Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
New Revelations From the Book on Trump White House; NYT: President Trump Ordered White House Lawyer to Stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from Recusing Himself from Russia Probe. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired January 4, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
More on the breaking news shortly. "The Times" new reporting.
But, first, we have the book. CNN has the book that anyone inside the White House and anyone outside interested in politics is either talking about, worrying about, laughing about or furious about. "Fire and Fury," Michael Wolff's White House expose.
Late last night, the president's lawyers tried to block it, and publisher, in defiance, advanced the release date to tomorrow. We got a copy right now. We've been going through it. Before today, just excerpts were available.
As you know, the book sourced heavily to fired White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is already rocking 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for portrayal of chaos and dysfunction. Well, now, there's much, much more from him on the first family, Jared Kushner especially and Bannon's feud with him, James Comey, the Russia probe and more.
We should begin by noting that some of Michael Wolff's reporting has been corroborated, some errors have already been verified. One person he quotes said she never said those things to him. Another who took part in a dinner he writes about verifies his account of that, down to the word and she joins us shortly.
We should also say that Wolff paints quite a few scenes without directly quoting anyone and his sourcing at times is vague.
Here's what he says about that in the book's preface. Quote: It is worth noting some of the journalistic conundrums that I faced when dealing with the Trump administration. Many of them, the result of White House's absence of official procedures and the lack of experience of its principals.
Wolff continues: These challenges have included dealing with off-the- record or deep background material that was later casually put on the record. Sources who provided accounts and confidence and subsequently shared them widely as though liberated by their first utterances, a frequent inattention to setting any parameters on the use of a conversation; a source's views so well-known and widely shared, that it would be risible not to credit them and the almost samizdat sharing of gobsmacked retelling, of otherwise private and deep background conversations.
Wolff also notes: And everywhere in this story is the president's own constant, tireless and uncontrolled voice, public and private, shared by others on daily basis, sometimes virtually as he utters it.
So, bear that in mind as we bring you passages that do not contain direct quotations but do appear to make news. As for the direct quotes, Steve Bannon has not disputed any of the ones attributed to him and we have attempted to get comment from many of the other names that you'll be hearing tonight.
We begin with Wolff's description of the moments aboard Air Force One, the president returning from his Europe trip, just after meeting with Russians claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. This is significant because those moments could form the basis for cover-up allegations.
Quote: The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That's what was discussed, period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that "The Times" had the incriminating e-mail chain.
In fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew "The Times" had this email chain. The president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton.
Quote: It was a real time example, he writes, of denial and cover-up. That, of course, remains to be seen. And we'll talk about that tonight.
Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House, where press secretary Sara Sanders took aim at book.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
COOPER: Jim, what more did the White House have to say today about this book?
ACOSTA: Well, you heard Sarah Sanders during the press briefing today describe this book as book full of lies. But I asked Sarah Sanders during the briefing about that claim, considering the fact that the White House gave Michael Wolff what appears to be unprecedented access to multiple officials, including Steve Bannon, inside the White House.
Here's what she had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: You were calling the Michael Wolff book a book full of lies. Didn't this White House give Michael Wolff all the access that he wanted?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Absolutely not. In fact, there are probably more than 30 requests for access to information from Michael Wolff that were repeatedly denied, including within that at least two dozen requests of him asking to have an interview with the president, which he never did. He never discussed this book with the president. And to me, that would be the most important voice that you could have, if you were looking to write a book about an individual, would be to have some time with him. He never did. He was repeatedly denied that, I think because we saw him for what he was and there was no reason for us to waste the president of the United States' time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, we should point out, the White House continued to be and blame Bannon mode for all of this. I talked to a White House official earlier this evening who essentially said that Bannon was responsible for clearing Wolff into the White House for most of these visits that he had over here.
But when you hear what Michael Wolff is saying or read what he's saying, especially what he wrote in "The Hollywood Reporter" earlier today that basically all he had to do was call somebody over here and he was invited into the White House.
[20:05:07] It does appear he had extraordinary access to officials over here, Anderson, and you know, it is just like the kind of access we've never seen anybody have over here before for the production of a book, at least during this administration.
COOPER: He also talks in "The Hollywood Reporter" today about sort of the atmosphere inside near the Oval Office and basically sitting in the hall and kind of being able to see the comings and goings of Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon and Gary Cohn and all these people.
ACOSTA: That's right and in and like I was saying you know, we in the press corps have seen Michael Wolff come and go over here at the White House, and so it did sound a bit incredulous when the White House, when this press secretary was saying earlier today well you know this is a book full of lies, it's tabloid trash and so on, and yet, it was the White House that was allowing Michael Wolff to come in here time and again to talk to officials here.
Apparently, he was talking to Steve Bannon time and again, and was not obstructed by anybody inside this administration. It was only when these revelations came out that they really turned on this book and turned on Steve Bannon. Up until this point, we really did not hear much of a peep out of this White House in terms of any kind of condemnation of this book.
And, of course, you saw the White House trying to put the kibosh on this book sending out these threatening letters to Steve Bannon and the publisher of Michael Wolff's book. That only served to accelerate interest in book and now it's been rushed to release. It's coming out tomorrow morning.
It is rather extraordinary to see how the White House has handled the fallout from all of this, but it's pretty typical of how they deal with damage control. They tend to deal with it after the fact when they really could have dealt with it months ago by not giving Michael Wolff as much access as he had.
COOPER: Right, and they've certainly given the book a lot more attention than -- I mean, it would have gotten attention anyway, but I mean, I guess they had to respond in some way. But the president tweeting the way he did or making that statement that he did, certainly gave it, you know, front page --
ACOSTA: And make no mistake, Anderson, they're reading it behind the scenes at the White House. There are a few copies circulating inside the West Wing, they know what's in this book. And it seems that when this book comes out to the public tomorrow, they're going to be responding to more revelations than what we've seen so far -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Appreciate it, Jim.
We mentioned at the top of the broadcast that new report in "The New York Times", the headline: Obstruction inquiry shows Trump's struggle to keep grip on Russia investigation".
One of the reporters, our Maggie Haberman, joins us now on the phone.
Maggie, explain what you have learned. What's in this?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Sure, this is -- I would like you to be clear -- this was primarily Mike Schmidt, my colleague's reporting, and he did a terrific job. He came up with very detailed reporting about how Don McGahn, the White House counsel, went at the urging of the president to the attorney general and asked him not to recuse from the Russia probe, which as we know Jeff Sessions did without telling the president he was going to do it in advance, made the president very angry. He's been angry about it ever since, that has set off a chain reaction ever since.
The idea that McGahn would go do this, knowing that this potentially problematic is striking when the president was told that Sessions was still going to recuse himself, the president was very angry, fumed that he needed to be personally protected, wanted some kind of relationships between himself and the A.G. the way he believed that Bobby Kennedy had protected John F. Kennedy. This is how he cited.
Michael also learned that four days before James Comey was fired, an aide to Jeff Sessions went to Capitol Hill looking for, quote/unquote, dirt on Comey. The timing is quite notable.
COOPER: Wait a minute, let me -- I just want to repeat that. Four days before Comey was fired, an aide of Sessions?
HABERMAN: Yes, looking for dirt, quote-unquote, went to Capitol Hill looking for negative information about James Comey.
COOPER: Do we know at whose behest that person did that.
HABERMAN: We don't, but it was somebody working for Jeff Sessions. You know, it's not clear to me whether Sessions directly knew or didn't directly know, but it was certainly coming from the Department of Justice.
COOPER: And just to be clear, you said -- talked about Don McGahn to try to convince Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself, he was doing that according to this reporting at the order of President Trump?
HABERMAN: Correct, the president wanted to be personally protected by the attorney general with regard to the Russia probe. This is about as -- this is the clearest, most substantial reporting we have seen about what the president demanded and what he wanted of the attorney general with regard to this probe.
COOPER: Maggie Haberman from "The New York Times" talking about reporting from her, and mostly from Michael Schmidt, as she pointed out. Thank you very much, Maggie.
I want to bring in CNN chief legal analyst Jeff Toobin, Georgetown University Law School's Carrie Cordero. She's a CNN legal analyst as well.
Jeff, what is the significance of this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That this is potentially more evidence that the president was obstructing justice in connection with the Comey investigation.
[20:10:05] I mean, here you have -- the whole reason Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation is that he knew he was part of what the Russia investigation was going to be investigating. It was appropriate for him to recuse himself by trying to undo that decision through his counsel, Don McGahn, the president is showing that he wanted to be protected from that investigation that is what obstruction of justice is.
Now, this alone I don't think would amount to a crime in and of itself. But when you look at the pattern of behavior, whether it is firing James Comey for conducting this investigation, whether it is telling Lester Holt, telling the Russian visitors that he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation, all of it adds up to the potential for a charge of obstruction of justice against the president and the times reporting today is another brick in that wall.
COOPER: Carrie, how do you see this?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Donald Trump as a candidate and now as president has a fundamentally flawed understanding of the role of the attorney general and the role of the Justice Department. And he thought on the campaign, he apparently has still thought that throughout his first year as president that the Department of Justice and the prosecutors and investigators are an arm of the White House and he doesn't understand the independence that the attorney general needs to have.
Jeff Sessions, whether people disagree with his politics, with his policy positions or whether the -- with a policy direction that he's taken the Justice Department in probably the most important decision he had to make, which was refusing himself in the Russia investigation. He did the right thing, and he adhered to the ethics advice from the professional ethics lawyers in the department that the right thing to do was to recuse from that investigation.
And if this new "New York Times" is correct, this new "New York Times" report that's just coming out is correct, then he did so under tremendous political pressure from the White House counsel, which was coming from the president.
COOPER: Jeff, the idea that someone who works for an aide to Jeff Sessions went to Capitol Hill to -- according to "New York Times" find dirt on Comey four days before Comey was fired, how significant is that?
TOOBIN: Well, it suggests that that the president was determined to fire James Comey for whatever reason. I mean, why it's significant that he's looking for dirt is that it suggests that he made up that -- he made the decision to fire him and after the fact tried to find a justification for it. I mean, that's the implication of this reporting in "The Times", that contrary to the original explanation for firing James Comey, which was that the president disapproved of how mean he was to Hillary Clinton, which was really a preposterous explanation from the very beginning, it suggests that there was a different reason and the president was looking for justifications to support -- to support firing him but the decision to fire him had already been made.
COOPER: Carrie, is there any conflict that the fact that this person was, you know, an aide to Jeff Sessions and Jeff Sessions, you know, had recused himself from anything to do with Russia, whereas where Comey obviously was dealing with the Russia investigation.
CORDERO: It's just an odd thing to think about, that an aide to the attorney general would be going to Capitol Hill to look for, quote, dirt. I don't even know sort of what that means looking for dirt on Jim Comey. What would seem a little bit more likely would be that they would go to Capitol Hill if this happened, to look for political support for firing James Comey. In other words, they knew that there were perhaps Democrats on the Hill who were unhappy with how he handled the Clinton matter. And so, maybe they were looking for support.
I really -- I don't understand at all why anybody, let alone an advisor to the attorney general, would go to Capitol Hill looking for some kind of derogatory information on him, but it also, if true, just sort of supports the understanding that the reason for firing the FBI director was concocted and was not based on any merit-related reason or anything related to his performance in his role as FBI director.
[20:15:02] COOPER: Jeff -- yes, go ahead, Jeff.
TOOBIN: I -- just, you know, one thing this report really does is it cries out for Don McGahn to give public testimony before Congress about what he did. I mean, you know --
COOPER: But can he do that? I mean, if he was acting at the behest of the president, is it that covered by -- I mean, is it covered by attorney-client privilege or by presidential --
TOOBIN: Not attorney-client. I mean, the argument perhaps would be executive privilege.
TOOBIN: But remember, the key moment in the Watergate -- in the Watergate congressional hearings was the testimony of John Dean, who held the exact same job as Don McGahn holds now. And he testified at great length and in an incriminating way about his conversations with President Nixon.
It seems entirely incumbent upon Don McGahn, given the very questionable nature of this exchange, that he should be required to tell Congress and thus the American people what the heck was going on.
COOPER: Although, Jeff, I mean -- and you know, the number of people from this White House who have testified, who have invoked, you know, not executive privilege because that it wasn't officially invoked by the White House, but some -- you know, un-invented form of that of, well, I just don't want to tell you my conversations with the president because I don't think I should.
It seems like everyone else has done it, why wouldn't Don McGahn do that?
TOOBIN: Well, he might. But we never know -- you know, Congress never knows until it asked and, you know, look, the fundamental fact of these congressional investigations is that Republicans are in charge, Republicans are in the House -- in charge in the House and they're in charge in the Senate. And these investigations seem much more designed to protect President Trump than to investigate him.
TOOBIN: But that doesn't mean those of us who are following it from the outside shouldn't say that Congress should do its job and get these people under oath and find out what they knew and what they did.
COOPER: Jeff and Carrie, if you will, just stay with us.
We're joined as well by former senior White House advisors David Gergen and David Axelrod.
David Gergen, you've read this "New York Times" reporting. What -- to you, what is the significance?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I agree absolutely with what Jeff Toobin has been saying, that is it adds to the pattern.
I'm not sure -- the sending of McGahn over the Justice Department is in and of itself would qualify as an active obstruction, but seeing it within that pattern I think it has a lot more weight. I do believe there is a question and the impeachment, any kind of impeachment proceedings, if there is an obstruction of justice, is there an underlying crime that can take -- can you have an obstruction if there's not a crime? And that was then -- depend heavily on what Mueller comes up with regard to the collusion issue, of possibly the money-laundering issue. So, we'll have to wait and see exactly where this goes.
One of the curious things I find here is sending someone from the Justice Department to find dirt on Comey, I've never heard of anything like that except for the Nixon days. And it does raise questions, who was this person who sent him? Because was it -- was it the attorney general who had already recused himself? Was that the number two in the Justice Department who is now running things? Where did that order come from?
That's a really peculiar, odd circumstance and I do think it represents all of skullduggery.
COOPER: David Axelrod, is this -- I mean, having worked in the Obama White House, is this just an odd sequence of events?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, odd I think would be a polite way to describe it. I mean, there is -- it is so -- it is so foreign to me having worked in the White House and knowing how scrupulously people dealt with the Justice Department, the FBI, the notion of a president sending his White House counsel over to persuade the attorney general not to recuse himself. And that we know that Trump wasn't happy with that decision, but now, this act of actually involving himself through his counsel in trying to persuade him, that is new information.
And I think what's particularly disturbing is this description of Trump's reasoning that the attorney general's job is to protect me, said where's my Roy Cohn? Roy Cohn being a particularly despicable figure in American history who was the right-hand man of Joe McCarthy, also by the way an early mentor of Donald Trump, but -- and a notorious fixer.
So, the notion that the attorney general's job is to protect the president and protect from what? What is it that the president feared?
I do think that this is going to add momentum to what is already a roaring fire here.
COOPER: Yes. David Axelrod, I mean, it is fascinating that, you know, given Jeff Sessions early sign on to the Trump campaign and, you know, traveling with the president, being a surrogate for the president, it is fascinating that the president would somehow believe that he appoints him attorney general and he's going to continue basically being his, you know, Roy Cohn or you know, Bobby Kennedy.
[20:20:18] AXELROD: Well, there's no doubt that he that's what he believed, that that this was his role to protect -- to protect the president. The irony of all of this is it comes on a day when two members of Congress called for Sessions to be dismissed, and, of course, that's exactly what the president would want now because if he had an attorney general who wasn't involved in the campaign and wasn't involved in this Russia matter, then that attorney general would then take control of the investigation and Mueller would have to respond to that attorney general.
So, it's quite a tangled web here.
COOPER: David Gergen, do you agree with Jeff that Don McGahn -- Don McGahn should be called to testify?
GERGEN: Well, I do. I do, but I think what we have to rely on is a far more serious investigation that is underway by Bob Mueller, and I would assume that that he's been called in has testified or will testify so soon because he's an absolutely essential piece now of this puzzle. And there's -- it's essential for the investigations, you know, what is it what has been sort of disheartening is that the way these investigations are stalling out on Capitol Hill and they look more and more like partisan bickering within the investigatory bodies than they do like serious investigations that they were proclaimed to be when we started down this path.
We're almost entirely reliant now on the Bob Mueller team.
COOPER: Jeff Toobin, just explained again you -- your belief and the significance of this. I mean, to you, this doesn't necessarily point out obstruction.
TOOBIN: No, it is not in and of itself an obstruction of justice. But if you have a theory that that the president's actions, you know, during the period of the -- you know, the first several months of his presidency, represented a pattern, a conspiracy to obstruct justice, to stop or interfere with the investigation of his campaign and in Russia, this is another piece of evidence that supports that theory.
The reason it supports that theory is that Jeff Sessions was trying to do the right thing. He was recognizing that he was too involved with the Trump campaign in order to lead an investigation of the Trump campaign. I mean, it's just, you know, basic legal ethics that Jeff Sessions was reflecting. And by interfering at that decision or trying to interfere with that decision through his -- through his White House counsel Don McGahn, that suggests that the president didn't want an interview -- an independent investigation of the Trump campaign. He wanted to control that investigation and that could be seen as part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.
COOPER: David Gergen?
GERGEN: Anderson, it's just as clear as it can be now that the president feels he's -- there are things to be hidden. He does not want out in the public. And now, the publication of this book is beginning to give us an understanding of why.
COOPER: Carrie, let me ask you. Just from a legal standpoint. If Don McGahn has -- assuming Don McGahn has talked to Robert Mueller, been asked to interview with Robert Mueller, is executive privilege something he could cite in that interview, to not answer questions?
CORDERO: I think he probably would, because the White House seems to be -- although they're not really clear about doing it in the different public congressional testimonies that we've seen, they seem to be asserting various variations of the executive privilege. But I would just add that even before this report tonight, there is reason to think that the White House counsel is already in a position of being a witness to obstruction, to the extent that he was knowledgeable about the president's intent to fire the FBI director, to do other things that president did sort of last spring/early summer to try to shut down the Russia investigation, both before the special counsel was appointed and after.
I think when we look at obstruction -- if we ever do see an obstruction case brought, whether it is through the special counsel's office or whether it is in the political arena, what we will see is a pattern of obstruction that brought together makes a case of obstruction. It's not going to be one specific act.
But the White House counsel has been there for many different conversations and certainly, I think at this point, it's a question regarding his continued effectiveness in the position of White House counsel, if, in fact, he is a witness in an obstruction investigation.
TOOBIN: And, Anderson --
TOOBIN: Can I just address something David mentioned a little earlier?
[20:25:02] Which was the legal question of, can you have obstruction of justice if you don't have an underlying crime?
TOOBIN: And that's a case -- the courts have dealt with that question many times and they have always said, yes. You can have you can charge someone with obstruction of justice without charging them, much less convicting them of an underlying crime. As a legal matter in front of the courts, there's no question that that issue was settled.
However, if you're talking about impeachment, Congress can decide whatever they want in terms of the legal standards there. So, if Congress decides you can't have obstruction of justice without an underlying crime, well, that's -- you know, that's the end of that story.
So, you know, we're dealing in two very different worlds here. The courts have very strict rules. Congress operates very much by its own rules.
COOPER: Yes. Just finally, David Axelrod --
AXELROD: Can I --
COOPER: Let me just ask you quickly. Carried made a point about -- you know, Don McGahn is a kind of a -- at the epicenter of a lot of conversations. Where does the loyalty of the White House counsel lie? Is it to the president as an individual? Is it to the White House as an institution? AXELROD: Well, I look I think that the -- his loyalty is to the president I believe, and the White House.
But let me just -- let me just pick up on one other point and repurpose your question, Anderson, which is earlier, it was mentioned that McGahn could answer some important questions. One important question you can answer goes to this question of whether there was a cover-up of a crime. He knows what the acting attorney general told him about what General Flynn had done, and did he -- was he told and did he tell the president that General Flynn had lied to the FBI, which he's now pled guilty to.
If the president knew that and then asked the FBI director to drop the matter, it seems that that advances the case.
COOPER: Well, we should point out, Don McGahn is the person that Sally Yates came to and met at the White House to explain what she had learned --
COOPER: -- about Michael Flynn.
COOPER: He made that a point of the contact.
Jeff, Carrie, David Gergen, David Axelrod, thank you.
We're going to be back shortly to some of the legal heat on the president that Michael Wolff's book may document. One of the people from one vivid scene joins us shortly.
[20:30:03] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: In a night of blockbusters, more now on Michael Wolff's blockbuster in book which CNN has obtained, Wolff described a great detail -- a dinner party attended by Steve Bannon and fired Fox News boss Roger Ailes.
Now when this passage came out yesterday people ask, how he could have been so precise? It terms out, he hosted the dinner and one of the other guest, Janice Min, part-owner of the Hollywood reported, tweeted about it saying, "So I was one of the six guests at the Bannon/Ailes dinner party in January 2017 and every word I've seen from the book about it is absolutely accurate. It was an astonishing night." Janice Min joins us now.
Janice thanks for being here. Firs of all, this dinner, can you briefly explain how it came together?
JANICE MIN, PART-OWNER, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Yes, in the last week of 2016, Michael Wolff, who is contributing editor to The Hollywood Reporter sent me a note and said, hey, if you're going to be in New York next week, I live in Los Angeles, if you're going to be in New York I'm having a casual dinner with the Aileses, so it's Roger and Elizabeth Ailes, his wife. Can you make it?
And, so I was going to be in town, closer to -- maybe about two days before the dinner, Michael sends me a note and says, believe it or not, I think Steve Bannon might be joining us.
So, you know, as an editor, I find this intriguing. And we show up to Michael's house in New York City. His partner Victoria has made dinner. And in come Roger and Elizabeth. And the night begins.
COOPER: And I understand Steve Bannon showed up late -- according to Michael Wolff showed up like three hours late from Trump tower?
MIN: Yes. So it was incredible. I talked to Roger Ailes, who I knew him slightly. He was amazingly a big fan of "The Hollywood Reporter" as someone who grew up in entertainment, and he and his wife were -- we had a spirited discussion about the accusations leveled against him at Fox News. He spoke quite candidly about Rupert Murdoch and there was a lot of personal discussion about the impact that the news was having on his son.
MIN: One of the really fascinating things about the conversation with Roger and his wife was that, in his heart he truly, truly believed he had done nothing wrong.
COOPER: It's interesting.
MIN: And Elizabeth -- they were a couple, if you didn't know the back story, if you didn't know all the --
MIN: -- clouds around him, that you would think that this was a very nice older couple in love --
COOPER: I want to ask.
MIN: And Elizabeth.
COOPER: Sorry. I just want to ask you about a few quotes from the book, from that dinner. According to the book, Roger Ailes asked Steve Bannon, "What has he gotten himself into with the Russians," meaning then President-elect Trump, Bannon responded, "He went to Russia and he thought he was going to meet Putin but Putin didn't couldn't give a" -- a different word he used -- about him. So he's kept trying. I just want -- did you hear that? And is that accurate?
MIN: You know, I can't say I -- I heard a discussion, I couldn't say verbatim word for word, because I wasn't taking notes. But that sounds accurate to me. I was at dinner where there were just six people, and I was seated between Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes. And there was this frantic back and forth between the two of them and it was unbelievable, it was like saying the Republican agenda being laid out for the next four years.
MIN: One of the things that was very clear from Steve Bannon, and -- you know, it was so interesting, Steve Bannon walks in quite late. And he's offered a drink right away. And he very demonstrably says no, I'm not going to drink. Then he sits down and has some dinner and really just goes into it. And he and Roger Ailes, the two of them they were basically plotting the future of the Republican Party in the Trump administration. There was so many interesting things said, started out talking about -- they were building the cabinet together. And one of the things they started talking about, which was an imminent subject right then was Rudy Giuliani and his disappointment over not being named secretary of state.
And Ailes is so funny he just said, you know what, and he sort of casual, and he was like, just tell Rudy, I know you it Rudy, you just tell Rudy -- just get Rudy photographed once or twice coming out of Air Force One and Rudy is all good.
MIN: And then they started talking about John --
COOPER: Sorry, there are couple other questions I just need to ask you about -- what seems to speak to --
MIN: Yes, of course.
COOPER: -- to Bannon, as assessment of Donald Trump's intellect, again, from the book. Roger Ailes says, I wouldn't give Donald too much to think about. Bannon responds, too much, too little doesn't necessarily change things. Again, that exchange, is that something you heard or how did you interpret it if you did?
MIN: Yes. Yes. There was ongoing theme. To be clear, Bannon had a fondness for Donald Trump in the night but he -- I can't say he didn't think -- it was almost he had paternal role to Donald Trump. He --
[20:35:03] COOPER: Like he saw himself above Donald Trump?
MIN: I remember one of the first things he said to Michael. He saw himself in control of Donald Trump --
COOPER: That's interesting.
MIN: Or in control of the situation. And -- there was a consistent theme that maybe Donald doesn't have -- the president, he called him Donald or Mr. Trump occasionally -- doesn't have the patience to go through details. And he laughed about certain things about how Donald Trump thought John Bolton's mustache was unattractive. There are so many things about the way he didn't like John Bolton look.
COOPER: Actually, I'm going to read one of the --
MIN: Those things were absolutely said.
COOPER: I want to read that -- actually, directly from the book because again, it includes the author's context. Quote, actually it asks -- does he get it -- wait a minute, I'm sorry. I want to read the Bolton one that you just talked about, regarding former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. "Well he got in trouble because got in fight in hotel one night and chased some woman," that's according to quote from Ailes. Bannon responded, "if I told Trump that, he might have the job." Did you hear that?
MIN: Yes. Yes.
MIN: There was a lot of -- there was a sort of a lot of -- I guess you would call it unpolitically correct stuff going back and forth. And I think that was one of the things that was just mind blowing to me was both the level of trust they had at Michael Wolff that they were saying all of this in front of two people who had the ability to put this out in the world.
COOPER: And there was no talk of this being off the record?
MIN: The ground rules at this meal, when it started were nothing could be used at that moment. Until later, Michael Wolff upon Roger Ailes' death was granted permission by his wife, by his widow, to use the night. And later Steve Bannon told him he could make the dinner on the record.
COOPER: Wow, that's fascinating. Hey, Janice Min, I really appreciate you coming in and talking to us tonight. Thank you so much.
MIN: Thank you.
COOPER: All right, more now from the book and Wolff says from the president's mouth making comparisons between his situation, Watergate and his continued problem with leakers or potential informants. Here he is talking to advisors about that and specifically about James Comey, "Comey was a rat, repeated Trump. There were rats everywhere and you had to get rid of them. John Dean, John Dean he repeated. Do you know what John Dean did to Nixon?"
It just so happens, we have John Dean, Former Nixon White House Counsel with us tonight. So, John, le me ask you, do you know what John Dean did to Nixon?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL (via telephone): I do.
COOPER: I'm wondering what you make of the president citing that?
DEAN: I'm sorry?
COOPER: What do you make of the president citing that according to Wolff?
DEAN: I'm delighted he reacts that way. I think it's a badge of honor with this president as -- when I hit the top of Nixon's enemies list. So, I think it's good that presidents are aware of Watergate, they're aware of the consequences of Watergate, and maybe he has some crude understanding of Watergate.
COOPER: Wolff also described the president as "John Dean freak," who would go, "bananas," when you would be on T.V. comparing the Trump- Russia investigation to Watergate. According Wolff, the president would talk facts on the television about loyalty and what people would do for media attention. Does this sound like a properly functioning president of the United States?
DEAN: Well, I've had difficulty with the functioning of this president from the very beginning. It's one of the reasons I was interested in becoming a CNN contributor when I accepted the post. Because I thought somebody needed to speak truth to this man and let him hear it, the historical comparisons in particular.
COOPER: John, Jeff Toobin is also here. I know he wants to ask you a question. Jeff.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: John, you know, -- we have this "New York Times" story about Don McGahn at president's request or insistence of -- you know, talking to Jeff Sessions, trying to get him not to recuse himself. I mean, Don McGahn is one of your successors as White House counsel. Do you think there is any problem, any legal impediment, any reason why Don McGahn couldn't testify about this incident in front of a Congressional Committee the way you testified about your conversations with President Nixon?
DEAN: In front of a Congressional Committee I think it's an open question, if the president invoked the executive privilege, he might be able to impose it. If you recall, during Watergate that was the unresolved element of executive privilege. Grand jury clearly had access to the tapes, the Senate Watergate Committee never got access to the tapes. Judge said stopped it, Judge Sirica, he wouldn't -- he didn't rule on it, thought it was political question. So that's an unresolved issue. As far as attorney/client privilege, that's been pretty well resolved by Ken Starr case.
[20:40:02] COOPER: Go ahead Jeff.
TOOBIN: Why didn't you -- why were you allowed to testify about conversations with the president? Why wasn't executive privilege invoked about that?
DEAN: I don't know why they didn't invoke the executive privilege. How do you invoke executive privilege? There's no such thing as injunction to not testify. They did waive attorney/client privilege. They knew we were going to blow through it anyway because of the exceptions to the privilege even then.
TOOBIN: So the real issue is does President Trump tell Don McGahn I forbid you from talking to Congress about these conversations.
DEAN: That's right. And what's the sanction is to fire him. What is -- I was glad you clarified the issue of his responsibility. Today that's been clarified post-Watergate under rule 1.13 of the model code of professional ethics put out by American Bar Association in representing an organization. It's the organization that he owes the loyalty to.
COOPER: But John, that was actually my question. So, let me just repeat that. Don McGahn, his loyalty should not be to Donald Trump, President Trump, it should be to the executive branch, to the White House?
DEAN: It is to the office of the president in his case. That's what he represents, as does Ty Cobb. When they're on the payroll of the White House, they represent the office of the president, not the man who occupies it.
COOPER: So if they're aware of some wrongdoing or attempts at obstruction or whatever it may be, they -- do they have a duty to discuss that with somebody like Robert Mueller?
DEAN: They have to take it to the highest authority if they're aware of a crime. And with the president it's probably the Congress.
TOOBIN: That's an absolutely critical point, Anderson, that Don McGahn is not Donald Trump's personal lawyer. He does have personal lawyers, John Dowd, Jay Sekulow, they represent Donald Trump the human being. And if they know of wrongdoing they are under absolutely no obligation to tell anyone, in fact, they are no obligation not to tell anyone because their loyalty is to Donald Trump the person.
Don McGahn is in a very different circumstance. He is paid by taxpayers. He works for the taxpayers. And his obligation is to the executive office of the president, which happens to be occupied today by Donald Trump, but his obligations are very different from personal lawyers for Donald Trump.
COOPER: Yes, I'm glad we got that cleared up. John Dean, thank you. Jeff Toobin stay with us.
I want to return to the book passage I read at the top of the program, again, keeping disclaimers and mind from Michael Wolff and our own about his sourcing. It's the president who board Air Force One talking about how to characterizing the Trump Tower meeting. His son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman talking to Russians. "The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That's what was discussed, period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times had the incriminating email chain in fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew the Times had his email chain- the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton."
Again, Jeff Toobin is with us, as well as Carrie Cordero, and Pamela Brown, as well.
Jeff, if this part of the book proves to be true that president of the United States ordered people essentially lie about this meeting in Trump Tower, saying it was about adoption or at least not tell the full story, does that put him in some sort of legal jeopardy?
TOOBIN: I mean, this is obviously something that Mueller has looked into and continues to look into very carefully. We know that not from Mueller but we know that from witnesses who have gone -- who have talked to his office. Because, you know, when "The New York Times" story broke about the June 20th meeting in Trump Tower with Jared Kushner and the Russian lawyers and Donald Trump Jr., you know, the initial report was that this was only about adoption, which was clearly false from the get-go. And the question that Mueller is investigating is who instigated this false story?
If the Wolff book is accurate, it suggests that the president was putting out a false story. That's potentially obstruction of justice. It also puts the lie to the fact that the president claimed he didn't even know about this meeting. How could he be giving directions about how to describe a meeting that he later said he knew nothing about?
COOPER: Pam, what do we know about how interested Mueller's team is in this trip of Air Force One?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you Anderson, Mueller's team has been interested in it since basically news broke about the crafting of this statement. Because very early on we reported, CNN reported that the president was involved in the crafting of this statement along with others including Hope Hicks, the Communications Director.
[20:45:05] And so as Jeffrey pointed out, Mueller's team has interviewed some of the witnesses who were on that plane, including Hope, looking at intent to provide a false statement like this whether they were trying to conceal information as part of the obstruction of justice probe. As we know, it's not a crime to lie to the media, but they're looking at this we're told as one piece to the puzzle in the obstruction of justice probe given in fact this first statement that the president was involved in was misleading and was false.
COOPER: I mean, if so -- it boggles my mind why the president would insist that this was about adoption if he knew and other people in that plane knew that "The Times" probably had the e-mail chain and that Donald Trump Jr. had the e-mail chain and knew what was in it.
Carrie, I want to read another excerpt from the book regarding Steve Bannon and the Mueller investigation. "Bannon's tone veered from ad absurdum desperation to resignation. If he fires Mueller it just brings the impeachment quicker. Why not, let's do it. Let's get it on. Why not? What am I going to do? Am I going to go in and save him? He's Donald Trump." Do you believe he's right that if the president found a way to fire Muller, do you think impeachment proceedings would be inevitable?
CARRIE CORDERO, ATTORNEY, ZWILLGEN: I think many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle view the firing of the special counsel as a red line. Now, it's very -- a little bit more tenuous in the House, I think maybe that's more true for the Senate than the House whereas, particularly on the House Intelligence Committee in the last month or so, we've really seen Republican members coming more to the defense of the White House and trying to tamp down and discredit the special counsel's investigation. But I think that if that quote represents Steve Bannon's advice, I think at time that it was given that probably or his sentiment that that is a sort of well-accepted thought that firing the special counsel would certainly agitate the Hill if not immediately cause impeachment proceedings.
COOPER: Pam, let me read one more excerpt regarding about firing the FBI Director Comey. "Most of the west wing staff, courtesy of erroneous report from "Fox News" was from a briefing moment under the impression that Comey have resigned. Then, in a series of information synapses (ph) throughout the opposite of the west wing became clear what had actually happened. "So next it's a special prosecutor said Priebus in disbelief, to no one in particular when he learned shortly before five o'clock what was happening. Now, according to a source familiar with this, thinking Priebus' denying, saying that -- but the idea that White House staff could have been so blindsided by president firing Comey, does that surprising?
BROWN: No, it's not. And you recall that night, Anderson, Comey, well, himself learned as you know, found out watching the news and he thought it was a big joke because it said that he resigned on Fox News. But you'll remember that Sean Spicer, who was the press secretary at that time, didn't know about it. And he was trying to talk to reporters by the bushes outside the White House in what was a very awkward gathering because he was also trying to piece together what was going on. It was so close hold that not even the key people who would be in charge of communicating this information to the media were looped in, it's pretty extraordinary and goes to theme of just pure chaos.
COOPER: Yes. We got to take break. Thanks everybody.
Coming up, how Michael Wolff's new book made some picture of internal struggle the White House, depicted Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump squarely against Steve Bannon. We'll talk about that next.
[20:50:46] COOPER: One notion Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury" underscores multiple times is one of the ongoing power wars in the White House was between Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and Steve Bannon. One of the skirmishes, Wolff writes, came when the "Washington Post" reported that Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had discussed allegedly a Jared Kushner investigation having a private communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin. Wolff writes that the Jared and Ivanka faction thought Steve Bannon was the source for that report.
We're going to read a passage from the book. Again, this is Wolff's characterization, the exact sourcing unclear and as Wolff says in the book, he faced a number of what he called journalistic conundrums because the White House's lack of experience and procedures for setting parameters for conversations, with that in mind, here's what wolf wrote. I'm quoting from Wolff.
"Part of the by now deep enmity between the First Family couple and their allies and Bannon and his team was the Jarvanka conviction that Bannon had played a part in many of the reports of Kushner's interactions with the Russians. This was not, in other words, merely an internal policy war, it was a death match. For Bannon to live, Kushner would have to be wholly discredited -- pilloried, investigated possibly even jailed."
With me now is Christopher Ruddy, Newsmax CEO, and friend of President Trump, and CNN Political Analyst, Josh Green, author of "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon and Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency".
Chris, good to have you back on. So, the rivalry between Bannon and Kushner slash Ivanka Trump was not a secret, why would the president allow this kind of sort of multiple, you know, city states or some would call dysfunction to not only come about, but to continue on for months?
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO AND PRESIDENT, NEWSMAX MEDIA, INC.: It's very common a lot of presidential administrations, Anderson, that you have divisions. Some presidents thrive on it. Reagan had massive divisions, lots of leaks, lots of internal battles. Some people like a very cohesive administration, I think we saw that with Obama and George W. Bush.
I don't think the rivalry was between Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. If you read the book, the rivalry is between Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. I think Steve felt he was smarter, better and brighter than the president, and this book just sort of really brings home that he had disdain for the president saying, I've always liked Steve, I've known him for a long time, he's a very fun guy to be with, but some of his opinions of the president -- to have worked for the president and his family and to accuse Don Jr. of treason or saying that the family was engaging in money laundering. If he thought the family was engaging in money laundering, why did he continue working for the president and his family?
You know, you start looking at some of these issues and you wonder, he was fired, when he was fired, Anderson, he told "The New York Times" the Trump presidency is over. Usually when a White House aide leaves the government they don't announce to "The New York Times" the president is over. So Steve has a very exaggerated opinion of himself and I think it's been harmful more to him than it has been for the president, frankly.
COOPER: Josh, I mean, what do you think of that? I mean, you spent a lot of time in conversations with Bannon. You know, does he have -- I mean -- does he -- Janice Min was saying at that dinner party, she got the sense that Steve Bannon felt he was, you know, above the president or could control the president.
JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANLYST: You know, I don't think that he thought he was above or could control. You know, what Janice said, I thought was right, that he had a kind of a paternal fondness for Trump, respected his political talents, but thought he needed guidance. And, you know, Bannon's role, he thought, was essentially to be the architect of Trump's campaign, and then his presidency to kind put meat on the bones and take Trump's impulses and kind of craft them into some kind of a governing agenda. Now that went haywire pretty much from day one and one reason why Bannon was so angry at Jared Kushner was because as soon as things went off the rails, Kushner, Ivanka, other people in the West Wing recognized that Bannon was responsible for all a lot of this, and tried to push him out. Which, frankly, is a bit ironic, because during the campaign nobody was closer than Jared and Steve Bannon, they were kind of an Oscar and Felix quality to them. Thick as thieves and yet they had this falling out pretty much as soon as they got in the West Wing.
[20:55:01] COOPER: Chris, do you think Bannon has made a huge mistake here? I mean, he's like -- got too close to the (INAUDIBLE) that he got this exalted opinion of himself and, you know, there was even talk of -- supposedly he have floated about possibly running for president if President Trump doesn't run again. Do you think he -- I mean, whatever support he had or interests he had by people outside who may have liked him, isn't it because of his association with President Trump that he had that?
RUDDY: Yes, absolutely, I mean, he -- who really knew outside of media circles and small political circles knew about Steve Bannon before he joined the Trump campaign? Let's not forget, most of -- Josh knows about this from the book, most of the primary, all the critical primary states, he had opposed Donald Trump, he supported Ted Cruz.
RUDDY: He was a Johnny come lately into that --
GREEN: No, no, no, Bannon --
GREEN: Mercer supported Cruz. Bannon was behind Trump all along.
RUDDY: Bannon called me in the fall of 2015, asking if Newsmax would join with Breitbart for Donald Trump to withdraw from the race. And I told him I wasn't going to do that. So he had -- he was opposing the president -- all those critical -- it was after Iowa, after New Hampshire when it was clear Trump was going to win that nomination. The truth was that Steve Bannon was chief strategist for the president, when he left the president had an approval rating of 34 percent. That was not because of Jared Kushner, Josh, that was because of Steve Bannon doing things like the Muslim ban, the transgender bathroom thing. All these crazy things that --
GREEN: Well, I think --
GREEN: -- ineptitude of the Trump White House. Certainly, Bannon, I think quite a major role on that. I don't think --
RUDDY: So all of what we got loss was, we got lost was all the president's great accomplishments, massive deregulation, effectively closing the border by staging the immigration laws, upgrading them. The most successful stock market we've ever had in history, records in business confidence, consumer confidence. Nobody ever talks about this, because we're getting into all these side shows, and a lot of it comes out -- I think the Breitbart agenda. Steve is a patriotic American but he's an isolationist, he's a throwback on a lot of issues that I think where the president really needs to go forward in a more bipartisan approach if he wants to bring those approval number ratings up in the near future.
COOPER: I mean, Josh, could you argue the president -- I mean, I think Chris makes a valid point a lot of that stuff hasn't gotten the attention that it deserves. But, you know, you could also point to the president as being responsible for that, because every time they have an infrastructure week, you know, he seems to ignore that, and just, you know, send out some rockets -- you know, Twitter rockets that grab people's attention.
GREEN: Yes, I think the Twitter feed has a lot to do with that. But, look, you know, to Chris's point, absolutely, I mean, Steve Bannon was probably the chief agent of chaos after the president himself. And of course that makes a difficult to advance legislation and then to take credit for the legislation that you manage (ph) to advance. You know, and one irony of this flair up over Wolff's book is that Trump finally had managed to achieve something significant in passing tax reform and yet a couple days ago launched off on this tweet storm and now has released the statement seems to be busy burying Banno, and here we are all talking about something else.
COOPER: Josh Green and Chris Ruddy --
RUDDY: -- let's ask ourselves, who brought Michael Wolff into the White House, it was Steve Bannon, gave him unlimited access. Put him in front of the president saying, you can trust this guy, this book is not only unflattering -- I think it's filled with malicious untruths. You know, Steve does not drink, but when you read some of the things he said there, it makes you wonder, because to say that Don Jr. committed treason by taking a meeting is just absolutely ridiculous.
COOPER: We got to leave it there. Chris Ruddy, always good to have you on, Josh as well, thank you so much.
Coming up next, another story that's breaking, rocking the White House tonight that could be another key focus of the Russia probe, we'll tell you that ahead.