Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump, First Lady Host French President at First State Dinner; Sources: Dr. Ronny Jackson was Intoxicated Banged on Hotel Room of Female Employee in 2015 White House Overseas Trip; Source: White House Debating if Pruitt can Stay at EPA; President Trump Calls Reporter's Question Over Pardoning Michael Cohen "Stupid." Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 24, 2018 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll go back to our Jeff Zeleny and Kate Bennett. Jeff, this is -- why is this the first state dinner? Is it traditional that it's taken so long to have one?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's not, Anderson. Actually, this is a little longer than most state dinners. They're so -- it's no question, though, that the reason that France was picked for this was indeed because the Trumps were invited last year to Paris, to the Bastille Day parade, and they were treated to quite a show in Paris. I remember it well. So that's why the President decided to have France be the first state dinner here.

And Anderson, I am struck so much by watching the President there, talking about the warm relationship, the special relationship. This does not sound like candidate Donald Trump who on made fun of the French when he was running for president.

This certainly is a sign of how he has grown in office, at least in one respect here. Now he has a new friend on the world stage, and he indeed is the President of France. Also the new President of France. So I'm struck by that as he really has developed this bond here. But I assume that this is one of many state dinners to come, but it certainly has taken them slightly longer than other Presidents in their first year, Anderson.

COOPER: Kate, as far as the event goes, I understand the First Lady really took a lead on the decision.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: On all of it and actually adding to Jeff's point, I think part of the reason the state dinner happened so late in the administration is that, the First Lady wasn't living in the White House, really, until June. So certainly, she wanted a hand in this. It takes months to plan. She has been working on it for months. She chose everything from the China, which is the Clinton presidential China, to the menu, to the seat cushions, to the music, to the dripless candles and all the gold accoutrement on the table.

So certainly this is Melania Trump event. She did not hire an event planner. I'm noticing at the head table there, it looks like Tim Cook from Apple is sitting next to Brigitte Macron. Also at the head table it looks to be Bernard Arnault, who is the CEO of LVMH, which is Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy large French business and extends into fashion as well.

So that seems to be -- those were the guests who are sitting at that table. Obviously Melania Trump had a hand in those seating charts, interestingly enough. But definitely, this is a moment for the First Lady. You know, you can talk about the white hat all day today, but certainly tonight is the total force of her first real state dinner host.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff, Kate, thanks very much. We'll talk more with Kate Bennett about but this is so far a bit later in the broadcast.

Now some stunning allegations tonight against the President's choice to run the V.A. and a new name for him, they will not help him win the job, the candy man. White House physician and Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson already under fire for having no experience running an organization the size of the Department of Veterans Affairs, now he's facing multiple complaints about his temper, his temperament and dispensing drugs without prescriptions, some of that news was broken tonight at the top of the last broadcast of 8:00 by member of the Senate of Veterans Affairs Committee which has suspended confirmation hearings for Dr. Jackson.

Senator Jon Tester is the Committee's Ranking Democrat. We spoke to him in the last hour.


COOPER: I understand he had a nickname in the White House, someone at the White House staff?

SENATOR JON TESTER (D), Ranking Member, Veterans' Affairs COMMITTEE: Yes. And he was the candy man because he handed out prescription drugs like they were candy.

COOPER: The White House doctor is nicknamed, among some people at the White House, the candy man.

TESTER: That's correct. That's what we were told.

COOPER: That's not a nickname you want in a doctor?

TESTER: That's not a nickname you want in a doctor, and if you consider the prescription drugs we have a problem with in this country right now, it's not the example we need to have so.

COOPER: The second allegation is that Dr. Jackson was repeatedly drunk on duty while oversees with the President, under which administration did this happen?

TESTER: It was the previous administration, it was the Obama administration. And the truth is, was the Admiral Jackson was the primary health care provider for the President. And if you're drunk and something happens with the President, it's very difficult to go in and treat the President how it needs to be done. So this is totally unacceptable in this environment, and that's what multiple people told us this is the case on several different trips.

COOPER: Do you know under what circumstances he was drinking? Was this a social occasion?

TESTER: I believe they were social. There were comments about him being in the hotel room and couldn't respond because he had been drinking so much.

COOPER: He couldn't actually respond to requests that were made of him?

TESTER: That's right.

COOPER: Someone else had to fill in?

TESTER: Yes. That's correct.


COOPER: In a moment I'll ask another U.S. Senator, Richard Blumenthal about what his colleague says. As well as the breaking news, CNN's Juana Summers she has covered, she joins us now.

So I understand there are new allegations of Jackson's behavior while allegedly drinking on the job?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: That's right, Anderson. I've spoken with four sources familiar with this incident, including one with direct knowledge. They told me and our colleague Manu Raju that during an oversee trip in 2014, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician was intoxicated. He banged on the hotel room door of a female employee. That incident became so noisy, according to one source familiar with this allegation, that the secret service stopped him out of concern that he would wake former President Barack Obama.

[21:05:12] Now, two sources who previously worked in the White House's medical unit with Ronny Jackson described that same incident to me, one of those staffers telling me that it was definitely inappropriate, happened in the middle of the night, and that it made the woman in question uncomfortable. This is one of the most specific allegations we've heard about these allegations about Jackson. He's been making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Jackson was set to appear on Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing Wednesday evening. That has been postponed. The White House from a secret service has so far declined to comment on this story.

COOPER: Was this incident reported? I mean, it sounds like the secret service was involved?

SUMMERS: That's right, Anderson. Manu and I were told that at that time, the incident was reported up to the chain of command. And sources tell us that this is one of multiple offices involving Jackson an alcohol in oversees trip. Of course, that's what you just heard last hour from Montana Senator John Tester.

Now members of the Senate, veterans committee, I want to say, have been working through all of these allegations that have been coming out of the woodwork, but they haven't been able to substantiate these claims because there's so little documentation to be able to corroborate it. Then again, we're not hearing a response from the White House just yet on a specific matter.

COOPER: Where do things stand? I mean, how might this affect his nomination?

SUMMERS: Anderson, we've heard lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that these reports, if true, or particularly damning they want to learn more. You saw Johnny Isakson, the top Republican on the Veteran's Committee John Tester, the top Democrat, reaching out to the White House. They want more details about any allegations, any inspections into Ronny Jackson's behavior while serving as the White House position. He served again, let's keep in mind, under three administrations. Certainly a lot of concern on Capitol Hill for a nominee who was already facing questions before any of this came out about his management experience and his ability to run such a sprawling federal agency.

COOPER: Juana Summers, thanks very much.

Joining us is Senator Richard Blumenthal Democrat of Connecticut. First of all, Senator Blumenthal your reaction to Juana Summers' reporting about this allegation of the doctor banging on the door?

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: These very profoundly serious allegations add to -- really important questions that have been raised, serious and significant questions about his integrity and qualifications for this job.

Remember, Anderson, there already were questions about his experience and expertise, his managerial ability for the second largest agency in our United States government. This nominee is rapidly becoming doomed by the administration's own stonewalling. It's failing to come forward forthrightly with facts, precluding members of the V.A. committee, for example, from seeing the background check done by the FBI and providing the inspector general reports from the navy of 2012.

This kind of nominee, if he fails to clear up these questions, is a disservice to our veterans, and we want the best qualified, as you depicted the President saying it again and again and again at the top of the last hour, the best people, and particularly for this job, the best person.

COOPER: Does it concern you? I mean, obviously the V.A. is the second largest agency, 300,000 people, that there are, according to Senator Tester, as many as 20 people that they have spoken to so far who have made some sort of allegations, and a number of them seem to be about his management of what is a very small office, frankly, in the White House. If there is problem managing a small office, how does he go about managing 300,000 people? BLUMENTHAL: The problems demonstrated with managing a small office creating a hostile or toxic work environment. If applied on a much larger scale could create much larger problems. And there are already problems in the V.A. that need to be addressed by the best possible health care to our veterans. We've been working hard on the V.A. committee to help reform the V.A. health care system, as well as employment and job training opportunities.

But here is really the more fundamental point. There is an abject failure of vetting in this White House. I count more than 20 high- level nominees who have been forced to withdraw because of serious revelations about their past. Scott Pruitt already on the job, now having to come in terms of similar violations, ethical violations in his past and so the lack of proper vetting is deeply disturbing. And right now, we're going to continue investigating on the V.A. committee. The inspector general of navy needs to investigate, and most importantly, the White House needs to do its job.

[21:10:04] COOPER: The President has made a big point particularly during the campaign of hiring the best people. That was one of his big selling points from his world of business.

There's two ways to look at this. Either they've hired the best people but they can't keep them, which says something about the management of -- or the atmosphere in the White House. Or they're not hiring the best people which says something about the decisions made by this White House and by the President about who to hire?

BLUMENTHAL: They're far from hiring the best people. The President himself hired Rex Tillerson because he looked the part. The report is that he has nominated Admiral Jackson because he looked the part. But more than looking the part is required for these kinds of jobs. Vetting, checking, scrutinizing has to be done by the White House.

COOPER: What I don't understand, though, if one's report is accurate, and I have no reason to believe it's not, about this incident of him banging the doors. This was in the Obama administration. Senator Tester said a number of these incidents occurred during the Obama years. It sounds as -- I mean, he was able to keep his job then. I mean, shouldn't flags have been raised back then if, in fact, these incidents were as egregious as they now sound?

BLUMENTHAL: Perhaps those flags should have been raised back then. Remember, his job has been as the President's physician, a highly significant one, but not a managerial one at the cabinet level and not one requiring Senate confirmation. But here is the really important point that's raised by your excellent question. To come forward as these men and women in uniform or retired military have done takes tremendous courage and strength. Because the threat of retaliation is so great, they have volunteered this information. We have not solicited it from them. And that is a very important fact, the courage that it took to come forward in spite of the fear of retribution.

COOPER: Senator Tester is saying that a number of them are very concerned about retribution, that if Dr. Jackson does not get this job with the V.A., he goes back to running that medical office and the many people that currently work there?

BLUMENTHAL: Exactly. And right now there is no clear path for this nomination to succeed. So he may be going back, and the questions and allegations, serious and significant that they've raised, may prompt it.

COOPER: You say there's no clear path for this nomination. Do you believe he should get a hearing?

BLUMENTHAL: He should receive a hearing as long as the White House does the work of investigating these claims and provides the documents and evidence that are necessary to resolve these questions. And then we will have the basis to ask informed questions. He will be under oath, and he'll see those documents. There has to be investigative work by the White House. That's where the task and the blame lie right now.

COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks very much for telling that. We appreciate it.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to take this up for the panel, coming up next. And later, full details on tonight state dinner at the White House and the larger visit by the French President.


[21:16:48] COOPER: An abject failure of vetting, that's how Senator Blumenthal just described not only the nomination of Dr. Ronny Jackson to run the Department of Veterans' Affairs but a choice of many others in the administration.

We on the other hand carefully we go the panel, Rick Santorum, Ryan Lizza, Kirsten Powers, A.B. Stoddard, Symone Sanders, and Mike Shields.

Senator Sanders, first of all, let's talk about Jackson --


COOPER: Mean, I did it again.

SANTORUM: Don't do that.

COOPER: That's the second time I think I've called Senator Sanders.


COOPER: Senator Santorum.

SANTORUM: I get it. I mean, it just ends different.

COOPER: Sorry. And we consciously put you on the right this time. So -- I mean, these allegation if vetted and true about Jackson, does this make his nomination impossible? SANTORUM: In a Brooklyn accent, please.

Look, this just doesn't sound right to me. I mean, this was a man who served President Obama, and a lot of these allegations are from when he served President Obama. He stayed in that position even though it sounds like he was not doing his job or was doing things inappropriate in the job. He obviously must have been recommended to the next administration. You don't normally keep someone like that unless there is some good feeling about him in the White House. And then all of a sudden, all of this comes out that he's this scandalous individual. And it just doesn't fit.

And so I'm just trying to figure out, is it true, or is this just, you know, maybe a little bit of hysteria trying to continue to undermine this administration and make them look bad?

COOPER: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's possible -- I think you're right, it is strange, because this is somebody that President Obama had spoken very positively about and promoted, but I think we're in a different culture now where people feel like they can come out and make complaints against people who are powerful, and so it may be that they weren't complaining before, and now they are coming forward and saying, oh, he was drunk and he was banging on my door, as he did allegedly with a female staffer. And that there was abuse in this happening. So it's very possible that people just didn't feel empowered to come forward before.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Especially if the secret service was involved. If the secret service got involved on -- if the reporting is true and the secret service knew about this and it went up the chain of command. And so the fact that the secret service know about this did nothing, if I'm the woman in this situation, I don't feel like me continuously bringing it back up, or taking it to be the powers that be in my office will make a difference. And so I do think it's strange that President Obama and folks in the Obama administration recommended that Dr. Jackson continue on.

I think it's problematic that so many problematic men in Washington continue to be able to do their jobs at the expense of so many women who just want to go to work.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Dr. Jackson has earned a lot of goodwill from the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration. People really like him.

COOPER: And the George W. Bush administration.

STODDARD: Exactly. And so I think it was unless and until he had been promoted to some other job he was qualified for, I don't think this would have come out. And so there was looking at this situation, you know, can he handle this sprawling bureaucracy, is he qualified for that, who started to complain about his management style in this small place where he apparently, you know, sometimes behaved like a tyrant, other times his drinking, and then the list went on to include this sort of miss prescribing of medications, which seems more common place than making out to be but I think that he would have continued on as the happy doctor because people really like him. He's very well liked, and that's why it seems to Senator Santorum and a lot of us like, it sort of came out of left field.

[21:20:29] MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, so, first of all, he's President Obama's personal doctor. And so when you talk about -- and going back to previous administrations, so the idea that there should be something better done in the vetting process, clearly if these are true, that's obvious. But you can also forgive an administration for thinking, you know what, this person has been vetted. They've been passed through administration after administration with one of the most important jobs that anyone in the entire federal government has, which is keeping the President healthy at all times.

And so you can forgive someone for thinking that's probably a pretty stand-up guy and all the reports we've gotten are pretty stand-up.

Secondly, if he's misprescribing or handing out drugs to people, that's obviously a non-starter, if that's proven to be true, he's not going to be the next V.A. secretary, especially in an environment that we have with the upgoing crisis in this country, and how strong the President feels about that particular crisis. He'll say no immediately.

But, OK, so who in the Obama White House was going to the doctor and getting free drugs all the time? I mean, if that's really what they're now pushing out, oh by the way let's start a whisper campaign. This guy was just handing out drugs even without prescriptions. Oh, really. Who to? Obviously in the Obama White House, let's go find that information.

So that's why I start to think some of this is getting a little bit -- look, if he was doing it or if he had a drinking problem, he's not going to be the V.A. secretary. But some of it does make you wonder a little bit how extreme we've gone in the space of like 12 hours with some of these allegations.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But, this is one person's fault. It's Donald Trump's fault. I mean, you say that about vetting but you know, as a political professional, how many people reach very high offices and then are promoted into a cabinet secretary role or to work in an administration and suddenly you find out things that voters back home, if they're a member of the House or Senate, didn't know, and you're just at a much higher level, and that's why the vetting is so important.

Think of Tom Daschle when he had to withdraw because he had tax issues. It happens all the time. So I disagree with you that just because he was the White House doctor, he was somehow vetted thoroughly.

SHIELDS: I can see that he should be vetted better. Everyone should be.

LIZZA: But the problem --

SHIELDS: But my point is this wasn't just someone who was like Trump's guy that he played golf with that happened to be a doctor in Palm Beach, this was the President of the United States' personal doctor going back through a Democratic and Republican administration. You can forgive someone for thinking, hey, this is vetting enough, this guy is pretty solid. It's a mistake and they're going to pay. But it's not the narrative as if -- well, Donald Trump just liked the guy and he's his buddy so we just put him forward as if there is no thought giving to the fact.

This guy holds a very serious job in the government and was trusted to keep President Obama for eight years in the White House, his personal doctor.

LIZZA: You can be a great doctor and have misconduct issues, all sorts of things, and still be a good doctor to the President and the staff around him. The core of the problem at the White House right now is their office of personnel. They're not doing vetting. This isn't just a Jackson problem. This is a problem across the administration where you hear senator after senator on these committees are saying, these people are coming to the Senate without the vetting that they usually get in previous administrations, and I suppose it's fine if the White House doesn't want to vet its nominees, but again and again, they're going to trip into this issue.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break. A lot more to talk about, Dr. Ronny Jackson, not the only presidential hire facing serious questions tonight, the latest on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his ethics, next.


[21:27:09] COOPER: As we've been talking about it, Dr. Ronny Jackson's nomination for V.A. secretary is in jeopardy, so as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a flurry of ethics allegations in inspector general investigations. His story, Dr. Jackson's story and the story of some and the other former cabinet members of White House advisers, they're all raising the question tonight just where are all the best people the President promise to hire during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP (R), 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 the absolute best.

We're going to use our smartest and our best. We're not using political hacks anymore.

It's a sophisticated just much, but I have the best people lined up.

We need people that are truly, truly capable. We have to get the best people.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. Mike, do you think the President has hired the best people?

SHIELDS: I do. I think he had hired the tremendous team and he had for the very beginning, and I think when they don't live up to the standards he has, he'll get rid of them. And I don't think he'll have any problem getting rid of Ronny Jackson if this happens, and if he doesn't work well, the V.A. is going to get rid of him, whoever the next person is. And I think that's what the American people want.

I mean, term limits have been a popular issue in America for decades because we get sick of our politicians not doing what they said they would do, and I don't think this President is afraid of changing out cabinet secretaries over and over again until he gets the result that he wanted, which is why Shulkin is gone.

COOPER: But if you hire the best people, why do you have to change them out? I mean, if you've done some vetting if you -- you know?

SHIELDS: Well, look, obviously, on the campaign trail he's going to say we're going to hire the best people. He's going to setup the transition. I thought it's extremely well. They brought in a great team. Some of them have not worked out. He's getting rid of them and putting new ones in. That's what going to happen. He's doing it a lot faster than other people. There's a lot of cabinet secretaries in previous administration, and people probably wish the President had traded out sooner in those administrations as well.

SANDERS: Look, Mike, I think this is a little different because the current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is a sworn enemy of the EPA prior to him being installed as EPA administrator.

SHIELDS: Which is the real reason why he's being attacked, because the left hates the fact that he is --

SANDERS: Also, though, Mike he is also --


SHIELDS: -- an agenda that they keep -- the religious level, got to get rid of Scott Pruitt. There's no bigger enemy.

SANDERS: -- personal piggy bank. There is little even his political mentor Senator Inhofe is calling for an ethical investigation into his conduct. So I really think what this about is that, one, Scott Pruitt is not suited to be the EPA administrator in the first place and had no business being there. But two, this job has exposed exactly who he is.

(CROSSTALK) A.B. STODDARD: Mike, mike. It is not the Sierra Club's fault or the media's fault or some deep state's fault or liberals' fault that Scott Pruitt is an ethical dumpster fire. He was absolutely qualified, I just agree with Symone, to take this job.

[21:30:00] But my three high school students could deregulate and undo all of the Obama era regulations at the EPA. It's really lack of time. Anyone could be in Scott Pruitt's position doing the best to sort of -- like I said, scale back everything Obama did and put in place every policy priority of the President's. It is his doing and his doing alone that he is in the situation he finds himself in, and they want to get rid of him. It has nothing to do with his policy practices.

SHIELDS: Well, I think one thing you have to keep in context in Washington, D.C. is look what happening with the secretary of state's position, a position that traditionally has been completely bipartisan, where people have been confirmed overwhelmingly --

STODDARD: That has nothing to do with Scott Pruitt.

SHIELDS: But what happens, what Democrats do that is, they ruin their credibility when senators come on here and start attacking every other nominee. Because we know what's going on. The Democrats are looking for scalps and they're attacking everyone in this administration they possibly can.

SANDERS: I want to say one quick thing, the difference, I do believe, between Pompeo's nomination for secretary of state, and he is being confirmed as the CIA Director and then the secretary of state, you are the person who is the top diplomat for America. Pompeo has said and backed some extremely problematic things. He's been anti-Muslim, he's been anti-gay people, he's been problematic with women. Which, if that's what we believe as Americans across the board, sign him up and send them through. I do not think that's who we are as the American people.

COOPER: Kirsten, do you think --

SHIELDS: Those things are OK when he is in the CIA, then.

SANDERS: I didn't think they were OK.

SHIELDS: The Democrats have voted for what you just describe for him in the CIA. I guess --

SANDERS: I don't think they were OK, but the job description in the CIA directors is a little bit different than description as the secretary of state.


SHIELDS: I guess that's OK.

POWERS: Nobody made Scott Pruitt go to Morocco on a multi-day trip and have a one-on-one meeting. OK, I mean that's -- nobody made him do that. Nobody made him go and have this shady setup with a lobbyist and pay $50 a night. That's why he's being investigated by one of his top supporters. Senator Inhofe is literary one of his top supporters. He is totally in lockup (ph) of the team in term of everything he believes. So in this case, I just don't think you can pin it on the left or some liberal establishment.

LIZZA: This idea that -- I mean, I really cannot believe that you think this is the administration with the best people, as that word is traditionally defined. There's none better.

I mean, there is a word that gets thrown around a lot by the left and Democrats to describe the Trump administration as a kakistocracy, government by the worst.

Now, whether you believe that or not, I don't believe Democrats talking about the Obama administration that way, or Democrats talking about the Bush administration that way. So when your administration is credibly being described as kakistocracy, this new word there, I don't think any of us even knew before the Trump era, you probably have some problems and you're probably not getting the absolutely B-E- S-T.

SHIELDS: Right, forget about how Democrats talk about President Bush.


COOPER: But wait, but this White House has had a problem because there were a number of Republicans who were never Trumpers or who said critical things about the President, which clearly this White House ruled out those people. I mean, do you believe that that may have been part of the problem in terms of the limited pool that they had to --

SANTORUM: There's no question the bench to choose from was not as deep as -- well, for any administration, I mean, there was a clear division, really, the old Bush folks, a lot of the old Bush folks never got over the treatment of Jeb during the primary and were never Trumpers. And a lot of those Bush folks didn't want anything to do with this administration.

But I disagree. Look, I was very critical of the Obama administration because it was filled with a bunch of academics, people who had no practical experience at all. In fact, it had the highest percentage of academics in any administration since FDR, and they had no practical experience on how to deal with these agencies in the real world. Trump went in and put in a bunch of real world people. You can say they were -- I don't even know that word, but whatever the word you were just saying, and yes, you bring in people who are not government people, who are not academics and you're going to have some difficult times in this town because you're doing things very differently.

LIZZA: Do you think the best cream of the crop, the best?

SANTORUM: I think he puts -- look, if you look at the -- yes, I think if you go through the list of folks in there, you have some really outstanding people. Look --


SHIELDS: And also the country was tired of really slick politicians that didn't have any problems with real world experience that were doing things that were harming them. And so they voted for a President that was completely different, those from the private sector that never held office before, and they're going to tolerate a little lumpiness as long as he keep changing people --


SANDERS: Let me tell you that that is not true, as someone who has spoken with these particularly persuadable voters, people they call Obama-Trump voters. It's not true the people just put up with what's going on in this White House. These --

[21:35:00] SHIELDS: No, what I'm saying is they want their lives to be better, they don't care about a lot of the scandals in D.C. and if somebody is going to come to D.C. and offend everybody in this city by appointing people they don't like -- they're like good, I want this to be a friend --

LIZZA: That's not a governing philosophy.

SHIELDS: Absolutely.

LIZZA: I want people who will offend my political opponents?

SHIELDS: No. I want people that are going to come offend the establishment and shake things up because the establishment hasn't been working for the people for years.

LIZZA: How is that a governing philosophy?

SANTORUM: Well, there's so many philosophy, the policies that President --


SANTORUM: I think you just hit on something that I hear a lot on the right, is I don't care about anything. I just want to piss off my political opponents.

SHIELDS: No, no, no --

SANTORUM: It's a negative partisanship. The right is we have policies, and the reason Scott Pruitt may survive this is because he's actually policy driven and he's actually doing things in this administration and conservatives wanted to do.


SANTORUM: These are questions we need to look at, and he has a right to have his, "day in court" or day before congress to have these questions answered. COOPER: Let's take a break, when we come back, a lot more all the inside details. We're learning about tonight first state dinner of the Trump administration.


COOPER: Tonight the President and First Lady are hosting the first state dinner of the Trump administration under way now with President and Mrs. Macron of France. First Lady Melania Trump has reportedly handled a lot of the planning for tonight dinner, choosing the color scheme, the China sittings, the center pieces, working with the team to pull it all together.

[21:40:06] Tonight's dinner capture the day, they got everyone talking on social media from the First Lady's big white hat to the President has had multiple interactions with President Macron throughout the day, full lot of interesting variations and what it means to shake hands.

Back with Ryan Lizza, Kirsten Powers, A.B. Stoddard, and CNN White House Reporter Kate Bennett.

So I understand -- so the planning of this dinner was -- sort of nothing to past administration with the decor for tonight?

BENNETT: Sure. I mean, she really barrow from -- she took -- she is the Clinton China, which I kind of love, which is very gilded in gold actually. Some of the glass ware from the Bush administration, the kitchen used herbs and vegetable from Michelle Obama's garden and honey from the beehive on the south lawns. So she certainly like looked at things to inspire her. The gift she gave the Macrons was a piece of fabric from the blue room from James Monroe? I'm fuzzy on my Presidents long time ago. She found it all through, and I think that's interesting because President Trump is so off the cuff and his history is a little fuzzy at times. She's really meticulous.

COOPER: And who is the guess list, who stands out?

BENNETT: So what's end to me tonight is who wasn't there. I feel like there are cabinet members who have been -- headlines lately who weren't there, or we didn't see Bingky (ph), we didn't see Pruitt, we didn't see Ben Carson, we didn't see Nikki Haley. It is more maybe who we didn't see, than who we did see, we saw Mnuchin, we Ross, we saw some of the more sort of Trump friends in the cabinet. Not a lot of Democrats, certainly not the star power that we're used to seeing.

COOPER: I think only one Democrat was invited, the governor of Louisiana.

BENNETT: Who is --

COOPER: Obviously the French history in Louisiana.

BENNETT: Yes, exactly. Some Cajun food was served tonight as well, Cajun-Inspired Jambalaya, but certainly not the partisan affairs that we've been seeing in the past, sort of reflective. COOPER: Rupert Murdoch, obviously I think was there, obviously, from Fox News?

LIZZA: And also Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and interestingly, Tim Cook took Lisa Jackson, apparently, we saw them together there, and Lisa Jackson was President Obama's EPA administrator, and a well-known liberal Democrat. She now works for Apple. So a kind of, you know, Pruitt not there, but at least a Jackson was there.

I think it's kind of sad that we're at such a place with the Trump administration that even as a gesture just for the optics, no Nancy Pelosi, no members with maybe Democrats with a French background in Congress, you know, just a completely -- even state dinners now are almost entirely partisan.

COOPER: There is also -- I mean, I don't know much about hats, but there was a lot of talk today about the hats. Why was this such a big deal?

BENNETT: I think it was a moment, and I think she thinks her outfits through very carefully. And as I was saying to some people today, I don't really remember what the President was saying when he got to the podium because everybody was hat, hat, hat. Certainly she took the spotlight away from him, really. It was a custom-made hat by her personal stylist. It was free style (ph). People were saying it looked like Beyonce formation, Olivia Pope in "scandal." Certainly there was some influence of something she left it on all day, inside and out. And, you know, she really -- she trended, as we say, with that hat. So she looked great, but it was a moment to take away a spotlight that was an important diplomatic moment.

COOPER: It is interesting that this is the first state dinner of this administration. I don't know what it says, but it's interesting.

BENNETT: It's been a while.

LIZZA: Most Presidents have one in their first year, right, and it usually sends some kind of statement about maybe a change in policy or reorienting towards one country or another. You know, I think -- as someone who thinks it's really important for an inexperienced President who is a bit impulsive like Donald Trump to have some guardrails, I think it's a good thing that he and Macron have this relationship, because Macron seems to have figured out sort of the Trump psychology.

You know, you praise him a lot, you say nice things about him, he'll be your best friend. And frankly, that could have important dividends for our foreign policy when you have someone -- Trump doesn't listen to any of the Democrats, he doesn't listen to any of the sort of traditional liberal foreign policy establishment. If he's going to listen to the President of France, that might be a good thing for the United States. That's one thing you get out of this relationship that I personally think is a positive thing.

COOPER: It is interesting the degree to which it seems like Macron has sort of figured out a way to work with President Trump? STODDARD: Yes. He's effusive and he prefaced this meeting by preparing a great strategy, which is get on Fox News and make points about serious policies like the Iran deal and terrorists and those kinds of things. But he plays up that they're both mavericks that they were the outsider who came in and they share that in common and they represent the people and not the establishment. And Trump loves that. And then there's a lot of touching and now double kissing.

[21:45:15] COOPER: Also sort of a weird bro hug today.

STODDARD: Yes. It just been -- it got a little strange. But Trump actually was enjoying it, it's obvious. But on substance when he was answering the questions on the Iran deal, he made it clear he came to provide Trump an off ramp on the Iran deal that would make it look like he wasn't re-certifying but he wasn't entirely pulling out. He strategized long and hard about this, and the way that he greased it, at least by the reception of the press conference, thus far seems like he's pretty successful.

COOPER: There was one item on the menu today that did not agree with the President. Reporters questioned him about Michael Cohen and quite the answer from the President is next.


[21:50:06] COOPER: As you know, the President's lawyer Michael Cohen is under a criminal investigation today in the Oval Office, Jonathan Karl a question about Cohen's possible future and let's just say the President didn't seem to like the questions very much. Take a look.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, what about Michael Cohen? Are you considering a pardon Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: All right. Thank you very much. Stupid.


TRUMP: Stupid question.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. He called it a stupid question. Kirsten, I mean, in one sentence it's a difficult question because Michael Cohen has not been charged with anything. So the question with pardon maybe premature, the people can be pardon before they actually charge.

POWERS: I think it's a reasonable thing to ask especially considering how much he is demonstrated his willingness to pardon some people, Joe Arpaio for example and then having conversations about other pardons and the fact that he is clearly quite enraged over the FBI raiding Cohen's office. And I don't think he knows for sure he has tweeted out that he believes that Michael Cohen wouldn't flip but I don't think that he necessarily positive about that. COOPER: I mean, he is clearly still -- you know, we talked to Maggie Haberman earlier. He is clearly very upset by her article, which in great details through numerous sources details the way Donald Trump as a citizen has treated Michael Cohen over the years in public and in private and public.

LIZZA: Not a stupid question. It's been reported that his legal team bungled the idea of a pardon before some of the people Mueller has indicted or is looking into.

He has had true high profile pardons that were highly controversial the sheriff in Arizona and recently Scooter Libby --

COOPER: He has also reached out to Michael Cohen on the phone and had him to Mar-a-Lago for dinner?

LIZZA: Yes. And at the pick of all of this conversation, will he or will he not consider pardoning Cohen. He does this sort of mysterious tweet about Sylvester Stallone calling him about a past famous pardon.

So I think it was a pretty good question. I think the idea of pardon is in the air. The idea of, you know, several of his former staffers and administration officials have been indicted. It's a good question.

COOPER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Look, first I don't think the pardons that he issued to Joe Arpaio or to Scooter Libby were a controversial scare. Libby it should have been pardoned a long time ago, that was an outrage what happened to Scooter Libby. So I don't think it is pardons are outrageous. I think that --

POWERS: Why did George Bush pardon him then? I mean, if it's something that so open --

SANTORUM: Pretty controversial, the former President deeply, deeply disagreed with it. And he saw it up close --

POWERS: And he really wanted him do it --

SANTORUM: Yes, I think -- look, this was another special prosecutor operation that the special prosecutor knew the person he was pursuing was not guilty for --

LIZZA: Fair enough. I just said it was controversial. It was controversial enough that George W. Bush and his vice president basically their relationship blew up over it.

SANTORUM: Come on. It was controversial.

COOPER: Do you think it was coincidental that the President did that with Scooter Libby when he did it and the Joe Arpaio when he did it and also talking about Jack Johnson suddenly out of the blue.

SANTORUM: Yes. I don't think that the President does anything necessarily without thinking through some aspect of it. And is it possible that the President trying to send a message? Yes, I think it is possible the President is trying to think a message.

SHIELDS: Yes. I think there's a game-- we're talking about this before. There's a game being played between Mueller and his team.


SHIELDS: And raiding Cohen's office was a part of that game. And I think you have taken on face value there's a lot of news, reports that it was raided. We all see that. I think behind the scenes these teams are having a chess game back and forth. They're trying -- the Mueller's team trying to get the President to sit down, how long would he sit down for. Would he answer question in raiding. The President saying don't cross these lines or I'm not cooperate. They are saying we are going to force you to cooperate, we're going to cross every line and we're going to -- There's sort of messages being sent like a code war sending message to each other and I do see some of this being a part of that message. By the way, side note, he should pardon Jack Johnson and he should look at a lot of other cases like Jack Johnson --

COOPER: But said though a game though, that means that a judge --

POWERS: Right Mueller --

COOPER: I mean, are you not saying that, there's not potential reason to do those raids? I mean the judge sign off on it. You know, this was clearly --

SHIELDS: I think a prosecutor also plays game. And I think that of course we don't know they're just doing -- following along, they're investigating people and -- but then when people get indictment or they make a big show of something that all of sudden we sort of say, oh yes, they probably did that so send a signal to the Trump people. They indicted this person, they send a signal. Of course they're playing games. They are trying to match with his team and put pressure on them and the Trump team hopefully is pushing back in a sophisticated way to put pressure on them. And of course, who is the lead lawyer in the Trump team, President Trump because he is the chief of staff, the communication director and the legal counsel for his team as well. So he is going the send messages back to Mueller team about -- hey I'm not going to go there or -- you know, I'm not afraid to do explains.

POWERS: But Mueller is not the one who raided the office. I don't understand like he didn't have the --


[21:55:02] POWERS: He referred something to New York and they are the ones that went and go after warrant and --

STODDARD: And you can't do it without meeting a high threshold for the likelihood of evidence. SHIELDS: He referred it. It's considered to be part -- if you don't

think President Trump thinks that Mueller had something to do with that, I mean, there are signals that are being sent. That's my whole point. There are a lot of things we say on face value. My belief, I don't know this, I'm not privy to this, just reading about other types of investigation like this, prosecutors and the people that are being investigated are sending signals to each other. That's happening.

SANDERS: Here is my question. The President tweeted he didn't think that Michael Cohen would flip. The President did not tweet that there was nothing for Michael Cohen to flip on.

STODDARD: He never talks like that.

SANDERS: I think Donald Trump is scared. I absolutely think he is sending signals but there's clearly something there and maybe still more find out what is it.

COOPER: All right, thanks everybody. We'll be right back. More news ahead.


COOPER: Before we go tonight, quick reminder about tomorrow night be sure to tune for live town hall of former FBI Director James Comey about his new book and all of the controversy its been creating. I'll be moderating the questions from audience. Tune in for the CNN Town Hall Comey Truth, Lies and Leadership, Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. I hope you join us for that.

Thanks for watching 360. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon, CNN Tonight starts right now.