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CNN: Mueller Probes Trump's Russian Business Dealings Prior to 2016 Presidential Campaign; Washington Post: At Least Four Countries Discussed Ways to Manipulate Kushner Based on Business Dealings; Hope Hicks Won't Answer Questions About Her Time in the White House; NY Times: Hope Hicks Acknowledges She Sometimes Tells White Lies for Pres. Trump; A Smuggler's Chilling Warning. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We've got a river of breaking news running through the second hour of "360".

Tonight, all of it connected to the White House, most of it on Russia, some that you'll see not -- not seeing anywhere else.

On the table tonight, citizen Trump's business dealings in Russia and new reporting on Special Counsel Mueller's focus on it. It's a CNN exclusive.

Also tonight, Jared Kushner's security clearance downgrade. A new reporting on some of the possible reasons why.

And later, another member of the inner circle is grilled. What Hope Hicks said to the House Intelligence Committee and what she refused to talk about?

We begin, though, with the exclusive CNN reporting on Russia and the businessman who became president. Our Cara Skinle and Jim Sciutto join us now.

So, Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So, Anderson, Cara and myself, Gloria Borger, Pamela Brown and I are told that investigators for the Special Counsel Robert Mueller have recently been asking witnesses questions about Donald Trump's business activities in Russia prior to the 2016 presidential campaign. And this as he was considering a run for president, this is according to three people familiar with the matter.

The lines of inquiry indicate that Mueller's team is reaching beyond the campaign to explore how the Russians might have sought to influence Trump at a time when he was both discussing deals in Moscow and considering this presidential run.

Now, Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign as well as links, we should note, between Trump associates and Russians and any issues that might arise from those investigations. However, as we've often said on the air, the President claims that any investigation of his family's personal finances would be a breach, in his view, of the special counsel's mandate.

COOPER: And, Cara, in terms of the kind of questions that Mueller is asking witnesses, what have you learned?

CARA SKINLE, CNN REPORTER: So we learned that he's asking witnesses about the timing of Trump's decision to run for the presidency. He's also asking about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that was held in Moscow and questions around the financing of that. And we've also learned that he's been asking questions of witnesses about plans to have two times a Trump branded hotel in Moscow. None of those plans materialized. We also learned that he has also asked at least one witness if he ever saw any Russians at the Trump Tower in New York in 2015. And this witness said that, no, he had not.

COOPER: Jim, do we know -- I mean are they asking questions beyond his business dealings?

SCIUTTO: Yes. We know that witnesses have been asked beyond business dealings about the possibility or their knowledge of any compromising information, kompromat as its known in Russia. Did Russia either has or claims to have on Donald Trump. As you know, this was one of the subjects raised in the what's known as the Steele dossier, this collection of memos compiled by a former British special agent. And we should note that that dossier was paid for -- by a law firm, paid for by Democrats, the Democratic opponents, Hillary Clinton for President Donald Trump.

But key that we know that Robert Mueller at least asking witnesses questions about their knowledge of, awareness of any such compromising information.

COOPER: You know, and Cara, certainly when asked about "The New York Times", the President agreed that there would be a red line when it comes to the investigation in his and his family's finances.

SKINLE: That's right. That's where the President has claimed that there's a red line. But the special counsel's order that really gives the authorization for the investigation says that he can look into anything that arose or may arise from his investigation.

We've seen that Mueller has been very thorough and very deliberate in this investigation from the indictments that we've seen. So it will -- it may be one that is sussed out later on between the Trump president's lawyers and Mueller if it gets to that point.

COOPER: Cara Skinle, Jim Sciutto thanks for the reporting. Quite a story. Quite a panel. Ryan Lizza is here, Jim Schultz, Maria Cardona, Alice Stewart, Paul Begala and Anne Milgram.

Ryan, what do you make of this new reporting? Is it focusing on the citizen Trump's business dealings? RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, first thing to say, is just because they are asking these questions --

COOPER: Doesn't mean, right.

LIZZA: Doesn't mean they have evidence of it. I mean, they would be derelict in their duty if they were not asking basic questions --

COOPER: Right.

LIZZA: -- about his relationships that are publicly known to everyone.

COOPER: And I think some of the sources that they talked to said that they -- those sources got the feeling that the people asking the questions were just sort of checking off boxes of questions to ask.

LIZZA: Exactly. And so, they're doing proper due diligence like any prosecutor looking into this would. I don't think the -- this red line argument that Trump has made that said, hey, if you look at any of my business dealings before I run for president, that's a red line, I don't think that -- it's hard to argue this is -- has nothing to do with the broad mandates of the investigation. In other words, this is -- is there activities that were happening in Russia right at the start of him running for president that's directly related to the question of meddling?

So I don't even -- I think Trump's famous line about, you know, you better not look into anything previous, I don't see how that would apply. This is like old Trump organization.

COOPER: James, do you agree with that that should be beyond the purview of Mueller?

JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I think we're looking at counterintelligence investigation into potential collusion and meddling in this past election.

[21:05:03] Of course they're going to look at the President and folks around him and their relationships with folks with Russia. So it's no surprise that they're going to ask questions about those relationships.

I think it would be a far stretch to say now they're automatically looking into the financial dealings between the President and those organizations or those individuals. But not a surprise that they're talking -- that they're asking questions.

COOPER: Should they be -- I mean should a proper investigation, though, if they're worried about collusion or compromise or coordination, shouldn't they be looking at any financial ties?

SCHULTZ: I think Ken Starr said it accurately. The person who's going to be -- who's going to draw that red line as to what this investigation, where it should go and come to a conclusion is Rod Rosenstein, not necessarily Bob Mueller at the end of the day. But I think they're methodically looking at the issues and of course prosecutors are going to take a look at the evidence and take it where it leads them.

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think this serves as a reminder to what Cara mentioned that the scope of this probe is very broad. As she said, from situations or information that arose or may arise, there's going to be a lot more stones unturned.

COOPER: You can read that really as broad as you want, right?

STEWART: Absolutely. And as, you know, we learned from Judge Starr, anything can come up in the scope of the investigation and asking people questions. I think the key moving forward for anyone that goes before Mueller and his team, make sure you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth because that will be where it may (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Several of them seem to have forgotten already.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That's -- and that, I think, is the danger. I don't think that Trump and his family are taking this very seriously. The reason I say that is because once he has said you can't go into looking into my financial dealings, that's a red line, to me that would be a red flag for Mueller to actually go look into his financial dealings. And I agree, I think he would be derelict not to do that because I think -- I've always thought this, and I said this before on your panels, Anderson, that this is more than just about collusion.

This is about a president who could be incredibly compromised as the President of the United States with foreign entities who will try to manipulate him and perhaps have tried to manipulate him and his family members, we're seeing the reporting about Kushner as well, because they could be beholden to them on all of their financial dealings, even if it happened last year or if it happened 15 years ago. That is an incredibly dangerous position to put the United States in.

COOPER: And legally, I mean the notion that the President's finances should be off the table, it just it, does that --

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: No. It makes no sense. I mean there's no example you can think of in the American criminal law where someone who is being investigated gets to say what can and cannot be investigated. And so we should just say that as point one.

LIZZA: Even if the cops come into my home and I say, whatever you do, don't look into that closet.


LIZZA: I don't even own a chain saw. Yes.

SCHULTZ: It's also a far stretch to say what would be and could be a problem as it relates to the President and how he can be influenced. I think that's a far stretch. I don't think that's what looking. CARDONA: Why? Why do you think it's a far stretch?

SCHULTZ: I think it's a far stretch because now you're talking about pure speculation. That's not what prosecutors do.

CARDONA: Well, clearly here it's more than speculation because they're actually asking the questions. It --

SCHULTZ: They're asking questions about relationships.

CARDONA: But you're acting --


CARDONA: You're acting as if one thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other, and that is not the case. This is something that Democrats brought up time and again during the election. It's the reason why we pushed so hard for him to show --


CARDONA: No. To show his taxes, his tax returns, because clearly that would show whether he was beholden to somebody or not and he fought tooth and nail and even promised and he still hasn't done it.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's really just one question. Why?


BEGALA: Why? Why is Donald Trump, a man so tough he says he would rush into a school shooting unarmed, right? Why is he such a wuss and a wimp about Russia? Why? What do the Russians have and maybe it's nothing. Maybe you're right, maybe just nothing, maybe there's something about Mr. Putin that our President just worships and adores.

But the circumstances -- not circumstances, the evidence, the direct evidence is just catastrophic for him. Russia attacked the United States in our election. They did so to benefit Donald Trump. He won't even admit that. Russia continues to try to undermine our democracy. All of the Trump appointed intelligence officials say so. Our President won't give the order to defend America.


BEGALA: Admiral Rogers testified that under oath today. His family and his team had innumerable contacts with the Russians. Why? He fired Jim Comey. This we don't have to ask why. He said, I fired him because of this Russia business. So excuse us all for thinking, what do the Russians have on this guy? Our President is compromised, and we want to know why.


BEGALA: No, I'm happy to --

CARDONA: Exactly.


COOPER: We got not --


COOPER: -- 50 minutes.

SCHULTZ: The President, you know, disputes the fact that the Russian meddling had anything to do with the actual outcome of the election. I think everyone has agreed that the Russians attempted to meddle with this election.

[21:10:00] BEGALA: He doesn't.

CARDONA: He doesn't. He doesn't admit that.

SCHULTZ: I said, he disputes the outcome of it. That's what he gets.

STEWART: But I think we don't know yet.


STEWART: We don't know. We do know that Russia interfered with our election. We don't know yet if it impacted the outcome. We don't know that.


CARDONA: I agree.

SCHULTZ: -- that there was any impact with the state election bureaus or the department of --


BEGALA: There were attempts to --

CARDONA: Influence.

SCHULTZ: Sure there were attempts, but there was never --


BEGALA: -- impact of my rough count, 77,447 votes, which swung Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and Michigan combined. That's not even a sellout in any of those states --


BEGALA: Oh, my gosh.


LIZZA: The President's official position is it could have been in China, Russia, or 400-pound --


COOPER: Much more to talk about, including a closer look at Jared Kushner, who some recall the President's secretary of everything, losing access to most anything top secret. And what Maria mentioned that new reporting on how other countries apparently thought they could compromise the President's son-in-law in countries including Israel, Mexico, China, and others.

Also ahead, a marathon day and evening of questioning for top White House Aide Hope Hicks on the Hill.


COOPER: CNN'S exclusive on citizen Trump's business dealings in Russia and Robert Mueller's interest in it was just one in a string of big stories tonight. The other on Jared Kushner was two-fold. His security clearance downgraded and "The Washington Post" new reporting tonight that four countries discussed ways of using his family's financial dealings and his inexperience to take advantage.

[21:15:06] Back now with the panel. I mean, Paul, you worked as obviously in a White House. How serious -- I mean when you have four countries focusing on one of the top advisers to the President believing that his financial entanglements make him vulnerable?

BEGALA: Every country, not even just our adversaries, our allies too --

COOPER: Right.

BEGALA: -- look for ways to influence the government. I'm not shocked by that, and I'm sure if you were to pick up the intercepts, everybody is saying, how do we get --

COOPER: Isn't that why you get a security clearance and you confess to everything that's potentially vulnerable?

BEGALA: Yes. And this is why and going back to the founding of the Republic, Thomas Jefferson said, "When a person" -- he said a man, but he was sexist. "When a person becomes -- assumes a public office, he becomes a public trust"'. In his point was you have to give everything over. And it's more true today than in Jefferson's time. This is where Mr. Kushner has made a terrible mistake. He is a security risk, not because he doesn't love his country or love his father or his job but because he has these conflicts that he cannot reconcile, which is why I suspect they can't give him a security clearance.

STEWART: And this is why, again, we have nepotism rules, why you don't put someone, a family member in a position like this that, a, they don't have the experience for and, b, they have a business ties like they have and a struggling business that's in debt right now. That being said, the way I view this in talking with folks there at the White House, this is more of a blow to Jared politically than operationally. He will still be able go about fulfilling the duties of his portfolio, albeit limited. He will still have access to the information he will need to get his job done. And who's to say there's not going to be conversations between he and his father-in-law that will be helpful, information that he may not ordinarily connected.

COOPER: Mostly, I mean if the President wants to show him everyday, the Presidents' daily brief --

MILGRAM: Yes, that's the problem.

COOPER: -- even though he doesn't have a top security clearance, the President can do that.

MILGRAM: You know, the President shouldn't do it if he doesn't have a top security brief and that's because he hasn't been cleared at the level of that information is at and he could compromise sources and confidential information. Yes, the President could do it. But it is one of those things where this is an incredible level of security that goes into having the people surrounding the President have this information. And the President should honor what General Kelly has done.

And, you know, I think a couple points are worth making. One is that it could be more than we actually haven't heard yet as well. This is a very long time that the security clearance was not closed. There have also been reports of failure to disclose some information in many administrations that alone would be grounds for not getting a top secret clearance. It is a very, very high hurdle.

And, so, you know, the public reporting that we've just seen on CNN may be a piece of it, but I wouldn't be surprised --

COOPER: Right.


COOPER: -- disclosed dozens of contacts with foreign governments and then even after that it was amended, forgot to mention the Trump Tower meeting that we only learned about later on with, you know, Donald Trump Jr.

MILGRAM: Correct.

LIZZA: But this is the crucial point that you ask is the President can do whatever he wants in his White House. He is the president. Look, the President shared top secret information with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office. I don't think he's going to pause when Jared --

COOPER: You know, when you say it like that --

LIZZA: -- when Jared Kushner -- as this, you know, pop and look at the PDB (ph) team.


LIZZA: The problem is that he has his son-in-law and you shouldn't bring your son-in-law into the executive office of the president because it's very hard to get rid of your son-in-law.

SCHULTZ: And let's not forget, he did in a very public way, the President left it up to his Chief of Staff General Kelly to make that determination. That was a responsible decision. It was the right decision to make and I think General Kelly made the right decision in across the board. It wasn't just Jared Kushner, it was across the board looking at these temporary clearances and downgrading the ones that were, that need to be downgrade.

COOPER: But isn't this only -- didn't this only become in the public eye because of what happened with Rob Porter? I mean had that not situation not imploded would General Kelly had been given this purview to relocate everybody's security clearances because -- I mean, to me what's interesting is, you know, Donald Trump made a very persuasive point during the campaign of, A, I only hired the best people. I surround myself with the best people. And, B, attacking Hillary Clinton for, you know, misusing a server, you know, violating potentially classified information, not taking qualified information seriously enough. And here he is with the White House truck full of people who don't really have much with a track record, who turns out can't get a security clearance.


SCHULTZ: I don't think it's truck full with folks who can't get a security clearance. You have a process that's taken much too longer time and a Chief of Staff who's now recognize that --

COOPER: Right. But it's not --

SCHULTZ: -- to the problem that came to Rob Porter.

COOPER: Right. But it's not taken that much time because the FBI doesn't have enough folks doing it because every administration has the same number of people essentially getting security clearances. In fact, this White House maybe even has fewer because they don't have as many people in jobs. But, security clearances do not take this long unless there is some major, major problem.

CARDONA: And there are few White House as so they've had as many people as this White House had for so long having an interim security clearance and at the same time sharing top secret information that is the utmost importance on the most critical of issues which is what the portfolio that Jared Kushner has been handed.


[21:20:14] CARDONA: And -- hang on a second, to your point, Anderson, the hypocrisy here is just outstanding because he not only campaigned on this but every single Republican who is so against Hillary Clinton also echoed that. That she would be a security risk, look at how she handled her e-mails. And now, where's the outcries from Republicans, had this been a President Hillary Clinton that would have been given that kind of portfolio to her son-in-law and then we find that --


COOPER: Right. If Chelsea Clinton and, what, Marc Mezvinsky --

CARDONA: Exactly.

COOPER: Is that his name?


COOPER: With all his financial dealings and like some not great successes there --

CARDONA: Can you imagine?

COOPER: -- was running around without a security clearance and representing the U.S.--


COOPER: -- there would be a freak out.

CARDONA: There would be hell fire coming from Republicans.


SCHULTZ: -- for a second here though. The same people making the -- the people with security clearance top secret and secure compartment, security clearance are the folks still making the national security decisions in the White House, the same folks making the intelligence decisions in the White House, the NSC or those folks have the right -- have the correct clearances. Let's not blow this out of proportion.

COOPER: Right. But let me just point -- let me point out, a top secret security clearance is not that big a security clearance. I mean there's code word security clearances which are much higher than that. You know, just about everybody gets a top secret security clearance --

SCHULTZ: You can't have it both ways, Anderson.

CARDONA: One thing though --

COOPER: No. I'm -- my point is you should be able to pass --


COOPER: No. It's not that big a deal for the actual clearances. You should be able to get it. A college student in college who applies to the CIA gets a top secret security clearance when you're working a summer job there. I can guarantee you that. And it's -- that, you know, that takes a couple of months. You just have to confess everything you've ever done and that's, you know, what seems to be the problem.

CARDONA: The point is that, if Jared can't get a top secret security clearance, there is something in his background that is of huge interest to those who are not giving it to him and it's --


STEWART: It's easy to get caught up in the palace intrigue. If we take a step back, I think this is a victory for General Kelly and for his commitment to making sure we have a White House staff that meets the highest standards we can as to do better and have thought --


COOPER: We got to take a quick break. We're going to have more on this. When we continue, more on the breaking news, also about the President's son-in-law and the decision to downgrade his interim security clearance.


[21:25:50] COOPER: Still more on our breaking news tonight, here's what Carl Bernstein had to say in our 8:00 hour about the possible parole joke Kushner -- Jared Kushner may be facing the ongoing Russian investigation.


CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: Jared Kushner is in the crosshairs of special prosecutor Mueller's investigation, which is focused in part on Jared Kushner liking laser. And there is every expectation in the White House and among lawyers who are representing other people in Mueller's investigation that Jared Kushner has many, many strikes lining up against him in the Mueller investigation.

And the subtext here is that part of the things that have led to the rejection of his being eligible for a security clearance are also part of Mueller's investigation, particular aspects -- particularly aspects that have to do with perhaps monetizing his position in the White House during the transition, trying to shore up his failing business enterprises while at the same time doing business on behalf of the Trump Administration.


COOPER: Back now with our panel. Anne, I mean this is I guess more of a hypothetical. But if something is discovered in a background check process, let's say on Jared Kushner, is that something that would be referred to the Mueller team?

MILGRAM: Well --

COOPER: Probably not.

MILGRAM: -- the background check is being done by the FBI as it's, you know, the team on the Mueller -- on the Mueller investigation is also part of the FBI. So it is possible that information could be shared. But as a rule, the background checks are usually sort of walled off. That being said, if there was evidence of criminal conduct, that's fair game.

It's the federal bureau of investigation that you're providing that information to. And I should say, you know, you're told you have to tell the truth. Everything -- Every piece of paper you submit has that saying on it that you have to tell the truth. You're providing information to the U.S. government. And so, you know, if there are lies or criminal conduct, there could be potential --

COOPER: Yes. I mean one of the interesting things, there was reporting recently in the New Yorker about Jared Kushner meeting privately with the Chinese ambassador, for instance, and that there was some concern according to this reporting about his capabilities to meet privately without even, you know, somebody in the room taking notes so that if later on the Chinese ambassador reported back to his, you know, overlords in Beijing, though will Jared Kushner said this and he was lying, there would be no way to actually verify what was said in that meeting.

BEGALA: It's so reckless, and it's -- I don't understand. Again, the innocent explanation, I'm waiting to hear one. But it's akin to in the transition when Mr. Kushner met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, OK, I get that, also reported in the U.S. press to be a Russian spy master, so you got to be on your guard. And reportedly asked Kislyak if they could meet in a secure facility, secure from the U.S., that is to say, to go into a Russian secure facility. That's crazy.

Then he met with a guy named Sergey Gorkov, who is a graduate of the Kremlin spy school and runs a bank called VEB, which is reported to be very closely connected to Putin's security apparatus. Why do you meet with him? The bank says, oh, we were talking about business. Well, you can't do that. This is the transition, but even if a transition you can't do that.

Mr. Kushner says, well, though it was governmental business. It was not my private business. But why would anybody meet with a guy who is straight out of the FSB, their security services, and running a bank that we're sanctioning because they're part of the bad guys?

LIZZA: Just to play devil's advocate, the innocent explanation would be naivete, stupidity, rather than something more.

COOPER: Or also you could say that the belief that the bureaucratic structure --


COOPER: -- that exists, you know, from the administration is not necessarily trustworthy. They're trying to forge a new path.


COOPER: They want to maybe bring business acumen in a way to government and maybe that they felt --

LIZZA: No, I think that's a legitimate excuse. They were really paranoid about the deep state as it's now come to be called and all these Obama holdovers were leaking on them and we're looking to do them harm. That would be the defense of why he was going into meetings without people from the State Department or the -- you know --


[21:30:05] CARDONA: Right.

LIZZA: That would be the argument.

CARDONA: To your point about hiring the best people, right? But I think that's the point. He did campaign on having the ability to hire the best people to make America great and yet they couldn't find one person with the appropriate national security expertise to be with Kushner in these meetings, to be able to take the notes. And that's frankly for Kushner's protection that this happens, right? To make sure, to Anderson's point, that the Chinese ambassador or whoever else can't put one over on Kushner.

My point is that that's exactly what they were trying to do. They looked at his naivete and be like, he doesn't have any kind of experience. Let's try to manipulate him. And that, I think, is also one of the things that Mueller is looking into.


CARDONA: I mean I just -- I agree. I mean to be in a meeting like that at that level by yourself, you know, I don't know if reckless or naive, I don't know what the right word is, but it's really not a good idea for Kushner or for the United States to have somebody in there because someone else could walk out from the other side and spin the meeting in a completely different way. You're unprotected. And so, you know, you never would go in without a witness.

SCHULTZ: And following some of that, I think there were some checks and balances put in place with H.R. McMaster they come out whether -- where he was checking in with H.R. McMaster before he was going into those meetings.

COOPER: Great, because I think according to the reporting, McMaster was concerned about these meetings, as I think was Kelly understandably and they started now working much closer together and I think put a kibosh on it.

STEWART: And I think he will try to get away with a lot of those types of meetings that he had by himself by saying, I didn't know any better.


STEWART: You know, ignorance is bliss in this situation. That being said, moving forward, everything he did and every meeting he had, he needs to be forthcoming about it. He needs to make sure that he's honest and truthful because that's what's going to get them.

Clearly the cover-up will be worse than the crime of these meetings that he had, and that's why it's important for him to be truthful. I think with all due respect to Carl Bernstein, I think it was a little premature for him to say --


STEWART: -- to say Jared's in the crosshairs. I think everyone is pretty much in the same boat.

COOPER: All right. Mueller has kept a pretty tight lid on things, no hard things. And now we got a brief time-out. When we return, one of the President's closest aides spent hours today testifying before the house Intelligence Committee. What Hope Hicks said and didn't say, next.


COOPER: More of tonight's breaking news, Hope Hicks, one of President Trump's closest aides spent hours testifying today before the House Intelligence Committee. It was a marathon session behind closed doors. Sara Murray is with me now to deconstruct what we know.

So what did Hope Hicks say today and not say?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the committee seems to be much more concerned, particularly the Democrats on the committee, with what Hope Hicks did not say. I mean she went before House Intelligence. She refused to talk about any of her time in the White House. And for a while she was refusing to answer questions about the period during the presidential transition after Donald Trump won the election, before he was president.

[21:35:01] And then the committee basically came back to her and said, wait, wait. You've already answered some of these questions for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Why aren't you answering them for us? And then she was a little bit more forthcoming about her time during the transition, but you can tell members were coming out of that and were again a little bit dissatisfied.

There is a new report that just came out in "The New York Times" that said that one of the things that Hope Hicks apparently did admit when she was talking to the committee was that in representing Donald Trump over the course of the campaign, she occasionally had to tell white lies. Apparently that's according to "The New York Times". And I can tell you, Anderson that certainly is not a surprise to anyone who covered the campaign like I did.

COOPER: Hope Hicks is obviously very close to the President, been with the President for a long time as a citizen, was part of some of the more high profile the things the investigators are looking into. I mean she -- she's a key witness in all of this, you know, the meeting on the plane where they're crafting a statement about the Donald Trump Jr. meeting among other things. MURRAY: Right. I mean, she's not just a key witness for these committees. She's a key witness for Robert Mueller and for his investigation. She met with him for two days of interviews and it's partly for reasons like you said. Not only was she one of the earliest hires for President Trump during the campaign, she was there with him every single day on the plane. She was with him during the transition and then of course went on and followed him to the White House.

But that is one of the things she refused to talk to the House Intelligence Committee about is how they crafted this statement that they put together on Air Force One. It was ultimately a misleading statement about a meeting that took place in June of 2016 at Trump Tower between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner.

She did tell investigators, though, that she did not learn about that meeting until June of 2017. So about a year later, that even though she was in the building when this was happening, when this was playing out at Trump tower, she said she was unaware of it at the time.

COOPER: Interesting. Sara Murray, thanks very much.

I just want to read you the lead from the "Times" story that Sara just mentioned. "Hope Hicks, the White House communication's director told House investigators on Tuesday that her work for President Trump, who has a reputation for exaggerations and outright falsehoods and occasionally required her to tell white lies." But this offers this caveat, "But after extended consultation with her lawyers, she insisted that she had not lied about matters and material to the investigation into Russia's interference if the 2016 presidential election and possible links to associations according to three people familiar with her testimony."

I mean shouldn't pulled the White House -- actually let me ask you just from a legal standpoint, James, it does seem like there's an awful lot of people who are sort of invoking executive privilege even though the White House hasn't really invoked executive privilege or they're just invoking a new kind of, I don't want to talk about it because I just don't think I should have to talk about it. I mean, am I wrong on that?

SCHULTZ: No, I think you are wrong. And here's why, especially as it relates to everything post-January 20 when the administration began. That's not her information to give. And the senate knows it, and the house knows it. And there's a process for obtaining that information.

That letter went to Hope Hicks. It did not go to the White House. If a letter went to the White House requesting privileged information relative to information that Hope Hicks gave advice to the president, that would have been a letter that would have gone to Don McGahn, and that would have been something that would have been public, and that would have been something that would have become part of a dialogue between the White House and the committee.

COOPER: So you're saying the committee dropped the ball on that? SCHULTZ: No, I don't think they dropped the ball on it. They just know that its executive privilege and they're not entitled to that information.

CARDONA: So you are saying its --

SCHULTZ: I mean this is no different than what we saw Eric Holder do in the fast and furious.

COOPER: All right. But doesn't the white -- correct me, doesn't the White House have to claim executive privilege on these things?

SCHULTZ: No. These are privilege -- they have to request that there has to be a request made to the White House that this person testifies to matters that are relative to her job as a White House employee. That request was never made. And quite frankly it was never within the scope of this hearing. The Democrats know it, and that's not way --

BEGALA: That's by custom, not law.


COOPER: OK. The privilege exists and it has since George Washington, and it should. On this I'm very sympathetic to the Trump White House, having been a White House official. Presidents have got to have a right to communicate and deliberate in private. But it's a qualified privilege.

It's only the president's to assert. It does not belong to Corey Lewandowski who has never worked a day in the White House, the former campaign manager for president trump. It doesn't belong to Ms. Hicks or to Mr. Bannon, who've apparently tried to get out and had successfully gotten out of testifying.

The problem is the Republican congress is unlikely to pursue this against a Republican president. They can, they have subpoenaed to Mr. Bannon, the cant subpoena Ms. Hicks. They can and if they don't testify find them in contempt.

COOPER: Right. The Democrats has asked them the subpoena of Hope Hicks. I mean the Republican --

BEGALA: The real problem is Mueller. That's the real problem. They can't get around this with Mueller, with this sweeping claim of privilege because particularly in the Nixon case but also in the Clinton case, they said executive privilege does not apply when we're getting --

COOPER: But does it make then a mockery of these like House committees? I mean it's just like --

LIZZA: The Republicans are in charge of Congress, and they're giving up this authority. They're giving up a congressional prerogative. They're weakening that branch of government by not fighting the executive branch on this. SCHULTZ: (INAUDIBLE) showed that. I mean that was straight out of the Obama administration. This is --

[21:40:02] CARDONA: They actually invoked the executive privilege --

BEGALA: Right.

CARDONA: -- on that, though.

STEWART: I think we expected she was going to not answer many questions. I think we all knew that was going to happen. The only reason she was forthcoming on much of it today is because she had testified to the Senate on this.

Here's where I have a problem with this. And, A, the little white lie is going to come back and be an issue because a white lie is a lie. Here's my concern --

MILGRAM: At least she was truthful on that.

STEWART: Exactly. Here's the thing. If this administration says, as they do repeatedly, they are fully cooperating with any investigation, any inquiry, we're providing any information we have, it doesn't sit well when you're not answering questions before members of these intel committees. I think if you're going to fully cooperate, cooperate with the intel committee. Cooperate with Mueller, put all the information out there.

Because the reality is this isn't about protecting this administration as much as finding the truth about Russian interference in the election and how that affects our government.

SCHULTZ: Coming back to that, that's Mueller's job, right?

MILGRAM: But there --

SCHULTZ: That's Mueller's job.

MILGRAM: Well, I mean, so this is an interesting question. I as a criminal prosecutor see all these committees doing these investigations, and if I were Mueller, I would not want them to be happening.

COOPER: Because?

MILGRAM: Because you end up with witnesses having multiple statements, and, you know, it just gets complicated. And you basically want those people to give you information in confidence that you may use to take other investigative steps.

COOPER: So if you're Mueller, you're fine with them not saying anything?

MILGRAM: If you're Mueller you want them -- my -- I don't want to speak for --

COOPER: Right.

MILGRAM: -- Robert Mueller. He may say let every process go along. We're separate branches of government. But me as a former prosecutor would no like --

COOPER: And you surely did seem like with Steve Bannon, he clearly chose, OK, I'm going to -- speaking to Mueller, they had apparently marathon sessions with Mueller but did not say much in front of these committees.

SCHULTZ: Well, you say not say much. Not say much as it relates to his time in the White House, which is the White House's information not Steve Bannon's to give.

COOPER: But he was also talking about during the transition from the reporting, which is, you can't have executive privilege because he's not the executive.

MILGRAM: Right. There's no executive privilege, right?

LIZZA: These guys know they can do this before the committee because they've seen others go in and do it and there were no consequences.

COOPER: Right.

LIZZA: So I think your point is right. The Mueller investigation is the investigation that's actually going to get to the truth.

MILGRAM: Just one quick thing that we saw Hope Hicks do today when they basically said, look, you've already said this to the senate, you waive privilege once you say something. So she has waived privilege on anything she's already said. There's no ability of her to invoke privilege. So if there are any other statements out there, all of those have to -- you can't then invoke executive privilege once it's out there.

CARDONA: There's another really important point here to make, though, and that's the political one. To your point, Alice, this doesn't just not sit well with the legal -- in the legal frame. This doesn't sit well in the political frame. When you have the CNN poll that just came out that said 60% of people think that the Russia investigation is very critical, you had a poll back in December that said the majority of the American people believe that Trump either did something unethical or at the very least inappropriate and perhaps illegal. You have the congressional generic ballot at like 13, 14, 15 points in favor of the Democrats.

Today Democrats flipped their 39th district from red to blue. And I think that the trend here is going in that this is a president and an administration that does not care about national security when it comes to a Russian entity, a foreign adversary messing with our elections, and it was an act of war. The more that you have people from this administration not being forthcoming, not telling the truth, and a president who can't even admit that the Russians meddled, that is going to be a bad thing for the republicans. So I'm happy about it. They should keep doing it. LIZZA: The Democrats actually do take back the House and gain control of this investigative machinery, all of these White House officials. It's going to be a very, very different experience --


LIZZA: -- for them.

COOPER: We've got to take a break. I want to thank everybody.

Up next, we're going to step back away from politics thankfully and bring you a story you can only -- well, only see on CNN. Last year we shed light on the criminals buying and selling African migrants like cattles, buying and selling human beings, but what about those who send them to their fate. CNN's Nima Elbagir goes back undercover, posing as a would of be a migrant to reveal the world of smuggler gangs. What she uncovered is frankly stunning when we continue.


[21:48:14] COOPER: Tonight a new exclusive CNN investigation on modern day slavery. Every year, thousands of migrants pay to be trafficked from African nations to Europe hoping for better opportunities. Most sell everything they own to finance the journey.

But as CNN's Nima Elbagir showed us just months ago, some of those migrants never make it. They're auctioned off in Libya. Nima wanted to see if anything has changed since her stunning reports. She went back on the smugglers' path undercover, posing as a would-be migrant. Take a look on what she's discover and I want to start a bit of Nima's first report from last fall.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Human beings auctioned like cattle for $400 a piece. When we went undercover at an auction of African migrants in Libya, we unearthed a horrifying reality. Libya's people traffickers were trading in people.

These are the images that shocked the world, but in the months since the CNN broadcast, has anything really changed? Is the route to Europe still as easy as ever? We set off to find out.

ELBAGIR: Edo State is Nigeria's main smuggling hub where we're told traffickers ply their trade openly. We're hoping this man will agree to traffic us to Europe.

ELBAGIR: Eveke (ph) as he calls himself is a broker, known locally as pusher man. He is one of an army of traffickers working with smugglers on the Nigeria end of the migrant route to Europe.

He tells our producer he can do it for just 500,000 naira, that's just under $1400 each. The money is due on arrival in Libya. He warns us not to waste his time. [21:50:07] ELBAGIR: We're told to go back to the hotel. We test our undercover cameras and wait. Finally, we're told to move to the location, Auchi, in the north of Edo State.

Tonight, Eveke is working out of a local hotel that doubles as a brothel. Inside the brothel, we're told to wait. We don't know what we're waiting for. Utterly unprepared, but all of a sudden, we're on the move. Our journey to Europe is underway.

We move to the local bus depot where we're told we'll be put on a bus heading north, but first Eveke wants to know if I have everything I need.

EVEKE: Like, what do you call it, Nigerians say here, they have Gold Circle here, we have Kiss, you know Kiss, do you know Kiss? We have Kiss here. You just have it in your bag, for the journey. In your bag.

ELBAGIR (on camera): So we can't travel without the contraception?

EVEKE: We can get them for you, you're not paying, we'll get them for you.

ELBAGIR: As part of --

EVEKE: Yes, as part of the journey.

ELBAGIR: As part of the journey, you can get it for us. Because the women are abused? What happens, the women are abused on the trip?

EVEKE: In Libya.

ELBAGIR: In Libya? What happens? Do they get pregnant?

EVEKE: That's I was telling you to have those things. It's not a guarantee. Sometimes we have to meet one of them, like say somebody asks, "I would like to assist you." You know what that means? Don't tell me you don't know what I'm saying.

ELBAGIR: Yes, I understand.

(voice-over): Taking me aside, Eveke repeats again, condoms, don't struggle if you're raped, and ultimately trust in God. With that, we board the overnight bus to the north. The doors lock behind us. From here begins the journey into the unknown. A journey that promises a litany of horrors, rape, trafficking, slavery.

Once we're sure the bus has moved out of Eveke's sight, we jump off. We, at least, are safe.

(on camera): So if we had stayed on that bus, we would be on our way to Kanu now in the north of Nigeria. Some time the middle of the day, 2:00, 3:00 in the afternoon tomorrow we would be arriving in Kanu. From Kanu, somebody would be waiting to take us on the next leg of the journey to Agadez, and from Agadez through to Libya.

And in theory, on arrival in Libya, that's when the brokers get paid.

It is incredible that it is so public. It's incredible that it's so brazen, that they're using public transport to start this leg of the journey. This is the most trafficked through destination in Africa. It is the main departure point for so much of these smuggling routes. And yet these brokers are able to ply their trade so openly.

And to think that as a woman, they would expect me to be carrying contraception, they would expect me to have made my piece with the fact that at almost every leg of this journey I would be assaulted and raped and abused. It is unimaginable that people are willing to take these risks to make it to Europe.

(voice-over): In the end, it was easier, even, than we possibly could have imagined. CNN has passed on the evidence we uncovered to the Nigerian authorities. What we experienced was just the beginning of the nightmare.

Hopefully, the Nigerian government will be able to stop anymore young women from being lured with the false dream of a new life.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Edo State, Nigeria.


COOPER: Nima, joins us now.

I mean, it's just incredible. You said you turned over information to Nigerian authorities. I mean, as you said, it's so brazen, it's hard to imagine that at least some local authorities don't know what's going on.

ELBAGIR: That's -- that is absolutely true. There are ongoing reports and allegations that corruption at every single level of the government is what feeds into this. But there is also the reality that this is a poor state and a country that has mismanaged its resources. They just don't have the support that they need to take on these people. This is a multi-billion-dollar industry. These people are making money off human misery.

[21:55:05] COOPER: Were you surprised by how brazen it was? By how, I mean, open it was?

ELBAGIR: Yes. Yes, I mean, the fact that they use public transport that they hide in plain sight. And even we as prospective migrants, we didn't know who else on that bus was also a migrant. So until you reach the furthest point of that journey in Nigeria, then they pull you all out, so that none of you can kind of ring the alarm.

COOPER: And the conditions that I mean, many of these women are leaving are just heartbreaking.

ELBAGIR: Yes. That's I think, you can't imagine that anybody's state of poverty would be so bad that they would be willing to walk into a situation like that, where they're told, here's the contraceptive, because you will be raped. And then you visit their homes and you see these communities. One of the young men we saw during this trip, we had met in Libya previously. He had been a slave who had been rescued. And he had been sent back to Nigeria.

We went to see his home, but it's not actually his home, because if he stayed in the same house with his mother and siblings, they couldn't all afford to eat. So he was willingly homeless. Because every day he makes the choice between whether he eats, whether his younger brother, who is four eats, whether, you know, the son of his sister eats and the choice that he has made is that he will sleep wherever he can and then once every two or three days, he will eat.

COOPER: All right. And I mean, some get stop -- for some, Libya is the end of the journey, for others, they hope to continue onward to Europe.

ELBAGIR: Yes, and of course, in Europe, there are no guarantees.

COOPER: Right.

ELBAGIR: A lot of these women end up still in prostitution, still in forced sex slavery, because when they get there, the gangs say, well, you still owe us for this trip. Or, you know, once you arrive there and you have no support system and you've gotten there illegally, it is essentially endless --


ELBAGIR: The misery they're under.

COOPER: Yes, you're living in the shadows. It's incredible reporting. Nima, thank you.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.


[22:00:04] COOPER: Thanks very much for watching "360". Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is "CNN TONIGHT". I'm Don Lemon.