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Rick Gates Takes the Stand as Star Witness for the Prosecution in Manafort Trial; Source: President Urged to Stop Tweeting About Trump Tower Meeting; Pres. Trump Admits 2016 Trump Tower Meeting Was To Get Dirt On Clinton; Pres. Trump Questions LeBron James' Intelligence; President Lashes Out At NBA Star LeBron James; First Lady Pushes Back; First Lady Stands Apart From Her Husband at Key Moments. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 6, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, good evening. Thanks for joining us.

A big night. The president is told to stop tweeting about a key moment in the Russia probe, and the first star witness in the first big trial to come out of Robert Mueller's investigation takes the stand today.

He is Rick Gates. He was a senior official in the Trump campaign. More important than that, he was campaign chairman Paul Manafort's business partner.

And today at Manafort's tax and bank fraud trial, he offered potentially damaging testimony, telling jurors the two had 15 overseas bank accounts which they failed to report, despite knowing that was illegal.

CNN Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto is covering the trial. He joins us now.

What more did Gates say on the stand?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you had the deputy there sitting within ten feet of his former -- his long-time boss, documenting by his accounts numerous crimes, alleged crimes by his boss, Paul Manafort.

And the list started with them setting up 15 foreign bank accounts which they did not report to the government for the purposes of hiding taxes. He said that they filed false income tax returns. He said they failed to file as foreign agents even though they were working as agents for a foreign government, in this case the pro-Russian government of Ukraine at the time.

And to be clear, Rick Gates said he did all of this, his words, all of this at the direction, those were his words, at the direction of Paul Manafort, saying that these are crimes we did together, in effect, and walking through them one by one. And in addition to that, Anderson, revealing crimes that we did not know about when he first wrote -- or signed rather his plea agreement, including that he stole some hundreds of thousands of dollars from Paul Manafort, Rick Gates did, by filing false expense claims. So, really, just a long list.

It was remarkable to be there in the courtroom as Rick Gates over the course of 80 minutes detailing that long list of alleged crimes.

COOPER: So, allegedly, they're both stealing money through not paying taxes and other means, and then Gates is also stealing money from Manafort?

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. So, you have -- listen, this is one of those cases when I was inside there, Anderson, having followed a mob trial or two, it struck me as you had the case of the bob boss with his capo testifying against him. And, of course, in many cases like this, the person who is state's witness doesn't have the cleanest record himself. And that certainly holds true for Rick Gates.

And I should mention, he also pleaded guilty to lying to federal prosecutors that is something you can expect the defense to bring up when they have their chance to question him.

One final note I would make, Anderson, is there you had Paul Manafort at the defendant's table. About ten feet away was Rick Gates facing 90 degrees to him. Rick Gates did not make contact with Paul Manafort. But Paul Manafort sitting there with his arms crossed did not let his gaze leave the face of Rick Gates as he was making these claims.

He was not happy. He was very stressed. You could sense some anger in his eyes as he was watching Rick Gates give this testimony against him.

COOPER: Wow. And more from Gates tomorrow.

Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

I want to bring in our legal team, former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers and another former Federal Prosecutor, CNN Legal Analyst Renato Mariotti.

Renato, you said that Rick Gates is the most important witness in the Manafort trial by far. There was an accountant who testified the last couple of days. But -- I mean, how damaging was his testimony today, especially saying that he lied at the direction of Mr. Manafort, and he also because the defense was going to bring I want, you know, prosecutors wanted to get it out that he lied to Manafort and stole from Manafort, that he also lied to Rick Gates -- I mean, that he lied to Manafort and stole from Manafort and broke the law?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, very important testimony, Anderson. There's no question that it was important.

One of the key things that Gates did is he said on the witness stand that he committed crimes along with Paul Manafort. I will tell you from my experience trying white collar cases, it is always very damaging to the defendant when a flipper, a cooperator like Mr. Gates takes the stand and says, I committed crimes. So did that man, and here's how we did it together. So, that's something that's very help to the prosecution. But as you

point out, you know, there is all of this baggage that comes along with Gates. You know, I think the defense's argument is going to be that if Mr. Gates was able to hide his embezzlement and theft from Mr. Manafort, what else could he have been hiding? You know, he is the real mastermind. He is the guy who is the real wrongdoer. And they preview that in their opening statement.

I think the problem for the defense is that there is some evidence that doesn't rely on Mr. Gates that also points to the fact that Manafort was committing crimes. So, that's what they're going have to focus on explaining away. But in the meantime, taking down Gates is job one for the defense.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Jennifer, to talk about some of the other evidence, I mean, you already had the accountant testifying that Gates, you know, instructed her to do things which were illegal, and that she went along with it.

[20:05:07] JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That's right. And, you know, the prosecutors were careful to draw out from all of those witnesses that it wasn't just Gates, it was Manafort too. So they would ask them who did you communicate with, who gave you these orders? Did you check with Manafort, even fit was Gates who gave you the order in the first place?

And we heard time and time again that, yes, Manafort was involved. He was on top of all of these transactions, even if it was Rick Gates who was kind of giving the initial orders. So, that was all part of this corroboration that the prosecutors are laying the groundwork for so they can tell the jury, listen, you heard from Rick Gates. He told you A to Z how these crimes were committed.

But don't forget, he's corroborated by all of this evidence, including the financial records and the testimony of all of these witnesses who said Manafort knew. It was Manafort's deal. He was involved from day one.

COOPER: Renato, in your experience, when a defendant is put on by the prosecution and says or a witness is put on by the prosecution and says, look, yes, I broke the laws, I committed crimes and I did it with this guy, just as you said. How effective is that in undercutting the defense's argument, which is how you can't trust this guy because he committed crimes, and he just admitted he committed crimes and he's got a deal?

MARIOTTI: I think it's very effective because it takes away the thunder from the defendant's cross-examine. Remember, the defense certainly is going to go up there after this witness has been testifying for hours. And you know, obviously, the jury is going to be watching this and expecting fireworks.

They know that the defense in their opening went after Gates, said he was the real bad guy. So they're expecting to hear some real dirt on Rick Gates. And if they've already heard it all already, if the defense questioning just sounds like it's repeating what the prosecutor already said, it really takes a lot of the thunder out of it.

And that's why prosecutors do it. We called it fronting. And that's what prosecutors do all the time.

COOPER: Jennifer, do you agree that the fronting works?

RODGERS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely, because, you know, you got to get it all out there. You don't want any surprises on cross. I mean, they'll beat him up for a while about you're a liar, you're a criminal, you know, blah, blah, blah. But they've heard it all before.

You know, at some point, if they get too aggressive, then the jury starts to feel sorry for your cooperator. And that's really the last thing that the defense wants. So they have to be a little careful with that.

COOPER: What do you -- Renato, what do you think Gates is going to talk about tomorrow? I mean, he is back on the stand tomorrow. He wasn't really on the stand for all that long, a couple of hours today. What do you think we can expect?

MARIOTTI: I think the prosecution is going to walk through all of their evidence with gates. They'll walk through the e-mails that he had with Manafort, ask him to interpret those e-mails. What did you understand Manafort to mean when he said this? What were you saying to Manafort, back and forth? Walking through each one of their counts, each one of the charges against Manafort and explaining exactly what was happening and how it works.

So, they'll really use it almost like a preview of a closing argument, allowing the jury to see how Rick Gates interfaced with all the evidence, how -- having him explain as an insider how the scheme worked.

COOPER: Renato Mariotti, appreciate it. Jennifer Rodgers as well.

More now on the star witness, how he became one and how he got in a position to be so valuable to the Mueller team. Our Randi Kaye has more on that.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rick Gates, a 45-year-old father of four, was once a senior aide to Donald Trump's campaign. He entered Trump's orbit through Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. Gates and Manafort met in the 1980s when Gates interned at Manafort's lobbying firm.

Gates teamed up with his old boss again in 2006 at Manafort's new firm, to do business in the Ukraine as lobbyists and political consultants. A decade later, in 2016, Manafort joined the Trump campaign and brought his trusted deputy along with him.

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Paul Manafort has done a fantastic job, and all of Paul's people. Paul brought on his staff. And we really do, we have a great staff of talented people.

KAYE: Eventually, Manafort took over the campaign and Gates became his number two. Gates traveled extensively with then-candidate Trump, and together, he and Manafort oversaw Trump's vice presidential pick and devised a general election strategy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I have to credit Manafort and gates for putting so much of that together before we arrived.

KAYE: Gates got caught up in controversy early on. Sources say he oversaw the process of putting together the plagiarized speech Melania Trump gave at the Republican National Convention, which he denied.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES The only limit of the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

KAYE (on camera): Things only got worse. In October last year, Gates surrendered after being indicted by a federal grand jury. Court filings exposed what prosecutors describe as an 11-year scheme in which Gates and Manafort laundered tens of millions of dollars they made doing foreign lobbying work.

[20:10:04] Prosecutors say the two funneled $75 million through offshore accounts.

Among the charges, conspiracy to launder money and failing to report foreign bank accounts.

(voice-over): The White House quickly tried to distance itself from him.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think that those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the president.

KAYE: But there is no denying Gates' history with the Trump campaign. Gates' ties to Manafort and his activities could mean he was briefed on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting which Manafort attend, along with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner.

A Russian lawyer had promised to give them dirt on Hillary Clinton. Gates and Manafort reportedly also once e-mailed about Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos' efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials. They reportedly dismissed the idea, but still, the special counsel may question Gates' knowledge as part of the wider probe into collusion.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: There is a lot more ahead tonight, including new reporting on what the president's associates are telling him about his Twitter habit. That and the posting that might have been one tweet too far because it once again gives a new account of that Trump Tower meeting Randi just mentioned.

The question is: does it clear anything up or does it just dig the president in a deeper hole? We're keeping him honest, ahead.

And later, the president's attack on LeBron James' intelligence, the first lady's pushback and the debate whether or not there is a racial component to the president's attacks. Cornel West and Paris Dennard join us for that.


[20:15:37] COOPER: Now perhaps this should be obvious to most people being investigated for something. Don't tweet about that something. It's like fight club but with Twitter and Russians.

CNN has learned that this is the seemingly obvious piece of advice that President Trump is now getting from some people around him, do not tweet about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. That was the meeting attended by the president's campaign chairman who is now on trial, by his son-in-law and Donald Trump Jr., who excitedly agreed to meet with a Russian attorney with links to Kremlin, who was promising Russian intelligence on Hillary Clinton. This is the meeting that was first concealed, and then once it came to light was quickly surrounded by a stonewall of misleading statements, obfuscation, false equivalency, and outright falsehoods, lies.

It's been crumbling ever since. Now, with a help of a single presidential tweet. The tweet went up yesterday.

The president writing, and I quote: Fake news reporting a complete fabrication that I'm concerned about the meeting my wonderful son Donald had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Totally legal and done all the time in politics, and it went nowhere. I did not know about it.

Now before going any further, we should just say this last bit, that he did not know about the meeting is now in question, with sources telling CNN that Michael Cohen is apparently ready to testify that he did in fact know, which would contradict Don Jr.'s sworn testimony to Congress. The notion that everyone does it, that's just flat-out false, and we'll talk more about these things shortly.

Right now, I just want to focus, though, on the larger item. This is the first time the president of the United States has point-blank unequivocally said, and we're going put up the tweet again, that, quote, this was a meeting to get information on an opponent, period. Now remember, before word of the meeting even broke, Donald Trump Jr. was lying about meeting any Russians in any campaign capacity.

Here's what he told "The New York Times" way back in March of 2017. I did not -- excuse me. Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure. I'm sure I did, but none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment, and certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape, or form.

So, that was a lie. Actually, it was three lies. No campaign meetings, none that were arranged in advance, and none he could remember -- three lies which began falling apart several months after they came out his mouth.

On July 8th, 2017, "The Times" revealed that a meeting had in fact taken place a full year before. So, then, this became the new line. A statement allegedly crafted by Don Jr. and his lawyers, at least that's what the president's lawyer said at the time. We'll get to that.

The statement read in part, we primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children, but it was not a campaign issue at the time, and there was no follow-up. The president, with the help of his team, tried to distance himself from that statement, first totally and then less so and then finally really not at all. More lies. But those will come later as well.

So, on the 8th, we merely had that statement. Again, allegedly written by Don Jr. and his lawyers sing the meeting was primarily about adoption policy, not campaign politics. Now, even then, we knew and reported that adoption policy for the Russian government, it's not about adoptions. It's about sanctions. Not adoptions.

So, even in that statement, the notion that this was a meeting about helping orphans, it just didn't hold water.

Then, the very next day, "The New York Times" reported that it most certainly was about the campaign, specifically about getting Kremlin dirt on Hillary Clinton. So then the story from Don Jr., then it again changed once "The Times" reported that, hoping to seem transparent, Don Jr., you may remember released some e-mails showing this is exactly what he had been promised, Kremlin dirt on Hillary Clinton. And his e-mails also showed he was eager to receive it.

And I quote from the mails, if it's what you say, he wrote to one of the go-betweens, I love it. And remember, just a few months earlier, presumably with the memories that much fresher in his mind, he said he just couldn't remember any campaign meetings with Russians. And then when he did, it wasn't about leveling dirt on Hillary Clinton, it was about adoptions.

Just a couple of days later, July 11th, Don Jr., for reasons that don't make much sense, he decided to go on Fox News.


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

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell.


COOPER: Nothing to tell.

So, now, his memory refreshed about this meeting and what it was really about, he also remembered that he certainly never told his father about it before or after.

[20:20:00] Never told his dad, despite the fact that Don Jr. had suddenly been told the Russian government was supporting his father's campaign and had dirt on Hillary Clinton. That's pretty big news. Allegedly, he never told his dad that was big news.

Never mind Donald Trump Sr. has been hands-on his entire life, was hands-on his campaign, wanted to be in the loop always. Never mind the fact that it was a small campaign, their offices were right, you know, floor above each other's, and that dad and son spoke often. Never mind the fact that Trump Sr. promised a speech with info about Hillary Clinton would be coming, and then after the meeting was allegedly a bust, that speech was never given.

To continue distancing the president from this meeting after the story broke, the president and his team denied any knowledge of the meeting. Listen.


SCHMIDT: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

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

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY: He was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting and was only informed about the e-mails very recently by his counsel.


2COOPER: So then when it was reported that the president on board Air Force One had dictated a statement that was released by don Jr. About the meeting being about adoptions, the president's team denied the president had done that. Listen.


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


COOPER: That's what Sarah Sanders said when faced with factual reporting. Her answer was kind of a half acknowledgment which became a fuller but still a dishonest acknowledgment in a letter from the president's lawyers to special counsel Mueller. They wrote, quote: The president dictated a short but accurate response to "The New York Times" article on behalf of his son. Sarah Sanders suggested they didn't dictate. But that the president

didn't dictate, the lawyers, when they actually had to write the special counsel said, oh, yes, he did dictate. So, publicly on TV, the lawyers were saying, yes, the president didn't dictate the statement. Privately, in a letter, the lawyers admit yes, he dictated, but it was short and it was accurate.

But it turns out that too, that wasn't the whole truth. Yes, the president dictated it. Yes, it was short. No, it was not accurate.

The statement mentioned adoption, not attempted collusion, that's right, collusion, which as you know, the president and his defenders once denied until that story also shifted.

Last week, it became if we did it, so what?


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians.


GIULIANI: You start, you start analyzing the crime. The hacking is the crime. The hacking is the crime.

CAMEROTA: That's certainly the original --

GIULIANI: But the president didn't hack.

CAMEROTA: Of course not. That's the original --

GIULIANI: He didn't pay them for hack.


COOPER: So, now, soliciting government intelligence from a hostile foreign power to get elected president isn't a crime, which keeping them honest is far from clear. But it's the whole framing of it as a hypothetical that's really interesting, because the president actually flirted with admitting this meeting was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton when the story first broke last year. Listen to him on the 13th of July last year, standing next to the president of France.

And this is after the president had dictated the Air Force One response, claiming the meeting was about adoptions.


TRUMP: I do think this. I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research, or even research into your opponent. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it's very standard where they have information and you take the information.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So he's saying the meeting was about getting this information, which is not what he said in that statement. That's -- what's interesting is that statement that we just played for you didn't get a lot of attention at the time, but it's now resurfaced because of what the president just tweeted yesterday, which we told you at the beginning of this.

Again, that tweet from yesterday. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Totally legal, done all the time in politics, and it went nowhere.

So when the president dictated or crafted the statement for Don Jr. that it was primarily about adoption and not mentioning Kremlin intelligence, he was lying. When his press secretary denied he did anything more than offer fatherly advice on that false statement, she was lying, or possibly she had been lied to as well. Maybe she didn't know she was lying, but she had been lied to, maybe.

But what she said was not true. And when the president's attorney publicly said that the president didn't write that statement, didn't dictate that statement, he was also either lying or he had been lied to. This is what his attorney now says about that.


SEKULOW: I had bad information at that point. I made a mistake in my statement. I've talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this.

I agreed to go on your network and others days within being retained on this and had a lot of information to process. I got that one wrong.


COOPER: Bad information. So he is saying he didn't know he was not telling the truth. It was just bad information. Bad information, which must have come from the president, who lied to his lawyer, or from someone else around the president who was lying, or had been lied to by the president.

Have you ever heard the old expression, scratch a lie, find a thief? I don't know if it's true, but in this case you scratch one lie and you sure do start to find a whole bunch more.

[20:25:01] Oh, one more thing. If you're wondering what Donald Trump Jr. has to say about this now, he went on Laura Ingraham's radio show today. She played for him clips of him and others claiming the meeting was about adoptions.

Here's what happens next.


LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO HOST: Do you want any comments on that, Donny? Because they're hitting you on that for contradictions. I mean, they're calling it worse than contradictions, obviously.

DON JR.: Hello?

INGRAHAM: Yes. Donny, what is your reaction to all that?

We're going to see if we can reconnect with Donald Trump Jr. on this because we can't seem to hear him. Don, do you hear that? We don't know where he went.


COOPER: Bueller (ph)? Bueller (ph)? Bueller (ph)?

Yes. We don't know where he went either. However, we do know where CNN's Dana Bash is. She has been reporting on the president being advised not to tweet about this.

So, Dana, what have you learned that people around the president are saying to him about these tweets?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: To stop doing it when it comes to the Trump Tower meeting. The president is, according to people who are -- I'm told are talking to the president, is giving this story way more oxygen than it would get if the president just left it alone. And when I say this story, I'm talking about just the notion of Trump Tower, the whole question of what happened inside Trump Tower.

The fact is the president's impulse to tweet out really a way to combat a story by CNN and by "The Washington Post" about him being concerned about his son, vis-a-vis the Trump Tower meeting. In that tweet, he talked about the idea that this was actually all based on trying to find dirt on Hillary Clinton. And so, he exposes himself on something that is clearly very real that Robert Mueller and his team are looking into.

Now, having said that, the president's team certainly is OK with the president's tweets on, let's say, calling the investigation a witch- hunt, calling it everything under the sun having to do with trying to chip away at the creditability of the Mueller investigation, because they think that that's ultimately good for them when it comes to the court of public opinion that they might face. But right now, at this critical time, I'm told he is being urged, you know. You're not making it better for yourself by tweeting about Trump Tower.

COOPER: What more are you hearing about when the president's legal team will respond to Mueller's request for an interview?

BASH: Soon. Either today, Monday, or Tuesday at the latest, I am told. And this is really procedural, because how many times have we talked about a back and forth between team Mueller and team Trump on this whole question of an interview? I mean, we've been talking about it for months and months and months.

But we're really getting close to what the Trump legal team hopes and thinks is decision time because we're now three to four weeks away from labor day, which is the unofficial start of the midterm election season, and their hope and their expectation inside the Trump team, at least, because the Mueller team isn't talking, of course, is that this is left alone in that window of politics, and in that window of campaigning.

So, we'll see if that happens. We don't know exactly what the counteroffer is going to be. We know that the parameters have been something in terms of an impersonator view about the whole notion of collusion, any connections that he or people who work for him had during the campaign with any Russians and what the president's team has been fighting is any question or questions about while he was president, and that would have to do with potential obstruction of justice.

COOPER: Dana Bash -- Dana, thanks.

BASH: Thank you.

COOPER: So, now that the president's current strategy at least on Twitter is to say that the Trump Tower meeting was legal, something that's done all the time, it didn't go anywhere, and he didn't know about it. There's a lot to talk about. The story has changed multiple times. I'll talk about whether that matters, next.


[20:32:08] COOPER: As Dana Bash reported just now, the President is being urged to stop tweeting about that Trump Tower meeting promising Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. It's advice that the President doesn't seem to be taking judging by his Twitter feed over the weekend where he admitted contrary to the ever changing stories, that the meeting was indeed to get information on opponent, something claims was done all the time in politics from foreign government. Getting information on the opponent, sure. From a foreign adversary, not so much. I want to break it all down with Gloria Borger, Norm Eisen, and David Gergen.

Gloria, I mean the fact the President is now admitting in very clear terms that this was all about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. How big a deal do you think that really is?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, it's a big problem for him at every level. First of all, he is changing the story. Remember, he was the one who drafted or dictated the statement on Air Force One, saying that it was about Russian adoptions, which as you pointed out earlier is about sanctions.

Secondly, there is a legal issue here. If this dirt or so-called dirt on Hillary Clinton was exchanged, it's illegal from a foreign country. And third, what is he doing tweeting about this as Bob Mueller is conducting an investigation look into exactly what happened at that meeting? He -- if he does testify before Mueller, and I have my real doubts about whether he will, don't you think Mueller is going to ask him about it? Of course he will. So is he setting himself up for some kind of perjury trap? This is why his attorneys are saying to him you know what? Stop it. Stop doing it. COOPER: You know, David, if I worked in the President's orbit in the White House, and I don't say this with any glee, I don't know how anybody who works around the President can believe what he says to them, because just in this one example, he's undercut Sarah Sanders, his own attorney, I mean all the stories that have been crafted over the last year plus have just, you know, he's now just totally shown the lie to them all.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They have to be very hardened individuals not to be deeply affected by this, Anderson, and wonder about the credibility of the President. I must tell you, this -- we went through the same dilemma with President Nixon way back when in Watergate, inside the White House, whether to believe or not believe. And for a long time, we believed. But at some point everybody started to snap. And you wonder when that's going to come, if it hasn't already come with this story about the tower meeting.

I want to go back to what Gloria said. I do think this -- this tweet that now has raised the significance of the tower meeting and made a compelling case of why Mueller needs to talk personally, person to person, asking questions about what happened after the elections because it ties in to what happened during the campaign season.

[20:35:00] So he has to have in this testimony a full answer from the President. And finally, the President Trump now has a dilemma that he's going to be asked by Mueller, did you know before that meeting about the meeting? And if he wants to protect his son, he is going say no, I ever knew that. But that will be -- he'd be possibly committing perjury on his own. If he said yes, I did know, then he put his son -- throws his son under the bus, and his son has committed a perjury.

COOPER: And Ambassador Eisen, I mean Mueller would have access -- I mean, I've talked to intelligence people. Mueller would have access to the blocked number to know who the blocked number was that Donald Trump Jr. called. I think there was a call before and I think there was a call after the meeting. We don't know if he called his dad, but that would certainly be one option. And if in fact he did call his dad and talked to him about the meeting, then they both have been lying.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, Anderson. Of course it never comes as a surprise when the President lies because we've had so many thousands of them by this point. We've never seen anything like it in American history. The problem here is that the unfolding, the constantly changing story is deepening the President's exposure and that of Don Jr., not just because of the lies, which are always a problem when you're trying to persuade a special counsel or another fact finder.

But because that tweet, Anderson, is a crime to seek information from a foreign government in a campaign. That's an in kind contribution. The tweet is basically a confession. So now as David says, the President is facing an ominous choice within the first few minutes of his interview with Bob Mueller if it ever happens. He's going to be stuck between whether to perjure himself, whether to confess to obstruction or to crime, or whether to throw his son under the bus. He's just making his situation worse every day.

COOPER: And Gloria, I mean the President has reiterated he didn't know about it. That's obviously in contrast to the reporting that Michael Cohen may be willing to testify or may be willing to tell Mueller that in fact he has information that the President didn't know about or the candidate didn't know about it.

BORGER: Right. And how about the President giving a speech? Saying, you know -- well, I'm going give you a speech in a couple days about dirt on Hillary Clinton. I think that's pretty interesting evidence that Mueller could use and ask him about. And if Trump's attorneys are saying, look, we'll let you talk to the President for a very short period of time about collusion. This would fit into that, the so- called conspiracy. And so, you know, they don't want him to -- they don't want the President to talk about obstruction after he became President.

This would be one of the major questions that Mueller would want to ask him, which is why I've now come to believe after reporting this for months and months. And don't forget that they had an interview set up back in January at Camp David that never happened. I'm now beginning to think that his lawyers are so united on this that they may just say to Trump we're just not going to let you do it.

COOPER: David, I mean the narrative surrounding the purpose and the outcome of the Trump Tower meeting, it's changed so much over the course of last year. Even Donald Trump Jr. added to that today, down playing, and calling it a bait and switch meeting. How do you think Mueller's team is viewing all of this?

GERGEN: Well, I think that they find it, there is a mountain of evidence out there that they have to sort through because it's conflicting. And they're going to have to decide what they want -- what the bottom line is and bring it before. I just don't see how they walk away from this one, Anderson. Much of what has come up, you know, you could argue it either way. And it would be hard to say for sure that they've got something to take to it that might be put in front of a House of Representatives.

But the tower -- the Trump Tower meeting has gradually gained all this prominence, and I think it's a very, very serious problem for the Mueller team first to straighten how who says what it, and then to decide where to go with it.

COOPER: Yes. I want to thank everybody.

NBA star LeBron James opens a school in Ohio using his money and fame for objective good. Who could possibly criticize him after that? Well, the President of the United States also got another dig in -- excuse me, at CNN's Don Lemon questioning their intelligence. We'll talk about it, next.


[20:43:23] COOPER: The President's once again lashing out at a well- known African-American public figure, NBA superstar LeBron James who just opened a school in Ohio. On Friday night, CNN re-aired an interview with LeBron James, and it seems the President tuned in because he tweeted, and I quote, "LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike." That was a reference to Michael Jordan, who said through his spokesman afterwards that he supported LeBron James and the amazing job he is doing for his community.

Joining me are, Professor Cornel West of Harvard and Princeton and CNN political commentator, Paris Dennard, former White House Director Black Outreach for President George W. Bush.

Professor West, I'm wondering what you make of this which is just the latest example of the President criticizing a well-known African- American person on intelligence.

CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, I think we need to keep the focus where it belongs because it's clear that President Trump doesn't focus on what he ought to. The focus is on first Gloria Marie James, a mother, a magnificent black woman raises a magnificent son and becomes one of the greatest athletes in the history of modern times who then use his greatness to serve others. 230 very precious students of all colors who are being attended to. That's the focus. That's why I'm with my dear sister Melania Trump. She says that's what we need to be focusing on. Let's focus on the children. Let's focus on this magnificent act of service which is part and parcel what it means to be a great human being. And that's what I see in brother LeBron. And I salute his mother for that.

[20:45:00] COOPER: Paris, what does it say to you that the President doesn't focus on what Dr. West is talking about and what Melania Trump is certainly was trying to focus on and instead just goes after him calling him dumb. Same with Don Lemon as he has called Maxine Waters, low IQ, and others.

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What we know about this President is that he doesn't attack first, but he always responds. He responds to you if he feels that he's said something about -- something is said about him that is negative or harsh, he'll respond to someone whose black, he'll respond to someone that's a woman, he'll respond to somebody that's white. That's just how the President was when he was a private citizen, a candidate and now the President.

The real focus should be on the President supporting things like charter schools and school choice and parental choice and trying to figure out ways how we can improve school systems across the country, not just in Akron, Ohio, which I think is a positive thing. But I think and hope that LeBron James and others will come to the table with the federal government, with the Trump administration and try to find ways to make this solution more of a national solution, not just singly focus on Akron, Ohio, which is still a very good thing.

COOPER: But of course none of that was said by the President of the United States, Dr. West. What he did say and what he has said before about Congressman Waters and -- is one of the oldest kind of racist tropes, you know, racist attacks on African-Americans in this country, questioning the intelligence of it. It was an obsession among racists, you know, for 2centuries.

WEST: No, I think there is no doubt. We've got a whole line and lineage of racist, misogynist, homophobic things said about this President. But I mean that's like saying the sky is blue and grass is green. The challenge is, and I was raised in such a way you don't get in the gutter with a gangster. You respond with positive ways of accenting greatness, service, vision, struggle, courage. This cycle can go on and on and on with him saying these kinds of things. When he is talking about sister Maxine Waters, I mean low IQ. Now we know that's racist and sexist to the core, but you don't respond by trying somehow trying to react and simply count whatever he said.

DENNARD: A quick point to -- just to correct Dr. West, the President, again, is not the one that is on the attack. He is always responding to things that have been said to him about Congressman -- by Congressman Waters, by LeBron James, by others. And so the President is not sitting here going on the take. He is responding to. So that's an important distinction.

COOPER: That's the response of a 12-year-old. I mean a 12-year-old can't stop themselves if somebody says something, they say something equally mean or worse, or a 5-year-old. This is the President of the United States. I mean, he watched an interview in which LeBron James is talking about, you know, this extraordinary thing that he's doing, and speaking about it in a really beautiful way about getting kids, you know, the power of a bicycle and a helmet for a kid that when he was a kid and going out and being able to see other worlds and giving him a sense of freedom, you know. And his -- he took none that of away from this. All he said, he tweets Don Lemon made LeBron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I mean --

DENNARD: Anderson, you can gloss over the facts of what LeBron James actually said about the President, which was not positive. I don't understand why he was even talking about President Trump in this interview, about his wonderful school.

COOPER: Because we he was asked a question about him.

DENNARD: Exactly. And I don't understand why --


DENNARD: -- in past tweets he's gone on the attack about President Trump. So if you want to call the President --

COOPER: Because President Trump has said -- has said.


DENNARD: As a child, then you can say that LeBron James is acting like a child because he is saying these things that are petty, that are childish about the President of the United States. So it goes both ways or it doesn't.

WEST: No, no, no, no, no. LeBron was telling the truth. It was Donald Trump who called the black athletes sons of bitches. It was Donald Trump who mistreated Stephen Curry and others who hasn't planned on going to the White House. So brother Paris, let's be honest, I mean here we go again, now let's just be honest, it's Trump who is using this kind of vicious language.

DENNARD: Vicious language? So if that's vicious --

WEST: That's right.

DENNARD: -- then LeBron James calling the President via Twitter "bum" would be vicious as well.

COOPER: Right. It's fascinating to me, Paris. Look, I get you're a supporter of the President, and that's your gig, and you can't publicly break from him because then you'll get in trouble, I guess.

DENNARD: Anderson, you're wrong. I'm a grown man and I have my own opinions.


DENNARD: I don't work for this administration, I never worked in the campaign and they don't pay me. So I have my own opinion, I've been Republican since I was 16 years old. Thank you.

COOPER: OK. So, let me ask you. You see no problem with the President of the United States going to state of Alabama and calling African-American football players who are exercising their right, whether you agree with them or not, sons of bitches and that they should be fired, saying that in the state of Alabama, with all the history that we know in the state of Alabama, saying that in a public forum, and then calling Maxine Waters low IQ multiple times, and calling Don Lemon stupid, or whatever he called him, and LeBron James dumb.

[20:50:01] You don't see -- you don't believed that there was any commonality in the criticisms, his go-to criticisms on African- Americans? You don't see any through-line to this?

DENNARD: Well, Anderson, I have said on CNN a number of times and even said privately in the west wing that I did not think it was appropriate or the right word --

COOPER: Right. I'm saying do you see a through line in it? Do you see a --

DENNARD: Let me finish. Saying that it was right to say sons of bitches, I did not think that was appropriate, and I think that was smart. And I said that wasn't a good thing to do. I said that on CNN. I said it privately in the west wing. Now, I do see a commonality, and the all of the statements that the President is doing. And a common denominator is the President is responding to people who have said things that have been negative or harsh and that have attacked him personally or attacked his family, or attacked his character. The President has done this to African-Americans, to white people, to white men, to white women, to members of his own cabinet.

COOPER: Professor West, do you think there's a commonality in --

WEST: No. He has called -- he has called some white sisters dumb. I think he called sister Mika on MSNBC dumb. So I think brother Paris is right, he uses dumb across race, across gender. But the problem is that when he focuses on people of color and talks about that -- uses that kind of language, we have a history that goes a long way that accents the deep white supremacist overtones even as he's calling a white male dumb or white women dumb and it makes sense. Because the woman has been called dumb for 2,000 years. What a male supremacist lie.

So that, yes, Paris, it's true. He's an equal opportunity gangster across the board. Our challenge is going to be -- and I will tell you this, brother Paris. If somebody call you a vicious name and I thought it was wrong, I would defend you based on principle even though we don't agree on a whole lot. But we human beings. And I know there's gangster in me. There's gangster in you. There's gangster in Trump. There's gangster in Anderson.

The challenge is how do we get control of those gangster elements such that we live a life of some decency and a slice of integrity? That's what we're talking about. It's all about accountability. Accountability. Accountability.

COOPER: Well, Paris Dennard, Professor West, I appreciate the discussion. Thank you very much.

DENNARD: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Up next, we have more on the tweet by the President attacking LeBron James. First Lady Melania Trump has a much different take on the NBA star, more positive one. It's not the first time that she's pushed back after something her husband has done. I'll show you when "360" continues.


[20:56:43] COOPER: We have another sign that it's the tale of two White Houses. As we mentioned, the President attack the NBA star LeBron James on Twitter but his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, is praising James for his charity work. Her communications director released a statement that reads in part, quote, "It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation. Just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today."

The spokesman went on to say that Mrs. Trump would even consider visiting James' new school in Ohio. It certainly not the first time the First Lady has contributed her husband, forged her own path. With that, here again is 360's Randi Kaye.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF UNITED STATES: I'm standing very strong on the ground, on my two feet, and I'm an own person. RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That was Melania Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign. As First Lady, her independent streak continues to draw attention.

Take, for example, what happened during a recent trip overseas. Melania Trump was watching CNN onboard Air Force One. When the "New York Times" first reported her husband got upset, insisting all TVs be tuned to Fox News. In response to that report, the First Lady's spokeswoman issued a statement saying, the First Lady watches any channel she wants. Mrs. Trump has also weighed in on policy with a rare statement on her husband's controversial immigration plan for detaining and separating families at the southern border.

Her spokeswoman told CNN, that Mrs. Trump believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs with heart.

After that, the President signed an order to keep immigrant families together in detention, acknowledging his wife had urged him to stop separating children from their parents. And when Melania Trump took a trip to tour the U.S.-Mexico border, she let her wardrobe do the talking for her. The back of her jacket read "I really don't care, do you." The First Lady's communications director insisted it's a jacket. There was no hidden message.

Still up for debate, was there a message, and if so, who was it aimed at? These days Melania Trump is pushing back against the President's lawyer too. After news broke of Mr. Trump's alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, Rudy Giuliani said this.

RUDY GIULIANI, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: She believes in her husband. She knows it's not true.

KAYE (voice-over): The First Lady's communications director issued this terse response. I don't believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani.

Melania Trump certainly isn't afraid to go it alone. After reports of another alleged affair, this time with a former Playboy playmate, Mrs. Trump skipped a ride on Marine One with her husband, instead taking her own motorcade to Andrews Air Force base to meet him on air force one.

TRUMP: People think and talk about me like, oh, Melania, oh, poor Melania. Don't feel sorry for me. Don't feel sorry for me. I -- I can handle everything.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach, Florida.


COOPER: Quick final note on what Donald Trump Jr. told Laura Ingraham today. We mentioned it in our report on the administration shifting story on the Trump Tower meeting in 2016. You heard Don Jr. get caught off when asked about his contradictory stories and the respond. Here's what he said when he called back. (BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

[21:00:06] DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: Somehow you got cut off -- they started playing the recording and then it got cut off. It was a 20-minute meeting. It ended up being, you know, about essentially nothing that was relevant to any of these things and --