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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
N.Y. Times: Comey Became Unsettled By Interactions With Trump; Trump: Russia Probe Is Greatest "Witch Hunt Of A Politician"; Trump Advisers Looking For An Outside Legal Team; Rep. Kinzinger: If Trump Has Nothing To Hide This Will Exonerate Him; Javier Valdez Shot Dead In Mexico. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired May 18, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:45] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: On yet another day of one breaking story after another, the Russian investigation there is yet more tonight, late reporting in the "The New York Times" and a phone call that two people briefed on it tell the "Times" the president made to then-FBI Director Comey. It is in many ways the back story to the video you're looking at right now.
You see Director Comey -- I mean, called over by the president (inaudible) behind the drapes during a ceremony, this in fact in January. We now know according to "The New York Times" that Director Comey was trying to keep his distance from the president because of the ongoing Russia investigation.
His discomfort in this moment that you're looking at right now would be justified someone later when according to "The New York Times" the president called Comey and asked him directly when federal authorities were going to put out word that he personally was not under investigation. That's just the latest item in a day that has seen many changes.
Jeff Zeleny is at the White House with more on that and more. So the video, the back story, I mean, they're really fascinating. What else can you tell us about "The New York Times" reporting from this evening?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, "The New York Times" is continuing to report more on the back story between what the FBI director was thinking in the moment. This is based on his recollection, the very detailed, basically journal he was keeping at the time, every time he had a meeting with the president. And Michael Schmidt at "The New York Times" is reporting that the FBI director just had a sense of unease about this.
And our Pamela Brown reported this yesterday that the FBI director was really, you know, leery of talking to the president. He said on more than one occasion that the president should reach out after the Justice Department, don't call him directly. But it's clear, Anderson, that the president was, and perhaps, still is, obsessed about the notion of him being square in the middle of this Russia investigation.
Of course, when he was firing the FBI director just last week, he said that I've been assured three times that he is not the target of the investigation. We're simply not sure if that's accurate yet. But going forward, it's just so clear that the president wanted his FBI director to be his man. It's clear the FBI director was his own man, Anderson.
COOPER: And today's been nonstop for the president. Hours ago he held a news conference where he discussed Russia for the first time since Special Counsel Mueller has been named. Give us some details.
ZELENY: Anderson, the president has been fuming ever since he was told last night that this special counsel was happening. Again, he wasn't asked about it. He was told about it. And, you know, it's one of the sort of limits of the president's authority, but that carried over this morning.
Of course, he called it a witch hunt, but in his news conference this afternoon, he was fuming and seething but he was also clearly trying to restrain his words when he was talking about Russia. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Because believe me, there's no collusion. Russia is fine. But whether it's Russia or anybody else, my total priority, believe me, is the United States of America. So, thank you very much. There was no collusion and everybody, even my enemies have said, there is no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, again, the president once again there doing something he's done before, trying to exonerate himself saying, "Even my enemies have said there's no collusion." Anderson, that's what this investigation is all about. You'll hear Democrats and Republicans say there's no evidence of it necessarily, but that's what they are looking into. And the FBI director, himself, said before he was fired that that's why this is a serious investigation.
So every time the White House has tried to diminish this, the Justice Department has said, "No, it's a serious investigation." And, Anderson, we're left at the end of all this, you know, four months after taking office almost exactly the president has now exactly what he didn't want at all, a special counsel looking into this Russia investigation from the very beginning.
Will it find anything? We don't know if it will or not. Important to point out, we do not know that. We do know this, it's hijacked his agenda, it's infuriated Republicans and it's leaving him on uneven footing as he begins to step under the world stage tomorrow, flying to Saudi Arabia, four other places over eight days and he is agitated by this. So that is what his mindset is tonight, Anderson.
COOPER: Is there any plan in the White House to try to get the president to stop continuing to talk about the special counsel and to maybe talk about his legislative agenda and to try to kind of use this as an opportunity to move forward?
[21:05:04] ZELENY: I think we could hear the beginnings of a pivot of that at the news conference today, talking about jobs, talking about how he wants to do things for America, for the voters who elected him. But all of those efforts always seem to be a ground back to -- a ground zero if you will, because he tweets something, like his tweet this morning. His staff was not expecting that calling it a witch hunt. They have taken a very measured approach to all of this, so it's his impulsive nature to comment on this.
And, Anderson, I think that is the question going forward here. As this whole special investigation unfolds, will he have the discipline to not comment on it in real time? On a newspaper story, on a, you know, on a news account. Will he be able to help himself? His advisers hope he will. I think it's very much an open question.
COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much, at the White House.
The man whose memo was depending on when you ask the president either central to or irrelevant to James Comey's firing briefed senators today, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and depending on what (inaudible) you asked there may be big news or very big news. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has the latest on that. She joins us. So, Sunlen, you're getting more details on the briefing from Rosenstein. What can you tell us?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. And many senators that we spoke to leaving that briefing, that two-hour briefing today really said that there were specifically a lot of questions to Rod Rosenstein specifically about that memo that goes back to last Tuesday that was written by Rod Rosenstein and released by the White House, held up then as their first justification for why FBI Director James Comey was fired.
Now according to Democratic and Republican senators coming down to that meeting today, they said that Rosenstein today revealed an important detail about the timeline of all of this. He told the senators, according to those in the room, that he knew one day before that President Trump intended to fire and was going to fire James Comey. And importantly, this is the important detail here, that he wrote -- that that was one day before he even wrote that memo justifying the firing.
Of course, we know that the White House constantly in the initial hours after the firing really leaned that on, on that memo as justification, but very clear that according to Rosenstein, Trump had already made up his decision before that memo.
COOPER: And this coming the day after Mueller's appointment as special counsel in the Russia investigation. How are senators reacting today?
SERFATY: That certainly the initial widespread embrace of Bob Mueller as a special prosecutor continues. Many people here today repeating that he's very well respected and he'll lead that investigation they believe with integrity. But, certainly, the work up here on Capitol Hill continues and many senators emphasizing, senators and members of the House, emphasizing that both sides on Capitol Hill will continue their investigation pushing forward on their own.
There started to be some concern, though, some worry about how the logistics of all of this will work given the fact that there are so many investigations going on up here on Capitol Hill. And some concern that Bob Mueller's new special counsel, his appointment and his own investigation could potentially imperil their own investigation.
One of those loudest critics was Senator Lindsey Graham today. He said, "Look, we probably shouldn't be holding our breath anymore, basically, that James Comey might be coming up here on Capitol Hill to testify." Senator Cornyn also saying that this is potentially a train wreck waiting to happen if they don't coordinate.
COOPER: All right. Sunlen, thanks very much.
Now one of the senators who Rod Rosenstein briefed, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he joins me now. So you were in the briefing today. What can you say about how it went?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: There were a lot of questions unanswered, a lot of pieces missing. Certainly the revelation that Rod Rosenstein knew about Trump's plans before he wrote that memo was extremely important. But the main takeaway for me is the need for continuing vigilance and oversight over this investigation to the extent that its independence needs to be assured.
Bob Mueller is a prosecutor's prosecutor. He has the guts and backbone to resist political pressure, but at the same time he needs resources and our job is to make sure he gets those resources and that his mandate is, in fact, unlimited as Rod Rosenstein has promised it would be.
And we need to proceed on the judiciary committee, on the intelligence committee, with investigations that will show what we can learn. The prosecutor will not produce a report with findings and recommendations. That's our job.
COOPER: You're sure that Mueller will not produce a report at the end of this whether -- if there's not illegality, he does not undercover illegal actions by someone in the Trump orbit, you think he won't actually produce a report that at least tells the American people what actually did happen even if there was no illegality?
BLUMENTHAL: He may produce a report. It would be unusual. And, in fact, Director Comey's comments without producing criminal charges led to the criticism of him because the prosecutor normally doesn't do it.
[21:10:08] So he would have to adopt the Comey standard.
COOPER: Which was widely criticized. BLUMENTHAL: Which was widely criticized. The Comey standard is, as I asked him at the judiciary committee hearing, intense public interest. Yes, this might qualify, but at the same time he would have to -- in effect make an exception to a longstanding rule that he has followed as a prosecutor's U.S. attorney in San Francisco and New York and as a member of the Justice Department.
COOPER: If Mueller does not find at the end of his investigation, however long it is, does not find criminality, does not find something illegal to prosecute, and therefore the story of what actually happened, of what contacts there were between the Trump campaign and Russia, doesn't get known from Mueller's side.
How -- would you be satisfied with that or do you believe the American people have to know even if there's no illegality whether -- what contacts there were, whether it was politically inappropriate, whether it was morally wrong? You know, there's a difference between something that's illegal and just something that is people would be upset by.
BLUMENTHAL: I believe very strongly that there needs to be some public telling of the truth here. Some --
COOPER: The truth has to come out. Whether it's illegal or not, you wouldn't be satisfied if all that happened -- came out of this as Mueller said, "You know what, there's nothing to prosecute."
BLUMENTHAL: As a U.S. senator and a public official and former prosecutor and a citizen, I want to know what the Russians did to interfere with our election, what Trump campaign's collusion was there and what obstruction of justice there may have been because there's mounting evidence of obstruction. No charges, no proof, but certainly evidence that needs to be pieced together.
And here's the essential fact, that the prosecutor likely will not produce a report, but the American people deserve to know and that should be the job either of the intelligence committee or the judiciary committee or an independent commission which I have long advocated. An independent commission much like we've had in the wake of national disasters, similar threats to our security or democracy, and the cyber attack on our democracy is -- as one of my colleagues said, an attack that should live in infamy.
COOPER: Obviously there's huge curiosity about what Director Comey wrote in those notes, on the note about his meeting with the president in the Oval Office where Vice President Pence was dismissed and Jeff Sessions was dismissed as well, that one-on-one conversation, but also in the other notes or memos that he wrote along the way detailing his interactions and his reported discomfort.
Is there -- now that Mueller is on the scene and they have a close relationship, is it likely that Comey will come and testify in an open hearing either in front of your committee or in front of the House committee and show those notes?
BLUMENTHAL: That is an issue unyet resolved and it's a critical issue.
COOPER: But it seems like Mueller could very well say, "Look, don't do that. Let's reset here. Let's look at -- let's make this part of the investigation."
BLUMENTHAL: That would be an issue of timing, timing and tactics. On that issue and immunity for any witnesses, there are a bunch of important such issues relating to timing and tactics. But, eventually, I believe that Jim Comey wants to tell the story in public and he will come before the committee.
COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, good to talk to you again. Thank you very much.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up next, our panel's take on all of this, also the president's claim that no one really liked Director Comey. He said that again today. Keeping them honest on that.
And later, how history might not exactly repeat itself, but might just rhyme, Watergate and can it be called Russiagate? The parallels and differences ahead tonight.
[21:17:20] COOPER: In addition to reversing his explanation yet again for the firing of James Comey, the president say repeated his claim that Director Comey was somehow widely disliked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Director Comey was very unpopular with most people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, as others have said on the program, agree or disagree with some of the director's decisions, he was, in fact, widely respected within the agency. Listen to Acting Director Andrew McCabe's testimony on the subject last week on Capitol Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity and it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, there's that. There's "The New York Times" reporting on Director Comey's extreme discomfort, attempts by the president, again, according to the "Times" to buttonhole the director on Russia. There's the spectacle, perhaps the most conspicuous human being in Washington trying to blend in with the drapes.
Joining us now is Gloria Borger, Van Jones and Jeffrey Lord.
So, Jeff, why is the president still talking about Director Comey saying he was unpopular when the acting FBI director said the exact opposite last week? Does it serve his argument?
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. Anderson, there's two different situations there. What you're talking about is within the FBI, although certainly I have heard from other FBI -- ex-FBI members who disagree, et cetera, but I'll cede the point.
However, the president is quite correct that in the larger political community -- I mean, as we got into this issue, and I began looking at all the Democrats that said he should either resign or he had no credibility or they needed to talk to him and they just, you know, they couldn't stand him. I mean, there's a lot of them out there, all on the record. So, in fact, he was not popular with members of Congress on the Democratic side of the aisle.
COOPER: Van, last night we saw a pretty measured response from the White House on this special counsel probe. Today, the president tweeting about it calling it a witch hunts. That doesn't -- doesn't that actually resonate with his base? I mean the notion that everyone is out to get him?
I assume that's why -- either he just has no control over himself and he just blurts these things out and he generally believes them. Or, you know, it's -- he blurts them out and he believes them and he's trying -- he believes it helps stir up the base?
VAN JONES, CNN HOST, THE MESSY TRUTH: I think he is correct in that. However, what's interesting is a different Donald Trump. When he ran, he was this tough guy, this guy who's going to get things done, this great negotiator. He was Trumpzilla (ph). He was going to make Washington, you know, bow down. He was going to drain the swamp. Now he's president snowflake, OK?
[21:20:02] Everything he said, "Oh, they're mean to me and they don't like me and I just don't understand it and it's not fair." So you have a big brand shift going on.
Now, it's still works with his base because his base says, "Listen, you know, this is our guy and now our guy's under fire." But for most people he looks increasingly bizarre. People who didn't buy the product at least thought they knew what it was. It turns out you got -- you don't have Trumpzilla, you got president snowflake.
COOPER: Gloria, it's also one thing if you are -- when you're running if you're going to be the tough guy for the people. And, you know, for their needs to get jobs to, you know, get security, whatever it may be, then it's another thing if you're the tough guy and you're talking about yourself all the time and how unfair everybody is to you.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as you, you know, showed earlier in the show, you're at a commencement speech about young students graduating and you're, you know, you're talking about yourself. But the president is petulant. I hate to say that, but it's true.
These tweets are all about himself. They're not about letting justice be served, letting Mueller go on with his work. And I have a question now, because as CNN has been reporting, John King and Jeff Zeleny have been reporting, that they're going to hire an outside counsel for the president, which is a good thing. He ought to have one.
And the question is whether anybody can save Donald Trump from himself and tell him to stop tweeting, to try and unite the country rather than divide the country, to compartmentalize, which is something Bill Clinton did very well, go on with the business of governing, try to get that done, and let the legal issues take their own path and keep it out of the White House.
COOPER: Jeff, I spoke to Wolf Blitzer earlier about an off-the-record meeting that journalists had with the president today and Wolf was one of them. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He clearly was not happy about the appointment of a special counsel. And I'm looking at my notes. The president said he believes it hurts our country terribly. He says because it shows we're a divided mixed up not unified country. He says the country has very important things to be doing right now. He mentioned trade deals, military, other issues. I think it shows a very divided country, he said.
And then he went one step further, Anderson, he said, it also happens to be an excuse for the Democrats why they lost the presidential election. That he says they should have easily won because he says the Electoral College was being slanted so much in favor of the Democrats.
So he was not happy. He's upset, but he's hoping that it will go forward and end quickly. As you know earlier in the day he tweeted it was a witch hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I guess I just think -- it seems to me that this is an opportunity for him to reset things to put this, as Gloria said, to compartmentalize it and just move forward on the agenda that he has.
LORD: Well, I do agree with that. I mean, this takes this off the board for the moment and he should just focus like a laser on his agenda. He's about to go abroad for, what, 11 days, whatever. This is a very, very significant trip. It's very important to him. It's very important to the country. It's very important to the world. He's going to be focused on that. And when we comes back, you know, health care and tax reform just laser on in on it.
The one thing I do want to say, Anderson, in terms of that commencement speech, he also said something that I know has inspired people. He talks about this kind of thing all the time about thinking big and never, ever giving up. And that you got to be subjected to the critics and all that sort of thing. That is inspiring. That's inspired a lot of his audiences over time and it was a good thing to be saying to a commencement.
COOPER: Jeff -- sorry, Van, I mean, the president went back also today to his original -- or the original White House version of events surrounding Comey's firing that it was Rod Rosenstein's letter on Comey that played a role in his decision.
How do you square that with his comments last week to NBC that it was his decision that he planned to fire Comey even before he got Rosenstein's letter? And why -- I mean, why would he be going back now to that today?
JONES: Anderson, trying to square comments by Donald Trump is like trying to square a golf ball. There's no square there. It's all circular. So there's no way you can figure this stuff out except that he is impulsive and erratic and possibly dishonest.
But what I think that we got to pay attention to now is you got to watch the conservative movement as they try to process all this stuff. You have an Ann Coulter who was his biggest fan stepping away from him now saying she's disappointed. At the same time, you have a Newt Gingrich doubling down and saying it's going to have to be all-out war.
And, you know, what we think matters somewhat, but what's going on in the conservative movement right now? Do they have any principles at all just with regard to honesty, forthrightness, you know, well-run organizations and institutions, or are they going to get pulled further and further away from their own principles?
[21:25:04] And I think you're starting to see some early signs. Ann Coulter was not crucified for criticizing Donald Trump. That was I think a significant development. If others start to move away, then he's got real trouble. Right now they're still holding with them.
COOPER: Van Jones, Jeff Lord, Gloria Borger, thank you.
Just ahead, how are House Republicans reacted to Rod Rosenstein's appointment to a special counsel? I'll talk to Congressman Adam Kinzinger next.
COOPER: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to brief House lawmakers tomorrow about his appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. As we said he briefed the Senate today. Many members of Congress said they were caught off guard when the announcement was made yesterday afternoon. Earlier, I talk to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger who supports the decision.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Congressman, you're one of few Republican congressmen in the House whose now publicly supporting the appointment of special counsel to investigate Russia. Do you think more Republicans are going to start to follow suit, and if so, is that trouble for President Trump?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R) ILLINOIS: Well, I think it's the right thing to do. I called for this yesterday morning. I said, "Look, this has gotten too partisan and basically any new piece of information people now put through their partisan stripes instead of, you know, what really happened.
[21:30:05] So I think you're going to see more people follow in terms of saying, "Hey, this is the right thing to do. Let's move forward." And I don't know if it's going to be trouble for the president at all. I think we need all the facts out there. And either the facts are going to say when it's all said and done, there was nothing here, or there may be something there and if there is, we deserve to know about it.
But my main concern right now, Anderson, is not so much 2018, 2020, it's the institution of government and people have lost so much faith in it that I think for a moment we have to put aside our partisan politics to do that, to do right.
COOPER: It's possible, though, that the special counsel will find that there was nothing illegal that was done, but certainly in the minds of some voters something wrong was done morally or just inappropriate but it doesn't cross a legal threshold and is possible that the special counsel would not even make a report in that case explaining what happened.
KINZINGER: Yeah, that's possible. If the special counsel comes to that then it really becomes a political question of somebody says, "Yeah, but I think he did something morally wrong or whatever." They would put that politics into action. If there's a law issue, obviously, then we get that and we understand where to go forward from there depending on what it is.
You know, I don't think no matter what happens out of this, 100 percent of Americans are not going to be satisfied that all justice was done. But I do think that putting it through an independent counsel like this, you're going to have more Americans that with whatever the end result is have more faith in the system that had it gone through Congress.
COOPER: When the president said that the appointment of a special counsel hurts our country terribly and labels it a witch hunt, is he just wrong? I mean, are those statements appropriate?
KINZINGER: I think he is wrong. I don't think it's a witch hunt. Look, if the president thinks there's nothing to hide in this, this will exonerate him. And this will -- look, President Reagan had a special counsel appointed on him and he was a very successful president for eight years.
The appointment of this does not indicate guilt. It's just to say we have some legitimate questions. What's great about our democracy and a lot of the times we get into this kind of trees in the forest and we forget looking at the big forest, what's a great about our democracy is we hold our leaders accountable. There are so many countries around the world that they can't do that.
COOPER: Interesting you talk about celebrating it. The president has not said explicitly he's-- he will fully comply with the investigations. What happens if he doesn't? Or do you -- I mean, do you anticipate the White House will?
KINZINGER: I think the White House will. In terms of what actually happens, I don't know. You know, I don't know the actual legal part of that, but I think they will. I think any look of obstruction or not giving everything to the independent counsel.
And, look, Robert Mueller seems like pretty much a bulldog. He can get the stuff he needs. You have obviously Rosenstein that is very focused on doing the right thing by putting him in place. So it's going to take probably a month or so, maybe two months, to get this up and running. But there's a lot of information that Mr. Mueller can compile and look at, get more information I think talking to General Flynn is going to be essential.
KINZINGER: Talking to Paul Manafort is going to be essential and put this all together and get an answer. We deserve it. We all do.
COOPER: I also want to ask you about what "The Washington Post" reported about what House Majority Leader McCarthy said in June of last year. In a transcript of conversation that the "Post" released, Kevin McCarthy says "There's two people, I think, Putin pays, Rohrabacher and Trump, swear to God."
Speaker Ryan says "This is an off the record. No leaks, all right?" Speaker Ryan went on to say, "What's said in the family stays in the family." The majority leaders said he was joking. Do you think it's possible that president was indeed on Russia's payroll?
KINZINGER: No, I don't think so. I -- look, we always kind of tease Dana Rohrabacher out here because he's very kind of pro-Russian in what he says and he'll admit it so we joke around with him about that.
I know Kevin McCarthy. I know his sense of humor and when I read that, I see a joke. I see him kind of chuckling trying to be funny. When you read it and you don't know his sense of humor, you can see where this comes from. But, look, I wasn't in this meeting but I can tell you, Kevin McCarthy did not believe that Donald Trump was on Putin's payroll.
COOPER: Congressman, appreciate talking to you as always. Thank you.
KINZINGER: Any time. Take care.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Just ahead, more than four decades later Watergate is part of the national conversation yet again. The comparisons are flying in the wake of James Comey's firing, the appointment of special prosecutor. A reminder tonight of how Watergate began and how it ended. Plus, I'll talk to former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean.
[21:38:06] COOPER: In the nine days since FBI Director James Comey was fired, a lot of people have been making Watergate comparisons. It's way too early, of course, to know how all of this will unfold or even if the comparison is at all valid. But it's a pretty safe bet that firing the man whose leading investigation into your campaign's possible collusion with Russia will stir up memories of Archibald Cox.
I mean, tweeting that you may have tapes of conversations with the FBI director you just fired won't make those memories disappear. With all the talk of Watergate these days, we thought we should have Randi Kaye revisit how it actually played out.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): June 17th, 1972 at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C, five men are arrested in the middle of the night for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. They are caught attempting to wiretap phones and steal documents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democratic officials today held a series of meetings to talk about tighter security.
KAYE (voice-over): Four months later, "The Washington Post" drops the bombshell that the Watergate break-in was the work of aides to President Richard Nixon. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story for the "Post."
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: The break-in at the Watergate headquarters was simply tip of a huge iceberg that was a massive campaign of political espionage and sabotage directed from the Nixon White House against President Nixon's Democratic opponents.
KAYE (voice-over): President Nixon later denies having any knowledge of the break-in.
RICHARD NIXON, 37th U.S. PRESIDENT: I first learned from news reports of the Watergate break-in.
KAYE (on camera): But there's mounting evidence those close to him are involved. At the time, "The Washington Post" discovered that president's attorney general was controlling a secret Republican fund used to finance intelligence-gathering operations against the Democrats.
(voice-over): Still, November 1972, President Nixon is re-elected in a landslide. A couple months later, two former Nixon aides are convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping. Soon after, White House Counsel John Dean is fired.
[21:40:03] In May 1973, the Senate Watergate committee begins televised hearings. Former White House Counsel John Dean testifies.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The Watergate matter was an inevitable outgrowth of a climate of excessive concern over the political impact of demonstrators, excessive concern over leaks, an insatiable appetite for political intelligence, all coupled with a do- it-yourself White House staff regardless of the law.
BERNSTEIN: Dean's testimony was absolutely essential in establishing Nixon's guilt. He was the essential inside witness against Nixon.
KAYE (voice-over): That same month, the president's former appointment secretary reveals this.
FRED THOMPSON, CHIEF MINORITY COUNSEL: Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?
ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, DEDUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT NIXON: I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.
THOMPSON: When were those devices placed in the Oval Office?
BUTTERFIELD: Approximately the summer of 1970.
KAYE (voice-over): President Nixon refuses to turn over the tapes of those recordings to the Senate Watergate Committee and the special prosecutor despite numerous requests. Instead, he offers to provide summaries of the conversations which special prosecutor Archibald Cox rejects.
Then in October 1973, the Saturday Night Massacre, President Nixon has the special prosecutor fired and forces the resignation of two attorney generals who had refused to fire him.
(on camera): Meanwhile, the investigation continued and so did the cover-up. It would later be discovered that Nixon was insisting his aides find a way to pay off the Watergate burglars using so-called hush money and continue to shield the White House through lies and false testimony.
(voice-over): There was also the issue of a nearly 20-minute gap in one of the White House tapes that had been subpoenaed.
NIXON: How it was caused is still a mystery to me.
KAYE (voice-over): The Supreme Court wasn't buying it. By July 1974, justices insisted President Nixon hand over the recordings of his White House conversations, despite his claims of executive privilege. Nixon delayed so the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Nixon later handed over most of the tapes.
BERNSTEIN: That smoking gun was found in the tapes, and the court ordered that Nixon turn over the tapes to the special prosecutor and those tapes established not only his guilt in the cover-up, but also his participation and knowledge of some of the substantive events as part of the campaign of political espionage and sabotage.
KAYE (voice-over): In August 1974, more than two years after the Watergate break-in, Richard Nixon resigned.
NIXON: Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
KAYE (voice-over): His vice president, Gerald Ford, was sworn in as president. Weeks later, he pardoned Richard Nixon. The only president ever to resign office was never prosecuted for his crimes.
Randi Kaye, CNN.
COOPER: Well, CNN Contributor John Dean, who you just heard from Randi's piece, served 120 days in prison for his part in Watergate. He joins me now.
So, John, the president already calling this investigation a witch hunt, nothing proven yet. But are -- in your mind, are there echoes of Watergate here in your mind with this type of response by the president, the combativeness over this?
DEAN: There certainly are. Anderson, every signal that Trump has thrown starting with the campaign and right on through as president has been cover-up. They are not efforts to disclose. And it's so easy to make these things go away if you have nothing to hide.
COOPER: I want to get your response to something the president said today when asked about the Russian investigation. I want to play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I wonder what you make of that, because that could be interpreted that he's leaving himself some potential daylight between him and his staff when it comes to Russia. Is it a wise move, in your mind?
DEAN: Well, it could be. Nixon did not lie about small things, but rather the big things and that's what caught him. It's hard to tell. Mr. Trump does not have a great record for truthfulness, as we've discovered. So, I don't know if he's parsing or his denial is just not true. But if it's -- if it were true, you'd think he could do more to absolve himself and get out of it.
COOPER: It does seem like he thinks he can -- at times talk his way out or convince people by talking, but the more he talks the more he seems to dig himself in or contradict things that he's had his staff members say. Did Nixon have that issue or -- I mean, I remember you talking about how Nixon's staff was far more sort of compartmentalized. Did Nixon -- did he have a lot of self-control?
[21:45:11] DEAN: He did a tremendous amount and he prepared heavily for every session that was in public or press conferences.
COOPER: So he wasn't winging it?
DEAN: He was not winging it. He was very careful and knew exactly what he was going to say before he said it. Trump is just the opposite. He is winging it and that's gotten him in some trouble.
You know, I think some of the things he's said, for example, in the Lester Holt interview, you know, these are going to come back and haunt him. No question. And if he has retained lawyer -- a lawyer, one of the things he's going to be told is stop talking about it.
COOPER: Well, I mean, that's what -- you know, every lawyer we've had on the program over the last several days, Alan Dershowitz, and others have said he's just got to stop talking, whether he's obtained counsel or not, he certainly is not taken that message because he's out tweeting about things today and going back to the Rod Rosenstein explanation that the White House first put out the day Comey was fired and the president just reversed the day -- the next day to Lester Holt.
DEAN: Anderson, one of the things about Watergate that people don't realize is Nixon was not a master criminal. He made just like Trump is doing, one mistake after another mistake and just deepened his problems. He had several exits where he could have not gotten himself so deeply involved in the cover-up. He chose not to exercise any of them, even after he was warned of his troubles. And he doesn't get a really good lawyer, criminal lawyer, until after he resigns. That's too late.
COOPER: Nixon didn't get a get a good criminal lawyer until after he resigned, really?
DEAN: That's right.
COOPER: Wow. That's fascinating. John Dean, thank you so much for being on. I really appreciate it.
DEAN: Thank you.
COOPER: Coming up, how the right-wing media is covering the mess the president's in pretty much boils down to one, it's a witch hunt, two, what about Obama, and three, oh, yeah, Comey might have been drunk. We'll explain that ahead.
[21:50:55] COOPER: President Trump isn't the only one calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt. If you turn on the president's favor T.V. channel lately, you'd think it was based in Salem, Massachusetts instead of Midtown Manhattan. And it's not just Fox News, the right-wing media in general, has adopted a strategy to try to convince its customers, including the president that there's no there, there. Brian Stelter has more.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Downplay, deflect and deny. Conservative media types are at it again, whipping up alternative theories to explain away the threat that James Comey poses to President Trump. The theories are all over the place from Comey broke the law --
AINSLEY EARHARDT FOX NEWS HOST: It is illegal, if James Comey felt like the president was asking him to end an investigation and he thought it was obstruction of justice and he didn't report it immediately.
STELTER (voice-over): -- to the suggestion that the press is focusing on the wrong president.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If Comey has these memos regarding his meetings with Trump, he's got to have them with memos -- memos with his meetings with Obama.
STELTER (voice-over): Pro-Trump hosts are even asking questions like, "Was Comey under the influence?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did you write the note, Jen (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... three drinks after three cocktails?
STELTER (voice-over): And some Breitbart writers say the so-called deep state of bureaucrats is really to blame for Trump's troubles. When denials don't suffice, right-wing talkers deflect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were the Democrats in the mainstream media when we had fast and furious, or the IRS scandal which I'll talk about in the beginning of the program, or Benghazi?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or Hillary Clinton --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or Hillary Clinton's e-mail?
STELTER (voice-over): Another tactic, just downplay it, say the story's not a big deal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would love to hear not have Russia in the news for a while.
STELTER (voice-over): Sometimes you can actually see the feedback loop between these commentators --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like a witch hunt. STELTER (voice-over): -- and the commander in chief. On Thursday, Trump tweeted that this is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history. He was echoing these voices on Fox.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has just become a partisan witch hunt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This really appears to be a witch hunt.
STELTER (voice-over): Trump's reelection campaign is now raising money off the controversies claiming sabotage, and it's believable to some of his fans because of what they're being told in this echo chamber.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a cultural war. They want to bully you into submission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And Brian joins me now. I mean as you say, it's deny, deflect, downplay.
COOPER: That's basically what the coverage is this.
STELTER: It's all about providing a counternarrative. The Trump White House helps do this. But, really, its pro-Trump media that help do this. Provide a counternarrative for people to share on their Facebook pages, to share on Twitter and to discuss with their friends.
I think we all feel more and more where in these echo chambers, where in these filter bubbles, where people are sharing views they agree with. Not everybody, but many people. And this week's coverage of what is decidedly an awful week for the president shows that once again.
COOPER: I mean they just ignored it on some nights. And it was interesting on some of the programs that shows on Fox to actually report on it, their ratings went down.
STELTER: Indeed. Fox is in unusual situation right. The ratings are quite soft by Fox standards. Fox's audience doesn't really want to hear this news. They used a really a smart word (ph) with all the intro, customers. This is about providing the customers what they want. That may not be the best thing going in democracy to be so focused on what the customers want as opposed to news consumers or more importantly voters, viewers.
COOPER: And I mean, Roger Ailes, whose death was announced today. Obviously, you know, created Fox News and that blending of entertainment and journalism was something he sort of pushed forward and made huge.
STELTER: Absolutely. Ailes changed America. You might say it for the better or you might say for the worst depending on whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. But he changed the face of television news in a way that will continue for decades to come even though he passed away this morning.
I was speaking with a Fox source today who said Ailes understood President Trump's base long before there was a President Trump, long before Trump even enter the race. Ailes understood there was a disaffected portion of the country to program to and that's what Fox continues to do. But nowadays, partly because Ailes created Fox, it's been joined by many other conservative media outlets that all reinforce this counternarrative.
[21:55:06] COOPER: Brian, thanks very much.
Coming up, remembering one of our colleagues, a Mexican journalist who covered the drug cartels and appeared on this program has been assassinated. We remember Javier Valdez, next.
COOPER: Tragic news about our Mexican journalist who reported extensively on drug trafficking. Javier Valdez was killed in Sinaloa, home of El Chapo's cartel. He was shot dead. The fifth journalist to be killed in Mexico this year.
Valdez has appeared on this program. Our producer on the field says he was the only person he found who was actually willing to go on camera to talk about the risk of covering drug cartels. He says that the staff of the publication that he founded lived in feared, but would never back down from his coverage.
Valdez was awarded the 2011 Press Freedom Award by the committee to protect journalists. Speaking at the scene where Valdez was killed, the prosecutor promised that his department would allow more protection for journalists.
Thanks very much for watching "360". Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts right now.
[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news because, of course, tonight it's a defiant president doubling down on the eve of his crucial first foreign trip. This is "CNN Tonight". I'm Don Lemon.
After an uncharacteristic silence from the commander-in-chief, you can hold back no longer and speaks out.