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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Source: White House Has Narrowed Search for Anonymous Op-Ed Writer to Few Suspects; President Trump: "I Don't Want to Be Set Up With a Perjury Trap"; Obama Says Trump Is Capitalizing On Resentment And Fear"; Uncovering The Original "Deep Throat"; Sessions Supporters In Alabama Upset At President Trump Attacks On Attorney General; Former Trump Campaign Aide George Papadopoulos Sentenced To 14 Days For Lying About Russia Contacts. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired September 7, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:12] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington. Anderson is off. I'm Jim Sciutto.
After raging about it almost nonstop since it was published, President Trump now wants to make a federal case out of that critical opinion piece written by one of his own senior officials a criminal case. And he is also talking about siccing the feds on the newspaper that published it.
There is also breaking news out of the White House with sources telling CNN they have narrowed down the list of who they think wrote the op-ed to just a few people. Details on that in just a moment.
The piece ran, as you know, in "The New York Times" under the headline "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration." The president has called the unnamed author gutless, a coward, and demanded that "The Times" turn him or her over to the government, though it is unclear what precisely that means or for what alleged crime. He has suggested that this essay amounts to treason, which by definition, of course, it is not.
Still, now he wants the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate, citing national security as a justification.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it's national security. We're going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he's talking about, also where he is right now. Supposing I have a high level national security meeting and he has got a clearance -- you know, we talked about clearances a lot recently -- and he goes into a high level meeting concerning China or Russia or North Korea or something, and this guy goes in. I don't want him in those meetings.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Keeping them honest, that is his privilege. He is the chief executive, and the author works in the executive branch. The president could, if he likes, simply fire whomever it is, because clearly, a president, any president ought to be able to trust the people who work for him or her. And, yes, what the senior official wrote obviously says a lot about dysfunction at the White House.
What this official did not do, however, is reveal or even hint at revealing even a shred of classified national security information. It did bruise the president's ego, which of course is not the same as damaging national security. Yet the president is behaving as though they are one and the same and treating the Justice Department as if it were staffed by his own personal lawyers and private investigators.
Remember, he has already demanded the DOJ investigate and jail Hillary Clinton. He has slammed it for prosecuting two political allies charged with corruption. He has demanded the firing of career justice officials, and he is utterly savaging Attorney General Jeff Session.
Now he is demanding an investigation of what amounts to a personal embarrassment by painting that embarrassment as a threat to all of us, to the nation. And as we mentioned, he is also raising the possibility of investigating "The New York times." When asked aboard Air Force One, he replied, well, we're going see.
For its part, "The Times" responded with this. Quote, we're confident that the Justice Department understands that the first amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power.
The president is due back shortly at the White House after a swing through the Dakotas. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is there for us tonight with new reporting on what we mentioned just at the top of this broadcast, and that is the White House's drastically shrinking list of possible suspects in this op-ed whodunit.
So, Jeff, what's the latest you're hearing about how they're narrowing this down?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, good evening. Possible suspects is the key point there. The reality is they don't know. But they do believe that they are narrowing down the list of possible people.
The president, we are told, believes that someone from the national security apparatus, when you looked at that, the substance of the op- ed in "The New York Times," much of it was focused on foreign policy. So they believe it is likely someone in the national security realm. That doesn't necessarily narrow it down, but they do believe it is now perhaps a few people we are told. But it's unclear exactly if the president believes that.
Jim, we saw the president today again on Air Force One as he was flying from Billings, Montana, to Fargo, North Dakota, talking with reporters on Air Force One as we played there, saying he wants the DOJ to investigate. He wants this to -- you know, to get to the bottom of this. But the point here also, the president wants people to focus on the mystery of it all, the whodunit of it all, rather than the substance of these claims, that he is unfit for the presidency. So, that is what the White House all day long in their pursuit of
trying to find who it was, they want to focus on the mystery, not the actual symptom of the problem, Jim.
[20:05:05] SCIUTTO: So, if in that vein, Jeff, and forgive my skepticism, if the intention here is to distract from the alarm expressed in this op-ed by creating a sort of mysterious whodunit here do, we believe that the White House has actually narrow down this list, or perhaps that's a message that they want to get out, or that they want to please the president, give the president the impression that they're getting closer?
ZELENY: That is a good question. Certainly we know that aides do want to please the president. We know that aides like to keep him in check. That is what we have learned at the end of this long week here from the Woodward book, from this op-ed, that there are people inside this administration who try and sort of make him happy, control his temper.
So, perhaps that's what this narrowing down of the list is, or perhaps they actually have a finger on a few people who may have done it. But the reality here is the president clearly wants -- he's not happy. The reality is at the end of this week, with the Woodward book and this, he thinks his communications team, Bill Shine leading that, the former Fox News executive who is now here at the White House, he is not pleased by how all this has gone.
We're even hearing at the end of this week that the president is kind of musing he would like Hope Hicks back. Of course, she is the long- time aide to this president who he trusts a great deal who left some time ago. But this is not a substance, a problem of staff, Jim. This is an issue about the Oval Office and the president.
So throw out all of the drama of who did it. The reality remains the same about, you know, what's actually going on inside the White House here. So who knows if we ever actually get the name of the person? The Department of Justice did not exactly signify that they're going to go knee-deep in this investigation. One thing the president didn't say, what crime did this person possibly commit?
ZELENY: So, that of course will be hard to investigate if there is no specific crime, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, if the president's already upset with Bill Shine, shows you how short the honeymoon period is for new hires in the White House.
ZELENY: We know that to be the case.
SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
SCIUTTO: And to Jeff's point with all the talk about the mole hunt, we don't want to lose sight of the message this individual was sending that remains the most troubling part of this story. So, in that spirit, here are a reminder, a few key passages.
Quoting here: The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows that he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision make.
Moving on: Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rant, and his impulsiveness results in half- baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
And this: Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment which would start a complex process for removing the president, but no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it's over.
Joining us tonight, "New York times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman. Maggie is, of course, also a CNN political analyst. So is the legendary investigative reporter Carl Bernstein.
Maggie, if I can begin with you, listen, the president here clearly wants to find out as quickly as possible who wrote this op-ed. CNN reporting that the White House at least has said it has narrowed down the list of suspects, similar to your reporting from last night.
I'm just curious. What have you been learning about that, and do you believe they're actually narrowing down this list, or as Jeff was saying earlier, trying to distract from the message of this op-ed?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's trying to distract from the message of the op-ed. I think they're trying to please the president.
HABERMAN: The president is incredibly focused on who this could be. He has raised the question of treason, as you noted, not just publicly, but in private conversations with several people. It is not treason, to your point for a variety of reasons.
But, look, I think that you are seeing, as we often see, the split between this president and the presidency. Not just in the fact of what this op-ed writer was saying, but how everything has unfolded since.
The president wants DOJ to do something that DOJ is almost certainly not going do, and it's not because of Jeff Sessions' issue with the president. It's because there is nothing for DOJ to do. Certainly toward the newspaper, they would look and try to find things within their own administration, but it's really hard to show what national security interest was breached here, number one.
Number two, I think that there are -- there have been all sorts of instances of administration officials over the last two days who have privately said, you know, they want to just move on from this. This is a distraction. They don't want to deal with it.
For Trump, it gave him something of a target to swing at. So I think he has actually not in reality not that upset about it.
[20:10:00] In a weird way it's better than the Woodward book for something to swing at. Most people in his White House feel like, from what I have heard, this op-ed describes something they have been living for 20 months. Most of them either have become numb to it or desensitized. Some of them, you know, very much believe in what the president is doing and don't like it that there are people who are working against him in one way or another, and they would like this to just move on.
SCIUTTO: I'm sure they would. You heard similar advice from Lindsey Graham, publicly saying he would like the president to move on.
Carl, what's your reaction to the president today saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should investigate, uncover the identity of this senior official? He uses national security as justification for that. I mean, there is a lot of precedent here where the president has ordered a lot of investigations and so on that never happened. Is the president sincere about this? Or is this something of a show?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I can't be in the president's head. It's a dangerous place.
I think what we're seeing is once again a lack of understanding on the part of the president of the United States about the Constitution of the United States. And its guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press, which he has no comprehension or respect for or the rule of law. There has been no law broken here by "The New York Times" or by the authority of the piece.
But there is something else going on here that is much more important. We are seeing once again what is the substance of Bob Woodward's book and this piece, the president of the United States acting unhinged. He is unhinged in his pursuit of who is behind all this and his response to the Woodward book.
And what is it that Bob Woodward's book says? It says that those closest to the president of the United States believe he is a danger to the republic, a danger to our national security because he doesn't understand the Constitution, because he lies constantly, because he is not knowledgeable or capable or constant or stable at times, and too much of the time. That's what we're seeing here. In his response, he is confirming what is in Bob Woodward's book and what those closest to the president have been saying.
SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, one of the ironies, right, a lot of the behavior is exactly as described. Maggie, according to your reporting, there has even been talk of doing lie detector tests, having senior officials sign sworn affidavits. Is that a reality?
HABERMAN: I don't believe it is a reality. I think that what it is, again, it's an effort to try to show the president that they're doing something. Look, I could be wrong, and that could end up happening, and that will obviously be I think create quite a backlash if that does happen.
Again, I don't think it will. I think the counsel's office is somewhat concerned about how they are discussing going forward with this, or had been. But again, there is a divide within the White House, within the West Wing about exactly what they should be doing in regard to this.
It's also, you know, you had the president out there last night at a rally in Montana where he was going on for some time about the op-ed, and it seemed pretty evident from the crowd's reaction that this was not a pressing issue for them. For the Republican Party, they are heading into a midterms where this is not what they want to be talking about. It is a terrible climate. It is a terrible climate in large part because of the president's behavior, because of his inability to stick to a script, because of the constant falsehoods and lies, because of all of the investigations, because of all the things that Carl just mentioned. And this is not where anyone wants the focus to be. And he just can't get off of it.
Again, I think something else will happen next week will that will get him there on the other hand, Bob Woodward's book actually hits the shelves next week so, that might be what happen.
SCIUTTO: Yes, good call. I don't want to overdue the comparison to Deep Throat here. Of course that was the source during Watergate over many months, a senior official. But at least the parallel of the whodunit, and of course mark felt, who eventually revealed to be the deep throat source. That took decades.
Do you see parallels here between your experience then and this kind of whodunit going on now?
BERNSTEIN: It's not the whodunit done aspect that's so parallel. What's parallel is the messenger. In both cases, the messenger of the op-ed piece and those dozens and dozens of people who spoke to Bob Woodward like Deep Throat in Watergate, Deep Throat was saying we have a criminal president of the United States.
He was confirming information that Bob and I had obtained elsewhere. He didn't give us that much original information. But he confirmed the picture that we were obtaining of a criminal president of the United States who was a danger to the republic.
[20:15:02] And indeed, what we're seeing now is dozens of people who have spoken to Bob Woodward in his book "Fear", saying the president of the United States is a danger to our very national security. And what people in this country really need to come to grips with is how extraordinary and dangerous this situation is in the substance of what these people are saying. These are people who came to work for Donald Trump because they believed in him, just as people went to work for Richard Nixon because they believed in him.
These aren't Trump's enemies. These are people who were absolutely committed to him. And now having worked with him for two years, they are saying he is a danger, and we must protect the country from the president of the United States.
I was just reading a passage in Bob's book. There is a scene in which Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, organizes a meeting in the so- called tank at the Pentagon.
BERNSTEIN: Secure room, so that he and others can brief the president on what they think he desperately needs to know because he has exhibited such lack of knowledge. And when the meeting is over, a deputy writes in a document that Bob Woodward has obtained, it seems clear that many of the president's senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn as well as what they consider his dangerous views.
Those are aides to the president. That's what this is about.
SCIUTTO: And you see that consistent -- that consistent messaging.
Maggie Haberman, Carl Bernstein, thanks very much and have a good weekend.
HABERMAN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, the president's latest thoughts on talking to Robert Mueller, and the perjury trap, the so-called perjury trap he is worried he'll get caught in. We're joined by two distinguished attorneys who differ on whether such things even exist or whether you can avoid getting caught by simply telling the truth.
Later, former President Obama speaking out in the strongest terms yet against the president and a political climate that he says is just not normal.
That and more when 360 continues.
[20:21:26] SCIUTTO: On top of the breaking news on the apparently shrinking White House list of suspected op-ed authors, there is this, yet another in a string of shifting statements about the president sitting down with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Today, on Air Force One, the president said that he would be willing to talk, quote, under certain circumstances. However, he said he believes it would be a big waste of time because he says, once again, there is no collusion.
Also citing others who have spoken to the grand jury, he reiterated his attorneys' concern that somehow he would be walking into a setup.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: Everybody that looked at anybody over there, they get them on some kind of a lie. So I don't want to be set up with a perjury trap, number one. Number two, there was no obstruction and there was no collusion.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Perspective now from a pair of attorneys who differ on the question of perjury traps and whether they even exist.
Harvard's Alan Dershowitz. He is the author of "The Case Against Impeaching Trump." Also former Obama ethics czar and former ambassador to the Czech Republic, Norm Eisen. He is author of "The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House."
Professor Dershowitz, you often hear the president, his lawyers say they simply want to avoid what they call a perjury trap. But isn't that a made-up term? I mean, at the end of the day, the way to avoid a perjury trap is to simply tell the truth, isn't it?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: No. That's why you're not a lawyer and have I have 50 years of representing criminal defendants.
SCIUTTO: Well, other lawyer have made that point as well, I should say --
DERSHOWITZ: I've never had anybody sit down with the prosecutor. Let me -- let me tell you why I'm a good lawyer.
In 53 years, I've never had client sit down with a prosecutor and I never will. Why? Because all the person has to do is say something that's true, absolutely true, and then you have some flip witness who says the opposite and suddenly, he is indicted for perjury.
That's what we mean by a perjury trap. A defendant can tell the absolute truth and still be indicted for perjury. And that's the reality.
And that's why every experienced criminal lawyer who is successful will tell you we don't allow our clients to sit down with prosecutors. We sit down with prosecutors. We negotiate. We relate the accounts of our clients, but we do not allow a one-to-one between a prosecutor and a witness.
SCIUTTO: Norm Eisen, let me rely on your legal knowledge here. Is that a fair argument?
NORMAN EISEN, BOARD CHAIR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY & ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: I don't entirely agree with it. The problem that we have here is that you have a president of the United States who is stuck. If he tells the truth, he's going to be implicating himself in obstruction of justice. And if he tries to avoid that, he's going to be perjuring himself.
And we've had presidents before, Alan, we've had presidents before who have been in this situation, and they have talked to the prosecutors. This is not the typical defendant. It's the chief law enforcement of the United States.
Now, I will say, Alan and I have agreed on this program that the president was never going to do it because of the risk and the exposure. It took a while for him to figure that out. But I think that this is a sign that the walls are closing in.
And finally, I want to say two more things, Alan. Number one is that I've taken witnesses in to see the prosecutor, and sometimes it works out. And number two, since you trained me as my law professor and gave me my first job in the criminal law, if you criticize me for doing that, you'll be casting aspersions on your own training.
[20:25:09] SCIUTTO: Professor, if I could you ask this --
DERSHOWITZ: I'm not going to criticize you -- first of all, I'm not going to criticize Norm for anything. I'm going to praise him on his new book, which is fantastic and everybody should read it. I was in the house that he wrote about.
But let me give you the perfect example. Let's assume that it's true. Let's assume hypothetically it's true that Trump fired Comey in order to stop the investigation, that would not be a crime. A president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional authority.
I would still not allow a client to say that. Why? Because they might get a judge like Norm Eisen who would disagree with my legal analysis and say that is a crime.
SCIUTTO: Let me interject because you raise a lot of issue there's. I want to ask this, because the president of course is the president and has unique position, unique responsibilities. What does the experience of Nixon faced a subpoena to release the famous tapes or Clinton who was facing a possible subpoena before he agreed to testify voluntarily regarding the Lewinsky investigation.
First to you, Norm, but to you as well, Professor, what does that experience teach us about what Trump may face if he were to be subpoenaed?
EISEN: I will tell you that I think the president will lose. Now, Nixon -- the Nixon case is not on all fours with this case. There were some differences there. It was a subpoena for tapes of the president speaking.
Here, it would be a subpoena for the president himself speaking. But the principle is the same. It's a principle, and you can trace it in the cases. Not just U.S. v. Nixon, but the civil setting of Clinton v. Jones that the president is going to be required to answer this subpoena, and it's for the same reason, Alan, the same reason that you're wrong about obstruction. Of course, a president can obstruct justice, because in the United
States of America, our core constitutional principle is --
EISEN: Our core constitutional principle is no person is above the law. That's why the president will have to answer this subpoena.
DERSHOWITZ: Let me tell you why that is a false cliche --
SCIUTTO: Let me if I can get on the subpoena issue. Professor --
SCIUTTO: There are so many legal issues here, and folks at home, their heads are going to explode. But on the question of subpoena, if the president refuses and Rudy Giuliani has been all over the place here about this, if the president refuses, do you believe as Norm Eisen believes that he'll be forced to testify that the court would rule in Mueller's favor in effect?
DERSHOWITZ: Yes. I think in some instances, yes. But let me answer the "nobody's above the law." A senator can't be subpoenaed to testify about why he voted in a certain way. A judge can't be subpoenaed.
It's not that they're above the law. That is the law. Executive privilege is the law. No one is above the law.
If the president were subpoenaed, he'd win some and lose some. He'd win on the issue of obstruction of justice. He'd win on the issue of firing Comey. He'd win on the issue of pardoning. And he'd lose, I think, on the issue of business dealings prior to becoming president, and it would be a close question in the campaign.
I would still advise the president not to sit down, take his chances on the legal issues on the subpoena, and he'd win some and lose some. And in the end, he might very well have to testify. And he's not above the law, but the law provides certain exemptions for all three branches of government.
SCIUTTO: Professor Dershowitz, Ambassador Eisen, thanks very much.
EISEN: Thanks, Jim.
DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: And coming up, former President Obama's rebuke to President Trump and how the president responded.
[20:32:13] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Speaking today to college students in Illinois, former President Barack Obama called voting the antidote to what's going on in Washington today. He rebuked President Trump by name, including on his reaction to white nationalist violence in Charlottesville and he told his audience that they are coming to age in a time when progress is facing a backlash.
BARACK OBAMA, FMR PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. It shouldn't be Democratic or Republican. To say we don't target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray, we are Americans. We're supposed to stand up to bullies. Not follow them.
And we're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad. And if you thought that elections don't matter, I hope these last two years have corrected that impression.
SCIUTTO: President Trump's response, he told a crowd in North Dakota that he watched it but fell asleep.
Joining me now is CNN political commentator former special adviser to President Obama, Van Jones. Hey, Van, thanks very much for joining us tonight. First question, who is the target audience for President Obama in effect going on the campaign trail?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think first -- of all I would say, I love that man. I just have to say, I love President Barack Obama. To hear somebody with a full throated defense of not just liberalism or conservatism, but just of American common sense and decency. It was so refreshing. And I think obviously the core for his message, he is trying to get those young voters who usually sit out the mid terms to stand up and make a big difference.
But I think he is really addressing the core not of the party, but the core of America, the soul of America. He's trying to -- he's bringing out the defibrillator here, and trying to bring us back to life in terms of what are we about, what do we stand for. And I thought it was a brilliant speech, he was funny. He was relaxed. But it's necessary. There is nobody else that we have in this party that can do what Obama can do. In the fourth quarter, you bring out your stars. And the sense of timing, Labor Day is behind us, we got an eight-week stretch you. You bring out Barack Obama and let's see what happens with these young folks.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask a question, though. Is that a warning sign for Democrats that the star, if Obama is a star for many voters is the former President and not one of the likely challengers to President Trump in 2020?
[20:35:09] JONES: It absolutely is. I mean, basically, you know, Barack Obama is like Gulliver standing with, you know, lilliputians around him. There is nobody remotely in his league when it comes to gravitas, when it comes to celebrity, when it comes to being beloved by this party. And, you know, we had that problem when Bill Clinton exited the stage. And it took us a while to find somebody. To effectively (ph) the person we found to replace Bill Clinton was Barack Obama. We do not have the successor yet. And so you're going to have this mad scramble.
But the midterm election, let's not get past November, the midterm election will be determined by young voters, by people who are irregular voters. If they come out the way that they need to, the Democrats will get the House. If they do their normal thing where they tweet and Facebook and everything else --
JONES: -- and complain but stay home, it will be a reward for Trump and the Republicans that the Democrats will not likely recover from.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. The rap on President Obama was good at campaigning for himself, but not necessarily great at campaigning for others. Is that a fair criticism? And I'm curious what the appetite, even among Democrats is for Barack Obama today.
JONES: Well, two things. It is in fact just an objective reality. The last several elections when we didn't have Obama at the top of the ticket, whether you're talking about the 2010, 2014 mid terms or whether your talking about 2016 with Hillary Clinton. Without Obama on the ticket, Democrats lose. That is true. But I think that you now have a hunger in this party to hear forceful, passionate defense of our basic principles, and Obama's the best we've got.
SCIUTTO: In response to President Obama on the trail, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, he tweeted today the following quote, "The more President Barack Obama speaks about the good old years of his presidency, the more likely President Donald Trump is to get re- elected. In fact, the best explanation of President Trump's victory are the results of the Obama presidency."
First of all, I mean do you think it's a warning sign that Republicans are welcoming him out on the campaign trail or is this just Republican talk?
JONES: Listen, you know, a good story. Sounds good. Not true. The best explanation has to do with frankly, you know, Russian interference and a whole bunch of other dynamics. But the economic reforms as President is what Trump is building upon right now. Listen, if anybody wants to pick a fight with Barack Obama, they're welcome to do it. I mean he is as good as you've ever seen on the stump. I think he's energized now. He's been patient, and he is going to go out there. Listen, to the extent that the Trump base needs Barack Obama to get themselves revved up, let them go. But we need Obama in and all of our leaders out there for the midterm.
SCIUTTO: Van Jones, thanks very much.
JONES: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, more on the echoes of Watergate today. I'll talk with the attorney who disclosed the real "Deep Throat".
Later, what do Alabamans think of how the President is treating their favorite son and former Senator Jeff Sessions.
[20:42:13] SCIUTTO: More now on the unnamed administration official behind the blistering "New York Times" opinion piece and the possible parallels to Watergate whistle-blower "Deep Throat", who provided detailed inside information that helped lead to Richard Nixon's resignation. So does that history give us any clues about who today's insider could be?
I'm joined now by John O'Connor. He is the attorney who in 2006 wrote an article disclosing the true identity of ""Deep Throat"" that was a former deputy director of the FBI Mark Felt. John O'Connor, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
JOHN O'CONNOR, ATTORNEY: Hi, Jim. Good to be here.
SCIUTTO: Since this piece came out a couple of days ago, we've heard a long list of denials from virtually every senior White House official declaring in no uncertain terms that it was not them or they who wrote this piece, but, of course, Mark Felt, he denied for three decades I imagine, that this was him. Should we take these various denials with a grain of salt?
O'CONNOR: Well, I'm Mark's lawyer, and the family lawyer presently. And what I would say is Mark always denied he was ""Deep Throat"". And since he did not answer to the name "Deep Throat", he was not ""Deep Throat"". So when I wrote the article for "Vanity Fair," the title was "I'm The Guy They Called Deep Throat". So Mark was very precise. He did not think he was lying when he said he was "Deep Throat". So let me make that clear.
However, he did escape and evade for 30 years. I will grant you that. And anonymity served his purpose. His purpose was to unobstruct an investigation to keep our system of justice moving smoothly. And if he let it be known that the FBI was behind this, was in the garage with Woodward, it would defeat the purpose of giving the public confidence in our justice system. So anonymity served his purpose. The question in this case is whether anonymity -- and by the way, Mark Felt was not really a direct source. He pointed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein two things and confirmed them --
SCIUTTO: Carl made that point earlier. And then we had him on the air a short time ago. He made that exact point.
O'CONNOR: Right. Right. And I heard that -- yes.
SCIUTTO: On the point, if I can ask you, because anonymity is key to this and part of the debate about this, because even some who support the right to share this message criticize this author for not -- for not revealing their identity here. This was something, as you said, that served Mark Felt well. He was able to keep open the investigation into Watergate without sacrificing his connection, without facing possible dismissal by the FBI or firing by President Nixon.
[20:45:03] Simply put, without him and without that anonymity, Nixon might never have resigned. In this case, do you see any similar justification?
O'CONNOR: I do not. And as I say, Mark was not a source. This fellow is a source. And he said something that's very important. If it is true, that there are true 25th amendment concerns, we should want to hear from him. Anonymity defeats his purpose. It does not serve it. And he is a source, unlike Mark Felt.
So I would like as a person whose a Republican but I'm very open to whether or not on the one hand President Trump is a blustery businessman who goes to the brink or whether he is unhinged. I want to know that. And it would serve me as a citizen to know whether this person, what his observations were, how credible he is. I spent 46 years practicing law, evaluating witnesses. Some are good. Some aren't. Some are credible. Some aren't.
And I would like to hear from this person, and I think anonymity disserves the purpose. I do think it is not coincidental. Let me add this, Jim. Carl mentioned this. I heard you earlier. I think the timing in front of Bob Woodward's book, I don't think is coincidental. I think it is meant to be timed in such a way.
SCIUTTO: Well, maybe they saw -- thinking about it for some time and saw the opportunity. I should note that we don't know if this person is actually a man or a woman, but John O'Connor, you got a lot of experience here. Thanks very much for walking us through.
O'CONNOR: Well, let me tell you this, Jim. I do think I know who it is. If that's important to you.
SCIUTTO: Well, do you want to tell us who your theory is?
O'CONNOR: Yes, yes. It is Jon Huntsman, I believe. Pretty clearly, but more likely than not I'd put my money on it. It's Jon Huntsman. I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days. And I'm pretty clear.
SCIUTTO: I should note that Huntsman through his spokesperson has denied, denied that he wrote this, along with the many other denials.
O'CONNOR: Well, he didn't really. The spokesman, it was a non-denial denial. I don't have the words right in front of me. But he didn't really come out -- number one, he didn't say it, his spokesman did. And he didn't actually deny it, he kind of did some circumlocution. So I would look at that. But all the factors suggest Jon Huntsman.
SCIUTTO: Well we'll have to leave an open mind on that because as I said we don't have the proof yet. But John O'Connor, thank you. Thank you for sharing both your experience and your theory.
As we've been reporting tonight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has come the terms with the fact that his relationship with President Trump will not end well one way or the other. Sources familiar with his thinking tell my colleague Kaitlan Collins that Sessions concedes that his relationship with the President has worsened in recent weeks, and perhaps the Woodward book we've been talking about tonight is a reason.
In it, the President is quoted as calling Sessions, quote, "mentally retarded" and a, quote, "dumb southerner". Sessions himself was in Alabama today speaking at a dedication of a federal courthouse in Mobile.
"306's" Gary Tuchman was in Mobile as well today speaking to long-time supporters of the Attorney General.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alabama might have voted for Donald Trump, but really, it's Jeff Sessions' country.
LAUREN ASHLEY, ALABAMA RESIDENT: I think he is doing a great job. I'm behind him. I really like what he stands for. I like the way he thinks. I like the way he executes. I feel good about it.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Folks around here look out for their own. They don't like the way the President is now treating the Attorney General.
(on-camera): What would you say to President Trump if you could talk to him about this?
ASHLEY: I would say, hey, Trump, let's talk about your personal skills with people. Maybe you could be a kinder, gentler Trump, more understanding, more open-minded and slightly less of a jerk.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): This is the Dew Drop Inn, a Mobile, Alabama restaurant where Jeff Sessions has been a frequent customer. It's full of people who are glad Donald Trump is President. But are troubled with how disrespectful he has been to Sessions, particularly now with the revelations in the Bob Woodward book.
(on-camera): You hear these quotes calling Jeff Sessions -- allegedly calling him mentally retarded and making fun of him as a dumb southerner. How does that make you feel as a Trump voter?
MARK DODSON, ALABAMA RESIDENT: Well, it's upsetting. A very discouraging that he would do that, if in fact he did that.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): So do you believe the book?
DODSON: I'm not sure. In Washington, who can you believe?
TUCHMAN (on-camera): Who would you believe, a Bob Woodward or a person like the President of the United States if you had to put money on it? Honestly?
DODSON: If I was honestly, I would probably believe Mr. Woodward.
DIANA WHITEHEAD, ALABAMA RESIDENT: Jeff is a patriot. He loves this country. [20:50:00] TUCHMAN (voice-over): Diana whitehead says she has personally known Sessions for about 20 years, and says she voted for Donald Trump.
(on-camera): The President disparages him, disrespects him, puts him down, criticizes him, makes fun of him. How does that make you feel?
WHITEHEAD: Not very good.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): There are Trump and Sessions supporters here who say it's not a big deal that this is just Trump being Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't bother me. I don't think it bothers Jeff.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): You don't think it bothers him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
TUCHMAN (on-camera): Mr. Attorney General, can we ask you a question?
(voice-over): We couldn't find out if the Attorney General is bothered because he did not take reporter questions at the dedication of a new federal courthouse in Mobile. But the strange relationship with the President certainly bothers a great many people in this city where Sessions lived and worked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm surprised that Jeff Sessions ever really got involved with somebody of that low character.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The attorney general has plenty of support here and a lot of people wishing Donald Trump would join them in that.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Mobile, Alabama.
SCIUTTO: A quick programming note for this weekend. Tune in for the inspiring story of the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The CNN film "RBG" airs Sunday night at 8:00.
And breaking news now. Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was sentenced to a short prison term today for lying to federal investigators about his contacts with individuals tied to Russia during the 2016 campaign. Coming up, I'll speak with CNN's Jake Tapper, whose exclusive interview with Papadopoulos is part of a CNN special report later this evening.
[20:55:45] SCIUTTO: Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos received a 14-day prison sentence today for lying to investigators about his contact with individuals tied to Russia during the campaign. Before sentencing, CNN's Jake Tapper spoke exclusively with Papadopoulos about his meeting with Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions where Papadopoulos proposed a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: When did you first meet Donald Trump?
GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: March 31st at the national security meeting.
TAPPER: There's a photo of you at the table. Candidate Trump is there. Senator Jeff Sessions is there. What was discussed at that meeting in terms of Russia, in terms of meeting with Putin?
PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, it was I who brought up anything regarding Russia. I was under the impression that an individual I had met in Rome, the so-called professor, was able to provide high-level connections in Russia that would result in some sort of summit or meeting, mostly for a photo op. So I sat down and, you know, I looked the candidate -- I looked at candidate Trump directly in his eyes, and said I can do this for you if it's in your interest and if it's the campaign's interest. And the collective energy in the room -- of course there were some dissenters, but the collective energy in the room seemed to be interested.
TAPPER: The collective energy? Was Donald Trump interested?
PAPADOPOULOS: The candidate -- you know, he gave me sort of a nod. He wasn't committed either way. But it was -- I took it as he was thinking.
TAPPER: Senator Jeff Sessions was there too.
TAPPER: At the table. What was his response?
PAPADOPOULOS: My recollection was that the Senator was actually enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin.
SCIUTTO: Jake Tapper joins me now. Jake Tapper joins us now. So, Jake, Papadopoulos' account there directly contradicts attorney general Jeff Sessions' sworn testimony on the Hill there.
TAPPER: That's right. And who you believe is a matter of personal opinion. Mr. Sessions, of course, has said things to Congress that he had to go back and correct. George Papadopoulos, of course, just pleaded guilty and was convicted of lying to the FBI. So both men have credibility issues I could observe. We reached out to attorney General Sessions and his lawyer says that the attorney general stands by his testimony from last November when he said that when Papadopoulos brought this up, the idea of a candidate Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting, Sessions pushed back. Obviously Mr. Papadopoulos sees it quite differently, saying that Sessions was very enthusiastic about the idea. SCIUTTO: Yes, enthusiastic, pushing back. That's very different. On the other key question, so Papadopoulos of course became a player to some degree because he got early word that Russia apparently had Hillary Clinton's hacked e-mails here. He claims to you that he didn't tell anybody in the campaign, and you went after him multiple times to say no one. But then he reverted to that old Iran-contra answer, right? You remember? I do not recall.
I mean as you were listening to him there, did you believe his denial that he told everybody -- that he told no one rather in the campaign?
TAPPER: Well, here's -- here are the facts as I see them. One, there is a guy named John Mashburn. He worked on the Trump campaign. He now works in the Department of Energy in the Trump administration. And Mashburn, according to the "New York Times," testified before the Senate judiciary committee earlier this year that he remembered an e- mail from Papadopoulos that talked about how the Russians said they had Hillary Clinton's e-mail.
Now, that said, there has been no evidence that anyone has been able to find that e-mail, and there is no evidence as of now that Papadopoulos' claim that he didn't tell anyone as far as he can remember is not true. That said, the reason why it is difficult for a lot of people to believe and difficult even as I have gotten to know George a bit and reported on him, for me to believe, is because he was very ambitious. And it's hard to imagine a campaign aide getting this information from Joseph Mifsud, this professor, saying that the Russians claimed that they had Hillary Clinton's e-mail and not telling anybody on the campaign.
[21:00:14] But that's just my skepticism. I don't have any evidence to back it up, other than what the New York Time reported was the testimony of John Mashburn.
SCIUTTO: Jake Tapper, we're going to be watching tonight, 11:00 o'clock. Thanks again.
TAPPER: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: I turn you over now to my colleague, Chris Cuomo, CUOMO PRIME TIME starts right now.