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Atty. Gen. Sessions Offered To Resign; NYT: Comey Told Sessions He Didn't Want To Be Alone With Trump; Sources Tell CNN: Comey To Testify He Never Told Trump He Was Not Under FBI Investigation; Wash Post: Trump Asked DNI TO Intervene On Russia Probe; Rosenstein Will Be Questioned Tomorrow; Pro-Trump Group Attacks On Comey In New Ad. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 6, 2017 - 21:00   ET



[21:01:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There is a tidal wave of breaking news as the FBI -- as the fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee approaches to say this could shake Washington to the core is not overstating things. We're reporting on tensions between the attorney general and the president.

We're also now reporting that he offered to resign sometime in the last eight weeks. "New York Times" reporting that Director Comey also asked Attorney General Sessions not to leave him alone with the president or that he didn't want to be in a room alone with the president. CNN's Gloria Borger is reporting that on Thursday Director Comey will dispute the president's blanket claim that he was told he was not under investigation by Director Comey multiple times.

And now, "The Washington Post" reporting on another incident of the exact same behavior Director Comey is expected to testify to, just a day and a half from now. Efforts, according to "Washington Post," by the president to get his top intelligence and law enforcement officials to back off on the Russia investigation.

According to "The Washington Post," the president asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to intervene with Director Comey on the Russia probe. Officials telling the "Post" that Coats later -- discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as the president had suggested would be inappropriate.

I want to first go to the panel, Ryan Lizza, Molly Ball, Matt Lewis, Carl Bernstein, Gloria Borger, Jim Sciutto, Ken Cuccinelli, and Steve Vladeck.

Carl, what do you make of this reporting by "The Washington Post"?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's of a piece. And that piece is that the President of the United States has made multiple attempts to try and conceal what has happened and to make an investigation go away by going to the principal conductors of those investigations, especially Comey, especially Coats.

And what we're going to hear before the committee is the testimony of one of those people and a narrative of how that occurred from the point of view of Mr. Comey. And we're going to also see, I suspect, a huge effort to impeach that word, Mr. Comey's credibility by the Republicans on the committee.

Marco Rubio has an opportunity here to maybe be the Howard Baker, similar to the Watergate investigation, and say what did the president know and when did he know it. But President Trump has said, "I wish Mr. Comey luck." It's a strange thing to say about this upcoming testimony. I think we can see a real fuselage of efforts to go after Comey and his credibility by the Republicans.

COOPER: And that the president may say more if he is live-tweeting as there are some reports he may do.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. And there's reports that there's an outside group, pro-Trump outside group that's going to be like running ads attacking James Comey. And I think we saw -- we've seen in the past couple days a hint that people who support Donald Trump want to attack and impugn the character of James Comey.

I think that ultimately, it's going to be very interesting. I think that the nuance is going to be very interesting in terms what James Comey says, because I think that there's a way to portray what Donald Trump did in the most negative way, that is obstruction of justice. That it is heavy handed. "You do what I want or you will be fired."

And then I think there's a way to present it that's like, Trump doesn't really know how this works. And, "Hey, do me a favor. Be nice to my friend, Michael Flynn." And, "Hey, could you guys talk to James Comey?" You know, those -- you know, it's a fine line. But the perception of the heavy handedness of Donald Trump I think really could matter in the court of public opinion.

COOPER: I mean, Ryan, what do you make of -- I mean, this "Washington Post" report, I mean, just one thing obviously Comey was fired, but for him to go to Coats to try to get to Comey.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. So you have this -- as Carl is pointing out, you have this fact pattern.

[21:05:02] He went to Coats to try to influence the investigation. He went directly to Comey to try to influence the investigation. He ended up firing him to influence the investigation. I mean, Trump was obsessed with this investigation for some reason. Just to add one more thing, he asked Comey not to lay off of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

So you have these series of events that Comey is going to lay out in a narrative. And if his previous testimony is any indication in a pretty compelling and powerful way, because he's a good storyteller.

And I think just to Matt's point, I do think how he lays that out and what the public and what's more importantly, Congress, makes of these series of events and these facts is the key question after this committee -- after this hearing. Because at the end of the day, we're not talking about criminal statute obstruction of justice, right? We're in the realm of, does Congress view this as so serious that it rises to the political nuclear option, right?

LEWIS: Very nefarious.

LIZZA: I mean, not substantial (inaudible), but if president obstructed justice by --


LEWIS: Boys will be boys.

LIZZA: Right. And how is -- what's Congress going to -- how does Congress -- what do they think of that question?


MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: But there seems to be a clear -- but there seems to be a strategy here on Comey's part, right? I mean, if the reporting by Gloria Borger and others is to be believed, he very much wants to set himself up as a neutral person in this and have the political actors be the ones making the judgments.

He very wants once to only be the storyteller, not be the one making legal determinations, not be the one interpreting the conduct. Only saying it, you know, on a factual basis, this is the interaction I had. He may say that he was troubled by it, all of the reporting that we've had, and to Carl's point, it has all been in the same direction. All of these revelations have been a very similar behavior by the president.

He leans on one person and then when he doesn't like the answer he gets, he goes and he leans on someone else. It is all whether you interpret it as him -- it's very telling that the most generous interpretation of the president's behavior is that he just didn't know what he was doing. And even then, we've been told he was repeatedly warned.

COOPER: Ken Cuccinelli, I would like your take on this "Washington Post" report about the president going to Coats.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, first of all, the last comments made are very interesting, because where James Comey started to get himself in trouble, contrary to an otherwise pretty solid professional history, was about a year ago when he did start making legal judgments that were the province of prosecutors and the Department of Justice, when he step out and held press conferences that were unprecedented in FBI history.

When you had people on both sides of the aisle, myself included, saying that was out of bounds for an FBI director and he ought to be fired or he had to resign. So here we go forward almost a year and that happens, but it's done with timing right before Russians show up or meeting with the Trump and his administration. The timing was terrible. The rollout was completely mishandled by the White House staff. And so now we're going to hear from Comey on Thursday. I do agree that I think that he would like to simply be a fact provider and let other people make judgments.

I fully expect that you will see congressmen on both sides of the aisle asking what I would call a leading question and saying, "isn't it true that," and trying to get him to confirm a characterization of what he views as the facts. And that's going to be -- frankly, it's going to make for a long day, I think, for James Comey, because I don't think that's what he wants to be doing. I don't think that's where he wants to be. He wants to tell his story and step back and let others deal with it as they may.


BERNSTEIN: Well, I think we need to recognize that this is early in a huge train that is running down the tracks which is Mueller's investigation. And this is really the first great event on this train ride. It's not that (inaudible). It's not the end. And what Comey is going to do, whatever he says and however he is attacked or supported by members of the committee, is to set up what this train ride is going to be. And that train ride is going to center partly on the question of whether or not the president obstructed justice.

And Comey's testimony is going to convince some people, I suspect, that what the president did comes very close or over the line of obstruction or it fails. He is also going to present a case that some of those on the Republicans on committee are going to say, "Wait a minute, Mr. Comey, isn't the real issue here that of leakers in the Obama administration? Isn't it have to do as well with the unmasking?" And we're going to see a repeat of all of these tropes that then Republican affect of trying to make this go away, but it's not going to work.

CUCCINELLI: So those are tropes?

BERNSTEIN: That's right.

CUCCINELLI: Those are tropes. Let's just be clear.

[21:10:02] BALL: Well, but this is not -- and this isn't just the Republicans. I mean, the president was telling the truth when he said that former Director Comey had been unpopular with both sides and that may have been why Trump didn't anticipate that the firing would cause as much trouble as it did.

It was true that Republicans had problems with Comey's failure as they saw it to charge Secretary Clinton. Democrats had problems with Comey speaking out on Secretary Clinton, obviously the letter right before the election. I think we can expect this to be a larger referendum on the conduct of James Comey as FBI director and all of this stuff is going to be dredged up.

COOPER: Gloria, I mean, according to the reporting for "The Washington Post", I mean, the president going to Coats is another instance where the president told everyone else to leave the room, which address that this wasn't something the president want to speak about in front of a large group of people. I guess, Pompeo, CIA director was also in the room.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So he probably knew that what he was doing was improper or at least out of the ordinary. And he didn't want to have Coats answer the question in front of other people, because perhaps he knew that Coats wasn't going to answer the question and that it would cause, you know, it would cause some kind of a problem.

I mean, what you have here is a president looking for assurances everywhere that this Russia problem was going to be put to rest in one way, shape or form. And that he would, you know, he would not have any liability here, nor would the people on his campaign. And, you know, he was trying to shut it down, I'm sure. And his frustration stems from the fact that, of course, he wasn't able to do it.

COOPER: Jim, this -- I mean, this reporting comes on the heels of your reporting a couple of weeks ago that the president also asked Coats and NSA Director Rogers to deny evidence of any collusion with Russia and they refused to comply then as well according to sources.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is the other side of the president's efforts here because, you know, he has his private efforts that already detailed by my colleagues here to get people in positions of influence to stop pursuing particular investigations. Then you have the public push to try to enlist some of those, the same people, to publicly come out and tell the public that there is no there, there.

In each case, they've refused, even appointees of the president. Dan Coats, an appointee of the president, refusing that request both in the public sphere and the private sphere. The other point -- and Carl made a good point about how, you know, this -- that what's tying this together are various efforts to -- where there's going to be appearance of interfering.

The other one, of course, is the obvious one, is Russia. In each of this conversation and issue is right. Is the question of Russian interference and influence in the election in various ways and in a different way, right, with Michael Flynn? And Michael Flynn investigations are unreported discussions that get at the heart of sanctions.

With Sessions, it's his recusal because he did not declare meetings with Russian officials. And I would just add that in addition to the reporting tonight on Sessions and his falling out with the president, just a reminder to our report last week, that there is now another possible third meeting that Sessions did not report.

So you have many layers to the Russia investigation and each of these stories that we have out tonight is tied back again to that Russia story.

COOPER: Yeah. And there's so much happening tonight. We've got to take another quick break. For more breaking news on the other side of this, we're devoting a lot of this hour to what James Comey's testimony may bring up. But there are so many -- so much breaking news and other stories. We'll bring you that as well.

New reporting on whether the president still supports Director Comey's former boss, the attorney general of the United States, a spokesman would not say this afternoon, I'm talking about Sean Spicer. Stay tune to see what the west-wing is saying now.


[21:17:10] COOPER: The breaking news in this special hour on James Comey's upcoming testimony, tension going into the hearing between the president and one of his original supporter, former senator, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We've learned that he offered to resign. Today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked repeatedly about the attorney general's standing with the president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you describe the president's level of confidence to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not had a discussion with him about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last time you said that there was a development.

SPICER: I'm just -- I'm asking -- I'm answering a question, which is I have not had that discussion with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) confidence as attorney general?

SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. I don't -- if I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.


COOPER: That was this afternoon. What about tonight? Joining us now with more from the White House is Jim Acosta. So I understand you have new reporting on that.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. Here it is quarter after 9:00 in the nation's capital, about seven hours after that press briefing earlier today and a White House official could not answer the question as to whether or not the president has confidence in the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This is obviously a major --

COOPER: Wait, they're still saying that tonight?

ACOSTA: They're still saying that tonight. This official said it was still necessary to go back and check with the president to ask him whether or not he still had confidence in Jeff Sessions. That question has not been answered over the last seven hours. And I asked this official why is that? Why are you being so cautious about this? And this official said, "Point-blank, we don't want another situation like we had with the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, when he eventually stepped down." Earlier in that day, Kellyanne Conway was on national television saying, "Yes, the president has confidence in Michael Flynn." And then hours later he stepped down or he was forced out. Ultimately, we found out that he was fired.

And so, this is a situation where the White House is basically -- they're afraid of being undercut by their own president at this point. They don't want to say definitively that the president has confidence in Jeff Sessions.

I will tell you, I did talk to a Justice Department spokeswoman who said earlier this evening, about an hour and a half ago, that the attorney general has not resigned. He has not stepping down. He has not been fired.

But all of these questions are swirling, Anderson, because the president has apparently not told his team here at the White House whether or not he has confidence in the attorney general, which is a rather remarkable thing to have going on for seven hours here in Washington.

The other thing that is remarkable about all of this is that we're just two days away from Jim Comey testifying up on Capitol Hill. Undoubtedly, a lot of these questions, you know, may be about Jeff Sessions. It may be about what the president knew and when he knew it. And yet, we have this big mystery hanging over the air as to what is going to happen with the attorney general.

I was cautioned by White House official that perhaps later on tonight we may get some kind of clarifying statement about whether the president has confidence in Jeff Sessions. But at this point, here we are 9:19 in Washington, we don't have that answer.

[21:20:05] COOPER: It's fascinating. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel. Steve, we haven't heard from you for a while. I mean, it's pretty -- I mean, I guess credit to the spokespeople for not wanting to say something that they don't know whether it's true or not. You know, that's a good development. But that the fact that they don't know where the president stands on this and to Jim's point, you know, this was asked seven hours ago, that they haven't asked is telling.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, Anderson, you might say the silence is deafening. I mean, it's remarkable to think that the White House isn't in a position to say that the president has confidence in any of his cabinet officials, let alone someone as visible and is closely connected to him as Jeff Sessions.

You know, I don't know if it means that Jeff Sessions' days are numbered. But I think, you know, with Director Comey's hearing on Thursday, Anderson, let's not forget, you know, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is actually testifying on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

So I think we're going to be hearing a lot, you know, not just Thursday, but tomorrow about exactly what kinds of high level conversations are happening within the administration about who is in charge and about what the future should be going forward with regard to the president's relationships with these senior advisers.

COOPER: Ken Cuccinelli, I mean, as a former state attorney general, how strange is it for the White House not to know if the president has confidence in Jeff Sessions?

CUCCINELLI: Well, I certainly think this whole situation is peculiar. But if you're Jeff Sessions, you know, you've taken your position with the president. You go to work. You do your job. If things change, you deal with it at that point. And I don't know that the president has shown any long-term inclination to be rid of Jeff Sessions.

The evidence is generally to the contrary, even if he'd like him to be carrying more water for him, if you will, nonetheless, Jeff Sessions was an easy pick for the president and while any of his picks are challenging and especially for that position, would have been challenging to get through the Senate.

I think he is on solid ground now. And while that can go away quickly in this administration, until it does, if you're Jeff Sessions, you have to just keep pressing ahead and doing your job that' -- by all observation, what he is doing.

And I don't think that the testimony tomorrow by DNI Director Coats is going to change that out. So I think you may hear tomorrow when questions arise about, "What did you and the president say to one another," I think you may hear Coats demure on those. I don't know that he will answer those questions at all.

COOPER: Right. Yeah. Carl?

BERNSTEIN: Well, you just said it, Ken, carrying water. What I'm told by people in the White House is that the president is in a rage at Sessions and it's because Sessions did not carry water for him. That Sessions did not insulate him and stay involved in this investigation. Instead, he recused himself.

And as "The New York Times" reported in that recusal, that opened the floodgates for the appointment of Mueller after Comey was fired. So he had depended on Sessions, according to people in the White House, to help protect him from these investigations. On top of which, Sessions is among those whose activities is -- are being looked at, not necessarily criminal, but they are being looked at.

CUCCINELLI: Carl, but that makes it less likely that he was terribly dependent on that as a firewall, because they knew that very early on that there shouldn't be --


BERNSTEIN: Ken, I beg to differ. CUCCINELLI: One more point. One more point that the attorney general is the most independent cabinet member by definition in the cabinet. And the president --

LEWIS: By statutes.

CUCCINELLI: -- may like -- want to treat him -- they want to treat him the same as everybody else in the cabinet, but he is not, because this outside of policy in the areas of law enforcement, the attorney general is called on the exercise independent judgment.

And so far, while Sessions may have not recalled talking to one (inaudible) or another and reported those things and those are all mistakes. I grant (ph) you, but he has acted independently in that area of his responsibility. There's been no sign to the contrary.

BERNSTEIN: But you're right in this. And Sessions did not inform the President of the United States to give him notice that he was going to recuse himself.

LEWIS: I think this is a really positive thing, though, if you're a Republican, if you care about separation of powers and the independence. I mean, this is actually a great sign for America, I mean, with all the horrible things that are happening and all the controversy --

BERNSTEIN: I won't go quite that far.

LEWIS: No, it is.


COOPER: It's a great sign that he would --

LEWIS: It's a great sign that we have people like James Comey who were standing up to the president, exercising the independence of the FBI and Jeff Sessions who was a loyalist who supported Donald Trump and then who acted independently and stood up to the president with all the negativity.


COOPER: One at a time. Steve, go ahead and then -- Steve, go ahead.

[21:25:05] VLADECK: I mean, before we all jump on the Jeff Sessions, you know, has shown nothing but independence bandwagon, I mean, let's be clear. He was still involved in the firing of James Comey, apparently, you know, for pre-textual reasons. So I think, you know, just because he recused, it's still as not clear if he's actually honored that recusal in all facets.

But, Anderson, I think the bigger point is, so let's play this out. I mean, if Jeff Sessions is gone from the Justice Department, you know, sometime soon, then what? I mean, I don't think the Trump administration is going to be any happier with Rod Rosenstein as the acting attorney general. And you have to wonder given how hard it's been for them to find someone to replace Comey. You know, what kind of nominee for attorney general is going to get through the Senate Judiciary Committee given everything that's swirling around right now?

COOPER: Right. Ryan?

LIZZA: Steve is exactly right. If Jeff Sessions -- if you don't think Jeff Sessions is a loyal enough soldier for you at the Justice Department, there's nobody in public life that is going to make it through the Senate and be in that position that is going to somehow be more loyal.

I mean, Trump can't do much better than Sessions. Remember -- you know, I know I made the same point you made before, Matt. It is a good thing that Sessions went to the president reportedly and said maybe he'd have to resign if their relationship was off track or if he felt pressure from the White House. That's definitely a good thing.

Sometimes I think we're using a little bit of low bar for this administration. But at the same time, he made a serious mistake in recusing himself from this investigation and abandoning that recusal and basically recommending to the president that he --


BALL: I don't think it really matters at this point, does he stay or does he go. The point is that the White House has hung him out to dry. And as you all said, he is the most extreme Trump loyalist you can imagine. And a lot of people's minds, he has not actually been an independent attorney general. He has carried the president's water and wasted, violated his stated independence and yet that is still not enough for this president and --

LEWIS: And the fact that seven hours, seven hours have passed and he is hanging out to dry.

BALL: And Trump has done this repeatedly. He tortures people by putting them out as potential firing. So then he doesn't end up cutting them loose. He actually keeps them there sort of stewing in their jobs. But he lets it be out there.

I think it is very purposeful and very pointed that the spokespeople have repeatedly refused to issue that statement of confidence. It's a way of saying you are being hung out to dry. You are getting your turn in the spotlight to sort of be tormented by the president's potential lack of confidence. You get a little bit of uncertainty of whether you get to keep your job just because --

LEWIS: Wait, wait. You're telling me the guy who keeps track of how many scoops of ice cream you get and his presence might be petty enough to play that game?

BALL: Perish the thought.

COOPER: Let's -- we're going to take a break. We're going to continue the conversation. Next, I also want to dig deeper into some new reporting tonight, exclusive CNN reporting, that former Director Comey will testify to at least one point that directly refutes what the president said about their conversation conversations. Details on that ahead.


[21:31:28] COOPER: The president said FBI Director James Comey told him more than once than he wasn't under investigation, three times actually. On Thursday, Comey will say, "That is not true." That's new reporting tonight from Gloria Borger. She's back along with the rest of the panel. So, what have you learned, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, my colleagues Eric Weisbrod (ph), Jake Tapper and I are reporting that James Comey will say that the president's interpretation of what he said to him about not being under investigation would be incorrect. That he will dispute that he ever assured the president that he was not under any kind of investigation, but that these conversations are often quite nuanced, as you know in the legal world, and that the president may have misunderstood the exact meaning of what Comey was saying.

Comey is kind of a slick guy and I'm sure he wanted to try and figure out a way to answer the president's question without really answering it. And Trump took away from it what he did, which was he said, "I've been assured that I'm not under any investigation." So Trump took away kind of this blanket assurance, which we believe Comey will say he did not give the president.

COPPER: So just to be clear, he's going to try to leave it up to everybody else to decide whether or not it was obstruction of justice?

BOGER: Yeah. I think, you know, Comey is going to present himself as a fact witness, we've been told. And he is going to say this is what occurred. We're not sure if he is going to read from the memos or not. We know that Congress has asked for those memos and they haven't gotten them. But he is going to say, "This is what occurred" and leave the judgments, legal and political, up to everybody else. So, he just wants to state the facts.

COPPER: Carl, does that make sense to you that he would go that route?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. He is not going to be a prosecutor in this instance. He is going to, you know, construct a narrative that is his explanation of what occurred. And the background of that narrative is that there has been a cover-up in the White House of whatever has occurred here that has gotten the president and those around him so concerned about disclosure of facts for the last four months.

We don't know what the cover-up is of, exactly. We do not know with any certainty that there's been an obstruction of justice or an illegal act. But what is clear is that there has been concealment. And what all of what we're talking about here tonight is the president's reaction and instinct to conceal and to hide and not have an open investigation in which he cooperates and makes facts available.

That's where we are. That's what this hearing is partly about. And as I said earlier, this is early in the process. We have a long way to go. And that is one of the reasons that the president is so enraged.

COPPER: James, going on, you worked for the FBI for a long time. You know Director Comey. Do you have any doubt that, you know, from Trump supporters that even from, you know, the White House side, they are going to or somebody on that side is going to go after James Comey in maybe in a prebuttal or rebuttal to what he says? And maybe the president himself, you know, live tweeting.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't Anderson. I mean, if there's anyone that's built for the type of explosive testimony that's going to happen on Thursday, it's James Comey.

I mean, since his time as a deputy attorney general and forward, no one is going to doubt the veracity of his comments. No one is going to doubt his moral rectitude. No one is going to doubt that if he took contemporaneous notes that have been leaked already regarding his meetings with the -- with President Trump and the White House, no one is going to doubt that.

[21:35:14] COOPER: Although he did say something which was inaccurate the last time he testified and had, you know, to correct it.

GAGLIANO: He did. And, Anderson, the FBI Director, his job isn't to go out and investigate crime. And when you're on the Hill and you're testifying as much as he does and you're in front of cameras as much as he does, I understand that sometimes you can misspeak, and they quickly took care of that afterwards where he could potentially get boxed then.

You remember on May 3rd, he testified. The last time he testified on the Hill before his firing on May 9th. He was asked if he had -- there was any type of obstruction efforts from the Trump White House. And his successor, Andy McCabe, who on May 11th, I believe, testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee and said, "No one, no one has tried to impede this investigation." If he comes out now and says, "Hey, it's different than what I testified to and what my successor testified to." That's where he's going to get boxed in.

COPPER: Right. I mean, if he -- by not saying it was obstruction of justice before, he would be in a very difficult spot if he suddenly on Thursday said it was obstruction of justice.

LIZZA: That's a very good point, although, he had not been fired yet. So, maybe the pattern of facts is different in his minds now when -- since he was dismissed. And then the next day, the president said -- suggested in an interview with NBC that it was a dismissal over Russia, right?

So maybe -- so I don't see why he couldn't change his mind about that set of facts. I do know that people around Comey are, you know, believe that's -- there are some people that are close to Comey who believe that there's a case for obstruction of justice when it comes to this pattern of facts.

COOPER: And, Molly, I mean, the president has said, you know, he is a grandstander. It's very possible we're going to hear that line again from backers of the president say, look, here's another example of now Jim Comey as a private citizen going in front of the cameras, insisting it being a public hearing.

BALL: Well -- and I think that the kind of discrepancy that we've just been discussing is an instance where it is going to be difficult for Jim Comey to do this whole sort of "just the facts ma'am" presentation. He very much wants it to be and I think his people putting it out there that said this is going to be purely factual is itself a strategy of him trying to position himself as someone who is neutral.

But there's a chance that that gets taken as too cute by half by questioners who are saying, "Wait a minute. You didn't have a problem making prosecutorial judgments when the subject of the investigation was Hillary Clinton or when -- or the last time you were testifying and you were asked to make this judgment before Congress."

So, I think it may get harder when he is facing aggressive questioning for him to take this position that all he is doing is recounting events to which he was witness and not making any judgments. That may be a hard thing to sustain.

BERNSTEIN: The deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, wrote the brief against him when he presented the reasons why Comey should be fired in that letter that went to the President of the United States. It's still a case that has some serious stuff in it. And to think that the Republicans on that committee are not going to may hay out of that report and use that as a basis to, I'll use that word again, to impeach Comey's credibility is to fool ourselves.

COOPER: James, is he much freer though as a citizen to -- in his testimony than he was as director?

GAGLIANO: Well, for there to be a potential invocation of presidential executive privilege and I've heard that discussed. And here's the issue with that.

COOPER: Right. The White House says they're obviously --

GAGLIANO: Right. They've said that they're not going to and that really only applies to government employees. Now, does it apply to civilians who were once in government employ? That's going to be a dicey question. I think good and decent people can come down on both sides of the continuum on did James Comey make some mistakes?

But there can be a good argument for he's a moral, upright man. I believe his moral compass points directly toward the North Star and I think, as he explained on May 3rd in that last appearance on -- before Congress, I believe he explained the calculus that we went through. This wasn't a decision he made rashly. He struggled with it.

COOPER: All eyes certainly are going to be on Comey on Thursday. BERNSTEIN: Well, he is not going to help the president.

COPPER: Well, yeah.

BERNSTEIN: That's the bottom line here. The question is, how much damage is he going to do?

LIZZA: I mean, just to take a step back. Think of how powerful James Comey has become over the last years. He arguably --

COOPER: Well, as the president said, more famous than the president.

LIZZA: More famous --


BERNSTEIN: Not since Edgar Hoover, right?

LIZZA: Most -- a lot of Democrats believed he made Trump presidents and he may be the person that unmakes him.

COOPER: Right. We got to take a break. All eyes are going to be on Comey on Thursday. Tomorrow, another big day in the Russia-White House watch. Senators are going to question Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the public for the first time about whether the president tried to tamper with the Justice Department's Russia investigation. Those questions probably --


[21:43:31] COOPER: Continuing our special look at the upcoming testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, testimony that we will see Thursday. Sort of preview, there's another big event in Russia- White House watch on Capitol Hill tomorrow. For the first time, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will have to answer questions in public about the president's motivations for firing Comey.

Phil Mattingly joins me now with more. So, your sources are saying Democrats are planning to put Trump -- put Russia and President Trump at the center of this hearing. How?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dead center, no question about it, Anderson. It's worth noting, it's not just Rod Rosenstein who's going to be on the witness stand. It's also Director National Intelligence Dan Coats. It's also NSA Michael Rogers. This is a discussion you guys have been having all night in terms of these individuals even at the center of just about every major Russia bombshells story we've seen over last couple of months.

Democrats are keenly aware of that. And aides tell me, Anderson, that they are going to make that a very prominent issue in this hearing. When it comes to Dan Coats and Mike Rogers, they want to know exactly what President Trump asked them in this private moment.

Sources have told us about request for statements denying any collusion. Obviously, you guys have been talking about "The Washington Post" report as well. Democrats want them on the record, want to try and pin them down on anything they may have heard.

When it comes to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, there are similar questions for him. What was his role in the Comey firing? What was the influence of the president in his decision to write that three page memo, Anderson, that many White House officials point to as the rationale for that firing? All of these are going to be front and center issues.

One thing to keep an eye on, these Democrats as they ask these questions, even some of which they probably won't get many answers to, particularly in a public forum, this is laying the groundwork for Thursday.

[21:45:04] They are keenly aware that all of these witnesses have been key players. And they want to kind of set the tone for exactly what we're going to see at that kind of super bowl of hearings of sorts that's coming just 24 hours later.

COOPER: It doesn't mean Republicans don't have a strategy here as well.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. Look, the interesting part of this hearing is it has nothing to do with the Russian investigation.

COOPER: Right.

MATTINGLY: It's actually about the reauthorization of an intelligence program, a very important intelligence program according in the intelligence community that deals with the scooping up of communications of non-U.S. citizens outside the country.

But what we have seen over last couple of months, Anderson, when it comes to this program, it often gets tangled up in the unmasking debate. This is a key issue Republicans consistently talk about.

Obviously, we had House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes make a very large issue of the idea that Obama administration officials were requesting essentially taking off the redaction of U.S. official, names of Trump campaign officials in David Nunes' this case.

You've seen Republicans trying to stir the debate in that direction. A lot of Democrats feel like that is a blatant attempt to try and move the story away from Russia, move the story away from President Trump. There's a very good chance, I'm told, you will see similar types of inquiries tomorrow.

Again, the hearing is not supposed to be about Russia. But everybody that's involved that I've spoken too, they are keenly aware, while this is a very important intelligence program, a debate that is absolutely going to happen going forward. It's necessary going forward for the reauthorization.

Russia is where this hearing is going to be focused. Everybody understands what's at stake when it comes to these hearings. And everybody understands, Anderson, what's coming just 24 hours later. Expect some fireworks, even I'm told, when these senators take the stand tomorrow.

COOPER: All right, Phil Mattingly. Phil, thanks very much.

In a moment, tweet or not to tweet? Will the president actually live- tweet during Director Comey's testimony?


[21:50:34] COOPER: As we continue our special hour about to what James Comey's testimony is going to bring on Thursday, there's also what the president might bring on Thursday. According to "The Washington Post," he might be live-tweeting a rebuttal response, firing off his own thoughts on Comey's testimony in real time.

Also tonight, a pro-Trump group is going on the attack trying to label Director Comey as unworthy with this ad that will play during his testimony. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As head of the FBI, James Comey put politics over protecting America. After the FBI banned terms like radical Islam for political correctness, Comey allowed the dangerous practice to continue.

When terror attacks were on the rise last year, Comey was consumed with election meddling. And after he testified before the U.S. Senate, Comey's own staff admitted some of his answers were flat out wrong.

James Comey, just another D.C. insider only in it for himself.


COOPER: Joining us now is Democratic Strategist Paul Begala and former Trump Campaign Deputy Communications Director Bryan Lanza.

So, Bryan, we've seen President Trump create many of his problems via Twitter. Why take the risk of creating more problems? I mean, A, do you believe he would live-tweet and is that wise?

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIR., TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Listen, I think I'm going to get inside (ph) to this with my former colleagues over there. I think he should live-tweet. I mean, what we're having is a political discussion. It's going to be a political trial that discerns whether it's obstruction of justice. And the most powerful political weapon out there today is Donald Trump's Twitter. Why would you eliminate his weapon to communicate? Why would you --

COOPER: Do you think his tweets in general are successful? Do you think -- yeah, do you think they're successful in terms of what the White House wants to be doing?

LANZA: I think they're successful communicating to the majority of Americans in the states that voted him to come and bring change to D.C. I mean, you have to understand his Twitter like the press likes to dissect it in saying this is what he's saying and this is what he means.

But at the end of the day, his tweet is the voice of millions of Americans who support his mandate. And when he's tweeting these things, he's speaking out their voices in a very loud way and they respond and they appreciate it and that's why you see his base stuck with them through the courts of all these, you know, so-called scandals. And that's why it's a very powerful tool as we have this political discussion going forward regarding the Thursday's hearing.

COOPER: Paul, what's your response?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well -- yeah, we're (ph) in so different hats. OK. As a Democrat, who's not the biggest Trump supporter, I think it's great. As a commentator who's going to cover this, I think live-tweeting, it would be great.

If I can set those too powerful or just aside to agree with Bryan, but let me just (inaudible) as a former White House official. He's often -- look, he's great at distracting and moving the news away from the story of the day. Not sure he can do it on Comey day, but maybe, nobody is better at this weapon of mass distraction than Donald Trump.

The problem is, he's often very, very tactical and not strategic. When Jeff Sessions, for example, recused himself is a terrible story for Donald Trump because it going to speak to Russia. That's when, on March 4th, Donald Trump tweeted that Barack Obama had wiretapped him.

Now, we know that's for preposterous. It was a (inaudible). It got Trump in much more trouble over time. For the moment it distracted us from the Sessions story, but it caused him more trouble.

The truth is, Bryan, honestly, to give you free advice from former White House aide. He's got something more powerful than Twitter. He's got the office of the presidency. And what those folks who voted for him voted for was not bigger attacks on James Comey, which is want I fear he -- I predict he will do.

They actually care about things like jobs, like health care, and like the opioid addiction crisis, which seems like nobody in Washington is caring about, certainly not Donald Trump, those kinds of things. He could actually take the presidency and focus it on the things that matter to the people who elected him. And god forbid, even the people who didn't vote for him who still he has an obligation to serve. He won't do that. He's a narcissist. He's going to focus on himself.


COOPER: But, Bryan, the White House, you know, this week was talking that this is going to be a week about infrastructure. They're going to, you know, be talking about infrastructure.

The president -- you know, that's not what he started out tweeting about. You would think wouldn't it make more sense for him to, in terms of, you know, his legislative agenda move -- try to move that through Twitter? LANZA: You know, he has multiple fronts that he's fighting here. You know, but the most important thing is this sort of Russian investigation, the Mueller investigation. You know, that is a political investigation. It's going to be a political trial that sort of deals with that and it goes back to the point like you want to hear with the president has to say.

He is the best deliver of his message that people connect with his message. And so, I'm probably not in agreement with my colleagues in the White House. I'm not there today. But, you know, I do want to hear what his message is going forward.

[21:55:06] Nobody has the strength and the depth of the Donald Trump -- of the president. When he's talking about these topics, people are paying attention. The media's forced to sort of say what he says and what he means and I think that's a good discussion. I think leaving Comey --

COOPER: Do you think there's a lot of depth in his tweets?

LANZA: Do I think what?

COOPER: You said nobody has the depth when he talks about this issue. Do you thing there's a lot of depth in his tweets?

LANZA: I think there's a lot -- there's a ton of depth in his tweets. I mean, his tweets are directly towards his audience of the 300 plus electoral votes that brought him to D.C. to make the changes that are necessary. And, you know, when he tweets, he is tweeting to them. He is their voice. I mean, that's why --


COOPER. Right, but in sort of depth of actually what he is talking about 140 characters, I mean, there's only so much depth you can get.

LANZA: I'm just going to disagree. I think words are a powerful medium to communicate your message.


LANZA: And sometimes less is better. I think we've all seen that over time.

BEGALA: Well, his tweets are like him, they are riveting. You can't turn away from them, but they're very often unfounded, not grounded in fact. They're very often unwise. They hurt his own cause. They're very often unhinged and I mean it, literally, like --


COOPER: We got to leave there since (inaudible). We're going to just leave it there. Bryan Lanza, appreciate it, Paul Begala as well. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: That's all the time we have. Thanks for watching. I'll be anchoring from Washington for tomorrow's hearings. Also, join me along with Wolf Blitzer at 9 a.m. Eastern, Thursday morning, for special coverage of James Comey's testimony.

[22:00:05] Time now to hand it over to Don Lemon with "CNN Tonight."