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Former Trump Aide Says He Will Defy Russia Probe Subpoena; Schiff Calls for Nunberg to Testify Before House Intel Committee; President Trump's Joke-Filled Dinner; President Trump Praises Chinese Leader for Power Grab. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 5, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a shame Hunter S. Thompson isn't around to see his words come to life. When the going gets weird, he wrote, the weird turn pro.

Today in the Russia story things got very, very weird. Former Trump Campaign Aides Sam Nunberg became the first person to openly defy a subpoena from the Mueller grand jury. He was supposed to produce e- mail conversations with 10 people including candidate Trump and go before the grand jury on Friday.

Today, an hour after hour of phone and television interviews on multiple networks, he said a lot. He said no to Mueller, but then he said, maybe yes to Mueller. He said the Russians will never collude with Donald Trump because Putin was too smart.

He also said the candidate has advance knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian that Donald Trump Jr. held even though he wasn't working for the campaign on the time.

Sam Nunberg was pretty much all over the map today. Earlier this evening, CNN's Erin Burnett sitting next to him on the anchor desk, he said she smelled the alcohol on his breath and asked if he had been drinking. He denied it multiple times.

He of course said plenty more to Erin, to Jake Tapper, to Gloria Borger. Here's a small sample.


SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE (via telephone): Whatever they want, I can tell you, I'm not going in. It's ridiculous. The idea that we were the Manchurian candidate. Gloria, we were a joke. Everybody was laughing at us.

The idea that we were colluding with the Russians? Give me a break.

BORGER: Is that what you think the special counsel is getting at or it sounds to me from some of your other answers you think he's looking into the more financial side of Donald Trump's life? GLORIA BORGER, CNN'S CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Is that what you're saying the special counsel is getting at, or it sounds to me from some of your other answers you think he's looking into the more financial side of Donald Trump's life.

NUNBERG: He may. I don't know what he's looking into.

BORGER: Well what --

NUNBERG: He may. He may. And you know what? Trump may have very well done something during the election with the Russians.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask you about the Trump Tower meeting. What do you make of it as somebody who has worked for President Trump?

NUNBERG: You know, I've attended that meeting. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. You're going to disagree with me.

TAPPER: I don't know what happened at that meeting. Do you think that Donald says -- President Trump says he knew nothing about the meeting? Do you think that that's true?


TAPPER: You don't think that's true?

NUNBERG: No. It doesn't -- and, Jake, I've watched your news reports. You know it's not true. He talked about it a week before, and I don't know why he did this. All he had to say was, yeah, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something, and we thought they had something, and that was it. I don't know why he went around trying to hide it. And he shouldn't have.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Back to this point about the taxes --

NUNBERG: Tax? I don't even have tax anymore. I --

BURNETT: Well, they can get them from your service provider.

NUNBERG: And they're more than happy too. You know what? I was thinking about today by the way? I was thinking to save time. I've been advice against this. Maybe I'll just give them my password, my e-mail password, because what do I have to --

BURNETT: So then you're going to comply?

NUNBERG: Then I would comply, yes.

BURNETT: So now you're saying you might comply?

NUNBERG: I have no problem complying in itself. What I'm not going to do is sit, Erin, for 15 hours after I sat --

BURNETT: So you'll --

NUNBERG: I have no problem if they get the e-mails. Once again, Carter Page, never.

BURNETT: Is there more than these two pages to the subpoena? Is there anything else?


BURNETT: That you received? This is the only communication that you got --

NUNBERG: And there's something else I didn't get from my attorney that they say you have to show up to the grand jury next Friday -- this Friday, yeah.

BURNETT: So five, six, seven, eight, nine -- March 9th. You're supposed to show up in front of the grand jury on March 9th.

NUNBERG: That's what I've been told by my lawyer, yes.

BURNETT: OK. And to your knowledge, he did not respond either before 3:00 p.m. today? He is just been watching -- you haven't talked to him today?

NUNBERG: I tried to contact him. He didn't call me back.


COOPER: Sam Nunberg this afternoon and this evening as well. Gloria Borger joins us now as well as Jeff Toobin and Phil Mudd.

Jeff, just from a legal standpoint, what is he facing if he doesn't go to the grand jury, if he doesn't hand over the documents he's been asked to?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Legally this is a very simple situation. If he simply just doesn't comply, doesn't take the fifth, just doesn't show up, Mueller goes to the judge who is supervising the grand jury, asks him to be held in contempt. They hold him in contempt because he didn't show up. Then the marshals go get him, and he is held for up to 18 months, where he has the keys to the cell himself, just agreeing to testify.

I mean, I don't think Mueller wants to do that. I think Mueller wants to dial down the controversy, talk to his lawyer, say just, you know, get him in here. We don't want this sort of drama. But he's not going to be defied, and this is a completely legitimate grand jury subpoena, and his arguments -- you know, Nunberg's arguments that it's ridiculous, it's a waste of time, those are not legal arguments, and no judge is going to pay the slightest bit of attention to them.

[21:05:11] COOPER: Phil, I mean, if you're Robert Mueller, do you give Sam Nunberg some time to -- I don't know, pull himself together, sort of get a grip on his situation? Do you send in the U.S. Marshals to get every document, every e-mail that Mueller wants to see? What do you do?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I'm with Jeff. I think this is pretty straightforward. Remember, we're not just talking about Nunberg. We're talking about the other potential people showing up here and what they see and whether they would potentially say, well, if he doesn't have to show up, why should I?

If I'm Robert Mueller after watching him for 4 1/2 years, as Jeff was suggesting, this is pretty straightforward. If he doesn't show up, I'd pull him in front of a judge and say, hey, the guy didn't comply. He's got to go away until he decides to comply.

And by the way, I felt bad for him today. I hope his lawyer calls him in the morning with a two by four and says, son, you will be there Friday. Otherwise, you're making a tremendous mistake.

COOPER: Gloria, I mean, on the one hand, Nunberg's claims -- you know that Mueller thinks President Trump was a Manchurian Candidate -- although I don't know how he would know what Mueller thinks. I mean, yes, he did give answers to authorities, but on the other hand, Nunberg had this exchange with Erin Burnett. I want to show the viewers.


BURNETT: We talked earlier about what people in the White House were saying about you.


BURNETT: -- talking about whether you were drinking or on drugs or whatever had happened today. Talking to you.


BURNETT: I have smelled alcohol on your breath

NUNBERG: Well, I have not had a drink.

BURNETT: You haven't had a drink?


BURNETT: So that's not --


BURNETT: So I just -- because it is the talk out there, again, I know it's awkward. Let me give you the question so you can categorically answer that. You haven't had a drink today?

NUNBERG: My answer is no, I have not.

BURNETT: Anything else?



NUNBERG: No. Besides my meds.


NUNBERG: Antidepressants. Is that OK?


COOPER: I mean we obviously, look, want to be sensitive about anyone's struggles. Anything that somebody maybe going through, that said, in a case of this magnitude in which he has already gone now on multiple networks today, certainly Nunberg's frame of mind is relevant to the discussion.

BORGER: Sure. I think it is, and honestly, you know, you saw Nunberg deny it there and Erin say what she said. And I think that at this point, the story now has to become about why Mueller wants to hear from Nunberg. What was it that precipitated this subpoena to go before the grand jury?

And he testified before the FBI for 5 1/2 hours. He seems to believe that Mueller believes the President's a Manchurian Candidate. He seems to believe that Mueller thinks that Roger Stone was in cahoots with Julian Assange. And for some reason, they want him back. Do they think he wasn't telling the truth to the FBI agents? Do they believe that he can add to their case, that he has something germane?

I mean, we know that he was fired in 2015, so he wasn't a part of the sort of active campaign. But he clearly talks to people like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. So I think the story now has to turn to why Mueller wants him and what Mueller believes Sam Nunberg can offer. We don't know.

TOOBIN: Well, I --

COOPER: Jeff, Nunberg had said that, you know, in his five-plus hours with the FBI and with Mueller's team, he was told that, you know, anything he said would not -- he would not be charged with as long as he was being honest. Is it possible that Mueller might already have some of Nunberg's e-mail correspondence by other means?

TOOBIN: Oh, absolutely.

BORGER: Absolutely.

COOPER: And that's one reason why he would want him in front of the grand jury because there was some discrepancy?


TOOBIN: It could be. Well, it's not also necessarily that there's any discrepancy. You know, if you want to get an indictment, you need to get testimony before the grand jury. It's not enough just to have an office interview. It's customary to have an office interview first and then go before the grand jury. But the mere fact that they're asking him to testify in the grand jury does not mean that they think he didn't tell the truth in his office interview. In fact, I would think just the opposite.

BORGER: We don't know.

COOPER: So, Phil, do you think -- I mean is there a -- would there be a reluctance on Mueller's part to put this guy in jail if he didn't follow through? Or sort of making it -- I don't know, does that send a message to other witnesses, or does it send perhaps a message that Mueller would want sent to other witnesses?

MUDD: I don't think he would want to send the message, but I think his behavior would be pretty straightforward, especially if you looked at the language that we saw today, basically saying screw you. I'm not showing up. What option is he giving the special counsel in the midst of extensive interviews asking other people for data?

One guy says, I've decided not to show up, and Mueller handles it with kid gloves. If I know the director I worked under, he's going to look at this and say, this isn't very complicated. You don't show up. We will, and you're going to go to jail. I don't think there would be a lot of conversation on the Mueller team, Anderson.

[21:10:12] COOPER: Gloria, just to be clear, all these supposed deadlines that Nunberg was talking about 3:00 p.m. today --

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: -- for documents to be turned over, appearing before the grand jury on Friday, that's just what Nunberg himself is saying.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: He has not given us any documents that show specific dates or times, is that correct?

BORGER: Right. We haven't -- I believe, Anderson, we haven't seen the entire set of documents. And he said it was by Friday. He said he had a deadline today to turn in documents, and that may have been what precipitated his outrage today.

But we haven't -- I do not believe we have seen all of the relevant documents here. He told Erin, I believe, that his lawyer has it. He hasn't talked to his lawyer. I guarantee you. And Jeff Toobin can say this better than I, that his lawyer is furious and that his lawyer -- it wasn't exactly the strategic plan his lawyer had mapped out here. So we don't know. We really don't know.

COOPER: Thanks everybody.

Coming up, we're going to continue a much closer look at Sam Nunberg. Who is he? How he began his work for Candidate Trump and how that turned out?

And later President Trump making jokes over the weekend, at least one of them about being President for life just like China's leader. It seems to be gunning for, raised some serious questions ahead.


COOPER: More now on the former aide to the Trump campaign who today erupted on cable news saying he won't show up at a grand jury impaneled by special counsel Robert Mueller or hand over e-mails. His reason, basically because it would take too much of his time. Not exactly an iron clad excuse.

[21:15:10] Randi Kaye is here with an in depth look at Sam Nunberg. The man, most American (INAUDIBLE) never it until now and he is not exactly on President Trump speed dial right now.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sam Nunberg seems to be one of Donald Trump's favorite targets. Trump has fired him twice and sued him for millions. In early 2014 after Nunberg convinced Trump to do an interview with BuzzFeed he promised would be a great story, Trump let him go.

Trump told "The New York Post," Nunberg agreed Trump could fire him if the story turned out to be unflattering. BuzzFeed's article titled "36 Hours on the fake campaign trail with Donald Trump" was scathing.

Nunberg was fired only to be rehired as a Communications Adviser in February of 2015. But in August, Trump fired Nunberg again.

By then he had joined the campaign as an adviser. But a business insider story exposed Nunberg's racially charged comments on Facebook. The post, which dated back to 2007 referred to reverend Al Sharpton's daughter using the nn-word.

Nunberg told the media he didn't recall writing those posts but did take responsibility for them. He reportedly apologized to Sharpton but lost his job with the Trump campaign, which described him as a low-level staffer.

NUNBERG: I am not a fan of Donald Trump. He treated me like crap, OK?

TAPPER: Right.

NUNBERG: I should not have been fired.

KAYE: The 36-year-old Nunberg graduated from Toro Law Center on Long Island. While there his LinkedIn page said he served as Chair of students for Mitt in Romney's 2008 Presidential campaign.

His profile also says he worked for the Conservative Nonprofit American Center for Law and Justice.

KAYE (on camera): Nunberg's mentor early on was another controversial Trump Adviser, Roger Stone. Nunberg had reportedly read a weekly standard profile of Stone describing him as a Nixon-era trickster who blackmailed reporters and lied all the time.

Stone had also described politics as performance art. Nunberg got himself a job with Stone's consulting firm. The two later co-wrote for Breitbart News, critical of Hilary Clinton. KAYE (voice-over): In the past, he's also slammed Barack Obama, calling the former President a socialist, Marxist, Islamo, fascist, Nazi appeaser in a Facebook post.

Republicans aren't immune to his attacks either. He once described former New York City Mayor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani as a punk with a bad lisp.

It seems he and Trump last tangled in the summer of 2016 when Trump sued Nunberg for $10 million. Trump accused his former aide of breaching a nondisclosure agreement by leaking false and defamatory information to the media.

Nunberg denied leaking anything, instead suggesting Trump was suing in retaliation for Nunberg endorsing Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican Primary.

In the end, the lawsuit was reportedly settled amicably. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Sam Nunberg certainly made news today. I want to bring in our panel of the moment, James Schultz, Maria Cardona, Paris Dennard, and Robby Mook.

Jim, I mean, do you believe that Nunberg has any reasonable grounds to defy a federal grand jury subpoena?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: No, absolutely not. He has to comply with the grand jury subpoena or he'll be pulled in by the marshals, taken before the judge, and compelled to testify or thrown in jail. I mean he has to comply with both the document requests and the request to testify if in fact he's been asked to testify. We don't know what he's been asked to do and what documents he's been asked for. This is all his story. He seems to get himself in trouble with his words and is sometimes volatile.

COOPER: Robby, in terms of the things that Mr. Nunberg has said about, you know, he believes Donald Trump knew about the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russians looking for dirt on Hillary Clinton. I mean, he mean he has no -- A, no evidence of that, and he was not, you know, part of the campaign at the time. He had been fired long since. Do you put any credibility in some of the things he said, Robby?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we don't know. Where I think he matters a lot -- and your introductory segment just talked about this -- is that he's very close to Roger Stone. This is Roger Stone's mini me. And we know that Stone was talking very frequently with Donald Trump.

And we also know that Stone was the one who was talking directly to WikiLeaks. That's been confirmed. He was talking directly to (INAUDIBLE), who is the first Blogger to release stolen emails.

So I think he potentially has this link between Donald Trump and the Russians. I'm not saying it's there, but if Roger Stone was that bridge, I think he's the one who knows about it. And this is classic Roger Stone. Go out -- you just said in your segment, you know, performance art. Make a show. Boy, did he make a show today. And so we're talking about his behavior and not the information he may have, again, about the bridge that Roger Stone played between these Russian operatives and Donald Trump.

[21:20:16] COOPER: Paris, I mean, are you concerned that Nunberg claimed that Special Counsel Mueller thinks President Trump was a Manchurian Candidate?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think -- I'm concerned about Nunberg's state of mind. I'm concerned about the fact that Erin smelled alcohol on his breath and he's talking about. He takes antidepressants.

No, I think that I'm not concerned about his testimony because he has proven himself by his media junket today to be unstable, someone who has been fired multiple times so he's not credible. He's making claims, like you said, Anderson, that he was President even part of the campaign.

I mean, i look at -- when I list to what he's saying, I think that this may have more to do with the connection between Paul Manafort and Roger Stone rather than President Trump and Russian collusion.

COOPER: How so?

DENNARD: Because of Sam's -- his strong defiance and intense loyalty to Roger Stone. I mean we know he's no fan of the President. So if he was no fan of the President, he would be willing to go in and say anything and everything that could potentially be damning, connecting him to this alleged incident of Russian collusion. But he's not doing that. He's saying Roger Stone is a mentor. Roger Stone is my friend. I'm not going to go testify, or I'm not going to go in front of this grand jury. I'll go to jail before I give up my friend, Roger Stone.

So to me, knowing that Roger Stone and Paul Manafort are past business partners, it shows the scope of -- possibly the scope of where Mueller is going in this investigation, away from Donald Trump and back to Paul Manafort and possibly Roger Stone.

COOPER: Maria, I mean, this talk of defying a subpoena is one thing. Then going on national television multiple times, I should say, on multiple channels to argue about it is another. Where do you see this going from here?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I completely agree with you. This was a complete political debacle today, and sadly a personal one for Sam Nunberg. But a political debacle for Trump and his team.

The reason I say that is because, yes, they are going to try to defile his credibility, and Sam himself has not done himself any favors with his credibility in terms of his history and even in terms of what he did today. But let's remember Mueller wants him to testify before the grand jury. That is not something that is unserious, and there is a reason why he wants to hear from Nunberg himself.

And I do think that it has to do with the connection with Roger Stone. He, himself, said that he didn't want to spend hours and hours getting all of the e-mails for the special prosecutor because he had e-mailed 15 to 20 times a day with Roger Stone and with Steve Bannon.

And when you have Roger Stone, who as Robby was saying is a very concrete connection with WikiLeaks and with the e-mails that were released from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the question as to whether Donald Trump knew about that or not, the information that Nunberg has can absolutely be very relevant to this.

And we can also probably suspect that Mueller has a lot of those e- mails to begin with. So he is going to know whether Sam is talking -- is telling him the truth or not, but he's also going to be able to point him in some other directions of this investigation.

COOPER: I mean, Jim, can you reconcile how Nunberg can say on the same day that no one hates President Trump more than he does, that President Trump didn't do anything wrong, that President Trump may have done something wrong? I mean he does seem to be all over the place.

SCHULTZ: Yes. I can't reconcile anything he said. I mean, what he did here today was impugn his own credibility for sure and raised real concerns about his own well being among folks watching on television today. So I can't put it together in any way, shape, or form that makes any sense.

COOPER: Robby, you think the linchpin of this might be Nunberg's loyalty to Roger Stone and potential exposure he may face in connection with WikiLeaks, which is obviously something the Clinton campaign took huge issue with?

MOOK: Well, yes. There are two avenues to this investigation. One is financial, right? What were Trump's financial ties to Russia? We've been hearing a lot about his property in Panama City, for example, today. It's notorious for money laundering.

But separate from all that, I actually think that's the more important of the two strains and the one that is most likely, if this presidency is taken down, that is the one that is more likely to take it down, certainly where Jared Kushner I think is going to get in trouble.

But the second is this question of was the Trump campaign aware that Russia had stolen information? Were they in any way communicating with the Russians about what to do with it? And I think if anyone was playing that role, if anyone was in the middle of this, it absolutely was Roger Stone.

He was the one, remember, who said Podesta is going to be over the barrel next. That was briefly before Podesta's e-mails were released to the media by WikiLeaks on the same day that that "Access Hollywood" video came out. I mean, the timing on all this is incredible. You look at our Democratic convention. The DNC e-mails were released right before that.

[21:25:20] So I think this is incredibly important. And I think they're trying to distract with the crazy behavior.

COOPER: All right, we've got to take pause for a moment. We have more breaking news coming up in the story, in addition to Robert Mueller. Some lawmakers now want to take to Sam Nunberg while some others are signaling that the Russia investigation could actually be wrapping up soon. Details ahead.


COOPER: We have more breaking news in the aftermath of Nunberg's nationally televised defiance tour. Congressman, Adam Schiff, Ranking Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee says the panel needs to interview Nunberg now.

Schiff wants to focus on Nunberg's claim that candidate Trump may have known about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting before the fact. That was the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. He says it's the subject the committee needs to explore.

On the other hand, Mike Conaway, a Republican on the committee, is suggesting there's little interest on the GOP side in talking to Nunberg. And additionally, Conaway and other Republicans are now signaling that the committee's investigation could actually wrap up very soon.

Jeff Toobin is back with the panel. Also, Jackie Kucinich joins us as well.

Jackie, if the Republicans on the committee want to wrap up the investigation, there's not much stopping them is there? I mean, does the matter if the Democrats want to keep calling witnesses?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, in short, no, it doesn't. And the fact of the matter is, especially on the House side, this investigation has had so many problems, in part because of Devin Nunes and some of his actions.

[21:30:03] So maybe at this point it's sort of mercifully wrapping up because it's just -- I don't know how much it's being taken seriously at this point because of all the issues they've had and how partisan this committee, which traditionally people don't remember actually was a non-partisan committee has become.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Jeff, this certainly doesn't bode well for future investigations by this committee. I mean if something as major as, you know, Russian meddling in the United States electoral process and fears that it will happen again -- if even that ends up being this bipartisan -- I mean with this rift, it doesn't bode well for the future? TOOBIN: No, it doesn't. And remember, I mean this investigation has been really a fiasco from the start, and I think the only explanation for that is that Devin Nunes is in over his head.

Remember, there was a time when he was sort of off doing his own personal investigation, which caused him to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and then mysteriously he un-recused himself and got back into it.

You know, in fairness, I think the Senate investigation, led by Richard Burr, the Republican, and John Warner, the Democrat, has been a much more bipartisan serious investigation. But it's been much more aimed at finding legislative solutions to social media issues rather than uncovering facts, which is supposedly what the House was doing.

COOPER: And Maria, I spoke to Congresswoman Speier, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She says that the committee's work, the investigation is no longer credible. So I mean, how is anything that's going to come out of it on either side going to be seen as anything other than partisan and not credible?

CARDONA: Yes. I think sadly that is exactly the case. But the reason for that is because the person who headed it up, Devin Nunes, from the very beginning, I think, injected a complete aura of incredibility and lack of trust because of what he did in terms of running to the White House to tell them what he found and, you know, all of the other things that clearly showed that he was trying to do Trump's bidding during the whole process. It's what led to his supposedly being out of this investigation, recusing himself, but then putting himself back into it.

So I think that this moving forward is going to have the stench of Republicans trying to sweep this under the rug, of the head of the committee trying to do Trump's bidding, and politically it's going to be very damaging going into the midterm elections, especially when we know that the Russians are still trying to do something and still trying to meddle in these elections, and Republicans who head both the House and the Senate are doing absolutely nothing about it and not taking it seriously at all.

COOPER: Paris, I mean, remember speaking to Congressman Schiff a few months ago who was saying that he believed Republicans on the committee were getting pressured from the White House to wrap up the investigation. A, do you think there's a possibility of that? And would that be problematic for you?

DENNARD: I think that it's no secret that Republicans and the White House would like this investigation to come to an end because, as Jeffrey Toobin called it, it is a fiasco. And Secretary Rice, who is no big fan of the Trump administration, she actually said that the Schiff investigation needs to come to an end. This needs to come to an end because it is a fiasco, because we are outside of the scope of what we should be talking about, which is whether -- more so, how Russia was meddling in the election or if Russia was meddling in the election, not necessarily focus specifically on trying to prove a narrative that Donald J. Trump was in cahoots with Putin to convince voters to vote for him and not for Hillary Clinton.

We have gone way past what this investigation should be about, and if it comes to the point that at the end of all this when it's all said and done, the people that are going to prison or the final judgment is that Manafort did something years ago with respect to money laundering or tax evasion, we still have not gotten to the root of this, which is Russian meddling in the election and how far it went, be it at the Republican side or with the Clinton campaign. That is what we should be focused on, and that's not where we are. It's become too political. It's been too partisan, because it's outside the scope of really what we should be focused on.

COOPER: We're going to continue this conversation if just a minute. We'll going to take a quick break. Also talk about one of the Trumpiest tweets President Trump has ever tweeted. This tweet has everything, blaming Obama, Crooked H, Bigger than Watergate. That's next.


[21:38:12] COOPER: Well, in one single tweet today the President hit all his favorite topics. "Why did the Obama administration start an investigation into the Trump campaign with zero proof of wrongdoing long before the election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate! Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling."

Strong response on Twitter from former CIA Director John Brennan, "This tweet is a great example of your paranoia, constant misrepresentation of the facts, and increased anxiety and panic, rightly so, about the Mueller investigation. When will those in Congress and the 30 percent of Americans who still support you realize you are a charlatan?"

With me now, Jackie Kucinich, Tara Setmayer, James Schultz and Michael D'Antonio.

Jim, I mean, Former CIA Director John Brennan, I mean, is he right? Is the President's tweet this indicative of -- in his words, paranoia, increased anxiety and panic?

SCHULTZ: I think it's more partisan attacks on the President to be honest. John Brennan, even though he's a former CIA Director, he has partisan leanings as well. Certainly doesn't support the President and is trying to attack the President every chance he gets.

COOPER: But I mean did that tweet inspire confidence in you in the President?

SCHULTZ: Look, the President says things sometimes to get a reaction. You know, people make a big deal about the jokes that he made the other night at the Gridiron event, and they were certainly just jokes. So I think some of it just gets blown out of proportion every time, and sometimes the President doesn't always phrase things the right way. But that's how he gets his message across to his base. COOPER: Michael, you know the President. What's your take on his tweeting and continuing fascination with former President Obama and Hillary Clinton?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the President has made a virtue out of his direct attacks on a variety of subjects, a variety of persons for years now.

So we do have to accept that this is the way he rolls. But we don't have to accept that it makes any sense to have a President who does this kind of thing night in and night out and early in the morning and all weekend long is absurd.

[21:40:14] So we're now in this realm of absurdity where today we had Sam Nunberg appearing to be altered and throwing himself under the bus, and he's just the first person who's visibly decompensated. I think half the country is upset most of the time with a President who is pursuing this strategy no matter what it does to the world.

SCHULTZ: So now we're blaming that on the President's tweets? Sam Nunberg's comments today? That's a little ridiculous.

D'ANTONIO: Well, I think what we have here is part and parcel of the Trump method. I'm not saying that his tweet pushed anyone over any brink at any specific moment. But this is President chaos. Chaos is not only where he feels comfortable, but I think it's where he finds advantage.

So he'll make a crazy statement or contradict himself knowing that the next day he can do the same thing because we've all come to accept that this guy doesn't operate as a normal President.

COOPER: You know, Tara, I mean, it is interesting at a certain point, you do start to think, oh, this is normal. It's just another Trump tweet. Then you actually look at it, and I mean if any other President had sent out a message like this, I mean I don't know. It's -- I mean I know just in the pantheon of Trump tweets, it's sort of par for the course. But every now and then it's important to just step back and realize this is not a normal way of communicating.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. We've been living in the theater of the absurd for quite some time now with Donald Trump, ever since he descended down that escalator.

This is just something that I think is indicative of how paranoid, how unhinged he becomes when things get a little bit closer in the investigation. You know, the reporting for the last week has been that he's kind of been in a rage, and this is what he does. And it's irresponsible.

Let's not forget a year ago he sent out another really irresponsible tweet when he accused the Obama administration -- he accused Obama actually of wiretapping Trump Tower with absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

So this is what he does. He throws out red meat to his base. This nonsense about, well, you know, the Russia investigation, why did it start? Apparently he doesn't remember the reason why.

Let's refresh everybody's memory. The investigation into what's going on with Russia started because one of his campaign officials, George Papadopoulos, was drunk in a pub bragging about the Russians telling him they had got access to Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and he was bragging about it to an Australian diplomat. That's how this started.

And Carter Page was under surveillance by the FBI from years past because of his interactions, questionable interactions with Russians. This is not something that's made up. This is very real. And every day the American people are being gas lighted into trying to -- by Trump and his enablers who try to say this is just him having fun on Twitter. It's irresponsible. He's President of the United States.

COOPER: Jackie, I mean, the President claims that President Obama did nothing about Russian meddling, yet he himself still won't fully acknowledge that meddling actually happened. I mean how can both be true?

KUCINICH: Well, I mean, they're not. So the other thing we have to remember is that in this President also and his administration lobbied to lessen the Russian sanctions when they were going through Congress.

So the President has always, since the advent of this Russia investigation, seen this through the prism of his legitimacy as President, and people coming at him when, in fact, in large part it's due -- trying to figure out how Russians meddled into the election and how they could do it again going into 2018.

We've had the heads of the intelligence agencies say this is going to happen again in 2018. So the fact that he is still fixated on this -- and it's not just Russia. So we can't just dismiss these tweets as, you know, kind of the -- I mean I think any other President, you would think they'd been hacked.

He's conducting a trade war right now, or starting a trade war with his tweets. So this goes beyond even throwing red meat to his base. This is conducting foreign policy at this point and economic policy through his Twitter account. That's a little --

SETMAYER: Not normal. None of this is normal.

COOPER: I want to take a quick break.

Jim Schultz mentioned this a moment ago. President Trump saying about the notion of China's President becoming President for life, maybe we'll have to give it a shot some day. All a joke, right? We'll talk about it next.


[21:49:00] COOPER: It was quite a weekend for President Trump before heading back to Washington after a day in Florida. Before a group of Republican donors Friday evening, a session closed to the press, he took the opportunity to endorse the latest move by Chinese President Xi in engineering the end of term limits for Chinese leaders and setting himself up for what could be a lifetime appointment. CNN obtained an audio recording of what the President had to say.


TRUMP: China is great. And Xi is a great gentleman. He's now President for life.


President for life. No, he's great. And look he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday.


COOPER: A joke, right? For some, sure. For others, maybe not. If it was a joke, it wasn't his only effort at humor over the weekend. He showed up at Washington's Gridiron dinner on Saturday night, no cameras allowed, no audio either, in a place traditionally where Presidents make fun of themselves.

Here are a few of the President's jokes which were on the record, on his son-in-law Jared Kushner, he said, "I wanted to apologize for arriving a little bit late. You know we were late tonight because Jared could not get through security."

[21:50:10] On the ongoing chaos in the White House, I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Now the question everyone keeps asking is who is going to be the next to leave, Steve Miller or Melania. That's terrible, honey, but you love me, right?"

In this, "Attorney Jeff Sessions is here with us tonight. I offered him a ride over and he recused himself."

Back with the panel.

So Jackie, I mean, President Trump was making a joke about the Chinese President said the White House and he was playing to a crowd. His supporters would say, why read anything else into it?

KUCINICH: I think it's because the President does have a fondness in his heart for strong men. Look at Putin, look at Duterte in the Philippines, Erdogan in Turkey. These are people that he has cozied up to. He said just recently that Duterte is someone -- is a model for what he wants to do to drug dealers in this country. So, because of that is just a little -- it's a little hard to laugh at dictators and his praising someone who made himself essentially President for life.

COOPER: He, did, Jim, I mean seem to legitimately be saying, he thinks it's great that the guy was able to do this, that Xi was able to do this. I mean, the rest maybe sounded like a joke, people were laughing. But that sentence to me sounded like, he said, no I think it's great that he did it.

SCHULTZ: I disagree wholeheartedly. The room was howling. We didn't see the look on his face, the inflection. None of that came through. I guarantee you in that room his expressions were all about making the joke that evening. I think Jackie, the sky is falling again for everyone on this panel, that all of a sudden --

KUCINICH: I didn't say the sky was falling. Nothing I said was inaccurate. Did he not say that about Duterte?

SCHULTZ: Jackie, he says things for reaction sometimes and you're doing precisely what he wants you to do, react to it.

SETMAYER: You know what -- here's the thing. Here's the thing. The fact that people like Jim and others who are enablers of Donald Trump and what he does, they make excuses that they would never make for anyone else. Could you imagine if Barack Obama said a fraction of the things that Donald Trump says? Donald Trump has a history to Jackie's point of seemingly admiring authoritarian rule. He never said a bad thing about Putin. He actually said wonderful things about Erdogan and Duterte who is doing extra judicial killings in the Philippines because they're nice to him. That's a problem. That's a problem when you are --

SCHULTZ: Forget the rigging of the, attempted rigging of the primary election so Hillary could get in over Bernie Sanders. Talk about a politic --

SETMAYER: What are you talking about? What are you talking about? Let me finish my point because I don't know what you're talking about.

SCHULTZ: Of course you do.

SETMAYER: The problem here is that Donald Trump has an established pattern of this level of admiration. So, when you have someone like the President of China, China is a communist country that is a major human rights abuser. They don't have freedom of speech there. They have censor ship there. They have 5-year-olds making our iPhones over there. There is a problem with things going on in China and the President of the United States is departed from other foreign policy -- policies in the past where we've actually made it known to China that we're not happy about that. China is also an enemy of ours. It was the military, they are helping North Korean with sanctions.

SCHULTZ: Sounds like they're making a pretty good argument for --

SETMAYER: No, because the trade tariffs that the President is proposing don't even really hurt China. They're number 11 when we trade-in steel. Number one is Canada. 16 percent of our steel comes from Canada. So, what the President is proposing would hurt them, not China. But getting back to the point here, it's -- there's nothing funny about praising someone that wants to be President for life. That's an insult to all the blood that was shed for the revolutionary war to get away from that.

COOPER: Michael D'Antonio, I mean does this President -- I mean, same things with the Gridiron dinner obviously that's -- you know, those are -- that's like the White House correspondent dinner in terms of the tone and stuff. This was an event at Mar-a-Lago. I mean, the President isn't really known for being a jokester, is he?

D'ANTONIO: No, he's not. And one of the hallmarks of comedy is when comedians say it's funny because it's true. So, part of what happens when Donald Trump tries to tell a joke is he actually reveals something about himself because he's never far from what's on his mind.

So, whether he's tweeting or giving a speech at Mar-a-Lago or attending the Gridiron dinner, he's really communicating something that's on his mind. One of the ways to understand this problem with China is to think about what Ronald Reagan said when he was faced with an authoritarian regime in the Soviet Union. He said, tear down this wall. He didn't say, good for you that you guys are authoritarians and your citizens have no rights.

[21:55:00] He stood up for democracy and stood up for the people who were suffering. In this case we have a President who has abandoned America's leadership as the guardian of democracy for good or not.

COOPER: But Michael, to Jim's point, the people in the audience at the Mar-a-Lago thing were laughing. The President also likes to please the audience he's in front of. Couldn't he just have been playing into that?

D'ANTONIO: Oh, sure, and it was kind of funny if you think about the fact that he is regarded by many as having authoritarian leanings himself. He's kind of making a joke about it and pivoting to his crowd and they're all laughing it up. The problem is the context. If his policies were pro democracy and anti-authoritarian, then we could say someone who says he'd like to be President for life is making a joke. It doesn't have the reverberation that it has when it comes out of his mouth.

SETMAYER: That's right.

COOPER: All right. I want to thank everybody on the panel. More to cover ahead, more news ahead. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Quite a day, quite a night. Thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for watching 360. Time to hand things over to my friend Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.

[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN Tonight. I am Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us. Breaking news tonight on the Russia investigation and this is exactly what the White House did not want to hear.