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White House Limited Access to President Trump's Calls With Putin and Saudi Crown Prince; Sources: U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Resigns; Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Subpoenaed For Ukraine Documents In trump Impeachment Probe; Wash. Post: President Trump Told Russian Officials In 2017 He Wasn't Concerned About Moscow's Interference In U.S. Election. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired September 27, 2019 - 20:00   ET




The whistleblower warned about it, and tonight CNN has reporting to back it up. Our sources telling us that White House efforts to restrict access to President Trump's conversations with foreign leaders were not limited to his call with Ukraine's president which was put into a code word classified system meant for the nation's top secrets.

Other conversations were also roped off, though it is not yet clear exactly how. Specifically we're talking about phone calls with Saudi Arabia's crown prince and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.

Tonight, we also learned that the president's Ukraine special envoy named in the whistleblower complaint and tangled up with the president's attorney general, Rudy Giuliani -- excuse me, the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has resigned.

CNN's Pamela Brown starts us off tonight.

Pamela, what are you learning first of all about this resignation?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we've learned the White House, the resignation of Volker -- sorry, is that what you're asking me about?

COOPER: Actually, let's start with how the conversations themselves were handled.

BROWN: The conversations, OK, there's a lot of news tonight, Anderson. So, let's talk about the conversations --


BROWN: -- because we have learned that efforts to limit access to President Trump's conversations with foreign leaders extended to phone calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian Leader Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the matter. Now, those calls were among the presidential conversations that aides took remarkable steps to keep from becoming public. In the case of Trump's calls with Prince Mohammed, officials who ordinarily would have been given access to a rough transcript of the conversation never saw one, according to one of the sources.

Instead, Anderson, a transcript was never even circulated at all which the source said was highly unusual, particularly after high-profile conversation like that one. Now the call which the person said contained no especially sensitive national security secrets came as we'll recall, Anderson, as the White House was confronting the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi which U.S. intelligence assessments said came at the hand of the Saudi government. Now with Putin access to the transcript of at least one of Trump's conversations was also tightly restricted according to a former Trump administration official speaking to my colleague, Jim Sciutto.

It's not clear, though, Anderson, if aides took the additional step of placing the Saudi Arabia and Russia phone calls in that same highly secured code-word system that held the now-infamous phone call with Ukraine's president and which helped spark the whistleblower complaint made this week, though officials confirm that calls aside from the Ukraine conversation were placed there even though they didn't meet the criteria.

Now, administration officials are saying the practice of taking these unusual steps to conceal began more than a year ago after other head of state calls leaked out -- Anderson.

COOPER: And so, that's the White House response, essentially? Is that what they are saying about these latest reporting?

BROWN: Yes, so the White House isn't directly commenting on the Saudi and Putin calls. They are saying that, look, though, if we try to restrict access, it's because of all these other leaks that happened early in the administration.

And we should note, Anderson, that a senior White House official did acknowledge earlier today that NSC lawyers moved the now-infamous Ukraine call to the highly classified system. The official said it was handled appropriately. But we should note while classified, the Ukraine call didn't contain the top-secret information like intelligence secrets that would necessitate the move.

But all of this is raising further questions tonight, Anderson, about how else in the White House was involved, and why the White House selectively put head of state transcripts like the Ukraine one in this code-word system and not other transcripts.

The White House just has not provided an explanation for that. Still a lot to learn, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Pamela Brown, thank you very much.

As we said, this is a fast-moving story. These developments just happening. It's not the only major development tonight from the whistleblower complaint. A key figure named in it has just resigned. Kurt Volker is his name, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine. Our national security reporter, Kylie Atwood, joins us now with that.

So, what have you learned about the resignation of this official?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, we should note that Kurt Volker is probably the key player when it comes to looking at if the State Department was helping Rudy Giuliani a little bit too much with his partisan, politically motivated agenda in terms of encouraging Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, right? So what we know is that Kurt Volker had actually met with Giuliani. He'd talked with Giuliani. He had even, according to the whistleblower complaint, met with Zelensky, President Zelensky of Ukraine, and talked about how to navigate the demands made by President Trump over this summer.

So, clearly, Kurt Volker was in the center of it. We still have a lot of unanswered questions because the State Department has said on the record that Kurt Volker did, indeed, connect a Zelensky aide with Rudy Giuliani.


But they haven't gone any further than that. So we need to hear from the State Department about what Kurt Volker was doing, and he clearly had had enough of it.

The State Department hadn't come out defending him in the last week. Instead, we had Rudy Giuliani on Fox News waving his cell phone, showing off text messages he said were from Kurt Volker. He said that he was doing everything he was doing because the State Department told him to.

And now, we have Kurt Volker, who is the person he was talking to, resigning from the State Department.

COOPER: The other question, of course, is what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knew or knows now, Secretary Pompeo has been subpoenaed by the House. Is there something specific that we know has precipitated that? And would he be forced to comply? Do we know what his response has been?

ATWOOD: Yes. So, the House Foreign Affairs Committee actually asked the State Department for these documents related to Ukraine weeks ago. And they didn't get them. They sent multiple letters to the State Department asking for these documents. But once they didn't get them, they said they would be subpoenaing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if they didn't get them. So, that's what they did today.

It is shocking, though, that to subpoena a secretary of state, this is no small deal. But what they are expecting is that they will get these documents by the end of next week. That is the time frame that they have given the State Department to comply with their request.

And we should note that they want these documents from the State Department regarding Ukraine, but they also want to hear from State Department officials. One of those officials that they expected to hear from, that they said that they were scheduling a deposition for next week, was Kurt Volker who resigned today.

So, the question is, how are they going to learn from him? Are they still going to talk to him?

And congressional aides tell me, one said that they expect to hear everything that Kurt Volker knows about this scandal. They still want to hear from him because he is in the center of this all. Eventually they'll want to hear from Secretary Pompeo himself.

COOPER: Yes, and also, I would assume from the former ambassador to the Ukraine, U.S. ambassador who was basically pushed out early from when she was supposed to leave, that, of course, remains to be seen.

ATWOOD: That's right, Anderson. She's on their list of folks that they're going to be talking to in depositions over the next two weeks.

COOPER: Yes. Kylie, appreciate it. Thank you.

I want to go next to the White House. CNN's Jim Sciutto joins us from there tonight. Excuse me, Jim Acosta. Jim, Jim, sorry, Jim.

You heard the reporting from Pamela Brown of these other transcripts that the White House apparently took efforts to conceal. We don't know exactly how.

Any sense of how the president and his team are dealing with this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I talked to a source who is familiar with the discussions inside the president's legal team earlier this evening who said, during the Mueller investigation, they were at DEFCON 1ne, tonight they're at DEFCON 10. So, they claim they're not worried about all these development.

But I will tell you, Anderson, what is going on with these calls and -- between the president and foreign leaders is interesting. It's something we've been reporting on for some time. Ever since those leaks started coming out -- this goes all the way to the beginning of the administration when the president's call with Enrique Pena Nieto, for example, the former president of Mexico, leaked out. They started to shrink the number of officials inside the White House who would be on these phone calls. And that was essentially to limit some of the leaks, some of the embarrassing leaks about these phone calls coming out of the White House.

I will tell you, Anderson, much of these activities to shrink the number of people familiar with what the president is doing on these calls and his interactions with people like Vladimir Putin, this has alarmed officials inside the national security team for some time. I talked to a senior administration official this year who said I can't tell you whether or not the president is advancing U.S. interests when he's having these dealings with these foreign leaders. And this official went on to tell me, Anderson, he just can't make heads or tails of the president's relationship with Vladimir Putin.

So, this falls in line with all of that reporting, Anderson. COOPER: And the idea that this conversation with Saudi Arabia's

ruler, the idea that that didn't have anything to do with national security and yet was -- was limited in terms of who actually got to see it, that obviously raises a lot of questions about why these things are being moved over. And now the guy who's the State Department envoy who Rudy Giuliani's been pinning much of his explanation on about the State Department directing him, what does the White House, how are they going to deal with this development?

ACOSTA: Well, Anderson, it certainly looks like the dominoes are falling to some extent. I will tell you that the president did meet with his legal team.


My colleague Pamela Brown reporting this earlier today, met with his legal team and his outside attorney, Jay Sekulow, about all this.

I just learned earlier this evening that Rudy Giuliani, Anderson, was not a part of that conversation. And according to a source familiar with these discussions going on inside of the president's impeachment team, Rudy Giuliani is still the counselor to the president, is how he's described, the outside counselor to the president. But as it relates to this impeachment inquiry and whether or not Rudy Giuliani will be part of the discussions among the president's lawyers, that remains to be determined.

And so, it looks like at this point because Rudy Giuliani is in some potential hot water right now, he may not be a part of the legal strategy that goes on inside the president's team because they know at this point, he may be testifying in all of this. So, it may be wise counsel for them to keep him outside of the circle when it comes to some of these discussions.

But a source that I talked to about all of this this evening, Anderson, insists the president is in good spirits, he's not panicking at this point. But certainly, Anderson, when you talk to people in the president's circle of advisers, talked to one earlier today who said, you know, during the Mueller investigation, yes, there were times when they were worried. This one feels different. This one feels, quote, worse than usual -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Some perspective now from a national security professional, CNN legal and national security analyst, Asha Rangappa, who's also former FBI special agent. CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, as well.

This is shaping up to be obviously another political bombshell of a night.

Gloria, in this reporting of the White House restricted access on at least two other calls -- I mean, what's fascinating about it is this is what the whistleblower himself had said, though he didn't specify which calls were -- had been -- had been limited in access. And a lot of Republicans have been saying this person didn't have any firsthand knowledge. It's all hearsay, all secondhand.

Pretty much everything it seems like this was -- the whistleblower said turns out to be true.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Everything turns out to be true. And I think we'll probably discover there's more that the whistleblower did not put in his report because perhaps he couldn't confirm it. It seems to me that when he mentioned this wasn't the first time, it seemed almost inevitable that it was going to be something like Khashoggi, discussion about Khashoggi perhaps with the crown prince, or something with Putin, about the Russia hack of the election, because as you know, this is a president who disagrees with American intelligence assessments.

And so, if you're working in a White House and you have a president who's paranoid about leaks as Jim was mentioning, leaks about his phone calls with the Mexican president, for example, or the Australian prime minister, he -- you know, he was paranoid about it. The White House people, they want to protect the president, and when they see these discussions, and I don't know what was in the discussions specifically that are troublesome with Saudi Arabia and with Russia, they're going to try and limit the access to it. And it is unprecedented.

COOPER: And I should point out, Gloria, that CNN's reporting is that access was limited on these -- on the Putin and the Mohammed bin Salman call.

BORGER: Yes, exactly.

COOPER: We didn't know exactly how in the whistleblower complaint, the whistleblower said they -- they understood that other phone conversations or transcripts had been placed in this highly -- the code word-level secure server. Again, we don't have that.

BORGER: We don't know.

COOPER: Don't have that verified at this point.

Asha, the Mohammad bin Salman call never circulated at all. How unusual would that be considering it was a high-profile conversation and, according to the reporting, did not deal with national security issues per se?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it would have affected our national security in the sense that people who may have had action items or things to follow up on would not know how to follow up on them, whether it's on the diplomatic front or in other channels.

But I think as you said, Anderson, this not only corroborates a key piece of the whistleblower's complaint, it also highlights a pattern of misuse of the classified systems which is against the law. You're not allowed to put things into a code word system that are not related to that only to, you know, to hide things that are politically sensitive or embarrassing. And I think this goes to another question about the Office of Legal

Counsel that said none of this fell under the director of national intelligence's jurisdiction. I can't see how it won't.

And then, finally, I think that one thing that can't be lost here is that we need to know what happened in those conversations with President Putin. Remember that part of the complaint is alleging that the president was trying to, you know, pursue threads that would ultimately place the blame of 2016 election interference on Ukraine, to displace it on Ukraine rather than Russia which, of course, helps Russia.


So you know, we can't -- we can't forget that this complaint alleges something that would ultimately be beneficial to President Putin.

COOPER: Right. And the other thing that's beneficial to President Putin is not supplying military aid to Ukraine in their fight against Russia.

Asha and Gloria, stay right there. We're going to take a break.

We're going to expand the conversation when we come back and get unique insights from Carl Bernstein, of course, made his bones covering another White House in crisis.

And later tonight, more on Kurt Volker's role in these affairs, as well as Rudy Giuliani's public outburst about all this, as our breaking news continues.



COOPER: It is one remarkable night at the end of a historic week, and two more breaking stories tonight. The resignation of a top diplomat mentioned prominently in the whistleblower complaint and late word tonight that the White House restricted access to other calls in addition to the one with Ukraine's president, though we don't know exactly how these other calls were restricted, including conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman from Saudi Arabia.

Back with Asha Rangappa, Gloria Borger, and joining us by phone, CNN political analyst and Watergate legend, Carl Bernstein.

Carl, first of all, your reaction to this U.S. special envoy to Ukraine resigning, does it surprise you? I mean, the fact is he was named in the whistleblower complaint, and he was the one who was in contact apparently with Rudy Giuliani and put Giuliani in touch with Zelensky adviser.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): We need to know more about the circumstances and doubtless he's going to be subpoenaed in the impeachment investigation. But I think we can start from the premise that what we're seeing once again is that Donald Trump is toxic. As people who have done business with him know, as one security official after another who worked closely with Trump has come to recognize.

And now, if you read the whistleblower's complaint carefully, you'll see how Volker became involved in the middle of all this through Giuliani, whether or not he was an innocent bystander or an active participant in trying to hijack an American election through foreign, you know, foreign intervention in our democratic election process we'll have to wait and see.

But look, what we know is that this president of the United States from one national security official after another, Mattis, McMaster, Tillerson, et cetera, et cetera, these people have all said the president of the United States is a danger to the national security of our country. And what this is about, including whatever it is that Mr. Volker did as described by the whistleblower, is part of that dangerous process that the president has launched by involving in this instance this foreign power in our elections.

COOPER: Well, Carl, part of the -- a lot of them haven't said he is a danger, they have certainly -- they have left and distanced themselves from him which one can interpret that. But isn't that part of the problem, that not enough people have spoken up who have personal experiences with this? I mean, if it wasn't for this one whistleblower, I mean, none of this would have come to light.

BERNSTEIN: You're absolutely right in terms of the reluctance of McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson to be absolutely forthright and out loud about what they have whispered to others about the president being a danger to the national security. But those whispers have been accurately reported on the air, in books, by reporters for many publications. But indeed, part of the problem has been that until this whistleblower has come along, we have not had the kind of documentary evidence that is front and center in that summary that shows the president in his own words, without an intermediary, absolutely undermining the national security interests of the United States, and undermining our electoral process.

COOPER: To Carl's point, Gloria, how does this resignation -- I don't know if you know this, but how would the resignation of Volker affect how he might or might not cooperate with investigators?

BORGER: Well, he's a private citizen. And he can testify freely. He can decide he wants to cooperate with Congress. What we don't know from -- from reading the whistleblower report really is that he was -- he was giving Zelensky advice about how to, quote, navigate the president after the phone call the president had with Zelensky.

What kind of advice was he giving him on that? Was he just trying to work out a way to secure the aid for Ukraine and work around Rudy Giuliani? I mean, don't forget, Volker is somebody who's a McCain guy. And he would have been personally very much in favor of aiding Ukraine against the Russians. And that's where he comes from politically.

So, we have to hear from him, and I think it's much more likely that as a private citizen, we would hear from him a lot more freely.

COOPER: Asha, do you agree with that? Just from a legal standpoint, his resignation makes it more likely for him to cooperate? That he's not under some State Department restriction?

RANGAPPA: Yes, he definitely has more freedom. I mean, the White House could try to invoke executive privilege, but they don't really have anything to hold over his head should he choose to, you know, to speak.


I mean, it's not like what are they going to do, fire him? He's already gone. So you know, he has the capacity to speak freely.

COOPER: In normal times, I mean, there's attorney/client privilege between Rudy Giuliani and President Trump, and you can argue executive privilege. But from Giuliani to people talking in the state department, that doesn't seem to be covered by anything, would it be?

RANGAPPA: Absolutely not. Exactly. The executive privilege would cover advisers to the president.

And you know, Giuliani talking -- Giuliani in this entire complaint is like the international man of mystery. I mean, what is he doing? He's going and, you know, speaking to foreign officials, he's --

BORGER: No mystery --

RANGAPPA: -- ostensibly gathering intelligence for the Department of Justice and their investigation, you know?

So I think that the state department here -- Volker has an interest in clearing up exactly what the role was of the official channels that Rudy Giuliani may have been working through.

BORGER: And that won't necessarily be good for the White House --


COOPER: Yes. I haven't seen too many international men of mystery appearing on television every night, giving details and showing text messages from people he's interviewed.

Asha Rangappa, Gloria Borger, Carl Bernstein, thank you. Strange days.

Just ahead, a lot more, more on how the White House and specifically the president's attorney are responding to what is now been days of crisis. We'll discuss it with a reporter who just spoke again with Rudy Giuliani and be joined, as well, by the man who once spoke for the State Department. We'll be right back.


[20:31:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, we're ending a week of breaking news with multiple breaking stories tonight. The State Department's special envoy to Ukraine has resigned. Sources tell CNN the White House tried to limit access to more potentially controversial phone conversations other than just the one with the Ukrainian president, including calls with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Vladimir Putin.

Joining us now is CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst and former State Department spokesman, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, and CNN Political Analyst and White House Correspondent for "The Atlantic," Elaina Plott, who recently spoke with Rudy Giuliani.

So, Admiral Kirby, what do you think the special envoy's resignation says about -- what do you think it says?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Look, I don't know Mr. Volker personally. But what I think it says is he wants to make himself available to investigators and to the intelligence committees. And he wants to have the freedom to do that without having -- being, you know, micromanaged by the White House or by the State Department.

I think to me when I heard he resigned, it seemed to me like it was very much, I'm doing this because I want to get out from under the yoke of the administration and be able to fully cooperate.

COOPER: And Admiral Kirby, earlier today, Secretary of State Pompeo received three House subpoenas for failure to produce documents on Ukraine. Why do you think-- because we haven't heard much from Pompeo or frankly the State Department this week.

KIRBY: Yes, it's a great question. I don't know. I mean, I fully expected this afternoon in coming in this evening to talk to you that we would see some sort of statement out of the State Department that just acknowledges the request and, hey, we're going to cooperate, we're going to -- you know, we're going to do what we can to show that there was nothing inappropriate done at the State Department, but not a word. It's very unusual.

And I can't tell whether that's Pompeo holding his cards close and just doesn't want to be transparent about, this or whether they're getting directed by the White House to shut everything down.

Either way, I think the State Department loses here. I think even just a blanket statement of, hey, we got them, we're going to look at it, we're going to cooperate, would be very helpful.

COOPER: Elaina, the center much of this obviously is Rudy Giuliani. You spoke to him yesterday. Is it clear to you what his strategy is assuming he has one?

ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, this is why Rudy Giuliani and Trump make such a great pair, complementary pair in many ways. I can discern no media strategy whatsoever.

As "The Washington Post" reported earlier this evening, Rudy Giuliani was actually scheduled to go speak at a security conference next week that was actually linked to the Kremlin. Putin would be in attendance. And immediately after the report, he told me that he was no longer attending that conference. That he would no longer be speaking at it.

And when I asked why, he told me it was because he had been informed by the reporters that Putin had been there, despite the fact that it was -- it's listed on the website of the conference. And he said that, you know, he didn't want to give the swamp press, those were his words, any more distractions.

So, it's the sort of thing that to me is emblematic of the fact that not only does Rudy Giuliani not have a strategy, the White House doesn't seem to have a strategy. You know, over the course of my reporting this last week, it's become pretty clear to me that with the myriad media appearances that Giuliani has done on behalf of this President from the time that he was a candidate, none of those are ever cleared by the White House.

This is something he just sort of does on his own accords. He'll let Trump know most likely that he's going to go on a show. But other than that, it's -- I mean, it's very disjointed. And in a moment like this, I mean, just -- with so many moving parts, you would want the White House, you would think, to know that that sort of event is on your schedule so they could preempt it somehow, but we're seeing none of that.

COOPER: Admiral Kirby, I mean, what are other countries thinking right now when they look and they see Rudy Giuliani --


COOPER: -- as sort of the President's bag man, you know, traveling around, you know, trying to hatch these various schemes going on?

[20:35:04] KIRBY: And this is one of -- this is the thing that worries me very deeply about this whole scandal, aside from the content of it and what we're investigating and learning is that -- is the message it sends around the world that maybe the State Department doesn't really speak for the United States foreign policy. And maybe Mike Pompeo doesn't really have the influence and can speak for President Trump.

Now, I don't think that's true, but that's sort of the message. They're not -- I'm sure foreign leaders are scratching their heads wondering, you know what, should we schedule a meeting with Giuliani? Is that the way to get in good with Donald Trump or, you know, is that just a more efficient, faster way than going through the State Department bureaucracy?

And it also hamstrings our diplomats around the world, whether they're career foreign service or they're political appointees, they're out there representing American foreign policy interest and they -- no matter what country they're in right now tonight, they're being undermined by the scandal.

COOPER: Right. I mean, it seems there's a third role there, Elaina, that Admiral Kirby, you know, he had two alternatives, either Pompeo is not connected with the President, you know, and the State Department doesn't really speak for the President, or Pompeo is connected to the President and they're kind of a cabal, and the career people in the State Department, all of that is just cut out. And that makes, you know, Pompeo and Trump and Giuliani out there and others just kind of doing their own foreign policy.

PLOTT: Well, the reality is that that's why Volker's testimony ultimately will be quite interesting because I think the State Department's role in Giuliani's communications with Ukrainian officials is still, you know, pretty murky in terms of what we do know.

Giuliani has put out text messages showing that Volker was, you know, a key conduit between him and Ukrainian leaders. So it will be incumbent upon Volker to sort of explain was the State Department trying to contain the damage as the whistleblower alleges of Giuliani's communications, or did they play a more instrument role in pushing this forward.

COOPER: Yes. It's a fascinating testimony if it gets to that. Elaina Plott, appreciate it, John Kirby as well.

Coming up next, yet another breaking story tonight and, yes, it could be big, what "The Washington Post" is reporting on what the President told the Russians in that closed door meeting, specifically what he told them about Russian interference in the 2016 election.


[20:40:59] COOPER: One breaking story after another tonight. This is another big one. "The Washington Post" has it, just went up on their website. And I just want to read the lead from this "Washington Post" story.

"President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow's interference in the U.S. election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter."

Joining us right now is CNN National Security Analyst and retired CIA Chief of Russia Operations, Steve Hall. Steve, first of all, this is the -- the story is just now breaking. I'm wondering what your reaction to this.

If "The Washington Post" reporting is correct, the President telling, you know, two Russians, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, that he's unconcerned about what Russian shah did in the election.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Anderson, I mean, the word horrific comes to mind. I mean, first of all, its tacit acknowledgment that the President was aware or understood that the Russians had indeed done this. And then secondly, simply decides to sort of blow it off and say, well, you know, it's not that important because, you know, I guess we do that sort of thing, too, according to the President.

Remember, he's said things like this in the past. You know, when he was confronted with Russia's, you know, authoritarian approach to killing journalist and that sort of thing, you remember the President said, well, you know, we've done things like that, too. So this is sort of a common theme apparently in this President, which is to say, don't worry about it, you know, everybody does bad things.

You know, whether it's in (INAUDIBLE), there's bad people on both sides, whether we do things that we're accusing the Russians of. I mean, I don't understand how this is in any sense presidential or good for U.S. national security. It's appalling.

COOPER: It also -- I mean, when he was in Helsinki on the stage standing next to Vladimir Putin after having a private meeting with Putin, with just an interpreter present, he said that he didn't understand why Russia would have done this, that he doesn't -- essentially he was siding with Putin over the belief of the act -- of the then DNI Dan Coats.

So to your point, he's saying publicly, you know, he's sort of muddying the water, says he doesn't think Russia did it. He doesn't understand why they would do it. And yet here he is saying directly to the Russians something seemingly different.

I want to bring in Shane Harris right now. He's from "The Washington Post." He's a reporter on this story. Shane, this is extraordinary. Can you just explain exactly what you are reporting tonight?

SHANE HARRIS, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure. We're reporting that in 2017 when President Trump met in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, he told them that he was not concerned about Moscow's interference in our recent election because the United States does the same things in other countries.

This alarmed senior White House officials who believed first of all that the President was sort of falsely equating what happened in 2016, but also that he might be giving some kind of a green light or a kind of acquiescence to the Russians to try this again in other countries. And the memo of that conversation was then highly restricted, so only very few people were allowed to see it, which was also very unusual at the time.

COOPER: I haven't seen the actual writing. Is that an actual quote or is that a paraphrase of what the President said?

HARRIS: Right. What exactly what we're reporting is that he was -- he said he was unconcerned about the interference in the election because the United States does the same thing in other countries. That's a paraphrase.

And that -- but the import of what he was saying, multiple sources told us, he was clear that he was making the equivalency and essentially saying, you know, don't worry about it. We do these same kinds of things, too, which, of course, the United States does not. COOPER: I mean, to Steve, you know, Steve Hall, just before you came was saying, you know, he has said kind of similar things publicly. You know, when talked about Vladimir Putin's a killer while, you know, a lot of us -- a lot of people are killers, there's -- you know, a lot of people do a lot of things.

[20:45:05] It is extraordinary to hear the President saying that directly to the Russian ambassador and the foreign minister. Is it clear to you how that conversation was limited? Because the reporting that CNN had earlier, CNN was only able to say that the distribution of it or the access to it was limited. Do you know any more details on how it was limited?

HARRIS: Sure. All we know is that essentially this was no longer available to people who might actually have access -- ordinarily have access to it. Now, the White House -- and what I mean by this, if you're a country expert or an issue area, you ordinarily would get access to conversations from that area and other senior NSC people who might have security clearance could get it.

At the time this conversation happened, the White House had already started restricting these memos fearful of press leaks. We're told that this memo about this conversation with Lavrov and Kislyak was restricted even more tightly so that only very few officials could see it. That said, clearly an understanding of what happened in that conversation did get around.

And I would note that this is the same conversation in which the President revealed a highly classified source of information that the United States had about ISIS operations and also remarked to the Russian officials that after having fired Jim Comey, the day before, that he had relieved a lot of pressure on him at the time.

Remember that when the President fired Jim Comey, there was suspicion that he had done that because the FBI was investigating him and his campaign for connections to Russia. And then, of course, that firing ultimately leads to a special counsel being appointed.

COOPER: This is just incredible reporting. Shane Harris, appreciate it, from "The Washington Post." The story is up now.

Coming up next, the Republican take on the day -- or one Republican's take on the day. We'll be right back.


[20:51:12] COOPER: In just the last few moments, we've had another breaking news story. "The Washington Post" reporting tonight, just now, the President told those Russian officials, the Russian ambassador and the foreign minister, that he met in the Oval Office in 2017 that he was not concerned about Moscow's interference in U.S. elections because he reportedly said the U.S. does it, too. That's according to "The Washington Post." That prompted White House officials then to limit access to the transcript of that conversation, a pattern mentioned in that damning whistleblower complaint. Joining us is CNN National Security Commentator and former Republican House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, also Erick Erickson, editor of

Chairman Rogers, what do you make of this new "Washington Post" report now?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: You know, obviously it's very concerning for me if it in fact is true. The President seems to have a very sinister Hollywood view of what American intelligence is all about, not understanding we have rules and laws and trying to even compare at all from what the Russians and how they conduct themselves around the world and U.S. intelligence services do is, A, it's just absolutely wrong. And, B, it's a little offensive because you're telling our adversaries it's kind of OK to do what you do, keep at it. And that is, in my mind, a little bit dangerous. And the Russians, by the way, will take it that way.

COOPER: Erick, just from your standpoint, I'm wondering how you see just the events of this past week. I obviously, you know, follow you on Twitter and stuff. There's so much to talk about, but what do you make of this? How serious do you see this from your standpoint and do you think other Republicans see this?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR, THERESURGENT.COM: You know, I definitely think the White House needs to be concerned. The President, of course, says these things. I think part of this I keep hearing certain senior citizen Fox News pundits echoed in the President's voice and the stuff he says. Apparently impeachment is what you get after overdosing on certain commentary. And the President needs to be concerned. The White House also needs to be concerned.

The President has been paranoid about the intelligence committee being out to getting this is just going to play into that and that should be concerning to all of us if the President doesn't think he can trust the intelligence community.

But what should keep the White House up at night are the 18 or so Republicans night who aren't up for reelection and don't particularly care for him and they may give the Democrats the legitimacy to moved forward where they can probe this stuff.

COOPER: You actually -- do you actually see the possibility of Republicans breaking away? Because, I mean, that's other than Republican who are, you know, leaving and we haven't seen that.

ERICKSON: Not yet. But, you know, give this some time. The Democrats aren't in a formal impeachment process now, but the whistleblower -- the problem for the White House is the whistleblower clearly has names of people who can be subpoenaed and documents that can be requested. He's provided essentially a path to impeachment.

I talked to a Republican senator who said that the worst part about this is that the Democrats now are able to focus their probe on a limited number of people and documents they want to begin to build a case, and you drag that out over time, you may see some of these Republicans who they don't have to be held accountable by voters again and they may say let's go forward.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, if you were heading the intelligence committee, who would you want to talk to, you know, the next -- who are the -- how many people would you want to talk to? Who would you want to talk to next?

ROGERS: Yes. Well, you know, as an old investigator, I can tell you conducting investigations through the intelligence committee, that list starts out a certain size but it gets bigger, because once you get into those conversations as that picture starts to form of what you think happened, you start to go through and ask for those folks.

But you can immediately understand that Volker is going to be important, that Ambassador Sondland, the European ambassador who was also part of those meetings in Ukraine is going to be important.

The folks in the White House surrounding the activity of who did have access to the documents, who got their feelings hurt when didn't get access to the documents, all of those people would be witnesses.

[20:55:03] And I hope, you know, if it's a nonpartisan or bipartisan investigation, you will you get both sides of the story. I hope.


COOPER: Mike Rogers, Erick Erickson, I wish we had more time. We got our time messed up today because so much is happening. Erick, I love following you on Twitter and we'll talk. Mike Rogers, thank you so much.

ERICKSON: Good to see you.

COOPER: A reminder, you can catch an all new season of Mike Roger's "Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies" here on CNN, Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. We'll be right back.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thank you very much, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Prime Time." We have breaking news on our watch, so let's get after it.

All right big news, "The Washington Post" just reported, remember that weird meeting at the White House with President Trump and the Russians and Rex Tillerson where the Russians kind of laughed --