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Source: Two Other High-Ranking Officials Also Pressured Justice Department Against AG Sessions Recusal; Source: Feds Looking At Whether Donors Received Policy Favors Or Special Access To Secretary Clinton; CNN Special Report: The Trump-Russia Investigation. Aired 9- 10p ET

Aired January 5, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:39] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Even as Michael Wolff's White House tell-all flies off the shelves and even if the president rages against it, there's more breaking news in the Russia story. It takes our reporting today on presidential efforts to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself, two big steps beyond as in two more people involved. A senior administration official telling CNN's Jim Acosta that there were two other high-level officials doing the arm twisting. "I think it's fair to call it pressure," the official said, about White House conversations with Sessions and top aides about the matter. Jeff Zeleny joins us now with more.

So what's reaction from the White House the news of the efforts to stop Sessions' recusal?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the White House has not commented about this at all. I talked to Ty Cobb, he's one of the president's lawyers here. He said, look, I respectfully decline to comment about the specifics of that.

One of the reasons here is that now we're talking about potentially obstruction of justice. This has gone from just, you know, kind of a political criticism to the potential of obstruction of justice here. So no one wants to discuss this publicly. But there's no question -- thinking back to those days last year, last spring, when Jeff Sessions recused himself. I remember I was with President Trump. He was in Norfolk, Virginia, on a military boat. He was -- the "Gerald Ford," he was touring it. He got this word and was very upset. As we learned more about it, it was clear at that moment that he was surprised by this. And officials tried to get Jeff Sessions to stop this.

So now coming full circle about a year later, it's clear here that that was a key moment here. The president so furious about Jeff Sessions who he thought was an ally recusing himself. But of course Jeff Sessions, longtime senator from Alabama, recused himself under the advice of the Justice Department there who said he was simply too close to this. So Anderson, all this coming full circle.

COOPER: And Jeff, the meeting the president's holding with members of Congress and other cabinet secretaries up at Camp David this weekend, I understand Attorney General Sessions was not invited. Do we know why?

ZELENY: He wasn't. As we speak right now, President Trump and leaders from the House and Senate, Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and others are meeting at Camp David, having a dinner right now, other cabinet members there, as well. Jeff Sessions, attorney general, not there.

The White House says, look, don't read anything into that. But the defense secretary is there. The secretary of state is there. The education secretary is there. They say it's about the 2018 agenda, and the attorney general is not necessarily part of that perhaps. The reality here is, Anderson, the bottom line tonight, the president still has bee not given up his anger at his Attorney General Jeff Sessions for that decision nearly a year ago to recuse himself from this investigation which, of course, touched off all these events which are still unfolding. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Zeleny, appreciate that. Thanks. Like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, the obstruction of justice is in the eyes and judgment of the prosecutor, which means we have a debate, a legal circles, special Washington legal circles. Joining us is Richard Painter, former White House Ethics Czar in the George W. Bush administration, and currently, teaches law at the University of Minnesota, also, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

So Professor Painter, how much does it change things in your opinion now that according to CNN's reporting it wasn't just the White House counsel who was urging Sessions not to recuse himself? Does it rise to obstruction of justice in your mind?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WH ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it does. Now whether this rises to the level of the type of obstruction of justice that could be criminally prosecuted and who would be prosecuted for it, that remains to be seen. And Robert Mueller will presumably make those determinations. But this is clearly a situation where the White House under the leadership of President Donald Trump is engaged in obstruction of justice with respect to the Russia investigation. Firing James Comey, drafting a false statement for Donald Trump Jr., who was a material witness in the Russia investigation, trying to force out Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, so they could in turn fire Robert Mueller. These are repeated instances of obstruction of a Russia investigation. I'm shocked that the White House counsel would get himself involved in this type of effort to obstruct justice.

COOPER: Ken, do you see it that way?

PAINTER: That's clearly what's going on.

[21:04:57] KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's clearly not what's going on. And there was no effort to oust Jeff Sessions. He offered his resignation, and it wasn't accepted. So, and back before all the -- items that Mr. Painter referenced was the recusal by Jeff Sessions. And f you think about the recusal regulation, because that's what the special counsel is appointed under a regulation of the Justice Department, the attorney general's recusal was far broader than that regulation calls for. Far broader, under any reading of it at all, under any circumstances.


CUCCINELLI: And it's certainly understandable that the White House would be aghast at how the attorney general went about that and the scope of what he was doing --

PAINTER: That's just wrong.

CUCCINELLI: -- of course the president was --

PAINTER: That's wrong. The ethics rules for lawyers --

COOPER: Let him finish --

CUCCINELLI: Excuse me a minute. The president, of course, was known to be upset about the recusal in the first place. But look, this is on the front side of all the kin of litany things that you just heard about. And at the same time, as I said, it went way beyond from the attorney general's perspective, way beyond --

PAINTER: Wrong --

CUCCINELLI: -- the recusal called for under the regulation --

PAINTER: That's just wrong. That is wrong. That is not the reading of the regulation.

CUCCINELLI: -- read it.

PAINTER: -- and the ethics rules for lawyers, rule 1.7 for lawyers, conflicts of interest. He cannot investigate a campaign in which he was a material part of that campaign. He cannot do it under the ethics rules for lawyers or under the ethics regulations. Open and shut. He could not participate --

CUCCINELLI: There are three types of investigations --

PAINTER: -- that investigation --

CUCCINELLI: The Department of Justice.--

COOPER: Ken, what are you saying --

CUCCINELLI: There are three types of investigations at the Department of Justice. Criminal and civil are what people think of most, of course. But the first thrust and the primary thrust of the Russia investigation was the third one at the Department of Justice, and that's counterintelligence. Look, this is Rrussian meddling of one form or another, at least an attempt, in American affairs. That is a counterintelligence investigation first and foremost. The regulation that governs recusal does not touch that, does not touch that.

PAINTER: It's criminal.

CUCCINELLI: And that's where this whole thing began. That's where this whole thing began, and the attorney general recused himself way beyond merely criminal investigation. He took all of the items off the table at the Department of Justice, including those non-addressed by the regulation. So there are very --


CUCCINELLI: -- in the role of counsel to the president to call up the attorney general and question what he was doing and why and why the scope --

COOPER: But Ken, I mean, this is the president who believes that the job of the attorney general is to protect him, it seems like. I mean, is that the job of the attorney general?

CUCCINELLI: Well, that's your position, Anderson. You've long held that position, Anderson. I would think that most White House counsel certainly think it's their job to protect the president. The attorney general's job is --

COOPER: Wait. The White House counsel's job to protect the president or to protect the presidency? The office of the president. My understand is Don McGahn --

CUCCINELLI: The office of the presidency, an excellent distinction, an excellent distinction. The presidency, the office of the president -- he serves the president in his official capacity, period, and that's it. That is it.

The attorney general has an unusual role as a cabinet member in that -- unlike the other cabinet members, the attorney general has independent legal decision making authority. And that's part of what we've talked about here. The attorney general also has, like all the other cabinet secretaries, policy implementation and some political, meaning dealing with Capitol Hill in particular, responsibilities that genuinely are not independent. They do fall under the direct authority appropriately of the president. Just like all the other cabinet secretaries.

The piece we're talking about with Attorney General Sessions is that independent legal authority under the attorney general's office that doesn't exist under any cabinet secretary. That's it.

COOPER: So Professor Painter, was it appropriate for the president of the United States not only tell Don McGahn to try to get Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself but also other senior members of the White House?

PAINTER: Absolutely not. And there's not a single authority out there that's reputable that I heard say that Attorney General Sessions was not required to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the election when he worked for the campaign. He was required to under the lawyers ethics rules and the government ethics rules. It's an open and shut case.

And for the White House counsel or anyone else in the White House to pressure the attorney general to violate the law and to violate his ethical obligations as a lawyer, is just flat-out wrong. Now whether it was criminal obstruction of justice or not is for Robert Mueller to determine. And I'm not going to opine on that. But it is obstruction of justice. And it is just flat-out wrong for anyone to argue that the attorney general could somehow supervise an investigation of a political campaign in which he had a very important role when that campaign was accused of collaborating with the Russians. We'll find out whether or not they collaborated with the Russians and whether or not it was criminal. But the attorney general had no business being involved in that investigation, and he did the right thing by recusing.

[21:10:26] COOPER: We're going to --


COOPER: Go ahead, ken.

CUCCINELLI: Let's keep in mind that this -- obviously Trump won the race. But there are also -- the Russian involvement was, we've traced now, to Ferguson, to the Jill Stein campaign. This is not just about the Trump campaign. So when you look at the other aspects of what the Department of Justice is responsible for, at least those other areas, Professor Painter's objections really fall away. I appreciate what he has to say in the criminal context, and explicitly that which is what the regulation related to special counsel addresses. But not in the other areas of responsibility of the Department of Justice.

PAINTER: Investigating Jill Stein? I mean, this is ridiculous -- this is laughable. This whole thing is laughable --

CUCCINELLI: No, are you twisting my words, professor. You're very good at that.

PAINTER: Come on! No, I'm not --

CUCCINELLI: This isn't an investigation of Jill Stein. It's an investigation of Russia

PAINTER: -- this has nothing to do with it --

CUCCINELLI: It is an investigation of Russia. I'm worried about Russia. You worry about Jill Stein. And the point is that Russia's --

PAINTER: -- and who collaborated with the --

CUCCINELLI: -- the activities span across more than just the Trump campaign and attempts to influence the American electorate through the Trump campaign. There's also through stein and Ferguson --

PAINTER: And who collaborated with them. And they are the people being investigated, and Attorney General Sessions did the right thing by recusing.

COOPER: All right, I think we have both points have been made. Appreciate it, Professor Painter, Ken Cuccinelli, always good to have you both on. Thank you.

Just ahead, what we're learning about the investigation President Trump has been calling for again and again of the Clinton Foundation. The question, is it justified or is it, as some critic say, diversion from questions about Russia? More on all of this, ahead.


[21:15:05] COOPER: We've been talking about arm-twisting and Jeff Sessions recusing himself and other White House interactions with the Russia investigation whether they add up to the interference or even obstruction of justice. Here with us tonight is Philip Bump, Carl Bernstein, Tara Setmayer, Jack Kingston, Paris Dennard, and Maria Cardona.

Jack -- actually, Phil, let's start with you. This new reporting that it wasn't just Don McGahn trying to basically arm twist or pressure Jeff Sessions, there were two other high-ranking senior White House officials involved with that, does that raise the stakes in this? Because I mean, it seems like everybody would have to have their stories all in the same page in any kind of interviews about it.

PHILIP BUMP, THE WASHINTON POST: Right. I mean, I think what this does is it reinforces the way that Donald Trump was approaching control of Jeff Sessions, and more broadly control of his administration. We saw, for example, when he was trying to put pressure on Jim Comey, the former FBI director. He used all sorts of different people who he tried to have twist Comey's arm to do what he wanted in terms of allegedly, you know, turning down the heat on Michael Flynn, his former National Security adviser. He had, for example, Dan Coats allegedly was asked to do something with Comey, as well.

So we've seen repeated instances in which Donald Trump has used multiple people to try and get what he wants. And that's fundamentally what the question is here. Yes, there is this broader question, broader criminal question of obstruction of justice.

But what we're seeing is a president who is used to getting his way, who came from the private sector where he's a CEO and sort of, you know, active by edict, who now comes into the presidency and tries to do the same sort of thing. And I think that fundamentally is what these additional sources reveal that yes, once again, this isn't just him saying, hey, McGahn, go and talk to Session, try and keep him from recusing. It is Donald Trump using every tool in his arsenal to try and make something happen which is probably inappropriate.

COOPER: And according to the Wolff book, wants his attorney general to act like his lawyer Roy Cohn did in the private sector.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Donald Trump more than anything else in his presidency has wanted this investigation to go away, and he has shown a willingness to do anything to make it go away. And that indeed is consistent with his years as Roy Cohn as his lawyer. What Roy Cohn did in the years as his mentor and the president's lawyer enabled Donald Trump to conduct a business that was constantly evading the law. That's really the hallmark and the consistency of the Trump operation, evasion of legal and normal protocols. The number of lawsuits filed against Donald Trump, the amount of litigation initiated by Trump and Roy Cohn to shut people up. This was not your normal business operation. We are now seeing transferred to the White House.

And now, as Phillip has suggested, Donald Trump thinks he can operate with the same kind of impunity and evade the law once again. And what is frustrating him -- and it's clear from Michael Wolff's book, as well, and from what Steve Bannon has told us through so many of these passages -- is his outrage that he is subject to the law and to protocols that are inherent in the presidency and common decency in government. And he will not go along with him.

And back to this question about Sessions' recusal, Sessions was head of the National Security portfolio for the Trump campaign, and as we now know and -- and certainly Sessions knew, he had these meetings with Russians. So if you did not recuse yourself, you might really have some serious consequences. Of course he recused himself.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And this at a time when it was really the Wild West in the West Wing. You didn't -- there was really no control. Reince Priebus was pretty neutered from the beginning as chief of staff. You had Steve Bannon running around doing whatever he wanted. Jared Kushner doing what he wanted. It was a pretty much a free for all.

So to Carl's point, Donald Trump was not used to the restraints that are built into the presidency and the way things operate. So it surprises me not at all -- it didn't surprise me at all that he would ask for his Roy Cohn because of how instrumental Roy Cohn was in Donald Trump's life, the influence that he had.

I mean, Trump is quoted saying more than once that Roy Cohn would brutalize people. And that he was vicious to people on my behalf. And that Roy Cohn demanded ironclad loyalty which is partially where Trump gets this from -- this idea of loyalty, almost mafia-like in a way. And that is not how the presidency works in this country.

So, you know, this is very consistent from the book and what's being reported with how Donald Trump has run his entire operation, run his entire life. And so why would it surprise anyone that he would change to anyone different? And it should scare people that he would want a Roy Cohn in the White House with him considering the illegal stuff --

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to say it would disappoint me if he did not try to keep his attorney general in the game on a very important matter. And as he said, Robert Kennedy --

SETMAYER: He wanted to protect --

(CROSSTALK) [21:19:58] KINGSTON: He cited Robert Kennedy. He cited Eric holder. Eric Holder, who is the only cabinet in history who got accused -- actually was guilty of contempt of Congress which --

SETMAYER: Who we as Republicans were critical of --

KINGSTON: Was by definition is obstruction, by the way, for --

SETMAYER: We were critical of that. So now we're against Jeff Sessions doing the right thing?

KINGSTON: If I'm the president, I want to have my A.G. fully in the game, operating on anything. And it's not -- see, one of the things I think you guys maybe not --

COOPER: Maybe there's a conflict of interest.

SETMAYER: Right. This is inconsistent.

KINGSTON: OK. But if I'm Donald Trump, I'm saying --

SETMAYER: We criticized Holder for what he did, but now we're all of a sudden going after Jeff Sessions for doing the right thing and recusing himself.

KINGSTON: Where you're making the assumption is that Donald Trump heard from all the attorneys who said, no, he's got to recuse himself or it's obstruction. That did not take place. He was going to him and saying, don't get out of it. And you just heard two very distinguished lawyers who had a completely different read of this. I'm not a lawyer. But I work for a law firm. And I can tell you if you get two of them in the elevator, you're going to have two opinions. And that's what happens. Some people believe that he had to recuse himself. But remember --

SETMAYER: It was because he wanted to protect him at all costs. Not for the investigation --

KINGSTON: -- the article also said to hold out as long as you could. And, you know, in terms of Sessions meeting with Russians, I was on the military committee, I was on the foreign affairs committee. We met with foreign people all the time, foreign heads of state, quite often and ambassadors. And remember, Claire McCaskill said, "I never met with one," and then, you know, find out two, three months earlier she had actually tweet about meeting with the Russian ambassador.

BERNSTEIN: I didn't say there was anything wrong with meeting with Russians.


SETMAYER: -- during his nomination hearing --

BERNSTEIN: All I said is it's relevant to the investigation. Let's find out where it goes.

COOPER: OK, Paris, where are you on this?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the first problem we had is that we're citing things in this book as fact. We're assuming that bipartisan across the board, even a lot of Democrats, even journalists, have said that there are a lot of questions about the voracity of the book. And so, to assume that everything that's said about what the president said as it relates to the attorney general and all the things are fact is our first problem.

Second problem that we have is that we're questioning the fact that loyalty is the problem. When has loyalty been a problem? When you look at any administration -- I happen to be one who worked in one for four years --

COOPER: Vito Corleone wanted loyalty --


SETMAYER: Yes, exactly. Dictators want loyalty.

DENNARD: We can talk about dictatorship, we can talk about the mafia, or we can talk about the White House which I worked in for four years --


KINGSTON: Four hundred and thirty five members of Congress want loyalty and 100 members of the Senate. There's nothing wrong with --

BUMP: -- loyalty, it's not to Donald Trump, it's to the American people.

SETMAYER: That's correct.

BUMP: And I'll also point out that this Roy Cohn quote doesn't come from the book. It comes from "New York Times" reporting.

SETMAYER: That's right.


DENNARD: And I would say "The New York Times" has not been overly friendly --

BUMP: OK, then how about --


COOPER: They've been more accurate than the White House on most things that have come out.


COOPER: So Maria, where are you?

CARDONA: The problem is that the truth hasn't been overly friendly to this administration because they don't believe in the truth. And that's exactly the image that's coming out.

DENNARD: It is --

CARDONA: Whether you want to question every single thing that the author has said, Michael Wolff himself has said he has tapes. He has notes. He has proof. He stands behind it. We'll see where that goes. But to your point, this comes out also out of reporting from "The New York Times" and the "Washington Post" and so many journalists have been covering this administration for the last year. They all say that this book paints a very accurate image of what they have reported and what they have heard.

COOPER: But given like -- Paris, given what you know about Roy Cohn, a guy who ended up being disbarred for stealing funds from one of his clients, a guy who, you know, worked for McCarthy, I mean who was a real thug in the legal profession. And I knew him as a kid, knew an attorney who worked for him. Would it concern you if Donald Trump wanted Jeff Sessions to be like Roy Cohn for him?

DENNARD: I think you have to look at how the president looked at Roy Cohn. If he looked at him as somebody who was loyal to him and who was going to do everything he could to --

SETMAYER: He brutalized people. He was --

COOPER: But he can look at mass murders as long as mass murderer is nice to him. I mean you still don't want --

SETMAYER: And loyal.

COOPER: -- by your side. I mean.

DENNARD: Well, listen, let me tell you something about my mom, my mom, if I spit on the ground, my mother would say "that's artwork." And so I could say, I want somebody like my mom to appreciate and to love me like that because I may be wrong, but my mother will look at me and say "my son is right." And so I think what the president is doing is saying I want people around me who understand me, who appreciate me, and will do their best to be loyal to me.

SETMAYER: With all due respect, it sounds like you want enablers. Your mom was an enabler.


COOPER: -- we'll hear from a senator on the Judiciary Committee about obstruction next.


[21:27:58] COOPER: We're talking now about the president, the law, Roy Cohn, Don Corleone, spit on the ground, and artwork on a serious note. Here's what Richard Blumenthal, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said about just a few moments ago about obstruction of justice.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This excellent reporting certainly indicates a key element of an obstruction of justice case which is corrupt intent. And what is building here, it may not have reached the threshold of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, is clearly an effort to shut down the investigation, to interfere with it by in effect telling Jeff Sessions he had the main control over it and stymie it if possible.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. You know, one of the things that we talked about last night a little bit -- I think it bears repeating -- Jeff Toobin made this point and John Dean and other, is that even if there was no underling crime, even if there was no collusion or anything inappropriate that the Trump administration did, vis-a-vis Russia or anything else, if there was an attempt to obstruct justice, even if the attempt wasn't successful, that in and of itself can be a crime.

SETMAYER: And if nothing -- if everything was just hogwash and this was a hoax and made up, then why this behavior? This is what is inconsistent. This is what makes -- is baffling to so many people when you're looking at this. When you're completely innocent, this is not how you behave. So why was Trump so incensed about Jeff Sessions recusing himself rightfully from the situation if there was nothing going on? Why did he need someone to protect him? Protect him from what? This is what makes it -- it screams (INAUDIBLE) to think that everything was just -- oh, everyone is making everything up and Donald Trump just paranoid. I don't --

KINGSTON: I disagree. And I do know the president. I don't know him well, but I've talked to him, and I've talked to him particularly about this. And he is outraged because he does believe he's innocent. I was involved in the campaign. I don't believe people like Kellyanne Conway would be stupid enough -- I mean, I known her for many, many years. These are ethical people. I mean, --

CARDONA: If you're innocent, you act like --

KINGSTON: Not necessarily in Washington, D.C.

CARDONA: No, no. If you are not --

[21:30:00] KINGSTON: Think about Ted Stevens being ruined by the FBI --

DENNARD: That's right.

CARDONA: If you are innocent --

COOPER: OK, one at a time. Maria.

CARDONA: If you are innocent, you would invite people in to say "I have nothing to hide, look at everything." you would want to be clear -- KINGSTON: That's what Ted Stevens did and they ruined him --

CARDONA: You would want to be clear.

KINGSTON: -- the same thing. FBI raided Congressman Curt Weldon's office, ruined his reputation. Later gave him a clean bill of health. But, you know, the old expression in Washington, when do I get my reputation back? I got to tell you --

CARDONA: But Donald Trump has gone overboard to try to keep things from coming out, to try to say that he needs protection.

KINGSTON: McCabe and Andrew Weissman and James Corals and Julie Lee (ph) and all their partisanship and Peter Strzok --


CARDONA: -- none of that has changed the Mueller investigation.


COOPER: OK. Paris, go ahead.

DENNARD: Well, you know what, I think --

CARDONA: They fired some of those people.

COOPER: Paris, go ahead.

DENNARD: Tara, your former boss came out today on CNN in a very strong way talking to Ana Cabrera --

SETMAYER: You know, embarrassing interview in my opinion. I was very upset with how he handled himself on air today, I will say that. Not how he behaved when I worked for him.

KINGSTON: He is a good press person.

SETMAYER: Yes. Not how he behaved when I worked for him.

DENNARD: Well, maybe you should still work for him, but at the end of the day, the points that he made were valid. The points that he made talked about the scope that happens when you have a special prosecutor and why he's upset and many Republican Congressmen are upset at the fact that the attorney general recused himself, because now what you have Mueller doing is opening up -- did he do this? Let's narrow the scope to what it's supposed to be about. It's -- was there meddling --


SETMAYER: -- part of it because Trump fired James Comey. That's why --

DENNARD: And if there was.

SETMAYER: That's why.

DENNARD: If there was, let's look at the Clintons. If there was, let's ask Mueller why do you have people that you have employed who were in fact donors to the Clinton campaign, who were, in fact, treated --

COOPER: They were --


BERNSTEIN: Let's get back to it --


COOPER: Carl, go ahead. Carl, go ahead.


BERNSTEIN: Let's get back to --

DENNARD: -- you don't like where this is going, it's an open net --

COOPER: Carl, go ahead.


SETMAYER: Really quickly, powers the scope of Mueller's investigation included obstruction of justice because of the way James Comey was fired.


COOPER: Carl, Carl? We haven't heard from Carl.

BERNSTEIN: Let's try to get back on the ground here. Let me say a couple words.

BUMP: I do want to make a point.

COOPER: I know you do.

BERNSTEIN: A couple words here. We have a legitimate investigation that needs to run its course. If there is anything untoward about what Mueller has done, about what Christopher Ray has done, about what James Comey has done, there is time plenty of time after this investigation runs (INAUDIBLE) to have every kind of inquiry to find out what those violations were. This is the best shot that we have at justice and democracy working in a terrible, terrible moment in which our intelligence agencies have told us that we were violated by a foreign power in our most Democratic process, our election. And they are acting to have an honest investigation, and the Trump White House and the Trump partisans -- and I'm going to say including what sounds to be yourselves -- are trying to demean, undermine, discredit every attempt to have a decent investigation. Incidentally -- let me --

(CROSSTALK) KINGSTON: Let me own my --


BERNSTEIN: -- but let me finish. You are right Ted Stevens. The case was an abomination. The FBI investigation in the McCarthy era was abomination --

COOPER: Jack, I know that you'll respond but we got take a break. I promise Jack is going to respond.

BERNSTEIN: -- we have an attempt to find out what happened and why in the world you two Republicans would not say what Howard Baker said in Watergate, what did the president know and when did he know it --


COOPER: I lost control.

Jack's going to respond. We're going to take a break.

Also coming up, the author of "Fire and Fury" spoke out today. More on that ahead.


[21:37:44] COOPER: Before the break, Carl Bernstein called the Mueller investigation our best shot at finding out what really happened in the campaign with respect to Russia and what happened later with respect to possible obstruction of justice. Carl was also speaking out against efforts undermine approach, Jack Kingston wanted to respond. The floor is yours, Jack.

KINGSTON: I got my time. I'm feeling good about this. But let me just say from a Republican standpoint, I believe there are very, very valid concerns about the team that Mueller has put together. If Peter Strzok was on a Democrat team, I think he would have the same concern.

I mean, we can all say -- now this is a squeaky-clean guy, but I don't believe that. I think Andrew Weissman is suspect. Andrew McCabe wife who received hundreds of thousands of dollars because of Clinton donations are efforts. I think those are all concerns.

So if we really -- are only concerned about the truth, let's make sure we have the best team investigating. But I also want to make this point -- the reason why Congress on a bipartisan basis let the special prosecutor law lapse is because it does become a runaway train. Who would have thought that Ken Starr investigating real estate deals in Arkansas would find his way to a 24-year-old intern with a blue dress and then it was all about perjury? And I actually talked to Henry Hyde about it at the time, you know, this is really disappointing that after millions of dollars this is where we end up. And so --

SETMAYER: Did you vote for impeachment?

KINGSTON: I did vote for impeachment -- SETMAYER: OK.

KINGSTON: -- and because it was about perjury.


KINGSTON: -- it was a question of perjury.

SETMAYER: So why did you bring up the same concerns then --

KINGSTON: I did. I did do it. That's what I'm saying.


COOPER: All right. We haven't heard from Philip for a while. Philip?

KINGSTON: Let me yield the floor.

BUMP: I appreciate that, sir. I want to make two points. The first is that the playbook that we have seen essentially since Donald Trump started running for president is to find little nit-picky things to use to try and undermine your opponents. And I agree with Carl that's what this appears to be. There's no indication at this point that Mueller's investigation has been affected by any sort of partisanship. Peter Strzok was fired two months in because of the text messages that emerged. There's simply no evidence for that. But I understand why Trump allies want to seize upon that.

I do want to go back to something Tara said, which is why would Donald Trump object so strenuously to this if he were innocent. And there was a reason that we know off, which is that he is extremely insecure about what happened in November, 2016. He believes that he is the target of people who think he's not a legitimate president. He knows he lost the popular vote. He makes up this total nonsense about voter fraud. And he's trying to do everything in his power to assert I won, it was through my own excellence as I candidate that I was able to be elected president. And he sees the Russia investigations, legitimately, as an attempt to say, no, actually, Russia helped me do it. That's why I think he may very well be innocent here. But I think that he's focused so much on it because he doesn't want people to say, hey, Russia's --

[21:40:33] DENNARD: Sorry, what did you say, the president's innocent? You said --

BUMP: Well, I believe that we do -- we've investigate. And we look at these things --

DENNARD: You said you believe very well that he may be innocent. I think the article that you did today about -- the economy that was very, very good under the administration was also very, very good.

But I would say this, if this investigation is going to be fair and as a Republican we want it to be fair, but let's be honest about what this investigation is and is not, it is not focus on getting at the truth about Russia meddling before the election of Donald Trump. Because if we're going to be honest, we know that this proceeds to Trump election. The Obama administration knew about Russia trying to -- and actually influence the election and --

SETMAYER: They opened an investigation.

DENNARD: And so if this investigation is going to truthful, let's go back and look at all of everything. Not just simply focus on President Trump. And that is why Republicans get so incensed about it because you can see --


BUMP: -- you want it to be broad when it's involving Hillary Clinton and narrow when it's involving Jared Kushner.

DENNARD: No -- I'll be clear. I said, to be narrowly focused on Russia meddling in the election.

CARDONA: Except for, Trump has shown zero interest in finding out the truth even about that because he has yet to admit it happened.

DENNARD: No, but President Obama --


CARDONA: There are two things that -- there are two things that I wanted to make, two points. Jeff Sessions, I went back to look at the statement he made when he recused himself. And he's talks about how he had conversations -- several conversations with Department of Justice counsel. And I'm glad he had this conversations and that he didn't listen to the White House counsel and other two people that Trump sent because he -- I'm not a Jeff Sessions fan. He did the right thing in recusing himself. And he talks about how during his nomination hearings because of the fact that it came out that he met with the Russians, that he told the Congress that he would recuse himself. If anything came up where his impartiality was questioned -- of course his impartiality would be questioned on anything having to do with Russia. That's my first point.

The second point is, on Trump's red line and everybody talking about how Mueller could be a runaway investigator if he goes into his finances --

DENNARD: Which he is --

CARDONA: -- his finances are absolutely relevant here. The issue is that he has -- we have never seen his taxes, and he could absolutely be incredibly beholden financially to the Russians.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have more with the panel ahead. We're going to get their take on word today that the Feds are investigating the Clinton Foundation over whether donors were promised any favors or access to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. I know Jack Kingston doesn't want to talk about this, but we'll have to talk about it. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:45:45] COOPER: A U.S. official tells CNN federal authorities are actively investigating the Clinton Foundation, looking into whether donors to the charity were promised policy favors or special access to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. This has been brewing for years. It's unclear what if any new evidence led to the current investigation. The official says it's being led by an FBI field office in Arkansas.

Back with the panel, Maria, I mean as a Democrat and former adviser to Secretary Clinton, what do you see?

CARDONA: I agree with what Nick Merrell (ph) said today, it's a total sham. And I think that this is something that we all could have predicted. We saw this coming miles away. And frankly, probably, in Jeff Sessions' attempt to prove his loyalty, this is something that he did to prove his loyalty.

DENNARD: A total sham? Really?

CARDONA: This is something -- yes, absolutely. Total sham.

COOPER: Paris? How do you see it?

CARDONA: This is something that has been investigated before, and they're going to come up with nothing.

DENNARD: I wish I could just take everything you said about President Trump and that investigation in Russia and just flip it and talk about Secretary Clinton because it would just be the same thing. You just -- you can't -- use your same talking points on Trump on Secretary Clinton. But you won't do that because you're just stuck in your partisan --

CARDONA: No, I'm using talking points that are actually the truth when it comes to President Trump. And when it comes to --

DENNARD: No, you're using "Fire and Fury" points that are false. But at the end of the day, what we know is that --

CARDONA: Not according to other reporters.

DENNARD: -- other reporters? Maggie Haberman actually said it was the same as very treads on dishonesty. A lot of Democrat reporters, a lot of Democrat --

CARDONA: Maggie Haberman and a lot of other reporters have said that the total image that "Fire and Fury" states or presents is very accurate.


DENNARD: The total image? That's a bunch of hogwash.

CARDONA: OK, all right. COOPER: Carl, go ahead. Carl?



BERNSTEIN: I think we need to know a lot more about the circumstances under which this investigation was opened. It's possible that as you say it was nefariously opened. It's also possible and we need to find out that perhaps somebody came in with some kind of evidence that's worth investigating. We need to find out. Let's not prejudge. We ought to be in the business of getting the facts, and we have very few facts. But certainly there is something about Donald Trump at this moment calling for Hillary Clinton, "Crooked Hillary" to be locked up, and his Justice Department initiating this apparent investigation.

CARDONA: No. That has nothing to do with it.

BERNSTEIN: We don't know.


BUMP: I just want to say that's exactly right.

CARDONA: I totally agree with you.

BUMP: The issue at the moment, we absolutely do need to know more about the investigation. But it is impossible to remove from the stink of Donald Trump having consistently called for this to happen with a total lack of any additional evidence, right. Donald Trump watched "Fox and Friends" and suddenly decided that Hillary Clinton should go to jail. I know this happened over the course of a year and a half.

SETMAYER: Well, that's --

BUMP: We don't know why this happened. We don't know why this investigation began again. And with Donald Trump said all these things, his prejudiced --

SETMAYER: Hold on, Jack, you're actually going to thank me for this. So there is a there-there with the Clinton Foundation. This has been something that has plagued them for several years. Even "The New York Times" back in 2015 did a rather extensive story about Uranium One and the donations to the Clinton Foundation and some questionable activities there. All the way back to with Bill Clinton getting a $500,000 speech from a Russian bank that was investing in the Uranium One deal and people with Rosatom and Russians wanting to get this uranium. There was a lot going on there in the Clinton. And there was over $130 million worth of donations from people involved from Frank Giustra, $31 million from him, that was the guy who was head of Uranium One, who was friends with the Clintons gave $31 million --


CARDONA: -- debunked. SETMAYER: No. It's not. It's not completely debunked.


SETMAYER: It started in 2005 through 2007 when they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to run for president in 2008 which she did. And then it carried on from there. He left in 2007, that's correct. But the Clinton Foundation --

KINGSTON: Actually --


SETMAYER: -- activities going on long before just now. So what made it relevant now is the fact that the Uranium One deal was approved in 2010 under the Obama administration which was questionable at the time because the FBI had uncovered a Russian bribery scheme within the nuclear energy sector that they did not tell the members of the CFIUS group that has to approve those foreign investments. So people didn't really know. They wonder why didn't anybody say anything. Because there was the Russian reset going on. So there was a lot of things where the Clintons were involved in this.


CARDONA: -- that approval.

[21:50:10] SETMAYER: She was on the board --


CARDONA: She was not a part of it.

COOPER: OK, Jack, --


KINGSTON: Well, I do have --


COOPER: OK, al right, one at a time.

KINGSTON: I do know there were people in this panel who said if you're innocent, why not, why worry about it, why be defensive about --

CARDONA: Are we trying to shut it down? That they haven't said --


CARDONA: They just said it's a sham.

KINGSTON: -- the Department of Justice backed off this investigation in 2016 and I think they made a good decision. I, frankly, wish James Comey would have followed their decision as well on -- you know, while -- potential (INAUDIBLE). But at that time they said to the FBI you can continue this particularly if something new comes up. So it is a continuation of an investigation, which actually started under Obama.

Now, we don't know what the new evidence is or what triggered that so I do agree with you that we need to find out what made it happen. I think Tara has raised some points that never been settled but there probably are other things. So that Algerian donation that was never reported, even though it was not supposed to be allowed. And --

CARDONA: And they said something then (ph) -- they explained that --


DENNARD: You're awfully defensive for something --

CARDONA: No, I'm just talking about the --


DENNARD: Very, very defensive.


KINGSTON: Let me throw out one question, though, that I have always -- that I was on the foreign affairs committee where we did foreign aid. I often heard during 2016 how important the Clinton Foundation was for the health of world. And now my question would be, if it was such a great foundation, why is it unable to function now that she's not secretary of state?

SETMAYER: Or why they have to shut it down?

KINGSTON: Or why they have to shut it down? I mean --


SETMAYER: Why they have re-file their 990 because they forgot about all these foreign donations. They always forget about that.


COOPER: -- I mean, look, I think they did fantastic work on HIV aids.

CARDONA: Right, they did, absolutely.

COOPER: But there was a big social component to getting to hang -- you know, for a lot of these children, getting to hang out with Bill Clinton and Cruz --

SETMAYER: Yes, that's right.

COOPER: -- and, you know, --


BERNSTEIN: Let's talk about presidential libraries, presidential libraries and presidential foundation.

COOPER: We got 30 seconds.

BERNSTEIN: Which are big problem because people give money to them because they want to be around and have influence.

CARDONA: But there has never been --


SETMAYER: There's something various --


CARDONA: -- ever been proven between the donations and any --

SETMAYER: That's why there's an investigation.

COOPER: OK. Let's take a break.

Up next, new insight on the Russian woman who did all the talking at the Trump Tower meeting, that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort attended during the presidential campaign. It's part of a new CNN Special Report. It's fascinating, airing at the top of the hour. We're going to have a preview of that. Talk to Pam Brown when we continue.


[21:56:07] COOPER: Well, what a week it's been in Washington. Every day it seems there are new developments to the Russia investigation. To help (INAUDIBLE) I hope you're going to join CNN's Pamela Brown for Special Report. It begins in just a few minutes at the top of the hour.

Pamela strings to the many of the threads. Here's one key moment from tonight before the CNN began to drill down on now infamous Trump Tower meeting. We kept learning more about mysterious characters who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Perhaps the most intriguing was the woman who did all the talking.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The leader of the meeting, Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. A character right out of a spy novel, she seldom tells the same story twice.

At first she denied any connection to the Russian government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever worked for the Russian government? Do you have connections to the Russian government?


BROWN: But she does have connections to the chief prosecutor in Russia. Who she shared her talking points with months before the Trump Tower meeting. She also denied bringing up any dirt on Hillary Clinton.

VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): I want to make sure that everybody understands there was never a talk about damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.

BROWN: Now she says she may have had dirt about alleged illegal donations to the Clinton campaign.

SCOTT BALBER, AGALAROV FAMILY ATTORNEY: Natalia says she provided certain documents to the Russian prosecutor general.

BROWN: Agalarov family attorney Scott Balber spoke with Veselnitskaya.

BALBER: She makes reference to the possibility that money was also provided to Hillary Clinton campaign.


COOPER: And Pam joins us now with more. What else do you look at in this Special Report tonight?

BROWN: Well, basically, Anderson, when we put all the threats together over this past year that our team has been reporting because it's easy to lose track of it, frankly. The Special Report split into (INAUDIBLE) and it covers the Trump Tower meeting, which you just cover there, the dossier. We followed the money lookinbg at President Trump business dealings with Russians over the last several decades. And we also looked at all the president's men, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, all the people who in a sense have been caught up in this web of the Russia probe, and we also examine the firing of James Comey which is really fascinating because it just happened so abruptly. It kind of came out of nowhere. And so many questions have been raised about the president's motivations and that firing and Robert Mueller continues to looks at that as part of the obstruction of justice probe. So we bringing all together in one place and we focus on the facts. There has been so much speculation about the Russia investigation.

So we just spoke with what we actually know and bring it all together so you can tie all the pieces together, Anderson.

COOPER: I mean, you've been covering the story for a year now. I'm wondering, did you learn anything new working on the report?

BROWN: I actually did. I mean, you're right. I've been covering it along with my colleagues. We have a team here who's been covering the Russian probe. And I learn several things just being able to put all the pieces together in one place. For example, in the follow the money act, we focus more on the business that Donald Trump did with Russians, not in Russia, which is key here because as you know he's repeatedly said he's never done business in Russia but that's really missing the point. We focus on the real estate deals that he's done in the United States. And it's really interesting to go back and trace that over the last several decades. We also learn -- we interviewed James Clapper, the former chief spy and he told us that President Trump confronted intelligence officials during that January 6th briefing about how the result of their intelligence report impacted the legitimacy of his presidency. You know, it's no secret Donald Trump used the Russian meddling investigation as a threat to the legitimacy of his election win, but we learned he actually raised those concerns to the highest levels of the Intelligence Community during his first face-to-face meeting together with them.

So, you really do learn a lot and you just get a better understanding of what this investigation is all about, Anderson.

COOPER: Fascinating, Pamela brown, look forward to that. Thanks very much. Thanks for watching 360. Time now for the CNN Special Report, "The Trump-Russia Investigation."