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NYT: Trump Ordered Mueller Fired Last June, Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened To Quit. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 25, 2018 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: -- Cuomo, for "Cuomo Prime Time". Chris.

[21:00:04] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Anderson, appreciate it. We're now going to be able to get beyond this headline. The president trying to fire the special counsel is no longer a hypothetical. As Anderso has been discussing for the last half hour "The New York Times" is reporting it almost happened last summer. We now know more about the concerted effort that the president had undertaken to undermine the special counsel and what it means for a potential prosecution against him and for what may happen going forward. Let's get after it.

I'm Chris Cuomo, welcome to "Prime Time".

Again, just to catch you up to speed, this is more than the headline that the president tried to fire the special counsel. All alone that -- not only contradicts a narrative that's been consistent coming out of this White House, but gives us the clearest picture to date of what may be an intent to obstruct. It's still an open question but we now have proof that there was an actual effort to undermine the special counsel by the president of the United States, an effort that has been intentionally ignored by the White House when asked about it.

Exhibit A, on Tuesday, the White House press secretary said this about the president's thoughts on the special counsel and reports he may want to fire him.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to see this come to a complete and full conclusion. I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that. And I don't think that's helpful to the process. The president wants to see this end.


CUOMO: We now know that is a clear deception. How? "The New York Times" published a story saying President Trump wanted Robert Mueller out over the summer in June. He did not want to see this through to its conclusion. And the timing here is key. June.

That's around the same time we were learning that Mueller's investigation wasn't just looking at Russian interference but expanding to look at possible obstruction of justice by the president of the United States. The "Times" citing four sources that say Mr. Trump only backed down when White House counsel Don McGahn refused to ask the Justice Department to fire Mueller and threatened to quit. So there are two critical points of analysis. One legal, one political.

Legally, obstruction of justice as we'll discuss tonight is a crime of intent. That means you have to show that the defendant was trying to stop a process that could expose him to criminal jeopardy.

Now, while Trump did not go forward with firing Mueller, yet. Could investigators see this report, which they learned about this information, they knew about this from interviews with White House staffers. Could they see this as proof of intent if not obstruction itself? You get my point, that it isn't a crime in itself because he didn't move on Mueller, but is it proof that the president is trying to do something that may be criminal.

Again, it's an open question but there's now more of a suggestion of that than there was before this report.

Then there's a much more clear point, if this reporting is true and at this point we have no reason to doubt it, President Trump, yesterday, he made reference to the Nixon investigation in the context of a bogus suggestion that missing FBI texts were proof of a cover up. That has been removed from the realm of possibility. It's just false. But let's listen to it again.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you trust the FBI? Do you trust the FBI?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to see. I mean, I am very disturbed, as is the general, as is everybody else that is intelligent. When you look at five months this is great Rosemary Woods, right? With a step, right? It's a large scale version.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighteen minutes.

TRUMP: That was 18 minutes. This is five months. They say it's 50,000 texts and it's prime time. That's disturbing.


CUOMO: Now, what is disturbing are two things. One, the president had every reason to know when he said that, that those missing texts weren't a mystery. The FBI, the inspector general, the investigation into them had already given information to lawmakers that the reason they were missing wasn't a cover up as he's suggesting and others too in the Republican Party, but because after a glitch that didn't just affect the phones of the two FBI members in question but one in about 10, thousands of phones. Now they are saying now they've learned that so it's not as much of a mystery.

And by the way, the FBI says it is found those texts. Put that to the side. He cited the Nixon example as it applies to those texts, but really it applies to his effort this past summer to topple the special counsel.

[21:05:04] Don McGahn, the White House counsel may have saved the Trump presidency. The White House counsel reportedly stopped Trump from being Richard Nixon. Specifically when Nixon fired Archibald Cox, forget the president's reference of Rosemary Wood, Nixon secretary, the real Nixon reference is that if the president had moved on the special counsel, Bob Mueller, there may well have been a cascade of resignations just like with Nixon that would have left Trump exactly where Nixon was, forced to resign for efforts to derail justice. That's where we are tonight. Let's bring in one of "The New York Times" reporters who broke the story, Maggie Haberman, joining us on the phone, also of course, a CNN political analyst. Maggie, can you hear me?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): I can. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: So, where do you want to start? I think it makes most sense -- have you heard anything from the White House in terms of response to this reporting?

HABERMAN: Just a statement from Ty Cobb that is in (INAUDIBLE), that out of respect for the process in the special counsel's office that they were going to decline to comment. That is not a denial. And I think that it's just worth noting. Was this (INAUDIBLE) speaks for itself. The first that we have heard of an actual effort by the president to do this beyond I should note, (INAUDIBLE) Chris, who is an ally of the president and who was in the White House last summer, around this time went on television and said the president was considering firing Mueller. There was a frantic effort by White House advisors to walk that back and insist it wasn't true even though it was true.

And, you know, I think that various people -- various point (ph) to this presidency have used the threat of resigning to try to impact this president's behavior. This is clearly one of them to your point it may have had a very, very dramatic intact in the Don McGahn state on. And didn't go anywhere and seems to have prevented the president from doing this.

CUOMO: Well, Maggie, you know, that is important to note. However, there've also been numerous members of this administration, I'm putting together a file kind of, you know, in realtime here who have gone out of their way to say the suggestion that the president wanted to make a move on the special counsel is B.S. They had to know that was a lie. Even Sarah Huckabee Sanders, what she said a few days ago. She had to know that she was misleading, at best. We no know that back in June not did the president just out of caprice think about moving on Mueller but he had attorneys, Kasowitz and others, putting together a case against Mueller that had at least three points. Let's discuss those.

HABERMAN: So there were three issues that the president was going to talk about or was talking about as what he believed were conflicts of interest on the part of Robert Mueller and to your point this all took place at a time when he had a different lead lawyer on his legal team, Marc Kasowitz, within -- his long term personal lawyer. And a pit bull attorney from New York. And what they were talking about was there was some dispute about seeing at a golf club that Mueller had belonged to. Mueller had been lawyer up until he was appointed special counsel at the same law firm, Jared Kushner's lawyer works for. Then the third was that he had interviewed to be the inter FBI director replacing James Comey.

The last two were pushed out by advisors to the president at the time on background. They talked about this. They didn't say, and therefore he should be fired. They said look, this is clearly a conflict. I never really understood how interviewing for the FBI job was a conflict. And, you know, the WilmerHale one, it's a firm that employs a number of lawyers. But it was clear that they were looking to build some kind of a case. We just now know exactly where that case was going. It wasn't just going to be a media campaign to discredit. There was a more active effort to try to remove.

CUOMO: Now, it is important to note that at the time that Bob Mueller was select by Rod Rosenstein, the president's choice to be the acting AG of this, once Sessions recused himself. The man who wrote the memo giving a basis that the president said he didn't rely on to dismiss James Comey from his position, Trump never objected to Mueller outwardly. His people may have been talking on background but we didn't get them on the show saying Mueller shouldn't be there. In fact, the opposite is true. He was praised. Lifelong Republican, decorated veteran, worked for the FBI. But there was this case than (ph) months later going on and that takes us to the all important question. Why he was thinking about moving on the special counsel. What do you understand, Maggie?

[21:10:02] HABERMAN: Look, that's I think the $64 million question that's unanswered. And I don't want to speculate too much about what was in the president's mind at that point. But he has clearly shown a concern about this investigation that has grown over time and that has particularly grown in the last couple weeks as it has two things that happened. One, it has become clear that it's -- not wrapping up by the end of last year as his -- or close to the beginning of the year as his lawyer have suggested repeat or the White House lawyer Ty Cobb has suggested repeatedly.

And also it's getting close to the time when he might be interviewed. He talked about this yesterday. The president in an impromptu gaggle with reporters, that I happen to be at, and he was boastful that he was really looking forward to meeting with Mueller.

I'll tell you, Chris, that the concern was in the White House from people I speak to is much less about the idea that he might fire Mueller going forward, although clearly, that is an unspoken fear at minimum. The fear is that he's going to go amongst these advisors and then will go before Mueller and say something that would count as perjury. Because when you're interviewed by federal investigators, as you know, if you lie, that's a felony. And that is their big concern.

CUOMO: No, that's an important point. Maggie, I keep saying that, but you're making so many important points. There's all this talk about will the president be under oath, immaterial? Whether he's under oath or not, he is open and subjected to perjury because if you lie to a federal agent there's a statute, 18 USC 1001. And that says if you lie to a federal agent it's a crime. So there will be federal agents in the room, it's the same.

The real consideration there is the duration of the interview and whether it will be brought into the grand jury. But the reason is so important is because we now know that Mueller knows this. And Mueller has known this for some time because of interviews with White House staffers. So how does that figure into his thinking and to your point now?

We saw example of this, Maggie, of what you're talking about yesterday. The president when asked about what he asked Andy McCabe, the acting FBI director at the time in the Oval Office about whom he voted for in the election which is certainly inappropriate. You're not supposed to talk to people about politics as a side note. That's why Bob Mueller didn't talk to the attorneys that he hired about whom they supported politically. You're not supposed to.

However, the president said when asked. I don't think I asked him that. I don't remember. I don't I did. And if I did it's not really that important. You can say that to the media. You can say that and it's up to us to be able to check it. But the White House has not backed off the suggestion that he said that to Andy McCabe. And McCabe hasn't said that it didn't happen. If you say that, Maggie, in front of these investigators, you expose yourself to questions that can lead you into a trap. They are concerned about that, yes?

HABERMAN: Yes, correct. That is 100 percent correct. And look, that answer that he gave yesterday was very similar to one that if you look at the videos and transcripts of his depositions over the years, those are similar to answers he's given in the past. You know, I don't recall, but so what. I'd ask you the same thing. I really don't remember that. It's really worth noting to your point, not only has the White House backed off the idea that he did it, White House officials were confirming the night before the president said this that he did indeed ask that. And it's the kind of question he would ask of many things, and of many settings, as which is -- what I was told.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: -- that's how he talks which by the way is true. That is how he talks. The problem is the law doesn't necessarily make exceptions for that. And that is why they are concerned about what he will say if he goes before the federal investigators.

CUOMO: Right. Maggie, so helpful. Thank you very much for scrambling to the phone and talking to us about this. I may call you back later in the show.

HABERMAN: My pleasure.

CUOMO: Thank you for once again opening our eyes to an important aspect of this situation. All right, let's now take all of this one-on-one with Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, of course, looking into this situation.

Congressman, appreciate you coming on. We were going to discuss other things tonight, but this story obviously is going to predominate. What is your take on the suggestions in this "New York Times" report?

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, you know, Chris, I might not be very helpful. I just got off in airplane. The only thing I know is what I've been listening to you and Maggie and your introduction. I haven't had a chance to talk to the White House.

I'll tell you this, I've always said that Mr. Mueller should be able to complete his investigation. I say that now. I think the president feels that way now. I think he's indicated as recently last few weeks or some time last month that he feels Mr. Mueller is going to be fair and that he would like to see the investigation complete and move forward. I don't know. If I could respond to something you said and I maybe you and I can agree to disagree. I think you said that there's proof here that this means -- the president wanted to interfere with Mr. Mueller and the investigation.

[21:15:08] CUOMO: No, I said that's a question for investigators.

STEWART: Yes, OK, maybe I misunderstood you. But I think that -- I think it's really too early to draw conclusions from one press report. And we know that sometimes we got it wrong and some other stories. I think I'd love to see the White House response.

CUOMO: Right.

STEWART: I'd like to see (INAUDIBLE) response and maybe to get a little more information.

CUOMO: Well, let's do this, Chris. Let's look at what we know, OK? Literally.


CUOMO: What we know and please check it any way you want. I'm very happy to have you here. You've always been candid with us. And it matters right now maybe more than in the past. This is not just one report because there are four different sources. We know that Ty Cobb, the president's lawyer did not back off of this other than to say the president wants to cooperate now. And of course, Cobb wasn't with him at the time that this was happening.

But we do know one thing, unless this is all false and again, we don't have any reason to question it. The president, in June, when Mueller said he wanted to look at obstruction, he had lawyers start looking into Mueller and coming up with at least three different reasons to disqualify him, reasons that did not exist when Mueller was appointed and he was celebrated by all of you as a great choice. Not all of you but most of you. Jim Jordan and some others, they have problems with Mueller, but most of you celebrated the choice. If this is true what happened here and but for Don McGahn, he would have moved on Bob Mueller. What do you make of that?

STEWART: Well, look, once again, if this is true, and you're right. There are sources -- you say four sources. I haven't had a chance to read report. It's uncomfortable for me Chris to try --

CUOMO: Uncomfortable for me too, congressman. This is very weighty stuff that we're talking about.

STEWART: Both of us want to gather more information. But as I understand it is four but they're anonymous sources once again to one newspaper. And look we just have to be gun shy. I'm not saying that look, you discount it, it doesn't matter. I'm not saying that at all.

CUOMO: If it's true congressman --

STEWART: Let's take a breath. And I'll get to that. Let's take a breath. Let's be careful what we say. And I'm trying to do that. If it's true, it would be concerning to me.


STEWART: But it would also show -- it would also show that the process worked. That the people and the organization around the president did what they needed to do and that the outcome was actually the right outcome and that was Mr. Mueller wasn't fired. Maybe the president, maybe he was angry, maybe he was frustrated. Maybe for a moment he suggested this. We just don't know. If he did, his instincts were wrong. But the people around him protected from those instincts. And once again, the investigation went forward as it should. And I think he say -- that the process served the president.

CUOMO: Congressman, I don't know that the process should be defined as there but for the grace of McGahn goes President Trump as Nixon. This is not any process that's built. And you're not supposed to have the White House counsel have to threaten to resign and say you will raise suspicions of obstruction of justice if you do this Mr. President, and only then he relents. That is a frightening scenario, not reassuring one.

STEWART: Well, actually, it is reassuring to me, because -- you can substitute people if you want instead of process. But once again, they served the people. They served the constitution as they should. And, Chris, I'm just going to say -- I don't know enough about it to say much more. Let's collect more information. The president said very recently he thinks Mr. Mueller is going to be fair. I think he's going to be fair. We don't hear any talk of collusion any longer. We don't hear any talk of these.

CUOMO: We don't hear any talk of anything. I keep hearing this from lawmakers. We haven't heard anything out of Bob Mueller or his investigation over than some of the people that they have interviewed and some of the charges that have been brought in and deals that are being cut, so the fact that we're hearing about collusion or not is irrelevant. We have heard nothing.

STEWART: No, no, no. No, Chris, we've never heard anything from Mr. Mueller.

CUOMO: Right.

STEWART: But we heard collusion from lots and lots of other people.

CUOMO: But those are politicians. Those are pundits.

STEWART: Yes, yes. But many of us far as you know, we heard collusion for months and months and months from members of the Intelligence Committee that were investigating this. We heard it from other members of Congress and other members of Senate. So the investigation -- I mean, there's more investigations have been going on and Mr. Mueller, in fact, (INAUDIBLE) has been going on much longer. And there are many, many people as you know who are claiming collusion for months and months and months. Many of them --

CUOMO: But congressman, --

STEWART: are not now --

CUOMO: Hold on a second, because this is confusing.

Once we hear from Bob Mueller, that is the only time we'll know what proof they have. What we hear from the Congressional committees, with all due respect, has to be discounted because the partisan nature of what's going on is as disgusting as it is obvious. The recent efforts, which thankfully, have been diffused by the facts to undermine the FBI are as coincidental as you can get. Efforts to paint missing texts as something that they were not. Efforts to paint FISA abuses with a memo you guys won't release. A secret organization. A senator, Ron Johnson, who is responsible for Homeland Security comes on and says in high (INAUDIBLE) there's a shadow organization essentially that is undermining justice in FBI, and then a couple days later, or it's a joke. I mean, come on. If you want to talk about what we don't need to hear anymore of, you should start there, no?

[21:20:42] STEWART: Chris, look, I can't answer for everything that every politician says.

CUOMO: You can answer for that. These are members of your party.

STEWART: Well, no, I can't answer for anything --

CUOMO: You can condemn it. You can say it was wrong. You should say they should have made it up. They should apologize.

STEWART: Chris, just a minute. Let me finish my thought if I could.

CUOMO: Please.

STEWART: I used a word with you last week and said some of these people are overly dramatic. And I think that's true. That's what I'm trying to not to do tonight. That's why I said, let's gather more information before we draw conclusions before we use some of these loaded words that we've used in my opinion even you have used tonight. CUOMO: What have I used tonight that you feel is unwarranted? I don't like being lumped in with people who are saying we can't trust the FBI including the president of the United States.

STEWART: You and I have become friends. You know that I trust you on. I'm glad to be on your show. I don't mean to --

CUOMO: Thank you. The respect is in return.

STEWART: Thank you. But if I could comeback to -- your point, I just think is so important and that is you are discounting completely the efforts of the Intelligence Committee here in the House because you said it became partisan. And by the way, I completely agree with you on that. I said that early on many, many times. That's why I wanted Mr. Mueller special counsel. We used to work in a bipartisan fashion. And it became too public, too loud, too much before the cameras. But we have taken that investigation very seriously. We have tried to ask every question, to answer every question. And all we can do at the end of that investigation is tell the American people the truth. Tell them what we have learned. We have tried to do that. I can promise you that is our goal. And we're doing everything we can to do exactly that.


STEWART: It has become partisan around and that's too bad. But we still need to focus on the work that we're trying to do.

CUOMO: I understand the intention. We just hope it gets carried out. Congressman Stewart, I take you at your word. I appreciate you for being on tonight. It's an important --

STEWART: Thank you, sir.

CUOMO: All right, so this breaking news tonight, the president of the United States reportedly ordered the special counsel to be fired over the summer in about June. Setting the legal implications aside, the political implications could certainly shake up the White House. We'll be right back with that.


[21:25:14] CUOMO: Breaking news tonight, "The New York Times" reporting President Trump ordered Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired last June. And only backed down when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit if he was forced to do so. Top White House officials have said over and over there's been no thought of firing the special counsel, including the president just weeks after he reportedly tried to do just that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you thought about considered leading to dismissal of the special counsel (INAUDIBLE) could do if you would send you in that direction? TRUMP: I haven't given of any thought. I'm going to have to (INAUDIBLE) but just say, I'm going to dismiss him. No I'm not dismissing anybody. I mean, I want them to get on with the task. But I also want the Senate and the House to come out with their findings.


CUOMO: If "The New York Times" and its four sources on this story are to be believed, the president of the United States and numerous of his advisors are lying about this. There is a lot to talk about. Here with CNN Contributor, Norman Eisen, and CNN Presidential Historian, Tim Naftali.

All right, Tim, let's just start with a bit of a macro view of this. The president brought up Rosemary Wood, Nixon's administrative assistant, and the hole in the tapes. And he did that in the context of these FBI missing texts. And he did so erroneously. There is no intrigue with those.

And by the way, he had every reason to know there was no intrigue with those. But the FBI had said it was a glitch. It wasn't just these two agents who were involved. It was one in every 10 phones. Now the FBI is saying they found the missing texts. So that was a bogus assertion. But could it be true that but for White House Counsel Don McGahn, if the president of the United States had ordered the firing of the special counsel, he might have wound up exactly where Nixon was?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, we would have had, I think it's very likely we would have had an impeachment crisis last June. And you may all recall, I'm sure you do, Chris, Norm, that a number of leaders in the Senate, Republican leaders were sending signals to the president don't do this. Don't fire the special counsel.

This is what's really concerning. Why does he want to fire Mueller? That's the real issue. Why does he want to fire him? Now in Nixon's case, he wanted to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor, and his team stopped him from doing it in the summer of '73. But they couldn't hold him back by October of '73 and he pulled the trigger.


NAFTALI: Why? Because he said I won't give the tapes up. And they said we'll find a compromise, Mr. President that will satisfy the special counselor and the special prosecutor, and they couldn't. And when they couldn't, he said, OK, now he's gone. We don't know what promises, if any, McGahn made to the president about containing Mueller. But it means the president wants to fire Mueller. If that's -- the reporting, you know, four sources that aren't good. If the reporting is solid and turns out to be accurate, the president wants to fire the special counsel. That would be a disaster for his presidency. Just because he didn't do it in June it doesn't mean he doesn't want to do it in January.

CUOMO: Right. NAFTALI: So there is a crisis atmosphere hanging over the White House right now.

CUOMO: All right, so, Norm Eisen, you were in the Obama administration. You were in the Ethics Department. You understand the issues and what needs to be satisfied for a prosecution, OK. Obviously, this is hypothetical and something for Mueller to take up. We know Mueller is aware reportedly that this was afoot in June. What would make the removal of the special counsel by the president a crime? Because obviously he can remove a special counsel. There's a process. Obviously, the attorney general has to do it but the president could instruct the attorney general to do so, but are there circumstances where that would be wrong or illegal?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Chris, thanks for having me back. Yes, there are circumstances where the removal of a special counsel would itself constitute obstruction. The way the law works is you look at the intent. And if there is a corrupt intent to block or cut off or interfere with the government investigation, even if you're exercising otherwise lawful powers but if you're doing it, Chris, think about it to protect yourself, to protect the family member, if he wanted to fire Mueller for the corrupt intent of having taken a bribe for somebody. Those kinds of wrong purposes are why we obstruct juries in obstruction cases. If it is a wrong, improper, evil, or bad purpose that's corrupt intent. And that's why this news is so important. Tim, of course, wisely as always makes the analogy. Nixon didn't want to turn over those tapes because he knew that they would implicate him. That there was --

[21:30:28] CUOMO: But what do you have here that would be similar to that? There's absolutely no suggestion that the president is being asked to do anything that he doesn't want to do and therefore move on the special counsel. Here, the most gross suggestion in the reporting is in June the timing becomes relevant. The special counsel was now looking at obstruction, the irony is, of course, the only reason he was looking at obstruction is because the president had moved on Jim Comey and made some other actions that raised the suspicion of the investigators that they needed a special counsel now sure enough there was one.

But if the timing is not just coincidental, but correlative that he says, obstruction of justice, you're not going after me for that. I'm firing you. Is that enough, certainly not on its own, it isn't Norm, because he didn't fire him. But would it be intent of something that could satisfy any criminal standard?

EISEN: I do think that we're moving toward having sufficient evidence to satisfy the obstruction standard, Chris. And like you, I'm not happy to hear it. And I agree that we have to be cautious. And I'm still not ready to say there was obstruction. That's why Bob Mueller has to sit across the table from the president and look into his eyes and listen to him as he talks. The president has a big disability, Chris, when he tries to explain. And the key question is, why did he say to Comey can you see your way clear to letting the Flynn case go? Why did he fire Comey? What is the reason that the president is protecting Flynn? What does Flynn have on the president or Don Junior or on Jared Kushner or somebody else that the president is so desperate to keep out of the public eye? Now, whatever it is, Bob Mueller knows about it because he's cut his deal with Flynn.

CUOMO: Well, now there's something else, though, OK. There's something else the president may say when he looks Bob Mueller in the eye literally or figuratively in any interview that happens.

And Tim, I want your take on this. At the time that Mueller was appointed, we heard nothing from President Trump about why the guy was unfit or conflicted or any of that. But we now know according to the reporting he was having his prior lawyer on Marc Kasowitz and others make a case for conflict against Mueller. So if he were to say Mueller, I wanted to move on you because you quit one of my golf courses over a dispute over fees, number one.

Number two, you were a member of a firm that represented Jared Kushner, number two.

And number three, you had just interviewed to be the director of FBI and I wasn't going to use you and then you were appointed special counsel right after. That's why I don't trust you. Is that enough to clear a legal standard, in your opinion and norm you give me the last word.

NAFTALI: Unless -- Chris, I'm not a lawyer.

CUOMO: All right, --


NAFTALI: But I'm going to say that it's a political standard that matters here.

CUOMO: Because?

NAFTALI: Congress would have to see that he's reached this threshold that makes him politically unfit to remain in the office. So I think it's a political issue more than a criminal issue.

CUOMO: OK, however, lets' be clear, impeachment is only as good as the votes you can get. It is a political process. And it would require the GOP to move on one of their own. Norm Eisen, if he lay out these three reasons and say you're conflicted, you're out. Is that good enough to clear him?

EISEN: Bob Mueller will laugh in his face, Chris.

CUOMO: But it shows where his intentions were.

EISEN: No, those are bogus intentions. And that is just what and is not a partisan thing. I was the Obama Ethic Czar, Richard Painter the Bush Ethic Czar and I wrote when the president and his colleagues floated these bogus excuses. There is no legal basis. Those are not sufficient legal conflicts. Those are not the real reasons. Come on.

CUOMO: Well, that's what you have to show, Norm. EISEN: Mueller left --

CUOMO: You have to show that they're not. Because the president may well say they are. And if it's about why his intentions were with what he did or didn't do, it's going to be relevant. But Norm, we got to end it there. I appreciate your perspective very much.

As always, Tim Naftali, thank you for giving us some historical perspective here. We'll see what happens.

EISEN: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, for the rest of us, the breaking news tonight, President Trump ordered Mueller's firing last summer. That's what "The New York Times" is reporting with four sources.

[21:34:53] Up next, we're going to go on one-on-one with a member of the president's inner circle who's actually in Davos where the president is. Former White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci. He stayed up late. He's going to tell us what he thinks of this, next.


CUOMO: Breaking news tonight, President Trump ordered Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller to be fired last June. That's according to "The New York Times" and four sources. Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci joins me now. Anthony is in Davos. That's where the president is.

Just for some context here. Anthony, last month you said the president is too smart to fire Mueller. When you said that, did you know what he had been trying to do last June?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I actually didn't know but it's totally irrelevant because he actually didn't fire Mueller. And I find it very ironic that this information is coming out while he's here in Davos, while he's had great fan fair. And so, you know, you and me, I would love to get a look at somebody like Steve Bannon's phone records to see who he is talking to and how this information is out there.

Second thing I will say is that the president talks to everybody. And so, this information apparently happened in June. Why is it coming out right now like a big water balloon on the president when he's having a fantastic trip here in Davos meeting with world leaders and about to give a fantastic speech about global prosperity and global growth?

CUOMO: Anthony.

SCARAMUCCI: I find this to be one of those nonsensical stories --

CUOMO: Anthony, Anthony, please.

SCARAMUCCI: Let me just finish, Chris. CUOMO: No, you did --




CUOMO: I appreciate you staying up late. But, Anthony.

SCARAMUCCI: So let me finish.

CUOMO: Anthony, it matters too much.

SCARAMUCCI: Let me finish.

[21:40:00] CUOMO: It can't be a red herring. A red herring is a distraction --

SCARAMUCCI: Did he fired?

CUOMO: -- for what is otherwise important. This goes to the most important questions we're dealing with.

SCARAMUCCI: Exactly right.

CUOMO: The timing of the reporting --

SCARAMUCCI: We're distracting right now from the president's speech tomorrow and all the great things that he's doing here in terms of laying that ground work. We're distracting from the business CEO leaders meetings that he had today, the meeting with the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the prime minister of Israel. And we're distracting from a speech that he's going to give at 2:00 P.M. today on global growth, global peace and prosperity.

CUOMO: You think any of that matters nearly as much --

SCARAMUCCI: Hey, Chris, you guy have had the story for a year. There's no collusion.

CUOMO: Hold on, Anthony.


SCARAMUCCI: Where's the collusion evidence in the story?

CUOMO: Anthony, over talking is not being compelling at different things. You're saying, well, I'm tired of hearing collusion. We've learned nothing. You're a lawyer. You went to Harvard Law School --

SCARAMUCCI: I'm going to be your media coach because you do that to me all the time.

CUOMO: You went to Harvard Law School.

SCARAMUCCI: OK, go ahead.

CUOMO: We heard nothing from Bob Mueller. We have no idea what he knows and doesn't. And we do know that the Congressional investigation is with the exception for half of the Senate Intelligence Committee has been nothing but partisan back biting.

So, the idea of what we've heard enough about collusion. There's no proof of collusion. That's all B.S. we don't know anything. The questions are out there. The conclusions will come. The timing of this report to say it is distraction, there's no basis for that, it sounds like the suggestions about the FBI that president and others are saying it's not trustworthy on the basis of nothing. Talking about text messages that they had to back off of. Notions of a secret group that they had to back off of. Saying texts were missing because it was a cover up when they knew that wasn't true. And now everybody knows it's not true, as a matter of fact. Don't say that the reporting can't be believed because of the timing. Deal with what it is on its face. The White House hasn't denied it. They have four sources.

SCARAMUCCI: You're not listening. Chris, I did not say that the reporting cannot be believed.

CUOMO: You just said --

SCARAMUCCI: I was listening. I said it's a red herring. He never fired Mueller.

CUOMO: What's the difference?

SCARAMUCCI: You're telling me that inside the -- hold on a second. The president believes that there was absolutely no collusion in the Russia investigation.

CUOMO: Is that why he tried to fire the special counsel?

SCARAMUCCI: -- him not contemplating the firing. Time out a second. If he thought there was no collusion and he sat down with the White House counsel in a private conversation, the president in a privileged conversation with his attorney.

I did go to Harvard Law School. I know what a privileged conversation is. But I also know that he had interlopers in the White House last June that was leaking information on him that was very unfair. You're telling me that your president is not allowed to have a confidential conversation with the White House counsel --

CUOMO: So what?

SCARAMUCCI: I'm not denying --

CUOMO: This is about the truth, Anthony.

SCARAMUCCI: Let me finish, Chris.

CUOMO: If Don McGahn -- SCARAMUCCI: You don't want to let me finish. You're the one that's

over talking me.


CUOMO: Because this distraction about, it's about leaks and Steve Bannon. Who cares about that?

SCARAMUCCI: You don't want to let me finish because you know I'm making a lot of sense to your viewers.

CUOMO: You're trying to say don't believe the reporting --

SCARAMUCCI: The guy was never fired.

CUOMO: -- because it was a leak by Bannon. Who cares?

SCARAMUCCI: I did not say that. Hey, hey, hey, listen, I am not saying that. I'm accepting the reporting. Maggie Haberman is a phenomenal reporter. I listen to her on Anderson Cooper. I'm not saying that. Don't say that I'm saying that when I'm not saying that. What I am saying is he didn't fire the guy. He may have had a conversation about firing the guy and then made a decision not to fire the guy.

CUOMO: That's not what the reporting is.

SCARAMUCCI: -- the guys is still in place, Chris, you can't say that he fired him.

CUOMO: I didn't say he fired him.

SCARAMUCCI: -- is the reporting he fired him?

CUOMO: No. The reporting is --


SCARAMUCCI: He contemplating firing --

CUOMO: No, he wasn't contemplating.


CUOMO: So reporting is --

SCARAMUCCI: That he --

CUOMO: -- he ordered McGahn to make the moves to fire him. McGahn said I will resign if I have to do that and then the president relented.

SCARAMUCCI: You're twisting --

CUOMO: That's the reporting.

SCARAMUCCI: -- the story.

CUOMO: That's the reporting.

SCARAMUCCI: I'm not twisting the story.

CUOMO: That is the report.

SCARAMUCCI: I just accepted the reporting. Why is that coming out tonight?

CUOMO: Because this is when they got it.

SCARAMUCCI: -- of his speech.

CUOMO: This is when they got it. It's --

SCARAMUCCI: OK, Chris, come on.

CUOMO: -- when it comes out.

SCARAMUCCI: Point number one, he didn't fire the person. Point number two, the president believes that there was no collusion. Point number three, despite only being in the White House for 11 days, I worked for the president for 18 months, I didn't see any collusion. Point number three, there's been new stories that had to be shot down and people fired over the Russia investigation. Point number four, Robert Mueller is still in his job as a special investigator. He is still in his job. And the president said recently that he expects Mr. Mueller to treat him fairly and he obviously believes he's going to be exonerated. You're telling me that a private conversation.

CUOMO: Doesn't matter --

SCARAMUCCI: Hey, Chris, a private conversation with your counsel -- what are you talk about? It doesn't matter.


CUOMO: -- not to the truth of the matter asserted. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter it was private.


SCARAMUCCI: -- when you have interloping leakers inside the White House.

[21:45:01] CUOMO: Again, irrelevant.

SCARAMUCCI: -- on the president.


SCARAMUCCI: -- I said six months ago.

CUOMO: Irrelevant

SCARAMUCCI: Not irrelevant. Totally relevant.

CUOMO: How the information came out is irrelevant. The substance of the reporting is relevant. Don McGahn, if the reporting is to be believed -- we believed, Don McGahn said I won't do it --

SCARAMUCCI: Did he fire the guy?

CUOMO: Don McGahn said I won't do what you're ordering me to do. It's bad for you. It's wrong to do. And the president relented. Even if he didn't fire him --


SCARAMUCCI: -- hold on a second. The president fired James Comey --

CUOMO: You don't want to hear the reporting, Anthony --


CUOMO: You're not listening.

SCARAMUCCI: You're not listening.

CUOMO: Because you're making these silly points.

SCARAMUCCI: I am not ignoring it. I'm I trying to tell you that you're focused on something that isn't fair to the president. The president -- I'll accept Maggie Haberman's word. I think she's very honest, very ethical journalist --

CUOMO: Four sources --

SCARAMUCCI: -- that conversation, and there was probably a -- I just said I accept that. But I'm also saying to you as lawyer, somebody that did go to Harvard Law School as you just pointed out. The president is not allowed to have a privileged and private conversation with White House counsel? No, he isn't, because we got a ton of leakers inside the White House predating my departure on July 31st.

And now that water balloon is being dropped on the president when he's about to make a historic speech here in Davos, Switzerland about global peace and global prosperity.

CUOMO: Right.

SCARAMUCCI: The president doesn't think there was any collusion. The decision was ultimately made not to fire Robert Mueller. And the president said most recently that he expects Mr. Mueller to treat him fairly.


SCARAMUCCI: So that's my side of my story --

CUOMO: And the president says -- I hear you. SCARAMUCCI: You want say that there's underlying guilt because he wanted to fire him and there's some kind of anxiety about what happened and I'm saying the very opposite. He's saying, hey --

CUOMO: I know you're saying the opposite.

SCARAMUCCI: -- this is a bunch of nonsense.

CUOMO: But you're saying --

SCARAMUCCI: -- six months into the job and he's asking for advice from his White House counsel.

CUOMO: It's not what happened.


CUOMO: It's not what happened.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. What happened, Chris?

CUOMO: You see that's the problem. I like your theory. It's creative and protective but it's also not the reporting. The reporting is he ordered Mueller fired. McGahn refused and threatened to resign.

SCARAMUCCI: Is he fired?

CUOMO: The president has said since he never thought about firing Mueller. If this is true, that's a lie.

Secondly, even though he didn't act on it or wasn't allowed to act on it by Don McGahn, it could mean to investigators that he does have the intention to obstruct justice.

SCARAMUCCI: OK. All right, listen --

CUOMO: Am I wrong?

SCARAMUCCI: That's a very good theory on your part.

CUOMO: Am I wrong?

SCARAMUCCI: But, I actually do -- yes, I do think you're wrong.

CUOMO: How so?

SCARAMUCCI: In all due respect to your theory I think you're wrong.

CUOMO: How so?

SCARAMUCCI: How so? Because I know the guy, OK? I was there. I was --

CUOMO: So you're saying this didn't happen?

SCARAMUCCI: -- part of the campaign. I was on the executive committee for the transition team --

CUOMO: So you're saying it didn't happen?

SCARAMUCCI: I know Don Junior. I would vouch for him. I'm saying what didn't happen?

CUOMO: You're saying that he didn't order --

SCARAMUCCI: -- conversation with Don --

CUOMO: You're saying he didn't order Mueller fired and Don McGahn --

SCARAMUCCI: You're unbelievable. I've said four times in this interview -- I've said four times in this interview that I accept the reporting.

CUOMO: Right. So, if that's what happened how is my theory wrong about what it could mean to investigators? How is my theory wrong about what --

SCARAMUCCI: Your theory is wrong because -- because -- I can't get inside the mind of the president but this is what I really believe happened. He said, hey, there's absolutely no collusion here. Why do we need this unnecessary distraction of a special prosecutor? And McGahn probably told them, hey look, you can't fire the guy because it will be a disaster for you and the president said OK. No, problem. There's no collusion.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, the president said I expect Mr. Mueller to treat me fairly.

CUOMO: Right.

SCARAMUCCI: The guy never got fired, OK, period, the end. If the president was that concerned, why wouldn't he have fired him?

CUOMO: Because he was told that it will be really bad for you and the guy resigned and the timing that you're ignoring is this is just when Mueller in June had said that they are looking at obstruction of justice. That was reported. Mueller said nothing. But reports came out that they were looking at obstruction of justice.


CUOMO: That's when this happened. But we'll take it. Let's leave it at that, Anthony.

SCARAMUCCI: Let's see how it plays out.

CUOMO: Because I got other things that I have to do.

SCARAMUCCI: Let's see -- I understand that, me too, believe me. It's 3:30 in the morning.

CUOMO: And I appreciate you staying up.

SCARAMUCCI: But let's just see how it plays out. My bet, my gentlemen's bet, there's no collusion.

CUOMO: Right.

SCARAMUCCI: The president is not involved with any conclusion. You'll have to pay for dinner.

CUOMO: I don't want to bet. I want to find out what's true, what's done, and what it means for the process of justice, but I appreciate you staying up.

SCARAMUCCI: OK, but don't say that the -- don't say that I didn't say the reporting is inaccurate because I did.

CUOMO: All right, fine.

SCARAMUCCI: I accepted the reporting as accurate. I just don't like the way you guys are spinning the reporting.

CUOMO: I get it. If you accept the reporting then you accept that the president reportively ordered Mueller out. But I appreciate you being here, I do.

SCARAMUCCI: But he didn't. He's still there, brother. He's still there.


SCARAMUCCI: OK, have a great --

[21:49:58] CUOMO: Breaking news tonight for the rest of you who just tuning in, President Trump ordered Mueller out over the summer, four sources, "The New York Times" that's what they say. Why it didn't happen is because the White House counsel threatened to quit if he was made to execute that order. The great debate next.


CUOMO: Breaking news, according to "The New York Times" with four sources, President Trump ordered Special Counsel Bob Mueller to be fired last June. Let's bring in CNN Political Commentators, Symone Sanders and Jack Kingston, there's only one question for you two tonight, how big a deal is this? And forget about what we were just hearing from Anthony Scaramucci about privileged conversations and leaks and timing. We don't know anything to disrupt the reporting as it stands. Let's deal with the proposition as it lies.

Symone Sanders, if this is true, what does it mean politically?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean I think politically it means a couple of things. What else do we not know about that happened over the last couple of months that Donald Trump and folks in his camp has have been denying or brushing to the side. How deep does the rabbit hole really go? I think it goes to show that things coming out of White House cannot be trusted, it something I've thought for a very long time and -- these are real political implications, if Donald Trump did in fact ask for special counsel to be fired, that's something you just can't come back from in my opinion.

[21:55:17] CUOMO: Jack?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think at the time you had a different legal counsel. This was before Ty Cobb --

CUOMO: True.

KINGSTON: -- got on board and Marc Kasowitz, was -- as you know his whole approach to this was -- let's be straight fathers (ph), so challenging Mueller's credentials. We do know we did know at the time he put together a partisan group who had given generously to Hillary Clinton as time has gone on, we found that exactly how partisan that was. So that was right. I think the fact that he did not make the FBI directorship job he aspired to be, I do think that would make me queezy (ph) if he was investigating me. But I think that at the time, Kasowitz probably says you've got to fire him and I think McGahn -- I've dealt with Don McGahn many, many years, he's a really good guy, I think he probably stood up to Marc Kasowitz and said, you do that, I'm out of here because you're not listening to me. And I think that between the two lawyers, the president did say well, Don McGahn is right and I'm going to follow his --

CUOMO: Well, that's not what the reporting is.

SANDERS: You know what, that is not -- to be clear, wait, that's not what the reporting says.

CUOMO: Yes. The reporting is Don McGahn --

KINGSTON: -- it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

CUOMO: -- to resign.


CUOMO: If he had to carry that out. But the question is this, but for Don McGahn, if the president had removed Bob Mueller because he had started looking at obstruction of justice by the president, what do you think that would have meant to him, Jack, and his fate?

KINGSTON: Well, no, I think Donald was right. Don has dealt with politicians in this town and talked them off ledge for decades now. And I can see in this position saying Mr. President, I know this is what Kasowitz is telling you to do --

CUOMO: Right.

KINGSTON: -- but I feel so strongly about it, I would resign. I think that's a legitimate approach. I mean --

CUOMO: Well, it's legitimate except for this, that all of the explanations, Symone, have therefore -- if this is true, the explanations have been illegitimate. The president asked whether or not you've considered firing Mueller. No I had never even thought about it. That would have to be a lie if this is true. And a list that I have in front of me of different people who have come on my show and other press media outlets and said, never considered it, never considered it. That would all be lies. How significant?

SANDERS: It's very significant. Look, the fact of the matter is. It is criminal to lie to the FBI, whether you are -- or any government official -- government official agencies whether one is under oath or not. And so, there are many folks that we know that have been interviewed by the special counsel's office. And if folks went into those interviews and noted, and they -- they were point blank asked if the president ever thought about firing Director Mueller, they all said no, they all lied if they had the knowledge that we see now in "The New York Times" reporting, it's very problematic. The fact of the matter --

KINGSTON: But none of that was in the story.

SANDERS: The things coming out --

CUOMO: True.

SANDERS: We cannot trust the things coming out of the White House. We have heard the president say that he never thought about it --

CUOMO: Right, but Symone, we don't know that anybody went into the counsel's interview and lied about this. We don't know that. We do know that the special counsel learned about these efforts of the president from staffers in interviews.

But, Jack, again, let's end where we began. If the president wanted to fire Bob Mueller because he was looking into obstruction of justice, are you worried that investigators would look at that intention as intention to obstruct justice?

KINGSTON: I would say it was probably Marc Kasowitz giving him and probably attorney client privilege conversation some advice which the president was smart enough --

CUOMO: But Jack, that wouldn't absolve the president if he then took the step of ordering his dismissal.

KINGSTON: If he did it and it was shown that by doing so he was obstruction the investigation, because really obstruction is a lot more about witness tampering and changing evidence and withholding evidence, but none of that applies to this.

CUOMO: Corrupt intent, that he was trying to do something to stop the administration of justice with corrupt intent.

KINGSTON: But rejecting the advice of Marc Kasowitz, I think -- and listening to Don McGahn and said --

SANDERS: OK, but we also don't know that's what happened.

KINGSTON: -- investigation and move forward.

SANDERS: We do not know that is in fact what happened, Congressman. But the fact of the matter --

KINGSTON: We don't know that's not what happened.

SANDERS: I think it's real rich you're trying to absolve the president --

CUOMO: Look, there are open questions --

SANDERS: -- of what we're seeing in "The New York Times". There are open questions but I think Donald Trump has a pattern. He has a pattern and what the pattern that we have from Donald Trump is -- that a lot of times he'll lie about something that happens and he'll do what he wants to do.

CUOMO: All of this --

SANDERS: I'm convinced --

KINGSTON: I think I've convinced her.

CUOMO: Symone, Jack -- I think you made a lot of progress with Symone. But all that matters is, what will this mean if the president does meet with special counsel and asked about this? If he gives answers that he's been giving to the media and others, it may not go well.

Our coverage continues right now, "CNN Tonight" with Don Lemon.