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The President and the Porn Star, Stormy Daniels; Trump Spoke to Witnesses About Matters They Discussed With Special Counsel; Justice Department Sues California Over Immigration Enforcement. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:51] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news throughout the hour, new reporting on potentially problematic contact between the President and key witnesses in the Russia investigation, all due to the questions he allegedly asked them. We begin, though, keeping them honest with the White House being less than transparent, less than honest about the payoff to an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels -- what the President knew about it, even when the White House claims he said about it.

Today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said, the President has already addressed the issue. She was not being forthright. He has not addressed the issue as CNN's Jeff Zeleny learned when he tried to pin her down. He joins us from the White House.

So explain what happened today?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, for more than a year, about a year and a half or so, you know, President Trump, then Donald Trump, trying to stay out of this. The White House has been trying to say this is an old story. These questions have been asked and answered by voters. But of course, they have not been with all these new revelations really day by day. And things that are still going on behind the scenes, you know, on behalf of the President. So we asked Sarah Sanders today if the President knew about that payment in October of 2016.


ZELENY: Did the President approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his longtime lawyer and adviser Michael Cohen?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the President has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration and anything beyond that, I would refer you to the President's outside counsel.

ZELENY: When did the President address specifically the cash payment that was made in October of 2016?

SANDERS: The President has denied the allegations against him. And, again, this case has already been won in arbitration. Anything beyond that, I would refer to outside counsel.

ZELENY: Did he know about that payment at the time though?

SANDERS: Jeff, I've addressed this as far as I can go.

ZELENY: I'm not talking about the actual allegations, but about the payment. Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.


ZELENY: So Sarah Sanders is saying there, she's not aware of the President being made aware of that payment at the time. And clearly, Sarah Sanders was done with our questions on that matter. But the briefing went on, Anderson, and people were pressing her. Other reporters were pressing her about the arbitration. So the White House has essentially now injected itself, put itself in the middle of this story here, talking about arbitration. Of course we learned later from Stormy Daniels' lawyer that they were not aware of this, a party to this, and we've also learned the President's lawyer is trying to block her from speaking, Anderson. So by trying to close this down, so many more questions tonight.

COOPER: Jeff, this is the first time the White House has actually acknowledged that the President is a party to anything having to do with Stormy Daniels, legally or otherwise.

ZELENY: It was the first time. And this just is a reflection of the fact that these conversations are happening behind closed doors here in the West Wing.

Sarah Sanders was asked directly if she had asked the President directly about this. She said, yes, she had. So the reality is the White House has now acknowledged this, their role in the middle of this. The questions are, is the President still directing Michael Cohen what to do here? You know, many ethical concerns, never mind the political questions here. But until the President answers these questions or is asked these questions himself, Anderson, I think they will continue.

COOPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

I spoke with Stormy Daniels' attorney just before air time. Michael Avenatti told me there is more to the story beyond what's in the lawsuit. Take a look.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: We are not going to disclose at this point all of the facts and evidence that we have substantiating the allegations in the complaint, nor would we have set that all forward in the complaint. I mean that just wouldn't be smart. But we certainly have more facts and evidence to support the allegation -- or allegations, I should say, than what has already been disclosed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I want to bring back our panel, Dana Bash, Rick Santorum, Kristen Powers, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Michael Caputo, Bakari Sellers, also Mark Geragos.

Mark, let me start off with you, hush money without the hush, alleged bogus arbitration of presidential alias, who has the stronger case in all of this? Stormy Daniels or President Trump and Michael Cohen?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's not even a close call. Stormy Daniels does. First of all, in California generally, as a general rule, the arbitrator does not have the ability to issue what's called injunctive relief. So this idea that somehow they ran into ADR, that they got some kind of an order, is ludicrous on its face, number one.

[21:05:10] Number two, you can't tell somebody that they can't talk. That's called prior restraint. You're only kind of remedy for that is to sue for damages later on. So this is a long way from over, and, you know, notwithstanding all of the ethical issues, the fact that they are claiming to have won an arbitration is almost laughable.

COOPER: Dana, just politically how big a problem is this for the President, or is it? I mean does anyone care?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are two questions, right. There's a legal problem, and then there's a political problem, which they are separate questions, I think, at this point. The legal problem, I'm going to leave it up to the lawyers to answer that question. It certainly seems there are potential issues, particularly with what you were talking about earlier, Anderson, which is did he sign this? Did he sign it under an alias? Did he even know about it? All of those questions.

The political question is something that we just don't really know. I mean if you kind of apply the test of the "Access Hollywood" tape, the answer is no, it's really not. It's baked in that President Trump is not a saint, that nobody thinks that he behaves in a way that would suggest that he's a saint.

Having said that, he's not on the ballot this year. Republicans, you know, sort of across the country are, and particularly in the House in states like your home state of Pennsylvania, there are some in suburbs where they really rely on the female vote. And there are some, even though certainly when it came to Donald Trump, I personally talked to so many of them during the 2016 election where they said they didn't care about Donald Trump. It may be a little bit different with their overall view of the Republican Party, and maybe that will reflect on who they vote for in November.

COOPER: Senator Sanders, do you think the conservative wing of the Republican Party is concerned about something like this? Senator Santorum, I'm sorry.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Bernie and I look a lot alike. COOPER: There's a first time for everything.

SANTORUM: It happens to me all the time.

COOPER: Same politics, yes.

SANTORUM: Yes. Same politics, same look. So I would say that what the White House is doing is, I think, purely political, which is they don't want to talk about this. They want to downplay it, let the networks that want to focus on this, which most of their base voters don't watch, talk about it, and then hopefully the rest of the conservative media just sort of ignores the story because the President isn't going to talk about it, because if the President talks about it, then they have to cover it. So I think the strategy is let the legal battle weigh in. There will be claims, counterclaims. It will all get lost in the wash, and we won't talk about it. We'll dismiss it, and hopefully it will move on.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it's right the voters probably don't care that much about this, and I actually think that's probably a good thing in the sense of I think the consensual relationships that happen with Presidents is their business and their family's business. But that's not what this is really about, right? It's not about the fact that he cheated on his wife. As Dana said, we know he's not a saint.

The issue is did he pay somebody off to stay quiet, and it was interesting that Stormy Daniels' lawyer said earlier that it looked like a kind of cut and paste job, which would suggest that maybe there are other agreements like this. And so you have somebody who is vulnerable to being blackmailed.

COOPER: Mark Geragos, I mean, when you looked at the agreement, did it look like a cut and paste job, like sort of a -- Jeff Toobin said it looked kind of like a form that had been used before. I don't know how a lawyer would figure that out, but did it read like that to you?

GERAGOS: Well, without discloser wing who the clients are, I've dealt with Keith Davidson on numerous occasions. I've seen this iteration countless time. So, yes, this is a cut and paste. This is generally there's also a declaration under penalty of perjury that accompanies these things.

And there's generally what I think Michael was referring to is generally what you do is you turn over all of the texts, photos, and things of that nature and then sign a declaration that you don't have anything else in your possession. That's the one component that we haven't seen here, and I suspect that's what Michael's referring to when he says that he hasn't turned over everything else because this is really standard operating procedure in Hollywood and amongst high- profile people.

And, remember, he was -- during this time, he was a TV star. This is something that, you know, in a post-TMZ world is up for grabs almost all the time. COOPER: Michael, I mean, do the American people have a right to know if the President was involved in, you know, paying somebody off for their silence?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Oh, I'm not sure. This is a personal issue that happened over a decade ago, and let's not forget, this is a woman who gets paid for sex wanting more money. I don't think the -- she's got credibility issues. She's already been paid. She's probably already run out of it. And I think as a matter of fact, the timing of this is not coincidental to her national tour of strip clubs across the United States. She's appearing in Fort Lauderdale this weekend on her make America horny again tour.

[21:10:16] This isn't serious. In fact, this week she's auctioning off a dress she says that she wore when she was dating Donald Trump. This isn't serious. I don't see any of this really settling in with the American people.

COOPER: Bakari?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm actually going to agree with a little bit of everybody at the table here tonight because I think that even Bernie Sanders earlier, of course we have the 50,000 foot view is we have greater issues to talk about as a country. When you go down, one of the things that Mark Geragos didn't mention but I'm sure he knows as an attorney as I am is that you don't just have settlement agreements or settlement negotiations without having those discussions with your client. That gets you in ethical trouble.

You do not sign a $130,000 agreement without your client even knowing. So it's ludicrous to believe that the client doesn't know. And I think that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for as good as she's been over the past six, seven, eight months, actually made a grave error today by injecting herself into that. But the larger theory is what Michael said, is what Kirsten said and Rick said and Dana to a certain point. Trump voters don't care about this.

I mean the make America horny tour started in god's country known as Greenville, South Carolina. Where Rick knows. Rick won Greenville, South Carolina. I mean, it is the Christian moral compass of the state and of the country. And they don't care about this.

You know, the most amazing thing about this is that the headline tonight is that porn star sleeps with President of the United States, but the Republican Party -- the only Republican who has spoken out forcefully, the irony of this situation, is somebody I voted against in the general assembly to impeach him for going on the Appalachian trail, and that's Mark Sanford.

I mean, that is where the Republican Party is. They no longer have the high ground on any issues that come along with moral fortitude, with believing in a moral compass. The Republican Party doesn't have that anymore.

COOPER: Julie, I want you get reaction (ph)? JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think that's important point because if you remember with the Access Hollywood tape, the tipping point was really when Republicans, both publicly and privately, were really uncomfortable with that and were sort of wringing their hands and thinking that this was going to cost them the Presidential election. And the pressure mounted on Donald Trump to say something about it, and in fact he did. In this case, we don't see that materializing now. Maybe as we learn more about this case, as the agreements expire and people reveal more about what Stormy Daniels has to say, if that does happen, will see more of a drum beat of --

COOPER: But he's also -- I mean, Mark --

GERAGOS: She's not alleging abuse.

COOPER: Well, that's what I was going to say. Mark Geragos, I mean, she is a -- you know, this is a consensual relationship. Her attorney, you know, said that very clearly.

GERAGOS: Very different from the tape. Yes, but, you know, the irony of this for me at least, having lived through whitewater, is that those same voters who apparently don't care about it when it comes to Donald Trump, boy, they sure cared about it a whole lot when it was Bill Clinton.

And, you know, I lived through that in Arkansas 20 years ago almost exactly to the day, and the irony of it is, is if you're going to be so anti-Bill Clinton because many of the allegations there, including Gennifer Flowers, were consensual relationships, and yet those people were the ones who prosecute talking about the lack of moral clarity and the lack of a moral compass and blah, blah, blah. And here we are today. They don't care. And I was laughing as Bakari was -- and we were talking about it. They don't care about the dress. We remember the dress with Monica. They don't care about whether he's lying about it, I didn't have sex with that woman. It's deja vu all over again, Anderson?

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We'll continue this discussion. I want to pick up that thought when we come back. Also later, breaking news in the Russia investigation. New reporting that special counsel Mueller has learned the President has asked key witnesses about some of what they discussed with investigators.


[21:17:43] COOPER: So what did President Dennison know and when did he know it? Like it or not, President Dennison is a thing online and part of a nondisclosure agreement, a lawsuit over the nondisclosure agreement. And we're obviously -- here is more of my conversation about something we touched on before the break with the attorney for Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels, AKA Peggy Peterson.


COOPER: Our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, said the contract to him reads like kind of a form that maybe has been used before. Does it seem that way to you? I mean, are you aware of any other women who signed similar contracts with President Trump?

AVENATTI: We're not aware of any other women, but let me just say this. In my experience, the way that this was handled and the documentation, quite honestly this was amateur hour, Anderson. It is very, very sloppy. It's very, very messy. It's shocking quit honestly that something of this magnitude was handled in this way in the waning days of the 2016 Presidential election.

COOPER: What was so sloppy about it?

AVENATTI: I have a lot of respect for Mr. Cohen. I think he's a good attorney in a lot of ways. I don't know the exact circumstances of what happened here. But this is not how something of this importance should have been handled in my opinion.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. Senator Santorum, if -- I want to go back to something you said earlier. I mean, if President Obama -- if it had been revealed that he had paid off somebody for $130,000 before becoming President in the final days of a campaign, wouldn't that be a huge deal on the right?

SANTORUM: Yes. I'm not suggesting that it shouldn't be a huge deal, and I'm not suggesting and to counter what Mark Geragos just said, that somehow there's a moral equivalency between what Donald Trump did 10 years before he was President and what Bill Clinton did in the White House with an intern. I think there is a fundamental difference there, and lying to the FBI was another fundamental difference. So please don't equate things that are fundamentally different and say, oh, you know, we're all just -- you know, we're all just rogues.

POWERS: But you know that Republicans were criticizing him long before Monica. When it was Gennifer Flowers, I mean they were talking about the fact that --

SANTORUM: It was Kathy Woolly (ph) --

POWERS: No, no, but Gennifer Flowers was saying he lacked character and that he -- that you need to have character for President --


POWERS: Wait a second, I mean, that's just a fact.

[21:20:02] SANTORUM: And what I'm going to say to you is I agree. And lots of Republicans, including myself, had serious problems with it and expressed those problems. Many Republicans to the point where they wouldn't vote for him. So, there's that whole group of never Trumpers. Never Trumpers wasn't about his policy on tariffs, it was about the moral character of the man. So I didn't see that on the other side with the Democrats. Democrats are in lock step. That was not the case with Republicans. I agree with you. Most Republicans have gone along, but I think most are uncomfortable with it. COOPER: Mark, I wanted you to respond.

GERAGOS: I was just going to say, look, I'm not saying that if it's 10 years before -- remember, we're talking weeks before the election. That's when this money was transferred. That's when the acts took place. That's when the lawyer supposedly -- and, you know, to echo what Bakari said, I mean you start paying off things without consulting your client, you walk smack dab into the state bar of whatever jurisdiction you're licensed in. You can't do that. I can't settle something for a client without talking to that client. That's one of the biggest no-nos a lawyer ethically that you can get.

So they -- and when you want to talk about moral equivalency, the moral equivalency here is that the same people who seem to be nonplused about this are the same people who were constructing all kinds of crazy theories about Bill Clinton and seizing the moral high ground on Bill Clinton.

Now, look, I will agree on some things. I'll tell you the same complaints I had about Ken Starr 20 years ago are the same complaints that I would have about Mueller now. But, you know, people don't -- people tend to look at things through their partisan glasses or lenses as opposed to just trying to examine it rationally.

SELLERS: But this is -- I was five or six when we're having a discussion that originates about Bill Clinton, right? 49 percent of the electorate --

BASH: Let me say I hate when you do that?

GERAGOS: I was going to say, yes, rub it in.

SELLERS: I know, but my only point is that --

BASH: Not that I don't love you.

SELLERS: A lot of America is sitting back saying, OK. I get that. We dealt with the Clinton era, but now let's deal with the Trump era. Where are all these Republicans today? I mean these are the same Republicans who tout family and faith. I'll go to Jeff Duncan, who was the freedom and faith values barbecue where all the Presidential candidates come, and everybody stands up and says that this is our moral compass. This is our platform. This is who we are. But it's crickets now. Nobody's even raising a voice. And it's not just Stormy Daniels would be my point to you, Rick. My point to you would be that this is a pattern of behavior. This is not an isolated incident. If this was just an isolated incident, then we can say that, oh, my god, the liberal media is just doing this. But we're adding up A, plus, B. I mean, hell, we're already at LMNOP. I mean, this is how far we are when we're talking about the incident --

SANTORUM: Show me a Republican in Congress -- Republican says after defending the President on this. They're not depending this --

SELLERS: But about, show me one other than Mark Sanford that is actually saying anything. Martin Luther King said it's not a test of who you are in times of silence. Like, when are you going to speak up and say something? You know, the audacity of Cohn yesterday to resign over tariffs but didn't say anything about xenophobia and bigotry. The audacity of this pickle points that people want to make. But you don't take a line in the sand with this? You know, Melania still lives there. I mean, still lives adultery. Still is cheating on your wife when she has a child that she just gave birth to. You still paid a $130,000. We don't know where that money came from.

BASH: Bakari, the only thing I would say to you is that, you know this politically that because it is, as you described, a pattern, it's not a news flash. It's not as if he presented himself in a way that wasn't -- I'm not defending it. I'm just explaining.

SELLERS: No, I agree with you.


CAPUTO: That's the point. That is my point. You can't comment on every single time.


CAPUTO: This is a woman who gets paid for sex wanting more money. She once said that this didn't happen. She's changed her position, which I guess she does five or six times every video she's ever done. I mean, my gosh.

POWERS: I think you missed the whole "Me Too" movement that just happened.

SELLERS: No, he didn't. He was here.

POWERS: I mean, seriously.


POWERS: Because is a woman is an adult film actress does not mean that she is an inherently bad person who can't tell the truth. I mean you're just talking about her because of what she does -- by the way --

CAPUTO: She got paid by $130,000 and she wants more money.

POWERS: The President --

CAPUTO: She said it didn't happen. Now she says it did. I'm talking about her credibility not her --

POWERS: Why was the President that you supported hanging out with her and taking pictures with her if --

CAPUTO She was at a golf --


SELLERS: But as a lawyer, Kirsten, let me ask this question to you. OK, let's take who it is out of the equation. Let's take that. I mean, and I think that Stormy Daniels deserves to be heard just like Mona Lisa or whoever else deserves to be heard.

CAPUTO: She'll be heard tonight.

[21:25:00] SELLERS: That's not my point. Let's ask this question, where was the $130,000 from? You know, if want to --

CAPUTO: From Michael Cohen.

SELLERS: But if you wan to talk about a serious -- first of all, lawyers do not pay settlements for clients.

CAPUTO: You don't know Michael Cohen. There's nobody more loyal to the President than Michael Cohen.

SELLERS: That loyalty gets you locked up. But also ask John Edwards.

CAPUTO: I get that. Then it's about Michael Cohen then, right?

SELLERS: You're throwing Michael Cohen understand the bus?

CAPUTO: I'm not throwing him under the bus. I'm saying Michael Cohen knew exactly what he was doing and he's going to have to discuss this.

DAVIS: This is the problem with what Sarah Sanders said at the White House today. She has know acknowledged that this is not just Michael Cohen. That his -- she said that the arbitration was settled favorably to the President.

She made it clear that there is a connection here between the President that if it was Michael Cohen, fine, it was Michael Cohen, but he was acting at President Trump's behest.

And regardless of whether you think that Stormy Daniels has credibility issues or she has some sort of agenda, the fact is that she is alleging some conduct. The White House cannot rule out that conduct. She said not to my knowledge. But they have an issue here not just with the fact that he may or may not have had an affair with her but about the cover-up, and the fact that he's alleged to have -- and still to this day, as recently as a week ago, been acting -- he's a sitting President who is using legal machinations to try to shut up a witness that is making allegations.

CAPUTO: If you think that Michael Cohen wouldn't do something like this without telling Donald Trump, you don't know Michael Cohen.

COOPER: But it would be unethical --

CAPUTO: Understood. I get that. I'm not a lawyer. I do know that he's extremely loyal for President.

SELLERS: In some states that's actually fraud but --

COOPER: We're going to have more with the panel ahead. Some breaking news tonight in the Russia investigation. Report in "The New York Times" that the President hasn't been able to resist talking to witnesses about their testimony. We'll get the panel's take on whether that's more than just inappropriate.


[21:30:09]COOPER: There's breaking news in the Russia investigation. "New York Times" reporting tonight that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has learned of at least two times in recent months that President Trump asked witnesses about what they discussed with investigators.

In one instance, the President reportedly asked Reince Priebus how his interview went and whether the special counsel's investigators had been nice. The other incidents involve White House Counsel Don McGahn. Earlier I spoke with Maggie Haberman who broke the story.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): In the McGahn incident, which happened a couple of weeks ago, after Mike Schmidt and I reported that the President had sought to fire Robert Mueller last year, the President wanted Don McGahn to put out a statement saying our story was false, which McGahn did not do.

The President did that through an aide. He then spoke directly to McGahn after that and asked him to put out this statement. McGahn said he would not, and McGahn had to remind the President that he had indeed told him to fire McGahn. The President said, well, you didn't threaten to me that you would quit if I did this, and McGahn said, that's true, but I told other senior advisers at the time. Our story never said he told the President at the time that he did suggest that he would have to quit if this went through in terms of firing Mueller.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. Don McGahn, Julie, basically confirming "The New York Times" earlier reporting.

DAVIS: Right. I mean, it's basically clear that the President was unhappy with the story, that he wanted him to essentially take it back. And it seems that he raised it with Don McGahn by saying, well, I never did this. You should say that I never did this. And McGahn actually had to remind him that, yes, in fact you instructed me to call Rosenstein and say that Bob Mueller had too many conflicts to, in fact, you know, serve as special counsel in a fair way. And so I'm not going to issue the statement.

Now, the aide who Maggie was alluding to was Rob Porter, the now departed staff secretary, who basically made it clear to McGahn when he first came to him on this issue that the President -- he was afraid the President or he thought the President might get rid of him if he didn't issue the statement.

So now you have the President basically trying to get his own White House counsel to take back something that not only Maggie and Mike reported in "The New York Times," but what was also -- what also reported was that Mueller had been told about this incident. So the President was essentially trying to get his White House counsel to take back testimony that he had already given to the special counsel. So what you have here is a clear sense that the President is trying to get people who are key witnesses in this investigation to either tell him what they've been asked and what they've said in response, or somehow change their story.

BASH: I think there a sense that the White House counsel is incredibly uncomfortable. The fact that not once, but twice your newspaper has reported about conversations that he has had with his client, the President of the United States, that he has been trying to get out there that he is not happy with.

You know, it's no secret that Don McGahn, not unlike other top White House officials, are, you know, kind of in and out. With McGahn, I'm sure you are told and maybe you even know this, tends to be more out than in with regard to the good graces of the President and other senior staffers.

But I think -- again, this is one of those examples where we're all sort of desensitized to stories about even Russia and also about sort of the inner workings of the White House. But to take a step back, I mean, can you imagine President Obama or President Bush's White House counsel having these private conversations that he has had with the President of the United States in the newspaper more than one time?

CAPUTO: We would have never heard of them. There would have been no leak about them, right?

All right, and also I never questioned Maggie Haberman's reporting. I've known her too long, and I know she's always on top of things. But within her story she also says neither of these incidents appeared to rise to the level of falsification or concealment. When the President was told, in fact, that he had asked him to do this, he didn't ask him to lie. That would be falsification and therefore obstruction. And also by the way, the fact that he, you know, told Reince Priebus, how are you doing, that doesn't rise to falsification or concealment either. This is palace intrigue. It's interesting, but if that's all they got, this thing's winding down.

COOPER: The Reince Priebus one certainly didn't seem, you know, all that --

SELLERS: Let me just say this. It's hard to obstruct justice after the fact. Like asking people who their testimony was at the grand jury after they've already testified does not rise to anybody's level --

COOPER: Maggie made it clear.

SELLERS: Of obstruction of justice. I get that. I think what this does show, though, is a heightened sense of paranoia in the White House. I think that if you take this not in isolation, but if you take this as a collection of behavior by the President, he is definitely concerned about this. But these two incidents on their face, for me, I mean and this may be contrary to any Democratic talking points, I'm sure getting about hour, don't rise to anything about there being collusion.

[21:35:02] But does mean -- this is just a piece of the puzzle. This isn't something to say this is the end all, be all. But these two incidents on their face, to me, just don't arise to be -- it's really, really hard to -- and it's also really hard to say that -- and I'm interested to see how this line is drawn. Better lawyers than I for sure can tell you this. But how you actually draw a line from obstruction of justice, per se, to trying to play impeachment politics.

And also we see the White House engage in a lot of impeachment politics, which means trying to manipulate the media one way or another way when a story comes out. I'm interested to see how anyone would tie that to obstruction of justice. I'm just not sure that's necessarily how you get there.

SANTORUM: Gee, I wonder why the President is concerned about a special counsel who's been hired basically to go after him. I mean, I can't imagine why he'd be concerned and want to know what's going on there. And I can't imagine why he'd be concerned about impeachment politics when there's an ad running on your television station here every few hours saying we need to impeach the President.

So it's perfectly normal for any president, for anyone to be concerned about that and to ask those kinds of questions. And this will shock you. I agree with Bakari Sellers that this in fact doesn't rise to any kind of collusion or trying to influence the special counsel and prosecution because it was after the fact.

SELLERS: But it also doesn't mean it wasn't there. I mean, this may be where we diverge, but I'm just saying in isolation, this is -- you know, this is a great story about a piece of puzzle. But this does not in itself rise to any crime. I do think that the stories where we hear about Donald Trump, last night when we hear about the new person who from, I believe it was the times, who reported, the new person working along with the special counsel. When you're hearing about these stories, then your antenna is raised. Donald Trump sometimes he kind of bumbles his way into bad press and bumbles his way into the gray area of illegality.

SANTORUM: And right back --

DAVIS: Well, and I think this is one those cases, that he didn't actually understand necessarily that he was -- when he asked McGahn that question that could construed, I'm trying to fire the special counsel.

COOPER: We have to take a quick break.

Coming up, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces the Justice Department is suing the State of California over its immigration policy saying that officials who support sanctuary policies are extremists promoting open borders. We'll here what California's Attorney General has to say about that, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:40:48] COOPER: The Justice Department is suing the State of California over its sanctuary policies and immigration. Today in Sacramento, Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused some of the elected officials in the state of being, "Radical extremists who endanger the lives of law enforcement to promote an open borders agenda."

Joining us right now is California Attorney General Javier Becerra. Attorney General Javier Becerra, thanks for being with us. I'm wondering your reaction first to the lawsuit by the Department of Justice and Jeff Sessions saying the State of California is impeding federal immigration officials from doing their job.

JAVIER BECERRA, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Attorney General Sessions should come visit California more often and see exactly the opposite. We're doing everything we can to continue to provide public safety, and we're continuing to work with our immigration enforcement partners. But we're not going to have them coerce us into doing things that they want us to do simply because they don't want to do them themselves.

COOPER: But you're saying you're working with your immigration partners. One of the laws at issue prohibits local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody. I mean couldn't that create the opportunity, as a lot of critics suggest, for dangerous criminals who are in the country illegally to just disappear and slip through the cracks? I mean, why not alert federal authorities of a detainee being released?

BECERRA: They have that information. It's available to the public. That's nothing that we're stopping them from getting. They can have that information if they want it.

COOPER: But why not make it easier for them?

BECERRA: Because our folks are very busy trying to make sure they're doing public safety around the state. We don't have to do their immigration work for the immigration officials. If they want to pay us to do some work, if they want to give us resources to take up some of the jobs that they're not willing to do, that would be a different thing perhaps. But we've decided that what we want to do is focus on doing public safety, not immigration enforcement.

COOPER: But wait a minute. You're saying it's a manpower issue? I mean the idea -- I can't imagine how many people you need sitting around in a room monitoring who's getting released on a given day and just picking up the phone?

BECERRA: No. The ICE can come in, and they would have access. They would know who's being released. They could come in and, if they have a reason to detain those individuals, they could. And in many cases, they do. It's just that they have been asking in the past for us to detain people beyond the time that we have the jurisdiction and the authority to detain them. There were court cases that proved that, in fact, there were defendants that were being detained beyond the time that the constitution would allow, and so we're not interested in trying to violate people's constitutional rights. And ICE has the information it needs to pick some of these folks up.

COOPER: The Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue. When the State of Arizona passed controversial legislation allowing local law enforcement to check immigration status, the court ruled that federal immigration law took priority after finding that many of those laws undermined federal immigration law. How is this any different? Are these laws, you know, meant to serve as a work around to federal immigration laws. It seems like it, no?

BECERRA: Anderson, don't confuse what Arizona did with what California does. Arizona actually tried to enact immigration statutes that would require law enforcement authorities locally to do immigration work, and the federal government stepped in and said, wait a minute. That's for the federal government to decide how it should be done.

In California, we're deciding how to do public safety whether it's on the streets or in our jails. We're not trying to do immigration work. So therefore there's a big difference between what Arizona tried to do, which the court said was really a federal responsibility, and what California is trying to do, which is a state responsibility under the Tenth Amendment.

COOPER: Do you see this as something that's going to end up in the Supreme Court?

BECERRA: I don't see why. There's no reason why the Federal Department of Justice, Homeland Security could not be sitting down with us right now to discuss how they'd like to work some of these things out. We're simply saying we're not interested in having people who are shopping at a grocery store or dropping their child off at school be the subject of immigration detention, and certainly we don't want to be part of that. But if someone is dangerous, if someone is a criminal, is a felon, we're doing everything we can to keep them off our streets. And if they're here without status, we have no problem if the ICE goes in there and tries to detain them and ultimately remove them.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, you say you're doing everything, but, again, it does seem like why not take the extra step if you're really doing everything and just alert immigration authorities if someone's, you know, if their time is coming up?

[21:45:08] BECERRA: Because I think, Anderson, as you've heard, many of the actions that ICE has taken aren't going after those dangerous, seriously dangerous criminals. They're going after mothers who are doing nothing more than coming home from work or fathers who are doing nothing more than coming home from work, and we're not interested in participating in that.

COOPER: Right but I'm talking about people getting out of prison who have committed crimes.

BECERRA: And ICE right now has full authority to go out and pick those folks up.

COOPER: And you don't want to help them?

BECERRA: We're not hurting them. We're making that information available to them and anyone else. We're not stopping ICE from picking them up. ICE had been in the past saying to us, hold on to them.

COOPER: But you're helping them.

BECERRA: Well, we're not -- we don't have a constitutional right to detain someone beyond the time that we can hold them, just as if you had been arrested, Anderson, and we found that the grounds for your arrest were no longer justified, we have to release you.

COOPER: Right.

BECERRA: We can't we're going t hold you because as I just said --

COOPER: I get the concern of a backup in holding people longer than they should be detained. But I don't quite get the lack of coordination with ICE I know you say it's public knowledge. ICE knows this. You know, they should do a better job of, you know, following who is getting released. It just seems like if you really wanted to do everything, you could, you know, pick up the phone and call and say, OK, a week from now and, you know, if they don't show up and do their jobs, then they get released. Anyway --

BECERRA: If the information is made public to them if they have that information in hand, explain to me why we have to try to shepherd and mother these things for them. They have that information.

COOPER: All right, I guess the response would be to keep criminals off the streets. But I get your position.

BECERRA: We are keeping criminals off the street. If they're talking about picking up someone who also has an immigration status issue, they have every right to come in and pick those folks up, but we're not letting criminals out on our street. We're making sure that criminals stay in jail, or we detain them when we can.

COOPER: Attorney General Javier Becerra. I appreciate your time. Thank you.

BECERRA: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, we're going to look at the White House. Is there chaos at the White House? Nearly three dozen advisers have left the administration. White House officials say it's all perfectly normal. We'll discuss that, next.


[21:51:21] COOPER: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders fielded a question today about the high turnover rate among staffers. Not a big deal at all, she says. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Six of the top White House staffers have resigned. The President says there are more to come. Why are so many people leaving this administration?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, this administration has had a historic first year. We're going to continue to do great things. This is an intense place as is every White House, and it's not abnormal that you would have people come and go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this is not the definition of chaotic, how would you describe what's happening in these recent weeks?

SANDERS: If it was, then I don't think we would be able to accomplish everything that we've done.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. I mean Dana, Sarah Sanders says this is totally normal.

BASH: I mean --

COOPER: The turnover rate is far higher.

BASH: It's far higher. It's far higher. That's just a fact. Democratic-Republican administrations, it's almost twice as much in the same period of time, there's no question.

Look, I mean, Sarah Sanders, what is she going to do, stand there and say, this place, it sucks, it's so hard to work here. There's no way she can do that.

The truth of the matter is, we have done reporting, extensive reporting. It's not even hard to do this reporting at this point about how bad morale is, about how difficult it is inside the White House, and much more importantly, when it comes to kind of the function of the government is the very difficult -- the difficulties, rather, that this White House has in getting good talent and bringing people in despite what the President said yesterday, that everybody is banging down the door to come in, it's just not the case. And that's a really, really big problem.

POWERS: I mean, the President talks openly about the fact that he likes chaos and he likes conflict and he says, I like to watch people arguing and having conflict. And I had a boss like that before and I don't know if anybody else ever has.

CAPUTO: Jack Kemp

COOPER: I'm sorry?

CAPUTO: Yes, sure.

POWERS: And it's exhausting. And it's very dysfunctional, and it's very difficult to work in that kind of environment. So I think that it's not surprising that people would be wanting to leave. It's just not -- I mean he's advertising exactly what it's like, and it's a miserable way to work.

CAPUTO: But it's not lost on me that this chaos in the White House story came out in seven different media outlets in the same day. It's not lost on me. You want to see chaos -- hold on, you want to see chaos in this administration? Go to the Veterans Affairs where the secretary is traveling around with his wife on the taxpayer dime and he's saying that his e-mail was hacked and his Trump appointees are trying to run him out of office. That's chaos. There needs to be change in Veteran Affairs, but this whole idea of chaos in the White House, it's different.

SELLERS: Can I come in? With that being the baseline where there's also chaos at HUD because Carson doesn't -- he doesn't know if he wants a $31,000 China set or a $10,000 China set. There's also a chaos at the EPA because he hasn't seen a first class set that he doesn't like.

I mean, the fact is, we have people who do not belong in government, who were there working for all of us. I think that Donald Trump -- and the question is, what is this relative to? You know, this is how Donald Trump operates. This is how he operated his business, this is how he operated at "The Apprentice," he's operating the White House like this. This may not be comparable to any White House we've seen, but this is who Donald Trump is. He is the same person through out his entire life yesterday. Do not expect a 70-year-old man to all of a sudden change. My problem is that there is not a high level of competence at the highest level of government, and that's what's scary to many people in the American public.

[21:55:01] DAVIS: Well, and they just don't have the bench that they need right now to fill these positions. And, you know, this was a problem from the get-go. Donald Trump did not want anyone working for him who had ever said a bad word about Donald Trump, of which there are many and the party is Senator Santorum said earlier. So that ruled out a whole bunch of people. And then as these crisis moments have arisen, Bakari just named a few, that makes people less and lees willing to take the plan and to work in this White House.

And while it is a management stype to want to see conflict on one side or another of an issue in order to get to a good place of policy wise that is not what this President is doing. He likes conflicts for sport. And that is the feeling in the West Wing. That he likes to pick people against each other --

SANTORUM: I don't think that's fair, number one. And number two, about competency, look, the bottom line is Donald Trump has pulled in people who are practitioners, folks who are -- have done a lot of things in their life. Barack Obama pulled academics and bureaucrats. So it's a fundamentally different group. I would say, yes, you're going to get more conflict, more rowdiness out of the Trump group, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're bad.

COOPER: All right, we're going to take a break. I want to thank everybody on the panel. There's more breaking news next, on guns in Florida. We'll be right back.


COOPER: There's more breaking news tonight. The Florida House of Representative has joined Florida Senate in passing gun legislation the wake of Parkland. One provision imposes a three day waiting period to buying those weapons. And now they let some teachers and other stuff carry weapons. That's it for us.

Time now to hand it over to Don Lemon in CNN Tonight.