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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
House Investigation Into Trump And Russia In Shambles Tonight; Senate Intel Chiefs Vow Comprehensive Trump-Russia Probe; Interview with Sen. Angus King; Melania Trump Makes Rare Public Appearance. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 29, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:08] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back. Call it a tale of two committees. Tomorrow, the Senate Intelligence Committee launches hearings on all matters Trump and Russia. Meantime, its House counterpart is in turmoil.
Devin Nunes, the chairman is under pressure to recuse himself. There are allegations of collusion between him. The White House continue. It is quite a contrast two committees. CNN's Jessica Schneider reports.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee say they are pouring through thousands of intelligence documents as part of its bipartisan investigation into Russian meddling during the election.
SEN. RICHARD BURR, (R) SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This was one of the biggest investigations that the Hill has seen in my tenure here.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Standing in start contrast to the House inquiry stalled by partisan finger pointing, the Senate chairman and Ranking Democrat stress they are working together closely.
SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: We, together with the members of our committee are going to get to the bottom of this.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Senate committee saying it is getting unprecedented access to intelligence and will hold its first public hearing tomorrow.
WARNER: Remember to not lose sight about what this investigation is about. An outside foreign adversary effectively sought to hijack our most critical Democratic process, the election of a president.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The committee has asked 20 people to testify so far. BURR: I think it's safe to say that we have had conversations with a lot of people. And you would think less of us if General Flynn wasn't in that list.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But General Flynn's lawyer tells CNN the committee has not interviewed Flynn and has only spoken to his attorneys. Former Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort, will talk to the committee. And Jared Kushner has extended the same offer. Questions have been mounting about Kushner's meeting in December with the chairman of the state sponsored Russian bank, VEB, Sergei Gorkov.
BURR: The committee will conduct an interview with Mr. Kushner when the committee decides that it's time for us to set a date because we know exactly the scope of what needs to be asked of Mr. Kushner.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Sources tell CNN the committee also wants to hear from Christopher Steele, the former British Intelligence Operative who compiled the dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
BURR: He and I are tapping into everything that we can to understand how we increase our reach.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The House Intel Committee meanwhile at a standstill, all hearings this week were canceled, at least one House Republican says the Senate should take over.
REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: This sounds to me like they're kind of getting into a stalemate position, paralyzed. The Senate is moving on a better trajectory and I think we're going to have to rely on the Senate for a report on this Russian meddling in the election.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democrats continue to call for Chairman Devin Nunes' recusal.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: The chairman is going to have to find a way to lift this cloud. Otherwise, we're going to need someone else to preside over this. I think we really do need someone else to preside over this if we're going to this credibly.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But Nunes says he is committed to staying foot and tonight, Nunes tell CNN's Manu Raju, he's finished answering questions about the controversy and he's vowing to move forward with public hearings, but not before Easter. Nunes wants the Ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, to approve a private briefing with FBI Director James Comey.
REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We will continue to work through this. We hope that they'll -- I think they'll be active participants will be my guess.
COOPER: And Jessica joins us now from the Capitol. So even though that the Democrats are calling for Nunes to recuse himself, the fact is that unless Paul Ryan asks him to step down, he stays foot, right?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that's right, Anderson. You know, Speaker Ryan has expressed his full support for Chairman Nunes saying he will not ask Chairman Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. Speaker Ryan even going so far as to say that Nunes is conducting a fair and thorough and credible investigation into all of this. So, really, a full endorsement from Speaker Ryan. Of course, Chairman Nunes himself saying he is not going anywhere. Anderson?
COOPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks for the update.
More now from Congressman Schiff who spoke lengthy today in "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: An FBI official, as you may have heard, tell CNN that the FBI Director James Comey hasn't received an official request from your committee to testify. Chairman Nunes -- spokesman for Chairman Nunes says Director Comey would not come to testify before the committee without a formal request that has to be signed, not just by him, but also by you. Nunes says you refused to sign that invitation. Is that true?
SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly true that chairman wanted me to agree to a hearing on Tuesday at 10:00, instead of the open hearing. And we were not willing to do that. In fact, we found about the cancellation of the open hearing in a very round about way when the agencies reached out to us and said, "What do you want us to come talk to you about on Tuesday?" And we had to say, "What hearing on Tuesday?"
BLITZER: Was there a stalemate now? He's not going to let this open hearing take place with Clapper, Brennan and Yates, that was scheduled for Tuesday unless you sign a letter inviting Comey to come and testify behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee. Is that the stalemate right now?
[21:05:08] SCHIFF: Well, you know, that is one of the issues, just as far as the hearings are concerned. We proposed let's do both. We're more than happy to do both and we're waiting to hear back on that.
BLITZER: Congressman, are you talking with Devin Nunes? How are you communicating? Are you meeting -- because you used to have a very good relationship with him.
SCHIFF: We did. And, you know, this has been -- I think very tough, very tough on all of us. This is someone I worked well with for many years. But I can't overlook if the chairman of our committee is going to freelance in this way. We just -- I have to be able to represent. We're doing a credible investigation.
BLITZER: So you're not even talking with each other?
SCHIFF: You know, we are scheduled to talk tomorrow. I've asked for a meeting with the chair. BLITZER: Will you subpoena the White House visitor logs to try to determine with whom the chairman met at the White House to review those sensitive documents?
SCHIFF: I hope the chairman will decide that he will be forthcoming on what he saw, who he saw it with and whether they have any relationship to the White House. We do need to get to the bottom of it, otherwise, there's going to be this permanent cloud hanging over our investigation.
COOPER: Well, the view of the House Intelligence Committee's Ranking Democrat there, you have hear Mr. Schiff.
For more on the view from the White House, let's bring in CNN's Athena Jones. So Sean Spicer has been pressed on the Nunes question for a few days, does he have any more interest today?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. No. He did not have any more answers today on who cleared Chairman Nunes into the White House, who he met with. This is despite telling reporters on Monday that he would look into it.
Today he said, "I have asked some preliminary questions, but I haven't gotten answers yet. I will look into it. I will continue to do that." Meaning, I will continue to look into it. But Spicer also took issue with the fact that reporters have been asking about what he calls process matters. Who cleared Nunes into the White House? What door did he come in? Who did he meet with?
He could not answer the question of who Nunes' White House source was, but he argued that this process questions are getting in the way of dealing with the substance of what Chairman Nunes had to report about this incidental collection of some names of Trump associates in intelligence reports, which Anderson is, of course, a side show to this larger investigation into any possible ties between Trump associates and Russian officials.
COOPER: I mean, the counter to that is if he just gave the information of how he got in, the questions would stop. I mean, it's not hard to find out that information for the White House.
JONES: That's right. It's not hard to find it out at all. According to a former Obama administration staffer, (inaudible), who took Twitter today, he said that, you know, this is something Spicer -- an answer could have -- Spicer could have this answer in 10 seconds if he wanted to. All it takes is the push of a button.
We're talking about a system that keeps track of the comings and goings of everyone who enters or leaves the White House. It is not difficult information to find out, but it appears that either Spicer doesn't know how to access it or maybe he doesn't want to access it in order to provide those answers to the press. Anderson?
COOPER: All right, Athena Jones, thanks. I want to bring back in the panel. Carl Bernstein, Jack Kingston, Matt Lewis, and Kirsten Powers.
Kirsten, I mean, if the intension of Chairman Nunes and/or the White House was to distract from the substance of the Russian investigation or what came out of the hearing last Monday in a way that reflects well on the president and his allies, I mean, since they've actually done the opposite.
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Right. But it also makes you sort of wonder, you know. So this is the best case scenario for them. You have Paul Ryan standing behind Nunes saying he doesn't want him to step down. They're basically saying that they want to continue with what they've been doing, which I think to most people look at it and say that this really reflects badly certainly on the Republicans and on the White House and yet this seems to be their best case scenario.
So what we can induce (ph) from that is that whatever the alternative would be, which would be having a real hearing where we actually got real information somehow would be worse, that Chairman Nunes is doing this precisely because this is the better outcome than we would have in his eyes than if we had a real investigation. And so what kind of information will we be getting?
COOPER: Matt Lewis, I mean, the reporting from Ryan Lizza that the White House, or a senior White House official, according to Ryan Lizza, talked to him the morning of last Monday's hearing, foreshadowing the strategy that Chairman Nunes would use in his opening remarks, things he would talk about, about incidental collection.
The idea that he did in order to give the president some sort of political cover, if that's in fact the case, what do you make of that? I mean, that -- it seems like the White House and Chairman Nunes were kind of operating from the same play book.
MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: It looks that way and that in and of itself is really bad, right? So, even if nothing nefarious is going on, even if it's like a coincidence, this is the appearance of impropriety. And if you're running an investigation, the last thing that you want to do is give that appearance. So, I think this is just one of the many weird things that we're seeing happen, you know. Again, a lot of smoke, no fire yet that we know of.
[21:10:02] But, why does Nunes go to the White House and talk to the -- brief the president before talking to the ranking member or members of his own committee about this, and then most recently, cancelling those hearings? It goes to the Jared Kushner question, why does he decide to meet with a banker, Gorkov, you know?
So, there's a lot of really bizarre things happening on the Republican side right now. We don't know enough to say that it's necessarily nefarious, but it's definitely unusual.
COOPER: And Congressman Kingston, I mean, you know this better than anybody. But, that committee, the House Committee, they can have more than one meeting a week. So, I mean, if they wanted to have a closed door meeting with Director Comey and Mike Rogers of the NSA and also that week have a open hearing with Sally Yates and James Clapper and John Brennan, they could have done that, I guess?
JACK KINGSTON, (R) FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: They could do it, but I do support Devin Nunes' decision right now to let things cool down. I can -- I've never seen so many people run to the cameras on the Intel committee and I'll say setting on both parties, but the ranking member, I don't even think he can make a committee meeting right now because he's usually at a media outlet.
And for him or others to start complaining about process, Devin Nunes can go down to the White House and look at evidence any time he wants to. But, for them to worry about process when they're perfectly comfortable on taking leaked sources, and what about this Evelyn Farkas story? What is the process?
How did she know as early as last summer that General Flynn was possibly compromised, which is disturbing? But, how did she know that? She was no longer with the State Department. She should not have been in Intel circles at all. And how was it that she was talking to her fellow -- Clinton supporters, to the Obama team and saying preserve the records and spread them around?
If you want to talk about process, that's something that the Democrats should be alarmed about, all Americans should be. How is all that possible? And why are they instead worrying about Devin Nunes going to the White House? It's just totally inconsistent. In fact this is almost laughable.
COOPER: Carl is it -- is the process of how Devin Nunes got into the White House, does that matter?
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Yes, it does. But something staggering is going on here. We have had the most basic aspect of our democracy attacked by a foreign power in the view of all the U.S. intelligence agencies.
We now have the majority party in the House of Representatives trying to obstruct a real and legitimate attempt to find out what occurred, to find out what the Trump family, the Trump campaign, the Trump business organizations, relationships with Russians are and what occurred. There's an obstruction of attempts to find that out. There is a cover up going on as is known to every one of the intelligence agencies.
KINGSTON: Absolutely not. Richard Burr was on the air today, a very bipartisan way. And let me be the first to say that the Senate approach is completely even-handed and bipartisan and all that good stuff. The Senate committee alone could resolve this.
Senator McCain said today that the White House -- he saw no evidence that the White House was trying to block this investigation. He gave the Senate committee high marks. At the same time, he criticized the House committee. I think criticism with the House committee is fine. But to use this hyperbole that there's a cover up and there's irregularities and somewhat, I think there's messiness. It should be retool. They need to calm down. I think all of them need to get off the air. They need to go back in closed door session. But --
BERSTEIN: -- or answer you for one minute. I'm using the term cover up because that's the word that people in the intelligence agencies, both in the Trump and the Obama administrations are calling what's going on. It doesn't mean there's an obstruction of justice. It doesn't mean somebody should go to jail for it. They need to know more.
And what they know, these investigative agencies, including the FBI, including the CIA, including other intelligence agencies, they are having impediments thrown in their way day in and day out by Republican -- can I finish, Jack, please.
KINGSTON: Yeah. And then I'll put it -- I have one question with that.
BERNSTEIN: Let me finish, please -- impediments thrown in their way day in and day out by the White House and by Republicans on Capitol Hill. Look, the Democrats -- I'm not saying they're angels in this thing about how go investigating this either. We need, in fact, a special prosecutor. We need a 9/11-type commission to get to the bottom of all of this. And we have coming in a new deputy attorney general who perhaps will appoint a special prosecutor, Mr. Rosenstein.
COOPER: So, Congressman, I want you to respond and then we got to go.
KINGSTON: Why would Devin Nunes not sign the invitation to have Comey appear? I mean, if his really -- not Devin Nunes, excuse me, Adam Schiff, the Democrat.
[21:15:06] COOPER: Adam Schiff.
KINGSTON: If he's really sincere about this, there's absolutely no reason for him to not sign that invitation for Comey to come. I mean, wouldn't we all agree on that?
POWERS: He wanted him to come in the public hearing though. I think that was -- wasn't that his reason?
COOPER: Well, my understanding is -- the reporting was, I believe if -- and I'll double-check this, but that he was willing to do that if they scheduled a public hearing with Clapper and the others as they had planned.
KINGSTON: This is not a legislative deal. This is an investigation. If he is serious -- he's not saying, "Oh, I'll trade you this guy for that guy." That's not what this is about. This is about -- COOPER: Well, I guess -- I mean, I don't want to speak for him, but wasn't he curious about why the public hearing had been canceled without any information from Nunes?
KINGSTON: And you know what, I believe he has a right to be curious about it. He has the right to race cane about it. But at the same time, I can't for the life of me take somebody seriously who says, "I want to hear from Comey, but he won't sign the invitation to get Comey there."
And, frankly, I think a lot of those hearings should be behind closed door. Richard Burr and Mark Warner said the same thing today that some hearings need to be in the public, some hearings need to be behind closed doors.
COOPER: We're going to have more with the panel in just a moment. Also, next, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Angus King joins us. And later, she is rarely seen in public, much less in Washington, First Lady Melania Trump did more than (inaudible), she spoke out. We'll tell you about you that ahead on "360".
COOPER: With the House Intelligence Committee tearing itself apart on the Russian investigation and Chairman Devin Nunes feuding not just with fellow members, but now contradicting something that the FBI Director Comey has said as well. It was hard not to see today's Senate Intelligence Committee press conference as a breath of fresh air.
Earlier tonight, CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen said it looked to him like Chairman Nunes is obstructing the very investigation he is supposed to be conducting. By contrast, the Republican chairman of the Senate panel and the top Democrat in it both promised to go wherever the facts lead them and each declared confidence in the other.
Joining us right now is Committee Member Angus King of Maine. He is an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Senator King, thank you so much for being with us.
Do you have confidence in the Senate Intelligence Committee's ability to conduct this investigation and come to an accurate conclusion, whoever the facts may lead?
SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: I do, Anderson. That's exactly what we're trying to do. That's the goal. We're all working on keeping it together, on making it bipartisan.
Here's an interesting thing. If you watched the press conference of Chairman Burr and Mark Warner this afternoon, if you didn't know, you couldn't tell which was the Republican and which was the Democrat. And I think that's an important way to think about this. And the committee is very closely balanced.
[21:20:02] KING: its eight Republicans, six Democrats and me. They're really good members of this committee and I think we are going to be able do it. The intent is nonpartisan, follow the facts.
I'm not going to participate in whitewash and I'm not going to participate in a witch-hunt. So, I think we're on a good start. And that doesn't mean it's not going to be hard. But, we're on our way.
COOPER: You have full confidence in Chairman Burr, his impartiality, because obviously, you know, Chairman Burr like Chairman Nunes was tapped by the White House to knock down reports of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. But from you -- as far as you see it, he is going to be impartial --
KING: I believe so.
COOPER: -- in the Democratic side?
KING: Yeah. I work with him every day. And I think he is -- he gets it. I think he realizes to quote Hamilton, "History has its eyes on him." And this is one of the most important pieces of work any of us have ever been involved in.
And as I say, it's a very -- it's a good committee. We have a tradition of working together on a bipartisan way and we have a long history of working with the intelligence community. So, I think we're in a good place to move this forward.
COOPER: You know, I want to ask you something that you just said, which is that -- and I don't want to misquote you, but this is the most important thing, one of the most important things you have worked on.
You know, earlier today, Senator Burr said that this is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen. And Senator Warner said it's the most important thing he's ever taken on in his public life. Where do you see this in terms of importance?
KING: Well, I put it right up there. I mean, it is -- this was an attack on our democracy. And by the way, the hearing that we're having tomorrow, which is a public hearing by the way, I think we should do as much of our work in public as we possibly can.
He's going to talk about the fact that the Russians are doing what they did here all over the world. They have been doing it in Eastern Europe right now while we're talking. They're doing it in France. They're messing around with their elections. They're doing the same thing in Germany.
So, this is a new kind of aggression that they're carrying out. And not only, Anderson, I mean, all the attention has been focused on, you know, what did the Russians do, the hacking of the e-mail, the release to WikiLeaks, also the question -- the second question which is were there connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
But the third issue that I don't think has gotten enough attention is the Russians were also probing and pushing on our state election systems. They were trying to get into voting machines and registration. That's pretty scary stuff. And they weren't doing it for fun. It appears they weren't successful but they're going to be back.
I view this -- we got some history to cover here, but we've also got to think about where this is going in the future. They're going to be back in 2018 and 2020. And the reason, there should be bipartisan or nonpartisan is they could come after either side.
Putin isn't a Democrat. He's not a Republican. He is an opportunist and he's going to come after whoever he thinks is standing in his way. And that's why we've got to get to the bottom of it for the good of the country.
COOPER: Do you think there needs to be a select committee or an independent commission as Senator McCain has vote (ph) for?
KING: I don't think so. And the reason -- there are a couple of reasons. One is to set up -- well, we already are a select committee. I mean, if you had another Senate committee, you would have 15 other members. But it wouldn't be materially different than the committee that you have today. It's a very well balanced committee. We've got some very conservative members, more on the progressive liberal side. So, it's a good committee.
The idea of an outside commission, a lot of people talk about that, but the mechanics of that, there would have to be a statute or resolution. It would have to be bipartisan. Who gets to appoint? Does the president have a role in it?
Plus, you'd have to start all over with security clearances for the staff and the members of the commission. It would be six to eight months before such a group got to where we are today.
COOPER: You know, we also learned today that the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is on the list of people your committee is going to speak to. Do you think he needs to testify in an open hearing? And do you, you know, do you know what you want to ask him?
KING: Well, not yet. And I think that's why the chairman and Mark Warner today said we're going to take our time and be sure we understand exactly what people know and what the right questions are.
But I think, yes. I think as much as we can do in public is important for two fundamental reasons. One is if we're going to have any credibility in terms of where we land, where we end up, people have to have seen what we see. We can't go behind closed doors for six months and then come out and say, "Here's what happened." I don't think that's going to have credibility.
The second reason it has to be public in my view is we want the American people to know what the Russians are up to so they understand that this is not a one off and when it happens in 2018 or 2020 or 2024, they can say, "Oh, the Russians again."
[21:25:04] That has to be part of what this committee conveys to the American people, because, otherwise, you know, we're going to be struggling in the dark. And, now, there will have to be some behind closed doors meetings -- COOPER: Sure.
KING: -- because of intelligence methods and sources. But other than that, I think in public ought to be the rule.
COOPER: All right. Senator King, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. Good luck to you.
Reaction from the panel next. And later, the holdout who could turn the Trump University lawsuit upside down and take $25 million out of their pockets. The people who say they were ripped off. More details ahead
COOPER: Back with the panel to talk about the conversations just held with the Senate Intelligence Committee member, but also question panel member Jack Kingston has earlier, why Congressman Adam Schiff, the Ranking Democrat on the House panel? Why FBI Director Comey did not receive an official request to appear before the committee? It wasn't signed by Congressman Schiff. Late this evening, Wolf Blitzer asked Congressman Schiff about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: An FBI official, as you may have heard, tell CNN that the FBI Director James Comey hasn't received an official request from your committee to testify.
[21:30:08] Chairman Nunes -- spokesman for Chairman Nunes says Director Comey would not come to testify before the committee without a formal request that has to be signed, not just by him, but also by you. Nunes says you refused to sign that invitation. Is that true?
SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly true that chairman wanted me to agree to a hearing on Tuesday at 10:00, instead of the open hearing. And we were not willing to do that. In fact, we found about the cancellation of the open hearing in a very round about way when the agencies reached out to us and said, "What do you want us to come talk to you about on Tuesday?" And we had to say, "What hearing on Tuesday?"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And back now with the panel. I mean, Kirsten, does it just strike you as odd just the way all of this is playing out on the House side? You know, I mean, I talked to one committee member yesterday, a Democrat who said, "Look, we can have multiple meetings in a week. It doesn't -- there shouldn't just have to be just one meeting."
POWERS: Yeah. It's very odd. I mean, it's bizarre, actually. And I think that, you know, most people that you talk to in Washington who know Congressman Nunes would say that he -- up to this point, prior to all of this was actually considered a pretty straight shooter, man of integrity.
The way he's behaving is not really consistent, I think with what a lot of people would have expected. And, I don't think he has been particularly forthcoming when he is asked questions, just basic questions, like, who let you in to the White House? I mean, there's just been a lot of -- sort of cloak and dagger stuff that's very strange.
And it does make me wonder actually about what's going to happen on the Senate side, because we're now expecting them to sort of step in and be to grown-ups. But, you know I was -- you mention before Senator Burr had his own issues where he had, you know, created controversy by coming to the White House as defense, sort of running interference for them. He is also like Nunes, somebody who was close to the president when he was running for office. He was the national security adviser on his campaign.
So the question is, will he sort of end up being co-opted in a similar way to Congressman Nunes, who clearly has been call up by the White House.
COOPER: Although, Matt, I mean the fact that most of their -- the Senate's meetings are going to be behind closed doors, whatever comes out in those meetings it won't be televised, so it won't be -- if, you know, if one believes what Director Comey and others said, Monday, at the House meeting was embarrassing for the White House, the White House won't face that same position.
LEWIS: Yeah. Look, I think that one of the things we could probably agree on is that the House side was ill served by sort of having this out in the open, in terms of trying to get attention, whether it's Congressman Schiff or Congressman Nunes. The most dangerous place to be is between them in a T.V. camera. Was it -- Nunes held two press conferences, I think, the day that he briefed President Trump, which in and of itself was problematic.
So, look, who knows how the thing will shake out in the Senate, but just watching that press conference today, Anderson, it reminded me of like a bygone era. You know, I don't want to get too optimistic or naive here, but it did feel like these were adults who were going to take this very seriously.
We do have a real problem, even if you get rid of the part about Donald Trump, the part about, you know, President Obama wiretapping him allegedly and all that, and just think about what Senator King was talking about, about Russia trying to meddle in our elections, it's incredibly serious. And it does seem today, at least, for one day, like some adults are going to be looking into it.
COOPER: Congressman Kingston, in terms of Russia meddling into the U.S. election, I mean, do you see that as an act of war? Do you see that as, you know, one of the most serious things there is?
KINGSTON: You know, it could be an act of war if we know how serious it is, how wide it is. One of the things that Angus King said that it was the first time I've ever heard anybody talk about, it was the actual going down to the state and local election level. I have heard that there was no result, nothing changed as a result of that. But, I thought that was an interesting statement in itself. But, I do want to point out that Senator King and Senator Warner, both Democrats, well, King is at least --
KINGSTON: -- partially an independent or officially an independent. But, you know, they both have said the select committee is doing a good way and to quote him, "They're functioning in a nonpartisan way." So, you know, I do you think that's good.
I want to point out what Adam Schiff and the Democrats, if prior to last week they had not been calling for a special prosecutor, it would have been a different story. But this just, you know, "Oh, well, now they have another excuse to call for a special prosecutor." If they hadn't started that back in January, there would have been some -- a lot more credibility to it.
But, they have been saying, "Oh, he was acting really fine. He was doing a great job until he went down to the White House and then this week he just came off the rails." Well, really? They've been saying they wanted a special prosecutor all along, so it's hard to give them credibility. But I do think in contrast to people like Mark Warner and Angus King, the Senate does have a totally different approach here and it's a more productive approach.
[21:35:11] COOPER: Carl, I mean, just back to what Sean Spicer said about wanting Sally Yates to testify. Do you believe he will come to regret saying that? Or do you believe if some conservatives argue that Sally Yates herself could face a really tough hearing given that she was fired by President Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban and telling other people in the Department of Justice not to?
BERSTEIN: I think that Sean Spicer has no regrets about anything that has to do with the truth. I think that our expectation of getting anything truthful out of Sean Spicer's office at this point is delusional.
He is not paid to give us transparency or the truth. That's not his job. And he showed himself to be someone whose interests are antithetical to the truth. I think we need to get back to the basics, though, that Jack a moment ago was talking about, that Senator Warner was talking about, and that is what occurred in the interference in the most basic aspect of our Democratic process, the election.
And, that goes to why we need to know absolutely everything about what relationships have existed between Donald Trump, his family, his campaign, his business associates with ethno-Russian, Russia business interests, oligarch, et cetera, et cetera. And what is so impossible to understand if the Trump White House is interested in anything like the truth is why they won't open up on these questions. And the American people deserve to know, particularly about the business interests.
COOPER: Yeah. Well, I want to thank everybody in the panel. A new twist in the $25 million Trump University settlement and how one person's decision may sync the deal. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[21:40:54] COOPER: Well, Trump University, which as you know, wasn't really a university at all, is back in the spotlight. You'll recall President-elect Trump did something he vowed, never to do, he agreed to a settlement, $25 million.
Well, tomorrow, the judge in the case, the one who candidate Trump said could not be partial because he's a Mexican descent, will consider a motion that could throw those millions up in the air. Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin tonight reports on the person behind it.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's all Sherri Simpson has left of what she first thought would be her ticket to financial freedom, leftover pamphlets, books and how-to brochures from Trump University. They were supposed to teach her how to be a real estate millionaire. And she says when she plopped down her money, $20,000 back in 2010, she really believed signing up for Donald Trump's real estate school would lead to a wealthy future.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Success. It's going to happen to you.
SHERRI SIMPSON, FORMER TRUMP UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I went for Trump because of his alleged reputation. He promised us that he hand picked all of his mentors and teachers and that they were all trained with his system.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Simpson says she quickly found out it was all a charade. So when the chance came to join a class action lawsuit seeking to get her money back, she signed up. Now, she's making a legal move that threatens to put the entire $25 million settlement in jeopardy.
She's filed a motion with the San Diego Federal Court asking she be allowed to opt out of the National Trump University settlement. She wants the ability she says to sue Donald Trump one on one. If the judge agrees, the entire settlement agreement could be tossed out.
(on camera): You're the lone holdout in all of this.
SIMPSON: I am. And I'm not looking to stop the settlement itself.
GRIFFIN (on camera): But you could.
SIMPSON: I could. I'm really hoping that it doesn't.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The attorneys who are negotiating a settlement on behalf of thousands of Trump University students first thought they could recover 50 percent of what students paid. But they announced last week the settlement could cover up to 80 percent of what students paid to Trump for his discredited real estate school.
They have also filed motions trying to block Sherri Simpson from opting out of the settlement that she already agreed to. Simpson's argument, she thought all along she could opt out of a settlement if the settlement did not provide all the money. She says Trump owes her.
(on camera): Why not take that money and run, instead of facing a possible elongated, and I assume very costly federal lawsuit?
SIMPSON: And possibly very nasty given his history with this case.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Well, it will be nasty, of course.
SIMPSON: Yeah. I think what he did to me and what he did to everybody else was really fraudulent. And I'd really like to take him to trial. I'd like to hold him accountable for what he did.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): That means taking Donald Trump into a courtroom and she may end up defending herself as well. Simpson is a registered Democrat. During the campaign, she even recorded an anti-Trump commercial for an outside group trying to defeat Donald Trump.
SIMPSON: America, do not make the same mistake that I did with Donald Trump.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And while she described herself in that commercial as just a single mom, Sherri Simpson is also an attorney, an attorney who specializes in real estate foreclosures, bankruptcies. She's had her law license placed on probation and has herself filed for bankruptcy twice.
(on camera): Let me ask you a tough question for an attorney who deals with bankruptcies and foreclosures. How could you be so gullible and how could you be so, I'm sorry, but at the time, dumb to fall for this sales pitch?
SIMPSON: Can I ask you a question back? It looks like the whole country has done the same thing. He is a salesman. Donald Trump was the salesman. He was the one behind it. To the best of my knowledge, he was an extremely successful billionaire real estate mogul.
[21:45:06] I never suspected that it was a money making scheme, that there was no substance behind the smoke and mirrors. I really didn't.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You said in the beginning of this interview, you aren't a political person. Are you still not a political person?
SIMPSON: I'm still not a political person.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You seem like an anti-Trump person.
SIMPSON: Yes, except this didn't start when he was running for president. This didn't start when he was president. This started for me seven years ago. The mere fact that he's now our president shouldn't stop me or anybody else from continuing a lawsuit that was started long before, that was started on the basis of a fraud that was committed against us.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You feel he got away with it?
SIMPSON: I do. I feel he got away with it.
COOPER: Drew, so right now, it sounds like she wants the ability to sue President Trump. But if she actually got her chance to sue him, what is -- what's the potential up side for him? I mean, what is she after?
GRIFFIN: Thousand dollars, plus seven years interest, plus, Anderson, three times that amount in damages, so we're talking about $80,000 plus, and something else. She wants an actual apology from Donald Trump himself. Anderson?
COOPER: The case is tomorrow in San Diego. Obviously, the judge gives her that chance. We'll be following. Drew, thanks very much.
Up next tonight, First Lady Melania Trump stepping into the spotlight making two rare public appearances in Washington today to honor women and speaking at one of them for 10 minutes. Her message to the crowd when we continue.
COOPER: Well, First Lady Melania Trump made two rare appearances today in Washington. This afternoon at the White House, she joined President Trump at a women's empowerment panel discussion. When the president addressed the crowd, he had this to say about his wife.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. TRUMP: So as you know, Melania is a very highly accomplished woman and really an inspiration to so many and she is doing some great job.
[21:50:04] In fact, I shouldn't say this, but her poll numbers went through the roof last week. What was that all about? Through the roof. She has to give us the secret.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, earlier in the day, Mrs. Trump had perhaps her biggest solo moment in the spotlight as first lady when she gave a 10-minute speech and presented awards at another event honoring women. More on that now from our Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was First Lady Melania Trump's first visit to the State Department, her first visit to any cabinet department. More than two months into her husband's term, Mrs. Trump is still keeping a low profile. Until today, the last time she spoke before a television camera was February 18th at a thank you rally in Florida with her husband.
MELANIA TRUMP, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY: Thank you. KAYE (voice-over): Here at the State Department, she took part in the International Women of Courage Awards.
M. TRUMP: These honorees who have fought on the frontlines against injustice are true heroes.
KAYE (voice-over): The first lady is still living in New York City at Trump Tower with the couple's young son, Barron, at least until he finishes the school year. Her arrival in Washington this week considered such a rare event that "The Washington Post" likened it to a rare bird sighting.
M. TRUMP: I urge you do not be afraid to fail. A failure will never have the power to define you as long as you learn from it.
KAYE (voice-over): It seems the first lady is taking steps to define her platform, highlighting education and women's empowerment at this event. Impeccably dressed, she presented awards to women and girls from around the world, honored for their courage, strength, and leadership.
M. TRUMP: I ask you to allow those young exemplify what these heroic women to inspire you in your own lives and to remind yourself that you, too, are capable of greatness.
KAYE (voice-over): It has been an unusually active week in Washington for the first lady. On Monday, she announced her new communications director. And on Tuesday night, she and the president hosted a bipartisan reception for senators and their spouses at the White House.
D. TRUMP: Enjoy these incredible musicians. They are really something special. And Melania, thank you very much.
KAYE (voice-over): Melania Trump hadn't been in Washington since earlier this month when she hosted a luncheon to celebrate International Women's Day. But there isn't any video of her speech since the press was escorted from the room as she took the podium.
M. TRUMP: Hello. How are you?
KAYE (voice-over): Before that, Melania Trump appeared in New York City on March 2nd reading to children at New York Presbyterian Hospital. From a book, she told the kids, was one of her favorites, Dr. Seuss' "Oh, The Places You'll Go."
M. TRUMP: You can steer yourself any directions you choose.
KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Joining us now is CNN Senior Contributor Kate Andersen Brower, author of "First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies". It is interesting how rarely we've seen First Lady Melania Trump since her husband took office. KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR: It is. I mean, she's really an enigma. In some ways, she's like the Mona Lisa. You know, when you see her, you're not really sure how involved she is, how much she wants to be there. I mean, clearly, she wasn't really interested in him running in the first place.
And I think her taking this firm stand not to immediately move to Washington was in a way a really brave move. Although, I do think she feels the pressure and I've talked to friends of hers who say she is going to definitely come this summer after Barron finishes the school year.
COOPER: Yeah. I mean, it is a brave stance, you know, to -- you know, she's focusing on her son and to kind of -- it's clearly not the traditional role that we've seen for first ladies at least initially, that may change over time. I mean, historically, there have been some other first ladies who have been private as well.
BROWER: Yeah. I mean, Michelle Obama wanted to stay in Chicago with her two young daughters. Jackie Kennedy rarely campaigned for her husband in 1960. A lot of times first ladies have not really bought in to moving into the White House, but they kind of suck it up and do it anyway.
Not everyone is a Nancy Reagan or a Barbara Bush or Roselyn Carter who really loved it. So, I think that people give the first lady a lot of leeway. I think people want to like Melania Trump and I think you see that with her approval ratings soaring above her husband's by far.
So, I think we'll be seeing a lot more of her. I think the fact that she has now -- it's a skeleton staff, but it's about four people, which is incredible because Michelle Obama had a staff of 24 people in the east-wing. So, you see the scaled back version of what she's going to be doing compared to her predecessor, but I think we'll be seeing more of her this summer when she moves here.
[21:55:05] COOPER: It's also sometimes an unfair comparison, because it often takes first ladies a long time, more than we kind of remember to figure out kind of how they are going to fill the role. I mean, Michelle Obama didn't instantly come up with the initiatives that she, you know, is now so well known for.
BROWER: That's right. And the "Let's Move" campaign took her about a year to come up with and she was very meticulous about finding the perfect campaign for her. It's hard because they have to find something that's not offensive to anybody. It has to be something that's pretty apolitical and I think Melania Trump has the added challenge of, you know, the cyber bullying campaign she's talked about that obviously has ties to her husband's tweeting, and so immediately people criticize that.
And for any other first lady, a cyber bullying campaign would make total sense. So I think she has the added difficulty because she's married to such a divisive character right now.
COOPER: Kate Andersen Brower, appreciate you being with us. Thanks very much. We'll be right back.
BROWER: Thank you.
COOPER: It's all the time we have. I'll see you tomorrow night. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon with "CNN TONIGHT."