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John Kelly Reassuring Staffers Who Fear more Firings; President's Legal Team Tries to Change Stormy Daniels Lawsuit Venue; Melania Trump Keeps Her Silence Amid Stormy Daniels Controversy; President's Legal Team Tries To Change Stormy Daniels Lawsuit Venue; Will McCabe Get Fired In The Next 48 Hours?; Govt. Says Russia Targeted U.S. Power Grid, Water Systems; U.S.: Russia Targeted Nuclear Plants Electric Grid Water Supply; Sanders Refuse To Say If Russia Is "Friend Or Foe"; NTSB: Crews Were Working On Posts When Bridge Collapsed; More White House Departures?. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, and I'm quoting here, no immediate personnel changes at this time. Despite all the reporting from multiple sources close to the president that's what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told staffers this morning. And yes, you're right, he is the same John Kelly whose job itself has reportedly been in jeopardy. And yes, he was talking in part about National Security adviser HR McMaster whose job may already been gone.

And yes, in addition to General McMaster, at least four Cabinet secretaries were reportedly in the presidential dog house. Four, at least. And yes, sources close to the president or familiar with his thinking had been warning all week that a big shakeup could be coming. Reports are the president is actually enjoying the process, which is probably more than HR McMaster can say, or Jeff Sessions, David Shulkin or Ben Carson.

It's unlikely Rex Tillerson enjoyed it much. He have of course fired this week after months of tortured speculation and reporting. Reporting, by the way, the president called fake news. Tweeting, quote, "The media has been speculating that I fire Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon. Fake news. He's not leaving and while we disagree on certain subject, I call the final shots. We work well together and America is highly respected again."

That tweet was around 15 weeks ago. And yes, there really is a tweet for everything.

The sheer number of high-profile departure, it's stunning. Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, James Comey, Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Dr. Tom Price, Sebastian Gorka, Rob Porter, that Rob Porter look-alike, the Mooch, Omarosa, Hope Hicks, the list goes on and on. And again the president is said to be enjoying this latest installment of will he or won't he, perhaps even stretching it out.

So as you might imagine questions about the possible purge and the reported turmoil dominated today's White House briefing.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What was the president's reaction to all of these stories?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has the president or the chief of staff made any kind of assurances to staffers who stay about what's to come?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has the president spoken directly to either McMaster, Carson, Shulkin, to tell them that their jobs are in fact safe?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why is it that there is still a need for change inside the president's Cabinet or among his circle of advisers?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Isn't it the president himself is sort of creating this aura of chaos or some use the word chaos but simply put turmoil or a potential upheaval within the West Wing and frankly across the administration?


COOPER: Well, for the record Sarah Sanders answered with the first two questions with variation of no immediate personnel changes at this time. She did not answer Jeff Zeleny's question about why the need for changes at all. She answered the chaos question by saying in so many words, what chaos. But "Keeping Them Honest," those last two questions deserve better because they speak directly to a pair of claims the president had made including one he campaigned on.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to make America great again. We're going to use our best people. I'm going to get the best people. We're going to deliver. We're going to get the best people in the world. We don't want people that are B level, C level, D level. We have to get our absolute best. We're going to use our smartest and our best. We're not using political hacks anymore.

It's a sophisticated chess match but I have the best people lined up. You need people that are truly, truly capable. We have to get the best people.


COOPER: "The best people." So to Jeff Zeleny's question, why aren't they all still there? Sure, there is that private jet abuser who was fired and the alleged spousal abuser fired. And after all what National Security adviser hasn't lied about contacts with Russians who pleaded guilty and turned state's evidence. "The best people."

As for the president, being the source of turmoil, chaos, upheaval, whatever you want to call it, the kind of stuff that might deter the best people from even considering a job at the White House, just a few days ago the president said that is not a problem. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D. TRUMP: Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing. Yes, there'll be people -- I'm in the going to be specific, but there'll be people that change. They always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else. But they all want to be in the White House. So many people want the come in.

I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House, and I will have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there.


COOPER: Like Omarosa. "Keeping Him Honest" though, even barring any new shakeup the turnover in this administration it's without modern precedent. According to a new study from the Bookings Institution 43 percent of the president's staffers have quit, switched jobs or have been fired. Now that's more than double any modern presidency. The number could be growing and being president is hard enough without the turnover, without the turmoil, without the day-to-day drama of who is in and who is out.

Want to get perspective now from two longtime White House pros, Leon Panetta who served as chief of staff, Defense secretary and director of the CIA, and David Gergen who has worked in both chaotic and calm administration.

Mr. Secretary, does it surprise you at all that here we are yet again having yet another conversation about yet more chaos in the White House?

[20:05:01] LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You know, nothing surprises me anymore unfortunately because you know it appears that this president likes to operate by chaos, and likes to keep staff constantly concerned about whether or not they are going to have a job.

I'm not quite sure I understand that. I think stability is a much better course for the White House to take because you are dealing with an unstable world. If you have an unstable staff, it makes it that much tougher to deal with that kind of world.

COOPER: You know, David, there is no -- I think it's a Dorothy Parker quote, those born to the storm find the calm very boring. I mean you worked in the Nixon White House. Can you just explain what effect instability has on the functioning of the executive branch?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You just reminded me, Anderson, of a friend who went to see President Trump and asked him how well are you navigating the storm? And the president turned to him and said, I am the storm.


COOPER: Is that really true?

GERGEN: That's what a friend told me.


GERGEN: I was like, whoa. Single source, but nonetheless. So, listen, I think that Leon is absolutely right. If there is calm at the center, if there's steadiness at the center, there is calm that radiates throughout the whole team. But when there's instability at the center and the president is the storm, that radiates as well. And it causes enormous anxiety. People are not focused on getting the job done in the same way. Morale goes down.

It's very tough. So when John Kelly, the chief of staff, told us -- apparently gathering the staff in his office this morning, we have no immediate personnel changes at this time. Immediate and at this time. Underscore those and what they may mean. I mean, why is that reassuring?

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, I mean, just in terms of any possible staff changes if the president is trying to hire advisers who are more closely aligned with his world view, I mean that is his prerogative. Isn't that what most presidents do, surround themselves with people who support their agenda?

PANETTA: Well, not necessarily. I always thought that the strongest presidents are willing to have people who come in who may not represent the same viewpoint. I think it's important for presidents not to be surrounded by a bunch of yes-men. If you have people that only will say yes to the president, then I don't think the president is going to be well served. I think what the president should get, because most of these issues are tough to deal with, he needs to have different viewpoints. He needs to have different opinions about just exactly how to approach these issues.

And he ought to be strong enough to be able to listen to those kinds of views whether he agrees or disagrees with them. That's the way presidents should operate. That's obviously the way this president doesn't like to operate.

COOPER: You know, David, there's this notion now that the president is more confident, that he now feels he understands the job of being president more than he did than when he first started, then he started to rely more on his own instincts. If that's true I would imagine we just expect the chaos to continue.

GERGEN: Oh, I think that's right. He is acting like, you know, the people that worked for him early were just training wheels and he is now up and running himself and he enjoys it more. You know, reportedly by his aides he is happier now than he was when he was surrounded by people who challenged him.

But I think Leon's point is absolutely right. I would just reinforce it by saying look, it's particularly important to have dissenting voices when you're going to depart from long standing transitions in American foreign policy or an American domestic policy. Somebody ought to be there to help to understand the history behind it, why it was done, why it's been successful or not, before you make sort of, you know, off the cuff kind of decisions about them, and do this or do that without regard to all the wisdom that might be stored up on people who worked in more traditional ways.

COOPER: Yes. And Secretary Panetta, I mean, this "Wall Street Journal" reporting that the president and General Kelly have, quote, "settled on a truce," in their words. I wonder, I mean, when you were President Clinton's chief of staff, were you ever engaged in a series of battle with him that a truce had to be called or settled upon?

PANETTA: I never had that experience because very frankly, if there is a truce or something that basically says yes, you can stick around for a while anyway, it undercuts your position. You know, I'm not quite sure I understand how John Kelly is able to make it from day to day when he's got -- he's got his head under a guillotine. And the same thing is true for HR McMaster.

You really need to have a relationship of trust between the chief of staff and the president. And they ought to be able to trust each other. And they ought to be able to deal with each other. And if that falls apart, very frankly, it means that that relationship is not going to work.

COOPER: Yes, David, just the fact the president told advisers yesterday that Kelly was, quote, "100 percent safe," it does feel sometimes like we are witnessing the, you know, White House version of "Survivor," just waiting for the next person to get -- you know, get voted off the island.

[20:10:13] GERGEN: Absolutely, Anderson. And that's why I think -- you know, to paraphrase Macbeth, if it were done to be done, it's best done quickly. You know, he needs to -- if he's going to clean house he ought to do it quickly and reform and tell everybody OK, from now on you're safe, we're going to get -- this is our team for the next year. That would let things settle down.

To have this -- this is what Tillerson went through. What McMaster is now going through. Lots of leaks coming out of the Oval Office.

COOPER: Is it possible he is drawing it out to sort of inflict maximum pain or indecision or get -- you know, juice the news cycle in some way?

GERGEN: Anderson, trying to do psychoanalysis with him is just beyond me. I don't know. But clearly it's in his DNA. He likes the drama. He likes the reality show quality of it. And it's -- I'm not sure anybody is telling him, Mr. President, it's doing so much damage to your standing and your standing in the world.

COOPER: David Gergen, Secretary Panetta, thank you.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

COOPER: Well, a lot more ahead tonight. The next breaking news in the Stormy Daniels story. The president's legal team has just filed a new motion. We've just gotten it. We're looking it over. We'll tell you what it says and why they've done this.

Also the word from Stormy Daniels' attorney that not one, not two, but six other women who've come forward with similar stories about the president, what that could mean. And later searching for the answers in the wreckage of the bridge that collapsed and now has claimed six lives.

The very latest tonight on 360.


[20:15:26] COOPER: There's breaking news in the Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against the president. The president's legal team has filed papers to get the case out of California's state court and before a federal judge. Now on top of that there is new word from her attorney that her story may not be the only one.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: We have been approached by six separate women with similar stories to my client. I want to stress that we have not vetted these stories to any great degree. However, the initial consultations, initial information that we are receiving indicates that there are some striking similarities between their stories and that of my client, Miss Clifford.

COOPER: Can you say if any of these women have non-disclosure agreements?


COOPER: They do?

AVENATTI: At least two of them.


COOPER: So with that now out there, we should bring in our own legal advice, Mark Geragos is here, as well as Laura Coates.

So, Mark, first of all this filing by Michael Cohen, can you just explain exactly what it means? Why the president's team would want to move the case?

MARK GERAGOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, there is usually two reasons. One you either don't like the state court judge, which it could be in this case, or you want to get it out of the state court and into federal court, which is a common move by usually corporations or large-scale defendants. They feel like they get better justice for them in federal court.

The irony here is that Trump obviously is the person who appoints federal judges and he does not have any sway over state court judges. The interesting little twist to this, though, is the state court judge could do very little to enforce anything against the executive branch. So it may be a case of be careful what you wish for because now the federal judge, which is what's called an Article Three judge, will have the authority to order things against Donald Trump as an executive in the executive branch whereas the state court judge would have had a lot more trouble enforcing any order she would have made.

COOPER: Laura, does the move by Michael Cohen make sense to you? And do you think the request is going to be granted?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they are qualified to do so because remember it has an amount in controversy. Essentially, in order to get to federal court you've got to show that people are from different states. That's called diversity. Also that the amount that they are actually going to be seeking is worth a federal court Article Three judge's time. And that's about $75,000.

We already know based on the filings of Michael Avenatti on behalf of Stormy Daniels that $130,000 seems to be the base and according to this NDA, if in fact it's held to be valid, we're talking about $1 million per breach of that claim, meaning about $20 million. We're far above that particular amount in controversy.

But it also makes sense because well, ironically they also moved last week to try to get it out of state court to a different judge who was not considered to be a frontrunner for a federal judgeship on behalf of Donald Trump. But it makes sense because they are going to have the benefit of a judge who does not have the same docket as a state court judge has.

It's not -- it will probably have more time. And also federal courts are notorious for deciding things on what's called the pleadings, the papers, without having to have all the hearings, without all the rigmarole, if there is a clear-cut case they can decide it without having to be in a lot of hearings.

COOPER: Mark, we haven't yet heard from Michael Avenatti. I think we're going to try to get him in this next hour. I think he is flying right now. But is this something you think he would agree to? Is there -- will there be a reason why he would want to keep it in the state court?

GERAGOS: No, I think Michael will probably -- once you remove it, the defendant has a right to remove it. Then it's up to the plaintiff or the opposite side, I should say, to come in and contest that. My guess -- my inclination would be is that he would probably contest it. But he's going to wait and see who he draws in the central district here. In fact we may already know that and I'll take a look when you go to the next break. And when I say draw, know who the federal judge is. A lot of times that's how the decision is made.

COOPER: Because whether they -- an attorney has experience with that particular judge or the reputation of that judge? What kind of a ruling they think they may get?

GERAGOS: Correct. There is certain -- yes, unfortunately one of the things in the law is that all judges don't decide things based truly on the law. There seems to be idiosyncrasies, you know, with a lot of judges, certain judges lean to the defense, certain judges lean towards compelling arbitration. So there is a lot of factors that go into whether or not you would contest this and that -- most of that would be a determination based on who the judge is.

[20:20:08] COOPER: So, Laura, now, you know, Michael Avenatti has claimed that there are six additional women who have come forward. He said he hasn't really fully vetted what their stories are. He says he believes two have NDAs. Is it possible that they could all use the same legal argument to try to get out of them or would that all sort of ride on how similar the contracts were to the one that Stormy Daniels signed if they're similar at all?

COATES: Really it's the latter because of course he said he hasn't vetted them. So what he's trying to do is betrust the claims of Stormy Daniels to the court of public opinion. Now that can be very persuasive to people if you're following the news but not as much to a judge. Because if a judge is looking at the very central issue here, which is, number one, can Stormy Daniels, not the other six women who haven't been fully vetted and two of which may or may not have similar non-disclosure agreements, is there anything to allow Stormy Daniels to be able to speak?

What it seems as though here they are trying to do is listen, if there is an overall theme here where a court is never going to try to enforce a contract that is against public policy that includes whether or not there is a contract to do hushing of broken federal law, which would be campaign finance in this issue.

If there is an overall theme where that is the effort and you have additional proof of an MO that basically says we have got more than one person where they tried to silence, they all exceed the threshold of that $2700 mark for campaign finance, and they were not disclosed, well, they're trying the build all of that as a way of saying if the court doesn't buy the non-signature argument as to why it's voided. If the court doesn't buy that Michael Cohen has voided it by speaking, and if the court doesn't buy that there's some other issue here, well, then it may be contrary to public policy by virtue of the strength in numbers.

It's all an uphill battle. And that's why the judge is so important and why raising it to a federal court will raise the stakes of this litigation.

COOPER: Mark, I mean, obviously, if six other people have come forward they would have to be vetted very carefully because obviously, I mean, as you well know, as somebody who gets a lot of publicity with clients, Mark, anybody can come forward and make any claim whatsoever.

GERAGOS: Well, you come to my office one day and see how many inquiries I got on an average day. Half of whom are what we call in California 5150, which is a danger to themselves or others. So anybody can come out and claim anything, and you do have to vet it.

The problem is that I don't think you're going to get to the point in federal court where any federal judge at least in the central district here is going to start letting you make this into a dog and pony show. And remember, most judges have an inclination to take something if there is an arbitration or an agreement for arbitration to compel arbitration. And the reason for that is it's just one less thing on their docket. Especially here in the central district where the judges are conceivably overworked.

COOPER: Yes. Mark and Laura, I just got a statement from Michael Avenatti and I want to read it. I'm just reading it as I've been handed it. Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels's attorney, says, "This is simply more of the same bullying tactics from the president and Mr. Cohen. They are not attempting to remove this case in order to increase their chances that the matter will ultimately be decided in private arbitration behind closed doors, outside of public view and scrutiny. To put it simply they want to hide the truth from the American people. We will oppose this effort at every turn."

He went on -- goes on to say, "The fact that a sitting president is pursuing over $20 million in bogus damages against a private citizen was only trying to tell the public what really happened is truly remarkable, likely unprecedented in our history. We are not going away. We will not be intimidated by these threats."

Laura, what do you make of that?

COATES: Well, first of all, it's not actually bullying if you're able to avail yourself of the courts. What it comes down to is -- honestly, Stormy Daniels, aka Stefanie Clifford, entered into a contract that was not favorable to her. They've tried a variety of ways to say that it's void or voidable and they don't want it to be enforced. A lot of things have been -- about that. But a court, if it is a valid contract a court is not going to second-guess her own decision to do, though. To enter into that contract.

And so what you're seeing here is frankly a litigant who is saying I have every right to avail myself of arbitration because that was what was agreed to in the court. That was what was agreed to in the contract. And I don't need a court to second-guess this because it's not for a court to figure out if either party had the benefit of the bargain.

All it takes is a meeting of the minds. So to suggest it's bullying to engage in civil litigation is actually more of a hyperbole than anything else. But his point is well taken because of course this is all betting on the notion of the court of public opinion in many ways to say that, why is the president of the United States so averse to this particular person speaking? What is he trying to hide?

Now that innuendo is powerful persuasion in the court of public opinion. But I doubt that it actually persuades the court to say whether or not this was a good contract or one that you just don't like anymore.

[20:25:07] COOPER: Yes. Well, Stormy Daniels will speak in "60 Minutes" --


GERAGOS: Well, there's also -- COOPER: Mark, go ahead.

GERAGOS: I was just going to say there is also one other added thing. And this may be of some interest to you. There may be a thought that they've got a federal court now and that the federal court may be more at least open to the idea of enforcing or trying to prohibit "60 Minutes" from airing the interview.

COOPER: Do you think the federal court would actually try to --

GERAGOS: And so that is something to consider as well.

CAMEROTA: You think the federal court might actually try to stop "60 Minutes" from airing that interview?

GERAGOS: I think that they may request the federal court to do it. I don't think that the federal court would ever do it. But I think their calculation is if they go to federal court they've got a better shot at that, to borrow Laura's thing, on the paperwork and -- but they'd have to come head long into prior restraint.

But my feeling is that if they're going to make a move that way they're better off doing it in federal court than they would with a judge in state court.

COOPER: Wouldn't -- I mean, Mark, just from a -- you know, as a -- from a publicity standpoint wouldn't the president of the United States and his attorney attempting to stop Stormy Daniels from speaking on "60 Minutes," would that not just garner more attention for the interview, which is scheduled for not this Sunday but the following Sunday?

GERAGOS: Well, this is a president who knows a lot about ratings. It certainly would increase the ratings, number one. But all of this effort for Stormy Daniels, you know, the cynic in me believes that there's got to be some documentary evidence that they are deathly afraid of getting out. And I don't know whether that's text, whether it's a selfie, whether it's video, what it is, or a story that comports with some other story that's already out there.

There's some reason behind why they are expending so much effort on this because, frankly, they would have been better off just letting this thing go by the wayside and dealing with it and letting her -- kind of sweeping it under the rug. All they've done is create traction to this case.

COOPER: Yes. I should point out I conducted the interview with Stormy Daniels that will be on "60 Minutes" on March 25th.

Mark Geragos, Laura Coates, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

COATES: Thank you.

COOPER: This story and the potential of many more like it raises obvious questions about how it's affecting the first lady, seen here yesterday with the president at an event for Ireland's prime minister. She's not spoken about Stormy Daniels, obviously, and has largely stayed out of the public eye ever since the news broke. In any case this is not her first time having to decide what to say or what not to say after her husband makes news.

Randi Kaye now takes a look.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Do you think the president is watching right now? I like to imagine him --

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM STAR: I don't want to imagine him.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stormy Daniels may be speaking out but Melania Trump certainly is not. Despite the porn star's claims that she had an affair with Donald Trump, the first lady has remained silent on the matter. In fact, soon after the story broke, Melania Trump canceled a previously announced trip to Davos, Switzerland with her husband, quietly visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and made an unexplained solo trip to Mar-a-Lago.

The White House telling CNN the first lady is entitled to some privacy. Instead of the vulgar headlines and talk of hush money Mrs. Trump has remained focused on her duties as first lady and at least at times keeping her distance from the president.

The stormy cloud hung over the president's State of the Union address with the first lady arriving separately from the president. A break with longstanding tradition. That was January 30th. And the first couple hadn't been seen together at an official public event since New Year's Eve.

(On camera): Weeks later in mid February news of another alleged affair from 2006 with a former Playboy Playmate. Trump denied it but after the story broke, as the couple departed for Mar-a-Lago, Melania Trump chose to skip the ride on Marine One. Instead taking her own motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base where she met her husband on Air Force One.

(Voice-over): That same month Mrs. Trump did appear briefly with the president after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. And she also went along on a day trip to Ohio, though she skipped his speech. Instead taking a motorcade to Cincinnati Children's Hospital. The couple met up again on board the flight home.

Reports that Stormy Daniels received a payoff reportedly blindsided the first lady which may explain her low profile. Still this was hardly the first time she is had to deal with her husband being accused of cheating or inappropriate behavior.

D. TRUMP: I'm automatically attracted to beautiful. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss.

KAYE: Mrs. Trump was quick to dismiss that whole saga as mere boy talk.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: He was lead on, like egg on, from the host to say dirty and bad stuff.

KAYE: She defended her husband again when multiple women came forward accusing him of kissing and groping them. Mr. Trump has denied it all.

TRUMP: I believe my husband. I believe my husband. Did I ever check the background of these women? They don't have any facts.

KAYE: Facts may be just what Melania Trump is waiting for before she breaks her silence again.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, coming up, former FBI director -- deputy director I should say Andrew McCcabe has already stepped down, is officially eligible for retirement benefits in just couple of days. Trick it seems, will be not getting fired before then. The latest on that situation, next.


COOPER: The day after tomorrow, the former deputy director of the FBI becomes eligible for retirement benefits after more than two decades of service, that is if he doesn't get fired first. The Trump administration could fire Andrew McCabe just hours before his official retirement, in which case he might lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits and possibly his health coverage.

Just yesterday Sarah Sanders called McCabe a bad actor, he's been under scrutiny for how he handled various investigations of Hillary Clinton.

Joining me now, former counsel to the U.S. Assist and Attorney General for national security Carrie Cordero, and Josh Campbell, former special assistant to FBI Director James Comey.

So Josh, you briefly served this Deputy Director McCabe's special assistant. You say you're fan of his. What do you make of all this?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well Anderson, is puzzling. If you're an FBI agent tonight you are trying to hold in your head two competing views. Both of which are probably true. On the one hand there's the idea of candor. In the FBI candor is sacred say. Every new agent, when they step foot on the ground, a quantico, they're drilled that candor is key, and if you ever violate that throughout your career you're no longer of use to the organization.

So, I think what they're focused on here is where you can actually hold field agents to one standard and the deputy director who happens to be the highest ranking FBI agent to a lower standard. So that's one thing.

On the secondhand, they're looking at the idea of politics and thinking the longer this goes, here we are at the 11th hour, literally the 11th hour, one day before he is eligible to retire, why wasn't this decision made earlier? Why wait so long?

[20:35:08] If you recall he was actually, you know, basically pushed out at the end of January. So what's going on here? Where is the information? What's the information flow? And when is the decision going to be made?

COOPER: Carrie, I mean both General Flynn and General Petraeus were able to keep their pensions even in the wake of what, you know, a lot of people consider, you know, more significant offenses. What does that say to you?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are circumstances where FBI executives have been fired in the past. And I think the FBI's rules generally are that then -- that can revoke their pension that they normally would get. In this circumstance, I think what stands out to me, is first of all we don't actually know what the accusations are. The office of inspector general's report has not been made public. And so while we're reading different reports that Andy McCabe is potentially accused of not having appropriate candor during the course of an investigation, there's no other allegation that's out there that's of a more serious nature.

So, for example, there's other senior executives, that they were involved in some kind of criminal violation or something, then that would trigger them being fired and losing their pension. The other problem in addition to the investigation is the time line. And that gets to Josh's point as to the politics of all of this, which is that the President has tweeted about Andy McCabe last December specifically about this issue. But dating back to last July. And so I think there's real questions depending on if they really go through with this firing. There's real questions about when the internal investigation started, what the time line of the office of inspector general time line was and whether or not there was inappropriate political influence on it.

COOPER: Josh --

CAMPBELL: Anderson?

COOPER: -- go ahead.

CAMPBELL: No, I'm just going to add onto what Carrie was saying, which was spot on. And that's -- that we don't know what the underlying issue here. It's been reported that there was this issue that possibly was not truthful to investigators when they were asking him about a media leak.

What I hope is that if a decision is made by the Attorney General to fire Mr. McCabe. And, you know, I've written a piece for CNN Opinion which indicated that, you know, if he did lack candor that is a fireable offense and I'm supportive of that, but I hope the information comes out quickly.

This is not something that the attorney general can sit on. I don't want to hear from him tomorrow or next week, or, you know, two month from now and some congressional hearing. He should come out immediately and indicate what the underlying reason was. Because one thing, this isn't is -- that political allocations that we've seen over the last, you know, six, eight month from politicians saying that he somehow political or he politicized the Hillary Clinton investigation.

This isn't that. And if that narrative is a lot to bake in and once he's fired and you see people that are out there. And, you know, essentially dancing on this professional grave, I think that would be a disservice. I think we need answers from the attorney general immediately.

COOPER: Josh, do you -- I mean, just in terms of pensions, we had an attorney -- former attorney of the Trump White House on the other night who said, look he's a federal employee, that there are ways -- there are sort of systems in place that he can appeal to in order to actually get his pension, that it's very unlikely even if he was fired instead of retiring that he would lose his pension. And do you know that to be the case?

CAMPBELL: Well, I don't know that to be the case, but it -- that adds to the puzzling nature of this. Because even as of yesterday it was reported that McCabe was over at the Department of Justice trying to plead his case. So, we don't know, was -- there's actually part of normal process that supported anyone in this situation, was he allowed to go through that process? Or was this is a rush job.

And I can tell you this, if the Department of Justice or the FBI used his retirement calendar in this calculation, I think that's highly inappropriate. They rush this investigation rushed this process through, because they had it in mind that tomorrow the clock runs out, that I think that -- and more answers should be demand.

COOPER: Yes, Josh Campbell, Carrie Cordero, appreciate it. Thanks.

As we mentioned Sarah Sanders said by all accounts that former deputy director is "a bad actor", her words. But when asked if Russia is friend or foe, she wouldn't give a straight answer. The President as we know has rarely ever criticized Vladimir Putin, and now we're learning that Russia not only melded in the election, it targeted the U.S. power grid and water supply. In alarming report, we have the latest on that and we hear from Garry Kasparov, next.


[20:41:58] COOPER: Well as you know, members of the U.S. Intelligence Committees concluded that Russia meddled in the presidential election. That you know by now. There are new accusations from United States government that Russia also targeted other American institutions, everything from power grids to nuclear plants, and the water supply. The threats to the country are all coming to light without much comment at all from the President or the podium. Take a look at what Sarah Sanders said just yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Putin is friend or a foe of the United States? SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or bad actor. I think you can see from the actions that we've taken up until this point, we're going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior.


COOPER: And joining me now, is Gary Gasbarro, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, Russian pro-democracy leader, former world chess champion of course. And the author of "Winter is Coming: By Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped".

When you hear Sarah Sanders not willing to say whether Vladimir Putin is a friend or a foe, what sort of message do you think that send?

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION: OK, I will recommend she checks her vocabulary, political vocabulary or she read newspapers, or stop watching Fox News.

COOPER: The answer is clear.

KASPAROV: It insults my intelligence. I mean so as the (INAUDIBLE). Couldn't keep the same things. And the current occupant of the Oval Office, by the way, as the previous one, they deny the fact that for many years Putin is at war with the United States. It's a hybrid war. Putin is a KGB guy, he knows, he cannot afford direct confrontation with the United States, but he's good at clandestine operations. And he keeps poking, looking for witnesses. And so forth, he's succeeding in creating chaos and dividing this country as many European countries

COOPER: The Department of Justice, you know, and their indictments, have called this information war. And yet these new reports on Russia targeting nuclear power plants, power grids, even the water supply, I mean that should come as no surprise.

KASPAROV: But dictators never ask why, it's always why not. So in 2006, Putin killed KCB, I'm sure under direct Putin command ordered killed a Alexander Litvinenko, the former agent in London using polonium-210.

COOPER: Right.

KASPAROV: It's -- a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom. So nothing happened. So for Putin, another attack recently was a demonstration of the weaknesses of the western government, the democratic governments. And it's --

COOPER: And also a demonstration of his reach?

KASPAROV: Exactly. Its two things. One is, he sends a message to a Russian elite in Russia basically saying look I'm so powerful they're afraid, they do nothing. But second one, he is sending message abroad, with all Russians that might be considering cooperation with Mueller investigation, you are not save. (INAUDIBLE) his daughter and now today we got news that Nikolai Glushkov another Russian emigre who's in London and now he was murdered. And now police is investigating the killing by strangulation.

COOPER: Do you think the Kremlin actually fears repercussions from the U.S.?

KASPAROV: Look, fear is the wrong word, because so far Putin saw very little. It's always too little, too late.

COOPER: I mean there were sanctions passed obviously that the White House didn't enact.


[20:45:05] KASPAROV: But they were too weak, and Putin as every dictator who is reaching a certain point he cannot go back. He will -- it's even, if he has a weak hand, if we're just using the poker analogy he will keep raising the stakes and he's bluffing. And, you know, that's the only way to demonstrate he is invincible. Because the moment he looks weak, he knows from history and maybe from his animal instincts, that he'll be dealt with by his own cronies.

COOPER: Can I ask you, this is a personal question. Do you worry about your own safety? I mean you speak out, you travel, you --

KASPAROV: Look, would it help? So was today we had just on Broadway in one of the theaters we had a conference called PutinCon. So the most comprehend --

COOPER: And com.


COOPER: Like ComiCon, but PutinCon.

KASPAROV: Yes, yes PutinCon. So you could actually see this the video of And we had 20 speakers from six countries, ranging from Preet Bharara, Bill Browder, to Luke Harding, his book, the "Collusion", some of the Russian experts from the (INAUDIBLE). You know, (INAUDIBLE) sent a message from Moscow. (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: It's basically all about Vladimir Putin.

KASPAROV: Is all about -- his past, his present and his still revealing, you know, all aspects of a criminal rule, his killings, his wars, rise to power, and of course cyber attacks and hybrid wars. Of course we have a lot of security. Thanks to NYPD for providing extra security. We had 500 people listening to such a provocative material about Putin's crimes. You know, that could be a potential target. And we refuse to accommodate any Russian press that somehow is connected to Kremlin, because we don't believe it's press. It's more of propaganda machine.

Coming back to your question about myself. So again, what can I do? I live in New York. So, I can tell that you for many years people kept asking me why when I had to leave Russia i chose New York not London. They're not asking anymore.

COOPER: Right.

KASPAROV: And I just do whatever I can to be cautious. But then also understand, you know, that's the -- it's might not be enough.

COOPER: Is that why you chose New York?

KASPAROV: Yes. New York was the most natural place where I believed that the most difficult for Putin and his cronies to reach.

COOPER: It's interesting, you know, during the campaign, then candidate Trump said, talking about radical Islam, that in order to defeat an enemy you have to name it. And was critical of President Obama, in his words for not using the term radical Islam it's an arguable point. And yet, President Trump has not gone -- has not really said anything negative about Vladimir Putin.

KASPAROV: Which is amazing. Nothing. So he can blame anybody. So, his tweet, you know, spares no one.

COOPER: He's been talking about Jeff Sessions (INAUDIBLE).

KASPAROV: Exactly. From his own party. But, what a surprise. It's a mystery that he never mentioned Vladimir Putin. I think yesterday I saw on CNN website, there was a statement from a senior official of the State Department blaming Putin by name but anonymously. I mean what kind of world leading you is -- if the senior official from the State Department is afraid refuse to give his name criticizing Vladimir Putin.

COOPER: And Vladimir Putin hears that.

KASPAROV: Exactly.

COOPER: But he's attending (ph) to that?

KASPAROV: You know, as matter (INAUDIBLE), he looks at Trump, and if nothing comes from the Oval Office he doesn't care about the rest, because for him, you know, it's me and Trump and the rest is irrelevant. And I think, you know, he is maybe somewhat right because Trump did absolutely everything in his power to soften the blow and just to protract the agony of the sanctions and making sure that the people will mentioned there, and the sanctions now, our entities, there -- it's small fish. I wouldn't say they're redundant, but it's too little too late and it's almost an insult for the Congress that demanded more comprehensive sanctions.

COOPER: All right, Garry Kasparov, I appreciate you being on. And it's


COOPER: .com, right.

KASPAROV: Yes, thank you. COOPER: Yes, I look at -- I look at tonight. (INAUDIBLE), thank you very much.

The rising death toll in the Miami pedestrian bridge collapse breaking news in from federal investigators on what was happening when the structure actually came down.


[20:53:12] COOPER: With the death toll now climbing to six, there's breaking news in the collapse of that pedestrian bridge in Miami. NTSB investigators have just put out word that crews were working on posts on the north end of the structure when the bridge actually collapsed. So there's no word on whether that led to the tragedy or even contributed to it. Additionally Florida's Department of Transportation said that a lead bridge engineer left a voicemail on Tuesday warning of cracking along the span. Sadly that voicemail was not discovered until just today.

More now, from CNN's Kaylee Hartung.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are no survivors left in the wreckage though at least eight cars and an unknown number of bodies remain buried underneath the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll continue to remain on scene. We'll continue to work in order to get all of these victims removed.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Officials detailed the difficult task ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to bring other equipment, so that's going to be here on the scene, to start to remove these pieces, trying to make the pieces smaller and more controllable. Once we break that large piece apart, then we'll be able to start pulling it off. So it's going to be very tedious.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Recovery workers are using heavy machinery to move sections of concrete so they can reach the victims. Most victims have not yet been named but the "Miami Herald" has confirmed one Florida international university student, Alexa Duran, was among the six people who died.

Just days before the collapse, the newly erected bridge was celebrated as a safe alternative for pedestrians. Months earlier, a university student was killed while trying to cross the highway. How and why this supposedly safe alternative caused such a deadly collapse is under investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to get to the bottom of -- the bottom line of what occurred so that we can bring closure to the families, bring closure to the investigation, and so that it doesn't happen again.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Little is known about what construction was happening at the moment of collapse. [20:55:00] Just after visiting the site, Florida senator Marco Rubio tweeted, "The cables that suspended the Miami bridge had loosened. They were being tightened when it collapsed, but officials can't say that for sure."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not confirmed that there was a stress test. We've heard that just as you have, and that will be confirmed.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Meanwhile, questions swirl around Louis Berger, one of the firms the university used to conduct a secondary review of the build. Florida Department of Transportation released in its initial findings that the firm was not pre-qualified for the service. Louis Berger released a statement saying, it was not involved in the construction of the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of our contractors are fully certified and we believe that the team in question that -- there has been -- it was fully certified. FIU does not work with contractors who are not fully certified. We're a state institution. We follow state policies and procedures.


HARTUNG: Anderson, nearby Kendall Regional Medical Center received 10 patients yesterday following the bridge collapse. They tell us two were in critical condition. The rest in stable. We know of at least one person who's already been discharged from the hospital, but here at the site of the bridge collapse, the priority continues to be recovering the remains beneath that bridge and the most dignified and respectful manner possible.

COOPER: Just terrific. Kaylee, appreciate it. Thank you.

Up next, are there more White House departures on the way? The latest from Washington in a moment.