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President Trump Won't Let Former White House Counsel Don McGahn Testify to Congress; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed about Trump Not Letting McGahn Testify to Congress; House Speaker Pelosi Accuses Barr of Lying to Congress; Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) Is Interviewed About A.G. Barr. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 2, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:09] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

We begin tonight with breaking news. President Trump has just said for the first time that he will likely not let former White House counsel Don McGahn comply with the subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee as part of its obstruction of justice investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I've had him testifying already for 30 hours.

INTERVIEWER: So is the answer no?

TRUMP: It's really -- I don't think I could let him and then tell everybody else you can't but especially him because he was a counsel. So they testified for many hours, all of them. Many, many, many people.

INTERVIEWER: So, as far as you're concerned it's kind of done, it's done?


TRUMP: And the others can't.

INTERVIEWER: So, is it done?

TRUMP: I would say it's done. We've been through this. Nobody has ever done what I've done. I've given total transparency. It's never happened before like this.

INTERVIEWER: So Congress should be --

TRUMP: They shouldn't be looking anymore. This is all -- it's done.


COOPER: Hasn't given total transparency, but that's obvious.

It's done, he says. The president all but saying he'll exert executive privilege to block the testimony, although it remains an open question if he can claim executive privilege at this point given that McGahn has already testified, we'll ask Senator Mazie Hirono about that coming up, as well as our legal team.

All of this comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and some heated words directed at another man who did testify on Capitol Hill yesterday.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That's a crime.


COOPER: A crime, which is quite an accusation. A Justice Department spokeswoman called Pelosi's comments reckless and false. Her tough talk as Barr refusing to show up today before the same committee that wants to talk to McGahn, the House Judiciary Committee. Instead, there was an empty chair. There were no questions, no answers and a chicken.

That's right, chicken. One Democrat on the committee call the attorney general chicken Barr for not showing up and chowed down on some KFC.

It has been that kind of a day and it's that kind of a night.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

So, what else did the president say, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we saw the president tonight draw the clearest line between not letting McGahn testify and not letting really anyone testify. In the last few weeks as he talked about this tactic of fighting all these subpoenas, he hasn't brought up his former White House counsel specifically, but he did so tonight.

But, Anderson, one thing we didn't hear from the president was this criticism that he has been saying privately about Don McGahn, especially after the Mueller report came out and McGahn was a central figure in it when he said that essentially the president had told him to fire the special counsel, something that the president and the attorney general are both now disputing.

COOPER: Do we know if the White House plans to block any other presidential adviser or executive branch officials from testifying? It sounds like they're going to block them all if they can.

COLLINS: That's what the president seemed to be getting there. Essentially, if he lets McGahn testify, then other cabinet officials or West Wing officials, he's going to have to let them testify, too.

Now the president seemed to get out ahead a little bit of his legal team here, because they've been discussing privately what they're going to do about the subpoena for Don McGahn, how they can block him from testifying at all or block certain parts of it, but the president seemed to go farther than they have, what they have even been saying privately about not letting McGahn testify at all. Whether or not he can actually do that, it doesn't seem to be a conclusion that the White House has come to yet.

COOPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

I want to get reaction to all this now from a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono joins us now.

Senator Hirono, you hear --

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good evening.

COOPER: Good evening.

You hear the president saying he doesn't plan or he doesn't think it likely to let Don McGahn testify before Congress. He already let him testify for 30 hours before the special counsel. The whole thing is done.

What do you say to that?

HIRONO: What I say is we should always remember that there are two things that the president cares most about. One is protecting himself. The second is money.

So he is in the process of protecting himself. You can explain a lot of what the president does by knowing that he will do anything to protect himself.

COOPER: So is there -- what is the option? If he exerts executive privilege, what, it just goes to the courts?

HIRONO: I think that's one of the modus operandi of Trump when he was in business, that he would delay things. He would file lawsuits, or he will file for bankruptcy, leaving everybody holding the bag. He treats the presidency like he is still running a business in the kind of ways that he ran his business, which are very questionable tactics.

So I think, yes, I don't think it bothers him very much if he asserts executive privilege over somebody who has already testified and have them that go to the courts and hope that it gets strung up through the election. He does not care about that sort of thing.

COOPER: Speaker Pelosi said today that Attorney General Barr lied in his testimony and committed a crime in front of you and the rest of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I'm wondering if you agree with her. And if so, is there anything to do about it? Because Senate Democrats obviously don't have the majority to force any kind of recourse.

HIRONO: Well, that's a sad thing. And if we had Republicans in the Senate who have cared about truth as much as I would hope they would, then we'd be able to get somewhere. [20:05:05] But thankfully, the House is in Democratic hands, and as

Speaker Pelosi said, he -- Barr lied regarding his answer to the question from Charlie Crist and also on the Senate side, in his response to Chris Van Hollen.

COOPER: I want to play your answers you had in response to the attorney general yesterday. I just want to play this.


HIRONO: From the beginning, you were addressing an audience of one, that person being Donald Trump.

But now we know more about your deep involvement in trying to cover up for Donald Trump. Being attorney general of the United States is a sacred trust. You have betrayed that trust. America deserves better.

You should resign. I think you know what I'm talking about. Please, please, Mr. Attorney General. Give us some credit for knowing what the hell is going on around here with you.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Not really -- to this line of questioning. Listen, you slandered this man --

BARR: What I sort of want to know is, how do we get to this point?

HIRONO: I do not think I'm slandering anyone.

GRAHAM: All I would say --

HIRONO: Mr. Chairman, I am done. Thank you very much.

GRAHAM: And you slandered this man from top to bottom. So if you want more of this, you're not going to get it. If you want to ask him questions, you can.

HIRONO: Certainly have your opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


COOPER: Were you surprised to hear senator graham saying you slandered the attorney general?

HIRONO: Well, truth is a defense of slander and opinion is not slander. So, but we saw the chairman going off and he did that.

But the only person who can sue me for that, not to mention as legislators, we have some protections as to what we say, but the only person who can sue me is Barr. So there you go.

It was very disheartening yesterday to watch and listen to the attorney general of the United States act like he is a defense attorney for the president. He did that very well. What he didn't do very well was be honest with the people of our country. And that is why he's not the only time he's very good at obfuscating and skirting questions. He couldn't even answer my questions whether it was OK for the White House counsel to be told to fire Mueller and then to lie about it, whether it was OK to dangle pardons before witnesses and all of that.

He wouldn't answer that. He kept going back to the criminality aspects of it. So, I call this -- there is a moral dead zone in the Trump White House.

COOPER: You know, the Republicans will push back and say, well, look, you know, you and others have said the attorney general is acting like the president's lawyer, not the attorney general for the people of the United States and for the United States. Republicans pushed back and that and said, look, Bobby Kennedy was the attorney general under JFK. He was clearly aligned with JFK. They say Eric Holder was close to President Obama, was clearly in their opinion watching out for President Obama.

The idea being that what Barr is doing, whatever you may think of it, is not that dissimilar from what past attorneys general have done.

HIRONO: That's what they'd like everybody to think. But you have an attorney general who auditioned for the job by writing a totally unasked for 19-page document that said a sitting president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice. That's about half of the Mueller report, part two, basically.

And guess what? When the Mueller report comes out and Mueller says there are these indicators and factors relating to an obstruction of justice charge, he couldn't come to a decision on that, but leaving it as it was and Barr jumps in and says, oh, well, there is no obstruction there. Very much like his 19-pager.

And then you have the attorney general who puts out a four-page -- first, he called ate summary, then it's really not a sum risks and then we find out in a bombshell that just a few days that we find out that Mueller had contacted and written to Barr saying you have not characterized our work accurately. And then you have the attorney general before all this comes out regarding the Mueller letter, you have the attorney general having a press conference.


HIRONO: -- to make the president look good.

What is that? Let's talk about what we're confronted with in the here and now. We have an attorney general who is acting like the defense attorney for the president. He should have taken that job as defense attorney when the president offered it to him.

COOPER: Justice Department will allow Mueller to testify? I mean, obviously, not to the Senate, because Lindsey Graham has made it clear he won't ask Mueller to testify, but at the house.

HIRONO: I think when Barr was asked that, I think he said he doesn't see why not, but I think there will be why-nots because maybe the president will put some pressure on his attorney general to say he doesn't want anybody testifying.

[20:10:06] As far as the president and Lindsey Graham are concerned, it's all over.

It is not all over because we need to get to the bottom of what's going on here. So, you know, the House thankfully is proceeding with their investigation, and I think the next step for Jerry Nadler is to issue a subpoena for Barr to testify, and we all know that he's talking with Mueller directly about Mueller testifying and whether or not the president can force everyone not to testify, that lead to more lawsuits. This is what the president wants.

COOPER: Yes. Senator Mazie Hirono, appreciate your time. Thank you.


COOPER: Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor Robert Ray, who served as part of the Whitewater independent counsel, also Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general during the Obama administration, and CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers.

Jeff, the president saying he doesn't think he'll allow former White House Don -- or that he can't allow McGahn to testify before Congress. Can he exert executive privilege here? Was that de facto waived when McGahn testified to Mueller?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think he can cite it anymore because he's twice had the opportunity to prevent the disclosure of McGahn's testimony. First, he allowed McGahn to be interviewed by Mueller, and then presented with the Mueller report, chose not to object to the disclosures that McGahn made. And that to me is a waiver of executive privilege.

Putting aside the issue of whether he could do it at all, but this seems to be an absolutely clear case of waiver. And once you allow a privilege to be violated, any privilege, whether it's a marital privilege or religious privilege or executive pilgrimage, you can't then say oh, by the way, now I want to protect the information that might be covered.

So I think if it goes to court, he'll lose. He'll be able to delay it. But I think he'll lose.

COOPER: Robert, do you agree he would lose in court?

ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Not so sure about that. I know -- I respect Jeffrey's view. I know that Jerry Nadler is of a similar view. In fact, we raised it, Anderson, you and I when he was on set me I guess several weeks ago. I think it's one thing to say that, you know, within the executive branch was sort of the first round of this, I don't think there can be a waiver.

The only place where a waiver arguably occurs is the point at which the White House and in this instance the attorney general decide to release the redacted Mueller report containing that information to the Congress and thereby ultimately to the American people.

However, while Jeffrey's right that generally speaking, this issue is one where, you know, waiver does apply, it gets a little more complicated when you're talking about separation of powers issues, and specifically, on the question of how far does that waiver extend. In other words, there is a general principle about subject matter waiver, and I would agree that with regard to those portions of McGahn's prior statements that are made during the course of the investigation, but courts because of separation of powers principles, at least in my experience, take a very narrow view of that waiver when it involves the two branches of government in a dispute.

So it's not quite the same as looking at, you know, marital privilege or attorney-client privilege. There is another complicating feature here.

COOPER: Let me bring Kirsten.

The president can say over and over again that this investigation is done. Democrats are certainly going to continue to issue subpoenas, continue to push for more answers. The administration will continue to fight them. Where does this go, do you think?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's pretty clear the administration is just trying to drag their feet on this, right? They want to drag things out for as listening as they possibly can. That's not an unusual response from administrations that are being investigated by Congress, but I think that a lot of the fury about this and Democrats really wanting an investigation above and beyond what you would normally see is because of how this has been handled.

I think that it's been handled so dishonestly by the attorney general by putting out this summary, and now pretending to be completely confused by the fact that people are upset when you actually get the report that it says something quite different than in fact Mueller had expressed that he didn't feel this was an accurate reflection, and he under oath didn't disclose that, and in fact misled people in another direction. And so, I think it's just -- it's just going to cause Democrats to get more and more fired up about this because they feel like they haven't gotten any answers.

COOPER: Elliot, though, I mean, can the president exert executive privilege over a private citizen, Don McGahn? Couldn't Don McGahn just say I'm going to go and testify?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: See, the complication here, and this is similar to what Robert was getting at is he is a private citizen, but you're talking about things that happened when he was White House counsel.

[20:15:06] But here is the thing. We're getting -- we're getting into this question of executive privilege that will be sorted out in the courts. And the much bigger issue is this is all indicative -- this is what Kirsten had said -- all indicative of an intent to frustrate the will of Congress and the frustrate congressional oversight. The president has said from the beginning, I'm going to instruct

people not to testify and not to comply with the subpoenas. Just in the last week, the House Oversight Committee saw witnesses not comply with subpoenas related to I believe the census and White House security clearance, and on and on and on. This extends across the administration.

So while Don McGahn is sort of the executive privilege du jour, what this really is an attempt to just not comply with what Congress -- and it's a different investigative body. It's not the special counsel.

COOPER: Yes, everyone, stay with us. I have to take a break. I want to get the group's take on the speaker of the house accusing the nation's top cop of breaking the law. Democrat Nancy Pelosi went there. The question is, where does that political fight go next?

I'll also get reaction from Capitol Hill from a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the same committee President Trump is likely blocking his White House counsel from testifying before.

Lots to discuss with Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu tonight.


[20:20:22] COOPER: Our breaking news. President Trump says he will likely block former White House counsel Don McGahn from complying with the House Judiciary Committee subpoena to answer questions in front of its obstruction of justice probe.

Now, this hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went on attack against America's top law enforcement official, saying this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He lied to Congress. He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law, not the president of the United States and not the attorney general.


COOPER: As we mentioned earlier, as you might imagine, the Justice Department is pushing back and calls her comment false and reckless.

At issue is Barr's previous sworn testimony last month when he didn't know Robert Mueller's team supported the attorney general's summary of the Russia probe, despite the fact that Mueller did know what Mueller thought because Mueller sent a letter two weeks earlier expressing concern about how the attorney general handled that four-page memo.

In testimony yesterday, Barr was largely seen as evading when trying to explain that issue.

Back now with our guests.

Jeffrey, I mean, it is pretty incredible that the House speaker is accusing the chief law enforcement officer in the nation of a crime.

TOOBIN: It is unusual, but I think Barr's statement is very hard to defend. You know, both Congressman Crist and Senator Van Hollen asked him in pretty direct ways, were you aware that Mueller and his team were upset about how you characterized the Mueller report, and he said, no, he didn't know that they were upset. And, you know, we now know that there were two letters and a phone call which are extremely dramatic events.

Even Barr didn't claim that he forgot about these incidents. He claimed that the questions were not phrased in such a way to call for a answer of "of course I'm aware." But, boy, I think he is not going to be prosecuted because the justice department is not going to move against the attorney general, but the question of whether Barr told the truth, I think he's got a tough argument there.

COOPER: Elliot, what is interesting is Barr was saying while the question was imprecise and I didn't know what his staff felt, I had a conversation directly with Mueller, but the letter, which from all intents and purposes was written by Mueller, Barr then went on to say, well, his staff -- somebody on his staff probably wrote the letter. So by that logic, he did hear from the staff if that in fact was his confusion.

WILLIAMS: This is why lawyers put things in writing, so there is no ambiguity as to what was said. The special counsel, and I say the special counsel, not his staff, but the special counsel put out a letter expressing concerns. Now you can pin it on junior staff because you want to disagree with it, but the simple fact is it's in writing.

So, I agree wholeheartedly with Jeffrey's point. Either -- the attorney general has at minimum given inconsistent statements, and obviously at maximum lied under oath to Congress. This all invites the question or the fact that he needs to get up there and clarify it with Congress. You know, and work out some accommodation to his testimony.

You know, there has been this bickering over staff questioning which is actually a quite minor point in congressional oversight matters, get up there and testify, clarify the statements and then we can all move on. We could avoid a lot of this if the Justice Department -- but again, this gets back to what we were talking about in the last segment. It's all part of an attempt to frustrate Congress and not comply with these congressional oversight requests, and we're seeing it playing out here.

COOPER: Kirsten, do you think Speaker Pelosi and congressional Democrats are actually going to act on this?

POWERS: You know, I don't know what they're going to end up doing, but I think they have a very solid case here, and I think that, you know, any way you slice it, he was intentionally trying to mislead. He knew the question that was being asked. And even as you pointed out, even if you take it precisely as it was asked, he lied in response to it because he himself says he believes that the investigators wrote the letter and not Mueller.

So any way you slice it, he wasn't honest. And I think that that should be a bigger problem, frankly, than it is. I hear Republicans defending him, making up this ridiculous story about how he didn't know what they were talking about or he was confused, and it's just not plausible.

COOPER: Robert, do you think he lied? Do you think he wasn't honest?

RAY: I'd like to be fair, civil and clear here, but I think the argument that he lied is overwrought. I don't know why we've reached a point in this country that when someone doesn't like the answer to a question, the first place we run is to perjury and false statements.

[20:25:07] And, you know, look, on this one, would it have been better to have disclosed this? I'm sure with the benefit of hindsight, sure. But I will say on the question of whether it's false statements, lying to Congress or perjury, I really don't think that's the case.

I think one question to me was remember, if the question is, did you know whether or not bob Mueller objected to your summary of the conclusion, remember, a good part of the conclusion is the determination by the attorney general not to bring or to find that there was insufficient evidence of obstruction of justice. I think to this point -- I believe with regard to that question.

I think the attorney general still doesn't know whether or not Bob Mueller agrees with that conclusion.

COOPER: Do you think he was being completely truthful?

RAY: Well, look, I think you also -- Jeffrey selectively edited his response and left out the part, of course, where the attorney general, as he stated in his testimony yesterday, added that he suspected that what the objection was from Mueller's team was about the fact that they wanted a more fulsome disclosure, which is the only material fact that would be an issue here that would form the basis of lying to Congress because it would have to be material and also any argument that it was perjury.

So, I understand -- I understand --

COOPER: But would you characterize his testimony as fully clear, fully transparent?

RAY: Well, that isn't what y'all started with. You started with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the United States House of Representatives --

COOPER: I'm asking you now, though.

RAY: -- saying that the attorney general of the United States was lying to Congress. The answer is no.

COOPER: But I've asked three times, do you think he was fully transparent? You haven't said yes. RAY: I would say that your oath is to tell the truth, the whole truth

and nothing but the truth. I think it would have been advisable and better had he disclosed the fact that he had a communication with the special counsel.

WILLIAMS: Anderson, if I may?

RAY: But, Anderson, that's not the same thing as saying --

COOPER: I understand, I understand.

RAY: -- that he was lying to Congress or he was misleading under the false statement statutes or that it was perjury. We've got stop that.

COOPER: Jeff, I want you to be able to respond, and then we've got to go.

TOOBIN: Well, I'm not sure. I didn't say it was a crime. You know, that's sort of an irrelevant issue. There is not going to be a prosecution here.

What I'm just saying is this was not honest testimony. If he had told the truth, it would have been a huge bombshell. It would have been enormous news that Mueller had objected.

That's why the only reason it seems to me he didn't tell the truth, because he wanted to avoid that disclosure, and that's why I think it's so unfortunate, and really bad that he didn't tell the truth in answer to those two questions earlier.

COOPER: OK. I got to --

RAY: I just don't happen to agree.

COOPER: I hear you. Thanks to everybody.

Jeff, tell that guy behind you who just teed off he should have used a 5 iron instead of a 3 iron. I don't know what a 5 iron or a 3 iron is. I don't play golf. I just decided to say that.

More on our breaking news ahead, yes, and maybe tell me one day what that actually means.

Plus, we'll talk to a congressman on the Judiciary Committee who says Barr is one of the most dangerous men in Washington, next.


[20:31:53] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news tonight. President Trump is saying he likely can't let former White House Counsel Don McGahn testify before the House Judiciary Committee as part of its obstruction of justice investigation.

Also House speaker, as we mentioned, Nancy Pelosi said Attorney General Barr committed a crime. She says he lied to Congress. The Justice Department calls that false. Congressman Ted Lieu, a member of the House Judiciary Committee has his own opinion on that matter. I spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: Congressman Lieu, first of all, Speaker Pelosi saying that Attorney General Barr lied to Congress and that's a crime. Do you agree with her?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): I do. I'm a former prosecutor, and it looks just like perjury. Basically, Barr was asked if Special Counsel Mueller's team had any concerns about his summary of the Mueller report, and he said no. And we know that that's a lie, because he got a letter from Bob Mueller saying essentially that he mischaracterized the Mueller report.

COOPER: Yes. So to the Justice Department's argument about why Barr wouldn't show up today, why couldn't judiciary committee members who are attorneys like yourself question Barr today instead of insisting on staff attorneys? What is the rationale for what because that is the thing that he used as a reason not to come?

LIEU: I think if we didn't have that reason, he would have picked another reason not to come. He actually didn't tell the Judiciary Committee until after his Senate hearing yesterday, which tells me that he realized it did not go well.

And certainly, we could have just members ask questions or we could ask staff counsel, but it's up to Congress to decide how we run our hearing, and this is nothing unusual. Last term I was in numerous judicial committee meetings where staff counsel questioned members of the Trump administration.

COOPER: What do you think of the likelihood of getting Barr to actually come in front of the committee is at this point?

LIEU: So Congress has the power to issue subpoenas. And if he is simply not going to show up in the Judiciary Committee, we will at some point issue a subpoena, and then we can enforce it.

He has right now violated a current subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report. That we're going to enforce next week with a contempt proceeding if he does not provide the full Mueller report in the next couple days.

COOPER: And a contempt proceeding, so if he is held in contempt of Congress, what -- does that really result in anything?

LIEU: Yes, it does. So here's the process. The House Judiciary Committee will vote in a contempt proceeding. If we hold him in contempt, it goes to the House floor. If the House floor votes in contempt, then it triggers two things.

First, it allows our House counsel to litigate in courts to try to enforce it. Second, the courts have already upheld Congress' inherent power to start taking actions against that individual without the courts. So we have procedures where we could in fact start levying fines on that person. In the past, they've even had a House jail. I don't think we're going go there, but at least we do have that power and the courts have upheld it.

COOPER: You've called the attorney general now one of the most dangerous men in Washington, which is -- I mean, is an extraordinary statement about any federal official, let alone the chief law enforcement officer in this country.

[20:35:06] LIEU: Two reasons I said that. One is not only did he mislead the American people, he was then given a letter from Robert Mueller saying he misled the American people, and he doubles down and lies to Congress and the American people after that. And second, right now he is suing to eliminate preexisting conditions to health care coverage for millions of Americans. He is a dangerous man.

COOPER: It does seem hard to believe when the attorney general yesterday, you know, said that the note was a little snippy and that it was probably just written by a staff member, the idea -- I mean, it's an extraordinary step for Mueller to have written this letter and sent it to Barr, and now it's public. The idea that he would have pawned that off on a staff member and not even looked at it or agreed with everything that's in it seems ludicrous on its face.

LIEU: Absolutely. It was definitely a snitty thing for Bill Barr to say and there's no way that a staff member wrote that. That was an extraordinary act. I'm sure Robert Mueller wrote that letter, and we hope Robert Mueller is going to come and we expect him to come later this month to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

COOPER: Congressman Ted Lieu, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

LIEU: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: There's a lot going on tonight. We have more breaking news. "The New York Times" is reporting the name of a government investigator who posed as a research assistant during the Trump campaign. Part of the FBI's counter intelligence efforts to better understand the campaign's links to Russia, in particular George Papadopoulos. That's who the focus of this investigator was. We'll have details on that next.


[20:40:14] COOPER: "The New York Times" is reporting previously unknown details about the FBI's counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign and its links to Russia, specifically, information about a woman who posed as a research assistant in order to meet with former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Sharing the byline is "New York Times" reporter Adam Goldman.

Adam, if you can, just walk us through this new details about what steps the FBI took to investigate George Papadopoulos. ADAM GOLDMAN, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, what we've learned is after Mr. Papadopoulos got this offer of cooperation from the Russians, in a sense, the FBI set about trying to figure out what he knew, and they wanted to do it secretly.

So they arranged a meeting in London with an informant, a professor named Stefan Halper, and a woman named Azra Turk, who was a government investigator that the FBI had sent to London to work with the informant.

And together they worked George to figure out what he might know or might not know. And they met with him separately and together and ultimately the operation in London in which the British knew about was not a success.

COOPER: And is it clear why the decision was made by the FBI to send this particular investigator to London?

GOLDMAN: This person would play the role of Stefan Halper's research assistant. And I thought the FBI believed she would make a good fit. I think part of the rationale was also to have an American investigator there who could provide some oversight and make sure this operation stayed on the rails.

COOPER: Was she an FBI agent?

GOLDMAN: I'm just going to leave it right now as a government investigator.


GOLDMAN: I use that wording for a reason, and I'm going to leave it at that.

COOPER: OK. Is it -- and is it clear if any actual information was learned from that meeting? I mean, you said it was basically a failure.

GOLDMAN: Yes, it was -- basically it wasn't fruitful but, you know, what it showed was this, you know, some might say panic, others might say heightened sense of alarm about what was going on, and they needed to get to the bottom of it.

I mean, this was pretty extraordinary for the FBI to move this fast on something overseas, to run this type of operation. And it really goes to the seriousness of the threat, at least the threat they received.

COOPER: And yesterday Attorney General Barr defended -- he's used the term spying. How does that square with the fact that the FBI Russia investigation is now under investigation by the Justice Department?

GOLDMAN: You know, Attorney General Barr thinks this is a good English word. You know, obviously there was some in the law enforcement community who would object to the term "spying." They would prefer to say lawful surveillance. I mean either way, the FBI was running an informant and using another investigator to covertly or clandestinely, you know, acquire information.

COOPER: And the President's reelection campaign, as you know, is already arguing that this proves they were the victims of some corrupt probe. That's really not what you're reporting is?

GOLDMAN: No, no. That's not the point we were trying to make. Look, we as an organization, "The New York Times," we've done some Seminole reporting on the origins of the investigation, how it started. And this is just a continuation of that reporting.

I think, you know, right now the only thing we know is this was a lawful law enforcement operation that took place in London with the knowledge of British intelligence. You know, unless that changes, you know, we're still working from the premise that this was lawful, and the FBI didn't, in fact -- it wasn't nefarious.

So, we'll -- you know, we've got see where this takes us. You know, Barr might come to a different conclusion down the road, but at this moment, nobody is providing any evidence that the FBI actually committed wrongdoing. They were simply being aggressive when it came to what they say is a lawful and predicated investigation, though an extraordinary one.

COOPER: Yes. Adam Goldman, thank you so much. Great reporting, appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: Thanks.

COOPER: Attorney General Barr's personal and professional relationship with Robert Mueller stretches back at least three decades, but has the letter from Mueller that Barr calls snitty changed the equation? That's next.


[20:48:16] COOPER: The House Judiciary Committee says it would like Mueller to testify on May 15th about his nearly two-year-long investigation. Now, as monumental as that might be, there is no indication to date whether that testimony will in fact happen on that date, or at all.

For his part, Attorney General Barr made it clear yesterday he wasn't the least bit happy with the letter his long-time friend sent him about Barr's framing of the report.


WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, the letter was a bit snitty and I think it was probably written by one of the staff people.


COOPER: Well, whether or not that's accurate, the entirety of Barr's testimony as we've reported has come under attack, withering attack by Democrats in Congress and should Mueller one day publicly refute what Barr has said under oath, there would certainly be questions about what that might mean for the -- certainly the very least the old friendship between them.

Perspective now from Mueller biographer, Garrett Graff, author of "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror." Garrett, I mean, you've read, I think you said the other night, pretty much everything Mueller has ever written or ever said. The idea that Barr is throwing out that this was probably written by some staffer, that -- I mean, does that seem possible at all to you?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, it certainly probably technically true in that this was a document that was likely drafted by the staff, debated among the staff.

But, you know, the idea that Mueller didn't carefully go over every line of it that the staff probably debated with Mueller the exact wording, the exact phrasing, and I would actually guess the staff pushed for harsher wording than Mueller was actually comfortable with.

COOPER: The tension that appears to be playing out between these two people, between Barr and Mueller, is it surprising? I mean, you know, in his testimony, in his confirmation testimony, Barr said, you know, they'd been friends. They'll be friends after this. Do you think that's true?

[20:50:03] GRAFF: It's possible. The friendship to my understanding has always been strongest actually on the wives side, that Bill Barr's wife and Robert Mueller's wife spent time together in a bible study among other settings.

But, you know, remember -- you have to remember, and this has been I think part of what's been hard for the American people to understand in a lot of this, these elite circles of the Department of Justice are just incredibly small.

I mean, when you look back over the last 25 years, you've had the same relatively small set of people. Robert Mueller, Jim Comey, Bill Barr, Eric Holder, you know, rotate through these top jobs, Christopher Wray. And so these are very tight professional circles with the people who do have a deep professional respect for one another.

COOPER: What is their disagreement over the way the findings of the Mueller report were characterized say about how they see their roles as prosecutors and how they interpret the law?

GRAFF: Yes. And I think that this was where we're beginning to see a real split between Bob Mueller's personality and Bill Barr's personality. Mueller first and foremost is a Justice Department institutionalist. You know, he is not a political figure. He is not a partisan person. Whereas, Bill Barr has been a lawyer in the Department of Justice certainly for -- you know, repeatedly, but has always been more of a partisan figure than Mueller ever has.

And, you know, when you go back and you look at the Manuel Noriega prosecution, when you look at Iran-contra, when you look at, you know, Barr going out of his way to write that 19-page unsolicited memo for the Raskin's about the obstruction of justice case that Mueller was building, you know, these are just actions that you could never imagine Mueller himself actually doing. Barr has proven that he is a partisan figure more than he is a Justice Department figure.

COOPER: Do you think Mueller would want to testify?

GRAFF: I think that Mueller has never enjoyed congressional testimony in any job that he has ever had, but he will certainly -- he will certainly comply with any lawful order that he receives to testify.

COOPER: And the Office of the House Judiciary Committee, I mean, they fully intend to call him. It remains to be seen if and when that happens, if the DOJ tries to prevent him from speaking. Would it be feasible -- I mean Mueller is still under -- he still works at the Department of Justice, doesn't he?

GRAFF: He does until he decides that he doesn't. And presumably at some point in the forthcoming days, Mueller will decide his work as special counsel is wrapped up and he'll turn in his resignation and he'll go back to his golf game.

COOPER: Garrett Graff, appreciate it. Thanks very much. I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I wonder what it means that he hasn't done that yet?

COOPER: Yes, it's interesting.

CUOMO: You know, I wonder why he's there, what he wants, what he thinks is important. That's going to be a big step. Now, paralleling and shadowing what he does is going to be what the Democrats do, right?

So we have Senator Amy Klobuchar on tonight. Obviously she is running for president, a senator who got to question Bill Barr yesterday. What does she think the Democrats should do next? Speaker Pelosi, obviously that's in the House, but heavy hit at A.G. Barr saying that he committed perjury.


CUOMO: What are they going to do about it?


CUOMO: That little stunt at the House today, what are they going to actually do? So we're going to go through that. And we're going to start looking at what was done to surveil the campaign. Will any of it wind up being called spying?

COOPER: Yes, definitely from the campaign is saying it is. Chris, I'll see you in about seven minutes from now.

President Trump said he would hire all of the best people. Remember that? Well, another one of those best people implodes or in Washington speaks removes himself from consideration. "The Ridiculist" is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:56:19] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist". And tonight it's another bleak milestone in the White House office of the best and brightest.

President Trump's intended nominee for the Federal Reserve Board, conservative pundit and self-distracting mansplainer, Stephen Moore, today withdrew his name from consideration, which is a Washington euphemism for his Senate confirmation was as likely as Sarah Sanders passing a polygraph test, or Sarah Sanders admitting she was wrong, or Sarah Sanders showing up for press briefing, it's still his choice.

Moore who full disclosure was formally a CNN Contributor and, yes, I know, slow clap for us on that one, today sent the President a letter that reads in part, "The unrelenting attacks on my character have become untenable for me and my family and three more months of this would be too hard on us."

In hindsight, probably wasn't a good sign to Senator Lindsey Graham, a White House ally who'd probably be willing to drive the get away golf cart after President Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue said the other day that Moore's nomination would be "problematic."

Now, before you take out your clarinet to play a funeral (INAUDIBLE) for Stephen Moore's career prospects, consider that what he claims are attacks on his character are actual examples of reporters reading his past writings.

CNN's KFile recently uncovered articles that Moore wrote as an adult that were littered with sexism and degrading references to women. Moore said he was joking, but these weren't like high school mistakes, these weren't college year book idiocy. He was a full-grown adult writing in major magazines. You can go to and hold your nose if you want to read the details.

For his part, the President tweeted today in part, "Steve Moore, a great pro-growth economist and a truly fine person, has decided to withdraw from the Fed process." Truly fine person, doesn't that kind of ring a bell? Oh, yes, Moore is a member of a very, very elite club, one of the very best the President promised he would hire.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to make America great again. We're going to use our best people.

I'm going to get the best people.

We're going to deliver. We're going to get the best people in the world.

We don't want people that are B level, C level, D level. We have to get our absolute best.

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

It's a sophisticated chess match, but I have the best people lined up.

You need people that are truly, truly capable.

We have to get the best people.


COOPER: That's true. Yes, the best people, sophisticated chess match. It seems like the President was missing a rook or two when he held the job fair because it's not just Stephen Moore, there's the President's other Fed favorite, ex-pizza kingpin and failed presidential candidate Herman Cain whose past sexual harassment allegations doomed his chances pretty much from the get go.

There was HHS Secretary Tom Price, loved private jets as much as he loved taxpayers funding them. There was also the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, remember him, who apparently thought he was Queen Elizabeth because he ordered a special flag to be raised whenever he entered the building. Yes, smooth-skinned EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, he used his government security detail to seek out his preferred brand of lotion from the Ritz-Carlton.

The list goes on. Man, can you image being on that security detail? Mr. Pruitt wants some lotion from the concierge desk. That would be kind of demoralizing, I would think. Rob Porter accused of abuse. Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, but he was a good guy. Sean Spicer, cartoonish disaster and a liar verified in the Mueller report. Oh, Scaramucci. I mean, look, how much time have we got because we could go on?

The irony is as thick as swamp water. The President and his allies fuel conspiracy theories about career government workers, you know, people who have dedicated entire careers working behind the scenes, not talking about it on T.V., not being pundits, actual people who become actual experts in their sometimes very obscure but important fields working for the government, those people are hacks.

According to the President and Alex Jones, they're deep state, which is why it's a good thing there are so many jobs in various agencies that have gone unfilled. Don't worry about it. Sleep well at night knowing only the best and brightest are at work in the White House and on "The Ridiculist".

Well, the news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Very serious show, but I have to do it. Name the movie, "It puts the lotion in the basket."

COOPER: Oh, come on, "Silence of the Lambs."

CUOMO: There it is my man, my man. All right, Anderson, thank you very much. I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "Prime Time."