United States, would you agree that that is bad?
LORD: Well sure, if in fact that's exactly what he did. But, Anderson, I think it will also open up -- it will continue to open up the whole question of leaks and classified information. I mean let's recall the irony here, the Washington -- this is a "Washington Post" story, and while I was waiting to go on, I noticed that in March of this year, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep and some other Steven Spielberg announced they're making a movie of the "Washington Post" leak of the Pentagon papers, which were entirely classified and they're being celebrated for it.
So I would just suggest that I think there's some confusion all over Washington.
COOPER: It seems like the most confusion though is coming out of the Oval Office. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of confusion coming out of "Washington Post," because "The Washington Post" actually has a really good track record as does the "New York Times" as does CNN on their reporting on the Trump administration and the stuff we've reported has all flushed out as true and what they've come on T.V. to deny has turned out not to be true.
LORD: Anderson, let me just disagree with you. There were two stories from "The Washington Post", one that the attorney -- the deputy general threatened to resign, which he personally denied to a Washington news channel. And secondly, that Director Comey -- then Director Comey had asked for more resources and then the deputy director, the acting director says to the U.S. Senate committee that that's not so, that he has no memory of that, whatsoever. Those stories right away were have a problem with is.
So not everything that's written in the "Washington Post" is 100 percent accurate.
COOPER: Yes, go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: Look at this from the Russian point of view. So they've got, you know, they've got chaos in the United States government, people arguing about whether they hacked the election, or whether the transition team was in collusion with the Russians. They now have enough --
COOPER: They've got their foreign minister and their ambassador in the frigging Oval Office --
BORGER: Exactly. Yes.
COOPER: -- meeting with the president --
COOPER: -- and getting code word -- according to reporting, code word level classified information directly from the president of the United States in the Oval Office.
COOPER: You cannot make this up.
BORGER: That's my next point. They walk into the Oval and they get all this information, and they walk out, they go, wow, let's reverse engineer all of this and we'll figure out who the source is if they didn't already figure it out while they were sitting there. I mean so they're sitting there and kind of laughing at all of this and saying, "Well, this is better than we thought when we hacked."
COOPER: Thanks everybody.
Coming up, Matt Lewis and (inaudible) Richard Nixon, we'll be joined by former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. Also stay tuned at the top of the hour for the CNN town hall with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hosted by Chris Cuomo.
[20:51:24] COOPER: Jim Sciutto is back now with some new reporting. What have you learned?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, two former intelligence officials knowledgeable with the situation tell myself and Jake Tapper that the main points of "The Washington Post" story are accurate, that the president shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister.
The information did not directly reveal the source of the intelligence but intelligence officials tell CNN that there is concern that Russia will be able to figure out the highly sensitive source. There is some disagreement, I should note according to one of the sources as to how far the president went in revealing this information.
The intelligence relates to what is known as a sensitive access program or SAP which covers some of the most highly classified information and is protected with unique additional access and security protocol.
So that point is key there, Anderson, that you -- often with intelligence, you can have two differing opinions about the same thing. Did the president go too far? Will the Russians be able to figure it out based on what the president revealed of this particular information? There is concern that of the adversaries we have that Russia is so highly skilled at this kind of thing that their concern is that Russia could reengineer the source of the intelligence based on what they know and based on the nature of that intelligence.
COOPER: And thereby potentially endangering either an individual or individuals or a collection method?
SCIUTTO: Exactly. Or frankly an intelligence sharing partnership. Because it's a partner that did not want to know that it's sharing this kind of information with the U.S.
COOPER: Which is obviously -- you know, the U.S. relies on intelligence partners to share information regionally all around the world.
SCIUTTO: Exactly. And often you rely on allies. You have a very open sharing relationship with. The five Is (ph) being the most pertinent example. These are five countries, U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand. That if we know it, they know it. Then you have other relationships, France, Germany, Japan where you share a lot. But then you have relationships where you might share in certain situations and not in other situations and this being one of them, particularly sensitive.
COOPER: And we should point out, I mean, the U.S. has had difficult relationships at times with our allies in terms of intelligence sharing back when with the United Kingdom when there were Soviet spies who had infiltrated the British service and for years there was concern about, you know, the infiltration of that secret service. This is a whole other level of concern that the president of the United States might have revealed.
SCIUTTO: It is. And it's one that I've heard from foreign intelligence officials and foreign diplomats prior to today, the concern is if we share this, might it come out, frankly, of the president's mouth at some point based on the way he has discussed these issues both during the campaign and since his election? So here is an example of how that concern could be born out.
COOPER: Jim Sciutto, appreciate the reporting. Thank you very much.
Now, I want to welcome CNN's newest contributor, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean.
John, thanks so much for being with us. You've seen "The Washington Post" reporting and "The New York Times" reporting. You heard what Jim Sciutto said about the president sharing potentially highly classified intelligence with the Russian. What's your reaction?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, having been in government, having had classified status for a number of years, I can tell you it's hard enough for government employees who are experienced to know what line they can go up to and not cross. And the answer repeatedly is, Anderson, just to say nothing when you get in these areas. A president sometimes has to speak in this and generally has thought carefully what he's going to talk about when he goes into these areas. Mr. Trump has no government experience. And here again, it's showing.
[20:54:57] COOPER: The White House has tried to shoot down the story in -- as coordinated a way as they possibly can saying the president didn't discuss sources or methods with the Russians. We've heard that from the secretary of state, we've heard that from McMaster. That is not what "The Washington Post" actually reported. Do you see any parallels -- I mean when you hear a statement by that -- like that, which someone might call a non-denial denial, what stands out to you?
DEAN: Well, I think this is just damage control by the White House with our partner, whoever we got the information from. It's not unexpected the White House would come out and deny the stories or give the appearance of denial even if they're not hitting all the points. So that didn't surprise me. And I don't know what else they could do, frankly, other than try to minimize the scope of the story and narrow it down to what they think is appropriate.
COOPER: Does it -- is there a benefit in coming out and making a statement that doesn't really address the actual story? Because then obviously, you know, news programs point out immediately, well, you know, that was an interesting statement but when you actually look at the words, it's actually not referring to what the actual report said.
DEAN: And it is conspicuous. I heard it on the radio. I didn't even read it. I read it later. It is very obvious they are not banging away at the story itself. They are playing around it. I don't know if they think this will get confused in translation or what's going to happen. But it's not a very strong defense even.
COOPER: Republican Senator Bob Corker said today that this White House is, "In a downward spiral right now and they have to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening." Do you agree with that? And how do you think they could get a handle on this? Is it -- I mean obviously, critics will say, well, look, this comes from the top. But, you know, is it a question of changing staff, trying to get more control over who has access to the president, how information is disseminated? DEAN: Well, frankly, this is my biggest concern in Donald Trump getting elected is the fact that he didn't know what he was doing and then when he didn't surround himself with a powerful and experienced staff, he was asking for more problems.
To stop the mistakes, to stop this chaos and crisis a day, he has to get somebody in there who he will actually listen to, somebody who knows their way around Washington, knows their way around the government. Because the people who are there right now really do not know what they're doing. And it's fairly dangerous. And this is a very dangerous situation they've gone into today.
COOPER: John, I know Jim Sciutto has a question for you.
SCIUTTO: Mr. Dean, thanks very much. To this point with various mistakes in the past, most Republicans, really the vast majority of Republicans have been reluctant to call the president on it, at least in public. To see Senator Bob Corker today, who is often held his fire, talk about the White House being in a downward spiral, certainly a change.
I wonder if you in light of your experience have a message to Republican lawmakers about the specific instance of the president's here? Is there something that you would say to Republicans about what the president is believed to have done here?
DEAN: That was certainly a shot across the bow today from Corker. And I think he is leading the way in doing so. What historically has happened when Republicans have taken on powerful presidents like Mr. Nixon is they have come out on the good end of history and not the wrong end of history.
So when you can just obviously see mistakes and refuse to call them, you're inviting more of those mistakes. I think Republicans need to get their act together and not be so worried about the legislation they're not enacting because that's what they want to have happen. And this is just distorting and distracting all of Washington.
COOPER: And in the minute we have left, I mean the echoes -- I mean I guess I have to reference Watergate here. You have the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, also the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers said, if there are any recordings of this meeting between President Trump with the Russians, Congress needs to obtain them immediately.