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James Comey will publicly testify again before the Senate Intelligence Committee; President boasted about firing Director Comey; President's speaking style has continued to get him into trouble; Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 20:00   ET


May 19, 2017

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, good evening. Thanks for joining us.

I'm about to utter the single shortest looped phrase in news today. Our top story is -- because, as quickly as we say it, it is made obsolete by the next top story and the next, and three more after that for good measure.

Tonight's a good example. Tonight right now, on top of the president boasting to the Russians in the Oval Office about that firing "nut job" Comey, in addition to White House lawyers researching impeaching and right alongside a battle, president leaves for overseas trip.

There's this, we've just gotten word that James Comey will testify, again, will testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee. For that, let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty at the capital. So, when is this going to happen? What do you know?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Anderson, that as of now no date firmly has been set. There's the expectation, according to the committee, that this will happen at some point after Memorial Day. That's what they specifically said in the statement that they released, announcing this tonight.

So certainly the indication is there that this will happen sometime in the near to short-term future. There had been some fresh concern up here on Capitol Hill that this would not end up happening in the wake of the special counsel. Bob Mueller being chosen this week but certainly they're moving ahead and significant that this is going to be happening not behind closed doors, not in a classified setting, but in public, on camera and an open setting, something that we understand that James Comey wanted to do himself.

Now, he's also been invited by two other congressional committees up here who are also investigating this and some registering their displeasure tonight, the senate judiciary committee, the ranking member and the chair out with a statement tonight saying they are disappointed that he turned down and declined their invitation to appear before their committee, saying that they are extremely disappointed and there's no reason that Comey can't testify as well, Anderson. COOPER: Now, do we know -- is Director Comey going to talk about, you

know, what -- I mean, I don't know if you know, what he's going to talk about but can he talk about the notes he wrote, the memo he wrote, what the president said to him, his concerns about the president or because there's a criminal investigation with Mueller, is that stuff going to be off the table?

SERFATY: Well, that's exactly the concern that so many people had up here on Capitol Hill. This concern that because the special counsel is now investigating and appointed that that might hamstring what he's able to say and I think that still is a very open question, looking forward to this committee testimony, we have heard from so many members of congress that they want to of course hammer him hard, exactly detailed, what he said in the memo, who he shared that memo with, of course those details very important.

COOPER: That's going to be fascinating testimony. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks now.

Our old top story from about two top stories ago -- or just about two hours ago, reporting that the president not only boasted about firing Director Comey, that he not only said that it takes the pressure off him in the Russia collusion probe but also that he said it to the Russians -- directly to the Russians in the Oval Office.

Reporting "New York Times" -- reporting by the "New York Times," the president did just that and more. He also insulted the man, trash talking him in front of the Kremlin's foreign minister and ambassador to Washington.

The headline of Maggie Haberman and Mathew Rosenberg story is, quote, "Trump told Russians that firing "Nut Job" Comey eased pressure from investigation." That is a headline.

They write, President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the FBI Director James B. Comey had relieved great pressure on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

The piece quotes the president as telling the Russians, quote, "I just fired the head of the FBI, he was crazy, a real nut job." The president also reported to saying, quote, "I faced great pressure because of Russia, that's taken off," end quote.

Now, remember, that meeting also featured the president sharing code word classified information on ISIS, gathered by Israel, that may have put lives -- that may have put lives at risk. The story hit just minutes after the president departed for an eight-day overseas trip.

It's unfolding with him aboard Air Force One on a 14-hour flight to Saudi Arabia. Imagine how fun that flight must be, right now, stuck on that plane, with that story just breaking and 14 hours to go.

The "New York Times" Maggie Haberman and Matthew Rosenberg join us. This is -- I mean, that -- when I saw that, the -- it's just fascinating reporting, what more did the president say in the meeting? MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: He said a

couple of things but among them, as you saw, he described Comey as a real nut job which is a phrase that he's used about many people over the last couple of years, usually on Twitter but sometimes in other discussions.

He said that this had taken great pressure off of him. That he was not under investigation, said that he would like some help on the issue of Ukraine from the Russians. That this is an issue that's important in America, made a joke that he was the only person the Russian ambassador had not reached out to a meeting, why didn't you call me?

It serves to that effect, he talked about his crowd size, I believe. A lot of these --

COOPER: He was telling the Russians about his crowd size at the inauguration?

HABERMAN: I think, I'd -- I don't know if it was the inauguration or if it was general --

COOPER: Or just in general his crowd size?

HABERMAN: And also --



HABERMAN: But, it's -- if it's --

COOPER: God knows he's talked about it at all, so, I mean --

HABERMAN: I mean, look, you -- this is -- a lot of this is stuff that we -- he's not saying much there that he hasn't said publicly but he is saying it there in the Oval Office with two Russian officials.

COOPER: And calling the former FBI director a nut job.

HABERMAN: And calling the --

COOPER: With two Russians.

HABERMAN: Right. So, that echoed stuff that the president had said privately.

Glenn Thrush and I had reported that right after Comey was fired. That the president had said to people there's, quote, "something wrong with him," unquote, or things to that effect but, look, you can have two interpretations of this.

You can hear it as adding to the sense that the president fired Comey because he was trying to end this investigation which the president has denied. You can take a government official, who we spoke to, who defended the president's actions, who was saying that this was actually a negotiating tactic, that the president was essentially trying to instill a sense of guilt into the Russian officials. You know, that -- given that this president sees everything very personally. That is believable that he would see it that way.

His speaking style has continued to get him into trouble. You can -- again, you can take the view that this was done intentionally as a way to please the Russians to say look what I did. The -- you know, the counter argument is that the pressure on him was by democrats because he says that James Comey had been a grand stander and so forth.

This is going to continue, this going on and on and on and on and, once again, it is information that is dribbling out of his (INAUDIBLE) what the Russian foreign minister had said had come up, he had said afterwards that the Russian nonsense or whatever he described it as did not come up. This is all problematic for the president.

COOPER: Yes. Matt -- I mean the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer isn't denying that the president side those things, correct?

ROSENBERG: No, he's not and a note about that 14-hour plane trip that Trump is on, we have a colleague on that plane and, in the final minutes, we're getting ready to get the story out.

One of our editors is like, uh-oh, we got to call that guy and literally (INAUDIBLE) as they were taxiing on the run way to say, "Hey, by the way, this is going to pop right after you get in the air."

So, I mean, I don't know what's going on in that plane but it can't be a happy place at the moment. Yes -- no, I think the White House they, kind of, went with what Maggie had laid out saying that this was a negotiating tactic and that they -- you know, Spicer kind of went off to us about how this is -- the real problem here are the leakers and leaked information -- leaked classified information.

That's their view and, you know, I think at this point they're having trouble -- throughout the week they denied multiple stories that turned out to be totally accurate and that started with our excellent colleagues in the "The Washington Post" reporting about Trump giving up Israeli intelligence in his meeting -- in this meeting with the Russian and the first response was totally untrue which is -- it was absolutely totally true.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, you know, they denies -- I mean, I don't know why anybody really -- I mean, when I hear a White House statement now, I don't know whether to believe it or not because there's just time after time after time, you know, the president has done something in a private meeting with someone and then it's clear he doesn't even tell his own people what actually happened and then they're told to go out and sell one story and then the next day, the president starts revealing a whole other side to the story.

HABERMAN: Right. There is a credibility issue. The -- a lot -- you know, to be clear, people are not there -- this is not compulsory work. If people don't want to stay in the White House, they don't have to. But it is true that a lot of people are there for the right reasons and they get sent out to go defend the president and then he changes his story the next day and then as we saw, in the case of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, the president changed his story back.

He initially said that he had fired Comey on that recommendation. Then he said, actually, I did it because of the Russian investigation and then he said actually -- yesterday, he said, actually, no, it was because of the Rosenstein recommendation and this is hugely problematic because again, Anderson, these are self-inflicted wounds.

I mean, essentially, if -- he could have even fired Comey, a lot of his critics say, and still been able to do it had they had an effective plan in place, had they had a consistent explanation, had they had a replacement lined up.

COOPER: But had they not said things which were not true about why they did it. I mean --

HABERMAN: Correct and, so, a lot -- if this really is a self- inflicted error, had he not blamed it on Rod Rosenstein who then felt the need to appoint a special counsel, I am told in large measure, because of that, because of eroded confidence.

This is all self-inflicted at some point and this president is now in his first foreign trip, there is going to be an issue that the White House is going to need the American people to believe what they say. And they will say, well, his supporters believe him but his hard base is about where his approval rating is right now, that's less than 40 percent.

COOPER: You know, Matt, I -- you think about all the generations of Russian spies who have worked to try to get into the head of the president, who tried to figure out what the internal workings of a White House are, this president essentially gives them this information in a meeting in the Oval Office, like, you know what, the president of the United -- they go back and say, you know what, the president of the United States fought the FBI director who was a nut job and that this frees him up.

I mean, I just -- it's kind of amazing, you think about all the spying that's gone on for decades and decades to get information like this and now it's just handed out, you know, on Twitter.

ROSENBERG: I wonder if they sit around in Moscow and, kind of, chortle about how easy this is becoming for them but, joking aside, there's a really serious issue here where the president came into office already, somewhat, at war with the intelligence community and that kind of quieted down for a little bit.

And we've seen the succession of events and that have culminated in, kind of, the past 10, 12 days that have just infuriated people in the intelligence committee, in the FBI, and in the CIA, and elsewhere and he needs those people. He needs him to give him information. He needs to them to tell when

he's wrong and at this point many of them don't believe a word that comes out of the White House, just like many in the public don't believe it and they're coming to people like us and I know a lot of people say, oh, these are just people with (INAUDIBLE) who are leaking, you know, they're not.

They're political appointees, they're career people but, what they are, are people who aren't particularly partisan, who don't have any -- they're not pushing an agenda in this case. These are people who're seeing things they think are wrong and are horrified by them and they realized that internally there's no way to stop it, so they're doing the last resort, they're coming to the press and try to make it public, hoping that will stop it.

COOEPR: I mean, Maggie, taking it just a step back, how significance -- how significant is this considering everything that's happened over the past week?

HABERMAN: We're grading on the news curve now, unfortunately, the lot this because there's so much of it. I think, it is pretty significant in terms of the fact that the president is going to have to address it.

That it, again, becomes something that we will see how consistently he explains what it was. Does it match up with what, you know, the government official defending it, explained it to us as -- we don't -- again, we don't know what it means but on its base level it is -- as you said, it's fascinating.

This incredibly unusual and surprising -- look, this president made clear he was he was coming to Washington to drive a wrecking ball through a lot of things and, so, to that extent it is not a surprise he and -- supported by, certainly, his son-in-law Jared Kushner on this and some other White House officials has, sort of -- had disdain for some of the conventions and form of diplomacy.

And I think that they would argue some of this falls in that. That's not what this is. This is an active investigation and he has been either unable to or unwilling to modulate his behavior accordingly.

COOPER: And -- I mean, again, Matt, you know, as we mentioned, it can't be lost that this story came out right after the president took off this afternoon.

I mean, can you say anything about the timing of the release? Was that just -- that's when you were able to go with the story?

ROSENBERG: I think it was -- that was happenstance. You know, we're not looking to, kind of, time stories to a trip or anything like that and in this case it's not like we're writing about his trip but it's going to create awkward questions for him.

You know, I imagine he'll get on well, to a degree, in Saudi Arabia. I don't know -- in Israel, there are going to be a lot of tough questions and not just about the meeting where he gave up their intelligence.

There've been statements from White House officials this week that have upset the Israelis immensely about the western wall, maybe, not being part of Israel, things like that. And I think this just sets that pattern that, you know, this kind of going out to the public without a plan, not having worked out.

You know, it's boring. We all get annoyed, most White Houses, Obama's White House, certainly, and the Bush White House to a degree, they're disciplined and they're kind of dull at times but there's a reason for -- there's a reason they do it. It's because if you don't, you just create problems for yourself and you take away from the act -- your actual job which is having to govern the country.

COOPER: Right, and remember there was talk -- what was it, 24 hours ago about this -- you know, the -- you could look at the appointment of the special counsel as almost an opportunity for this president to like say, you know what? That's the investigation, it's ongoing, I'm focusing on my agenda but here we are.

HABERMAN: Well, Anderson, it was an opportunity for him to do that, especially, because things move so fast these days that actually he could've done that but he can't stop talking about it because as you know, he -- when he feels aggrieved and when he feels personally aggrieved, he fixates on something and he obsesses about it and perseverates on it and it just becomes cyclical and that's what you're seeing here. He literally can't stop talking about this.

COOPER: Maggie Haberman, Matthew Rosenberg, incredible reporting. Thanks very much.

Reaction now from CNN's Sara Murray at the White House said, the president left for a 14 hour trip just this story break. I mean, I'll say it again, cannot imagine what's going on inside that plane right now.

Is any information coming out at all from Air Force One?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, as Matt Rosenberg just pointed out, we would all love to know what the discussions are like on this plane. I have to imagine the president is doing a little bit more venting about how this Russia story will not go away.

That's certainly what we heard from him earlier this week and other than this statement that we initially got from Sean Spicer, we really haven't heard much from them in the wake of this reporting but, one thing is clear, it's going to be very difficult for them to leave these stories that are haunting them behind and the American press behind even as they had hoped to embarked on this foreign trip, a five-nation foreign trip, a very ambitious agenda particularly for a newly minted president and really refocus on what the president wanted to talk about.

There were a number of things that he considered good deals that he could get done while he was abroad but it's pretty clear that these controversies at home are still going to haunt him even while he's overseas.

COOPER: When the president lands, what are his immediate plans?

MURRAY: Well, he's going to be doing some ceremonial things. He'll have some bilateral meetings but I think the attention is really going to be focus on the speech that he is giving in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

We're told by our excellent producer, Kevin Liptak, who has been on the plane, already, has landed in Riyadh, that as of right now, in it's current form, the draft of the speech the president is slated to deliver will not mention radical Islamic terrorism which of course is a huge shift from what we heard from this president on the campaign trail.

You remember him out there berating former President Barack Obama saying if you can't even name the threat, how are you going to combat it? Now, these remarks could still change, this is a draft. We know the president and his aides like to tweet things often up until the last minute but this speech that he's expected to deliver in Saudi Arabia could be a very different tone from what we heard from him for really over a year on the campaign trail, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, support for the President of the United States who, you know, on the campaign trail, talk about radical Islam to go to Saudi Arabia and blast radical Islam.

MURRAY: Yes. It is very difficult and, you know, we saw him at one point on the campaign suggest there should be a complete ban on all Muslims entering the U.S.

He said a lot of things that would be very jarring giving the setting that he's about to deliver this speech in. I think, his aides are encouraged by one thing, though, that the president has met privately with a number of the Saudis.

That Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and his senior advisor has met privately with a number of the Saudis and both sides really want this trip to go smoothly and that could ultimately end up being the president's saving grace in something like this but if there is a misstep, people might sort of just grin and bear it in a way they wouldn't otherwise.

COOPER: Sara Murray, appreciate the reporting, thanks.

Let's bring in the panel, Jeff Toobin, Laura Coates, Maggie Haberman is back, Mary Katharine Ham, "New York Times" op-ed columnist Charles Blow's here. So is Steve Hall, who ran the Russia operations of the CIA. Joining us as well is Jeffrey Lord.

Jeff, I got to start with you. Sean Spicer didn't deny the president said these things about director Comey, do you defend the president on this one?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I think, he's perfectly within his rights to say them. I mean, he's the President of the United States. He can say what he wants. COOPER: Right. He can say what he wants, is it smart?

LORD: Well, sure -- I mean, sure I mean, he gets subjective about this and as a matter of fact (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: Well yes, I'm not asking is it subjective, is it smart?

LORD: Is it smart? Well, I don't think it matters, either way, in truth, I really don't and, Anderson, I just want to say this.

COOPER: I believe that's a punt.

LORD: But, we're talking about all this Washington -- what? I'm sorry?

COOPER: I said, I believe, that's called a punt. I don't know much about sports but I believe that's a punt.

LORD: No, no. Anderson, Anderson, look, this is not, you know, some smoking gun. That's his honest opinion which lord knows if he hasn't said it to the Russians (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: His honest opinion is that the former FBI director is a nut job and that this relieves some of the pressure on the Russian stuff? That's his honest opinion. I have no doubt that that's his honest opinion but do you think that that is smart for a guy under investigation to be saying that?

LORD: Yes, I do and I'll tell you exactly why I think it's smart. Remember this statement from President Obama? "Tell Vladimir I'll be more flexible after the election", quote, unquote, to the Russian prime minister, caught on a high (INAUDIBLE) now, that is what you call collusion with Russians. Vladimir, for all we know, was flexible with Barrack Obama to help him be reelected, was there a call for a special prosecutor?


COOPER: Was there an investigation by the FBI? Was there a special counsel? No, and no and no and so I know -- I mean, yes, I know you got to bring up Obama every time or, you know, got to bring up somebody else --

LORD: I got it, I got it (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: Because, you can't really defend it in all fairness. You can't defend what the president of the United States just said.

LORD: I don't care -- I mean, I don't care what he says to the Russian prime -- to the Russians. I mean, he's the president of the United States. If he wants to say that, Barack Obama wants to say whatever -- if George Bush says I looked in his eyes (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: If he took a dump on his desk, you would defend him. I mean, I don't know what he would do that you would not defend. I mean, you're a loyal guy. I think that speaks well of you but I -- LORD: Anderson, this is offending eastern media elite sensibilities.

Right here in America, they all think, yes, the FBI director was a nut job and worse.

COOPER: Right.

HABERMAN: Well, he's not wrong that some people do think that. I got a lot of reader email, from supporters of Trump who said that's absolutely true.

LORD: Thanks, Maggie.

HABERMAN: I also got -- you're welcome Jeffrey. I also got emails from long-time republican officials in Washington who have worked with senators and so forth describing it as quote, unquote, "un-American." I'm not saying that's my word. That was the word that they used.

So, I don't think that there is a universality of opinion here and I think we still don't really know how this plays. I do think that he is correct that a lot of people -- because there is so much information coming out at such a high speed are tuning out most of it because they just hear the words Russia and Trump.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: How can you be an eastern media elitist if you just said take a dump on T.V., you know? I mean, that's like -- aren't you guys not make you one of the people?

COOPER: I meant dumping, you know, documents on the desk. That's what I was talking about.



TOOBIN: You know, can I just -- I mean, the whole nut job thing, OK, you know, that's perhaps intemperate language. Legally, what's much more significant is him say that he's relieved that the investigation is over and he's now free, there's another quote in your story where he says, "I'm now not under investigation anymore."

HABERMAN: That's not what he said. He said, "I'm not under investigation." Just to -- I just want to make sure --

TOOBIN: I'm not under investigation.

HABERMAN: Yes. I want to be clear on that. It's actually an important point because -- especially, because this was a read-out. I'm not clear on whether he was making the point that he has made 1,000 times publicly which is, it's not me under investigation and James Comey has told me that.

TOOBIN: But, he does say, "He's relieved."

HABERMAN: He said, "The pressure is off of him."

TOOBIN: The pressure is off of him, OK. That -- see that -- COOPER: The pressure's off because Comey's gone?

TOOBIN: Because Comey is gone.


HABERMAN: Because -- yes, and that is what -- that is our understanding of what he said based on the reading of this document and what a defender of the president's argues is that what he was referring to was the fact that -- and Spicer statement essentially says it, is that Comey was a grand stander and he -- which all of which the president had said, he was politicizing this investigation, you know, and that made it really hard and this investigation's going on regardless.

I'm not saying that that is actually what he meant but that is what he said.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But let's get clear, the president can say what he would like to say, however, there are also legal consequence with his statement --



HABERMAN: That's correct.

COATES: And, if you have fired the FBI director who's leading an investigation which you, whether or not you or your campaign members have colluded, you cannot be excused simply by the nature of the office that you hold. So, words still have significance politically and especially legally.

And so to give it a cart launch and say, "Well, I'm the president, this may have been politicking, this may have been different," it's a different turn and distinction when you have obstruction of justice overhead, interfering with witnesses or tampering, or trying to intimidate them in some way. These have consequences. Which is why I think the president perhaps should follow what the Miranda says which is you have the right to remain silent, do that.

COOPER: Well, that's -- but -- I mean, to that point Mary Katharine, I mean, it's amazing how many times -- you know, tonight we could have been -- had this not happened, we could've been talking about the president's foreign trip, about the issues he's going to be dealing with, instead we're talking about things he himself has said.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and he probably will not stop talking about it. There's always the hope that he doesn't have a global plan on his phone but we -- look, I mean, these -- many of these wounds are self-inflected.

I do think to Jeffrey's point, there has been -- there have many who are critics to the president who wanted to say the conclusion is collusion with Russia and I'm going to walk or run myself to that conclusion, right, and maybe getting there ahead of the actual facts.

What -- to me, this -- and I'm somebody who has been like, let's hold up and take a deep breath. To me, this week, two things are coming together which is the -- it's the convergence of the Comey story and the Russia story together in the person of the president and in his own personal conduct and to me that is what has turned a page.

I think you're right, Maggie, that many people are tuning out some of this, A, because they think it's just people out to get to the president and certainly there are some of them for political reasons but, B, because there's just so much going on but that -- to me, that's what turns a page this week. This is his actually behavior. This is two storylines coming together and he does do it to himself.

HABERMAN: And, in the office. I mean, that's the other --

COOPER: And, Charles, you know, to -- now you're going to have Director Comey testifying because that would've been a big question. Well, now that there's the Mueller investigation, is this going to go underground, we're not going to hear any details?

I mean, if Comey testifies as -- it seems like he's going to after Memorial Day and if he actually talks about what his note said, that's going to be another huge chapter.

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, but that's at least nine days. Well, I mean, we don't know -- the way -- the pace that things are being revealed, the language itself is losing its capacity to actually register how big each one of these things is.

We can't even digest what happened three hours ago because another thing has stepped on it. And I think that it is incumbent upon us to slow it down a little bit and just make people understand the gravity of what is happening.

COOPER: It does after a while to all seem so -- like normal and just, oh, you know.

BLOW: Right, and that is -- and if we allow that to happen, that is a disservice to the voters and the citizens of this country. We have to say, wait a minute, this is enormous. This is not a pass -- a, kind of, passing thing. This is not a simple, kind of, way a person communicates. There is an actual criminal investigation now under way.

Collusion -- if he had just held his peace and said, fine, go out and hang yourselves on this collusion thing because there's nothing happened and let these investigations proceed a pace, he would've done himself a big favor.

Now, collusion is only one of the issues at stake. Now, it is witness tampering. Now, it is, possibly, treason on the case -- in the case of Flynn. Now, it is obstruction of justice and these things now seem to have even more weight of -- depending on what we know at this point, then the collusion.

COOPER: You know, Steve Hall, I mean, you've worked -- you've investigated, you know -- the CIA worked on the Russian for a long time. I mean, it can't be lost that Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, who's at the center of this investigation, learned the president's true rational for firing Comey or what appears to be his rational for firing Comey in this meeting, even before the American people did.

When the president did that interview with NBC and was privy to classified information, according to earlier reporting this week, what do you -- when you see this -- from your intelligence background, what goes through your mind?

STEVEN L. HALL, RETIRED CHIEF OF RUSSIAN OPERATIONS, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Well, I like your comment earlier, Anderson. I think you would've been a good case officer if you wanted to be.

I mean, this is something that Russians usually have to recruit agents for inside, you know, inside the White House to try to get, you know, the secrets out about who doesn't like who and, you know, who the president is mad at. In this case, he -- you know, he --


COOPER: Just to interrupt.

HALL: I could -- that --

COOPER: This is actually what CIA officers try to recruit agents for to find out what's happening inside the internal workings in Putin's officers, this is what Russians try to -- this is what CIA officers and intelligence officers do overseas in recruiting people. This is the information they want.

HALL: Yes. Every single intelligence service in the world I think probably has, number one on its list of things to find out about is find out the plans and intentions of x leader in whatever country it is that you're targeting.

For the United States, it's going to be, you know, it's going to be Russia, what's going inside of Kremlin. You know, it's going to be the Chinese. It's going to be the Iranians. So, yes, everybody wants to be that proverbial fly on the wall. Everybody wants to have a recruited spy who's sitting at the table and telling them, "Oh, my god. Can you believe that President Trump is so mad at Comey?" Everybody wants that. In this case, the Russians didn't need it because the president provided it himself.

Look, the -- here's one group of people that are not tuning this out, Anderson, and that's the Russians and if you look at how they see all of these, they don't see it like we do. They don't see it through this western lens that they see it. They remember candidate Trump, when he was still a candidate, saying things like, well, you know, these sanctions, maybe, we can lift them. I mean, it's not such a big deal, so forth and so on.

Fast forward a little bit, he wins the election and then he says, you know, I'm not sure about this whole Russian's being involved in trying to mess with our elections. It could've been a fat guy in his basement. It could've been the Chinese. Who do we know? How do we know?

And now, he's in the Oval Office with guys that, by the way, the previous administration purposely kept out of the Oval Office because of the bad things that Russians have been doing for the past couple of years.

So, he's invited them in the Oval Office and it sounds very much like he's trying to reassure them, hey, I'm coming back to you. I couldn't before because I have all of these, you know, these political pressures domestically but, you know, I -- you know, now that I've gotten rid of Comey, the nut job, the pressure's off and, you know, I can get back to those things that I was hoping to do during my campaign.

I'm not saying that that's what Trump is doing but that's the way the Russians are seeing it.

COOPER: Here, we have much more to talk about, much, much, much more tonight including, late word, that even as the president departs on his first overseas trip, some of his legal team have begun preparing in case he's impeached. They've been looking in to. We have reporting on that and late reaction to all of this from a member of the House Intelligence Committee as news continues to break tonight in Washington.


[20:32:14] COOPER: We got so many breaking stories right now from Dir. Comey testifying to the president reportedly boasting to the Russians about firing him or at least characterized him as the nut job. And top of all that, there's this, word that White House lawyers have begun early preparations for possible impeachment proceedings or at least (inaudible) CNN's Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joins us now with details on that. What are you learning Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we're learning that White House lawyers have begun researching impeachment procedures. Now, this is simply an effort to prepare for what officials still believe is a distant and unlikely possibility that the president will have to fend off attempts to remove him from office.

Two people brief under discussion tell CNN that the research efforts are informal and that being done abundance of caution. The White House officials believe that the president has the backing of Republicans allied in Congress, and that impeachment is not in the cards according to the people who've been briefed on the legal discussions.

We should note that even Democrats have tried to calm some of this impeachment talk this week out of concern that it's premature, but lawyers in the White House counsel's office have consulted experts in impeachment and have began collecting information on how such proceeding would work. A White House Officials tonight denied that lawyers are actually doing any of this, by the way, Anderson. COOPER: Does this mean the president actually needs to hire an outside lawyer or do we know has he? Because that mean to some believe experts have said he certainly should.

PEREZ: Right. Well, that is a discussion that's actually being had at the White House. There is a broader internal network to bolster the president's legal defense, which is become a lot more complicated with the Justice Department appointment of the special counsel to pursue this investigation into media meddling in the 2016 election.

Now, earlier this week, close advisors to the president including two lawyers who have served as served surrogates for the president, Michael Cohen and (inaudible) visited the White House to discuss his needs to hire some personal attorneys for the president, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Evan, thanks very much. Back now with panel. Let's start wit Jeff Lord.

Jeff, I was a limb crude, before, I apologize, you know, I like having your voice on here, I think you're an important voice to us. I'm sorry I was a --


COOPER: OK. And you defend the president very well and that's your job. What do you make of this? I mean is it -- you know, one can read into this, oh, you know, that impeachment word gets thrown around, certainly by Democrats a lot this week, but it was certainly it seem to be prudent for the president to at least or have people looking into this kind of stuff?

LORD: Yeah, I think in the modern era -- every president -- I mean I think the last thing the Clintons thought when he got elected was that he'd wind up being the second president in history to be impeached.

COOPER: Right.

LORD: I think since Watergate -- I think in truth that this is always hanging out there for modern presidents because they make so many enemies, et cetera.

So, I don't see anything wrong or abnormal -- by the way, in the legal sense, politically speaking though, Anderson, I noticed that Nancy Pelosi, of all people, said don't go there yet. I do think that there's a potential mammoth political backlash to this. Let's just supposed for the sake of the argument, that he were actually subjected for a vote of impeachment in the House or in -- or hearing some of this.

[20:35:15] I can only tell you the thousands of people that showed right here at Harrisburg the other week, who a local reporter said to me from a paper that endorsed Hillary Clinton that they were more enthusiastic than ever and almost defiant, and was texting me this while I was in black tie White House correspondents dinner where the attitude about Pres. Trump was considerably different. I mean if I were in the White House, I'd almost say, please do, help me. COOPER: Jeffrey, I mean, I think Jeff raises an interesting point which is -- I mean there's a potential huge backlash for all of this. I mean if there is no illegality after all of this, you know, Republicans can rightly say, wait a minute, you know, our agenda has been derailed, there's been all this focus on it and there's no "there" there.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure, but we're at the beginning of an investigation and we don't know which way it's going to do and if it turns out that there are no prosecutions, perhaps it will be -- you know, it will not be as damaging as it appears now.

But let me just correct one thing that Jeff just said, not every president researches impeachment. Not Barack Obama, not George W. Bush.

LORD: No, I said they should.


TOOBIN: Jeff, no, they shouldn't because it's pointless. Jeff, nobody was going to impeach, George W. Bush. No one was going to impeach Barack Obama. I don't think any --


TOOBIN: Let me finish.

LORD: -- elected either.

TOOBIN: No one is -- the possibility of impeachment now exists for Donald Trump. It's unlikely, but lawyers are paid to worry and it's appropriate for them to do some preliminary research, it doesn't mean he's going to be impeached. He should also have a personal lawyer. Hiring a lawyer doesn't mean you're guilty of anything, but, you know, this is a real situation. There is a special counsel investigating Donald Trump's campaign including his behavior, including some pretty darn good evidence that Trump himself committed obstruction of justice, of course he should have a lawyer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should not even get into a conversation about saying if there is no "there" there. There is some "there" there already. Whether or not these are impeachable offenses or a different issue, but there is "there" there with Flynn. He was approved as the National Security Advisor. He was, you know, already kind of compromised by his illegal activities. There's already "there" there, there is "there" there from what the president has said himself about how he has dealt with both Flynn and with Comey. There is "there" there already. Whether or not that rises to impeachment offenses, whether or not Republican or prosecutor --

COOPER: Prosecutable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- prosecutable, whether or not Republicans would draft articles of impeachment based on that, that's a different question. But there is already "there" there.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There is -- the remedy for whatever there "there" you think is already there is firing of people, as it happened with Flynn or on midterm election. Those are the remedies we have for that. The next one is the impeachment.

I do think there is plenty of loose talk about ways to remove a president. I don't think that has not just political backlash potential but just -- it's unhealthy for the country, because there were many people who did elect this president. And they did it for legit reasons.

I disagree with their conclusion. But they didn't feel they had a better option, and this is what happened. Particularly, I'm not blue wall space that Democrat lost. And so, making those folks feel more alienated by jumping to the punch is a very bad idea. But this is another self-inflicted White House thing.

They're (inaudible) to their own (inaudible). You can look up impeachment. You can learn about impeachment. You can worry about impeachment. Don't tell everybody you're doing it because it gives everyone license to talk more about impeachment, but I don't think we're there and I don't think it's healthy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And remember, impeachment is really premature at this stage, because you don't have the other I word, a full investigation at this moment in time.

The reason you have a special counsel, the reason you're having this -- he have talk of obstruction of justice is because we want to have a full investigation.

It's not about is there "there" there, and Dr. Seuss soliloquy, it's about the idea of whether or not their investigation complete yet, what happen? Who knew it? Who did what? When did they do it? Why is it important? There's the fact-finding mission of Congress and then there's the criminal investigation that will tell us, excuse me, is there a problem? Should there be an impeachment proceeding going on? We're not there because we haven't had the full opportunity for investigation which is really the key of this entire thing.

TOOBIN: All of which is true certainly. But we do have a special counsel appointed. That's a big deal.

And, you know, Barack Obama went eight years without anything like this happening. This is 120 days. I mean, so, yes, impeachment is premature, but this is not just, you know, idle talk at this point. There is reason to be very concerned about the propriety of what went on in this White House.

[20:39:59] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. You know, I think we obtain the same thing in the sense that I think before you can really have a fruitful discussion on impeachment and a removal of the president of the United States or any person. We have the same deference we give to people who are not the president of the United States, and you should as a prosecutor, right, to say, what are the investigate -- what are the facts here? He's not immune to being criticized or being -- that's having done something wrong. But neither is the common person area happy with this, we need to say, listen, let's have an investigation first.

COOPER: I keep thinking about just how rough it must be for people working in the White House right now. I mean as you said, there's a lot of good people who are serving their country and want to make a legitimate contribution and believe in the legislative agenda, want things to go well obviously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there are also a lot of people who believe in him personally and who are not just there because they want to channel everything he says. And some of those people are concerned about what he's doing --

COOPER: But just in terms of the pace of things, it's got to be -- I mean --


COOPER: It's got to be brutal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, I feel really terrible for most of the people working in the White House.

COOPER: -- the hours alone, the days must blend one day into the other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the hours are terrible. I think that -- I keep thinking about the Clinton process of the special prosecutor and Bill Clinton did hire a personal attorney in the summer of 1993, he hired David Kendall. David Kendall still works for the Clinton as I understand it.

But that White House was basically set up almost like it was walled off. There was a side that was dealing with that investigation and there was a side that was dealing with the government.

This government isn't even anywhere near staffed to where it should be. This White House is not staffed to where it should be. The extended government is not staffed to where it should be. They're not able to handle all of this, and the amount of time, because it has become this really toxic environment, a lot of them all do feel angry at the media, even if they don't share the president's view that everything is fake news. But some of them spend an enormous amount of time either undercutting other people, or going on these leak hunts that are incredibly silly and a waste of time.

While they are dealing with fending off real questions, now a special counsel, from Senate investigators, from the FBI, this is a very, very long list. It's a lot and you have to feel bad for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I say this? That I keep trying to summon sympathy for these people in the White House and I'm failing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not in anyway feel like I should be sympathetic in any way, in any way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't -- you know, I think that -- I think watching people, most of whom in this west wing who didn't work for him before, and yes, some of them opposed him before but some of them really just want to see the country to be OK. And some of whom thought there was a chance to pass an agenda whether people agree with that agenda or not, I think that on a human level you can feel bad for people who are probably going to see their finances drain now personally, because all these people are going to have to get lawyers themselves. I think in the same way that people felt sympathy for Clinton allies who went through the same thing in the '90s. I think that it is understandable for people who just showed up --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm reserving sympathy for all those people who are going to be hurt by his policies and not the people in the White House.


COOPER: All right, we got to take a pause for a moment again. We're going to have, yet, another breaking story, big one. You'll see an exclusive when we come back. Also, reaction from Capitol Hill to this Friday's, well all the headlines, we'll hear from a member of the House Intelligence Committee when 360 continues.


[20:47:06] COOPER: Well, there's no such thing as casual Friday these days, just an avalanche of news nearly every single day. And this next story is potentially another big game changer.

CNN has learned about intercepted Russian communications, the picture they paint of Moscow's relationship with fired Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and how alarming it was to the Obama administration.

CNN's Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger they are breaking this story. They join us now. Pamela what did you learn?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, tonight multiple sources telling CNN that Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated such a strong relationship with Former Trump Adviser Michael Flynn that they believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team. That those conversations deeply concerned U.S. Intelligence officials and it even impacted what intelligence the incoming administration was privy to, because some Obama intelligence officials acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn.

COOPER: Gloria, one former -- you talked to one former official. What did they say?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I did. I did, Anderson. One former official told me that -- the way the Russians were talking about Flynn was regarded as what they called a five alarm fire from early on.

The Russian conversations indicated they regarded Flynn as their ally sources told us.

Now, officials also cautioned that the Russians might have exaggerated their sway with Trump's team during those conversations. Flynn's relationship with Russia developed throughout 2016, we're told, months before Flynn was caught on an intercepted call in December speaking with Russia's Sergey Kislyak, the ambassador. That ultimately led, of course, as you know to Flynn's firing as Trump's first National Security Adviser.

Anderson, we've reached out to both Flynn's lawyer, who has declined to comment, and the White House which said this. "We are confident that when these inquiries are complete, there will be no evidence to support any collusion between the campaign and Russia. Top former Obama intelligence officials and members of Congress briefed on the matter have all said the same thing."

COOPER: Pamela, we're also learning I understand for the first time details about Flynn's conversations with the Russians.

BROWN: That's right. One major concern was the subject of conversations between Flynn and Kislyak that took place shortly after Pres. Obama slapped new sanctions on Russia for meddling in the election. And sources tell my colleague Jim Sciutto that Flynn told Kislyak that the Trump administration would look favorably on a decision by Russia to hold off on retaliating with its own sanctions. And then, as you know, the next day Putin said that he wouldn't retaliate.

Now sources also say that Flynn told Kislyak that the incoming Trump administration would re-visit U.S. sanctions on Russia once in office. As you know, Trump had angrily denied any collusion with Russia this week. He denounced the newest investigation now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He has called that a witch hunt, Anderson.

[20:50:03] COOPER: Despite all of this though, Gloria, Pres. Trump he's remained steadfast in his support, hasn't he?

BORGER: Yes. He's very loyal. And the most obvious example of this is according to that memo by James Comey which we just learned about, in which he asked the director of the FBI to let the investigation of Flynn go completely.

COOPER: Pamela Brown, appreciate the reporting. Gloria Borger as well.

A lot to discuss, again, this is a night of a lot of breaking news. Let's get some reaction from Capitol Hill. Joining me now Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I'm wondering what your reaction is to that new CNN reporting which we just learned that Russian officials were bragging about the strong relationship being cultivated with Michael Flynn and that they thought they could use him to influence Donald Trump. And, again, Gloria Borger at the cautioned that they may have overstating their influence on him, but nevertheless, that's what we're learning.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yeah, well, my first reaction is, you know, yet another day with yet another story originating in the media. It really -- it's remarkable to me how much talk there is that is going to the Washington Post, that is going to the New York Times, that's going to CNN.

You know, those of us who are on the Intelligence Committee, actually doing the investigation, are sometimes a little jealous about the flow of information that the media gets. And obviously, you know, there's a whole topic there. That's of some concern.

But, let me say this about that. I guess it doesn't shock me in the sense that we know that Sally Yates went to the White House and told the Don McGahn the counsel at the White House that this guy was potentially blackmailable by the Russians. And we know from reports that parentally the Former President Barack Obama warned Donald Trump directly against hiring Mike Flynn. And, you know, there's any number of other issues that have come up around Mike Flynn. So I guess as much as this is -- I guess something of a scoop for you guys, it's not all that shocking to me.

COOPER: We should also point out that Sally Yates -- I mean I interviewed her Monday. Sally Yates, allowed, took the unusual step of allowing the White House to review the intelligence, to review the information that she had. She made it available to them. It took them, I think, eight days from the time that she made it available or from the time that they requested. But nevertheless, they were able to review that. So, whatever the intelligence was, the White House would have gotten a sense of it because they were actually able to go and look at it.

HIMES: Yeah, that's right. And I mean these points to the larger topic of just the sort of bizarre closeness with which apparently the president continues to regard Michael Flynn, a guy who is very plainly a liability to him for four or five different reasons, some of which we haven't talked about here tonight.

You know, going back to why in God's name did the White House keep this guy on for 18 days after Sally Yates went to the White House and said this guy is a national security risk. So it's one of the many weird and unanswered questions in this investigation.

COOPER: It's also interesting because the White House even after Michael Flynn was allowed to resign, the day after I think it was, Sean Spicer said, look, it had -- there was no illegal behavior by him. It wasn't any behavior. It was just the fact that he had lied to the vice-president. There was a loss in confidence. But there was no actually -- he had done nothing wrong previous to that, which is interesting. And Sally Yates says there was underlying illegality. There she obviously won't go into any details.

Michael Flynn has requested immunity through his lawyer in exchange for testimony. Do you think he should be granted immunity? HIMES: You know, as these connections and questions about Michael Flynn mount up, the answer to that question more and more is, boy, what else does he know?

And, no, you know, and, by the way, it's quite possible. I don't have any particular insight into the FBI investigation. It's quite possible that he's a target of that investigation. If that is possible or certainly if that is true, there's no way Congress should grant him immunity.

And as you know, Anderson, you know, immunity is granted when a proffer is made and a prosecutor or Congress gets comfortable that there's a big fish out there to be gotten. You know, in the criminal world you give immunity to a low level criminal in hope of using that testimony to get a much higher level criminal. Obviously, it raises some very serious questions here.

But, no, at this point, look, unless there's a good reason to grant him immunity, it's unlikely it would happen.

COOPER: Congressman Himes, I appreciate your time. Thanks very much.

One has to wonder what the mood is like on Air Force 1 right now with the stories breaking, Pres. Trump scheduled to land in Saudi Arabia, they're up six hours about 14 hour flight.

Just a short time after he left Washington the word came out from the "New York Times" about what the president said to two Russian officials at the White House the day after he fired James Comey. And the hits just -- keep coming on all day. Joining me now is Fareed Zakaria, a host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, and David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst and Former Advisor of four presidents including Richard Nixon.

[20:55:02] David, first, I want to get your reaction on this new reporting from CNN about Michael Flynn and the Russians.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, it may be some innocent explanation, but I think what we're really seeing is pieces of a puzzle continue to fall into place.

And there's a pattern here that Michael Flynn right from the beginning has been, you know, been very close to the Russians. We didn't know what those conversations were about. What we're learning tonight suggests that they were, you know, that our intelligence folks were really worried about what he was doing, you know, well before he became a National Security Adviser.

Suggests the reason -- And I think I've been told this before, that Pres. Obama warned off incoming Pres. Trump about hiring him. And now he's central to trying to understand what the -- was there collusion? This suggests there was more collusion than we thought and there is more evidence building up. It's not just positive. It doesn't settle things. It's still early.

But I'll tell you this, that it also, you know, for a long time we were asking why is Donald Trump so solicitous of Vladimir Putin. And now we have the second question, why was he -- why has he been so solicitous of Michael Flynn? And we really need the answers to those questions.

COOPER: Yeah, Fareed, it seems to continue to -- and whether it's loyalty or I don't know what, continue to think fondly of Michael Flynn despite his lying to the vice-president and despite this underlying activity which Sally Yates said there was, you know, there was illegality there.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Yeah, and there's something -- the more you learn about Michael Flynn, the more worrying his behavior is on multiple fronts. So you've discussed this whole Russia angle. But there's another entire angle which is Turkey.

Michael Flynn was essentially hired by the Turkish government as a paid lobbyist and started to present himself as an independent analyst --

COOPER: Right, writing op-eds.

ZAKARIA: It was writing an op-ed, asking for the very thing that the president of Turkey, Erdogan, has been pressing, which is that the United States essentially handover this 80-year-old cleric who lives in Pennsylvania, who is an enemy of Erdogan.

So, Flynn writes an op-ed. Not -- and not explain that he's being paid by the Turkish government to do this. So to the question of can -- could Flynn have been bought, could his, you know, views have been influenced by cash payments? We sort of have an example in Turkey where it does certainly seem as though that happened.

And we know that once he was in the administration, he was advising that (inaudible) be deported. So, that seems to me a very -- a worrying connection.

This is a guy who foreign governments have already hired and who has passed himself off as an independent National Security expert -- just possessing the merits of this. And as you say, then you have the strange reality that Trump who is not super loyal to people who have not been with him for a long time -- think of how he has been treating Steve Bannon recently. But he's been very loyal to Michael Flynn.

COOPER: David, I mean the "New York Times" reporting that the president called the FBI director a "nut job" and that firing him eased "great pressure." What do you make of that? I mean is that something the president should be saying to the Russians in the Oval Office?

GERGEN: Well, nut job, of course, is beneath the presidency. But I think the more significant point is the one Jeffrey Toobin has been underlying tonight, and that is this adds a new evidence to the point that the president essentially -- what is the pattern here? I think patterns are emerging.

The pattern here is the president goes to Comey, the FBI director and says I need your loyalty. Comey refuses to give it to him. Then a subsequent meeting according to these reports from Comey, the president pressures him to let the Flynn part of the investigation go. Comey doesn't do it. He refuses. The investigation deepens. And so, what does the president do? He can't get Comey to drop it so he fires Comey.

And now that he -- he tells the Russians openly not only was he a nut job, but I did this because I had pressure coming on me about Russia. And the clear implication was, I have political pressure coming on me about these investigations. This thing is something I don't want. I want to get rid of it and I fired the son of a gun. And he was a nut job to boot. So, you know --

COOPER: We should point out David --


GERGEN: -- new pieces of the puzzle, they are very disturbing.

COOPER: We should also point out, David, that before he even had the dinner where he asked for the loyalty oath which, by the way, was, I believe, the night of the same day that Sally Yates went to the White House and said Flynn could be compromised, and Flynn was interviewed by the FBI and didn't do so well, that's the same night that the president decides to have dinner with Comey and ask for a loyalty pledge. The president had also, according to reporting, had also already called up Flynn -- had already called up Comey basically to ask about, you know, being under investigation.

GERGEN: Yeah. So, I just think pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. We still need to give the president, you know, his fair day in court. He needs to be able -- his side needs to be able to present the evidence.