Return to Transcripts main page


White House Communications Director Hope Hicks Resigns; NY Times: Kushner's Business Got Loans from Companies after WH Meeting; Wash Post: Mueller Investigating Pres. Trump's Apparent Effort to Outs Sessions in July; In Shocking Move, Pres. Trump Appears to Back Dems Gun-Control Ideas. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 28, 2018 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:06] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight and throughout the hour surrounding the departure of the President's Communications Director Hope Hicks and the President's fury that she told the truth to Congress about telling white lies as she described them on his behalf.

And new CNN reporting that Special Counsel Mueller's interest in a statement that she made just after the election denying ties to Russia. There's also new "Washington Post" reporting tonight on Mueller's interest in the President's public shaming of his attorney general last summer, which also continued today frankly.

I want to start the hour with CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House. So, Jeff, what's the latest? What have you learned?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, of all the times we have stood here and talked about people leaving the White House, none is as consequential perhalps to the President as this.

Hope Hicks, the Communications Director, said today she is resigning. A big question of why came out. I mean, it took everyone by surprise, her aides, her followers. She has many admirers here inside the West Wing. She -- I'm told, was meeting with some staff members. She was crying. They were crying. But she said it's a time she believe she has to leave to pursue other opportunities.

And of course the timing is naturally suspect, one day after she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for that closed door hearing for some, you know, for eight hours or so. And a couple months of course, after she appeared before Bob Mueller's committee answering questions. Hope Hicks is not a political expert or savant, but she is a reader of Donald Trump. She's an expert in Trump lingo, and she was one person who had Oval Office access really more than anyone else besides, you know, potentially family members.

So there is a sense here of what does this all mean? I mean, this is a sense of, you know, it has shaken people here, Anderson. And the question is what will the President do from here? He's relied on her for so many things. Will this change how he adapts and reacts to things? But, again, a couple people are pointing to -- she was here at very key moments, on Air Force One of course last summer when that statement was written about that Trump Tower meeting. She was on that flight from Germany back to Washington. She was with the President through many of these key periods, of course many of these are now of interest to investigators. But today she said she was leaving.

COOPER: What's the White House reaction been to her departure?

ZELENY: I mean, the President of course praised her. He said that, you know, he wished her well. So it's been very positive, but there's still a question of why now. I mean, there is a sense that this pressure cooker environment here is really taking its toll on a lot of people.

She, of course, was with him longer than virtually anyone else, from campaign rallies early on, long before anyone thought he could be president. And she was able to change his views on some things and soften his temper on some things. She would sometimes send out his tweets.

So this is someone who we cannot express enough how close she was to him, but the reality is at some point when she leaves in the coming weeks, he will go on without her. So will that change his demeanor, and what does it mean overall? She is still, of course, you know, has been the subject of questions from Capitol Hill as well as the Special Counsel. There's a big question mark tonight about why she's leaving today, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, thanks.

Perspective now from Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Thanks for being with us.


COOPER: First of all, Hope Hicks' departure obviously a surprise, I think, to many people. What do you make of it and the impact it may have on the President because very few people are closer to him than her?

WYDEN: Anderson, this looks to me like more evidence of a White House in disarray. If we were going to name all the people who have either left or been fired just in the last couple months, we'd spend your whole show just going through it. And --

COOPER: Not to mention just communications directors.

WYDEN: And we continue to be faced with the key kinds of questions, one that you and I have talked about is I still think a lot needs to be done to follow the money. And today, there were new stories in the press describing potential financial entanglements by Jared Kushner.

COOPER: Right. I mean, do you think -- yet, "The New York Times" has reported Jared Kushner received hundreds of millions in loans for his private businesses from two companies after hosting them at the White House for official businesses. Do you have confidence? Can Jared Kushner remain in his position? Should he remain?

WYDEN: Obviously, John Kelly has had to act with respect to his security clearances, and there's been a question about John Kelly's role with respect to security clearances in the first place. I had to ask Chris Wray, the FBI director, to finally get a straight story about when the White House was informed about Rob Porter and some of his potential security clearance problems. You have security clearance problems at the White House, and you're potentially compromising sources and methods in what can be very serious intelligence matters.

COOPER: It also interesting because this is a President who ran on, A, hiring the best people, and B, going after Hillary Clinton for not handling classified information properly, said she would be the only president who wouldn't be able to get a security clearance. The irony is a lot of people closes to this president can't get security clearances.

[21:05:02] WYDEN: And he seems to get so caught up in potential efforts to try to discredit Bob Mueller, which aren't going anywhere because Bob Mueller has been so professional. With respect to all these memos and the Nunes memo and the Schiff memo, the fact of the matter is there's plenty of evidence on the Trump Aides independent of the dossiers. But the fact was the President was so interested in trying to somehow discredit Bob Mueller, which was never going anywhere. He just gets caught up in these stories.

COOPER: You've called on the Senate Intelligence Committee to hold public hearings on the President's finances. I mean unless Republicans agree to that, that's not going to happen. Do you see any willingness on their part because the President himself has said to "The New York Times" long time ago that would be some sort of a red line.

WYDEN: What this is about, this is essentially a policy difference between the chairman and I and others. The chairman doesn't really think these follow the money issues are the heart of the committee's business. I think, for example, follow the money is counterintelligence 101. The way you compromise people is through money. So I'm going to keep making the case. We're looking at matters relating to that Palm Beach purchase.

COOPER: So even if this is business dealings from 10 years before he decided to run for office, you think that's fair game?

WYDEN: Well, the question, for example, in several of these matters -- the Palm Beach property. We're looking at (INAUDIBLE) and the potential involvement with the NRA. The question is when you have these kinds of financial entanglements by the President or some of these associates, are they potential blackmail targets? Are they potential targets who can be compromised from the standpoint of the counterintelligence?

COOPER: Which is the same question about Jared Kushner and others who may have financial dealings. The continuance by this President of attacking his own attorney general publicly and shaming him, we just saw it today. We now -- according to "The Washington Post," it's one of the questions that Mueller and his team are asking people about last summer, the public shaming. Have you ever -- does it make sense to you for a president to be publicly shaming his attorney general?

WYDEN: I think it is just bizarre. I don't know any other way to characterize it. The reality is, is the President again not really understanding the function of the job? I mean, no President is above the law. On the position that Jeff Sessions holds means, he's got to follow the law. It's not as if he's just working for the President. He's working for the American people.

COOPER: And that's what he said in his statement today kind of pushing back on the President. Senator Wyden, I appreciate your time.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Very much. Joining us now, a former White House Communications Director, David Gergen, also David Chalian and Gloria Borger.

Let's talk about Hope Hicks. I mean, David Gergen, you've worked in a lot of White Houses. Have you seen in any White House where you worked that there is somebody as close to the President as Hope Hicks? I mean, she really kind of plays a role similar probably to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner just in terms of their proximity and access to the President.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I've certainly never seen anybody as glamorous so close to the President. And I think that's partly what distinguishes her. We've seen this parade of photographs. But, no, look, I think she's very close to the President, but she was in this job, she's the fourth person in 14 months to be communications director.

COOPER: What does that tell you?

GERGEN: It tells you that it's impossible to be successful in that job because that job is all about planning strategy, communications strategy, themes, working it out, and you've got a President, of course, who uses Twitter to bust up all that.

COOPER: You were Communications Director under Reagan.

GERGEN: I was. I was indeed. But, you know, that was -- of course he was turn -- being communications director to the great communicator.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: That's pretty easy to laid down, right?


COOPER: And there was no Twitter.

GERGEN: And there was no Twitter, but he was a disciplined, you know, he understood communications. He understood the importance of themes and trying to build support and eventually getting, you know, the big things done. And this President is more interested in conflict. I think it's impossible to be an effective communication director. I'm sure she's been unhappy in job and that aspect of the job. She loves the glamour. I think everybody would for a while. But it wears off.

COOPER: David Chalian, I mean, it's just weird that this happened today, again, because if you're a communications director, you want to emphasize the good, and President Trump had this headline-making meeting which we'll talk about this hour about guns, a bipartisan meeting in the White House that probably surprised a lot of people, pushing against Republicans, calling them -- saying them to their face, they're afraid of the NRA and they've got to push back, talking about comprehensive, you know, gun reform. Does -- and then --


COOPER: -- not an hour later or so, this announcement from Hope Hicks overshadowing the meeting they just had.

CHALIAN: It's like example a of bad communication strategy. Right, I mean, there is no logical reason that this should have come out today, because that is not in anybody's communications plan would be for that to happen. So it does -- it raises the question of, well, just how much, then?

[21:10:03] Even if this was in the works, how much did yesterday's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee and the headlines about white lies and we know from our reporting that the President was none to please about that. How much did that play into any acceleration of this announcement today, even if it was in the works?

BORGER: Well, and don't forget Hope Hicks has just been through the whole Rob Porter --


BORGER: -- issue. And there were stories at the time that she was thinking of leaving then and tendering her resignation then after she managed the response to it, which a lot of people including myself thought it was a bit of a conflict. But, you know, you can understand anybody wanting to leave this White House quite honestly. That's, you know, that's not the surprise.

What's the surprise is that she is sort of the ultimate loyalist. She's been with him since day one. She, you know, I've been told that he needs her for emotional support. And a friend of his said to me that he thinks he's going to go into a tailspin without her around because she was sort of like a comfort blanket in many ways. And he needs that because his family is growing more and more distant.

COOPER: And Keith Schiller, who was his buddy man, you know, who's been with him for years and years, left earlier before.

GERGEN: And I do think it's important to note a president does need emotional support in the White House. Often it comes from his family, but, you know, his wife is not exactly giving off signals of a warm and fuzzy relationship right now.

COOPER: And also if your family is part of this investigation, that adds to the stress.

CHALIAN: Exactly. He's engaged in this folly of running a White House like a family business. So it's very, very hard to distinguish emotions from conflicts of interest. It's just all roiled together. And increasing, two things are happening and Hope Hicks underscores it.

A lot of people in there are thinking about their reputations and how soon do they have to get out to protect their reputations? It will be a badge of honor to work for Donald Trump in some circles.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: But for a lot of other places, is kind of, you know, this is a really hard thing to have on your resume, and you have to explain. But the other thing is how do you then find the people you need to fill those jobs who are really good?

COOPER: All right, a hard time. We're going to take a quick break.

Up more of this conversation, when we come back, we'll bring in the rest of the panel. We'll also have new reporting from "The Washington Post" that Robert Mueller is examining that time period last summer when President Trump seemed determined to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions.


[21:15:55] COOPER: I guess you could say it was a hectic day at the White House. New reporting from "The Washington Post" about the Mueller investigation taking a look at the time last summer when President Trump seemed close to firing Jeff Sessions and a day that ended with one of President Trump's closest advisers leave -- we've been talking about Hope Hicks, turning in her resignation a day after she testified in a marathon session before the House Intelligence Committee.

Here's what Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to say in our last hour.


CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There is now a sub text that people in the White House will say to you, it is unclear to them whether Donald Trump can effectively govern. Whether he is capable of it in terms of his own abilities, conduct and whether or not things have gotten to the point where the wheels are coming off of this presidency. We don't know that. But certainly people in the White House are openly with each other and with journalist raising those kinds of questions.

BOB WOODWARD, WATERGATE JOURNALIST: It is not clear who has authority or what authority. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Back now with our panel, joining us at the table, Carrie Cordero, Jen Psaki, and Mike Shields.

Mike, for this White House, I mean Hope Hicks, again as we've been saying was about as close to the President as anybody.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, she goes back pre-dates everyone on the campaign and worked for the Trump family before she got involved in this, sort of a unique person in that regard because she wasn't political. And I think -- my guess is she will continue to be close to the President. I think that this is like a family member and so whatever she's going to do after this, she'll still be a close confidant. She'll probably still be running press traps that she does very well quietly. She doesn't have her name in the paper, but she is very, very effective at running traps for the President. I'm guessing she'll continue to do that from the outside.

And so, you know, this decision, I don't believe, was related to anything that happened this week. And --

COOPER: You don't think so?

SHIELDS: Well, Maggie Haberman reported that at "The New York Times," people don't leave the White House when they're that close to the President after one day of some thing. It's something that's been talked about for a while, I believe.

COOPER: Just from a communications standpoint, why announce this then on the same day where the President has had this important meeting? I mean maybe the White House didn't like the way it turned out, and they wanted to switch attention. But you could argue it was an important thing that they would have wanted attention on.

SHIELDS: Yes. I mean I can't explain that. There's all kinds of reasons why someone might want to leave or what the timing is for that. But, you know, the thing is there was going to be something else that came out later on after this anyway. There's like four other stories since this afternoon, so in some ways it doesn't matter.

COOPER: But, Jen, I mean, as a former Communications Director in the Obama administration, she's what? The fifth Communications Director since this President took office. Is that an unusually high turnover?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. We had about five Communications Directors over the course of eight years and I was in the role for almost two years. And I left because it was the end of the presidency. So typically people serve for two years, maybe three years. Longer than that is a pretty lengthy amount of time because it is a high-stress, high burnout job, but this number of Communications Directors speaks to a level of chaos and uncertainty in the White House that maybe that it is basically an impossible job to do under this president.

COOPER: Well, Carrie, also from a legal standpoint, Hope Hicks is now deeply involved -- I mean she's gone before Mueller already. She was testifying just yesterday. She's also testified in the Senate. I mean, she has been in -- at the sort of epicenter of a number of very potentially important meetings where, you know, allegations of obstruction or other things are being looked at.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. I mean I think she definitely has some legal exposure, particularly on the obstruction piece. If we want to look at a particular instance that we know about publicly, it's her involvement in crafting a message related to covering up what happened at the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.

COOPER: The Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with the Russians.

CORDERO: Exactly. So she has some legal exposure. And you know what, I understand that there's reporting that, you know, she was going to do this anyway, but she just came off of nine hours of testifying in front of Congress. And I've prepared in my prior life, I prepared senior government executives for testifying before the Hill. I've testified. It's an intense process, and she is doing it under hostile circumstances because they want to know information that she has based on her close access to this President over the course of the last year. We have these major investigations, and so that, I'm sure, no matter what messaging people say, that what had to have been a stressful experience to go through.

[21:20:14] SHIELDS: It doesn't mean that that played a role in someone that close to the President leaving.

I just want to point one thing out about the number of communications directors. I think you should really -- this White House is different in many, many ways. It's almost like it doesn't really -- The President's, the communications director. Hope had that title. She is really a very close senior adviser to the President that was given the title communications director because she works on things.

This White House probably won't replace her. They probably won't have another one. You have Sarah Huckabee Sanders handling the press, and you don't really have a com. director role in this White House.

COOPER: But the fact that the President is essentially the communications director and tweets out isn't that maybe why there's been five official communication directors because --

SHIELD: Yes, I think, they're on their way through. There's this role that other White Houses have. My guess is they're going to say -- We don't really have that role. Things are different here.

And so, to say that Hope is one more of a -- she is not like a normal communications director leaving the White House.

PSAKI: But, I think, the problem here is that they also, the President and other people there, don't see communications as a strategic tool. They're not effectively using it. They are terrible at communications. They're not using it to get legislation done. They're not using it to build support in the public. So there are approaches not been effective. Yes, it may not be the fault of the individuals. In fact, it probably isn't. But they need a new strategy in that regard at this point.

COOPER: I mean, in past White Houses, if there's been an infrastructure week, the White House tends to focus on infrastructure. It seams like in this White House there will be an infrastructure week or jobs week.

BORGER: Or infrastructure hour?

COOPER: Right. But then, it's like the President hasn't gotten the memo and changes the conversation.

GERGEN: Right. Look, when you've got an economy that is growing the way this one is, a pretty robust pace, he's passed a major tax bill and he's sitting at 35percent approval rating, you've got a real communications problem.

You should be able to go to the country and build bigger support than that. I would argue it's not that they don't need one. They desperately need a new communications director who is empowered to do the job that's there, to let this president, enable the president and get other people out of the way and get him off Twitter so they can build up support.

BORGER: But nobody --

GERGEN: From where they are. Nobody --


GERGEN: This is malpractice.

SHIELD: I'm not arguing that they don't need one, but what I would say is, as I'm sure you know better than anybody, every White House sets itself up a little bit differently to tailor to the strengths and weaknesses of the commander in chief. And this particular White House, he acts as the communications director.

My only point was, I don't believe that they will have one. I'm not saying whether they do need one, but whoever gets put in that job is always going to be in line with having to talk to the President where he's the one who's leading the messaging.

BORGER: And the reason they've had so many is because Donald Trump thinks the one who have left are not as good as he is. And you know, so you can tick them off, and with Hope Hicks, it's a little different, I think.

GENGER: I think he's a pretty good communications director as a campaigner. That I think he does very, very well. What he's not good at is as a communicator as trying to govern and trying to build coalitions that get things done.

CORDERO: This is broader, though, than just the issue of their communications directors. This working in this White House, whether it's as communications director, or whether it's in any other capacity as a senior adviser to this president is basically a one-way ticket to testifying in front of the grand jury or testifying in front of Congress or being involved in some way in an investigation and having to hire a lawyer and having legal exposure.

And so I don't think that her decision can only be viewed through the lens of they're making a decision about communications director. She is one of many people who now has had to testify, be interviewed by FBI agents, which if they haven't gone through that before, you know, also is a significant issue.

BORGER: But it's not going to end just because she leaves by the way.


CORDERO: -- but it will enable her to focus on dealing with that issue.

BORGER: Right, but she's going to have to continue with all of that.

CHALIAN: We talked about her outside significance. But the reason why I think the departure is so surprising as well, even if it was in the work, even in the midst of the (INAUDIBLE), is because Hope was so committed. And any of us who have had conversations with her throughout the course of this presidency, the passion she feels that Donald Trump is being wronged by everyone in the press, being wronged in the way he's been treated, and nobody is giving him is, I mean this is not like any other political operative where you have a conversation and they explain the President's thinking on this.

This is somebody who felt it in her bones. And so, I think that's why this is so surprising and why it's noteworthy that it's coming after a pretty stressful week for her as well.

BORGER: She would never go on background or off the record and bad mouth the President of the United States. I mean, and there are lots of people in the White House who will do that.

CHALIAN: True believer.

BORGER: Not Hope Hicks.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break.

[21:24:52] Coming up, new reporting on Jared Kushner, White House meetings and loans to his family business. Also late news on Robert Mueller's interest in the President's campaign seemingly to drive his attorney general to quit.


COOPER: More breaking news, we talked a bit about this at the top of the hour. The President asked his Attorney General Jeff Session today, again, the President tweeting this morning, "Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate, potentially massive FISA abuse will take forever. Has no prosecutorial power. And already late with reports on Comey, et cetera. Isn't the I.G. and Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL," all in caps.

That was this morning. And as you know, it's not the first time. Now, the Washington Post is reporting that Russia's Special Counsel Robert Mueller is been asking questions on -- about last summer and the President's public shaming of Jeff Sessions back then.

According to the post, and I'm quoting here, "A key area of interest for the inquiry is whether those efforts were part of a months long pattern of attempted obstruction of justice."

So, there's that. And now, there's new reporting in "The New York Times" on Jared Kushner, this is just happening tonight. The headline, "Kushner's business got loans from companies after White House meetings."

The Times with Jesse Drucker is one of three on the byline. He joins us by phone.

So, Jessie, First of all, what can you tell us about these loans last year to the Kushner family real estate business because I understand the person behind the private equity firm actually met with Kushner multiple times at the White House?

JESSIE DRUCKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER (via telephone): Right. So there's two different loans that we wrote about. One of them is from Apollo, which is a big private equity firm, and one of the founder of Apollo, an executive there and a guy named Josh Harris, who over the course of the year last year had a number of meetings with the White House, including meetings with Jared Kushner, including meetings about a possible job with the administration.

Now, he didn't get a job with the administration, but in November of last year, Kushner companies got a $184 million loan from Apollo. And, you know, by the standards of both Apollo and Kushner companies that is a very sizable loan. It's basically triple the size of the average loan that Apollo's real estate group gives out. And it's one of the biggest loans that Kushner companies received all of last year. And it was for an office building in Chicago in which Jared Kushner remains invested.

COOPER: So, I mean, all that talk of Jared Kushner divesting himself or separating himself from his family's company, he is still personally invested in that building?

DRUCKER: Yes. So, I think, you know, this is kind of a common misconception, right? So when Jared Kushner took the job with the Trump administration last year, he stepped down from his position as chief executive officer of the company.

But he only divested a very small portion of his ownership stake in the company. He sold some portions of his stake in the company to a trust controlled by his mother and benefiting his siblings. But for the most part, he is still very heavily invested in Kushner companies, including invested in the building in Chicago that was refinanced with the loan from Apollo and also invested in a series of buildings in Brooklyn that we haven't talked about yet, which received a $325 million loan from Citigroup last year. And that's significant because that loan took place shortly after a White House meeting between Jared Krushner and CEO of Citigroup.

[21:30:14] So, you know, in both instances, you're seeing Jared Kushner meeting with executives in the White House and in sometime after those meetings. The companies that those executives work for or run or help to run are giving very sizeable mortgages to his company.

COOPER: Did you get any comment from the White House or Kushner's attorney about any of this? I mean any explanation for what that meeting with Citigroup was about according to them?

DRUCKER: Yes. I mean not -- not really of substance unfortunately. I mean, you know, the White House referred our questions to Abbe Lowell, who is Mr. Kushner's attorney, representing him in Robert Mueller's investigation.

And, you know, they didn't deny the substance of what we reported, but, you know, basically said that there was no there, there.

COOPER: What about -- I mean, Apollo and Citigroup, who made these loans, have they made any comments?

DRUCKER: Say it again, Anderson.

COOPER: Apollo and Citigroup, have they made any comments about your reporting?

DRUCKER: I mean, you know, again, neither of these companies denied the sequence of events, and neither of them deny that the loans that took place or that the meetings took place.

COOPER: Fascinating. Jesse Drucker, appreciate it. Thanks very much from "New York Times".

Back now with the panel. I mean, for all the concerns about, you know, business dealings, and I mean this is exactly why those concerns were in place.

BORGER: Well, this is why you have an office of government ethics. This is why people are supposed to divest themselves completely and separate themselves from their previous businesses. This is a little different in this administration. We're not used to having so many really rich people serving government who have run private -- who have run private companies.

And this is why you don't hire your son-in-law or your daughter, you know. This is why there are nepotism laws.

And so even if there is no conflict, let's just say there isn't any conflict. There is an appearance of conflict when you're Jared Kushner and you are meeting with these bankers or you are meeting with the Chinese, or you are meeting with the Russians, which is all under investigation. So, you know, no matter which way he turns, he has issues even if it's only of appearance. They've gone out of their way not to do anything about it.


CHALIAN: This actually seems like he's doing his company's business while sitting in his White House office.

BORGER: Right. but on the top of that, even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, even if you do, there's still a problem.

COOPER: But I'm going to tell, I mean, Citigroup, obviously, would like a good relationship with this administration and would like to do a good relationship with anybody in the White House for a whole host of reasons about any future dealings they may have. So it certainly raises a lot of issues of conflict.

GERGEN: Yes, full disclosure. I don't know this gentleman from Apollo, but I've had friendships with the leadership of Apollo for a number of years. And have always found them honorable.

But I think Gloria is absolutely right about this. When you create conflicts of it, what appear to be conflicts of interest, then naturally suspicions arise about these kinds of transactions.

I think the time has come for Mr. Kushner, having been stripped of his, you know, secret service access and no longer, I think, able to be the master of middle eastern diplomacy or trade deal for China, or relationship with Mexico. And his own -- his company that he left, you know, having this huge loan to pay off at the end -- in January, it's really time for him to think about does he want to depart and attend to his business?

Isn't it much better to separate for his father-in-law's sake, to separate out the business now from the governance issues? It just seems to me the time has well come.

COOPER: Mike, I mean --

SHIELD: Yes. Look, I mean I do think it's important to make a distinction when you're saying there's apparent that doesn't look great, but there's no evidence that there was any kind of conversation in the White House about securing a loan. I mean that way --

COOPER: We have no idea.

BORGER: We don't know.

SHIELD: You don't know because it looks bad, but for television -- for clarity's sake, let's say there is nothing in this article that says that happened.

COOPER: There's -- Well, there's no recording or transcript of what this -- SHIELD: And it would implicate the companies themselves which don't

need to do that and wouldn't spend that much money trying to curry favor. I mean, it's a huge investments of those -- One of them, I publicly held company makes in real estate because their shareholders expect them to make a return for them. So let's just make sure we clarify that a little bit.

Also, as you point out, the Apollo guys, like Josh (ph) those are guys that play in politics, they've been around for a while. It's not unusual they would be seeking a job in the White House or might be coming in and out of the White House because that's part of what they do.

So, I'm just clarifying these things so we don't -- as what happened as a report comes out and then we start to have a presumption of guilt the minute that something like this happens when we haven't seen the second or third report.

[21:35:07] COOPER: Right. But if -- just -- let me just flip that on its head because if you are a CEO of a company or you work for Citigroup you would be, and they're obviously very smart people, you would be aware of what potential -- how it might look if you go into a meeting with Jared Kushner and then a month later, you give Jared Kushner's family company --

SHIELDS: Well, right. And so maybe they made a mistake as well because I don't think they would want this scrutiny or this bad appearance on their part either. And so that's why --

COOPER: But people do stupid things all the time. But, yes, we just don't know.


SHIELDS: -- it's more likely to be that than it is actually something nefarious.

PSAKI: I just have to say, I mean, I worked in the White House, in and out for eight years, and the rule -- ethics rules are so stringent in the White House. When I got married, I had to prove that I had a prior relationship with people who gave me wedding presents. You have to get approval to go to the White House correspondent's dinner. There are all sorts of rules about not getting special loans.

I'm not sure it matters if the conversation took place in the White House or out of the White House. This is more than an appearance of a conflict. If these are all factually true, this is him taking advantage of being in a position in the White House. What that means legally for him, I'll let lawyers say that. But people need to understand the ethics rules are some of the most stringent that happen in any government office, in any private sector company m you work in the White House.

COOPER: Carrie?

CORDERO: Well, I think it represents a bigger pattern of a problem with this White House, which is that they've come in, and from everything that we've seen, they don't think the rules apply to them. And so we see it in this context of applying the ethics laws and the ethics rules that all other administrations of both parties have adhered to. We see it in the security clearance context where they set aside the rules that have applied to administrations of both parties historically. And so --

COOPER: Also Jared Kushner meeting privately with the Chinese ambassador and Jared Kushner meeting with Russian businessmen during the transition, and all things which would not be done -- I mean, you would normally have a note taker in the meeting with you just so that if the Chinese ambassador lies to his government about what was said, somebody is there to back you --

CORDERO: Well, and that's where it becomes a national security problem as well, because the overarching question whether it's financial dealings or whether it's foreign policy activities or whatever it is, the overall of the question is whose business is he doing when he's in the White House?

And that's a question for Jared Kushner, whether he's meeting with foreign leaders where he has investment interests. It's an issue for Ivanka Trump when she is going around the world meeting with foreign heads of state where she has business interests. It's an issue for Donald Trump when he -- when foreign dignitaries go to his private properties and spend money there, whether or not they are actually obtaining access or whether they are just seeking it, it really doesn't matter.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. Just ahead, the President, Jeff Sessions, cyber bullying and Robert Mueller. A lot to talk about.


[21:40:20] COOPER: Well, we're talking tonight about many things, including Robert Mueller's interest in what has all appearances of the president trying to drive his own attorney general to quit specifically last summer. Is it part of a campaign to obstruct justice? It's one of the things according to new report in "The Washington Post" that Robert Mueller is looking into.

I mean, Carrie, if in fact the Mueller team is looking into this and frankly -- I mean, I think there's a lot of things the Mueller team is asking questions about and I think Bob Woodward made this point earlier in the last hour. It doesn't necessarily mean there's any there, there or that's a particular focus of theirs. They just need to, in an eight-hour or 10-hour interview, there's a lot of boxes to check off.

CORDERO: There's a lot that they need too. They're conducting an investigation, and so they're going to ask a lot of questions. Now, I do think it -- that either asking questions about Sessions and his efforts to -- all the pressure that he has placed on the attorney general, it could be part of an obstruction case. The obstruction case is not just limited to one event. So, for example, it's not just limited to the fact that he fired Director Comey. It is a pattern of activity that he engaged in from the start of when he came into office of putting pressure particularly on the justice department, particularly on individuals who were involved in the investigation prior to Director Comey living in special counsel being appointed and after.

But he's gone after Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, the attorney general. He has consistently gone after individuals who he believes are in charge of this investigation, and it is consistent. It is deliberate. And it is his effort because he doesn't understand and doesn't respect the independence of the justice department.

COOPER: But if he wanted to fire the attorney general, he could fire the attorney general.

CORDERO: He could fire the attorney general although then he would have to appoint somebody new, nominate somebody new, who then would have to go to a senate --

COOPER: Right.

CORDERO: -- confirmation.


CORDERO: The attorney general so far has, I think, tried to walk a certain line on certain decisions. He has done the absolute right thing, for example appointing -- accusing himself from the Russia investigation. But the president consistently goes after the attorney general, goes after anybody that he thinks is administering justice in a way that is different than what is in his own political interest.

SHIELDS: All right. But if it was obstruction of justice, then what it would be is not a tweet out to the public, which is a -- we've just discussed is his communications device, right? What he's saying is I'm frustrated because I actually can't control the justice department. Obstruction of justice would be controlling the justice department.

It would be calling Jeff Sessions on the phone and saying, stop this investigation. That would be -- or don't testify. Tell people not to testify to Mueller about what's going on.

CORDERO: He made the phone calls to members of congress. He had the director of the FBI in front of him and said, can't you make this investigation go away. So he did that too.

SHIELDS: Not true. Members of congress are in the legislative branch. OK. They have oversight over the executive branch. He can't have obstruction when the executive asks the legislative branch to do something.

COOPER: Right. But according to reporting it is --

SHIELDS: My point is --

COOPER: -- he did call up Don McGahn --

SHIELDS: This story.

COOPER: -- and ask him to fire --

SHIELDS: This story is Mueller looking at obstruction because he bitches and complains about what Jeff Sessions is doing publicly, that's absurd. Maybe he's looking into it. But in to me I'm obviously not a lawyer

It is crazy for me to think that the president of the united states, who could fire the attorney general or anyone he wants to fire in the justice department, isn't firing them, is admitting, you know what, I have no control over them, and it makes me angry so I'm going to communicate to the American people how angry I am openly.

COOPER: But doesn't your argument depend on like a rational actor model, which is like, you know, political science 101 that his tweets are well thought out with a plan? I mean they could just be he's annoyed and he's just venting.

SHIELDS: I mean, and maybe that's why Mueller is looking at it, which is, is he trying to influence through the tweets? And my point is when you have the ability to influence other ways, which is call them and fire them, or call them not to testify then tweets are a weak version of that.

COOPER: He has done all of these things though, right. He called the FBI director into the White House, had a meeting with him, and asked him if he could make an investigation go away. OK. That's an in- person meeting.

He has called other individuals and tried to put pressure on this investigation. His tweets are a piece of it. He tweeted at Director Comey after he was fired that there might be tapes.

That was potentially intimidating a witness. He has gone after Andy McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI in both publicly and privately. So his tweets --

COOPER: You know, when you put it all together, it sounds so negative.


SHIELDS: Look, and I realize that if you're going to go to, say, a jury, which won't happen. But if you're going to go to a jury, you may want evidence to say look at this pattern. But the idea that a tweet complaining that I can't control the justice department, and I'm complaining about it publicly to the American --


SHIELDS: -- people , is somehow obstruction of justice -- GERGEN: I cannot imagine a clearer case of someone in a position of

authority trying to change the outcome of a legal proceeding than what we're watching.

[21:45:07] You know, to call people in and say, go easy on Flynn, what are we talking about? If that's not trying to change the outcome that's the reason he's trying to do all this, and he has smeared, you know, his attorney general, he smeared Comey, he smeared Mueller, you know, but that -- there's a long list. And that is a way to diminish public approval, public acceptance, public --


GERGEN: -- respect for the investigation.

SHIELDS: Just like the Democrats did to Ken Starr. They wanted lower his --


GERGEN: -- whatever the outcome is if he doesn't like it. And -- but there's just -- this is such -- most of the time when you see obstruction, you have to dig for it. Here it's just right out in front of us. You can't ignore it. It's just like there's, like, obvious --

BORGER: Well, and the fact in the public --

GERGEN: -- I don't understand --

BORGER: -- doesn't mean that it's not happening.


BORGER: You know, most people if they're trying to obstruct justice might --


BORGER: -- try and do it privately, which is I think your point.

SHIELDS: All right. But I think there are stories about Mueller publicly investigating or asking questions about public shaming. And what I'm saying is that particular part of it, publicly shaming somebody and trying to denigrate an investigation publicly, is not obstruction of justice.

BORGER: He's trying to get it in --

PSAKI: You're taking issue with simply the headlines when the reality is we have a lot more content that goes behind it.

COOPER: But also he wouldn't be asking the people about public tweets which he can read. He would be asking the people who were there at the time what else was the president doing around that time, I assume. CORDERO: There's another piece of this, which is that part of what he's doing through the tweets is trying to put pressure on the attorney general to resign. And what is the effect of that? The effect of Jeff Sessions resigning is that Rod Rosenstein no longer has to be the individual in charge of the Russia investigation overseeing the special counsel. And that goes to the president's efforts to try to derail this --

SHIELDS: He's going to put pressure on them to resign through twitter instead of calling them and firing them.

BORGER: Well, this is why Mueller wants to talk to the president because if he's going to think about obstruction he needs to know --

COOPER: I got to go. I got to go break. And just ahead inside the televised session with president Trump then lawmakers the both parties and the president seemed to take not just one but several democratic positions on gun control, telling some of the Republicans in the room that they were afraid of the NRA. A remarkable moment. We'll talk to Democratic senator who was there.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to do something about it.



[21:50:46] COOPER: Today's White House meeting on gun control, both Republican and Democratic members of Congress led by President Trump was fascinating on a lot of level for one. The president seemed to adopt policy positions on gun control that have been largely opposed by members of his own party. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar was in the room. I talked to her earlier.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The states that have these background checks.

COOPER: I mean it was pretty extraordinary. I wonder -- First of all what were your key takeaways from it?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all that it was felt like something of a real discussion. And that was important. Secondly, the president clearly committed to a strong background check bill, a strong universal background check bill.

He said he didn't want a weak bill. It's clear he wanted to close the gun show loophole that he wanted to do something about background checks. And of course many of my colleagues that have been through the immigration debate in the last few weeks have seen him say one thing and the next day say another. So we have to hold him to this, because the American people are very focused on this now, young people going to march in the streets, and if we do nothing after he has said this, I don't think that's going to work very well for him.

And so we have that discussion. He agreed to include my bill on domestic violence, which is a simple bill it's now passed in 12 states, that makes sure that if people are dating each other and there's been an act of domestic violence and a conviction, that you can't get a gun there. So I thought it was really interesting, and probably I'm sure you agree the most interesting part was when he was taking on members of his own party and basically telling them, that he wanted to get something done.

COOPER: The president pushes you said for a larger comprehensive bill that was his word. I mean is that a wise approach in your opinion because your colleague Senator Rubio, you know, said CNN -- tell CNN after the meeting that it's ideal if you could do it all at once, but, quote "I just don't think it's likely to pass knowing this place?"

KLOBUCHAR: He can say that all he wants. But then he's going to have to face all those kids in Florida. And really people all over the country because I've seen this before.

For a long time, the moms have been taking the torch and valiantly tried to change this. After Sandy Hook, you saw the parents and the mothers. It's different when kids take it over in my -- is my impression.

So if our Republican colleagues are going to be saying, well, we just want to do something really small, just to respond. I don't think that's going to work. And they are talking to me about things like assault weapons, and they're talking about the background check that the president said he would support today.

Things like closing the terrorist loophole, domestic violence. So I think that's why the president was referring to a more comprehensive bill. As I said, I'm from a proud hunting state, and I look at every proposal and say, would this hurt my uncle dick in his deer stand. And I don't think any of these rational proposals that we've been discussing would do that.

COOPER: You mentioned the immigration meeting that the president held back in January and it was sort a similar format. There was a feeling that things might really change after that, because -- I mean, at some point he seemed to side with Democrats and then Republicans would speak and he'd sort of go back to their position and then go back to the Democratic position. I mean, we -- really things haven't changed since that immigration meeting. Both sides were treated to their partisan corners.

KLOBUCHAR: You know, that is my worst fear, it is everyone's worst fear, but we are where we are. And I think one difference is, that he has made this really clear, 10 times that he wanted a strong universal background check bill. And the American people saw him do that, he unlike other cases where he said I want to add this to immigration, I want to add that, he actually specifically said to Steve Scalise, who he said he loved, that he didn't think we should be adding a bill that would have actually expanded access to guns.


KLOBUCHAR: And he specifically said that to him. And he said, well, that's because Amy and Diane wouldn't support it. I mean, that happened.

So it does feel different to me than how he has handled the immigration debate. But again, I'm not naive here, it could easily have happened. It won't happen if the American people hold him to what he said today.

[21:55:01] COOPER: Senator Klobuchar, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, coming up next, even more breaking news on guns from the biggest retailer in the country.


COOPER: Well, it's been a night of major developments here in Washington to say the least. We want to leave you with another item from elsewhere, that may matter more, especially to students and parents in Parkland, Florida.

Today students went back to Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since the gunman took 17 lives there. Walmart said it will no longer sell guns and ammunition to anyone under the age of 21. It also said it was removing all toys and air rifles that resemble assault weapons. In a statement, Walmart says, and I'm quoting, "Our heritage as a company has always been in serving sportsmen and hunters, and we will continue to do so in a responsible way."

Of course, this follows a decision by another big retailer, Dick's Sporting Goods, the company doing what Walmart did in 2015, immediately ending sales of all assault style weapons like the ones used in Parkland and so many other mass shootings.

So, whatever happens next in Congress, what happened today in the marketplace, says a lot.

Thanks very much for watching 360. It's time to hand things over to Don Lemon. I'll see tomorrow night at 8:00. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.

[22:00:07] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is "CNN TONIGHT". I'm Don Lemon.

Breaking news tonight out of Washington, we're following multiple huge stories tonight and we're going to catch you up on everything and it's a lot.