Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Raids Office and Hotel Room of Trump Lawyer, Michael Cohen; "New York Times:" Mueller Investigating Ukrainian's $150,000 Payment for a Trump Appearance; President Trump on Whether He'll Fire Mueller: "We'll See;" President Trump on Syria Attack: "It Will Be Met Forcefully." Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 9, 2018 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, a question to impeach or not talk about it? We'll hear from the guy that's been buying all those T.V. ads calling for impeaching the President as well as David Axelrod, who saying that kind of talk could be toxic to Democrats.

First, the very latest on Michael Cohen from our Gloria Borger. So Gloria, just talk big picture, everything that we know about what went down, how these raids were conducted, what they were looking for?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we know that it's extraordinary. This, Michael Cohen is the President's personal attorney, he's also a long-standing friend of the President's who dined with him at Mar-a-Lago a week ago and today he awoke to discover that his office and his hotel room were being searched by the FBI and took things that you might expect like this phone, his personal computer and financial documents.

And they proceed with this search, according to Cohen's own attorney, after they were contacted by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who are said this is not within my bailiwick but you might do this yourselves.

Cohen's attorney called it inappropriate and unnecessary because Cohen has been cooperating with investigators so far. So they took records, my sources tell me, related to his legal clients and that includes the President and as well as his personal finances.

One of my sources said, Anderson, that when you look at this, the search warrant, and we have not read it, but my source said that it is largely related to Stormy Daniels and then there were subsets of it in which there was discussion of payments made to her, of communications with the President about the Stormy Daniels case, and potentially communications with the campaign about it. I mean, you'll recall Michael Cohen was not a member of the campaign officially, but he did talk to a lot of people of the campaign about it.

Now, people I've spoken with who were close to the President say he is incredibly upset by this. He is angry about this. He believes this has crossed a line for him. And the legal team, it seems to me, may not be playing nice with Bob Mueller anymore. And then, of course, the question that you've been raising all evening is does this mean that he would fire Rod Rosenstein or Attorney General Jeff Sessions whom I'm told he's very mad at, or even Bob Mueller, himself?

COOPER: Yes. Fascinating day, Gloria Borger, I appreciate it.

More on the President's reaction tonight at the White House. CNN's Jim Acosta is there. He joins us now. Jim, just if you can just refresh our viewers on what the President said about these FBI raids?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, before I do that, I just want to tell you, I just got off the phone with a source familiar with everything that's been going on at the White House today who said that the President did not hear about this as we all heard about this earlier today when the news broke, that according to the source familiar with the situation over here, the President was informed of this raid on Michael Cohen's offices by one of his aides earlier on in the day, and that these conversations as to what the President should do and how he should respond, that those conversations have been going on all day long. That we can tell you just some new information coming in to us here at CNN.

Now, in terms of what the President said earlier this evening, this was an extraordinary moment and it felt like, Anderson, it felt like a turning of the page in the Mueller investigation.

And as Gloria was saying, it may be no more Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to the President, in terms of how to handle this Mueller investigation. According to one source I just spoke with a little while ago, the President is, as Gloria said, furious over these developments, believes, as I talked to with one source earlier this evening, source close to the White House, that essentially Mueller has gone rogue, he's overstepped the bounds of this investigation and that's essentially what you heard in the President's own words earlier this evening. Here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man, and it's a disgraceful situation. It's a total witch hunt. I've been saying it for a long time. I've wanted to keep it down. We've given, I believe, over a million pages worth of documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward and here we are talking about Syria, we're talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest fighting force ever and I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now. And actually much more than that. You could say it was right after I won the nomination it started.

And it's a disgrace. It's, frankly, a real disgrace. It's an attack on our country in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for. So when I saw this and when I heard it, I heard it like you did, I said that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.

[21:05:00] So this has been going on. I saw one of the reporters who is not necessarily a fan of mine, not necessarily very good to me. He said in effect that this is ridiculous, this is now getting ridiculous. They found in collusion whatsoever with Russia. The reason they found it is there was no collusion at all. No collusion. This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I've ever seen. Democrats all, or just about all, either Democrats or a couple of Republicans that worked for President Obama, they're not looking at the other side. They're not looking at the Hillary Clinton horrible things that she did and all of the crimes that were committed. They're not looking at all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about.

I can tell you from the Republican side. And I think even the independent side. They only keep looking at us. So they find no collusion, and then they go from there and they say, well, let's keep going. And they raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning. And I think it's a disgrace.

So we'll be talking about it more, but this is the most conflicted group of people I've ever seen. The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself, or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in.

So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country but you'll figure that out. All I can say is after looking for a long period of time, even before the special counsel, because it really started just about from the time I won the nomination, and you look at what took place and what happened, and it's a disgrace. It's a disgrace. I've been President now for what seems like a lengthy period of time. We've done a fantastic job. We've beaten is. We have just about 100 percent of the caliphate or the land.

Our economy is incredible. The stock market dropped a lot today, as soon as they heard the noise of this nonsense that's going on. It dropped a lot. It was up, way up, and then it dropped quite a bit at the end. A lot.

But that we have to go through that, we've had that hanging over us now from the very, very beginning and yet the other side, they don't even bother looking and the other side is where there are crimes and those crimes are obvious. Lies under oath, all over the place. E- mails that are knocked out, that are acid-washed and deleted. Nobody's ever seen. 33,000 e-mails are deleted after getting a subpoena for Congress. And nobody bothers looking at that. And many, many other things. So I just think it's a disgrace that a thing like this can happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you just fire Mueller?

TRUMP: Why don't I just fire Mueller?


TRUMP: Well, I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens. But I think it's really a sad situation when you look at what happened. Many people have said, you should fire him. Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that's a big statement. If you know the person who's in charge of the investigation, you know all about that, Deputy Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, he wrote the letter very critical of Comey.

One of the things they said, I fired Comey. Well, I turned out to do the right thing because you look at all of the things he's done and the lies and you look at what's gone on at the FBI with the insurance policy and all of the things that happened. Turned out I did the right thing. But he signed, as you know, he also signed the FISA warrant.

So Rod Rosenstein who was in charge of this signed a FISA warrant and he also signed a letter that was essentially saying to fire James Comey. And he was right about that. He was absolutely right. So we'll see what happens. I think it's disgraceful and so does a lot of other people. This is a pure and simple witch hunt. Thank you very much.


ACOSTA: Now we're also finding that the President has been consulting with lawyers and advisers throughout the day like Ty Cobb, the White House attorney here who's been working on the Mueller investigation, and of course, John Kelly, the Chief of Staff.

But Anderson, of course, the next step in all of this is really in the President's hands, what does he decide to do, does he decide to fire Bob Mueller or try to go through the Justice Department and push him out by firing Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. All of that obviously is the question that's facing the 2President at this point.

[21:10:07] And as I was talk to a source familiar with all of this, earlier this evening, I put it to this person, are we essentially on the dark side of the moon here? In other words, we don't know what's going to happen yet next. And the source said, yes, that pretty much sums it up, Anderson, we don't know what's on the other side of the moon the a this point. Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Being on the receiving end of legal action not a place Michael Cohen is accustom to. He is, if you haven't noticed both known as and happy to be the more the dishing it out type. Details now from CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATION CORRESPONDENT: He has been with Donald Trump since 2007. Personal lawyer, 100 percent defender, and has made no apologies for h his unyielding support of Donald Trump. When CNN recently called Cohen-Trump's fixer, Cohen responded with this tweet. "Thank you for your accurate depiction of me and my role for our President."

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: My job is I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there's an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's of course, concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

GRIFFIN: The skills have included threatening reporters, buying silence, bullying tactics to prevent the release of damaging information about the President.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, SPOKESPERSON FOR MICHAEL COHEN: He's the guy that you could call 3:00 in the morning when you have a problem.

BORGER: Do you know stories of Donald Trump calling him at 3:00 in the morning?

SCHWARTZ: Donald Trump has called him at all hours of the night. Every dinner I've been at with Michael the boss has called.

GRIFFIN: It is with that background that makes the details about the Stormy Daniels deal somewhat incredulous. Cohen has explained that he made the Stormy Daniels story disappear just 11 days before the November election when he and he, alone, withdrew $130,000 from a home equity line of credit and paid the porn actress to keep quiet. Both he and his famous client insist the President was never told.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney. And you'll have to ask Michael.

GRIFFIN: Cohen first became a person of special interest in the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller when his name came up in that controversial Russian dossier on Trump. Then during the 2016 campaign, it was revealed Cohen tried to contact a Kremlin official regarding potential plans for a Trump Tower Moscow.

SCHWARTZ: Michael was the fixer. We all know Mike. So it could be anything. It's not that this -- there were a ton of matters that took place that Michael fixed and Donald Trump wasn't involved in every single matter.

GRIFFIN: Cohen's own attorney called today's raids completely inappropriate and unnecessary. And confirmed that the New York action is in part a referral by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and added "It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney/client communications between a lawyer and his clients." Cohen who left the Trump organization last year still appears to have just one client. The President, Donald Trump. Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: Michael Cohen may have just one client. We have here the distinguished panel members tonight, David Chalian, Kirsten Powers, and Anne Milgram, Jeffrey Toobin, Paul Begala, and Mike Shields.

Jeff, you know, the President saying that basically linking all this to Robert Mueller, the person who actually authorized this raid would be the head of the southern district who's an appointee of the President.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney appointed by Donald Trump. But not just that, remember, he didn't have the authority to order a search warrant by himself. All a U.S. attorney can do is make an application to a magistrate judge who decides whether there's enough evidence to grant a search warrant. So it's not -- his complaint is not just with Robert Mueller. It's with his own appointee, Geoff Berman, and the judges who approved the search warrant. So the idea that this is somehow Bob Mueller off on a rogue tangent by himself is just completely belied by the facts.

COOPER: It's also interesting to hear them, the President talk about the FBI kind of breaking into his -- as if it's like Daniel Ellsberg's office, his psychiatrist's office and they're stealing documents. What hoops do the FBI, does the head of the southern district, have is to jump through in order to get?

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I mean, getting a search warrant is an extensive process. It's not --

COOPER: And harder to get one on a lawyer?

MILGRAM: Yes, absolutely. There's a United States attorneys manual that the entire Department of Justice follows whether you're a main justice or in a local U.S. attorney's office and there's a special section on what happens when you're trying to get information, how you approach lawyers. It is incredibly sensitive because much of the communication is privileged.

[21:15:02] I want to say one thing on that, through and I think it's an important thing for us to think about that, communications are only privileged when you're requesting or receiving legal advice. If there's a third party, the communication is not as privileged. If as we've been given information from the President he had no idea that this was happening, that's not going to be privileged communications, right? If the President says I had no idea this was happening, then we have no reason to believe that the Stormy Daniels --

COOPER: Wait, so any communication between the President and Michael Cohen, that's not all covered by privilege?

MILGRAM: No. Every communication is not covered by privilege, right?

COOPER: So every time I talk to my attorney, that's not covered by --

MILGRAM: No, maybe.

TOOBIN: Depends about what.

MILGRAM: Right, exactly. TOOBIN: It depends, if you talk about, you know, lunch, it's not privilege. It has to be about the legal matter that is under consideration.

COOPER: So if -- by what you're saying is if the President has already claimed he wasn't part of this, --

MILGRAM: Then it's hard for us to see any way in which the Stormy Daniels agreement -- if that's true and is the case. Now, let's say there are e-mails that the President is on, although I understand the President doesn't e-mail and so that may not be the case but at this point if we take the President's word that he had no communications about it, then there's no reason for us to believe that -- he wasn't involved in this agreement, then there's no reason for us to believe anything will be privilege related to it.

COOPER: And you can pierce privilege if there's illegality taking place between an attorney and client, correct?

TOOBIN: That's called the crime fraud exception. That if an attorney and a client are planning or covering up a crime together, that is not privilege, but a judge has to be persuaded that that's what they're doing.

COOPER: All right. I want to bring in the rest of the panel in a moment. We got to get the non-lawyers on the panel on this. Also other subjects including one item that broke just a few moments ago in "The New York Times" about a transaction that Robert Mueller is investigating, $150,000 from a Ukrainian magnate to President Trump's Foundation. More ahead.


[21:20:26] COOPER: Well, a remarkable day in politics. The focus of the breaking news tonight, Michael Cohen, the FBI has raided his office, hotel room, and reportedly his apartment or home. However, the case apparently at the center of it all is the one being brought by Mr. Cohen's arch adversary, Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti. I spoke to Michael at length earlier in the program. Here is part of what he say.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: This is a very, very serious matter. Needless to say, and as I predicted last week, it appears the noose is tightening around Michael Cohen. I think the President has considerable reason to be concerned. A lot of faith and confidence has been put in Michael Cohen. I think the expectation was that he was going to be the fall guy. This is a very, very serious matter. There's no question that it stems from our case and the amount of attention that our case has attracted over the last six weeks. But make no mistake about it, there's going to be a lot of sleepless nights at the White House from here on out.


COOPER: And back now with our panel. Mike, how do you see this? I mean, given all the moving parts today.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, think it's a bet and they better find something because the public -- the President is saying I'm being attacked needlessly, now we're even -- we're raiding the President's personal lawyer's office. And if you don't find something, then the weight of look at what a witch hunt this is, has nothing to do with collusion, there's been no evidence found, they're now raiding my personal lawyer, it's almost saying I can't have a lawyer without him being raided and you don't find anything? The credibility of the entire investigation is going to rest on that.

So I think Robert Mueller, he set this in motion. We can say it was somebody else that executed it. It started with him. If this doesn't work, this is a huge bet that he's making that something's going to be found in this because it's going to make him look terrible if nothing comes out of it.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Mr. Mueller has public confidence, across the spectrum. The President -- I mean there's some kind of Fox News freak shows that says he's horrible. The main -- the American people have confidence in this guy and they should. He's a career prosecutor, decorated marine, a Republican. The attorney general is a Republican. The deputy attorney general who reports to Mr. Mueller is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump. The head of the FBI is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump. The U.S. attorney who apparently executed this warrant is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump. So it's hard for him to make the case --

SHIELDS: He has credibility now because he hasn't done something this aggressive and this risky with it going wrong. So they raided Manafort, they seem to have something on him. If they raid the President's personal lawyer and send a signal to future Presidents that that can happen outside of the purview of the Russian collusion mandate, and nothing is found, that is going to damage him devastatingly.

COOPER: Kirsten, when you heard the President talking today, what did you think?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I thought just a lot of what -- I thought he was doing what he always does which he's setting out the story line for conservatives and for his supporters which is I'm under attack, you know, breaking into the office, which is not what happened, of course, there was a warrant, and he's telling the story that's now going to be told throughout sort of the conservative world so that they can say he's being persecuted and he's, you know, there's -- and it's unfair. I think a lot of what you're saying, Mike, though, I think you're making a lot of speculation. We don't really know why Mueller made this referral. And first, as you pointed out, when they -- this raid is pretty reminiscent, frankly, of the Manafort raid and they did find something. So I don't why we're assuming that they're not --

SHIELDS: All anyone's doing is speculating. I mean, people have been speculating all day, he's going to fire Mueller. I mean, that's what we're all speculating here. None of us actually work in Mueller's operation.

My point is, if he did something illegal, he should go to jail. This is what -- we're a law and order country. If he didn't, it's a massive bet Mueller is making. He's betting --

POWERS: That's the speculation. The bet. You're saying he's betting on something. I don't know what a bet is.

SHIELDS: OK, look --

BEGALA: He's doing his job.

SHIELDS: Maybe he doesn't know he's betting. I'm telling you, maybe he didn't know it. He's risked the credibility of his investigation by going this far and this aggressively and this dramatically because if he doesn't find something, the rest of what he's trying to do -- he may find something later. The American people -- the President is going to be able to credibly say they went after my personal lawyer, tried to get into my privilege with my lawyer and they didn't find anything? This whole thing is bump, and that's going to have credibility with the American people, which ultimately is what matters in this case.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Doesn't that negate what we were hearing earlier about, it wasn't just Mueller, he referred it, but that then there was the U.S. attorney in the southern district, there was a magistrate, a judge to look into is this. So it wasn't just Mueller on his own deciding to do this but that other people look at --

SHIELDS: No, but I'm talking about the political public, which is ultimately what all these things come down to, right? You're sort of -- I think up to this point Mueller's been very tight on this stuff. This is a dramatic move, right? We can all agree on that. That's not speculation. We all believe this is dramatic. This is serious.

[21:25:12] If you don't find something, if you go to these lengths or you find something that's not that big of a deal, and, you know, it's been raised to this level, I believe the public's credibility starts to turn against Mueller because they're saying what are you doing? This has been going on for over a year, this has nothing to do with Russian collusion, this has nothing to do with Russians getting on Facebook, you're going after the President's personal lawyer and not finding anything.

POWERS: I just want to ask, though, I mean, he didn't refer and say you are to do X, Y, and Z with this. He just found something, and is referring it, right?

MILGRAM: This is why I think we have to hit pause.


MILGRAM: Because if it is the case that Mueller saw evidence of criminal -- of potential criminal activity and referred it to someone else, I had hundreds of things referred to me when I was attorney general, some cases we filed, some we didn't. And so it really does, you really are passing the baton to the next person to make an independent decision of do I have enough to execute a search warrant on? Because that's the person -- it's your person who's then going to the judge.

COOPER: You're also passing the baton to the person appointed by President Trump, himself.

MILGRAM: Exactly. Exactly but that's the person who goes before the magistrate judge and says I want a search warrant. So --

BEGALA: But interviewed by Donald Trump, I can't think -- Jeffrey may -- I can't think of a single U.S. attorney in history who was personal will I interviewed by the President before he or she was hired.

TOOBIN: It's really rare. Historically inappropriate because of the extremely sensitive nature of what U.S. attorneys do but he did it and picked Berman to be the U.S. attorney and Geoff Berman is the person who authorized this search.

CHALIAN: Which is why -- I think what you saw in the cabinet room today, Donald Trump, we talked a lot in the last year about him not respecting the traditional distance and independence of the Justice Department and the FBI, from the presidency. I think he got a real lesson today on what that independence is.

This is a moment where I think the President was -- and you see it in how angry he is, that it is this way, but there's a full-on display example of the independence from the executive of the Justice Department fulfilling its mission.

BEGALA: And he sat there with his national security team in the wake of a Syrian chemical gas attack and he called the search warrant, while dramatic, perfectly legal. He called it, "an attack on our country." In that context, sitting around the table with men and women who are giving their live to protect our country from real attacks, that's pretty offensive.

COOPER: Also, I mean, given the -- I mean, you could argue given the lack of such verbiage on Russia's attack on the election --

BEGALA: Which was an attack on our country that he has never --

COOPER: Much more just tonight, including new reporting, breaking news from "The New York Times," Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating a wealthy Ukrainian's payment to President Trump's Foundation. I'll talk to one of the reporters on the story, Maggie Haberman and get the panel's take as well.


[21:30:16] COOPER: Well, on a night full of breaking news, there is, wait for it, even more breaking news. In this case, it is the Russia probe, specifically the money trail and where that trail is leading Robert Mueller's team. Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt broke the story in "The New York Times" this evening. Maggie joins us now by phone. So, Maggie, explain what you've uncovered here.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Sure. Thanks for having me. The special counsel is investigating by way of a is subpoena a payment to the President to go into his private foundation for a 20-minute speech that he gave in September 2015 when he was already a candidate, to a Yalta conference that was sponsored primarily by Ukrainian oligarch named Victor Pinchuk, also donated quite heavily to the Clinton Foundation.

Essentially, Mueller is looking for payments to the President from non-U.S. people and the speech qualified. It has always been curious why the money went to the foundation in the first place as opposed to going directly to the President, but it is another instance of a deeper entanglement of the investigation into the President's finances and the first that I'm aware of, of any kind of look at money involving the foundation which has raised its own questions over the last couple of years.

COOPER: So did then-candidate Donald Trump do anything in return for the donation?

HABERMAN: He gave a 20-minute by Skype speech, something like 2:00 in the morning, that anybody can Google and watch because it's online. Where he was asked about a couple of different issues related to foreign policy and it was one of the first times that he had done so. Possibly the very first time that he had done so as a candidate. This whole thing, and not particularly effective, because he's waiting for a translation to come through so that he can answer questions or he keeps sort of stopping and starting and, again, it was something like 2:00 in the morning in New York because he was skyping in and there was a time difference.

But 20 minutes for $150,000 to the charitable foundation that he has often used for things like settling his personal legal -- his business legal disputes and so forth.

COOPER: How did Mueller's team find out about the money, do you know?

HABERMAN: They gave -- well, so it's been reporting before that this payment took place, the payment was declared on the foundation's own filings. It's, again, this payment has been controversial in the past because the foundation acknowledged in 2016 right after the President had won the election, that it may have violated prohibitions against so-called self-dealing, which means using a foundation to promote a personal business. And that payment was one of the newer ones that they had added that might be questionable.

So the payment's been known about but this subpoena that Mueller's folks issued to the Trump organization, which Michael Schmidt and I wrote about a couple weeks ago, was pretty broad and pretty sweeping. It was downplayed to us by people at the time as, you know, very standard to make sure document compliance is taking place and so forth. This suggests a little more than that.

COOPER: I know you also have reporting on how the President is reacting to the FBI raids on Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, apartment. What do you know?

HABERMAN: Not reacting calmly. I mean, that -- what you saw of that spray of him with the poolers where he was venting about this as an attack on our country was him at his rawest that we've seen in public related to this investigation. It is a fraction of what he is saying in private. He's bouncing off the walls according to one source. And both he and Cohen, according to two people I spoke to, see this as a clear violation of "red line," that the President had set an interview with Mike Schmidt, Peter Baker and me, in the Oval Office last summer about the scope of Mueller's inquiry, that if it went beyond Russia and started tracking into the President's personal finances or his family's finances, that that would be a problem.

This -- it's not clear this goes directly to that, but, you know, this is the office of his personal attorney. Remember the President said last week, I believe it was when he came back on Air Force One, he told reporters who asked him about the Stormy Daniels payment, well, you know, you'll have to talk to my attorney, Michael Cohen, that's my attorney. He stressed that. That is because their main defense on all of this was expected to be attorney/client privilege and my understanding is the files were seized from Cohen's either office or home who both that are client files that relate to Trump.

COOPER: Maggie Haberman, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

[21:35:00] Back now with the panel. Just in terms of if the President did decide to move against Robert Mueller, can you just explain how that would be done? Because he wouldn't be able to just directly fire Robert Mueller.

MILGRAM: No. I think what all of us suspect is that he would try to fire first the deputy attorney general --

COOPER: Rod Rosenstein?

MILGRAM: Rod Rosenstein and then someone else would come into that spot. Either I think it's the office of legal counsel head or the associate attorney general first then the head of the legal counsel. And then expect that person would actually fire Mueller because Mueller reports not to the attorney general, but right now to the deputy attorney general so it's not where the President would directly fire Mueller but the President would have to put into effect a series of actions to fire someone else who would then fire Mueller.

COOPER: Kirsten, what do you think would be the impact if Mueller was fired? I mean, Lindsey Graham had, you know, warned about this a while ago. It's obviously been in the ether for a long time.

POWERS: Well, I mean, I think it would obviously be just, like, a massive explosion in the political world. But the question is what would anybody really do about it? The people who are in control right now, at least, are the Republicans. And even though they say that this is something that, you know, that would upset them, I don't know what they would really do about it.

So I'm not sure -- I've never been one of these people who thought, oh, he's not going to do that, it actually seems like something he would do to me.

COOPER: Mike, what do you think the reaction would be?

SHIELDS: Yes, my advice would be not to do it, don't fire anybody. Let this play out and exonerate you. That's what my political advice to the President would be. And I think if he was watching -- he should watch CNN. Always, of course. The last four hours, there's been a lot of analysts that were almost giddy at the idea, maybe he'll finally fire him and the joy with which a lot of people think that this would harm him to fire Mueller is evident in people. So you --

COOPER: Do you think it would actually --

SHIELDS: He shouldn't make them happy and do it.

SHIELDS: Do you think it would harm him?

SHIELDS: I think it would harm him. I think it would harm the party. I do. And I think that it would be -- especially because you can be exonerated.

COOPER: Right.

SHIELDS: And so let that play out. Let the facts come out and show that every single thing we've seen up until now has nothing to do with Russian collusion.


SHIELDS: And so yes, sure, there's been a Manafort problem, there a Rick Gates, and people are getting -- things are happening. But none of it is to do with collusion. And so let's get to that conclusion and prove the point that you are right all along.

COOPER: David Chalian, I mean somebody have said that there would be constitutional crisis?

CHALIAN: Well, I don't know that it would be a full-blown constitutional crisis with a current setup of Congress with Republicans in charge there. But I do think, you have heard more Republicans than just the occasional usual character --

COOPER: Just the ones that are leaving?

SHIELDS: Like Lindsey Graham. Not just the ones who are leaving, actually beyond them who have really expressed concern or talked about the notion of trying to protect Mueller legislatively. I don't know -- I would not expect Paul Ryan's majority to all of a sudden launch impeachment proceedings in the House. I do think he would survive politically that way. But to Mike's point, I do think there would be such damage, such political damage to the party, to the President, of course, but to the party, itself, that I think that would have some members who have rallied to his cause be very, very concerned about what that would mean for the --

COOPER: Paul? BEGALA: What will they do? The check and the balance that our framers gave us in the constitution is Article 1, the President's in Article 2. Article 1 is supposed to check and balance him. Article 1 is run by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. OK? Guys who put their spines in a blind trust the day Donald Trump got inaugurated. They will do nothing.

Lindsey graham will issue a strongly-worded tweet. And Marco Rubio will issue a squishy news release and nothing will happen. There's another part of the constitution. This is what's going to happen. The first three words, "we the people." you think the women's march was big? You think the march for our lives was big? They were warmups. They were practice sessions.

The American people will not stand for this. The Republican Congress will. 2They have absolutely no spine. And they have absolutely -- I think they're a disgrace to the constitution. I really do. I hope I'm wrong. But I know the American people aren't going to say, oh, well, Paul Ryan won't do anything, we'll sit here and let this guy subvert the constitution. I don't think they will. I think people are serious about this. And I think Mr. Trump is going to provoke a constitutional crisis because he doesn't care about normalcy. Frankly, he doesn't care about the party. I think you're right, it will damage his party. He doesn't give a rip snort about your party. He's a total narcissist.

SHIELDS: Look, I mean, these two split into partisan battles. The day President Clinton was impeached, there was a rally on the White House lawn by the Democrats in Congress who I guess at that time were not a threat to the constitution --

BEGALA: If he had 71 percent of the American people behind him. Donald Trump has 42 percent. A big difference.

SHIELDS: No, look, it is --

BEGALA: He hasn't fired anybody yet.

SHIELDS: It's certainly, to David's point, to your point, the public does matter, why I think he shouldn't do it. But the idea that this isn't just a -- the both sides are playing politics with this is absurd. So you're saying the Republicans are just playing politics and would protect him. The Democrats are trying to sees on the Russia narrative every single day, they can --

BEGALA: That's not true, Mike.

SHIELDS: -- to push something where there hasn't been any evidence of collusion including today's news.

COOPER: All right. I want to thank everybody.

[21:39:50] Coming up, a busy night at the White House to say the least. Not only is the President clearly upset about the raid on Michael Cohen, he's promising a forceful response to the deadly chemical attack in Syria. And says he expect to make a decision as soon as tonight. I'll speak to David Gergen and Secretary Leon Panetta about all that next.


COOPER: There's a lot on the White House's plate tonight to say the least. The raid on the President's attorney Michael Cohen clearly upset the President who's once again dangling the possibility of firing Mueller with a "we'll see."

Based on all the President said tonight, would be easy to forget that the setting was a meeting with his national security team, military top brass, a meeting about the suspected chemical attack in Syria. And what the United States' response should be. So there's a lot to get to.

Joining me our CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen and Former White House Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary, and CIA Director, Leon Panetta.

Secretary Panetta, Senator John McCain said in a statement yesterday that Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers were, "emboldened" by President Trump intimating last week that he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. I'm wondering if you agree with that. Is that what happened?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, you know, it hits -- it's hard to say just exactly why the Syrians did what they did. You could argue on one hand that if they thought that the United States, in fact, was going to leave Syria, that it would be the stupidest thing in the world to suddenly conduct a chemical attack and challenge the United States. So it's a little difficult to know that the Syrians, in fact, were acting based on what President Trump said or didn't say.

COOPER: David, I mean, it is almost exactly a year ago that the President authorized those air strikes against Syria when chemical weapons were used then. Does he have a choice now but to once again authorize some sort of military action here?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not much. His rhetoric, alone, has escalated the U.S. commitment over the last 48 hours so that -- I think now if he were to back down it would be considered even worse than what Obama did by not a abiding by the red line he drew of the guard of Syria a long ago, and that was often regarded as one of the worse mistakes he made in his presidency. So I don't think that President Trump can back down.

I think the big question is whether he's going to do it in a limited way, perhaps, with international support. And then get out and stay to his original course of trying to get people out of there. U.S. troops, out of there -- or whether he's going to now get drawn in much more by this.

COOPER: Yes. Secretary Panetta, I want to ask you about what David just referenced, that red line. President Trump tweeted this yesterday. He said, "If President Obama had crossed his stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago. Animal Assad would have been history."

You were obviously the President's Obama's Secretary of Defense, the time he drew that red line over the use of chemical weapons which was crossed. Do you think President Trump has a point here, was that a mistake for President Obama?

PANETTA: Well, I don't think there's any question but that it was a mistake to draw a red line and then not enforce it. As to whether or not it would have made a difference in terms of the course of the Syrian war, that's very difficult to say. So I think President Trump has a tendency to always try to blame others for the responsibilities he's got to face. This is one he's got to call.

[21:45:15] He's the one who's now drawn the line. That line has clearly been crossed. I think the challenge is now to see just exactly what this President will do to make clear that the United States will not tolerate this.

COOPER: David, I want to turn to another crisis of sorts for the White House. The President's personal lawyer's office, hotel room, other locations associated with Michael Cohen, raided today by the FBI, is apparently now separate from special counsel Mueller's Russian election meddling investigation, although it's very early right now to know the exact details. How big of a problem do you think this is for the White House? Because the President came out very strongly critical of what happened today.

GERGEN: Well, it's hard to know how big a problem it's going to be to the White House. The President's fury at this which seemed to be escalated way above what he said in other tweets in the past, does suggest this, indeed, could be a prelude to the President firing Mueller if there's any connection at all or at least going after the FBI and maybe Rosenstein or, you know, some other officials there. So I think we're on -- we're in pretty treacherous territory here.

But the issue is I -- unprecedented, to my knowledge, to have a President's personal attorney raided like this. They must have had -- must have been able to present evidence that was usually compelling to take a step like this. Especially when you think this could be regarded by Trump forces I think with some -- you know, rightly so that this also crosses the line of attorney/client privilege.

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, I mean you heard President Trump's reaction to all this tonight. Do you believe he's ready to fire Special Counsel Mueller or Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein or, you know, some combination of all of the above? And if so, would that lead to a constitutional crisis?

PANETTA: My recommendation to the White House would be before you take any precipitous action, you better find out just exactly what was the basis for the search warrants that allowed the FBI to do this from the U.S. attorney's office.

And normally, in my own experience, you don't get that kind of warrant unless you've established reasonable cause that a potential crime has been committed. What that crime is, you know, how extensive is the evidence here of a potential crime, I would suggest to the President and the people in the White House, take your time and look at that evidence before you take any precipitous action.

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, David Gergen, both of you, thanks so much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, coming up tonight, a report on a Republican strategy that seems to be taking off as a way to appeal to the President's supporters, warnings that if Democrats take the House, they'll immediately move to impeach him. Now there's debate about whether that is true, warranted or wise. That's next.


[21:51:43] COOPER: With Republicans focused on trying to mitigate a Democratic wave in November, strategies gaining steam, warm the Democrats will immediately move to impeach the President if they were in the House. "New York Times" run the piece about that, over the weekend.

And CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod tweeted about it saying, "Dems should not commit to impeachment unless & until there's a demonstrable case for one. It is not just a matter of politics. It's a matter of principle. If we normalize impeachment as a political tool, it will be another hammer blow to our democracy."

Well, someone who does not agree with that is Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer, who -- you may have seen his T.V. ads making the case for impeachment. He responded with this, "David Axelrod, democracy start with doing what's right. Right now. Not waiting until things get worse. Appeasing Mr. Trump and being polite is what what's wrong with the establishment."

Joining me tonight is Tom Steyer and David Axelrod.

David, you clearly believe that this idea of impeaching President Trump by Democrats is a bad idea. Explain why?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think impeachment is either a bad or a good idea. I think impeachment await the Mueller investigation and real factors, great passion about Donald Trump as you know, I've been pretty critical of him right now. So I share a lot of the concerns about Donald Trump.

But I think that impeachment -- it's only been done twice in the history of this republic, and each time there's been no conviction that followed. And it ought to be proceeded with care so that half the country doesn't think that it's a bloodless coup. And when you ask candidates in advance, will you vote for the impeachment of the President, and you say we're going to make this the first order of business of a Democratic Congress, you are tainting that process of making it necessarily partisan, and I think that is very bad for the country.

COOPER: Tom, what about David's point? Could these calls to impeach the President dilute or somehow normalize impeachment as a political tool?

TOM STEYER, FOUNDER, NEED TO IMPEACH AND NEXTGEN AMERICA: Well, I think that we do take the impeachment process extremely seriously, Anderson. Because what David said is it is absolutely the final resort when you have a dangerous and lawless President, and you should take that process with the due solemnity. But the fact of the matter is we do have a reckless and dangerous President, and it's not a question of partisanship here, it's a question of being patriots, because this is a question about the safety of American democracy and the health and safety of the American people. And it cannot happen without Republican voters and without the people of the United States thinking that it's necessary.

COOPER: Tom, you do have all these impeachable offenses listed on your website including obstruction of justice. Why not just wait to see what Mueller's investigation concludes? I mean, is it worth having this debate before all the facts are in?

STEYER: The funny thing is we did go to over 50 constitutional scholars five months ago and asked them had the criteria for impeachment been met. And they all said yes, it's a laid-down hand. We're entirely supportive of Mr. Mueller's investigation.

But in the normal course of an impeachment, before the impeachment happened, we would have a Senate committee looking into the facts, which started but got squashed. We would have a congressional committee looking into the facts, which started but got squashed. So, in fact, we've done our homework and constitutional experts say that we've met the criteria for impeachment.

[21:55:11] AXELROD: Look, on the obstruction of justice charge, Mr. Mueller hasn't even named the President as a target yet. So he hasn't reached that stage on a charge that they are investigating, and he has much more access to information than any of us and, in fact, a degree in the law. As you point out neither of us have that. And he hasn't named him as a target.

I think it may come to the point at some point in the future that some of this will lead to impeachment. It could happen. But we ought to give the American people the confidence that it's done on the basis of facts and on the basis of law, and so, you know, to list them and say you as a non-lawyer have polled some lawyers and you've concluded that these are impeachable offenses, why not let the authorities pursue these, let the courts pursue these issues, and then decide whether or not there should be impeachment?

STEYER: Well, that's a good question, David, and let me answer it, which is this. The American people and the American democracy are at great risk while we wait. The fact of the matter is, we are, at every single day, we are seeing lawless behavior out of this administration, and we're seeing dangerous behavior out of this administration. So the longer we wait, the more that we decide to do nothing, the more risk the American people and the American democracy bear. So there is urgency to this that the assumption of waiting for further corroborating evidence -- the funny thing is we went back through your Twitter account, and on May 17 of 2017, so a year ago, you said that if the President asked Mr. Comey to quash an investigation that that would be the cause for impeachment.

AXELROD: Right that's what -- and you're absolutely right, and that's what Mueller is evaluating, because all we have is what we know from the press reports on this, and we'll see what Mueller concludes about that.

But on the subject of democracy, my concern is this. If impeachment becomes a partisan tool and not an assiduous process, then you are damaging democracy. It's not about defending the President, it's about defending democracy, and we can't take shortcuts because we have a reckless President.

COOPER: Sorry, we have to leave it there just for time. Tom Steyer, I appreciate it. David Axelrod, good discussion, both of you. Thank you very much.

STEYER: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: And we'll be right back. More news ahead.


COOPER: That's all the time we have. Thanks for watching 360, time to hand it over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now. See you tomorrow.