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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Interview with Sally Yates. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 16, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:09] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. A lot to get to tonight.
Fired by President Trump, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is speaking out for the first time, her only television interview where she talks about James Comey, Michael Flynn and President Trump.
We begin though with yet another bombshell story that broke just a few hours ago. It involves the fired FBI Director James Comey and the memo our sources say he wrote. President Trump threatened Comey with tapes, now it turns out the Director Comey has notes, and notes and memos that document what he says the president said to him in private, statements that might constitute obstruction of justice.
Sources tell us in a memo describing a meeting in February. The president asked others to leave the room and then once alone with Director Comey asked him to end the investigation of national security adviser Michael Flynn. His words, according to Director Comey, quote, I hope you can let this go.
This was the day after Comey himself -- Flynn himself had resigned. Now again, if true, this memo is a clear sign yet of presidential interference with the investigation to whether members of his campaign team colluded with Russian officials. And the news comes a day after the revelation that the president revealed covert classified intelligence to Russia's ambassador and their foreign minister.
And we have a team of correspondents on this. Pamela Brown, Jake Tapper, Jim Acosta at the White House. Jim Sciutto, Phil Mattingly on the Hill.
Pam Brown has new reporting. She starts us off.
What are you hearing, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, according to sources speaking to myself and my colleague Jake Tapper, James Comey, the former FBI director, wanted to document a specific conversation he has with the president in February where he alleged that, that the president asked him to end the probe into Michael Flynn.
And according to a source I spoke with, he wanted to document the good and the bad. Everything he could remember. Not only after that conversation but about other conversations he had with the president. And this is a direct quote from the source. The source said you
realize something momentous has happened. And memories fade. So, he wanted to memorialize it at the earliest time. I'm told, through my sources that even though he liked to create paper trails through his years in the Justice Department and the FBI, it was not common practice for him to document conversations with senior officials unless he thought it was significant.
Conversations that Comey had with Trump, he documented. In one memo, Anderson, he included a description of the president talking to him about crowd size at the inauguration. The source I spoke to said Comey did not do this with President Obama in part because he had fewer one-on-one conversations with the president. And as the source said, in Comey's view, there was no need to document the conversations with people who are truthful or situation that are routine.
As the source said it's when you have situations that are not routine and people who are not truthful, you would write a memo to file. These were contemporaneous memos. There had been other occasions apparently, Anderson, just for context where Comey would do this. But it was not done every day as the source said.
Now, I'm told that conversation in February, he was appalled. Comey was appalled, when he claimed that the president when the president apparently asked him to end the probe. Apparently this was more Flynn focused, not about the overall Russia investigation. But, clearly, he thought it was important enough to write it down and document it, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, Pamela Brown, appreciate that.
Turning now to Jake Tapper.
Jake, you've been talking to your sources. What are you learning?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is according to a source close to Comey who has a copy of the memo having been given it by former Director FBI Director Comey. As you note, in February 14th, he in the Oval Office. Director Comey meeting with Trump, and Vice President Pence and Attorney General Sessions was there.
After that meeting, the president asked the vice president and attorney general to leave. This is as you know one day after Michael Flynn resigned, under a cloud of scandal.
And after Pence and Sessions left the Oval Office, President Trump, according to this memo, which is written by Comey, said, I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go.
He went on to say that he didn't think that Flynn had done anything wrong.
Comey was, according to this source, concerned that the president was telling him to stop an investigation. And this source tells me, quote, Comey wrote a number of memos. A great many if not all were about contacts with Trump. Particularly, the ones that made him feel uneasy.
The source did not know how many memos Comey has written but says there are more, Anderson.
COOPER: And, Jake, for the people in Congress, and the White House are asking, why Director Comey did not come forward with this memo earlier? Have you heard anything about that?
TAPPER: Yes, I went back after the White House started asking this question, trying to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of this report and on Jim Comey's integrity, asking, well, if this is -- if this happened it was so horrible, why didn't he say something about it then?
What the source close to Comey told me was, because it wasn't a very successful effort. And he thought he had pushed back on it.
[20:05:01] Living with the president is about standing up and pushing back. He thought he pushed back, and was working to regularize communications between the bureau and the White House.
He knew more work was needed, thought he was starting to succeed. He was very sensitive to how difficult this was going to be to work with the president. He also thought he could do it, unquote.
And if I could just offer a note of analysis, as somebody who has covered the FBI Director Comey, former Director Comey, for several years now and watched him emerge not only unscathed but the hero in some of those stories of controversies in Washington, whether in the Bush years when he was deputy attorney general, and he was involved in the controversy over the firing of U.S. attorneys or the torture memos, or the NSA wiretap, all of that, Director Comey keeps detailed contemporaneous notes, all the time. He's known for doing this.
And it should be noted that he is somebody, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense, he is somebody who has rather high regard for his sense of integrity and what he can accomplish. So, the source says, Comey thought I pushed back on it, I dealt with it and we were moving on. I can deal with this president.
That sounds like the James Comey that I've covered.
COOPER: Jake, it's an interesting detail that the president asked the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, his own attorney general, and his vice president to leave the room and for Comey to stay behind. I guess, so that it would only be a one-on-one conversation.
TAPPER: That's right. Of course now, there are questions about whether there are tapes of that conversation. President Trump referred to those tapes in quotes. In a tweet he said, vaguely threateningly against James Comey last week when he said he better -- Comey better hope there aren't tapes of their conversations.
The source close to Comey says he hopes there are tapes of the conversations. The whole reason he wrote the memos were -- was to provide some sort of corroboration of something he didn't think he would be able to corroborate. But he would love to testify in an open hearing on Capitol Hill. And if there are tapes, bring them on, release them, says the source close to James Comey.
TAPPER: Incredible. Jake Tapper, thanks for that reporting.
Now, to the White House, CNN's Jim Acosta.
Jim, what's the White House saying about all of this?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Anderson, I'm picking up on some anxiety over here inside the White House, even some gloominess in response to this Comey news.
But the official line coming from the White House, the bottom line coming from this White House tonight, Anderson, is that they are pushing back on the memo, that the president had any conversation with Jim Comey and said to stop the investigation of the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Here is the official statement that the White House put out earlier this evening. We can expand on it.
It says: While the president repeatedly express his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.
And so, really, Anderson, what this is setting up is a collision course between the White House and the FBI director that the president just finished firing because it is now really he said/he said. And as Jake was saying, if there are tapes, I suppose it may corroborate one side of the conversation or the other. But the White House is definitely saying tonight, what James Comey is saying in that memo is just not true.
COOPER: Jim, I don't ask the next question lightly. But that's an official statement from the White House. Why should anybody believe that? Given that -- other official statements from the White House, have then been contradicted by the president of the United States in a tweet storm early in the morning the next day, or hours later even at times.
So, how do we know the president himself isn't going to come out with something else completely different tomorrow morning?
ACOSTA: Anderson, the danger zone that the White House is in right now. That its the danger zone these administration officials, spokespeople for the president, people like Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and so on. They scan put out a statement. Obviously, their name is not on the staple. That is from a White House official. That's how this White House and other, administration disguise statements that they don't want to attach to an individual person.
But no question about it, the president could easily as he did last week with the firing of James Comey, completely, undercut his own team. With statements tomorrow, for example, whether in an interview or on Twitter as you said.
I talked to -- but I did talk to one senior White House official who said earlier this evening. Anderson, no, this did not happen. A conversation, quote, of that nature did not happen.
But, Anderson, I have to tell you, I did talk to another source, another top White House official earlier this evening here. This is a person who is readily available for spin, and to give you their take of what the White House, what the Trump administration is saying, and in the words of this official.
This is what this person said to me: I just don't, know on this one. I just don't know on this one. This person sounded gloomy, dejected.
[20:10:01] I think there's a sense in the White House, it may not be shared by everybody, because there is really sense of defiance among several members of the president's close inner circle. But some of these other officials who defend this day in and day out are sort of running out of answers here and they know it.
COOPER: Right. And also if this meeting only occurred between the president and Director Comey, all these officials who are defending him, or, the unnamed one, they're only going by what the president of the United States has told them. And, given his past track record of what he has said to his own people, we know that that's not always reliable.
Anyway, Jim Acosta, appreciate the reporting.
ACOSTA: That's right.
COOPER: Let's bring in our legal, political and national security experts. David Gergen, Jeffrey Toobin, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Jim Sciutto, Gloria Borger, David Chalian, Philip Mudd and Laura Coates.
Jeff Toobin, is this obstruction of justice, if it's true?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if it's true. Let's just set the scene. February 14th, everybody knows there is a pending FBI investigation of Michael Flynn, of the Trump campaign, regarding false statements that he may have made.
COOPER: The White House has been informed by Sally Yates that the FBI has already interviewed Michael Flynn.
TOOBIN: Correct. So, there is a pending investigation. Donald Trump tells his attorney general and his vice president to leave the room. Suggesting that he wants to say something he doesn't want overheard.
At that point, he says to Director Comey, please let it go. End the investigation.
That, if it is true, if it's borne out by record, tapes, whatever, that to me is the definition of obstruction of justice.
Richard Nixon, on June 23rd, 1972, six days after the Watergate break- in, he said to H.R. Halderman, tell the FBI, stop investigating Watergate.
COOPER: He wanted to get somebody from the CIA.
TOOBIN: That's right. That was the smoking gun tape that forced Nixon's resignation. This to me, if it happened, and again, we don't know if it happened, but if it did, it is precisely analogous. It is obstruction of justice and it's a threat to his presidency.
COOPER: For another legal advice, let's got to Professor Alan Dershowitz.
Your former professor, Jeff Toobin.
Is your former student, right?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD PROFESSOR: I respectfully disagree. What he says is reasonable. But we have separation of powers. We have a unitary executive.
The president is in charge of the entire executive branch. Historically, the president has always told the FBI, and the Justice Department, who to investigate, who not to investigate.
Now, I agree with you, if, if it ever came out the president did what Nixon did, and that is told his assistant to create a fake story, tell the CIA to say this is a national security issue. We can't have any further investigation. That comes much closer to an obstruction of justice.
But a president, and tone is everything. That's why the memo has to be seen. And that's why if there are tapes, we should hear them.
If the president politely suggests to the director of the FBI, he is a good guy, Flynn, I would appreciate if you let him off the hook, I fired him. That doesn't become --
TOOBIN: Even though --
TOOBIN: -- the president himself is a subject or part of this investigation? It's OK for him to say shut it down?
COOPER: And we should also point out, the president also had had dinner with James Comey previously and supposedly had asked for a pledge of loyalty.
DERSHOWITZ: And he says that Comey told him he was not a subject. He didn't get a target letter. He didn't get a subject letter. Look, this is a close question. But when it's the president of the
United States, and we have separation of powers, the courts are going to resolve these issues in favor of the president, if what he did was lawful. If he destroyed tapes, if he refused to comply with the subpoena, that's one thing. But there is going to be -- we are going to see -- there is going to be erring on the side of presidential authority and presidential power.
Now, let me tell you why I don't think there are tapes. I don't think the White House is stupid enough to create a credibility contest with Comey because Comey is telling the truth here. There's no doubt about that. His memos are true.
But if there are no tapes, the president can deny the conversation occurred. What's a memo? What's a memo?
But if there are tapes, the White House knows they're going to come out eventually. He would not have created this credibility dispute.
COOPER: David Gergen, how do you see this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I must say I was in the Nixon administration as you know. I thought after watching the Clinton impeachment. I thought I would never see another one.
But I think we are in impeachment territory for the first time.
GERGEN: Well, I think that obstruction of justice was the number one charge against Nixon, that brought him down. Obstruction of justice was a number one charge against Bill Clinton, which led to his indictment in the House. He won in the Senate.
And I think, I'm a lapse lawyer. I cannot tell you what it means to call a legal definition, but I can tell you from a lay point of view, it looks like he was trying to impede the investigation. He was using his power to do that. And when James Comey didn't go along with him, when he wasn't his boy, he fired him, which I think is also relevant to the question of what he was trying to do.
[20:15:03] So, from my point of view, this is of enormous consequence for his presidency. I think if you look at the three bombshells we've had, the Comey firing the last week. Then the sharing of this highly classified with the Russians of all people. And now, telling Comey to drop the case, what we see is the presidency that's starting to come apart.
COOPER: Gloria, you have been talking to a source close to the president. What are you hearing?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it -- I've been talking to sources close to him both yesterday and today. And the word that was used to me was disconsolate. These are people who are friends of Donald Trump's and who told me that they have effectively given up on him. That this is a president who believes he is under siege and has no trust in anybody anymore.
But I spoke with one source this evening who made the point that Comey did exactly as he should have done. This source who understands legal issues said to me, Comey was in the middle of an investigation, he was under no obligation to go to Congress, because the minute he informed any oversight committee, it was going to be leaked. That he memorialized his conversation that he shared it with his team and he went on, with his investigation, which after all, considered to be quite important.
He believes the only weakness here for Comey, if this story is true, is his response to Donald Trump because instead of saying, you know, Mr. President, I have to leave the room now. That's completely inappropriate. You shouldn't have said that to me. He in effect, said, well, I agree with you, that, you know, that Flynn is kind of a nice guy. He said.
So, that is the only kind of weak part in what Comey did. But otherwise, he says, look, Comey did exactly the right thing and that the president now ought to be afraid that there maybe some tapes
COOPER: Phil Mudd, I mean, you worked at the FBI, as well as at the CIA. To those in the White House who say, well, look, why didn't Director Comey release this earlier on, why didn't he go public right away? Could you also make the argument from the FBI standpoint that this was an on going investigation, and if you have somebody like the president of the United States trying to interfere in the investigation, isn't that just inherently then part of the investigation? I mean, isn't that why you would take notes and sort of let it play out? Because it is -- it's -- it seems, I mean, if a potential suspect in an investigation, the guy who ran the campaign, you're investigating, is telling you to lay off, doesn't that then become part of an FBI investigation?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Anderson, I think the story is even simpler. I heard the conversation about why Jim Comey didn't speak.
Let's remember, the FBI director is unique in Washington, D.C. That's a ten year term. He's going into a conversation in the Oval Office, in a dinner with a president thinking he will be there for another, whatever, I think about six years left in his term, and then the most, highest profile investigation, he is overseen directly implicates the White House.
So, for anybody who says should discuss this with the Congress when he was still the FBI director, I would say, as soon as he says that, as soon as he makes that comment, his conversation with the president is over. The likelihood that this investigation continues under his leadership is over. And I think he cements his ouster.
He could not have imagined three weeks that he would be out as FBI director. I think he was just trying to protect integrity of the FBI's capability to run the investigation.
COOPER: Jim Sciutto? I mean -- JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, this
is -- equally or maybe even principally a political question as much as legal question, because where do Republicans go from here. And until this point, the Republican voices who have been openly critical of the president have been very limited in number.
You know, principally, the McCains, and Grahams, and some House members in competitive districts. It is somewhat different now. I've been spending the last couple of hours talking to Democrats, and Republicans in the House and Senate. And hearing from the Republicans a level of concern I haven't heard before.
Now a lot of this is in private, big difference between going public and being in private. I'm going to share one description because it struck me. And I apologize for indecent expression here.
But one Republican lawmaker said to me when the news broke among this Republican colleagues. The reaction was wide eyed and WTF. You know, real concern about what to do next.
Now, you have a handful of Republicans have called for independent prosecutor. That's a step. But do you have a critical mass developing among Republicans? And I think that's real question going forward.
DERSHOWITZ: And I think it's much better to keep this a political issue and not to muddy the waters with legalisms, because, first of all, a sitting president being indicted, it's not going to happen.
Is this an impeachable offense? Well, it doesn't have to be a technical crime committed by the president to be an impeachable offense. If somebody commits -- if a president commits an act which would be a crime when committed by someone else, then, the House can consider that as impeachable.
[20:20:01] And remember, there's no judicial review of what's impeachable.
The Constitution says high crimes and misdemeanors, but there's no judicial review. That's separation of powers, as well as the president's ability to control the FBI as separation of power.
COOPER: David, you seem to have issues --
GERGEN: As you well know, Alan, your good friend Larry Tribe is part of an effort now to build --
GERGEN: -- building a case for --
DERSHOWITZ: And we're on e-mail back and forth.
GERGEN: Sure you are.
But it is based on the idea that if the Democrats were to take back the House, in 2018, there will be cases coming through the courts. And the Democratic majority could then bring an indictment against the president, whether on emoluments or obstruction of justice, or number of other things.
But there are serious people now, and Larry Tribe is a constitutional scholar, who are talking in these terms now.
COOPER: Laura Coates, I mean, how is the Justice Department factor into all of this? I mean, the attorney general has supposedly recused himself from anything to do with the Russia investigation. The deputy attorney general is center stage in the Comey firing. They both answer the president, I mean, it seems incredibly complicated.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does. And it's hard, I don't know what Alan is talking about when he says not to muddy the waters with legality here. That is the crux of the issue. And there are two things that are really important as you go along with this investigation.
Consider the fact that the FBI does not disclose the existence of an investigation. So, it is not halted or impeded in the fashion that it its. But remember, you've got Andy McCabe, who is the head of the FBI now saying that there was no effort to obstruct the investigation.
You have to balance that, against the fact that you have attorney general, asked to leave the room, which signals to you, legally speaking, that perhaps Trump knew and was well aware of the duty to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. Enter in the story of Flynn. And I asked him not to be part of the conversation that I know you cannot be part of.
Those two facts balance against, tell you two things. Number one, the FBI knows that as an investigative agency, the sure fire way to impede their own investigation is to make it public. Telling the president spokesman would have made it public --
COATES: -- it would have interfered with it.
And, number two, if Sessions was not part of the conversation. It talks about motive involved in firing perhaps Jim Comey later on, and more importantly, about the mode of having that particularly conversation.
COOPER: We got to take a quick break. We're going to continue this important discussion when we come back.
Also, Dana Bash has new reporting on what Jim and Gloria briefly touched on. How even some White House allies appear to be troubled by all of this.
Later in the hour, my exclusive with Sally Yates, starting with her take for the first time publicly on the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Do you think truth on what happened to Director Comey is known yet?
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't think the complete truth is known yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Coming up tonight, my exclusive interview with former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates in a few minutes, in her first interview since being fired by President Trump.
[20:25:03] But right now, back to the lead breaking story, remarkable story. A quote from David Gergen, I think we are in impeachment territory, he said. Just moment ago, he said that. That's about tonight's breaking news. Reports that FBI Director Comey kept a memo detailing a request by the president to end the investigation of national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
And now, we have new reporting on the pressure being felt tonight by some extraordinarily staunch supporters of the president. Details on that from our Dana Bash who joins us.
You talked to a source, a fan of the president. What do day tell you?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that, first of all, this source that I talked to, and others, are speaking to me with a level of gravity and concern that I have not heard in the four plus months that the president has been in office about the severity of this allegation and the notion that James Comey has this memo that he, no doubtedly, will give to Congress at some point. And testify publicly about, at some point, probably in the near future. That suggests the president was effectively trying to impede the investigation that was under way.
There have been lots of questions, some of which, coming, from, from sources in and around the Trump administration, I have been talking to about whether James Comey did the right thing in holding on to this. And not immediately getting in the car driving up Pennsylvania Avenue to Congress and saying, this is a problem. And that is actually a question that we even heard from Lindsey Graham, somebody who has been pretty critical of the president, saying, wait a minute, James Comey should have been more active.
But others are saying, no, no. I'm hearing very similar things from what Gloria reported before the break that James Comey followed procedure. He memorialized the conversation, did it contemporaneously and held on to it. And if he did anything different, he would have impeded the investigation. So, that's sort of that side of it.
But one other thing I will tell you, as I am communicating with Republicans who are talking about the gravity of this. Right now, these are very private conversations. It seems as the though the question is -- should there be a special prosecutor now at the Justice Department? Or, should there be a 9/11 type of independent commission in Congress?
And those are the discussions, which one is better or worse for the -- for the Trump administration. Not, if any should be. But, which one is -- which one are Republicans and the White House just going to have to deal with. It's that kind of conversation, that level of conversation, which is quite different from just a few hours ago, frankly, Anderson.
COOPER: Dana Bash, appreciate your reporting.
Back with the panel.
David Chalian, we haven't heard from you. Politically, is it possible to gauge the full impact of this yet? I mean, we are still in the early hours. This broke a couple hours ago.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, it is still unfolding. But picking up on what Jim Sciutto was saying before, Anderson, let's just start with what we know, which is that -- the Trump presidency is off the rails right now. And there is not a clear path to get it back on track.
And so, you look to the Hill. And I think you see sort of three buckets of Republicans right now. They're sort of te die hard Republican whose are with him no matter what. Think we in the media are making too much of this, and that we're out to get him.
And I would put the 36 percent to 39 percent of Americans who say they support the job the president is doing sort of in that category too most likely. Then you have -- the vulnerable Republicans up for re- election in 2018, as all House members are in really tough districts. And, those are folks that, normally, you hear leadership say, well they got to do what they do for their own politics. So, if they need to separate from Trump, it is understandable. They're in tough districts.
And then there's leadership, and the chairmen of committees. That is right now where I am looking most, intensely, to see if there are any cracks there.
This is the second night in a row, Anderson, that we have heard from Paul Ryan issue a statement, yesterday after the report about the sharing of intelligence with the Russians, and then tonight on this report about the Comey memo where there is zero, literally zero embrace of the Trump White House of his supposed ally down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and instead just a -- we need to see the facts.
And Paul Ryan went on to say tonight, we need to see the facts. It is totally appropriate for the House Oversight Committee to start gathering information here. And now, we see this letter from Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of that Oversight Committee to the FBI, giving a May 24th deadline to collect all the memorandum, everything that Comey left behind, documenting any conversations with the White House.
So, now, you really start seeing that leadership, chairman, area of the Republican Party, starting to approach this differently than we have seen to date.
COOPER: I mean, you look at the picture on Capitol Hill, right now. Beautiful picture. It looks calm. Washington, D.C. right now is anything but calm in Capitol Hill and certainly in the White House tonight. Imagine what that must be like.
Jeff Toobin, just in terms of the next steps. Obviously, Comey is going to testify I would assume. He says he wants to testify openly in open hearings. He probably has to bring all the information forward that he has, if there's any tapes would those be subpoenaed?
[20:30:08] JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think they had to be. I think there is just no question that if these tapes exist, the first question, any Congressional Committee should ask, and I'm sure they will ask, is in a letter to the White House Counsel, do tapes exist? I mean the president has hinted at it, but then he sort of backed off on it. That's question one, but there is no question that Dir. Comey or Former Dir. Comey will be testifying about this, and he will be testifying with his memos, in front of him.
And, you know, so tonight it's not the beginning of the end, it's the end of the beginning, I mean, this story can only get fuller and more complicated.
COOPER: As John McCain kept saying, this is a centipede with a lot of shoes on.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: But I could tell you, although, there'll be disagreement on this panel. There's one very lucky thing for Donald Trump, and that is it took yesterday's news off the front page, and what happened yesterday is so much more important than what we learned today. What happened yesterday, the idea that sources and methods involving the most sensitive information was put at risk and that everybody who flies may be at greater risk because of what the president did. And that Israeli Intelligence, they may have planted somebody within ISIS, you know how hard that is to do, may have had his cover blown, that story should not be taken off the front page, yes, focus on this, this is important, but don't let that story get buried.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's absolutely right, and you know when the president goes to Israel, it's going to be a major, major story in the next few days.
Now I want to comeback and ask you guys these, in terms of -- what the FBI is overseeing is the investigation of whether there was possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump associates, right?
GERGEN: Do these conversations that Comey had with the president, does that expand the investigation or is that a separate issue that's going to be considered by Congress? Are there legal implications?
COOPER: -- wouldn't that be part of the Russia investigation. If you have -- the guy who's running the campaigning, who is now the president, telling somebody a lay off investigation, that becomes part of the investigation?
TOOBIN: Certainly it does, but I think constitutionally and politically any possible misconduct by the president is in a separate category. I mean there's a legal question that's never been fully resolved about whether a president could be indicted as opposed to being impeached, but it is certainly true that you can't -- that an investigation of the president is different from an investigation of just anyone else. But it can be part of the same investigation. I mean during the Watergate investigation, there was a trial of the Watergate conspirators and the president, Richard Nixon was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the course of the trial. So he was certainly part of that investigation.
DERSHOWITZ: And I have had many cases where my clients who have been accused that during the steps into that, and then they try to do something that maybe constitutes and attempt to cover-up. And of course a good prosecutor as Jeffrey was, would introduce that evidence as consciousness of guilt as proof of the guilty conscience.
So, I think they do come to get where they're to be.
COOPER: Does the president of the United States need to consult an attorney right now.
TOOBIN: He does. He does, he should get a private attorney, he should get somebody who understands and the first thing that that lawyer has to tell him to do is --
COOPER: Did you pick up the phone?
TOOBIN: -- is zip it. He has to stop tweeting and stop talking and stop making arguments that he thinks will help them in a defense in the end they made --
DERSHOWITZ: How can the president of the United States stop talking?
TOOBIN: Well, about these issues.
DERSHOWITZ: I don't mean Donald Trump. I mean any president. It's part of the job of being a public figure.
COOPER: Coming up, reaction from where it matters most when it comes to whether the president will face consequences what lawmakers are saying when we comeback. And at the top of the hour, stay tuned for my exclusive interview with fired Acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Do you think Michael Flynn should have been fired?
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think that this was a serious compromised situation that the Russians had real leverage. He also had lied to the vice president of the United States. Whether he's fired or not, is a decision for the president of the United States to make, but it doesn't seem like that's a person who should be sitting in the National Security advisor position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:36:49] COOPER: Well, the president of the United States told the FBI director to consider putting reporters in prison. The president shared classified information with Russian officials including one known as a spy by U.S. Intelligence officials. Two major reports and neither is the breaking news tonight, all of it being eclipsed by this. Sources say that the president asked James Comey, then the director of the FBI to end his investigation to National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who had just resigned. On the Senate floor, Chuck Schumer put it like this, "The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. History is watching."
Phil Mattingly joins me now from Capitol Hill with more reaction. So what are you hearing from lawmakers, particularly most importantly probably Republican ones?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very little. And I think that's actually really indicative of what's actually going on right now, Anderson. House lawmakers just came back tonight from 11- day recess. They've been out of town for most of these bombshell developments over the course of the last week and a half. And as they were walking on to the House floor, even the most talkative of members, not answering questions, not responding, not commenting at all. Several, starting to get really conveniently timed phone calls, all to avoid reporters.
Now, this is a shift, usually House Republicans have been pretty steadfast in supporting the president. That changed tonight.
Now, Anderson, I texted one member who's been reliably defensive of the president and asked what's going on, why is everybody avoiding the reporters right now. And he responded simply, because this looks really bad. I asked him if he thought this was a game changing moment for the conference, for Republican support. He said we'll see, it's too early to tell.
Now, I will tell you Anderson, David made a really good point. Everybody has eyes on right now senior members of the Republican Party, the chairman, the leadership, what they'll have to say, and we got one kind of break from the norm, House Oversight Government Forum Chairman Jason Chaffetz just sent a letter to the FBI requesting any memoranda, notes, memos, or recordings between that summarized the conversations between FBI Dir. Jim Comey and the president. He said, he needs a respond to that by May 24. He has also stated that he's willing to subpoena any documents that he doesn't get. So you're already seeing top Republicans zeroing in on this and other Republicans really just kind of scared to death right now, Anderson.
COOPER: And what are lawmakers saying about the next steps? MATTINGLY: Well, I think you're hearing from both sides of the isle right now that former FBI Dir. Jim Comey coming in and testifying its crucial, from House Republican leadership to Democrats across the board here saying that public testimony is crucial going forward, you obviously have the House Oversight Committee asking for documents. You had several Senate Democrats asking for any recordings to come through.
So those documents, anything you get out of that are really important next steps, but I also think it's really important to know, the frustration that I'm hearing behind the scenes right now, Anderson is really palpable.
I talked to one Republican senator earlier today before this latest news even broke, and asked kind of, how do you defend, how do you characterize what's going on in the Trump White House? He gave a very, very diplomatic answer last night and then he leaned over to me and whispered and he said simply, it's crazy, every day is crazy, that's what you're hearing right now on Capitol Hill., Republicans, again, who have been steadfast reporters of the president, really recognizing that this is a very serious problem. And as they looked forward to it very ambitious agenda, they thought control of Washington would help them secure, real questions right now, Anderson, if anything at all can get done.
[20:35:07] COOPER: Well, it's crazy for Capitol Hill. Phil Mattingly thanks very much. Joining us now Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic Connecticut, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator Blumenthal, first, just to get your reaction to the news Pres. Trump asking Dir. Comey to end the investigation into Flynn.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: What we're seeing, Anderson, is an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time. And I am still stand that more of my Republican colleagues are not standing strong and speaking up, but I think they are shaken and almost shell shocked by this news as I was because as stunning as the developments of recent days have been, this one really is a bombshell that tops it off so far.
COOPER: I mean do you think they're just looking after obviously their own interests. They obviously want this president to succeed, to have their agenda be able to move forward. Is it just a question of, you know, partisanship here?
BLUMENTHAL: More than partisanship, I think they're sensing the moral ground shifting, as well as seismically, the political dynamic changing and clearly this direction or request. However you interpret it by the president of the United States to the director of the FBI, that he in effect end the investigation, adds another piece of evidence to an unfolding case. It's more than just a conclusive piece of evidence, it's very telling, but much more evidence will be forthcoming in the tapes and the transcripts, and other documents and that's why a subpoena and an independent special prosecutor is necessary right away to make sure that evidence is secured and produced, that the evidence in fact is preserved. We don't know what may happen to it. Subpoenas are necessary to make sure that there is no destruction or hiding of evidence.
COOPER: You mentioned tapes, I just want to be clear, you don't know for a fact that there are tapes, I mean the president did sort of mention tapes in a veiled threat against or maybe not so veiled tweet against Dir. Comey, but there's -- it's not clear whether or not there are actually tapes, correct.
BLUMENTHAL: Very good point. And the reason for subpoenas is not only to obtain evidence that you know exists, it's also to find out what evidence there is because the fact that the president has him applied there are tapes means that there has to be some kind of authoritative request. And subpoenas are issued by Grand jury, in other words by a court that says in effect produce any of the following, all subpoenas, all documents, all memo, and my hope is that Jim Comey, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Doug McGahn, all of the relevant actors will come before the Judiciary Committee under oath in open session to give their account and an explanation to the American people.
COOPER: Is time of the essence for that when would you like to see Former Dir. Comey testifying openly?
BLUMENTHAL: As soon as possible. And, my hope and expectation would be within days, and not weeks, because this kind of constitutional crisis really demands the truth. And --
COOPER: What is the constitutional crisis?
BLUMENTHAL: The constitutional crisis involves confrontations of one brand against the other. And here we have Congress potentially issuing subpoenas against the president, which was altered then the case of United States (inaudible) and back in the Watergate years, that went to the United States and quite and ultimately (inaudible) Watergate.
Now, the evidence needs to be followed wherever it will go, and so far what we have asked is pieces of evidence that will form a change or mosaic that can be presented in effect to the jury which may be the American public, at the end of the day. Or the folks who make decisions about whether to prosecute Flynn, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Trump associates who were involved in possibly colluding with the Russians, and there's a common thread here, the Russians were involved in meddling in our elections, the Russians were potentially aided and abetted by those Trump associates, that Trump ties who the Russians were at issue in the investigation, which the president wanted to stop. So there is a threat of evidence here that has to be pursued.
COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, I appreciate you time on this very busy evening. Thank you. Back with Jeffrey Toobin, David Gergen, also join the conversion Jeffrey Lord, Paul Begala, and Matt Lewis, and Kirsten Powers.
Jeff Lord, if this reporting is true, and right now it seems like it will boil down to, you know, what the president claims he said, although we haven't hard him tweet yet, and who knows what he will tweet tomorrow morning and what Dir. Jim Comey believes the president said and wrote in notes. How much trouble is the president in for this?
[20:45:08] JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: We'll have to see. But there's no --
COOPER: If the story is accurate as reported --
LORD: If the story is accurate, it will be a big deal. The question is, is it accurate? Let me just -- the two quotes here from that memo is president of the "New York Times," "From the president, he is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey replies, "I agree, he is a good guy."
The narrative seems to be that the president overstepped, that the president is doing this. There is no narrative here that James Comey was bargaining to keep his job. I don't know that he was. But does that indicate that?
TOOBIN: That's not the whole thing, Jeff, you didn't read the whole quote, though.
LORD: I copied it from the "New York Times."
TOOBIN: -- more than that. He says let it go a couple of times.
LORD: I mean that is not Richard Nixon saying to Eliot Richardson you do this or you're fired.
COOPER: It does -- I mean you can interpret it, yeah, you can interpret in the most benign way, which is, yeah, he's a nice guy, and I hope you can let it go. I don't know --
LORD: But my point here --
COOPER: Do you think he's singing "Let It Go?"
LORD: We're in once again in hi-tech lynching mode here. These media surfaces happened, Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, I might ask.
COOPER: But this not a media surface, this the president of the United States in the Oval Office excusing the attorney general.
LORD: Right, right.
LORD: Did he say go do this?
COOPER: Excusing his vice president and talking to the director of the FBI. A guy who --
LORD: Did he instruct him to do it?
LORD: He did not instruct him to do it and that's a big deal.
COOPER: You're telling me, if the president of United States brings you to the Oval Office and standing close to you just like LBJ used to -- and, you know, appoint at people and say, gosh I hope you can find it in your heart to let this go, Jeff, I hope you can find it in your heart to say -- to back me up on everything I have to say.
LORD: I get the option to do it or not.
COOPER: Yes you do.
LORD: -- that's it.
COOPER: All right, Paul?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In February, the president meets, we now know, privately, with the FBI director, hugely inappropriate, may be obstruction of justice. I'll leave that to the attorneys.
COOPER: This is, by the way, after the president has allegedly asked the FBI director for a pledge of loyalty.
BEGALA: That's pledge of loyalty. Then this private meeting denies, does he not?
COOPER: Sure he denies it, yeah, but I mean, until he tweets about it tomorrow he says he did and he confirms it.
BEGALA: -- the first, right, the (inaudible) was a pledge, a request of loyalty. The second thing he says, this is a good guy, I hope you can let this go. Then on March 10, Comey testifies, confirming that Trump's campaign is under FBI investigation and that in fact Flynn is as well. There's much discussion that marhc 10 testimony by Comey about Flynn. So that's one way to tell the president I'm not backing down. That was in March, March 10th. May 9, Comey is fired.
COOPER: We should also point out, and we're going to hear from Sally Yates tonight. Sally Yates had told the Office of Legal Counsel, had informed the Office of Legal Counsel, (inaudible) the first he' heard this that -- not only that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI in the White House and she gave the indication that the interview didn't go so well, the legal counsel asked for details, she wouldn't give details. But the indication was it didn't go very well. Then, the legal counsel takes that to the president. And the president that night has dinner with Comey asking for loyalty pledge, and then days later after -- 18 days later, has this --
BEGALA: Why is the president so loyal to Gen. Flynn? I'm sure he's a good guy. That's not why. Come on, --
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Right.
BEGALA: -- all roads lead to Russia.
BEGALA: That's what's going on here. And on the night he fired Flynn I said that, be very careful who you hire, Mr. President, be more careful who you fire, because this guy know where is all the bodies are buried.
COOPER: And, Matt, again, Sally Yates later tonight, you know, the White House has continued to say there was nothing illegal that Flynn did. It was just question of him lying to the vice president. Sally Yates says that's just not true that there is illegality in the underlying behavior of Flynn.
MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yeah, and this could be the whole cove-up is worse than the crime thing too, right? Whether or not there was any there, there, there now is potential obstruction of justice, and I think it's going to be very interesting to watch how Republicans react to this. If they start jumping off.
I can just say, my sense is, you know, the football line they are who we thought they were. For this conservatives like me, who are concerned about Donald Trump and from the vicious like temperament, experience and character, this is sort of the worry, you know. The one worry was that Hillary would win. This is the old potential worry.
COOPER: Kirsten, I want to play something the Acting FBI Director McCabe said in testimony last week in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee when he was asked about Comey's files after he was fired. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA: Who was in charge of securing his files and devices when that information came down that he had been fired?
ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: That's our responsibility, ma'am.
[20:50:00] HARRIS: And are you confident that his files and his devices have been secured in a way that we can maintain whatever information or evidence he has in connection with the investigation in?
MCCABE: Yes, ma'am, I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: It's interesting, Kirsten, because also just from other -- or some of our reporters reporting, they have talked to people who currently have a copy of at least one of the memos.
POWERS: Right, yeah. I mean so I think, you know, Jason Chaffetz said that he's ready to subpoena that memo if they don't hand it over. So, hopefully, they'll do that. They should also subpoena -- and I think Congressman Schiff has said this, they need to subpoena the tapes if they exist, right? And they need to find out if there was -- it's probably unlikely there was someone in the room taking notes. But if there was anybody there, they need to confirm that the attorney general and Vice-President Pence were asked to leave. There are a lot of different things I think that they have to look at.
But I just want to say on the, you know, the cover-up worse than the crime thing, I mean there's really no need for a cover-up unless something happened, right? And I think even for people who wanted to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt on the Russia situation, the last couple days really should give them pause, because he's sort of frantically trying to stop this investigation, right? He's not looking out for Gen. Flynn. As Paul said, he doesn't do that for other people.
POWERS: Let me finish. Unless that impacts him somehow. And then the fact that he fired, you know, fired the FBI director, I mean this is somebody who is kind of panicking, I think.
LEWIS: But I you could see Trump doing this sort of thing because he is an ego maniac, because he is thin skinned and because he doesn't have the experience to understand the repercussions. Maybe I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.
COOPER: I mean you make it sound like --
LEWIS: I think he is a child. That's fundamentally the point.
COOPER: Well, all right. Everyone, we have more coming up on tonight's breaking news to tell you about my exclusive interview with Acting Attorney, the fired Acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates. Her take on the firing of FBI Dir. James Comey, the first time she talked about that. Her own firing, much more after quick break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The president said to NBC News just before he fired Dir. Comey, he said, "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won." In your view, was Russia the reason the Russia investigation in the region that Dir. Comey was fired?
YATES: I can't speak to that. I think that's one of those important questions that we all need answers to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:55:02] COOPER: Tonight as we continue to report on the memo that our sources say fired FBI Dir. James Comey wrote about Pres. Trump asking him to end the investigation into Gen. Michael Flynn. We're also bringing you my exclusive interview with his fired former boss, Sally Yates was the acting Attorney General, the nation's top law enforcement official for two significant moments in this administration and perhaps for the history books.
First, when she warned that for the first time ever that a sitting White House National Security adviser was vulnerable to Russian blackmail, also, when she refused to enforce the president's travel ban which could end up before the Supreme Court.
She was fired as acting Attorney General for that and now for the first time in her only television interview since her firing, she's speaking out. The White House has gone after her, questioning her actions, calling her a partisan, and opponent of the president. She says tonight she wants to set the record straight.
We begin the interview with her thoughts on the firing of FBI Dir. James Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What do you think when you heard that Dir. Comey had been fired?
YATES: Well, I think this is a really troubling situation. I think there are serious questions about both the timing and the motivation of the president's actions.
COOPER: James Comey reported directly to you when you were Deputy Attorney General.
YATES: That's right.
COOPER: What was he like? As you know, the president has called him a showboat, a grand stander.
YATES: Well, you know, Jim is obviously a very qualified and experienced guy. He had held my position before, Deputy Attorney General. He had been a United States attorney in the southern district of New York and AUSA as well. So, we had a common background. And I found him to be a straight shooter and candid.
COOPER: Did he strike you as a showboater or grandstander?
YATES: No. I think, you know, Jim would speak his mind. Some might call that showboating, but Jim would speak his mind.
COOPER: Did the multiple reasons that White House gave for firing Dir. Comey, did they make sense to you?
YATES: You know, I don't want to -- since I'm not at DOJ anymore, I don't really want to go much more into it other than that.
You know, the explanations seem to change on what is almost an hourly basis right now. So it seems to me that there's only one truth and we ought to get to that.
COOPER: The idea of a director of the FBI being asked for some sort of a loyalty pledge. The president, the White House says Pres. Trump did not ask him for loyalty. There are reports that that was asked at that dinner. Is that appropriate?
YATES: No, not to him individually. Our loyalty at the Department of Justice should be to the people of the United States and to the law and the constitution and no one and nothing else.
COOPER: Why is that? Why isn't loyalty to the president something that should be pledged?
YATES: Because our oath is to uphold the constitution and the law. And that means we got to be able to call it like we see it.
COOPER: So if you were as a -- when you were in the Department of Justice, if somebody had asked you to pledge loyalty to them, what would you have said?
YATES: I wouldn't have done it.
COOPER: It's inappropriate?
YATES: It's inappropriate.
COOPER: The president said to NBC News before he fired Dir. Comey, he said, "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won." In your view, was Russia the reason the Russia investigation the reason that Dir. Comey was fired?
YATES: I can't speak to that. I think that's one of those important questions that we all need answers to.
COOPER: Do you believe that the firing of Dir. Comey will have an impact on the Russia investigation?
YATES: Look, I've worked with the men and women of the Justice Department and the FBI for over 27 years now. And, I know that they are really committed to finding the truth, whatever that truth is. But this is certainly a troubling situation. And it can have a chilling affect. And so, they should be able do their jobs without fear, without any kind of fear at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you affirm that the testimony you about to give to the subcommittee is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.
COOPER: This is the first time Sally Yates is speaking out publicly since she was called to testify last week in front of a Senate subcommittee investigating Russia. She told them that on January 26th she went to the White House to give them an extraordinary warning. It was less than a week after Pres. Trump was inaugurated and the warning was about his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
When were you first made aware that Gen. Flynn was lying about his interactions with the Russian ambassador?
YATES: Well, first let me say and I know that this may seem kind of artificial to folks. I can't really talk about what Gen. Flynn's underlying conduct was, because that's based on classified information.
COOPER: Can you say when you were made aware about an issue with his underlying conduct?
COOPER: It was in the early part of January where we first got some indication about what he had been involved in. And then sort of the middle part of January when there were false statements that started coming out of the White House based on misrepresentations he had made to people there.
COOPER: She's talking about false statements made by Sean Spicer and Vice-President Mike Pence. Statements like the one the vice-president made to CBS news on January 15, when he was asked if Michael Flynn had ever discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.