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President Trump Returns to White House Amid Mueller Bombshell; Interview with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey; Sources: President Trump has Been Venting About Rosenstein in Recent Weeks; Melania Trump Keeping a Low Profile; First Lady Skips Davos, Instead Heads To Florida; Melania Trump Stays Out Of Spotlight; Debut Episode Airs Saturday 7PM ET. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The president has arrived back in Washington tonight facing the latest storm over the newest item on a long and growing list of statements and actions in the Russia investigation that could land him in serious legal trouble. The president calls the latest item fake news, calls the probe a witch-hunt and attacks the professionals and agencies conducting it.

And even before last night's bombshell about his effort to fire Mueller, President Trump earlier this week mocked the idea that any of his actions so far could be legally problematic.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now they're saying, "Oh, well, 'Did he fight back? Did he fight back?' John -- you fight back, oh, it's obstruction.


COOPER: Well, keeping them honest, because this is exactly what Robert Mueller could be considering, we begin tonight with a kind of timeline of what the president may call fighting back but others may consider attempts at obstruction of justice. And though it certainly is long and might be exhausting, it is by no means exhaustive.

Item one, January 27th of last year, then FBI Director James Comey had dinner with the president. In his statement for the record to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said the president first asked him if he wanted to stay on as FBI director then said, I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had you never had any of those kind of requests before from anyone else you'd worked for in the government?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: No, and what made me uneasy was I'm at that point the director of the FBI, the reason that Congress created a 10-year term is so that the director is not feeling as if they're serving at -- with political loyalty owed to any particular person.


COOPER: So. is that an attempt to obstruct justice? Remember, just a week earlier, "The New York Times" had broken the news that us law enforcement and intelligence agencies were conducting a counterintelligence investigation into links between Trump associates and Russia. Was that on the president's mind when he demanded loyalty from Director Comey?

February 13th, the national security adviser Michael Flynn is forced out. According to the White House at the time, it was for lying to the vice president about ties to Russia. That, of course, was not entirely true. He's since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

The next day, February 14th, at a counterterrorism briefing in the Oval Office, the president sends everyone out of the room except for Director Comey, then Comey says the president tells him this about Flynn. Quote: He's a good guy and has been through a lot I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go, end quote.

He later elaborated to the intelligence committee.


COMEY: And as I said in my statement, I could be wrong but Flynn had been forced to resign the day before and the controversy around General Flynn at that point time was centered on whether he had lied to the vice president about the nature of his conversations with the Russians, whether he had been candid with others in the course of that. And so, that happens on the day before, on the 14th, the president makes specific reference to that.

And so, that's why I understood him to be saying that what he wanted me to do was drop any investigation connected to Flynn's account of his conversations with the Russians.


COOPER: So, was that statement by the president to Comey an attempt by the president to obstruct justice?

On March 2nd, Attorney General Sessions recuses himself. The president has been writhing and publicly deriding him ever since.

On March 22nd, according to "The Washington Post", the president lobbies a top intelligence official to intervene with Director Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Was that an attempt to obstruct justice?

May 9th, the president fires Comey, citing as the reason his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Was that an attempt to obstruct justice? The very next day, May 10th, in a meeting only captured by a Russian

camera, the president boasts to Russian's foreign minister and the ever present Ambassador Kislyak, quote, I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nutjob. I face great pressure because of Russia, that's taken off. I'm not under investigation, that's according to "The New York Times", firing Comey took the pressure off.

And as if to dispel any doubt that Russia had very least factored into the president's motivation for firing James Comey, the president said so out loud the very next day to NBC's Lester Holt.


TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it, and in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


COOPER: The day after that, the president obviously on a roll sent this tweet, quote, James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.

Hollow though it was, there were no tapes, the question is, was the president trying to intimidate a future witness and is that an attempt to obstruct justice?

At the time, Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied it, saying that's not a threat, he simply stated a fact. It's still unclear what fact Mr. Spicer is referring to there because again, there were no tapes.

On May 17th, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints Robert Mueller special counsel.

[20:05:04] And the president begins tweeting that this is the single greatest witch hunt in American political history he goes on to tweet attacks on Rosenstein, Attorney General Sessions, Comey, Mueller, the FBI which he says at one point is in tatters, the intelligence community, deep state and others, all of which continues to this day.

Also according to a source familiar with the matter, the president later pressured Attorney General Sessions to push Comey's replacement, Christopher Wray, to clean house at the bureau, specifically to fire Andrew McCabe. That is jumping ahead.

We go back to the timeline on June 12th, Trump friend Christopher Ruddy went on the PBS "NewsHour" and dropped this bombshell.


CHRIS RUDDY, TRUMP FRIEND: I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option. I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.


COOPER: Well, we've since learned that the president did more than just consider it he ordered it only to back down at the last minute. Was that an attempt to obstruct justice?

At the very least, the president and his people have for months been less than honest about this, including right at the very moment it actually was happening.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president has not even discussed that. The president is not discussing firing Bob Mueller.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Will he commit not to fire him?

CONWAY: We are complying and cooperating with -- he has not even discussed not fire -- he has not discussed firing Bob Mueller.

TRUMP: I haven't giving it any thought. I've bee reading about it from you people, oh, I'm going to dismiss him. No, I'm not dismissing anybody.

REPORTER: Did you consider firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, not at all.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is there any chance at all that the president will try to fire Robert Mueller?

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY: No. You know, I saw a couple of people talking about that this morning. The answer to that is no.

REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No, I'm not. No.


COOPER: Well, we now know, according to multiple news outlets, that this simply is not true. So, now, take a look at this, these are most of the incidents I just mentioned. Now, I'll ask again are any of these an attempt to obstruct justice? Is the sum total an indication of an attempt by the president to obstruct justice? It's a question Robert Mueller will decide soon enough.

As we said, the president is just now back in D.C. with the controversy swirling in and out of his White House and that's where we find our Pam Brown. Pam, the president's landed it was a long plane ride back from Davos. Did he or any of the White House staff talk about the plan to fire Mueller?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They did not. In fact, the president was asked questions when he got off Marine One, he only would say that his trip to Davos was a great trip, a successful trip. He did not address the bombshell revelations that he directed White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and that McGahn had threatened to quit back in June, although the White House is really letting his other comments stand that he made in Davos. He claimed that these revelations, this news, is fake news, which is what we've heard before, saying that the Russia investigation is a hoax.

Other than that, the White House has been mum. There has not been a public denial from White House counsel Don McGahn, given that and given the news, you have to wonder what the future meetings will be like between the president and his White House counsel. We're told by sources that up until this point, that Don McGahn wanted to stay in his role, that he was happy in his role, but you can imagine this could set up for some awkward meetings.

In terms of the mood, the reaction to this in the White House, people I've spoken with say that there was a sense of surprise by the revelation, that they knew this past June was a period of an intense time, there was a lot of anxiety going on as one source said, it was really touch and go. But certainly, a lot of them didn't realize the extent to which this tension boiled over with Don McGahn, White House counsel apparently according to sources threatening to resign from this order from Robert Mueller.

Now, the question next how will this impact the negotiations going on right now between the president's lawyers and Robert Mueller's team, one source told me, of course, the fact that he ordered Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller could be an extra layer of inquiry in the obstruction of justice case. Those on -- those negotiations and whether the president will sit down and talk to Robert Mueller still ongoing at this hour -- Anderson.

COOPER: Pam Brown, thanks very much.

Joining us now is New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Booker, President Trump ordering Mueller to be fired, taken together with everything else we know so far, to you, does it rise the level of obstruction of justice?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, to me is a very troubling fact pattern and we see this president who has in my opinion very authoritarian tendencies that upset -- really actually more than upset -- to destroy the norms of our democracy and do border on things that I think could arise to the attention or actually I know are arising to the attention of the special prosecutor.

[20:10:01] Remember, this is somebody who as you said through that long fact pattern has made in his business to seem to try to intimidate or punish people, whether it's Jeff Sessions for recusing himself, whether it's Robert Mueller himself. So, we have a very serious situation with this president that ultimately I think is being as unchecked right now and doesn't see himself as being subject to the rule of law. I mean, he's even going as far like dictators in other nations, to call for the arrest and persecution and prosecution of his former opponent.

So, we're in troubling times here, and I've been advocating in the Senate, along with Lindsey Graham, to try to do some very basic, pragmatic, bipartisan things to provide more checks and balances to a president that has authoritarian tendencies.

COOPER: You know, the president just the other day said, well, look, he described what he was doing is fighting back. You're saying it goes beyond fighting back?

BOOKER: Yes. I mean, clearly, if he says -- if he means what he says that he's done nothing wrong, that he hasn't colluded with the Russians, that he hasn't in any way been involved, he should do what he said when he was citizen Trump to others -- if you have nothing to hide, then just let the run its course, cooperate with investigation, submit to interviews and let this move on.

In many ways, he seems to be acting as if somebody who has something to hide and tried to use power in a way that really does pervert American norms and traditions and could possibly end up being criminal acts.

COOPER: You know, a number of the president's allies are saying, well, look, regarding the idea of firing Mueller, nothing happened. That McGahn didn't actually fire Mueller and that McGahn putting his foot down actually shows that the checks within the executive branch are functioning properly.

BOOKER: Well, I think we -- if this is what that means, just think about where we are in the United States of America. We are -- a lot of people now saying, hey, it's really good that we have a few people in the White House that are protecting us, the American people, from the president's tendencies, from his inclinations, from his passions.

That's a very scary thing when it comes to all the issues that he has to deal with, where his impulses seem to be so dangerous contrary to American norms, destructive of our ultimate interests in a functioning democracy. And so, if the only thing separating this president from disastrous outcomes is the courage -- occasional courage of people in his circles who have to literally threaten him with leaving -- threatened to him with resigning. That to me doesn't seem like a very good situation. In fact, it's something that to me is tantamount to a potential crisis in the future.

And again, that's why Congress I believe needs to be taking very pragmatic steps as a point of not just pragmatism, but moral urgency, to make sure that we have the right constitutional protections in place should this president ever cross the line. COOPER: You were referencing this before, this bill that you and Senator Lindsey Graham proposed last August to protect special counsel Mueller from being fired by the president. Where does that stand now?

BOOKER: Well, I'm actually really encouraged that Lindsey Graham and I partnered on this, that Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, granted it a hearing. Many bills I think are worthy hearings don't get this, but he thought enough to give it a hearing.

And so I'm hoping that after this crisis, it's Friday now, people have left. But when people get back, that we're going to find some normal men some to actually getting this bill passed, not only for this moment in time, but just think about we have a nation's law set up so that a president who was in power, who's under investigation by a special prosecutor can order the firing of that special prosecutor without that much accountability whatsoever. To ask the judiciary branch to provide a check on that power so it doesn't become authoritarian, to me that's very sensible to do. And I think it's something we should do for now, for this case scenario, and for into the future.

COOPER: You mentioned Grassley and Lindsey Graham. Have you spoken to your Republican colleagues? I mean, is there an appetite on both sides of the aisle to push legislation like yours forward?

BOOKER: Well, clearly, there's been an appetite to co-author that legislation with Lindsey Graham, with giving it a hearing, and I'm hoping there's an appetite now for passing it, especially again, my colleagues, regardless what side of your aisle on, we all see the same fact pattern, we all see the same behavior on the part of our president. And I think people have a lot of concern, and I'm sure you've heard, Anderson, when you talk to senators on both sides of the aisle of how happy they are that Secretary Defense Mattis is in there, that there's these adults in the room that are around him to control him from these impulses.

Well, that's not enough. What we need is the rule of law. We need checks and balances. We need to make sure that our republic as in and of itself as we stand can withstand a president with the kind of inclinations that he's showing.

COOPER: Senator Cory Booker, appreciate your time. Thank you.

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Coming up next, new reporting on the president's mood where his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is concerned, as well as our legal team's take on the obstruction question.

And later, call it the first lady vanishes, where she went instead of accompanying the president overseas just days after the wedding anniversary.

[20:15:04] New insight on that ahead on 360.


COOPER: Breaking news on the reaction in Washington tonight, on top the reporting on how close the president came to firing Robert Mueller, there's new reporting on how annoyed or perhaps it's better to say, how much more annoyed the president is with one key justice official.

CNN's Sara Murray has that new reporting.

So, I understand the president has been aiming his ire at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, we have heard from four different sources is that the president has grown frustrated with Rod Rosenstein. He's airing these frustrations. Two sources actually told us that the president at times has even spoken about wanting to fire the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Now, some of these sources said, look, this seems like bluster. This seems like the president airing his frustrations. We don't really believe he's going to follow through on this.

But it gives you an indication of just how preoccupied the president still is by this Russia probe and all these different avenues he's tried to take into to sort of bring an end to it. Obviously, we know he fired James Comey. We know he remains frustrated that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.

We saw the reporting about how he dealt with Mueller and considering firing him and now it seems like Rod Rosenstein had sort of gotten caught up in that as well and is in the president's crosshairs.

[20:20:02] COOPER: Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Perspective now from CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

So, Jeff, first of all on Rosenstein, regardless how angry the president is at Rosenstein, what can you actually do? I mean, sure, legally, he could fire him, but what would be the political fallout from that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I don't think the president cares that much about the political fallout. I mean, he wouldn't have fired the FBI director if he cared about that. I mean, just pause and think about how many people he's already fired in his own administration --

COOPER: And doesn't like already.

TOOBIN: -- and yes, and -- you know, he's talked about firing Jeff Sessions, now the deputy Rod Rosenstein, he's supposedly mad at the chief of staff, General Kelly. He's mad at Don McGahn, the White House counsel. I mean, you know, I think at some point, you have to look at the management rather than the fact that, you know -- and he's already, you know, gotten rid of half of the White House staff one go- round. I mean, I think that's the news more than anything Rod Rosenstein did.

COOPER: Let's talk about the Mueller thing with -- Jeff. I mean, regarding any possible obstruction of justice case that Mueller might pursue, he would have to prove corrupt intent? What is corrupt intent and what's the bar that has to be met in order to prove it?

TOOBIN: Well, corrupt intent means sort of bad intent. It means -- there's no sort of - it's really, it's not a technicality. It's -- you know, legal technicality. It's just improper intent.

You know, the president is allowed to fire the FBI director as he did and he could have set in motion the firing of Robert Mueller. But it is obstruction of justice if you do it with corrupt intent.

And I think what's so important about "The New York Times" story yesterday is you see that Donald McGahn, the White House's own lawyer, was -- you know, thought that the president's intent was wrong, improper. The reasons he gave, the three bogus reasons that he gave for wanting to fire Mueller suggests that you really could find an improper intent here, and that the evidence of obstruction of justice is I think getting stronger after this --

COOPER: Professor Turley, do you agree with Jeff on this?

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON LAW PROFESSOR: Well, only to a point. I'm afraid I don't agree with his conclusion.

Trump can argue that there's another reason for why he wanted to fire Mueller. You know, Mueller did have a conflict of interest. I was very critical of Mueller's appointment. He's a witness to his own investigation. He interviewed for Comey's job, that's the one that I think is a serious problem.

Even though I supported --

COOPER: Why is that a serious problem?

TURLEY: Even though I supported the special counsel being investigation, because, you know, you're not supposed to be a witness in an investigation that you're conducting. He interviewed for that job. He met with the president soon after the termination of Comey. You can throw a stick in any corner and hit a hundred lawyers in D.C., why they had to put this one there I think was a mistake.

But that doesn't mean that he should be fired. It also doesn't mean that the president should be given credit for not firing him. You know, you can't really argue that you didn't start a fire when someone else blew out the match. And if this report is correct, the president was about to do a remarkably self-defeating act and one that I think would be grossly inappropriate.

But I don't think it makes a case for obstruction. I think people constantly look at each of these changes and say, well, there it is, there -- there's the piece we're looking for. And he has defenses.

COOPER: Jeff? TOOBIN: I mean, I think -- I think Jonathan sort of made my point, which is you look at so many different acts that the president has done, whether it's telling James Comey to be loyal, whether it's telling him to go easy on his national security adviser, whether it's firing James Comey, whether it's trying to find Robert Mueller -- yes, perhaps it's true that each one of those in individually is not a criminal act.

But when you take them all together, you do see a pattern of improper motives, using the power of the presidency to -- you know, for improper purposes. This was why impeachment proceedings began against Richard Nixon. This was why in part Bill Clinton was impeached. This is an abuse of power that the impeachment process has traditionally been used to police.

COOPER: Go ahead.

TURLEY: Well, I think where we disagree, Anderson, is that there is another explanation. If you look at outside this investigation, the president conducts himself much in the same way. He often goes boldly where wiser men would not tread. He often tries to manage issues. He often speaks directly how he's feeling.

This is not that different from how he deals with other areas. And so, the assumption that each of these acts has a criminal intent ignores the fact that it's consistent with this conduct outside the investigation.

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think, you know, there's no provision in the law for -- you know, you get an excuse because you have a big personality.

TURLEY: No, but there's no provision --


TURLEY: I'm sorry.

TOOBIN: But if you fire the FBI director for an improper purpose, I don't care that you sometimes fly off the handle, or that you -- you know, I mean, this is an act that is potentially at least a violation of the law.

TURLEY: But, Jeffrey, you and I think agree. I thought it was a terrible mistake to fire James Comey. But there is a perfectly alternative -- perfect alternative reason, right? Many people had called for him to be fired and Rod Rosenstein had his memo, which was not the reason for his termination, but listed all the people on both sides, Democrat and Republican, including attorneys general, who said that he should go.

Now, you're assuming that, look, that might be a good reason but it's not the reason I think he had in his head. I don't think that's a very strong criminal case.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there. Jeff Toobin, Professor Jonathan Turley, thank you very much.

TURLEY: Thank you.

COOPER: Ahead, for a lot of Americans, President Trump's threat to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last summer brought back memories of another president, another special counsel, and another time. It became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. We'll talk with several former Nixon aides who were there and get their take on why and how it matters today.


COOPER: It was a different time and a different president, but the news that this president, Donald Trump, wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June only to be convinced it would be a political firestorm if he did, it certainly brings back echoes of what's become known as the Saturday Night Massacre. It erupted as the nation was in the throes of Watergate.

Randi Kaye tonight looks back.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: How much money do you need?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON COUNSEL: I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Richard Nixon and White House counsel John Dean in secret recordings talking about the Watergate break-in.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Richard Nixon and White House Counsel John Dean in secret recordings talking about the Watergate break in. The Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox wants the tapes and subpoenas the White House for them.

NIXON: Play tough, the way they play (INAUDIBLE)

KAYE (voice-over): But Nixon invokes executive privilege and refuses to give up the tapes, but the U.S. court of appeals steps in ruling that Nixon must comply. Nixon instead tries to hand over summaries of the recordings. But Cox balks at the idea.

ARCHIBALD COX, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, WATERGATE SCANDAL: It is my duty to bring to the courts attention, on what seems to me, to be noncompliance of the courts order.

KAYE (voice-over): Thinking he has the country on his side, Nixon takes a gamble and orders his Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, there are reports tonight that President Nixon has ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.

KAYE (voice-over): But the attorney general refuses to fire the Cox and resigns in protest.

ELLIOT RICHARDSON, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am committed to the independence the special prosecutor, for me to (INAUDIBLE) and use to being fired would be a total regret on that commitment.

KAYE (on-camera): So Nixon orders the deputy Attorney General to fire the prosecutor. He too refuses and resigns. Before the '90s done know, the U.S. solicitor generals suddenly filling in as attorney general agrees to fire Archibald Cox, the so-called Saturday Massacre.

(voice-over): Still Nixon is hardly immune to it all. About nine months later, Nixon on the verge of impeachment, but instead of being removed from office, he resigns.

NIXON: I shall resign presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it decided to assemble a group of people who are very involved and what was happening in and around the Nixon White House. David Gergen was a speech writer for Richard Nixon, John Dean was the President's White House counsel who eventually cooperated with investigators, Richard Ben-Veniste, lead attorney for the Watergate special prosecutor's office, and last but certainly not least Carl Bernstein then a reporter for the "Washington Post", Carl along with Bob Woodward would become journalistic legends by breaking story after story in the "Post".

David, David Gergen, you were working for President Nixon the night he ordered the firing the special prosecutor. I wonder what went through your mind then and what went through your mind when you heard the President Trump had attempted essential the same thing?

DAVIDE GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well Saturday night Massacre was a shock. I must say I almost drove off the road coming home from dinner. Because it was -- it literally was some of the best people in government on resigning on mad mass. And there was a very clear sense we were in crisis. No one knew where -- where is going to end. And that the Republican was in danger. So it's a big deal.

And when I heard about President Trump, it's so ironic and in some ways Anderson, this was one of the best days of his presidency here in Davos. He really help himself with the European business well as American business leaders. And thinking about being positive about the American economy, along comes this story. And, you know, it's a plain drag (ph) on this overshadows Davos but it is his fate until this is resolves. This is the story of very dangerous one for him.

COOPER: John Dean, you'd left the White House by the time the Saturday night massacre, you were cooperating with investigators, but previously you were President Nixon's Don McGhan, you were his White House counsel. What do you make in McGahn reportedly preventing the firing of Mueller?

JOHN DEAN, FMR WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well the rules of ethics have changed considerably since Watergate because of Watergate. And one of the things a lawyer has to do today is if he sees criminal activity going on, he has to withdraw from it or resign. And in some jurisdictions, that aspect can be a noisy withdraw. So he did what the rules call for.

But as it happened, Anderson, I had pled guilty just days before the Saturday night massacred. I had gambled. I'd been told that he might be fired. And I thought, well there is no way he can do it without having to somebody else forcing him to appoint a new one. So I was willing to take the risk and indeed that's what happened.

COOPER: Richard, you were working for Archibald Cox when Nixon, not only fired him but declare the special prosecutors office disbanded. I wonder what kind of affect did that have on you, your colleagues and how unnerved do you think the Mueller team is if at all.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, PROSECUTOR, WATERGATE SCANDAL: Well, it was a total emotional shock. Intellectually we had the idea that this might happen. Indeed, John had just pled guilty the day before -- before Judge Sirica and he called me immediately after he heard the news and said what do we do now. And the Judge Sirica settle down. And the grand jury called them and said you're still on business.

[20:35:00] The firing of Archibald Cox has not affected you. And we to our amazement dusted ourselves off because we were not fired along with Archibald Cox. But it was quite clearly an effort to obstruct justice by firing Archibald Cox as the firing of Robert Mueller would be because there's no legitimate basis to fire him. It's something we discussed here on your show since June for sure and perhaps that's had some effect on Don McGhan and others in the White House who tried to prevent and did success in preventing Trump from following his instinct --


BEN-VENISTE: -- to fire Robert Mueller.

COOPER: Carl, I mean the irony is of course the backlash against Nixon was so strong, he had to appoint a new special prosecutor only on Jaworski who was just as tenacious about getting the secret tapes. There's no reasonably President Trump would face a similar backlash if he had fire Mueller.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the big difference up until now in Watergate and what we're witnessing has been the Republicans who have come time and time again to Donald Trump's support as he tries to shutdown this investigation by any means possible to undermine it, to demean it. We've yet to hear Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan get up and say Mr. President, this Mueller investigation which is legitimate and important to our country must go on. What happened in Watergate is that Republicans became the heroes of Watergate, by saying nobody including the President of the United States is above the law Mr. Nixon. You must turn over your tapes, you must cooperate with the special prosecutor.

And that's the big difference. And we have yet to hear from Republican leaders and say, Mr. Trump, we are not going to tether our party to your lying and that is the most consistent element. The most consistent thing Trump has done in office is to fight for the Russian investigation to be made to go away, one way or another. It's been loud, it's been consistent, he's tried to undermine it at every single turn.


BERNSTEIN: And now it appears that there is a serious obstruction case that the special prosecutor might be building.

COOPER: I want to continue with our panel in just a moment. There's still a lot to discuss. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[20:41:26] COOPER: Back now with our echoes of Watergate panel. John Dean, Richard Ben-Veniste, David Gergen, and Carl Bernstein.

President Trump is denying any collusion of course with the Russian insist there was no obstruction of justice.

So Carl, I mean this is a serious troubling decisions that are looming over the investigation

BERNSTEIN: The most important decision is what Mueller is going to do and we don't know what he is going to do. And you know, it's clear that he has got the President's campaign his closest associates, members of his family in his sights. Now, it doesn't mean he wants to bring them down in his sights. He wants to find out what they have done and they have been resisting letting him know what has been done and what they did.

COOPER: You know, David there's a passage in Carl's book "The Final Days" which you he co-author with Bob Woodward. At the height of Watergate, you were talking to Ben Stein another speech writer who is working on a housing speech and you said quote, "The moral authority of the President is collapsing, how can you be thinking about housing".

To me, it's a really interesting question. And I'm wondering if, I mean is that what is like in a White House when all of the stuff is going on. The challenge of trying to actually get work done, let say potentially existential crisis or the very least an overwhelming, you know, a huge investigation.

GERGEN: Absolutely, Anderson, the White House staff, you know, a lot of people around the President are very honest citizens, they come in to for what they help is a good cause. And when this something like this happens, you worry greatly about, you know, are the pillars going to come down and I have had that conversation with Bob Woodward on several occasions. And when -- when he would call, and we're both concern. Carl was concerned about that.

And you do, we have a lot of conversations inside the White House should you leave, you know, are -- it's there -- is the patriotic thing to do to leave is the White House or not. And a number of people did leave quietly, as quietly as they could. And I think that same thing is true here. Now, listen I want to say, a lot of supporters the President can say why are we talking about this Mueller story, this is a Saturday night massacre that never happened. So why is it important? Well one reason is important is that over the past few months, most a dozen of occasions the White House says told us there was never any consideration --

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: -- in the White House about firing Mueller. It's never been on the President's mind.

COOPER: Right, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders, they've all been saying it.


GERGEN: They've all been saying, so if they've been lying to us on this, why are we to believe them on the collusion issue, why are we to believe them on laundry, why are believe on those something. That is when -- so corrosive to the Mueller authority the President. And his threatening to democracy when you have a situation like that.

COOPER: John, I know this may be weird, but if you could channel yourself back at the lowest days of Watergate, when you were on tape talking to President Nixon about how to cover up the Watergate burgle, what would that John Dean advise the President Trump to do with all of this. I mean would you say, look Mr. President just play hard ball and if worst come worst, you can always try to partner yourself or what. What would you say?

DEAN: Well, initially when I started dealing with them in those recorded tape show, I was trying to figure out what he was, where he was, what he knew, because for the first eight months of Watergate, I had no dealings with him at all. And when I do start dealing with him on a daily basis, I'm not quite sure what he does know. Today I know he knew much more than I did. And I better quickly try to convince him that Watergate was a threat to him and he had a cancer on his presidency and if he didn't stop it, it might end his presidency. That's what surprise me is he had answers for every problem I raised and that is when I thought I really knew who Richard Nixon was.

[20:45:04] COOPER: So your recommendation for the President this time?

DEAN: My recommendation would be, the sooner he gets this up and out and dealt with, the better for himself, the better for his presidency and if indeed he has not colluded as he said, not obstructed they be why is he acting as he has. Nixon himself have not order the Watergate break in. There's not till evidence he knew about it in advance. Yet he was covering up, initially we know from the tapes because he was worried about his friend John Mitchell. Well, it looks like in this instance that Trump was worried about his friend General Flynn. Very similar kind of motives might come to play. So Trump should understand this history, should see the consequences of it and try not to repeat it.

COOPER: Richard, one of the great unresolved question from Watergate was whether a seating president could be indict on Jaworski the second special prosecutor. Wanted Congress to take the lead on whether or not to impeach. So are those who say indicting a sitting President would simply be too destabilizing for the country and that's why the impeachment process exist. What do you say?

BEN-VENISTE: Yes, it's a question that has never been resolved. The Supreme Court has never opined on it. And we don't know whether what Robert Mueller will do with the information. In our case, we had a sitting judiciary committee which was considering impeachment. Here, to Carl's point, the Republicans who control both Houses of Congress have not demonstrated an interest to the extent that is necessary in my view in protecting the nation by considering the import of what this investigation is all about.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody on the panel, fascinating stuff.

Coming up, question is where is Melania Trump? This week, the first lady skipped going to Davos with the President and made a surprise trip to Florida, even low profiling usual. The question, is she charting a new course for first lady or just trying to stay out of the spotlight? That's next.


[20:51:17] COOPER: The first lady Melania Trump certainly, isn't as public as many of her predecessors to put it mildly and never has that been more evident than just this week. She was scheduled to travel to Davos with the President but canceled that trip at the last minute. Yesterday she left West Palm Beach Florida and was back on the plane late today. Now, we don't know the reason for the trip.

Of course the elephant in the room is the news that recently broke about the President's reported payoff for an alleged affair with a porn star a few months after Melania Trump gave birth to their son. CNN contributor Kate Andersen Brower is the author of book called "First Women", recently wrote an op-ed in the "New York Times" with the headline the quiet radicalism of Melania Trump. And Kate joins me now.

Kate, you write in your piece, "It may end up being Melania who winds up doing more than any of her predecessors to upend their expectations of the slavish devotion, a first lady must display". Can you just explain what you mean by that? And is that the radicalism that you're talking about?

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and I think we have this very archaic notion of what a first lady should do. First there's no job description. There's no payment for the job. And there's endless criticism, right, no matter what you do. You saw that with Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton. And I think it's really unique that she isn't just sort of standing by her man in the way that we've seen. Even progressive women like Hillary Clinton do.

And I think they're really the only other marriage that you could possibly even put in the ballpark of the Trump relationship. It's just very complicated, and I personally like the fact that she is not coming out vocally and supporting him and making it clear that she is upset about some of this. It's humiliating.

COOPER: You think that's what her silence is? You think her silence is saying that?

BROWER: I think so, and canceling the Davos trip on their 13th wedding anniversary, the inauguration tweet where she's with the marine and not her husband, I think all these things add up. Not moving to the White House immediately was unprecedented, you know, five months after he moved in, she moved in. And then of course, you know, the fact that they have separate bedrooms. They're the first Presidential couple since the Kennedy's to sleep in separate bedrooms in the White House. I think it says a lot.

COOPER: You know, it often takes first ladies a while to figure out what kind of initiatives they want to have. I think even, you know, Michelle Obama, it took her quite a while to kind of figure out exactly what she wanted to do. Is it possible that Melania Trump is simply in that phase right now?

BROWER: I don't think so. I mean they have far fewer staff than Michelle Obama had. It did take her about a year, you know, to come up with the let's move campaign, which was Michelle Obama's signature issue in the White House. But I don't think that Melania Trump, you know, wanted her husband to run. She's not political, and I think we just see that no matter what she does, like cyber bullying kind of backfired for her because of her husband's tweets, then there's almost nothing she can do that will be apolitical. And so I think people kind of feel badly for her a little bit.

COOPER: Do you think she's interested in the role? I mean, you know, you've written about other first ladies in the past.

BROWER: I don't think that she is. I mean she didn't grow up in this country. It's a hard role to understand even growing up here, and the first ladies I've talked to often have said, you know, said how difficult it is. And they've reached out to each other, which I think is another key thing that Melania doesn't have. You know, she hasn't spoken with Michelle Obama since they met a year ago, you know. And she had lunch with Laura Bush shortly after the inauguration. But it's not as though she has warm relationships with any of these other women. And so I think she's in a particularly hard position.

COOPER: Kate Andersen Brower, thanks very much. More news ahead. We'll be right back.


[20:58:49] COOPER: Quick programming note. You don't want to miss this "The Van Jones Show" premieres tomorrow here on CNN. In the first episode Van drives around in a van, yes with Trump voters and Clinton voters in Charlottesville, Virginia



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You seem (INAUDIBLE), I don't see any horns. I don't see any pitch fork.

VAN JONES, CNN HOST: It's (INAUDIBLE), they're in the trunk. Listen, they don't have good sense at CNN. They let anybody drive.

Here we are at Lee Park. When you see that statue shrouded there, how do you feel about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That statue was put up as a way of telling black and brown people, you go this far and no further.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pastor, what do you base that statement on they were put there for that purpose, because --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's -- well, that's contrary to anything that I know.


JONES: How would you feel if you were a black man or a black woman having your -- you talk about generations of enslavement, of brutalization. How would you feel seeing the statue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that as a white person, I will ever completely understand how a black person feels.


[21:00:09] COOPER: And he also has an exclusive interview with Jay-Z, quite a first show. Tune in for the "Van Jones Show" tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.