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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

NY Times: Trump Asked Acting AG Whitaker to Put Trump Supporter in Charge of Michael Cohen Investigation; Interview with Former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

In a moment, the man who had to grapple first-hand with the question that no one in his position has never had reason to ever ask. Could the president of the United States be acting as the agent of a hostile power? Former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is here and that's just one stunning headline from the story that he's telling. There are others, they are no less striking. We'll talk at length with him about all of it in minutes.

First, though, in-depth reporting, new in-depth reporting by "The New York Times" touching on some of the same moments and themes that Mr. McCabe does and we might add that Robert Mueller is believed to be focusing on. The title is "Intimidation, Pressure, and Humiliation: Inside Trump's Two-Year War on the Investigation, Encircling Him".

What did documents, some of which we're learning about for the first time, could become elements of an obstruction of justice case that is if they aren't already. Four correspondents from "The Times" share the byline. One of whom, Mark Mazzetti, joins us now.

So, Mark, there's long been this drip-drip about possible attempted obstruction by the president, the legal red line continues to be debated. What other interpretation is there of your reporting, particularly of the president allegedly asking Matthew Whitaker to get the head of the Southern District to unrecuse himself in the Michael Cohen case?

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, to that point, what we reported was that back in November, Trump calls Whitaker and asked whether it's possible to get the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York put back on the case. This is someone who Trump appointed, and Trump perceived as being a possible ally.

It, at the very least, shows Trump was very concerned about that investigation, which of course, ensnared Cohen and which has brought Trump's actions regarding hush money payments into direct focus. The question of how to interpret it is one that a lot of lawyers are going to have some disagreement of opinion. The standard of obstruction is that when it involves the president, it's about someone has to have corrupt intent. They have to intend to shut down an investigation for corrupt or criminal reasons. That is something that whether Mueller decides or not, it is certainly

something that Congress is going to look at, and it looks like Congress is going to wait until Mueller reports to decide whether they're going to go down that path, which could lead to impeachment.

COOPER: We should point out, the president was asked about this today, denied ever having asked Whitaker that. You stand by the reporting.

MAZZETTI: Yes, certainly.

COOPER: As far as Matthew Whitaker is concerned, I mean, he clearly didn't deliver on the president's desire for the U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York to unrecuse himself from the Cohen case. Do you have any idea of what the president was hoping to accomplish there?

MAZZETTI: It is a little hard to know. I mean, at the very least, by posing this as a question, he thought that perhaps this would be one way to contain the damage, to contain an investigation that he seemed to be getting increasingly concerned about. This is not to imply that Geoffrey Berman would have rolled over and done anything the president would want or Matthew Whitaker would have done. But this is again to the mindset of how the president views some of these investigations.

And this is what we tried to document in this story. This is something that's of a piece with a pattern of activity over two years, how the president has dealt with the investigations, has dealt with the investigators.

COOPER: You quote Whitaker as telling the Department of Justice associates that prosecutors in New York needed some, quote, "adult supervision". Do you know what Whitaker meant by that and what if anything it led to?

MAZZETTI: Well, it doesn't appear that Whitaker took direct action to do or intervene in the southern district case. But another quote we say in the story is that he viewed his job, he told people, in part to jump on a grenade for the president. Now, that is quite a statement for an attorney general, even an acting attorney general to make.

So to be fair, it does not appear that Whitaker directly did intervene in this case. But it gets a little bit at his mindset about some of these U.S. attorneys offices and the ongoing investigations.

COOPER: You report that in 2017, one of the president's lawyers reached out to Manafort and Flynn's lawyers about possible pardons. Can you explain what exactly was going on there? Because the president's new attorney general, Bill Barr, said flatly last month in his confirmation hearing that if President Trump pardoned someone in exchange for a promise not to incriminate him, it would be a crime.

MAZZETTI: Right. This is something both "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" reported last year, that the president's lawyer, John Dowd, reached out to the attorneys for both Manafort and Flynn, that at least suggested the idea that these men could get pardons. [20:05:03] Now, this is not to imply there was a direct quid pro quo

in exchange for something not cooperating they will get a pardon, but raising this issue at a time when both Manafort and Flynn were increasingly under legal scrutiny raises questions about the reason why he did it.

COOPER: And just lastly, about Flynn. You also report about how the president tried to control the narrative about his firing. What did you learn about how that played out and in particular the role of Sean Spicer?

MAZZETTI: Right, we reported that the White House counsel's office actually wrote a memo early on in the Trump administration documenting a number of misstatements that Spicer had made on the day after Flynn's firing, specifically, overstating just how thoroughly the White House had investigated Flynn's behavior and his activities. This was real concern about how this narrative was getting shaped, and what we report is basically this was the first crisis of the Trump administration.

And the first instinct of the president was try to contain the damage, make this go away, as he told others as Chris Christie put out his new book, he really believed no Flynn, no Russia problem. If we get rid of Flynn, the Russia problem goes away. Here we are two years later.

COOPER: Mark Mazzetti, it's fascinating reporting in "The New York Times" -- thank you, Mark.

MAZZETTI: Thank you.

COOPER: Now, Andrew McCabe, who ran the FBI after the president fired James Comey. The firing was a highly consequential act. It happened at what even at the time seemed to be a deeply troubling moment in history. And that's just how it looked to an insider.

The man in charge of America's premiere crime-fighting and counterintelligence agency, Acting Director McCabe, was no outsider -- although his firing has made him one now, and we'll talk about that as well tonight. His new book is titled "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump".

Andrew McCabe joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI ACTING DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Let me ask first of all about the reporting you just heard. Would it surprise you that the president of the United States would try to personally intervene through Whitaker to reinstate a political -- somebody he viewed as a political ally to run the Cohen investigation?

MCCABE: Well, let me say it's a remarkable piece of reporting that I had the opportunity to review just today as everybody else has. I have to say, Anderson, I am to the point in this entire experience where I don't know that I can be surprised any more than I have already been surprised. I wasn't shocked by anything I read in the report, much of it is consistent with things that I experienced and saw while I was still at the FBI.

So, it is really a remarkable account of everything that's been going on and the FBI has been struggling.

COOPER: Yes. So many of the things you recount in your book as I was reading the times today, I was thinking to things about your book. I mean, just the whole tone and tenor of the White House, of this White House, it would seem to make sense that he would call up Whitaker and try to get this guy reinstated.

MCCABE: Yes, it does. You know, I think the difference obviously is the period of time that I talk about in my book was much earlier. It was predominantly the events that took place in may around the firing of Director Comey. And the things we had perceived through these series of odd interactions with the president that Director Comey had had and other things that we had come across during the course of our investigation of Russian meddling in the campaign and the potential Russian involvement with people associated with the Trump campaign. Those were the very concerns that led us to the point to believe we think it's time for us to open an investigation.

COOPER: If Whitaker truly did say, as "The Times" is reporting, that his job was to take a grenade for the president -- I mean, is that the job of the attorney general, or the acting attorney general? I don't know that I ever heard of any attorney general describing his job as that.

MCCABE: I mean, not in my estimation, right? And I have worked, had the privilege of working with and around several attorneys general. I don't know any of them that would have described their role in that way.

COOPER: You -- you have very choice words, obviously, for -- when it comes to the president. You call him a threat to both the bureau and the nation.

If the president is in fact that dangerous -- I mean, as a lifelong public servant, as someone who took an oath to protect the Constitution, didn't you have a duty to come forward before now, before writing a book?

MCCABE: Well, I think there are two kind of different concepts here that are coming together.

The first is, what was our obligation as the investigative agency to address the situation in our hands, which was based on the information that we had. We thought that a potential threat to national security might exist -- that being that the president of the United States may have attempted to obstruct justice in his efforts to thwart and impede our investigation of Russian influence, and if he had done so, why? Why would any American president try to stop the FBI from investigating what the Russians might have done to our election?

So, that's the responsibility that we had at the time.

[20:10:02] We navigated those incredibly, you know, tumultuous waters in the way we did. I think we made the best decision at the time with the information we had, and that was to open the case.

COOPER: Why wait so long, though, to speak out? I mean, you could have -- you know, there's people who resign in protest over things like this.

MCCABE: Yes. Well -- I mean, certainly, you're limited in the way that you can speak out while you are an FBI official. I left under adverse circumstances. And in my estimation, the best way to speak out, the best way to present the way my thoughts about how I think this president is undermining the role of law enforcement, undermining the role of our intelligence infrastructure, and negatively impacting the men and women of the FBI and across the intelligence agencies' ability to protect this country on a daily basis, that's something that -- an argument that I felt like I had to make in a thoughtful way in that book.

COOPER: The things the president says about the FBI, about the intelligence community, you have no doubt that has a negative impact on their ability to do their jobs?

MCCABE: Absolutely.

COOPER: Because a lot of -- I talked to a lot of, you know, former FBI people who say, look, they're professionals. They put their heads down. You know, they try to just cut out the noise.

MCCABE: That is true. FBI people will continue to do their jobs under any circumstances in the face of any sort of obstacles. They will continue to go to work and try to protect this nation and uphold the Constitution.

But the fact is, when the president of the United States himself personally undermines our, the approaches and the strategies that we have to rely upon to get this work done, like working with cooperating informants, working with people who are -- in order to and provide information to the government in the course of doing that, when the president and his supporters continually perpetuate this false narrative of corruption within the FBI, that makes their job harder every day.

COOPER: One of the things -- stories you recount in the book is that you were told by somebody who was briefing the president about North Korea nuclear capabilities, that the president basically pushed back saying, I don't believe that's the case. I don't believe they do have missiles that can reach the United States because Vladimir Putin told me that they didn't.

The idea that -- I mean, it's one thing to doubt U.S. intelligence, and one should be skeptical. When you heard that, that the president of the United States would take the word of Vladimir Putin over an intelligence briefer --

MCCABE: Right.

COOPER: -- which is basically what he also said in Helsinki --

MCCABE: Right.

COOPER: -- in that press conference --

MCCABE: Right.

COOPER: -- about Dan Coats and what Vladimir Putin said, just how does -- what went through your mind?

MCCABE: It's outstanding. I mean, it is -- I have never heard a government react to intelligence in that way. This was not (AUDIO GAP) pushing us to be smarter, and more accurate, more incisive. All of which are good ways to react to intelligence.

This was the kind of the ultimate step in what had been a struggle to get the president and the attorney general and other principals focused on intelligence from the very beginning.

COOPER: You learned that story second hand. Can you say who told you that story?

MCCABE: I'm not going to say who told me that story. You know, it was, if I say it, there were folks who worked for me who were assigned to that role to provide that briefing on that day.

COOPER: The -- your book was delayed by the FBI. Your attorney suggested that they were possibly trying to silence you. Is there anything that the FBI censored about President Trump or Russia or any other topic that you think the public needs to know?

MCCABE: No. The process with the FBI was extensive. We took several months to get through a manuscript that normally according to FBI policy typically takes about 30 days.

I understand that the issues I talk about are particularly relevant. They're timely. They're national security issues. I think all of those things combined to make it a much more arduous process.

Nevertheless, I am very happy with the product that came out of that process and glad to have the FBI seal of approval on it.

COOPER: One of the things that is not in the book, which obviously has gotten a lot of attention, is the conversation with Deputy Attorney (AUDIO GAP) 25th Amendment. This morning, you said you didn't put it in the book because you didn't want it to be a distraction. I mean, it's certainly a distraction now. If you didn't want to have it be a distraction, why bring it up at all?

MCCABE: Well, I didn't bring it up, right? It was both that and the comments that Rod made, the deputy attorney general made about offering to wear a wire -- both things that were shared with the press without my knowledge or consent or involvement. And so, now that those things have been discussed publicly, and I have been asked questions about them, I'm of course going to answer those questions truthfully.

But at the time of writing the book, those things did not come out in the media and I felt like they would be -- they're so inflammatory, and I think they would -- they have become a distraction to the bigger themes, the more important topics in the book.

[20:15:02] COOPER: I do want to ask, though. I mean, at the time that in the book that Rosenstein offered to wear a wire to a meeting with the president -- and I know you said you consulted with the attorneys at the FBI about that -- at the moment, did you think that was a good idea?

MCCABE: Absolutely (AUDIO GAP)

COOPER: Why?

MCCABE: You know, I felt like it was an incredibly invasive and potentially president setting thing to do. I didn't think it was necessary at that point. I mean, if you think about it, the reason you would send someone in with a concealed recording device to tape the utterances and the statements of a subject is to capture evidence of intent.

We didn't need to do that in this case. We knew what the president intended. He made through his own public statements, statements to Lester Holt and the infamous interview where he talked about thinking about Russia when he fired the director of the FBI. So it was really some -- it was a risky and controversial position that I did not want to put the agency in.

COOOPER: You talked about it on "60 Minutes" about how you memorialized meetings with the president in contemporaneous memos, which is something that FBI agents are trained to do. Some were turned over to Mueller or perhaps all of them.

Did you document your discussions with Rosenstein about the 25th Amendment and wearing a wire as well?

MCCABE: I documented my interactions with Rod Rosenstein, and those memos have been provided.

COOPER: So knowing what Rosenstein said about the wire and the 25th Amendment as well as Rosenstein's role in firing of Comey, do you think Rosenstein should have recused himself from oversight of the Mueller probe?

MCCABE: Well, I don't know. You know, that's something that the deputy attorney general has to determine for himself.

I can say this: it was an incredible time. And the simple fact that the deputy attorney general and the acting director of the FBI were trying to figure out how to navigate a situation in which we thought the president of the United States might be involved in obstruction of justice, and might be doing that to cover up some sort of inappropriate relationship with the Russians -- I mean, it was a head- spinning moment. COOPER: Would you have recused yourself if you were in Rod

Rosenstein's position?

MCCABE: I was not in Rod's position and I -- you know, I don't want to answer a hypothetical like that.

But I will say that despite all of these conversations, you know, the mention of the 25th Amendment and the offer to wear a wire, all these things that have become so kind of topical in the last few days. I think we have lost sight of the fact that Rod Rosenstein decided to appoint special counsel Mueller. And by doing so, I think -- you know, I think the entire country owes him a debt of gratitude.

Rod did the right thing by putting the right person in charge of that investigation.

COOPER: With regards to the Mueller probe, to the launch of it, did Rosenstein give Mueller a specific list of people to look into?

MCCABE: I don't know the answer to that. I can't speak to the direction that Rosenstein may have conferred to Director Mueller.

COOPER: Do you know, was the president's family being looked into either before the appointment of Mueller or after?

MCCABE: That's something I don't feel comfortable talking about as it goes to kind of -- could go to an ongoing investigative matter.

COOPER: The -- did you continue to receive updates about the Russia investigation even after Robert Mueller was appointed?

MCCABE: No. We put a process in place to insure that our investigators, the FBI personnel in that team would take their direction from Director Mueller and staff.

COOPER: (AUDIO GAP) I just find incredible in your book is your description of Jeff Sessions as the attorney general of the United States.

MCCABE: Yes.

COOPER: I mean, for people who haven't read the book, it's stunning what he did not know about the FBI, about the Department of Justice, what he was interested in, what he wasn't interested in. I mean, even, you write that Comey early on like started with the basics with him, describing, explaining the differences between, you know, Sunni Islam and Shias.

MCCABE: Yes. You know, every attorney general goes through some process of orientation, right, to understanding what the intelligence products are, where they come from, the significance of the authorship and the work behind each product. I mean, there is a huge learning curve for an attorney general to get over, and I think I was able to see Jim Comey try to walk Attorney General Sessions through that process. (AUDIO GAP) as we went further and further down that road, it was clear that the attorney general was really focused on things that we did not think were particularly relevant to the threats that we were discussing.

COOPER: (AUDIO GAP) with Andrew McCabe. Next, we'll talk about another moment in the wake of Director Comey's firing involving Russia and the questions that surround that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:24:04] COOPER: We're back with former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, author of the new book, "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump". It's his account of a singular moment in American history, one which we're still living through today.

Just briefly on Sessions, you said before the break that what he was focused on often would surprise the professionals at the FBI. It seemed like he was focused on -- he was interested in narcotics and of the illegal shipment of narcotics into the United States, and also the national origin of people who had committed crimes, and that seemed to be about it.

MCCABE: Yes, those are two big topics for the attorney general. And certainly, the illegal importation of narcotics is something that we're all concerned about, right? And it's an important issue and one that we discuss frequently.

It is not always the most important or the most pressing national security matter to discuss. And that's really what those briefings around the president's daily brief are supposed to kind of focus on.

[20:25:03] COOPER: It also seems like he wasn't reading the president's daily brief.

MCCABE: That was my impression on many occasions. And then, of course, that was somewhat confirmed to me when I heard from our own folks that the tablet devices that are used to convey the briefing materials were not being opened on a regular basis.

COOPER: He also said something which, something, you know, he said something -- I don't want to misquote it, but something to the effect of, you know, back in the old days, you could trust the FBI because they were all Irishmen. Now, you don't know who these people are with tattoos and nose rings.

MCCABE: He did. He did. It was -- you know, a confounding and quite frankly incredibly awkward thing to say to a roomful of people. I don't think any of us knew quite how to react. That's just another comment that we tried to push through.

COOPER: I wanted to ask you about something you said about the memo from Rosenstein that he used to justify the firing of Comey about it. You said the president asked Rosenstein on more than one occasion to, quote, put Russia in the memo.

What does that mean? What did the president want put in there about Russia or about the president or about the investigation? MCCABE: I don't know that they ever developed that idea beyond the

president's request, because Rod, of course, indicated he didn't need to refer to Russia in his memo. And that he didn't. He didn't put Russia in the memo.

So, that's something that concerned us greatly, but it's one of those facts that we were looking at at the time and asking ourselves, what did the president intend with that comment?

COOPER: It's been reported that an early draft of the memo, though, included the president thanking Comey for telling him he was not a target of the Russia probe.

MCCABE: Yes, there was an early draft of a letter that the president was relying upon. That's the letter I have referred to in the book in which that was given to me by the deputy attorney general. I'd rather not discuss the actual details of that letter because it's -- it could impact the ongoing investigation.

COOPER: The -- but -- I mean, if the president wanted it -- I mean, was it Rosenstein defying the president's orders by not putting Russia in the final memo?

MCCABE: You know, it's really hard for me to say, Anderson. I can't -- I can't sit here and tell you kind of what Rod was thinking or what Rod was intending. I just know that he didn't in fact follow that suggestion, or order.

COOPER: The -- you've said it wasn't simply the Comey firing that led the FBI to open an investigation of the president. There were concerns whether or not he posed a national security threat, had it in your words been building for some time.

Are there other things that haven't been made public at this point that contributed to the opening of the investigation of the president?

MCCABE: I'm not so sure that there are things that haven't been made public, but I think the important thing is to think about -- put yourself back in May of 2017 and the position of the investigators, right? The investigative team. And the things that are really standing out for them go back as far as the early fall, where we're conducting the investigation.

From the very beginning, the president is referring to the investigation and our efforts, at least from the beginning of 2017, as a witch hunt, as a hoax. He's continuously publicly undermining the effort that we're undertaking. So, that causes you as an investigator to think, why is the president doing this? Clearly, he doesn't like what we're doing.

In addition to that, he approaches Director Comey and asks him to drop the case against Mike Flynn, which of course, we don't do. And after Director Comey fails to drop that case, he is in fact fired. So, it's like a series of building events and facts that ultimately when the director is fired, the president makes the comment about thinking about Russia when he fired the director, we were in a position to say this is so clearly an articulable factual basis upon which to believe that a federal crime may have been committed and that a threat to national security exists, we are obligated to open up a case under these circumstances.

COOPER: Looking back, I mean, the text exchanges between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, you would agree they were inappropriate, would you?

MCCABE: I would say they are -- they were inappropriate and incredibly unfortunate.

COOPER: Did they surprise you?

MCCABE: They did. Yes, they did. I didn't know anything about Pete and Lisa's private communications. I don't think anybody did. They were, you know, by definition, private communications between two people.

COOPER: If now one of the public texts between -- in one of those, Strzok said that he wanted to, quote, believe the path that Page threw out for consideration in Andy's office. There's no way he gets elected, but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely even you die before you're 40.

You said that you don't recall that meeting. You certainly recall an awful lot of meetings in this book, very specific instances of the course of your two decades. I mean, there's some people who are going to say, it's kind of convenient you don't recall that meeting that's referred to in this text.

MCCABE: I met with the president of the United States three times in the course of the 21-year career.

HERE

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- of course over two decades. I mean there are some people are going to say, what, it's kind of convenient you don't recall that meeting that referred to into (INAUDIBLE).

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI ACTING DIRECTOR: I met with the President of the United States three times the course of the 21-year career, right.

Those are the first time I was in the Oval Office to meet with the President was on the night Director Comey was fired. I met with the investigative team handling the cases multiple times a day over the course of, you know, over a year or certainly many months. So, I don't recall the specific conversation in which Peter made that reference.

Peter has explained what he meant by that reference. And I, of course, I'll take him at his word, but I think the important thing to remember is that Pete Strzok and Lisa Page are two people that serve this country well. They made some unfortunate and I think poor decisions in their personal lives, particularly with respect to these communications between the two of them. Decisions that cast incredible doubt and speculation on the bureau. Something that I'm sure neither of them ever intended to do.

The fact is that good people make poor decisions every day. It doesn't completely erase the good service they gave to this country. Not one time in my working with them did I ever see anything that I perceived to be political bias or political influence in the decisions they were making and the work we were doing.

COPPER: That wasn't -- these things, as you remember, were not being discussed and kind of thrown around of how do we stop Donald Trump from becoming president?

MCCABE: No. Not ever.

COOPER: We're going to take another break. We'll have more with Andrew McCabe in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:35:06] COOPER: Continuing my conversation right now with former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe about his new book, "The Threat". I got to ask you about your firing from the FBI. So the Inspector General found, and I'm quoting, that you lacked candor on four separate occasions, basically saying you were lying. I know you have taken issue with the report and it conclusions. You said there are explanations for those inconsistencies, but you can't talk about them because of an ongoing civil case. Don't you owe the public, though, at this point and readers some sort of explanation if you're asking them to believe you now? Because that is the knock against you.

MCCABE: Right, sure.

COOPER: Everybody points to --

MCCABE: Yes.

COOPER: -- said, look, you know, the Inspector General's Office is highly respected.

MCCABE: Yes, which, you know, that is the knock that's so incredibly frustrating. Anderson, I would like nothing better than to sit down with you right here, take out that report, and walk through every claim, every conclusion, everything that's in there. I have very deep and substantive disagreements with not just the results of the report, but what's not in the report. Information that should have been included and brought to the attention of folks making that decision.

So unfortunately, I cannot do that because of the outstanding legal matters that I'm still facing and the civil suit that we will be bringing in the future.

COOPER: The DOJ -- the Inspector General Office by all accounts, and would you agree it's apolitical, that it's run by career professionals? MCCABE: I would agree that that's what the Office of Inspector

General needs to be. That's in fact the sort of oversight that keeps the FBI, the sort of place that Americans can believe in every day. My own experience with the I.G. was not that. That report was not fair. It was not complete, and it was not done in a way that I think is unbiased.

COOPER: So, was it done by different people than would normally do it at that office? Or do you think just in this particular case they -- I mean are you saying they were conspiring with the White House?

MCCABE: That's what I know, Anderson, is that the President very publicly demanded a result, and the Office of the Inspector General delivered that result. I know they struggled to do so. Some of the documents that we've been able to review in the last few months are clearly indicating that. But the President desired that I be gone before I could be eligible to retire. The Office of the Inspector General rushed to get that done on time. One of the many ways.

COOPER: Essentially, you are saying they were doing the president's bidding on this.

MCCABE: Do I think that there was inappropriate command influence, political influence on the ultimate outcome? Absolutely, I think that.

COOPER: You talk about a meeting with the Gang of Eight, the group of congressional leaders --

MCCABE: Yes.

COOPER: -- who are briefed on intelligence matters. In this meeting, you inform them that the FBI opened a case against the President back in May of 2017. Obviously, what is said in those meetings is supposed to stay in the meetings. It's high-level folks, you know, Chuck Schumer was there, McConnell was there.

One of the leaders' brief was Devin Nunes, someone who, you know, was exposed for secretly doing the bidding of the White House. Given that, did you have confidence that the information you told them in that room did not immediately get relayed back to the president?

MCCABE: It was my expectation that it would likely be relayed to the President, partially because of the presence of Devin Nunes. I mean his interactions with the White House and impropriety of the information he exchanged with the White House is well known.

So, as we began that briefing as we came into the room, it was a situation that I lay out in the book, you know, I was concerned about being able to keep that information that we were discussing confidential and close hold. And it is my belief that that information got back to the President.

COOPER: You believe from Nunes?

MCCABE: Well, I don't know exactly how it got there. That's certainly one possibility. But it is my strong belief that the information got to the President.

COOPER: Does it make sense to you, I mean, in kind of looking at this now with perspective, just how many people around the President have lied about their contacts with Russia? Just the sheer number of people lying --

MCCABE: Yes.

COOPER: -- about things having to do with Russia.

MCCABE: It's extraordinary. I don't think we have ever seen anything quite like it. I'm not aware of a single other campaign that's been investigated or looked at for the same curious ties with Russia. And now, as a result of the work that the Special Counsel has done, and of course all that progress that we're aware of through the public court filings and the information that's been disclosed, I mean, you have a situation where not just one, not just two, but numerous people in and around the president, in and around the campaign, maintained contacts with individuals from Russia, people connected to the Russian intelligence services.

You have a number who have been charged, a number who have been already convicted and pled guilty for all kinds of different offenses.

[20:40:04] I think I saw in reporting, open source reporting today, maybe "The New York Times" story documented over 1,100 contacts between people associated with the Trump campaign and the government of Russia. I mean, that is not a situation I have ever seen before. And why so many of those individuals are seemed to be trying to conceal those contacts is something that we should all be concerned about.

COOPER: Given all you know, given all you have seen, is President Trump fit to serve?

MCCABE: I don't think that's for me to determine whether or not he's fit to serve. You know, our decision certainly in the FBI, the issues we confront is whether or not an investigation should be undertaken. We don't convict people. We don't throw people in jail. We decide when we think we need to investigate. That's the decision I made in the somewhat crazy days in May of 2017 and it's one I stand by.

COOPER: Is he fit to lead the FBI? Is he fit to be a commander in chief?

MCCABE: You know, I think that's something that our political leaders and the country at large will have to decide.

COOPER: One of the things I've talked to General Michael Hayden about a lot over the last year or two is what he calls the thin veneer of civilization, that we all like to think the institutions are so deeply embedded in bedrock that they are immutable and can't crumble.

General Hayden and I spent some time in Sarajevo during the war, General Hayden did as well. He talked about Sarajevo as an example of a multiculture real city that in a very short order was brought down to its knees. Do you believe the institutions of democracy in this country are strong enough to withstand what is happening right now?

MCCABE: Well, I think that exactly what you have just mentioned, that is the threat that I talk about in the title of my book. It is that persistent, corrosive effect of the attacks on law enforcement, the attacks on the intelligence community, the assault on our very system of justice, on those institutions that we rely upon every day to continue to maintain this country as a free and fair society.

There is no doubt in my mind that the President, through his behavior and his words and his projections on Twitter, is undermining the effectiveness and the strength of those institutions on a daily basis. That's the thing that Americans should be focused on and thinking about right now.

COOPER: When people say you are the epitome of the deep state, that you are, you know, number one deep state actor. You have been revealed. How do you push back on that?

MCCABE: I mean, Anderson, I find that so incredibly offensive. And I think that the millions of men and women who serve this country every day in all kinds of roles across the Federal Government would also find that offensive. People who say things like that aren't thinking about all of the things that this government does to serve the society fairly and consistently every day.

The fact is, I, like all the men and women in the FBI, people across government and the military, I did my job. I stood up to the obligations of my office, when presented with facts, we made hard decisions, decisions that we knew would be tough on the organization, would be tough on us personally. Look what I have gone through as a result of those decisions. But we did them anyway. Because we were committed to our responsibilities and serving this country.

COOPER: Do you still believe the President could be a Russian asset?

MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation. And I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.

COOPER: Andrew McCabe, thanks for being with us.

MCCABE: Thank you.

COOPER: The book is "The Threat." A great deal to analyze and discuss with our legal and political team. That is straight ahead. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:47:08] COOPER: We've been talking tonight with Andrew McCabe, the former acting director of the FBI covered a lot of ground including much that in his book. One thing which is pretty surprising, he said it's so possible the President of the United States is a Russian asset. He would not say much though about another key question. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Did Rosenstein give Mueller a specific list of people to look into?

MCCABE: I don't know the answer to that. I can't speak to the direction that Rosenstein may have conferred to director Mueller.

COOPER: Do you know, was the president's family being looked into either before the appointment of Mueller or after?

MCCABE: That's something I don't feel comfortable talking about as it goes to kind of, could go to ongoing investigative matters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And joining me now is Jeff Toobin, Gloria Borger, Michael Caputo, Robby Mook, and Josh Campbell. Jeff, what do you make of that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think, you know, so much has happened, even in these two years that we have lost our ability to be shocked. But to have the acting director of the FBI come here and say that I thought that the President of the United States should be investigated as being a Russian asset, and I told the Gang of Eight, the most senior legislators in the country about that, and they said, well, go ahead with your investigation.

But how amazing is that? I mean, it still is and should be an astonishing thing that this professional investigator, someone who has no political agenda at all, as far as I could tell, was saying that. It's just something that will redound through all of American history.

COOPER: and that he's sure that immediately got back to the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. When you asked about Devin Nunes, who was the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican, was in that meeting, didn't say anything in the meeting. But he said that he knew that it went back to the President, which may be the origin of the president's disdain, you know, for Andrew McCabe.

But what he also said at the end of the interview, not only that this was in the past they thought the President might have been a Russian asset, but it is possible now. That he believes he is a Russian asset. This is ongoing.

TOOBIN: The thing that is worth remembering is when he said that, he didn't even know about all the Trump Tower Moscow dealings that have only come out since Michael Cohen flipped and became a government witness. So, there's more evidence to support the idea that the President is somehow affiliated with Russia or even a Russian asset.

COOPER: Michael Caputo?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Well, you know, I love the fact he's not quite sure if the President is a Russian asset. We do know that he's a liar and a leaker, and an Obama appointee in the Department of Justice determined that he lied four times, Mr. McCabe. Three of those times under oath.

[20:50:03] So do we believe what he says now? Do we believe what he says tomorrow? Remember, when he first came out on "60 Minutes" a great show, he was painting a dire picture of people talking about the 25th Amendment, and maybe (ph) we're going to record the president secretly, and how it went on for a week and, you know, all of these different, you know, just yesterday on The View he's like, well, it just happened so fast. It went past us. You know, this guy isn't, you know, the same one day to the next. So probably tomorrow he'll say I'm not quite sure, I was kind of kidding about the President and his Russia asset.

COOPER: Robby?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean I completely disagree obviously. You know, I thought what he said tonight was very compelling. I was actually thinking -- you mentioned that briefed the Gang of Eight. I was thinking about my understanding is that they were also briefed during the summer of 2016 --

BORGER: Yes.

MOOK: -- about concerns about Russian interventions in the election. I also recall (INAUDIBLE) I also recall Harry Reid to coming out and asking Comey publically in a letter to talk about what they might be investigating. So, to your point about this moment of history, I do think that was a dramatic moment of history. I wonder going back in history if people will wish that more that this coming out earlier, not just about the president potentially being a Russian asset but what the Russians were doing.

COOPER: Josh Campbell, I mean, as somebody that used to work in the FBI, it is interesting that McCabe is essentially saying that the Inspector General's Office of the FBI was under pressure from President Trump and was reacting to that pressure in the ruling that they made.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, if you look at the interview in its totality, I think just starting with, you know, my key takeaways that you have a career civil servant. Someone who served the country for over two decades, who's been a punching bag of the President of the United States which is highly inappropriate when we talk about the bulldozing of norms. Not only the President attacking these institutions but going after their people and going after their families.

So I'm glad that Andy McCabe now has his opportunity to tell his side of the story, to explain, you know, what went on from his vantage point. That said moving to what you just mentioned with the I.G., that is a part that I simply find unbelievable. I don't believe it, that the Inspector General is somehow corrupted by the White House or was doing the bidding of the White House.

Now to be sure the top officials in the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, I have no issue with that.

COOPER: So you think McCabe is not telling the truth about that.

CAMPBELL: I don't -- well, it's his viewpoint. It's not necessarily a matter of truth or not. He's entitled to his own view. I'm just saying that I don't believe that this independent inspector general was working at the behest of the President. You know, the point I would make is that I think Sessions and Rosenstein certainly were. They're the one send McCabe packing as fast as they could.

But I don't think the inspector general who did the actual investigation, those people are incorruptible and what concerns me is not only, you know, tarnishing that image but what does it say to the, you know, thousands of FBI employees who may find themselves in the same situation if they say, well, I'm just going to say that, you know, there's some type of issue over there at the Inspector General's Office, which again this is an institution that is built up this image of, again, apolitical, doing its job fairly, and the last -- my last point would be if there is an issue with the inspector general, then, you know, Andy should be calling for a congressional investigation, you know, to look into the inspector general. We don't have that.

I wish him well in his lawsuit. I hope he wins. I hope it turns out that he didn't, you know, do what he alleged but I don't think necessarily going after the I.G. is a way to do it.

BORGER: I think his point was also, when he said there was inappropriate command influence is that there is a deadline because his pension was coming up. And he was going to get fired. And the president wanted him fired and Jeff Sessions wanted him gone so he could not get his pension, and I think that --

CAMPBELL: Yes, I --

BORGER: That's an argument that, you know, he's going to continue to make.

CAMPBELL: I totally understand that point as it relates to the political appointees there, as it relates to Sessions and Rosenstein. But I'm saying it is, you know, you cannot pierce that layer into the Inspector General knowing this I.G., Michael Horowitz, I mean is not someone that could be influenced in that way. So, you know, you tell him to (INAUDIBLE) if they put a calendar in front of him and said finish your investigation by this date. So, I think that he's half right. The DOJ was politicized but I don't think that seeped into the IG's office.

COOPER: I just want to play what he actually said just for our viewers in case they missed it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE: The President very publicly demanded a result and the Office of the Inspector General delivered that result. I know they struggled to do so. Some of the documents that we've been able to review in the last few months are clearly indicate that. But the President desired that I be gone before I could be eligible to retire. The Office of the Inspector General rushed to get that done on time.

COOPER: Essentially you're saying that they were doing the president's bidding?

MCCABE: Do I think there was inappropriate command influence, political influence on the ultimate outcome, absolutely I think that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Josh, you're just saying that's not possible.

CAMPBELL: Yes and again the remedy is, that sounds like corruption to me to say that an independent investigator is rushing a job.

[20:55:07] And again the remedy is a congressional investigation into the inspector general. That sounds like misbehavior. But that's what -- we're not hearing a call for that, we're not hearing about, you know, we're hearing about the legal remedy, you know, suing the Department of Justice, suing the FBI to get your job back but I think the larger issue is if you believe the I.G. was corrupted, that's the sounding of the alarm that we should worry about first and foremost.

TOOBIN: Wait a second, Josh, you think that it's -- it was a coincidence that he was fired 36 hours before his pension vested?

CAMPBELL: He wasn't fired by the Inspector General, Jeffrey. He was fired by the political appointees.

TOOBIN: OK.

CAMPBELL: You can have an issue with the political appointees but to say the Inspector General was corrupted is a whole different area.

MOOK: Anderson, I don't claim (ph) no more about the FBI than everybody else here. But I think an important thing to point out at all this is what he was condemned for my -- the inspector general was about lying about whether he was leaking things to the press. And I think something that he's never been looked at enough in all of this and where I think the FBI needs to kind of let out a little bit of dirty laundry is the whole reason Comey had to go do all the things he had to do with Hillary was because people were leaking stuff to the press.

Andrew McCabe was leaking to the press about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, and that's by the way, what he got in trouble for, because he was trying to counteract other leaks from the FBI. And I think -- it's all very confusing. But at the end of the day, I think what all has to mean is this was an organization trying to constantly protect it's reputation and was sometime resorting to leaks to do that and I frankly just wish --

BORGWR: I'm shocked.

MOOK: And I think -- no, no, no. But I think this frankly out of this. It's something they've got to face because what happened was one leak would come out and they try to repair that was another leak. And you have -- look, James Comey reportedly was fired for what he did with Hillary. I think that was total B.S. I think they were just trying to cover up but McCabe got into this too. And I just think at some point these guys have got to face it. They got to stop these leaks.

COOPER: We got to take a break. Thanks, everybody. We'll be right back.

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