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CNN Sources: Cohen Claims Trump Knew Of 2016 Trump Tower Meeting In Advance; White House Reacts To CNN Cohen Exclusive; The Politics Of The Scoop; Deadly Wildfire Threatening 5,000 Homes; Putin Invites Pres. Trump To Moscow For More Talks; Fractured Friendship; Michael Cohen And Pres. Trump's Relationship Implodes. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:40] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the second hour of "360". Chris Cuomo is off tonight.

We begin with reaction to the story that broke on his program last night and all the possible repercussions from what was a true shocker. Michael Cohen, the President's former attorney and fixer, reportedly ready to tell Russia's special counsel Mueller that candidate Trump knew in advance about the now infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. Now if true, not only would it demolish the story the President and others have been telling about the meeting, it might also give credence to the case that the campaign did in fact attempt to in the very least collude with Russia. We'll talk about that tonight.

But first, Randi Kaye sets the stage.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On June 3rd, 2016, in an e-mail prosecute publicist Rod Goldstone, Donald Trump Jr. is promise the incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. His response, if it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.

Six days later, Don Jr. met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower. Joining him, Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. When the "New York Times" broke the story last year about the secret meeting, Don Jr. didn't initially disclose the intended purpose of the meeting. Instead, he said the purpose was to discuss the adoption of Russian children. But the very next day when the "Times" broke the news that the President's son was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Don Jr. issued a statement saying, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were supporting Mrs. Clinton. He also said the lawyer changed the subject to adoption.

Two days after the story broke, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denied the President had any prior knowledge of the meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did the President learn that that meeting had taken place? SARAH SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY: I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.

KAYE (voice-over): The next day on fox news, Don Jr. told Sean Hannity his father was unaware of the meeting.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: No. it was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell.

KAYE (voice-over): That narrative worked until it didn't. The story would soon unravel. The morning after Don Jr.'s denials on Fox News, the President's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told CNN this.

JAY SEKULOW, DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYER: The President was not aware of the meeting, did not attending the meeting, and was only made aware of the e-mails very recently by counsel. I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the President.

KAYE (voice-over): A week later, a strong denial from the President himself during this taped interview with the "New York Times."

STEVE SCHMIDT, GOP STRATEGIST: Did you know at the time they had the meeting?

TRUMP: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting.

SCHMIDT: But, you know --

TRUMP: It must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No one told you a word, nothing? I know we talked about this on the plane a little bit.

TRUMP: Nobody told me. I didn't know anything. It's a very unimportant -- it sounded like a very unimportant meeting.

KAYE (on-camera): If that's true, and the President didn't know anything about it as he says, how does he explain what happened next? The "Washington Post" reported last July that the President himself decided to say the meeting was about adoption and dictated the misleading statement Don Jr. gave the "New York Times." The paper said the President dictated the statement aboard Air Force One the day the story first broke on his way back to Washington from the G20 summit in Germany.

(voice-over): Then in January this year, the President's lawyer, Sekulow, suddenly contradicted earlier claims he and the White House had made that the President was not involved in drafting his son's statement. In a letter to special counsel Robert Mueller, Sekulow said, the President dictated a short but accurate response to the "New York Times" article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump Jr. After reports emerged that President Trump had actually drafted his son's statement, Sarah Sanders went into damage control mode because of her own earlier statements about the timing of the President's knowledge of the meeting.

SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate but, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.

KAYE (voice-over): Still, the denials about whether the President knew continued. In September last year when Don Jr. was asked by the Senate judiciary committee if his father knew about the Trump Tower meeting in advance, he told senators, no. I wouldn't have wasted his time with it. And that might be true, and chances Robert Mueller wants to find out.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


[21:05:05] COOPER: Well the President meantime weighed in this morning on Twitter calling Michael Cohen a liar, suggesting Cohen is now a tool of crooked Hillary. He's in New Jersey tonight at his golf club and left today without answering questions from reporters on the south lawn.

Joining us from the north lawn, CNN's Abby Phillip. Now, any reaction from the White House today on what he knew or did not know about that Trump Tower meeting?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nothing really at all, Anderson. The White House has had one strategy, deflect questions and change the subject. They held a press conference in the Rose Garden today about economic numbers, talked about North Korea, but didn't talk about this much at all except for what you just mentioned, the President's tweet this morning denying that he knew anything about this meeting, but really not offering himself up to the many questions that we in the White House press corps have had for him all week about this.

He also left for Bedminster this afternoon, ignoring questions once again. It's just a pattern of this White House refusing to answer for why statements made both from the President and also from his senior aides at the White House press podium have not turned out to be true, or at least they are now under question based on what we now are hearing from what Michael Cohen might have to say to special counsel Mueller. It wouldn't be the first time that Sarah Sanders has had to correct herself after making statements about what the President knew and didn't know, but this time Sarah Sanders hasn't even been available to answer questions about this. The White House has been virtually silent.

COOPER: Yes. I mean is there reporting on how the President actually feeling about the latest news?

PHILLIP: Well, the President has been very angry. That's what we're hearing from an administration official this week. He's been watching the coverage on television, angry with Cohen for releasing the tapes, for bringing up these news stories, for hiring Bill and Hillary Clinton's former attorney, and he's also been angry at the news media for continually asking him questions about this and not about a lot of other things that he would rather talk about. The President has been stewing about this coverage. He wants to change the subject, and he is talking to his lawyers as well, talking about legal strategies for how they cope with this.

It seems, though, Anderson, that the strategy they've come up with is attack Michael Cohen and say nothing publicly to the media.

COOPER: And still no explanation from the White House why it seems like the President lied about his knowledge of any payment from AMI to Karen McDougal.

PHILLIP: This is another case of the White House making statements about what the President did and did not know. Senior Trump officials have said that the President didn't know anything about these payments. That turned out to be completely untrue based on the audio tape of the President himself talking about that payment with Michael Cohen before the election.

But, again, here the White House refusing to talk about it. White House aides are now referring questions about this issue to the President's outside lawyers even though some of these issues involve the statements made by people who worked in the White House now or very recently.

So, Anderson, they're hoping that we don't continue asking questions about this. There hasn't been a White House press briefing in several days. There have only been three this month at all. They are clamping down on the opportunities that reporters get to ask both the President and also senior White House officials' questions about all of these matters.

COOPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thanks very much.

Needless to say, CNN's scoop on Michael Cohen got a lot of people talking, including in Capitol Hill, especially among Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee who believe their Republican colleagues ended their investigation far too soon.

Earlier tonight I spoke with one member, Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.


COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, Michael Cohen testified in front of your committee back in October of last year. Did he say anything that indicated the President did, in fact, know about this meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D) CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Anderson. Michael Cohen was asked by our committee about the Trump Tower meeting. We're not allowed to go into what he said, but I do believe this is all the reason that the Republicans should release the transcripts, not just for Michael Cohen but every witness who was interviewed around the Trump Tower meeting.

I will say this, though. Michael Cohen is being accused of being a liar, but all of the lies that he has told were on behalf of Donald Trump, and we have seen every day in America witnesses who come forward, testify in court, change their story because they want to tell the truth, and juries rely on that, and that is often persuasive if it can be corroborated. And that's what we have to do now is to see if his testimony can be corroborated.

COOPER: If it turns out Donald Trump Jr. didn't tell the truth in front of Congress, should he be held in contempt? Would there be any appetite from Republicans obviously to do so?

SWALWELL: Right now, there's no appetite from the Republicans. They closed our investigation. I think this revelation shows how premature and irresponsible it was that we ended our investigation because ideally with this new information, you would bring Michael Cohen back, give him an opportunity to come clean, and then you'd also want to confront Donald Trump Jr. with the new information. Thankfully Bob Mueller is able to pursue this, and that's all the more reason that his investigation should be protected.

COOPER: Is there any reason to take Cohen's word over the President's on this? I mean Cohen certainly didn't make a career as the President's fixer of being guided, you know, it seems by truth and honesty?

[21:10:03] SWALWELL: Well, the tough part here is they've all lied from the President, when he tried to clean up his son's statement and when this was revealed, to Donald Trump Jr. when he first told the public what this meeting was about. But in our investigation, we believe that the President did know for a number of reasons. One, he was just one floor above where this meeting took place when it took place. He had put out days before the meeting took place that new information about Hillary Clinton was coming. We also know that the President used a blocked number at that time, and Donald Trump Jr., before the meeting took place, talked to the Russians in a one-hour period, called the blocked number, and then talked to the Russians again.

And then finally, Anderson, the family that asked Donald Trump Jr. to arrange this meeting were very close to candidate Trump, and it's someone that candidate Trump corresponded with just days after the meeting. So all the circumstantial evidence suggests that he did know and actually would have been weirder if he had not been reading (ph).

COOPER: Yes, I mean just the common sense thing of the headline from that meeting, even from the e-mail, is the Russian government is supporting your campaign. If you're Donald Trump Jr., I find it almost impossible to believe that he's not going to say to his dad, hey, guess what, I don't know if this is true or not, but we've been told now by -- you know, by this prominent family and these people representing that the Russian government is supporting your campaign. We're going to meet with them, or we just met with them and nothing came of it. But they said they were supporting your campaign. SWALWELL: And, Anderson, because so much of our testimony came from self-serving deniers, the people, you know, who were at the meeting and said that Donald Trump never knew about it, we sought to build the closeness in relationship between Donald Trump Jr. and his father. And what we established was that Donald Trump Jr. often relayed to his father the most minute information that was coming from the campaign.

So, again, to suggest that he wouldn't bring to his father something as powerful as the Russians seeking to help his campaign and hurt his opponent, it's just -- it doesn't add up.

COOPER: Yes. Congressman Swalwell, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.


COOPER: More now on the many legal implications here for the President, his son, and Michael Cohen. Joining us is two -- our two CNN legal analyst, Carrie Cordero and Asha Rangappa.

So, I mean Carrie, the President has never been under oath about this. So I mean if Michael Cohen not only tells this to Robert Mueller but also has people who can corroborate it, does legally speaking is there any risk for the President?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's risk in terms of the broader Russia investigation. So a lot of times we talk about collusion.

COOPER: Right.

CORDERO: But what that really means if we want to translate it into the legal framework is conspiracy. And it's very clear that the Mueller investigation is conducting a broad conspiracy investigation. That's what they charged the Russian intelligence officers with, conspiracy to defraud the United States. And then they did the hacking and the unauthorized access to computer systems to facilitate that conspiracy. So the closer we get to either the President or his inner circle having advance knowledge of any of those activities, coordinating in any way in those activities, then the closer we get to their legal exposure in the big overall investigation.

COOPER: And in terms of Donald Trump Jr., if he lied to Congress, there would be legal jeopardy for --

CORDERO: So they potentially -- yes, I mean he could potentially face proceedings for, if he perjured himself in front of Congress under oath. Any individuals who have been interviewed certainly by the special counsel's team, even if they're not before the grand jury, but if they're interviewed by federal agents, then they have exposure on false statements. So there's a lot of exposure at that lower level.

But if we're talking about the overall big investigation and major exposure both legally and of course politically if it turns out they were involved in this conspiracy in some way, that's the big, significant change.

COOPER: Asha, just in terms of the phone calls that Donald Trump Jr. made to the blocked phone number before and after the Trump Tower meeting, we don't know who was on the other line. If that was in fact Donald Trump on the other end of the line, would that be something that Mueller's investigators would be able to find out?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. They can subpoena those phone records and be able to see where those -- to whom those calls were being made, and that could corroborate the timing, for example, of Michael Cohen's account. And just to complement what Carrie just said, from the intelligence standpoint, collusion doesn't have to be criminal to be a national security threat. She mentioned the Russians were hacking information, and trying to weaponize it to promote candidates to help Russia. So anyone who worked with them secretly to facilitate or encourage it is colluding, whether they meet the elements for conspiracy is a different story. But I think we have to remember that there is a national security aspect to this as well as a criminal aspect.

COOPER: But that national security aspect, I mean that doesn't -- I mean that would really only come into play in terms of impeachment proceedings, wouldn't it? Or are you saying that's illegal -- that would have legal implications as well?

RANGAPPA: Well it could have legal implications. I mean we see that there are tools that are used on the intelligence side like FISAS and other techniques that have a lower threshold precisely because we're looking at the security of the United States, not necessarily trying to pursue criminal charges.

[21:15:10] When what they see crosses into the criminal realm, you're going to see the indictments that Mueller is bringing. But there's a whole story behind the scenes, and I think we can just look at the things that we've seen in front of our faces that Don Jr. happily accepted this meeting from Russia offering dirt on his opponent, which is, you know, a part of their covert action. And, you know, there's a lot of colluding behavior staring us right in the face that may not ever result in charges.

COOPER: Well, Carrie, we also know what Michael Cohen has previously said in front of Congress about this very issue. So if he didn't tell the truth then, there's obviously legal jeopardy for him there.

CORDERO: He has some exposure in terms of whether he would have to go back and perhaps correct his testimony. So that's something that a witness before Congress could do. They could go back and either write a letter or ask to reappear to correct their testimony. But I think the bigger picture whether or not it's Michael Cohen who provides this information to the special counsel's office, the more important point is whether or not it's true.

COOPER: Right.

CORDERO: Not so much that Michael Cohen provides the information that Donald Trump knew about this meeting if, in fact, he did and the purpose of it, but whether it's true. And so that goes to the bigger question of whether or not individuals in the campaign knew in advance. And so if we look, for example, at the Russia indictment of the Russian intelligence officers, there was a date that stood out to a lot of people including myself who read it, which was July 27th, 2016. And that was the date that Donald Trump as a candidate --

COOPER: Right.

CORDERO: -- had stood up and said, you know, WikiLeaks, I hope that you hack into e-mails, and what the indictment shows is that very day, Russian intelligence officers tried to access e-mails affiliated with Hillary Clinton --

COOPER: Right. He said Russia, look into the 30,000 e-mails. You'll get a lot of praise from reporters.

CORDERO: Exactly. And so there were these as Asha's describing, there were these activities that were taking place in plain sight.

COOPER: Right.

CORDERO: And what it may turn out to be is -- are those activities that took place in plain sight turn out to have been actual advance knowledge of things that were going on?

COOPER: Carrie Cordero, Asha Rangappa, thanks so much.

Coming up next, two political pros weigh in and whether they believe Michael Cohen and what they think this will mean to his former client and confidant.

And later live report from the fire lines in Northern California where fast moving flames are now threatening tens of thousands of people. No sign yet of when conditions will improve.


[21:21:03] COOPER: When Shakespeare wrote in the tempest that misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows, he probably did not have Reagan National Airport in mind or today specifically. Take a look at there in the background, the guy on the phone in the background, at gate 35X. That's Donald Trump Jr., and in the foreground with the newspaper, that's Robert Mueller. The two apparently did not speak. But we hope our next two guests will. CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes. Always good to have you. And Republican strategist Rick Wilson, author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies".

Rick, so just in terms of getting to the bottom of this, how much does it complicate things that neither Cohen nor the President have the best track record with the truth?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think the thing with Cohen is he's got something that is called paper. And he's got records, and he's got documents. He's got contracts. He's got the record of the NDAs, that Trump has had various women sign over the years. He's got a variety of things where Trump went out to make deals and to get financing over the years.

So there's a pile of paper on top of Michael Cohen's just assertion alone, and there's also phone records and there are text messages and obviously the guy records things. And I'm sure he screen capped tweets and texts and messages back and forth with Trump. And so he sought to protect himself for some time well before this. So I think it's a bad bet to say that Michael Cohen doesn't have things beyond just his assertion. I also think it's a bad bet to think Robert Mueller doesn't have those things.

COOPER: Right.

WILSON: And overlaps of those things. And I think we're going to end up in a situation where, you know, he said/he said. It's going to redound to the dark haired scuzzy guy rather than the blond scuzzy guy.

COOPER: Steve, I mean if it turns out to be true that President Trump knew about this meeting at Trump Tower with Russians ahead of time and approved it, do you see that as a big problem for the President, I mean if for no other reason in fact, I mean obviously he would be caught in yet another lie?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, hold on. I won't say yet another lie because I don't concur with your opinion that he's some sort of serial liar.

COOPER: Well he lied about not knowing about the AMI deal with Karen McDougal. We now know that.

CORTES: Rick, you can --

WILSON: Steve --

CORTES: Rick, you can cackle OK, you cackle, but the idea, I just reject --

WILSON: Steve --


COOPER: But you are admitting he lied about the AMI deal of Karen, not knowing about the Karen McDougal AMI deal, yes? Because we now have a tape of him talking about it.

CORTES: It seems as though. I have not heard a satisfactory explanation of that. But I'm not prepared to say he lied either.


CORTES: I'm not. No. And -- and -- but this is important. I mean it really is, Anderson. For you to just say matter of factly, well, the President is a serial liar and, you know, XYZ, but we can't proceed that way --

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Well, he lied about millions of illegal immigrants voting in California for Hillary Clinton, and that's why he didn't win the popular vote. He lied about and got, you know, Sean Spicer to lie about the crowd size. I mean those are just two demonstrably things on, what, the first day in office or second day. So it's been a litany of things since then.

WILSON: Yes. I -- not to put too fine a point on it, Anderson, Steve, look, brother, you are living in an entirely separate linguistic and symbiotic universe if you believe that Donald Trump does not lie out his ass every single day. He is a president who is notorious. He is infamous. These are not just lies of omission. These are lies of assertion. This is a guy who lies about everything constantly.

CORTES: OK, here's the lie.

WILSON: It's not just some --

CORTES: Here's the real lie.


WILSON: Steve, it's not some deep conspiracy.

CORTES: Right, here's the real lie.


WILSON: He makes factual misstatements every single day. Every single day.

CORTES: Here's the real lie. The real lie --


COOPER: One at a time.


COOPER: Steve.

CORTES: Here's the real lie. The real lie is that Russia somehow won this election for Donald Trump, that Russia somehow convinced voters in Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan that they were duped somehow into voting for Donald Trump. That is the actual grand lie that is being told in Washington, D.C. and in mainstream media all day, every day. It's a damnable lie.


[21:25:08] WILSON: Steve, I think the grander lie has to do with total hypocrisy.


CORTES: And is the birtherism of the left. This is the new birtherism. Because we want --

COOPER: The old birtherism was by the guy he said doesn't lie.


WILSON: Steve, the difference between birtherism and Russia --


WILSON: The difference between birtherism and Russia, Steve, is that Russia actually helped Donald Trump, and Barack Obama was never born in Kenya.

CORTES: Really?

WILSON: There's smoke and there's fire.

CORTES: How did Russia help Donald Trump? I mean Rick, here's the thing.


WILSON: Oh, I'm sorry, Steve. I know you don't believe our intelligence services, every single one of them. I know that you don't believe that every single one of our intelligence services has asserted that not only did Russia interfere in our election, have a meaningful impact on our election and did so to elect Donald Trump.


CORTES: That's a lie. That's a lie.

WILSON: You live in a separate fact bubble. It is not a lie, Steve.


CORTES: No, hold on. Hold on.


COOPER: Nobody can hear when everybody is talking over. But wait, Steve, you brought up birtherism. That was a Donald Trump lie. You said you don't see him lying. You just compared birtherism as kind of a bad thing as being kind of a not genuine thing. That was a thing of the president's.

WILSON: Incredibly bad thing.

COOPER: Yes, that was a thing of the president's.

CORTES: Much to his discredit.

WILSON: And the President won't --

CORTES: Can I answer, Rick?


CORTES: Will you for one second be quiet? Much to his discredit by the way, and he repudiated it during the 2016 campaign. I'm very glad he didn't.


COOPER: He didn't repudiate it. He never apologized or --

CORTES: Yes, he did. He said President was born in the United States and the case is closed. He did. Yes, he did.

COOPER: Well, he said that.


COOPER: He didn't say, I lied about it and I've been making it up. I didn't send investigators to Hawaii like I claimed because there's never been any evidence of that. I mean there was none of --


COOPER: Right.

CORTES: Here's the thing. Here we are two years later. OK. Two years beyond that point. And Rick Wilson and a lot of people in mainstream media and a lot of leftists still cannot accept the verdict of the American people in 2016. And they weren't hoodwinked by Russia. Russia did not hack our election. They decided on their own volition and by on their own smarts, and by their own patriotism that we needed to go a different round. And by the way, so far they're reaping the benefits of that with massive economic growth. What we should be talking about today, what we should be celebrating and having a parade about is GDP above 4% in this country. The Trump boom is real. The Trump/Russia mania, fixation is not real. It's a mania. It's a new birtherism.

WILSON: Sadly, Steve, and I hate to bring this back, Steve, but you're going to have to live with the fact that Russia played a meaningful role in influencing our election. They played a meaningful role in targeted states where Donald Trump won by a narrow margin. They played a meaningful role in selecting and attempting to maneuver those states and to maneuver public opinion in those states in a pro- Trump direction. You're going to have to also accept that Donald Trump's campaign was in direct contact with Russians who are tied to the Russian government. You're going to also have to accept the fact that Donald Trump has continually lied about that.

And continually lied about the fact that he has no business with Russia, no financial ties with Russia when all these things are facts. They are coming forward. Those not already exposed will be exposed. You can pretend all you want it didn't happen, Steve, but it happened.

CORTES: No. Listen, if you believe all that by the way, I honestly feel sorry for you.

WILSON: Yes, Steve, you know why I believe it? Because I can read.


CORTES: OK. Well, I read pretty well too


CORTES: OK. Well, by the way, the intelligence community in the United States has made many massive mistakes over the years. They are not always correct. Their word is not infallible. But regarding the 2016 election, I think here's what's important too. If Donald Trump were somehow beholden to Russia, if he were an agent of Russia as has been claimed constantly by mainstream media and by a lot of really formerly respectable people, for instance, former heads of the CIA.

If he were an agent of Russia, he's doing a really terrible job of it because all he has done is counter their interests, including by the way in terms of the most forceful counter to them, annihilating, literally slaughtering Russian troops in the field, American to Russia combat in the field in Syria. That would not be happening if he were somehow a compromised Manchurian candidate.

COOPER: Steve. Rick, OK. Rick, I want your respond to that.

WILSON: Steve, listen, I think that the American people saw very clearly in Helsinki that Donald Trump did everything but strap on his knee pads, drop to his knees and polish Vladimir Putin's shoes --

CORTES: Oh god.

WILSON: -- that this is a man who is influenced and under the control of this -- of the Russians. He is absolutely, completely compromised. His behavior proves it.

CORTES: You've lot your mind. You're a birther.

WILSON: Why is it he won't come out --

CORTES: You're Al Jones of the right.

[21:30:03] WILSON: -- and assertively --

CORTES: Or of the left, I mean.

WILSON: -- discuss the invasion of the Crimea? Why isn't he won't --

COOPER: Doesn't the President like Alex Jones?

WILSON: -- say that Vladimir Putin engages in activities such as assassination shooting a civilian airliners, et cetera. I get it, Steve you are part of the cult. You're part of the Trump votaries who are going to out there and no matter what he says, you're going to say that he's the greatest hero in the history of this country.

COOPER: All right.

WILSON: Donald Trump --

COOPER: Now we got to go.

CORTES: That's not true. As a matter of fact I criticized him on this network after the Helsinki presser because I thought it was really a poor performance.


CORTES: And I said so very clearly. I wrote about it on RealClearPolitics. I thought it was the worst performance of his presidency so far.

COOPER: Steve Cortes --

CORTES: And by the way to -- if that's his worst day, I'll take it.

COOPER: All right. Steve Cortes, Rick Wilson glad you made it the shoe reference by the way.

Speaking of intelligence agencies and the people who are in the position to have answers to the question of Russia interference, we've got the former director of National Intelligence, next.


COOPER: President Vladimir Putin says he's invited President Trump to Moscow but there's, quote, "has to be necessary conditions". The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that the President is open to the visit but hasn't yet received a formal invitation. All this of course after President Trump tweeted that his national security adviser had invited Putin to Washington for a visit later this fall. Only to have that possible visit pushed back until early next year.

Joined now by the former director of National Intelligence, Retired Lieutenant General James Clapper, the author of "Facts And Fears: Hard Truths From A Life In Intelligence."

Director Clapper, the invite to Moscow under, quote, "necessary conditions". I'm wondering what do you suppose those necessary conditions are.

[21:35:03] LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, actually, you know, I don't know. But I just found that very interesting that Putin, who I think emerged as the alpha dog after the Helsinki press conference. And it seems to me he's gotten a bit cavalier about the fact that he doesn't have to kowtow to the U.S. or to President Trump.

And so now he's going to lay out conditions, which normally heads of state don't do when they're going to meet with the President of the United States. Now, it could be any number of things. It's been alluded to the referendum in the Ukraine, which would be bad and certainly go against the wishes of the Ukrainian government, de facto or de jure if not de facto, recognition of Assad in Syria and basically an evacuation. I don't know what those conditions might be. I know one thing, he'd probably prefer not to be exposed to a free press that can ask him questions.

COOPER: I spoke to Lt. Col. Ralph Peters last hour who made the point that from Putin's perspective, a meeting in Moscow would be a far more attractive idea. Putin could avoid, you know, pushback from the Congress or anything embarrassing like that, any kind of protest in the United States, he'd be able to receive President Trump with, you know, a lot of pomp and circumstance that certainly we know President Trump responds favorably to.

CLAPPER: Well, I think he's right. I think, you know, it's always better on your home turf anyway and these home in a way exchanges or on neutral ground. And I think certainly Putin would be -- the Russian government would be much more in control of things, probably be more organized, and certainly Putin could play to the President's ego with all the pomp and circumstance that the Russians are good at.

COOPER: Also today about President Trump, Putin said, you can criticize him for what he's doing and some people do criticize him. And however, one thing remains absolutely clear. He's committed to fulfilling his campaign promises.

You would think that if President Trump were in fact is tough on Russia as he claims to be, Putin wouldn't have nearly as flattering words to say about him. I mean the President is saying, you know, now Russia wants to interfere to help the Democrats in the next election.

CLAPPER: Well, that's -- I don't know where he got that. I don't know what evidence there is of that, you know. And I think the interference -- the hacking of Senator McCaskill's office, the case in point that sort of contradicts that.


CLAPPER: And of course this whole invitation thing back and forth kind of reminds me of the, you know, the French characters Alphonse and Gaston, you know, sir, you go first. No, you go first. And it's almost gotten to, you know, comical proportions here.

COOPER: And the President and his top national security advisers met today to discuss election security. How dedicated do you actually think the President is to making sure meddling doesn't take place again this fall, because I mean there was all this reporting months ago that there hadn't been any cabinet-level meeting really to kind of orchestrate. And we -- you and I have talked about this before.


COOPER: The importance of a top-down approach in terms of the President, you know, pulling all the levers of government to prevent and again make sure everybody is working on the same page.

CLAPPER: Well, you know, what are we? Over a year and a half in, and this administration, and now we're finally, you know, having a cabinet-level meeting to address this problem. And in the meantime, there really isn't anybody in charge the best I can tell.

I mean, I think individual agencies and departments, notably DHS, the Intelligence Community, FBI, et cetera are doing what they can within their scope of responsibilities to prepare for the midterm elections. The bigger issue, though, apart from, you know, getting the government on the same page, this needs to be not just an intergovernmental thing. It needs to be an intersociety thing.

COOPER: Right.

CLAPPER: There needs to be leadership across our country about the threat posed by the Russians in their continued efforts to meddle in our political processes.

COOPER: General Clapper, appreciate your time. Thank you.

President Trump and his one time personal lawyer Michael Cohen certainly seem to come apart at the seams this week. Just had a look into their long relationship and what's now happening.


[21:42:59] COOPER: As we've been discussing, President Trump is denying his former personal attorney's claims that he knew in advance about that infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016. That was the meeting attended by his son Don Jr. and its alleged purpose was to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, dirt provided by Russians who claimed to have relationships with the Russian government.

The relationship between Donald Trump and his one-time personal Attorney Michael Cohen, of course, has endured for years. It's one that's built on loyalty but that all seems to be changing. Here's CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger.


TRUMP: This is some turnout?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): In the private conversations between then-candidate Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, it turns out there was a tape.

MICHAEL COHEN, FMR LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: When if comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay --

TRUMP: -- with cash?

COHEN: Oh, no, no, no, no, I got -- no, no, no.

BORGER (voice-over): When Cohen decided to release his secret recording in which the two men talked about buying a Playboy model's story about her alleged affair with Trump, it was seen as Cohen's declaration of war against his former mentor, boss, and hero. A Shakespearean turnaround.

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: This man has come to a moment in his life, and I won't talk about what he did in the past for Donald Trump other than being a loyal defender as an attorney. But I will tell you my own personal view. This man has turned a corner in his life, has hit a reset button, and he's now dedicated to telling the truth.

BORGER (voice-over): But after more than a decade spent fixing Trump's problems, Cohen is facing a criminal investigation that led to FBI searches of his office, hotel, and home.

SAM NUNBERG, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Michael was, I'd always like to say, the Ray Donovan of the office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll take care of it.

NUNBERG: He took care of what had to be taken care of. I don't know what had to be taken care of, but all I know is that Michael was taking care of it.

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

BORGER (on-camera): 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.

[21:45:02] BORGER (voice-over): But Cohen did not call the boss, he says, when he decided to pay Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket, 11 days before the election.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIEL'S LAWYER: Well, I think it's a ludicrous.

BORGER (on-camera): So you believe 100% Donald Trump knew?

AVENATTI: One hundred percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.

BORGER (voice-over): But Rudy Giuliani says Trump did know.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So they funneled it through the law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm and the President repaid it. Oh, I didn't -- he did? Yes. BORGER: Cohen wouldn't go on the record for this piece, but his friends claim this was all part of his job in Trump world, giving the boss deniability and protection.

SCHWARTZ: If you know the relationship between the two people, he took care of a lot of things for Mr. Trump without Mr. Trump knowing about it. That's part of the overall structure is that Michael had great latitude to take care of matters.

BORGER (voice-over): In 2011, Michael Cohen described his job this way.

COHEN: 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 of concern to me. And I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.

It's going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit.

BORGER (voice-over): Often with threats as in this 2015 conversation with a reporter.

COHEN: I'm warning you with this tread very (INAUDIBLE) lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be (INAUDIBLE) disgusting. Do you understand me?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: This is also part of the Trump- Cohen method is you skate on the edge of what's reasonable. Everyone else walks up to it as if they're walking up to an electric fence, and they back off before they get shocked. Michael has that quality. He is a person that will risk getting electrocuted if it means that he could gain something in the moment.

BORGER (voice-over): Cohen, a sometimes Democrat, first came to Trump's attention after buying apartments in Trump Developments. Then went to the mat for Trump against one of his condo boards and won.

SCHWARTZ: Trump loved him for it. I mean that was the beginning of it. And then after that, they became close. It was much more than an attorney-client relationship. It was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of thing.

BORGER: For Trump, hiring Cohen wasn't about pedigree. Cohen, who was 51, got his degree from western Michigan's Cooley Law School and had some initial success in the less than gentile world of New York taxicab medallions.

NUNBERG: And if you look where Michael came from in his legal career, before he started working for Trump org, it wasn't like he came from a white-shoe law firm. He came from, you know, a hard-nosed New York trial firm.

D'ANTONIO: You can almost say this is Donald Trump's mini me. For a guy who started really in the middle class on Long Island to now be quite wealthy himself, known internationally, and, yes, he's in a bit of a jam with the Russia scandal.

BORGER (voice-over): With continued interest from the special counsel and Congress.

COHEN: I look forward to getting all the information that they're looking for.

BORGER (voice-over): During the campaign, when Trump said he had no contact with Russia, Cohen was privately trying to cut a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow. It never happened, but Mueller has asked about it.

NUNBERG: The sad reality is that Michael pursuing that Trump Tower deal in December is just another factor that goes into this whole Russia narrative.

TRUMP: I will faithfully execute --

BORGER (voice-over): When Trump became president, he did not bring his brash wingman to Washington.

(on-camera): Do you think he wanted to be in the White House, be White House counsel or --

D'ANTONIO: There must have been a part of him that was dreaming of a great job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But he's also the guy who not only knows where all the bodies are buried. He buried a lot of them himself. And that ironically disqualified him.

COHEN: And they say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I am his -- I'm his right-hand man. I mean there's -- I've been called many different things around here.

BORGER (voice-over): Because if you're Michael Cohen, at least until now, you've always been called the ultimate loyalist.

COHEN: The words the media should be using to describe Mr. Trump are generous --

BORGER (voice-over): Michael Cohen, it seems --

COHEN: -- passionate, principled --

BORGER (voice-over): -- has changed his mind.


BORGER: With that change of heart, the question now is what exactly Michael Cohen has that he can tell prosecutors. Anderson?

[21:49:58] COOPER: Up next, breaking news, at least two people dead, thousands of homes threatens. We'll get a live update on a fast moving wildfire burning out of control tonight in California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: We have breaking news. A giant fast moving wildfire in northern California is threatening 5,000 homes, just killed at least two people so far. The fire has left one neighborhood in ruins. Tonight massive evacuations are in effect as the flames move towards the city of Redding. Paul Vercammen has more.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flames swirling and high winds and hot temperatures wreaking havoc on the Northern California landscape. The aptly named Carr fire which officials say was first sparked by a vehicle has ravaged the region since Monday doubling in size over the course of the week and it's still growing. Deadly and out of control it is charred some 45,000 acres and dozens of structures as firefighters try to contain it. Neighborhoods scorched as smoke and fire climb through hills fueled by the dried landscape.

[21:55:05] DOMINIC GALVIN, LOST HOME IN FIRE: No idea what we're going to do tomorrow. Hell, we don't know what we're going to do tonight.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Dominic Galvin and his wife Silvia never imagined they'd see their house like this.

GALVIN: We didn't think the fire was going to come here, so we didn't really take things out like everybody else that was scrambling like at the last minute to take things out when they saw the fire on the ridge.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Officials say more extreme temperatures are in the forecast and will only continue to make this fire all to more worrisome. It is one of several major blazes burning across the state and one of some 89 across the country.

JONATHAN COX, CAL FIRE: This is that new normal, that unpredictability, the large explosive growth fires.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Leaving firefighters working to control the flames and limit the damage as residents race against the clock to evacuate their homes.


VERCAMMEN: And here in Redding it is just an hour and a half before sunset but eerie and ominous. You can see the devastation, the orangey glow from this fire. They say 110 homes damaged or destroyed but a number that's sure to go up.

And we now know that two firefighters lost their lives. One of them earlier in the week on a bulldozer and then overnight a city of Redding firefighter and inspector lost his life battling this now lethal blaze that continues to burn out of control. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Paul thanks so much. Devastating to see what's happening there. We'll be right back.