Return to Transcripts main page


WH on Global Warming: Don't Ask Us!; Trump Cites Climate Study; Author Calls Foul. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 2, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

We begin tonight with "Keeping Them Honest" with the White House acting that the public simply does not deserve to know the president's thinking about the key issue behind arguably one of the biggest decisions he's made so far, which, frankly, is a bit strange.

We know in great detail why the president decided to pull this country out of the Paris accord on global warming. He said so on no uncertain terms. And you can agree or disagree with his reasoning. That's not the issue here.

The issue is: we do not know what the president actually believes about global warming, which, as I said, is a bit odd, because it's a simple yes or no, and it's not as if he and others haven't been -- or we and others haven't been asking about it. In fact, for three- quarters of an hour today, his spokesman, along with is EPA administrator dodged the central question about the central issue. Does the president believe as he said in the campaign that global warming is a hoax?

You'll remember, Sean Spicer was asked about it on Tuesday.


REPORTER: Can you say whether or not the president believes that human activity is contributing to the warming of the climate?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Honestly, I haven't asked him.


SPICER: I'll get back to you.


COOPER: He hadn't asked but said that he could get back. But apparently, he didn't ask. And then, something happened.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.


COOPER: So, that's why we're asking. It seems self-evidence that on the verge of ditching the climate change accord, people might want to know whether the president still thought the entire subject is a hoax. As you saw, the White House otherwise and still did even after the president announced his decision.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Does the president believe climate change is a hoax?

SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: This is not about whether climate change is occurring or not.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Does P Trump still believe climate change is a hoax?

GARY COHN, WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: What President Trump believes is he was elected to grow the U.S. economy.

BLITZER: But with all due respect, Gary, you're not answering the question.

COHN: I'm answering what the president's committed to. You're going to have to ask him. You're going to actually have to ask him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he believe global warming is a hoax?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He believes in clean air and clean water, a clean environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll ask you one more time. Does he believe global warming is a hoax?

CONWAY: You can ask him that.


COOPER: Well, that brings us to this afternoon's White House briefing.


REPORTER: Now it's been 48, 72 hours. What does the president actually believe climate change is a hoax? Can you clarify that because apparently no one else in the White House can?

SPICER: I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.

REPORTER: You're the EPA administrator. Shouldn't you be able to tell the American people whether or not the president still believes that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand? PRUITT: As I indicated several times in the process, there's enough

to deal with with respect to the Paris agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue. That's where our focus has been over the last several weeks. I've answered the question a couple of times.


COOPER: Keeping them honest. Neither he nor Sean Spicer nor Kellyanne Conway nor the president himself have actually answered the question. They have responded to a question, but they actually haven't answered it.

The idea that you saw some of them suggests that we'll need to ask the president ourselves, we'd love to. The president hasn't taken a single question from the press for almost three weeks.

We'd ask him about his views on global warming and the Russian investigation because on the latter, Sean Spicer now has a new tactic from the press podium, referring all questions to that subject to the president's outside counsel. So, now on two of the most pressing issues facing this administration arguably, the new line is basically, don't ask us.

Jim Acosta was involved in one of those questions and non-answer exchanges. He joins us now.

I mean, it certainly seems like no one in the White House wants to answer whether or not the president believes in climate change.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. You would think we were asking for the nuclear codes today in the briefing room. But now, we were trying to ask a simple question, does the president believe that climate change is a hoax?

But, Anderson, we've seen this pattern before. When the president clings to a false belief that, for example, President Obama was not born in the United States or that President Obama wire-tapped him at Trump Tower or climate change is a hoax, it takes, weeks, months, even years for the president to back off of that position. We saw it eventually happen with the birth certificate and the whole birther issue during the campaign. But that took years.

So, yes, today we tried once again to ask EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. He was the latest administration official to get inside the president's head, whether or not President Trump believes that climate change is real. When that question was asked several times, I tried a different approach and simply asked the EPA administrator, after all, he's in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, about the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is happening around the world and here's what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Why are the hottest temperatures in the last decade essentially -- the hottest temperatures that we've seen on record -- PRUITT: We've actually been in hiatus since the late 1990s.

ACOSTA: But sir, when NASA says that 95 percent of the experts in this area around the world believe that the earth is warming and you are up there throwing out information that says, well, maybe this is being exaggerated, whether you're talking about climate exaggerators, it seems like to a lot of people around the world that you and the president are just denying the reality.

[20:05:20] And the reality of the situation is that climate change is happening and it is a significant threat to the planet.

PRUITT: Let me say this, and I've said it in the confirmation process and I said it yesterday and --


PRUITT: No, let me finish -- there is -- there is -- we have done a tremendous amount as a country to achieve reductions in CO2 and we have done that through technology and innovation. We will continue to do that.

We're just not going to agree to frameworks and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage and hurts citizens across this country.

Yes, sir?

ACOSTA: I think you're putting your head in the sand, though, Mr. Pruitt. They're a little worried that you're putting your head in the sand.

PRUITT: Well, that -- there's no evidence of that.


ACOSTA: Now, speaking of heads in the sand, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer came out after that, Anderson, and as you mentioned, we reminded him that earlier in the week, he was asked whether he could ask the president whether he still believes climate change is happening. He did not have an answer to that question. He was even asked, well, can you go and try to do that? And we did not get a firm commitment that that would happen.

COOPER: So, Jim, the White House is being pressed on several counts regarding the Russia investigation. Were they able to pry any information on that today at all?

ACOSTA: No. The press secretary did say that the president has confidence in Jared Kushner. That much he did say during the briefing today. But asked whether or not the president is going to invoke executive privilege and try to block the former FBI Director James Comey who the president fired a few weeks ago from testifying on Capitol Hill next week, he only said that they are reviewing that.

I talked to a separate White House official just within the last hour who said that's basically where they stand right now. They are reviewing this issue. And of course, there's a huge question as to whether the president could legally block James Comey from testifying.

So, this may be, you know, really sort of trying to distract folks with something that they really can't do in the long run. But, Anderson, time and again we are getting fewer and fewer questions answered by this White House, and it's a pattern that I don't think we're going to see an end to any time soon. They are really acting as if they're just in the bunker on almost every single big issue these days.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, appreciate the update.

On climate change, the president cited plenty of facts and figures yesterday, all of which have been checked and many of which have been called into question, including this.


TRUMP: Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree -- think of that; this much -- Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.


COOPER: Which is true, but only as far as it goes.

John Reilly is co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and co-author of the very study that the president himself cited. He says that if not for the Paris accord, this tiny reduction that the president mentioned would instead be a large increase.

I spoke to him earlier tonight.


COOPER: Did anyone in the White House reach out to you or any of your colleagues at MIT before citing the study yesterday?

JOHN REILLY, CO-DIRECTOR, MIT JOINT PROGRAM ON THE SCIENCE AND POLICY OF GLOBAL CHANGE: No. We were, of course, completely surprised. It was hard for us to imagine how that study could be used to support withdrawal of the U.S. from the agreement. If anything, it would seem to suggest that the U.S. should engage even more with the Paris accord and the Paris accord, of course, includes a schedule for reviewing progress and making new commitments.

So, it's part of the negotiation process that President Trump suggested he wanted to re-engage. So, there's no -- it doesn't make any sense to me that one would withdraw.

COOPER: If the White House had reached out to you, if the White House had reached out to you, you would have told them, what, continue with the accord and try to do more? REILLY: Yes. In fact, I and my colleagues here at MIT have something

we call a policy plan accelerator which we're trying to bring the tools we have to help different countries meet their agreements because people still don't have a really firm idea of exactly how they are going to meet them but accelerate beyond that.

COOPER: I mean, were you completely -- you were completely surprised when your study was cited. I'm just wondering, personally, what is it like to be sitting there and suddenly hear the White House, the president, using your study in a way that is not correct?

REILLY: Well, I mean, unfortunately, in this business, it's not the first time that people have taken our work and twisted it out of shape. So, it goes with the territory.

[20:10:01] Frankly, my concern is just much, much more, not what it means for me personally but what it means for the planet.

COOPER: Well, John, I appreciate your work and appreciate you talking to us. John Reilly, thank you.

REILLY: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, plenty to talk about with the panel. Paul Begala is here. Jason Miller, Jennifer Granholm, Stephen Moore and Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, why wouldn't the White House just say whether or not the president believes that -- continues to believe that climate change is a hoax as he had previously tweeted as a civilian?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Probably, because if the answer is yes, I don't think they're prepared to deal with what all -- everything that would come with that, and I don't think they don't want to get into -- having to explain away a tweet from a couple of years ago that having been said, this is perfectly fair game, it's a legitimate question and it's something he said as a candidate, it's something that he put out there in the media and that he continues to use and it's his favorite way of communicating directly with people. It is I think -- I think it's a problem on its own and it's not going to go away, but I think it is emblematic as Jim said of the fact that the White House has just hunkered down on almost everything these days.

It's very, very hard to get a direct answer on a number of topics. And we have gone from -- look, to be fair to the president, early on in the administration -- well, we're still early on. Earlier earlier on in the administration, he was much more accessible than, say, President Obama was. Reporters were able to talk to him much more easily. His people were, while Sean Spicer was aggressive, to put it mildly, the press shop overall actually was pretty responsive. People like Hope Hicks were very responsive.

I think it has -- it has changed in the last couple of weeks. I think that the post James Comey firing period has really, really altered the balance here and what you saw with the EPA and what you saw with whether he still thinks climate change is a hoax is part of that.

COOPER: Stephen, shouldn't the American people be able to know whether or not the president believes climate change is a hoax or not?

STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I just want to clarify something for you because I think that what conservatives believe -- I've never talked to Donald Trump directly about climate change. But I know how conservatives feel about this which --

COOPER: Right. But you know how he's tweeted. I'm just asking a simple question.


COOPER: Don't the American people have a right to know whether the president believes something which he is making policy based on is a hoax or not?

MOORE: Right. I get it. What I'm saying is I believe what he meant to say, when he said this is a hoax, is not that the climate change is a hoax but that this climate change deal is a hoax.

COOPER: He said it was a hoax created by the Chinese, if memory serves me right.

MOORE: Yes, that the idea -- conservatives don't believe that the United Nations can do anything right and --


COOPER: Again, but the question which you don't seem to want to answer is, don't the American people have a right to know what the president actually believes? I mean, if this is a question --


MOORE: Probably, they do. But I think -- again, there's a cultural divide here. I think most conservatives are not saying that climate change isn't happening. It's the idea that government can change the weather.

COOPER: But again, we don't know what the president is saying because he won't answer this question.

MOORE: Look, I never asked him about it, so we'll see what happens in the weeks ahead. But this is a high hurdle.


COOPER: OK, Paul, does -- Paul, does it seem odd to you that the president won't answer this question and no one around him seems willing to ask him and relay that answer? PAULA BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as always, Maggie has

it exactly right. They don't answer it because they can't answer it, but the president has answered it. Five times, at least that I found on the Snopes website, the debunking website that checks to see if these myths about Trump and other public figures are true.

Five times they've published tweets from Donald Trump, beginning with the one in 2012, where he said, and I quote, the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive. He has called it a hoax, a very expensive hoax, the global warming hoax, an expensive hoax again, B.S., which he wrote out the whole word there and nonsense again and again.

Now, people like me need to give him credit. It's -- this guy's a genius. Let's face it. I mean, he's a long line. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. Woodrow Wilson ran Princeton. Donald Trump ran Trump University.

And he clearly knows more than 97 percent of all scientists. The guy's a genius. And I think people like me need to accept that, that he's just smarter than everybody in the whole wide world, and he's the only one who figured out the hoax, and I think we need to thank God that we're led by a man of this rare genius.

COOPER: Jason, I mean, you know, the argument of whether or not it's real or not, you know, is obviously one -- one can go on for hours about but the basic question of what the president actually believes and why won't anybody in the White House admit what he actually believes, you worked with him on the campaign during the transition, do you know what his stance is on climate change? Does he still believe it's a hoax?

JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I can tell you some of the conversations that I've had with the president. This is, of course, factor in the campaign when we had a number of conversations about the environment and I can tell you that he's passionate about the environment and he's built a number of these resorts and golf courses and loves the outdoors.

I know that on a number of issues, the president actually has, surprisingly, left of center views on some of these. He supports like beach re-nourishment and other things, a number of other things that many conservative Republicans don't support.

But I think, Anderson, you're asking the wrong question here. If the question is asked, does the president support the environment, does he want to have clean air and water?

[20:15:00] The answer is, of course, yes. When we're putting, bring up the climate --

COOPER: Why is it fair to ask whether he thinks it's a hoax as he used to? MILLER: Because the question what folks -- many in the media or many

on the left are trying to get to right now is if he says it's a hoax, then he'll be attacked for being a heretic, if he says it's not a hoax, he'll be attacked for being a flip-flopper, and then it takes the whole conversation away from the fact that he took a major step yesterday to protect American jobs and we start going down into the rabbit hole as far as, you know, who is right and who is wrong on some of the environmental issues. And I think he's smartly keeping the focus squarely where it should be right now, which is on jobs and the economy, which was his central argument with withdrawing from the Paris accord.

COOPER: But isn't the rabbit hole just fact? I mean, the rabbit hole just what the president actually believes? I mean, I wouldn't characterize what the president believes as a rabbit hole. I believe -- I think it's what he actually believes -- I don't know. I -- to me, it seems like a basic question and a fair one. No?

MILLER: Well, again, I think it's a fair question to ask, does he support the environment and support efforts to go and clean up the environment and continue improving the situation that we're facing right now.

But again, when we start getting into specific studies, and there have been a lot of junk studies that have been put out there and I think reasonable people can have difference of opinions on this. But again, I think what the media and many of the left are trying to do is to unfairly put the president in one of these boxes when the fact of the matter is, he does support the environment.

COOPER: OK. I mean, he has tweeted about this and he's said in the past. So, I guess, to me, it seems reasonable that you can ask him about, does he still believe?

We're going to take a break. I want to dig deeper into political after effects when we come back. The down and upside for the president.

Later, can the president stop the FBI director he fired from testifying next week? We'll talk about whether he might invoke executive privilege, what that means and what a court may think of it.


[20:20:28] COOPER: A famous and influential New York billionaire with the midtown skyscraper has just weighed in on global warming. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, telling CNN's Christiane Amanpour he's pledging $15 million to help this country's commitments under the Paris accord.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You are, you know, the businessman's businessman. You are now putting your money where the mouth is. I want you to address once and for all for people who may get confused by all of the stuff coming out of the White House now, out of the EPA administrator that the climate deal is bad for American business, for jobs, for American economy.

He said it over and again today. He said the reason that the president has pulled out is because this deal has come at the expense of the American economy.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: There's absolutely no evidence of that. In fact, the reverse is really true. There'd been probably ten times the number of jobs. Maybe, I think the number is actually like eight times the number of jobs created in renewables compared to what's been loss in the fossil fuel industry.


COOPER: That was Michael Bloomberg on "Amanpour".

Back now with the panel.

Governor Granholm, we didn't get to speak with you, does it -- to you, is it reasonable to ask the president about whether or not he still believes climate change is a hoax?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course. You started out the show with the guy who could authored the MIT study that President Trump recited incorrectly. And I just -- let me just throw out this metaphor on you, Anderson. If you go to the doctor and you are diagnosed with a cancerous tumor from that doctor and you're going to get a second opinion and you actually see 100 doctors, 97 of them tell you, you have a cancerous tumor, you have three choices, you either to get it out surgically, you've got to contain it, or you can let it fester and it can take you away.

Paris is the second option. Paris is containing this tumor. It's not perfect but it certainly stops us from disintegrating.

He should tell us whether or not he thinks this is a hoax and whether he thinks the economy, like you just had Bloomberg on is actually -- I mean, he doesn't need to tell us about the economy. We know the studies show the economy will benefit when we focus on clean energy and not take away the opportunity for the thousands of businesses all across America to interact globally with other countries, send the products that we make in America overseas to reduce climate change.

COOPER: Stephen, you disagree with it even on that economic argument?

STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think most economists agree that a massive new regulation and tax on an American economy is going to be bad for economic growth. We want to -- I mean, Jason will acknowledge this. We want to reduce regulations and taxes on the American economy, not grow them. So, it's hard to see how --

GRANHOLM: This isn't a tax on regulation.


MOORE: It is. It basically tells -- it regulates the energy industry and basically says, Governor, that we have to switch towards more expensive energy from less expensive energy.

GRANHOLM: Solar is less expensive. Google it. Google it. Solar and wind is less expensive than coal.

MILLER: Governor --

GRANHOLM: Oh, my God.


COOPER: One at a time. Jason, go ahead.

MOORE: But I want to make another point, though --


MOORE: -- about your interview with an MIT professor because I have to say, I was a little confused about that. I have read that study. I haven't read the whole thing. I've read excerpts from it. It's been widely quoted in "The Wall Street Journal" and other places. It wasn't just Donald Trump that's quoted that study.

And it seemed to me what he was saying that this is just the first step. And that scares me. If this whole climate change deal and the massive costs and all of that is just the first step, then this really is about --

GRANHOLM: You are making up this massive cost thing. This is what is driving everybody crazy who believes in clean energy.

Stephen, you come from the state of Illinois. Illinois, right?

MOORE: We're a coal state. We're a coal state.

GRANHOLM: But Illinois has 114,000 people that are working in the clean energy industry and only a small number, I think it's 7,000, working in the oil and natural gas and coal.

I mean, this -- the point is, if you want to create jobs, Anderson and Maggie, you both come from New York. New York has 7,500 businesses in the sector.

Paul, you come from Texas. Texas is the number one state for wind, not just wind production of energy but manufacturing of wind turbines.

Jason, you're from Washington, 90,000 people are working in Washington state.

This is why there are 150 governors and mayors who have signed a letter to Trump saying, uh-huh, we're going our way because we are creating jobs in our state.


[20:25:02] COOPER: Jason, I want --

MOORE: There are ten times as many people who work in the oil and gas industry than work in the wind and solar. Ten times more.

GRANHOLM: That is not true. Google it, people.

COOPER: Paul, go ahead. And then, Jason.

BEGALA: Let me take, I come from my native Texas. Texas is the home of ExxonMobil, the biggest, baddest oil company in the whole wide world. They support the Paris agreement. In fact, their former CEO, our current secretary of state, supported it, if the reporting is true, even within the administration.

ExxonMobil supports Paris. Shell Oil Company supports Paris.

This president is just, you know, and I was being sarcastic in the last segment. I don't usually do that. But he's a sucker for crackpot theories. This is a man who believes exercise shortens your life. He believes that, Stephen, OK?

He's nuts and he has seized on to this crackpot fringe theory that somehow global warming is a hoax when the whole wide world -- business, government, labor, everybody -- understands that we need to do something to save our planet.

COOPER: Jason, to say that this was more about appealing to President Trump's base than it was, you know, based on policy, what do you say to that?

MILLER: This is about protecting our economy. I mean, the fact of the matter is, we don't need metaphors here. I mean, we can point to the fact that under the Paris Accord, China wouldn't have had to do anything to reduce their emissions until 2030, and the U.S. would have had to reduce theirs, ours, by 26 percent to 28 percent over the next eight years.

This is completely unfair. We're a nation of laws. We would have to enforce it. You know that China and Russia and India and all these other countries would just laugh at us because we're fighting with both hands tied behind our back.

GRANHOLM: There are so many falsehoods that being stated by the right.

MILLER: No, this is absolutely --

GRANHOLM: Jason, China has goals like the U.S. has goals. China has stopped 103 coal plants just this year. Renewables is larger than --


COOPER: But doesn't -- but, Jason, doesn't each country under this accord set its own goals?

MILLER: Well, there are a number of -- again, it's a nonbinding, different country --

COOPER: Right. Everybody -- and in fact, they can change their goals.

MILLER: That's part of the reason why --

MOORE: So, what's the point of the whole thing?

MILLER: -- the president said we have to negotiate a better deal. Don't go and hamstring us where we're fighting with both hands tied behind our back while other countries can go and do whatever they want. That's completely unfair.


COOPER: We've got to go. We're over the time. I appreciate, everybody.

Just ahead: breaking news about who the Senate Intel Committee will grill the day before James Comey testifies.

Plus, will President Trump try to block Comey's highly anticipated testimony by invoking executive privilege? Could he actually do that now that Comey is a private citizen? Details ahead.


[20:30:59] COOPER: Breaking news tonight, CNN has confirmed the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will testify on Wednesday, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, just one day before James Comey testified.

Rosenstein, as you may recall, wrote the memo that the White House initially cited as the reason for Director Comey's firing. President Trump later said he had already decided to ask Comey before the memo was written. Mr. Rosenstein then appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel to take over the FBI's Russia investigation.

The deputy attorney general is going to testify along side other top intelligence officials about the renewal of expiring surveillance powers. That hearing is going to tee up Comey's appearance, which is the next day, on Thursday, unless President Trump tries to block it. Jessica Schneider has more.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): The White House is weighing whether to assert executive privilege to block FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Literally, my understanding is the date for that hearing was just set. I have not spoken to counsel yet. I don't know what that -- what they're going to -- how they're going to respond.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, indicated she expects Comey to talk but sent mixed messages when asked.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We'll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the president is not going to invoke executive privilege?

CONWAY: The president will make that decision.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Comey no longer works for the government so the White House would have to take Comey to court if they wanted to prevent him from talking and some say President Trump's tweets about Comey and declarations like this --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me, "You are not under investigation," which I knew anyway.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Way, the president is right. Others argue asserting executive privilege is necessary.

PETE HOEKSTRA, (R) FORMER HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It sets a dangerous precedent that the president's conversations, you know, private conversations can be revealed. It will be a he said/he said type of thing. It is one side of the story. I don't think that helps the process.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): And there's new insight into how James Comey might recount his conversations with the president. A source with knowledge of Comey's thinking says that while Comey was "disturbed" by his interactions with President Trump, Comey believed he had the situation under control. The source said if Comey believed at the time that any specific encounter constituted obstruction of justice, Comey would have done more than just write a memo.

But the source says when Comey testifies next week, he may tell Congress that when all the comments the president made to him are taken together, along with his firing, they could suggest a more serious pattern.

And there are continuing questions about Jared Kushner's mid-December meeting with Russian bank chairman, Sergey Gorkov, a man who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin. The White House insists Kushner conducted the meeting in his capacity during the transition. VEB Bank maintains it was part of its, "business road show." The meeting was arranged after Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in early December at Trump Tower.


COOPER: And Jessica joins us now. Can President Trump legally stop James Comey from testifying next week?

SCHNEIDER: Anderson, he could try but it would be a very tough fight. A Senate source tells us that President Trump would have to go to federal court to seek a restraining order, that's something that has never been done in a case like this.

So suffice it to say, it's likely that the combination of Comey's private citizen status coupled with President Trump's statements of late that really could give the green light for Comey to testify come Thursday. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks.

Lots to discuss with our legal panel. Joining me is Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University, a constitutional law scholar, also, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos.

Professor Turley, we just heard the president has not yet decided if he would invoke his executive privilege. Would he be on square legal footing if he chose to do so?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well certainly the conversation of that is being discussed is covered by executive privilege and that sense this is not an arbitrary or capricious assertion of executive privilege.

COOPER: Can you explain executive privilege for folks who, you know, don't follow these things as closely? What the whole concept is?

TURLEY: Certainly. The executive privilege actually doesn't appear in the Constitution. It's an implied power under Article 2, the article that defines a president's authority. Its high point came in the Nixon case where the Supreme Court said that, yes, a president can invoke executive privilege to protect the communications that he needs to remain private to be president.

[20:35:07] But presidents since George Washington have asserted some form of executive privilege. The problem is it's not what's called an absolute privilege. It's a qualified privilege.

Both Mark and I do defense work and we often get our clients not to discuss things to waive privilege. To go on Twitter is discussing it a lot. It's like playing poker with your cards facing the other players and saying, no one look at my hand. That's not a very convincing case for privilege.

COOPER: Mark, I mean when Sally Yates testified in front of Congress last month, the Trump administration told her that some of the conversations she had with White House officials were covered under executive privilege but that was a different situation because Yates was acting as a lawyer for the government, former FBI Director James Comey was not, right?

MARK GERAGOS: Right. Except -- the thing is, is that remember, James Comey is still a lawyer even though he was serving in a law enforcement capacity. And in the case of Sally Yates, they surgically asserted the executive privilege and she complied with it. So it's not a situation where they would need to go in and get a restraining order in some district court. I think that it's highly unlikely that would ever happen.

I think what's more likely is that they would -- they'll telegraph or they'll be explicit as to what areas they believe are executive privilege, either by letter or in a phone call. My guess is by letter. And then the question becomes whether or not somebody wants to force the issue if they don't want to observe.

Remember, from Comey's standpoint, he still has to worry about his ethical obligation. I mean there's not only privilege but as a lawyer, he does not want to run afoul of ethics rules by violating a privilege that's been asserted. Not unlike an attorney-client privilege. The holder of the privilege in an attorney-client situation is the client. The attorney can't just willy-nilly waive it and that's basically the same kind of situation you have here. Client meaning Trump and as the executive and he's asserting the privilege.

COOPER: Professor Turley, I mean the fact that the president has already tweeted and given interviews talking about his conversations with Comey, from his perspective, does that play into this at all?

TURLEY: Well, it plays in a great deal. Because this is a qualified privilege, the president has to stay usually in the form of a memo to the committee, the basis for the executive privilege that becomes part of the evidence given to the federal court. But you're supposed to make a case of why it is so necessary to withhold this information. The committee has a clear jurisdictional basis to ask for this testimony. While I don't believe that there is prima facie evidence of obstruction of justice yet, they are investigating the possibility of that crime. So I think a court would find his public statements to be worrisome.

Now, in fairness to the White House, there is obviously more to these conversations that occur between a president and a person that was then the FBI director. That does happen to fall in an area of executive privilege. But I've never seen a privilege argument succeed on this type of record. And I have to also say, presidents are usually very reluctant to have court challenges over privilege because they try not to lose ground for future presidents.

COOPER: Mark, I mean, as the great defense attorney as you are, you would probably advise clients not just based on the law but also based on how things appear. In the world of politics, politics obviously, you know, there's the optics of how this would appear. If the White House requested that Comey not testify because of executive privilege, it would also probably look like the president was trying to hide something.

GERAGOS: That's exactly right, Anderson. And it's one of the reasons that I made the argument that the particular selection of the lawyer, Marc Kasowitz from New York, who is not a criminal defense lawyer, was why the White House did that, because of the optics of it. And I don't think that there's any chance whatsoever that they're going to go in and try and seek to prevent him wholesale from testifying. What they're going to do is they're going to try and surgically laser-like precision, hopefully if they -- if I understand what they're going to do. Tell him this area you can and this area you can't.

The one thing we haven't discussed is the one area of this privilege where there's an argument that it gives sway is in a criminal context and criminal context has been expanded to mean a grand jury investigation. We don't have that here. So where they may prevail on an executive privilege with telling Comey we don't want you to talk about A, B or C and then telling the committee, also, we've put him on notice, he can't talk about A, B, or C and that may very well involve areas that they want to get into.

If there is a grand jury convened at some point, or a grand jury subpoena issued, executive privilege could give sway. So a judge could rule, sorry, it's not going to happen.

[20:40:07] COOPER: Interesting. Mark Geragos, thank you, Jonathan Turley as well.

Just ahead, we have more breaking news tonight, Vladimir Putin ramping up his rhetoric. He's no longer talking about Russian "patriots" possibly hacking the U.S. election. He's back to an all-out denial of any interference by Russia and he also says blaming Russia for meddling is like blaming Jews. We'll explain that ahead.


COOPER: There's more breaking news tonight. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be doing another 180 backing off his comment that Russian "patriots," not the Russian government, might have hacked the U.S. election. Now he's back denying that Russia interfered in any way in the election. He made his latest remarks at a business roundtable in St. Petersburg where he asked executives from some major U.S. companies to help restore normal political dialogue between the two countries.

I want to discuss this now with Russian pro-democracy leader, Garry Kasparov, author of "Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins" and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. You may also know him obviously as former world chess champion.

What do you make of Putin -- I mean his latest comments, his comments just the other day?

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, THE HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION: The same modus operandi as with Crimea. You remember, first, in this issue of Crimea, how dare you accuse me? I'm a man of peace. Later, a winking denial. They are Russians but maybe some vocation patriots.

[20:45:01] A few months later, attached to approval, how could we let these people fight alone? And eventually, full recognition, bragging and pinning medals of Russian invasion.

COOPER: How does this play in Russia itself though? I mean do people believe what he is saying or I mean --

KASPAROV: It's a tricky game, because Putin has to send two messages. One is to the world and he doesn't care if people -- if he's caught lying because, as he said after he recognize Crimea's invasion that fooling the world was part of the game. But he also has to send a message to Russian people that while he denies it, he demonstrates by just twisting words that he was part of an operation because he has to show that he's so powerful that he can interfere American relations, he can defy the United States and that protects him in Russia against any kind of attempt to overthrow him.

COOPER: He also said that, you know, there is -- that there's no way hackers or anybody could interfere and influence another country's election, which is bizarre coming from a guy who clearly wants to control information or believes that information has power. Otherwise, he wouldn't care about, you know, what the press is doing in Russia.

KASPAROV: Look, we know that negative companion works and now there's these multiple channels and social media. You can multiple the effect of the negative companion. And Putin as a KGB guy, he learned how to use more than technology invented in the free world and also the free speech to undermine the institution of the free world.

He didn't deny the United States and I think we should stop saying, oh, probably he did it. We have doubts. No, we don't have doubts. It's -- don't ask people if they believe it or not, because you can ask people why they believe it's Friday, it is even if they don't.

COOPER: Although there are, you know, there are folks in the White House who were saying --

KASPAROV: But folks in the White House and look at the U.S. intelligence agencies and I would say the folks in the White House, they very often repeat what Kremlin has been saying. And it's interesting that while America remains target number one, number one enemy, and 24/7 Russian propaganda, keeps pondering United States, Donald Trump is excluded from this broad criticism. Somehow he's being seen as a man who has been trying -- desperately trying to have relations but the deep state prevents him from doing it.

COOPER: What are the things that President Vladimir Putin said? He said that the blaming Russia for influencing the American election is like anti-Semitism, that it's like blaming Jews. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?

KASPAROV: It's the same story. It's a witch hunt. If they're caught doing something illegal, it's a witch hunt. It's like anti-Semitism. He can say whatever he wants. He doesn't care. As long as he sees that his tactic works, he can go with it even being blamed and then he will deny. He tried to do it in France. He failed, by the way. He tried to do it in many other European countries. So he is -- since he believes that these operations could help him to influence if not the result of the elections but the policies of the free countries.

COOPER: How important is it for Vladimir Putin to get sanctions lifted?

KASPAROV: It's paramount. He's --


KASPAROV: It is -- for him, it's a matter of his political life and death. Maybe not just political. He knows that if he cannot leave sanctions right now, at least he has to pretend that he's working and he's going to have the next day. As long as the Russian sees him as a man who can protect their interests worldwide and also could defy the United States and could play this game of equals with the most powerful countries in what world, they will not go after him. The moment we realized that he spent (ph) force, he knows -- Putin knows well what happens with dictators who will quite.

COOPER: Garry Kasparov, it's good to have you. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Coming up, in withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, the president said he represents the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris, what do the citizens of Pittsburgh think? We'll take you there next.


[20:52:56] COOPER: As we reported, the White House still won't say if the president believes the climate change is a hoax as he said in the past. What we do know is that the president sees pulling out of the Paris climate accord as fulfilling his America first promise. Here he is yesterday during his speech announcing the withdrawal.


TRUMP: We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won't be. They won't be. I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.


COOPER: Of course he won the state of Pennsylvania. Did not win in Pittsburgh. Hillary Clinton carried Pittsburgh. Brynn Gingras spoke to people in Pittsburgh and in other Pennsylvania towns about what the president just said. Here's what she found out.


JONATHAN EWING, OPTIMUS TECHNOLOGIES: I think he might not have done his math on that one.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite being in the Rust Belt, Allegheny County overwhelmingly voted blue in 2016. Pittsburgh, once the heart of the steel industry, has worked to reinvent itself over the last few decades, trying to shed its smoggy past, opting for a more sustainable future.

EWING: So that's the filtration unit.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Jonathan Ewing's employer aims at helping the city do just that. The small business retrofits trucks to be more fuel efficient. The city of Pittsburgh is its biggest client.

EWING: Seeing that smog and all of the harmful emissions go away is just really beneficial for everybody around. The coal industry is definitely a failing industry and it's probably not going to come back. So instead of looking to the past, it's always good to look to the future.

DOUG MILLER, BARRON TRUCK COMPANY: Each truck out there have a gentleman that operates it has a family.

GINGRAS (voice-over): But to some outside Pittsburgh Like Doug Miller, that coal industry isn't failing. It's poised for a comeback. Miller runs a different kind of trucking company, transporting coal across the state.

MILLER: Now since we got President Trump in, hopefully, they're talking about more mines in the areas, more employees were being added. We have something to look forward to

GINGRAS (voice-over): Miller says he's already seeing the change. Trump plans to open this coal mine located just a few miles from Miller's office. He says it means even more jobs for this area and that's why he applauded the president's decision to leave the climate pact.

[20:55:12] MILLER: He is not a world leader. He is the president of the United States. And this is what he has to do to provide for us here. If you don't have hands on people going out there and doing everyday jobs, this country is not going to go anywhere.

(on camera): GINGRAS: So for you, that takes more of a -- it's more important --

MILLER: Right now, yes.

(on camera): GINGRAS: -- than the climate overall?

MILLER: Yes, yes.


COOPER: And Brynn joins me now. The new coal mine opening next week, how many jobs will that create?

GINGRAS: Well, Anderson, the estimate is about 70 to 100 jobs just for that coal mine. It sounds like a drop in the bucket. But if you talk to people like Miller, they say you really need to quadruple that number. They said because you're going to experience more restaurants in that area, more shops. However, if you look at the other side, they are worried they're going to lose jobs because of the trickle down affect with people leaving the green movement because of the president's decision to leave that climate pact. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Brynn Gingras, thanks very much.

Coming up, digging deeper into the president's alleged attempts at obstruction of justice from his dinner with then FBI Director James Comey to allegedly asking him to drop the investigation to Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia. Was he actually trying to obstruct justice? We'll look at that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:00:01] COOPER: We're ending this week in some of the cliffhanger. Will the president try to block James Comey's testimony next week by invoking his executive privilege? There's that and breaking news on what Director Comey was thinking when the president was pushing him to end the investigation of national security adviser Michael Flynn.