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Justice Department Names Special Counsel in Russia Investigation. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, and what must they be thinking right now at the White House? Barely eight day office since the firing of FBI Director James Comey, barely a day since reports surfaced of possible presidential obstruction of the Russia collusion probe that the FBI was running, barely hours since financial markets took a nervous dive and Republican lawmakers began cautiously demanding answers, a development that could change everything, the naming of a special counsel to lead the investigation.

He's Robert Mueller, the man James Comey succeeded as FBI director. He will have sweeping powers and a broad mandate.

Now, if he wants to investigate the president's conversation with Director Comey, he can do that. If he wants to interview the president himself, he can do. If he wants to demand the president's tax returns, he can.

To say this has the potential to reshape the entire story does not overstate where we are at this hour tonight.

Details on all of it on the program starting with chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

So, what exactly does this mean? Is the justice -- who -- he's in charge now? This is the FBI investigation we're talking about?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, in one fell swoop, in effect, the deputy attorney general has removed politics from the Russia investigation, at least from the attorney general's office, the enormous concern had been, first of all on the Hill, politics getting in the way, partisanship, but from the Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, an appointee of the president, even though he's been recused, still involved. Could they reasonably and without bias pursue this investigation?

So, you bring somebody from outside who has enormous respect from both parties and has enormous powers, that helps take away a concern that, frankly, many Democrats but also Republicans in private were beginning to express.

COOPER: So, is this -- the FBI agents who have been doing this investigation, they now report to Mueller? SCIUTTO: He's in charge. It is. And when you look at precedent for

this, look at others who have filled this kind of role in the past, they've been very consequential. Think Patrick Fitzgerald investigating the outing of the CIA agent Valerie Plame. That led to a conviction of Scooter Libby.

COOPER: Scooter Libby, yes.

SCIUTTO: You look at Ken Starr. Of course, that started, it was under a different rule which has now expired, the independent counsel rule, but similar role, started with Whitewater and, of course, led to impeachment hearings over Lewinsky and obstruction of justice. And then Archibald Cox, back in 1973, we know where that led.

When this has happened in the past, they have enormous powers and it often leads to very consequential events.

COOPER: And the president himself could be called to be interviewed or testified?

SCIUTTO: He can. A special counsel can call whoever he wants right up to and including the president, can demand documents that he wants. And also, and I confirm this because I spoke to smart people like Jeff Toobin before this, can also define the bounds of this investigation.

So, this is officially by Rosenstein's letter, an investigation of Russian interference into the U.S. election and other matters. It's up to Mueller to decide what those other matters are, to include things like the firing of the FBI director, for instance. Michael Flynn, a meeting between the FBI director and the president in the White House. These things very easily can become part of this investigation.

COOPER: So, just to be clear, the FBI investigation that's been going on, that was under Director Comey, that continues and that is what Mueller is overseeing?

SCIUTTO: He has oversight over the entire probe as it were. You're not going to stop any activity in the FBI anymore. You've got a whole team there, and that's something you've heard from the acting FBI director, as they search for a new director, that they're continuing their work.

And I have spoken to folks inside the bureau, and I believe that to be true, but the person who is overseeing this now is very independent- minded, Mueller.

And one other thing I'll note from talking to folks around Washington, in reaction to this, that, yes, Comey's out. If you wanted to replace Comey with someone who's like a Comey, it would be Robert Mueller.

Just a reminder to folks at home, these two were brothers in arms in a famous incident in 2004, that led to that famous hospital standoff at John Ashcroft's bed over domestic surveillance. Mueller was not in the room then, but they both threatened to resign over this, the two tremendous ties going back and similar reputations. COOPER: So, the new -- whoever the new FBI director is, will they

report to Mueller on the Russian investigation?

SCIUTTO: That's a good question. I'm not sure how the reporting goes. I'm sure Toobin and Dana Bash will know. But it strikes me that the most important overseer of this is now the special counsel.

COOPER: And the investigations that we've seeing on Capitol Hill from the Senate, from various committees, those --

SCIUTTO: Those continue and there's commitment there, but they don't have the degree of power that a special counsel has, right? You know, they don't -- special counsel can indict. You know, you can't get that from the Senate Intelligence Committee or the House Intelligence Committee.

COOPER: Huge development today.


COOPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks.

Just two days ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, quote, frankly, there's no need for a special prosecutor.

The question is, what is their thinking now and the reaction tonight? We've just gotten a statement.

CNN's Jim Acosta joins us now from the North Lawn.

So, what's the late word from the White House?

[20:05:02] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to imagine a worse 72 hours in President Trump's life. And what you're seeing tonight, Anderson, is a very different President Trump, a very restrained President Trump. He's not talking about so- called judges as he did after the travel ban. He's not threatening the former FBI Director James Comey as he did last week when he talked about tapes on Twitter.

Consider this very restrained statement coming from the president of the United States tonight on the tapping of Bob Mueller as special prosecutor, it says: As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.

Anderson, an incredible turn of events when you consider the last week. Remember, the White House put out a statement that essentially laid some of the responsibility for the firing of Jim Comey on Rod Rosenstein and here you have Rod Rosenstein earlier this evening tapping Bob Mueller to be the special prosecutor. Something that no administration wants to see happen at any stage, let alone less than 150 days into a presidency -- Anderson. COOPER: Did Rod Rosenstein, did he have to give a heads up to the

White House? Did he have to give a head's up to Attorney General Sessions?

ACOSTA: From what we understand, there was not much of a heads up before this announcement came down, from what I understand from talking to administration officials, Rod Rosenstein signed this order naming Bob Mueller as special prosecutor in the Russia probe. And then the White House counsel Don McGahn was notified all of this very and presumably he very soon after that informed the president of the United States that there is now a special prosecutor looking into all of this, and apparently, the same also happened with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that is almost more interesting than the White House not getting much advanced notice.

But apparently, after that order was signed between that time and when this was all announced to the world was less than an hour, according to administration officials. So, that explains why the statement from the White House came fairly long after this Rosenstein announcement bombshell.

COOPER: So, they only had less than an hour's heads up?

ACOSTA: Less than an hour's heads up, and that is not something that President Trump is accustomed to. He had no control over this situation. And that was apparent tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks.

Perspective now from our legal and political panel: Dana Bash, Jeffrey Toobin, Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz, Gloria Borger, "AXE FILES" host David Axelrod, who spent plenty of time certainly in the West Wing when the stakes were high, though never quite under these circumstances. Also with us, someone who has worked with Director Mueller, Phil Mudd.

Jeff Toobin, let me start off with you. How important is this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's enormously important, but it's also I think a rare moment of unanimity and relief, because there is literally no more respected person in American law enforcement than Bob Mueller. When you look at the breadth of his experience, 12 years as the FBI director, head of the criminal division in the Justice Department, U.S. attorney in Boston, U.S. attorney in San Francisco, appointed mostly by Republicans, but occasionally by Democrats, someone who has a reputation for integrity, for intelligence, for fairness.

I mean, this is someone that both sides can trust. However, it does mean that this is going to be a very serious and almost certainly lengthy investigation which cannot be good news to the White House.

COOPER: Right. The president's statement saying that he's looking forward to this getting done quickly. It's not going to get done quickly.

TOOBIN: Best of luck with that.

COOPER: Dana, you have new reporting on how this decision came about.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I'm told from a senior Republican source is that Rod Rosenstein, and I think this is quite probably obvious based on the decision, and the bombshell that we have tonight, the special prosecutor, was more and more agitated with the White House's actions and being put in the position that he had been put in, to the point where he was so angry, according to the source who was in contact with Rosenstein, that he was ready to, quote, pack his bags, last week.

And that with this decision, particularly on the heels of yesterday and the Comey memo becoming public, and more importantly the contents of that allegedly, of the Comey memo, he -- this is basically the perspective of this Republican source, throwing Donald Trump overboard.

Now, we're talking about politically, and maybe even legally, depending on how this goes. Wanting to separate himself, obviously, from this and say, look, you guys are on your own and you're going to have this guy who has an impeccable reputation and impeccable experience and so forth, obviously, in a bipartisan way to do this investigation.

The one other thing that this source says and we'll see if this comes to bear, is that the next big move on Capitol Hill and the next big public event was supposed to be James Comey going to Capitol Hill testifying publicly.

[20:10:01] COOPER: Right. Is that still going to happen?

BASH: It doesn't look like it.

COOPER: Really?

BASH: It is possible. It is possible. But this source says that probably what Bob Mueller will do is shut it down, meaning he will take stock of everything, including James Comey's memos, including what James Comey has to say, and perhaps prevent him or ask him, his good friend James Comey, not to go and testify. He's a private citizen now so he can kind of do what he wants.

Now, Evan Perez, who obviously is very steeped in these things, also notes if that happens, if James Comey says huh-uh, I'm not going to do it. That's another bad news sign for the White House because it means that Bob Mueller is going to incorporate the Comey memo and the Comey conversation with the president into his investigation.

TOOBIN: If I could just add one point to that. Comey almost certainly, when receiving a request to testify in front of Congress, will go to his friend Bob Mueller and say, look, what should I do?

BASH: Exactly.

TOOBIN: What do you want me to do? What can I do that will jeopardize your investigation the least? And Mueller, starting from scratch is almost certainly going to say, hold on, don't do anything. Let me get my hands around this problem and then maybe we'll see if it's OK to testify.

BASH: Gloria, what do you make of this development?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that it gives a lot of people some breathing room on Capitol Hill, the Democrats have been calling for a special counsel. Now, they have a special counsel whom they respect and who is respected on both sides of the aisle.

I was talking to a senior Senate Democratic aide who said to me, it's amazing to watch Republicans on the special counsel go from we don't need one to he's amazing. So, the Republicans are applauding this to a great degree because now they can go home to their constituents, they can say they are not ducking an investigation. They can say that the special counsel, well respected, is going to handle this and we need to get back to the people's business.

So, I think Mueller is an impeccable choice. I think people on the Hill believe that he is. I think they are going to want to conduct their own investigations and Jeffrey knows a lot about this because he was involved in Iran Contra and they're not going to be happy if Comey doesn't want to testify, to be honest, because they're going to want to continue their investigation. That's the Democrats, that is -- and they're going to want to continue to go out on their own so you may see a bit of conflict there.

COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, in your view, is this a good development?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, first of all, it's another self-inflicted wound, when the president blamed Rod Rosenstein for the decision to fire Comey and Rod Rosenstein responded the way Dana said he responded. Rosenstein made himself unfireable and he became the most powerful person in the Justice Department.

I would say this is a mixed blessing. For the American public, it's not such a good thing, we probably won't learn anything from this investigation, it's going to be secret, we will never hear from a witness, in the end, we will hear either two words: no indictment or we will hear an indictment.

But to the extent that we want to know what really went on, an independent investigation commission of the kind of 9/11 or the challenger, would have been much better for the American public. And I think probably President Trump could have avoided a special prosecutor if he had pressed for an independent investigatory commission earlier.

COOPER: Some Democrats still want an independent commission. Is that possible?

TOOBIN: Absolutely, it is possible. But as Gloria was saying earlier, the fact that you have a congressional investigation and a law enforcement investigation at the same time can generate controversy and conflict. The most dramatic example being: the issue of immunity. Congressional committees want to get people to testify, so they want to give out immunity. Law enforcement, they don't want to give immunity.

And the most dramatic example of this conflict came involved in the investigation I was involved in was in Iran Contra, where the Oliver North and John Poindexter, the White House aides, were given immunity. We in the Lawrence Walsh investigation prosecuted them any way. They were convicted but North's conviction was overturned by the Appeals Court because the immunity was said to trump the conviction.

That sort of conflict is very much possible.

COOPER: David Axelrod, can you envision any scenario in which much or his surrogates criticize this? I mean, Rod Rosenstein is the president's own appointee. Mueller obviously is very well-respected.

AXELROD: Well, having just embraced Rosenstein -- his counselor on the decision to fire -- to fire the FBI director, I don't think he's going to turnaround -- he's boxed, he's boxed.

[20:15:00] One interesting thing about this is, if the president truly believes what he said in his statement and that his campaign and his associate and he will be cleared by such an investigation, then he should welcome this, because if it had been the Justice Department that issued that statement, I think there would be broad skepticism about it.

Bob Mueller, if he were to conclude that there were no laws broken, that there was no such involvement, carries much greater credibility. But on this point of the commission on Professor Dershowitz's point, there are going to be many, many Democrats who are going to continue to push for this independent commission, because as he said, this process is going to be conducted in secret.

And it could be that if this is sort of a way of blocking an independent commission, that the country will never get the full picture of what happened.

DERSHOWITZ: There's another important reason, too, it's very likely no crimes occurred. When there was contact -- if there was contact between the Russians and the administration, it might be a terrible, terrible thing, but it wouldn't be a crime. So, Mueller wouldn't have jurisdiction to look into that. He can't generally look into things that might be politically bad or morally bad.

He is focused. He is Ahab, looking at that white whale. And he either gets the whale or he doesn't get the whale. He doesn't look at the entire seascape.

BASH: But, Anderson, let me just -- the political reality check here is that, as good for the country as an independent commission would potentially be, as much as Democrats as David Axelrod is saying, that they want it to happen, Republicans right now run Congress and they are breathing the biggest sigh of relief, I think we can hear it all the way up here in New York, because they feel that this is a big out for them.


COOPER: Because they're going to take it out of the public eye?

BASH: Exactly. Out of the public eye, and they hope what it means now is that when they go home and get beaten up about, you know, what's going on, they can say you know what? It's in the hands of a very well-respected prosecutor, Bob Mueller and I'm sorry. I don't know anything about it, I can't talk about it.

DERSHOWITZ: But -- I mean, the investigations aren't over. So they are going to continue to investigate and hold hearings, so it's not going to go completely underground.

BASH: It won't go underground, but it won't be broadened to the point --

AXELROD: One thing I'd say about this -- one thing I'd say about these congressional investigations is they're not very well-resourced. You've got on the House side, seven part-time staff, staff working part-time on this issue. I think it's the same on the Senate side. The special counsel will be fully resourced to pursue this investigation, and that's one reason why there was a lot of interest in seeing a special counsel appointed.

COOPER: Phil Mudd, you know Robert Mueller. What do you make of this appointment?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: Boy, on a personal and professional level, this is profound for me. I spent four and a half years in what they call Mahogany Road, the executive quarter of the FBI. There are six or seven offices. I had one. Director Mueller was down the hall, I must have been involved in 1,000, 2,000 meetings with him and decisions.

At a professional level, for every American who feels turbulence, they can sleep tonight. Thirty-one years in and around public service, I never saw anybody like him, ever. For any American who looks for a hero in terms of integrity judgment, I saw him do personnel, political investigations that involved corruption, I watched him make decisions over a thousand terrorism cases, when you had to decide whether to arrest a kid who was a potential suicide bomber or let the investigation go, I went with him in war zones and places like Iraq.

Anderson, I don't know what to say. I never saw anything like it -- judgment, character, integrity, humility. If you have a kid and you've despaired that there's not a hero in America, wake up, bright- eyed and bushy-tailed, Robert Mueller is it. Never saw anything like it.

COOPER: Jeff, I heard you talk earlier before about, you know, leaks and, obviously, this is something the president and a lot of Republicans have been focusing on. It's not likely that there would be a tremendous amount of leaks coming out of this office.

TOOBIN: Despite our best efforts. I mean, we will try, and, you know, the FBI will still be involved and the FBI is a somewhat leakier organization than anything affiliated with Mueller himself. I'm talking about lower level FBI agents. But, certainly, the odds overwhelmingly are that this investigation will be tight as a drum, and we will not know.

Now, we will. You know, you can see who's walking into a grand jury room and who's walking out. You can know who's testifying. Defense lawyers whose clients are subpoenaed, they can talk and often do. But in terms of knowing what's going on in this investigation --


COOPER: So, can you explain -- again, the special counsel, I mean, there will be an FBI director, how do they work together, who oversees whom, and can the special counsel direct FBI agents to do things?

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, they are -- the way it works is Mueller will be in charge of the investigation.

[20:20:00] He will go to the FBI and say I need the following resources, I need 10 agents, I need these technicians, and the FBI will almost certainly say, we'll give you what you want.

But the FBI director doesn't work for Bob Mueller. I mean, Mueller will be in charge of the investigation. But he can draw on the resources of the FBI, and --

COOPER: Does he have his own staff?

DERSHOWITZ: The FBI director should work for Bob Mueller. Let's be very clear, once J. Edgar Hoover was exposed as the thug that he was, we made it clear that the director of the FBI works for the Justice Department. Yes, he has an independent statue 10-year term, but they're not supposed to do investigations generally of potential criminal conduct, except under the supervision of U.S. attorneys or Justice Department attorneys.

And the special counsel is no different from any other prosecutor in the Justice Department, except he's not in the line of authority. He's been appointed specially, but he uses the same kinds of resources.

So I think we can expect the same from him. Now, remember that ten years ago, if they asked everybody about his predecessor, Comey, we would have heard the same praise, he was boy scout, he was fantastic, he was the greatest at this.

But he succumbed to power. And I think the difference is that the new director has learned a lesson. He's not going to do what the old director did, although the temptations are there to do it.

TOOBIN: To be clear, he will also hire lawyers who will be the prosecutors and he's already hired two from his firm, Wilmer Hale. And all three of them have resigned from the firm.

BORGER: Anderson --

COOPER: OK, Gloria?

BORGER: Here's a question that I have, which is that the congressional committees have a different job. They want to present this to the American people who are really concerned about whether there was collusion, the Russia hack and all the things that we have been writing about and talking about for these past months.

The special counsel wants to figure out whether any crimes were committed. He wants to prosecute, and again, to Jeffrey, this is what happened with Lawrence Walsh and the congressional committees on Iran Contra. And so, you have people with kind of different goals, because I think what you see, particularly from the Democrats in the Congress is they want to shine the light on this, one way or another, and a prosecutor really just wants to prosecute and doesn't want to shine the light unless he feels like he's going to come out with a prosecution.

COOPER: Professor Dershowitz was saying the special counsel is focusing on the illegality --

BORGER: Exactly.

COOPER: -- you know, where just moral, you know, doing something inappropriate or politically inappropriate or whatever, but it doesn't reach a legal threshold, that's what the Congress would like --

DERSHOWITZ: The leak about the Israeli spy is almost certainly not a crime. Now there is a crime, the people who leaked that information to "The Washington Post" committed a serious felony.

And, by the way, they're the ones who told ISIS that Israel has a spy in their midst. That didn't happen from Donald Trump. He told the Russians, but it was the leaker who's being praised all over the place, who is a felon, a criminal and should go to jail, who is the villain of this piece.

And I hope that the new prosecutor will look into that leak. That's more serious than the leak that occurred in the Oval Office.

COOPER: All right. Everyone, hang on a second. I want to bring in CNN's Laura Jarrett who was in the room at the Justice Department when all this came down today.

Laura, what was it like?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It was a pretty fast moving turn of events. I have to tell you, Anderson. The reporters here at the Justice Department were gathered very swiftly just after 5:00. We were told to meet for a briefing. We were given about 30 minutes notice. We were given in that briefing the statements from the attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, as well the statute on the special counsel to understand a little bit of the background and the order from the deputy attorney general himself.

I want to read to you just a little bit from his statement so you can understand sort of the context here.

He says in part: My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command and obviously, it is Rod Rosenstein making this decision because the Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused from anything related to the Russia investigation, the Trump campaign, the transition, back in March.

So this was up to the deputy attorney general to make this decision.

We're also learning a little bit about the chain of events that went on this afternoon. I'm told by a source that the deputy attorney general's office called the White House counsel's office, did not give them a heads up but rather called them after this order was signed, and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was also informed of this decision after the order was signed, Anderson.

[20:25:05] COOPER: Fascinating.

David Axelrod, you know, one of the panelists earlier was saying how this is kind of a situation of Trump's making, that by basically pointing to Rod Rosenstein as the reason why the FBI director was fired, then clearly Rod Rosenstein, from all the reporting, was angry, whether he threatened to resign or ready to pack his bags, he denied that he threatened to resign, but clearly he seemed annoyed by that. Then the White House changed their tune.

And now, it's Rod Rosenstein, lo and behold, who is going for the special counsel.

AXELROD: Yes, and I don't -- I mean, I don't know him. So, I don't -- I'm not going to sit here and say that out of spite he decided that he would take this step. But he clearly has felt the brunt of this, for a week he's been consulting with -- he's been talking to members of Congress and hearing from others and reading and understands this -- I mean, he understands the atmospherics.

And so, you know, he was -- when he became the deputy attorney general, he came heralded as someone who was praised by both parties as a guy who was independent. I think he values his reputation. He understands the situation.

What he did today was very much about protecting his integrity and the integrity of the Justice Department.

I just, Anderson, want to respond to one thing that Professor Dershowitz said, it struck me as I was listening to him, that had "The Washington Post" not disclosed the fact of Sally Yates' meeting with the White House counsel over General Flynn, we don't know if he would have ever have been removed as national security advisor. It was only after it became public that the president took action on it. Apparently, it was only after it became public that the vice president knew that he had been lied to.

So, I understand the sensitivity of leaks and the administration I worked for was tough on leaks for sure. But there's no doubt that some of these leaks have shown a bright light in places where light was very much needed.

DERSHOWITZ: I have no problem with "The Washington Post" publishing it or "The Times" publishing it. I do have problems with the people who work for the national security agencies leaking confidential information that may cost lives, may make it much more difficult to detect laptops.

Remember, the only way ISIS got this information is through the leak. And you have to be very careful when you leak, because you're taking the law into your own hands. You may not have all the information and know everything, we are still a country of laws and we have to make --

COOPER: You can't say definitively what Russia would have done with the information.

DERSHOWITZ: They're not giving it to ISIS. They're not on talking terms.

AXELROD: What about Iran? Professor, what about Iran?

COOPER: Bashar al-Assad has certainly done things which are actually helpful to ISIS in Syria. It's not as if Bashar al Assad is fighting a war against ISIS. He's actually -- I mean, he released --

TOOBIN: David is saying he's allied with Iran.

DERSHOWITZ: That's very speculative.

COOPER: Oh, we just don't know.

DERSHOWITZ: We know the first public disclosure of it came from the leaks from within the National Security Agencies and those leaks should be plugged.

BASH: Can we just come back to the broader question of the president and his actions and how his actions have consequences?

Now, I am not defending the leak or anything of the sort. I just want to point out what many people inside the White House and outside think caused this, which is the original Donald Trump attack of the intelligence community way back when, that really stuck in their craw, and he was warned, I can tell you, I know somebody who told this to him -- you don't mess with the intense communities, because they have ways of getting back to you.

Well, it got back to intelligence community that he talked to the Russians, and poof, it's in "The Washington Post."

TOOBIN: Can I answer one question that I know a lot of people, at least on social media are raising is, can Bob Mueller as special counsel be fired? The answer is yes, by President Trump. That is different from the independent counsel law which has since expired and it's a parallel situation to what happened under Watergate. Which is when President Reagan wound up demanding the firing of Archibald Cox, which became -- I'm sorry, Nixon. Yes, what did I say?

BASH: Reagan.

TOOBIN: Reagan, I'm sorry. Nixon.


TOOBIN: When Nixon demanded the firing of Cox, that became the Saturday night massacre.

DERSHOWITZ: But he couldn't fire him, only the attorney general could fire him and the attorney general quit, the deputy quit and Robert Bork came to the rescue of the president and fired him.

TOOBIN: But Mueller can be fired, that's -- by Trump. So that's just something --

AXELROD: He could be fired but that would be a catastrophic decision that would have made the firing of the FBI director look like a small event.

DERSHOWITZ: You would hope the president would learn something. He benefited nothing from the firing of Comey.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Benefited nothing at all. He got somebody even with more integrity and more investigative resources. So no benefit came.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, If you're sitting in the White House tonight, and you want to talk about self-sabotage and you want to think about the things that Donald Trump has done to himself, you can talk about the firing of Comey, and you can start with that and you can talk about his tweets, where he threatened Comey with the existence of so-called tapes.

And, reporting at CNN has said that as of last Friday, Rosenstein was not inclined to appoint special counsel. So what happened between last Friday and tonight? What happened is Donald Trump. And we've seen him be quiet on Twitter, because perhaps on the advice of counsel.

And I'm assuming now that he's getting lawyered up, if he isn't already, that after Donald Trump started talking about the tapes, after we learned about, you know, and then we learned about the Comey memo, et cetera, I think that you read that, if you're Rod Rosenstein and you think this is getting out of control. And at a certain point, you decide there is nothing else you can do, other than the big thing you didn't really want to do, because we know how long and unwieldy these investigations can get, but he did what he didn't really want to do which is appoint a special counsel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should point out --

COOPER: There are a lot of people clearly who would like to hear from Dir. Comey about the notes that he was taking about Pres. Trump. It seems like -- we may not have that opportunity unless he is willing to testify and come forward.

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: I do think he should testify, but I think the Congress is going to blow this.

There are -- and Gloria pointed this out, people are not focusing on the criticality, the difference between what Dir. Mueller will do. He's looking backwards that someone commit a crime that merits indictment by the Department of Justice. The Congress should be looking forwards, how do we protect the next elections, how do we talk to people including the former FBI director about cyber issue, how Russia's cyber intrusions implicated the Moscow in the previous election and look forward to protect ourselves in the next election.

I think he'll be fine with this. The problem is, if he goes down with the Congress, they're going to enmesh themselves and asking about what happened in the same terrain that Dir. Mueller is investigating. They can't separate out the investigation --

COOPER: We just lost the satellite link up. I want to expand on something that Dana talks about earlier about hearing a giant sigh of relief from Capitol Hill as lawmakers reached to the naming-- reacted to the naming of Robert Mueller.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill. So, a lot of Republicans have been saying there was no need for a special counsel or prosecutor, what are you hearing tonight?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I could tell you, Anderson it was getting harder and harder for Republicans to defend Pres. Trump in light of all these revelations that continue to come up, particularly in the light of the James Comey memos suggesting that the president may have tried to interfere in a Michael Flynn investigation.

Today, there was a softening among some Republicans in their opposition to special prosecutor and a lot even the members of the leadership are raising concerns about the Comey memo, and saying that there needs to be some investigation to get to the facts.

So tonight there is a bit of a sigh of relief, take a listen.


RAJU: Do you think the president was trying to obstruct justice in any way?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R) ILLINOIS: It's hard for me to say anything on that. We want to get more information, that's obviously a pretty brazen and big charge, but we deserve the answers to this and I think through an investigation, you know, people need to understand despite it's going to take a little bit now and take some time to get this set up, but we need answers. I look forward to Comey's testimony and any other information we can get.

RAJU: Are you concerned about this latest Comey memo?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: Of course. I'm going to get the facts, that's what we need to do.


RAJU: And Anderson, Cornyn also praising the appointment of Robert Mueller for this position, also suggesting that perhaps this could help confirm the new FBI director nominee. He thinks that Joe Lieberman will get the nomination, he got 100 votes.

Now Democrats are not there yet, but I am told by Democratic sources tonight, Anderson, that it's increasingly likely that they'll allow an FBI director nominee to go through without a major fight depending on who that person is, because they had said that they want a special prosecutor named before they agree to move forward on FBI director nominee.

So perhaps, one fight (inaudible) Anderson.

COOPER: Manu, first of all, I'm impressed by your skill at walking backward and asking questions to senators and Congress people the same time.

There are multiple investigations that we've been talking about in Congress on Russian interference, what happens to them now that the special counsel? I mean do they all continue on because there's a number of them?

RAJU: Yeah, there are. And they will continue on the question is exactly what happens, because it requires a fair amount of information sharing between the Intelligence Community and these committees on Capitol Hill in order to move forward. How will the new special counsel deal with these investigations on Capitol Hill? We don't know that yet, the Senate Intelligence Committee Leaders issued a statement tonight saying they expect to have a back and forth with Robert Mueller. We'll see if they agree to do that.

[20:35:18] But, I think we'll get an indication tomorrow too, Anderson, when Rod Rosenstein comes before the Senate and briefings all the hundred senators about what happen here. And I'm told that Democrats had planned a strategy session today to pressure Mueller, to pressure Rosenstein to name a special prosecutor, and now that he has that session tomorrow, Anderson, could be a little less contentious.

COOPER: All right, Manu, the Senate Intelligence Committee has -- joined statement. I want to read it out. "The appointment of former FBI Director and respected lawyer Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russian investigation is a positive development and will provides some certainty for the American people that the investigation will proceed fairly and free of political influence. The Senate Select Committee on intelligence will continue its own investigation and to the extent any deconfliction (ph) is required, we will engage with Director Mueller and our expectation is that he will engage with the Committee as well."

Just, why -- I mean, there's probably, you know, after the bombshell reporting last night that the president, you know, had told Dir. Comey or suggested Dir. Comey, couldn't he give Michael Flynn a break and the investigation.

I mean, surely, the American people want -- many will want to know did that in fact happened.

So, the only way they will know if that in fact happened, unless it was so egregious and it was obstruction of justice and there's criminality there, the only way they would know it happened would be open hearings.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That's right. And I'm still struggling with the word deconfliction, I'm not sure I ever understand -- I never heard that word before in my life.



COOPER: I've always --


COOPER: -- deconflicting of --

TOOBIN: I'm just --


TOOBIN: Struggling with that, but the question of -- how much public will -- the information will be disclosed. I don't think is quite as settled as Alan does.

You know, it is possible that at the conclusion of Mueller's investigation, he could file a public report. The independent counsel law, which Starr, you know, Kenneth Starr filed a report, Lawrence (inaudible) filed a report on Iran contra. It is possible that he could file a report based on his investigation.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: U.S. Attorneys have been much criticized for doing that. The job is to indict or not to indict. And what I'm afraid -- what I'm concerned about, is that Mueller has so much credibility, he may actually tell some of these congressional committees, please, limit your investigation, don't mess around with our investigation. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: -- people have the right to know whether the president of the United States tried to stop an investigation?

BASH: Yes. I think that they do. And that is why even though it had the potential to really hurt a president in their own party, Republicans, who run these key committees on Capitol Hill, particularly in the Senate, were trying to get James Comey and still are trying to get James Comey to testify in public.

And the one thing I think we should underscore, which has been mentioned here a little bit, is how close James Comey is to Robert Mueller, and the fact tat people like Lindsay Graham and the full Senate Judiciary Committee, he's the sub-committee chair. Were not able to set a date with James Comey..

And then suddenly poof, here's Robert Mueller as the special counsel, makes you wonder if that was -- there was connection.

COOPER: We want to get some perspective.

Now, on this day, May 17th, back in 1973, it was the first public hearing of the Senate select committee on the presidential campaign activities. You may no it better as the start of the Watergate hearings.

They were on live television. A little more than a year later Pres. Nixon resigned. There are some in the Washington who said this all happening again, making comparison. Story is happening in the Trump White House.

Joining me now, 44 years later to the day, two people who were major figures on Watergate, legendary journalist, Carl Bernstein and former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean.

John, I mean as someone who worked in a White House that was under siege by controversy that had to deal with a special counsel. What do you -- imagine the mood is like right now in the Western wing?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I imagine it's not a very happy move tonight. During Watergate, that Nixon White House was highlight compartmentalize, you need to know. And work went on when other sections were more upset than -- those who regret they affected by investigations.

So it probably in the Trump White House isn't quite that smooth. They're still working out their staffing and it's -- this has happened very early in their presidency, so I'm sure it's a real ripple going through the operation.

COOPER: People in the White House, do they now see the special counsel as the enemy? I mean is that how he was viewed back in Watergate?

DEAN: He wasn't to me. He probably was to some. Because while Nixon didn't want a special counsel, he actually threw some names out and tried to influence it. I left before the special counsel was appointed. And so, I wasn't really there, Carl actually covered that part of the final days pretty well in his book.

[20:40:07] COOPER: So Carl, I mean, A, what about that, and also, I mean you heard the response from the White House, kind of measured although defined statement from Pres. Trump tonight. Has this whole thing been put back on the rails for the time being?

CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: What's happened is that this country has gotten through a moment of intense danger and pulled back from a precipice, because the president of the United States has been out of control and talking in a way of defying and demeaning the rule of law. And he's now constrained by the rule of law.

So this is an immense event, and it occurred because Rod Rosenstein, who had been manipulated by the president, said enough. This cannot be. He tried to manipulate me in a statement that used me to justify the firing of Comey. Perhaps the attorney general of the United States was also complicit in that, Jeff Sessions. And therefore wasn't informed until about an hour after this occurred.

We have a whole new set of circumstances here and it includes, as Dana has pointed out, the Republican Party, but the Republicans especially, not only can they breathe a sigh of relief, but they have been in a position of having to defend a president who many of them believe is not fit for office. That's what these four months have been about.

The president of the United States through his tweets, through his public remarks, through his defiance of the rule of law has shown himself unfit for office and they have had to defend him and they no longer do. So there's a who new rule of law mechanism now in place, and that is what happened in Watergate, is that the rule of law prevailed. We now have structure in which that might happen.

COOPER: And John, I mean it will be so interesting to see Pres. Trump can resists the impulse it might have to criticize the special counsel to tweet about it, you know, late at night or early in the morning. What do you think would have happened back in the '70s if Pres. Nixon loved Twitter?

DEAN: I think actually Richard Nixon would have had trouble operating Twitter. He had trouble with his desk drawer, and those bottles where you had to push down to turn the medicine bottles. He would fight those, so I'm not sure he would be skilled at Twitter.

I had trouble with going there actually. Can I add a footnote to what was said earlier about reporting from independent counsel? You go all the way back to Jaworski, as special counsel, same status as Mueller will have, he did send a report to Congress, --


DEAN: -- went to the judge, Judge Sirica, got permission to provide the information to the House Judiciary Committee, and the judge granted it, the Grand jury information was sent up. So there's -- a long president for this material going up to Congress.

COOPER: Carl, you know, I mean as Jeff pointed out earlier, this won't take months, this will likely, I mean possibly take years, just like Watergate took years to finish, what effect does that have on the administration and the country in the meantime? I mean does it -- are the Republicans able to move forward with their legislative agenda?

BERNSTEIN: Well, first, all the president of the United States with what's been going on by his own making has been singularly unsuccessful in governing the country from the White House.

I'm not sure -- this should be an opportunity for him, if he's really interested in the truth. If he's really interested in governing, let him go ahead and do what the president of the United States does. I don't think that's a very likely event here.

We need to get back to the central principle of what is occurring here. We have an ongoing investigation of whether or not the president of the United States and his associates have colluded with a hostile foreign power, that's at the bottom of this.

And the other thing is the president of the United States has failed and resisted making his finances known and his dealings with Russians, ethno Russians, people in the former soviet empire, he's done an awful lot of business with them. That is going to be part of this investigation, in all likelihood. His sons have said, how much Russian money has poured into their family coffers? I would be amazed if this is not a road that the special counsel is not going to go down.

So now the president is in a position he has tried to resist and he no longer can effectively as he has until now.

DERSHOWITZ: But let me tell you why everything wrong to issue a report. Remember what a prosecutor does. He has a play thing it's called the Grand jury. He can put anything in front of the Grand jury.

[20:45:00] The grand jury hears only one side of the story. It's secret. No lawyers are allowed into that Grand jury room. It is a fundamental denial of basic due process for the prosecutor to come to any conclusion about what happened, the only thing he has the right to do is decide, what based on his evidence. There is probable cause to continue to have an indictment. Anything he does beyond that is ultravirus (ph) and every civil libertarian should be appalled at it because there is no fairness in the way the prosecutor gathers evidence. It's one sided, he doesn't gather exculpatory evidence, he doesn't hear from the defendant, he doesn't hear from defense lawyer, he doest have objections in the defense lawyer, it is a kangaroo -- not even a kangaroo court. It's an insult to kangaroo --


DERSHOWITZ: -- for the Grand jury a kangaroo court.

TOOBIN: I think that's an overstatement. But I do think that there are other interests that play besides --

DERSHOWITZ: That's right, fairness and due process.

TOOBIN: I guess, actually the public's interest in this result that are --


COOPER: -- another guest. I got to get. I'll get back to you guys in a moment. Joining us now a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Robert Mueller named special counsel, your reaction?

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) DELAWARE: Well, Anderson, I'm encouraged. His long record of service as a senior federal prosecutor and as former FBI director, suggests that he's exactly the sort of person that many of us had hoped would be named for special counsel.

He has previous experience stepping up to an overreach, an exercise of power by an administration and withstanding them. Under the Bush administration, when he and a number of other senior law enforcement officials threatened to resign if the president, the administration, didn't respect their concerns about civil liberty.

He's also a decorated marine veteran, and someone who I think will enjoy the respect of a very wide range of members of Congress.

So, I think this is a positive and important step, Anderson.

COOPER: So, senator to those Americans who want to know, did the president try to get Dir. Comey to stop the investigation into Gen. Flynn, they may never get that information unless Robert Mueller determines that a law was broken.

Do you -- is there any concern that the other investigations going on in the Senate, going on in the House, which have public hearings will not be able to inform the American people as much as they would like?

COONS: Well, as your panel has been discussing, Anderson, that is a possible path. There will be prompt conversations between Special Counsel Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee. I think they need to coordinate. And I would expect -- I would hope that the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings will continue and will move forward.

As you know, tomorrow, the entire Senate has in front of them in a close briefing, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. And there's a number of important questions which I expect will still be asked of him about the role that Atty. Gen. Sessions played in directing him to write the memo that led to Comey's firing and whether or not he exceeded the scope of his recusal, and about what the president's role was in the firing of FBI Dir. Comey.

As you just heard from Carl Bernstein, there's also a number of other issues that have not yet been brought in front of either the Senate Judiciary Committee or the Intelligence Committee, that I think are also going to be of concern to us, it is my hope to your point, Anderson, that at the end of this, there will be a public accounting of whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And it's important for public confidence in the rule of law and in Congress that that result be reached.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of, I mean, what kind of a timeline we're looking at in terms of the special counsel investigation?

COONS: Well, it's my expectation that the special counsel investigation will be fully staffed and resourced and the odds are that that will allow them to reach a conclusion sooner than they might have on the current trajectory, but it could easily take a months or well into several years, because the current FBI investigation has both a Counter Intelligence component and a possible criminal component. There's a lot of details to go through here, a lot of individuals to interview and a lot of documents to review.

Because of Former FBI Dir. Mueller's senior experience, I don't think it will take as long for him to come up to speed, to be engaged, and to be an effective leader of this ongoing investigation. But the end result maybe a year (inaudible).

COOPER: The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Grassly, who is against appointing special prosecutor said tonight, it doesn't matter if he thinks it's the right move. Does it matter?

COONS: I think what was striking was the number of my colleagues, Republicans, who did not step forward and say that we needed a special prosecutor, who did not step forward and say, particularly after last night's alarming allegations in the press, that we need to get to the bottom of this, that we need to understand whether or not our president has been inappropriately sharing highly classified information with our adversaries, Russia, in the Oval Office. Whether or not he personally tried to intervene and pressure the FBI director to drop an investigation of his National Security Adviser.

[20:50:27] I think it's striking. And I think in the end, the general public wants to know whether or not senators, both Republicans and Democrat, are going to work together in a responsible and bipartisan way to get to the bottom of this.

COOPER: Senator Coons I appreciate your time in this busy night. Thank you.

Just ahead, more reaction to all of tonight's big developments. And it's our first commercial break in an hour. We'll be right back.


COOPER: In the hours before the Justice Department named Robert Mueller as special prosecutor in the Russia investigation, many Republicans were resisting that step and urged caution over the allegations. Here's what House Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier today.


PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: There are a lot of unanswered questions. What I told our members is now is the time to gather all the pertinent information. We can't deal with speculation and innuendo. And there's clearly a lot of politics being played.


COOPER: Democrats were having none of it. Here's Congressman Elijah Cummings Ranking Member to the House Oversight Committee.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of Pres. Trump.


COOPER: Two different points of view, both represented here with the panel, Jeffrey Toobin, Dana Bash, Jack Kingston, Paul Begala, Amanda Carpenter, and Kayleigh McEnany.

Kayleigh, what's your reaction to the naming of Mueller?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, many of us had full faith in the Justice Department and Rod Rosenstein who I think proved himself tonight when he did appoint a special prosecutor. He clearly thought it was in the best interest for everyone. I think he was correct in that.

And this is good for the Trump administration for two reasons. Many of us have been saying there's no evidence of collusion, no evidence. Well this is going to force the Democratic -- the Democratic Party's hand when in fact you have an independent prosecutor coming out and saying there's no evidence of Russian collusion. They cannot attack the messenger here. Not only --

COOPER: Well, actually the prosecutor would just say there's either evidence of illegality or not, not whether or not there's collusion.

MCENANY: Right, right. But when he says, we do not a probable (inaudible) there are no charges that are going to be put forth. So I think that will be a good thing for the Trump administration.

Number two, the last eight years we have seen trust in American institutions demolished at the Justice Department when Obama's Attorney General Loretta Lynch meets with Bill Clinton, the IRS, Boeing, Tea Party groups, that State Department mishandling classified information. This will restore the American people's trust in institutions amid a highly partisan environment. Good all the way around.

[20:55:15] COOPER: But wait a minute. I'm sorry, but hasn't Pres. Trump gone after American institutions more than any president in recent memory? I mean the Intelligence Community, the Justice Department it really -- he goes after it all the time.

MCENANY: That's what he came to Washington to do to burn it to the ground, destroy that so-called deep state --


MCENANY: -- who is out there to attack him and leaking left and right --

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: -- we just cut through the crap here? There's no rational world where this is good news for the Trump administration. Donald Trump will be held accountable for whatever he did. But I want to know who's going to hold the Republicans accountable who enabled this man to go this far?

We knew from day one what kind of person Donald Trump was. We knew that he had no respect for anyone let alone the rule of law.

And so, I want to know what's going to happen to people like Reince Priebus who demanded everyone in the GOP pledge loyalty to this guy and now all these Republicans are hand cuffed to Donald Trump. Where has this gotten us? Where are the people, the surrogates that barked and claps like circus seals and praise of everything that man did that was bad? Investigation as far as the eye can see.

COOPER: Don't interrupt.

CAPENTER: Is that good?

COOPER: Let her finish.

CAPENTER: Are you feeling good about that?

COOPER: How about letting her finish and then you can --

CARPENTER: Well, I want to know. I think Republicans like you who have given your loyalty to Donald Trump, what has he done for you? He dragged you into a terrible plate.

JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Actually, if I look at what Donald Trump has done for me and middle class America, he has brought down the illegal border crosses by 60 percent. He has renegotiated trade agreements.

CARPENTER: Is it worth it?

KINGSTON: He brought unemployment down to a low level. He's restoring American confidence in jobs. He pulled out of TPP.


KINGSTON: -- NAFTA. And he's doing all -- I mean give him some credit where there has been credit.

CARPENTER: I'm not giving him credit. He is dragging down -- COOPER: OK.


COOPER: Hold on. Let's focus on the actual news tonight, Mueller. Paul, I mean --


COOPER: For those Americans --

CARPENTER: That doesn't mean --


COOPER: For those Americans who actually want to know, did the president of the United States try to stop Dir. Comey from investigating Michael Flynn, they may never get that answer because maybe there was not enough evidence to bring a case against it in which case we won't hear anything from Dir. Mueller.

BEGALA: We don't know that. Back to the debate that Jeffrey had with Professor Dershowitz, many independent councils feel a need for the public interest to then report and that's controversial, because usually supposed to speak with an indictment. But that type of thing might prompt a report.

I would say, Donald Trump ran on a pledge of law and order and that God help him he's going to get it. Mr. Mueller is a credible law enforcement official. And he is going to get to the bottom of it. He may be perfectly pristinely innocent. And I will accept that if that's what we find. But he is sweating bullets now.

The next big story is going to be that the president has to lawyer up. It's not a bad thing, it's a good thing. He needs to lawyer up right away.

The White House counsel doesn't represent Donald Trump.

COOPER: Dershowitz and Toobin were last night were saying he should do that now.

BASH: Yes.

BEGALA: -- yesterday.


BEGALA: And by the way, he may well have.

CARPENTER: Probably already has.

TOOBIN: We don't know. He has had a lawyer in the past, Mark Kasowitz in New York City.

COOPER: Right. TOOBIN: He's a civil lawyer. Whether he retained a criminal lawyer, I don't know.

COOPER: -- but he's the lawyer who is also representing the Russian company.

TOOBIN: What a coincidence.

KINGSTON: But, Anderson, let me point out something. We've had independent prosecutors or special counsels going back to 1875, Ulysses Grant, named the first one because of the whiskey ring or something going on there. There have been 20 since 1983. So, this isn't something unusual. Jimmy Carter had to deal with, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton --

CARPENTER: Ronald Reagan never had --


CARPENTER: -- Oval Office after our government --


KINGSTON: But let me say this.

COOPER: Let him finish. Let him finish. Congressman.

KINGSTON: Let me say this. As somebody who was involved with the campaign, I absolutely do believe they're going to show that there's no collusion. And what's going to happen then is some of the partisans aren't going to be as satisfied or make anonymous as my friend Paul. They said he can live with the verdict, but others are going to move the (inaudible). What about this, are they going to say, he didn't have resources he needed, he didn't have all the right lawyers, or the Republicans draw -- there were too many subpoenas back and forth --

BEGALA: He'll tell us. Mr. Mueller will tell us. Will you be of good faith? If Mr. Mueller feels that he's not getting the resources I believe he will sort of let the Justice Department know, maybe Congress. That's an important part. Senator Coons raised it. Senator Franken has talked about already. He needs to be properly resourced. But I think he will be.

KINGSTON: I believe he will --

MCENANY: And the Democrats --


BASH: He wouldn't have agreed to do this knowing him.

COOPER: The idea that --

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: The idea that, I mean is it a done deal that this will answer everybody's questions? I meant to the point that our panelists were making, it could end with Mueller determines there's no actual law that was broken. Democrats could still say, what about, you know, there are -- seems like there's acts of collusion. Whether or not they're illegal or not, whether it's a question of are they appropriate.