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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

AG Barr Claims Spying Occurred, Offers No Evidence; Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is Interviewed About AG Barr's Claims that Spying Did Occur. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired April 10, 2019 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

Attorney General William Barr says the FBI spied on the Trump presidential campaign, his department is looking into it. His words, spying did occur.

Tonight, keeping him honest, given we know there was a duly approved counterintelligence probe under way at the time and there was Russian interference in the campaign, what to those words really mean? Are they his way of signaling he's merely ensuring all investigations are conducted properly or do they mean he's embracing the conspiracy theory of the origins of the Russian probe?

The answer matters because Barr is the top law enforcement officer in the country and the person in that role is supposed to serve the country, not the president. He's the one who made a judgment call not to pursue an obstruction of justice case against President Trump. He's the one who summarized Robert Mueller's report in a way that has drawn allegations from inside Mueller's own team that he misrepresented their work. He's the one who ultimately decides what we get to see of that report and what we don't, and what Congress gets to see and they don't.

His judgment matters and the words he chooses are a big part of it, which is why his testimony today to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee about the origins of the Russia investigation was so striking and why lawmakers kept going back to try and make sense of what Mr. Barr was saying.

First came up when New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen asked about reports that attorney general Barr has a special group looking into why the FBI opened their investigation of the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Now, she wants to know why. Here's what he told her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, for the same reason we're worried about foreign influence in elections, we want to make sure that during -- I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal, it's a big deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: That word "spying' obviously set off some alarms. So, Senator Shaheen pressed for more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): So you're not suggesting though that spying occurred.

BARR: I don't -- well -- I guess you could -- I think there is, spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

SHAHEEN: Well, let me --

BARR: But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated and I'm not suggesting it wasn't adequately predicated but I need to explore that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, keeping them honest, Attorney General Barr is both a skilled lawyer and seasoned Washington operator. As such, he chooses his words carefully, yet the word he chose today is certainly a loaded one. Webster's definition of it is to watch secretly, usually for hostile purposes. Spying in this case, especially when coupled with his boss' characterization of the probe suggest impropriety or even wrongdoing, and brought on this question from Senator Jack Reed, who's a Democrat from Rhode Island.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): There was the investigation by director Mueller into the 2016 campaign, and other issues. Have you any evidence there was anything improper in those investigations?

BARR: I have no specific evidence that I would cite. I have questions about it.

REED: So this panel that you're putting together --

BARR: I'm not putting together a panel.

REED: So, you just have some interest in this. You don't have any evidence?

BARR: I have concerns about various aspects of it.

REED: Do you believe that the investigation that Director Mueller undertook was a witch hunt or illegal, as has been asserted by the president?

BARR: As I said during my confirmation, it really depends on where you're sitting. If you are somebody who is being falsely accused of something, you would tend to view the investigation as --

REED: Well, you're sitting as the attorney general of the United States, with the constitutional responsibility. So if you could answer in that regard.

BARR: I'm not going to characterize, it is what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It is what it is. So, he refused to say whether the probe was as President Trump repeatedly said a witch hunt.

As for not having evidence, well, in a way it's kind of moot. We already know the FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation. We know that certain Trump campaign figures were the subject of surveillance.

We also know that the surveillance has signed off on by senior FBI and Justice Department officials and some of that surveillance was done under the aegis of warrants assembled by intelligent court judges. Spying may be a way of short-handing it but it is uncharacteristically broad for someone who's lawyerly and precise, as he's shown himself to be.

A source familiar with his thinking tells CNN's Laura Jarrett he meant spying in the classic sense of intelligence collection and he doesn't view the term as a pejorative and not using the word spy as red meat for conspiracy theorists. That said, whatever he intended, he certainly has managed to fan the flames including with his boss and on the other side for other reasons with Democrats.

House Speaker Pelosi said today he is going and these are her words, off the rails. He's the attorney general of the United States, she continued, not the attorney general Donald Trump.

[20:05:04] That is her conclusion tonight, and it's our open question.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware also questioned the attorney general. We spoke just before air time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator Coons, why do you think the attorney general claimed today without evidence that he believes there was spying on the Trump campaign? Because it -- I mean, his claim seems to contradict what Congress has been told by the Department of Justice, right?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): It was a striking assertion by the attorney general. I, frankly, think, he should have been more careful with his words because spying has some very negative connotations. Ultimately, when Senator Schatz asked him a follow-up question, he changed it to unauthorized surveillance. But I think it was a fairly striking allegation for him to weigh in on at today's hearing.

COOPER: A source familiar with Barr's thinking told CNN the attorney general didn't mean the word spying in a pejorative sense. He meant it in the classic sense. Do you know what that clarification means? I mean, again, it's a loaded term.

COONS: Not at all. I think spying implies the illicit and inappropriate use of surveillance technology to benefit one political campaign and disadvantage another. That's how I heard it, that's why I was so struck by it and was glad that Senator Schatz asked a follow- up.

But the attorney general, my understanding is, did not say, oh, that's not what I meant at all. He merely changed the words a little bit. I do think this is an issue where we're going to have to follow closely what the attorney general does, as well as what he means.

COOPER: I mean, he's the nation's top law enforcement officer. Is it -- do you think he's doing this to appeal to President Trump or do you know what his motive would be?

COONS: I don't know what his motive would be. I have to take him at his word that he is simply concerned about protecting the rule of law and ensuring there wasn't unauthorized or inappropriate surveillance of political activity.

But you know, as I said, in today's hearing as I've said before in his confirmation hearing, the fact that Bill Barr, now Attorney General Barr, chose to send in an unsolicited 18-page memo going against Bob Mueller's, special counsel Mueller's theory of obstruction of justice raised real alarm for me, raised concerns for me about how he views the Department of Justice, although he is an institutionalist with some close eye ties to the department I'm concerned he act more as the attorney general of the United States and less as attorney for the president.

COOPER: Did you or how did you interpret Barr's answer that whether or not Mueller's investigation was a witch hunt really depends on where you're sitting? I mean, that's sort of an extraordinary answer.

COONS: I thought that was an extraordinary answer. I think that was -- an obvious answer would have been he supported the Mueller investigation, thought that it was necessary to the rule of law, and that transparency was important.

He did not say that. He said whether or not you view it as a witch hunt depends on where you sit. That was one of several striking things. He also in response to my question about whether or not the president or anyone at the White House had been given a copy of the Mueller report or briefed on the Mueller report refused to answer it.

COOPER: And just lastly, I know you introduced legislation today to repeal the president's travel ban, there was no Republican co-sponsor on it. So, even if this bill somehow managed to get some Republicans supported in the Senate and passed, isn't it dead on arrival on the president's desk?

COONS: It is. Anderson, as you know, most of the time I engage in very pragmatic legislating, very bipartisan legislating. I try to have a Republican cosponsor for all the bills I introduce.

This is a bill I think is more prophetic. It's about saying what America we believe we should be in, meaning an America where our president does not make campaign promises to ban Muslims or any other specific religious minority from coming to the United States and use the power of the presidency to carry out that ban through an executive order. Every Democratic senator who's running for president is a cosponsor of this bill. We have a very wide number of cosponsors both in the house and the Senate but so far, only Democrats.

So, you're right, it's dead on arrival at the White House, but it should show clearly how we believe we can keep the country safe and still respect our most fundamental values of a commitment to religious liberty.

COOPER: Yes. Senator Coons, thank you for your time.

COONS: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's more of this now from our CNN legal analyst, both former federal prosecutors, Jeffrey Toobin and Laura Coates.

Jeff, Barr is not someone who says something by accident. He's had this job before. He had to know using the word spying, echoing President Trump, would certainly get the president's attention and Democrats' attention. What did you make of it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, what I thought was, this is a classic demonstration of the Fox Newsification of the Republican Party, that even an establishment figure like Bill Barr, someone who comes out of the George Herbert Walker Bush administration, talks like Sean Hannity. I mean, this is a completely loaded term, completely false, and by the way, he didn't just say -- use the word spying.

[20:10:04] He said he was going to conduct some sort of investigation of whether there was spying that was going to go on. And, you know, that is a President Trump talking point. There's already been an inspector general's investigation, so I don't know what he's going to investigate, but, you know, his use of this term shows how much the paranoid lunacy of the right wing is now moved right in to the Department of Justice.

He also talked earlier about Uranium One, which is another Fox News fantasy about Hillary Clinton. I mean, this is where the Republican Party is today.

COOPER: Laura, CNN's reporting that Barr used the term spying in the, quote, "classic sense" of intelligence collection, not as a pejorative term. I mean, I don't know what to make of that.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No one does, because I don't know how he meant it non-pejoratively speaking about the context he gave. Frankly, the reason he said it and why it's raising eyebrows is because it actually was able to kill three birds with one stone. It covered a variety of talking points that largely was echoed and parroted by people like Jeffrey is talking about but also the president of the United States. Remember, talking about the genesis of the actual investigation

implicates conversations about the Steele dossier, which is controversial, implicates discussions about George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. It talks about Peter Strzok, and it talks about Andrew McCabe and, of course, James Comey. So, by talking and mentioning the idea of the genesis which was also frankly a loaded term along with spying, he actually was talking about all the different theories that have called into question whether or not it was legitimate to have the probe in general.

Without calling it a witch hunt, he essentially described it as a rose by any other name, Anderson, and that was perhaps the most shocking to have this dog whistle that was audible to all species.

COOPER: Jeff, by, he didn't say it was a witch hunt, but by not saying it wasn't a witch hunt, I mean, it's as close as coming to say it is. The fact that the person in charge of the Department of Justice which is the one who did this investigation and the guy who is running it won't say it's not a witch hunt or wasn't a witch hunt is stunning.

TOOBIN: And he repeated the most outrageous thing he said during his confirmation hearing, when he was asked that question about a witch hunt, about president's statement that it was a witch hunt, and instead of standing by the Department of Justice, he said, well, people who are investigated don't like it.

I mean, the whole purpose of the rule of law is that it's not about the individual's feeling. It's about the institution of whether it stands for the rule of law or not, and the fact that he would not defend the Mueller investigation at least as an independent investigation again speaks to the degree to which the Republican Party, as personified by Donald Trump and now William Barr has changed from how it used to be, even back in the 1990s, '80s and '90s.

COOPER: And, Laura, I mean, Barr offered no evidence to back up the spying claim today. He said he has questions about it. I mean, it does seem to lend credibility to what is essentially a made up point by the president and his allies that they've been pushing for a long time.

COATES: I mean, the amount of gravitas that it puts on that particular statement, to have it come from the attorney general who has all the access to the information, you know, there has been a theme here with this particular person, Bill Barr, and that he often offers unsolicited advice and commentary without knowing all the facts. Remember that 18 or 19-page memo about obstruction of justice, we had no information about it whatsoever.

But I do find a really fascinating irony here, Anderson, that one of the categories he is saying he will withhold from the public and Congress on the Mueller report, a redacted portions about things that may be third party peripheral parties that may be prejudicial in some way because it wouldn't be fair to essentially unload all of these allegations on people who ultimately will not be charged because they don't want people tarred and feathered in public square. What do you think it does to people accused of spying as part of your underlying intelligence community? It doesn't make a lot of sense to be consistent and to me it points out a greater hypocrisy here.

COOPER: Laura Coates, Jeff Toobin, thank you.

The man at the helm of the American intelligence services when the FBI launched its probe into the Trump campaign is James Clapper, is spying the appropriate word? His first interview since the story broke is next. He'll join me live.

And later, President Trump's changing opinion of special counsel Robert Mueller. Funny how that happens. We're keeping him honest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:19:08] COOPER: Today's testimony by Attorney General Barr using the word "spying" but offering no evidence of it is sure to provide fresh ammunition for both President Trump and his allies. It's worth recapping what Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat, said to Barr in trying to pin him down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REED: There was the investigation by Director Mueller into the 2016 campaign and other issues. Have you any evidence that there was anything improper in those investigations?

BARR: I have no specific evidence that I would cite right now. I do have questions about it.

REED: So this panel you're putting together is --

BARR: I'm not putting together a panel.

REED: So you just have some interest in this. You don't have any evidence?

BARR: I have concerns about various aspects of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The one man who was certainly aware of the counterintelligence investigation is retired Air Force Lieutenant General James Clapper, director of national intelligence at the time.

[20:20:03] He's the author of "Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from A Life in Intelligence."

Director Clapper, when you heard what the attorney general said that spying did occur in the president's campaign, I'm wondering what your reaction was?

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I thought it was both stunning and scary. I was amazed at that, and rather disappointed that the attorney general would say such a thing. You know, the term "spying" has all kinds of negative connotations, and I have to believe he chose that term deliberately.

And I think it's incredible that if he has concerns, he could easily have, on his first day on the job after his confirmation, asked his own I.G., the inspector general of the Department of Justice, for a briefing on his preliminary findings who -- in the course of his investigation, that is the I.G.'s investigation and whether there was any wrongdoing by the FBI. And I think it would have been far more appropriate for him to just defer to that investigation rather than postulating with apparently no evidence. He just has a feeling that there was spying against the campaign.

One other big point here I would want to make to you, Anderson, is we're losing sight here of what started all this, and that was the Russian meddling, the Russian interference in our election process. And the Russians pose a profound threat to this country, and based on the success that they enjoyed as a result of their meddling in the 2016 election, they're going to continue that.

And we're not focusing on that. We're focusing on this circus about -- you know, whether or not somebody was spying on the campaign, which is I think a gross misstatement.

COOPER: In -- I mean, as you said, he has access to -- I mean, he's the attorney general. He has access to all the information at the Department of Justice.

CLAPPER: Exactly. I mean, you know, he didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. He's already been the attorney general. So, it's not like he had to walk in the Department of Justice, say, hey, what's this outfit do? He already knew that. So, he could easily hit the ground running.

COOPER: So, is this just an appeal to the president?

CLAPPER: If he had concerns -- if he had concerns about the conduct of the investigation, the counterintelligence investigation, he could certainly find out about it very -- his first week on the job and not publicly muse about it in a hearing as he did today.

COOPER: I mean, do you think one option is that he's sending a message to the president or trying to appeal to the president to show he is the president's guy?

CLAPPER: Well, yes, but that's not the -- well, you know, we're not into abiding by traditional norms. I mean, what you expect from the attorney general is some independence and objectivity, not reciting talking points that he's heard from the president and other of his supporters.

COOPER: In terms of Russian activity and the Trump campaign, I don't know what you can reveal about, who knew about that, but CNN reporting is candidate Trump was alerted to that in August of 2016.

CLAPPER: Well, I do know -- I can tell you what I do know. I cannot speak for what the FBI may or may not have said to him or anyone in the campaign. I just want to point out that philosophically, when you're doing a counterintelligence investigation, if you had concerns or suspicions, you're not going to alert people to that until you know exactly who might be complicit and who isn't. I don't know if that played in the FBI decision calculus.

But I do know that both candidates as they were -- after their conventions, began getting briefings from the intelligence community. And one of the topics, obviously, was the Russian interference. So, I do know that what the Russians were doing, as we understood it, was briefed to them.

COOPER: The fact the attorney general was talking about looking at essentially how the investigation all began, I mean, can you just walk us through procedures and protocols just for how surveillance is approved? Because as Barr mentioned, that is one of the things he's allegedly seeking to find out, if any misconduct could have taken place.

CLAPPER: Well, the operational arms of the intelligence community, and I make that distinction because my office is not operational, is not investigatory as the DNI. So, the operational arms of the intelligence community, meaning in this case specifically NSA or the FBI or perhaps even the CIA, would, if they needed to conduct electronic surveillance, which is probably what's in question here, would seek an authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which I can assure you, from watching over many years is not a rubber stamp.

[20:25:09] And those requests and the investigations that ensue from them are in deliberately intended to be discreet. In other words, limit them to as few people as possible. It may turn out there's no basis for this suspicion, but it would be irresponsible not to wring out those concerns.

Now, what I was concerned about, and others at the time, again, going back to, we know a lot more now than we did back then, were the frequency of meetings that we observed by virtue of watching Russian, valid Russian targets. You know, Russians were in this country by definition intelligence operatives.

So, if you're meeting with them, and we're watching Russians and by virtue of that, we see Americans, U.S. persons, meeting with them, that causes, you know, the yellow flag to go up.

COOPER: Right.

CLAPPER: And so, the FBI in my view did exactly what it was supposed to do, by running this down.

COOPER: General Clapper, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Still ahead, President Trump's love-hate relationship with Robert Mueller in his report. He said the gold standard as he said a couple weeks ago when the summary came out or is it an illegal investigation, as he seems to be saying often now. We're keeping them honest, next.

(COMMECIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're talking tonight about Attorney General Barr's Senate testimony. He used the word "spying" to characterize the FBI counterintelligence investigation of Russian -- attempts of Russian influence in the Trump campaign. As we've been discussing, Mr. Barr's testimony comes as we're waiting for the release of Mueller report, a report the president is once again attacking, after initially praising the findings and Mr. Barr's four-page summary, all of it, of course, raising the question whether Mr. Barr said what he said today to give the president cover once the report is released.

We'll discuss that in a moment. First, here's what the president said this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was an illegal investigation, Major. It was an illegal investigation. It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked, every single thing about it.

There were dirty cops. These were bad people. You look at McCabe and Comey, and you look at Lisa and Peter Strzok. These were bad people.

And this was an attempted coup, this was an attempted take-down of a president and we beat them. We beat them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The president of the United States saying that the Mueller investigation was an attempted coup against him. Again, that was today.

[20:30:00] Now, listen to what he and members of the administration were saying shortly after the Barr summary of the Mueller report came out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a complete and total exoneration.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think everyone here and everyone, frankly, across America was happy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We had the full fair and thorough investigation, $25 million plus of taxpayer dollars, 500 witnesses, over a million documents, this -- the Mueller investigation is the gold standard.

TRUMP: The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion, it could not have been better.

CONWAY: I do see some people now trying to besmirch the integrity of Director Mueller and Attorney General Barr. That is really rich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?

TRUMP: Yes.

CONWAY: This, the Mueller investigation is the gold standard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Now, not so much. So she said it was the gold standard and now it's an attempted coup according to President. Here to talk about it -- talking about besmirching, CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, and Political Analyst Carl Bernstein.

David, I mean, that the President has gone from the Mueller investigation's gold standard to an attempted coup. I just -- when I heard that this morning, I just couldn't believe that the President of the United States is talking about an attempted coup.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and talking about treason as well. We've seen this pattern before, it's just more glaring I think on this instance and that is when Presidents think someone is going to praise him or help him, even he's the most wonderful person around and he's very, you know, true patriot. But when he sees trouble across the horizon, that's obviously what he sees.

And as the Mueller report -- more elements of the Mueller report are released, he's trashing him and doing it in a most I think disturbing way, because when you start talking about coups and treason, those are words that are used in authoritarian states, those are not the kind of conversation that occurs -- that occur in a democracy.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I mean this is literally the conversation that a dictator has when he -- when there has been attempted coup and he's retaken the television station and he's talking to whatever his nation is and he's saying this was an attempted coup, you know, this was a witch hunt.

GERGEN: Right.

COOPER: I mean, it's just the language you don't hear in this democracy.

GERGEN: Its language you don't hear and it's often used as a prelude to cracking down and doing things in a tougher way. And what we know about authoritarian government or democratic governments that have turned authoritarian is typically the strong man gets rid of his opponents in the first term. But the second term in office is when he really starts doing pretty authoritarian -- taking authoritarian steps to actually control the government and the behavior of the people.

And so I think it's just -- I still wish the President would drop this kind of language. We can have a reasonable conversation about what's up, what's down. But this kind of language is so inflammatory and I think it's so suggestive of authoritarian regime that is very damaging to the office of the presidency itself.

COOPER: Well, Carl, it also -- I mean, it comes in the wake of, you know, the President saying at that rally, you know, that he has the military on his side, he has the police on his side, he has construction workers, and bikers. I mean, again, this is just language of, you know, a team bike (ph) dictator somewhere would be using.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's nothing new about Donald Trump's authoritarian impulse. We've been dealing with it now for two years. What's so astonishing and what happened today is that the attorney general of the United States enabled this authoritarian pronouncement by the President of the United States.

Here, we have been waiting for two years from Mr. Mueller to deliver this report. There has been no leak, whatsoever. And in the space of two weeks since Mr. Barr's been attorney general, he has managed to undermine the attempt for us to get a straightforward report from Mr. Mueller unexpurgated. He has undermined the release of this report.

It's a stunning development and it goes to the question of his loyalty. Is it to the law, the rule of law, the attorney general enforcing the rule of law or is it to Donald Trump?

COOPER: Dana, I mean, they're almost seems to be two strategies at play here, I guess, for the President. One to claim total and complete vindication, the other to re-up (ph) attacks on the Mueller report and suggests a counter narrative of, you know, a coup, nefarious forces behind his investigation. I mean, you could you look at it and say the President is covering all his bases before the actual report is release.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Or you can look at it and say they're completely contradictory messages as you played so well at the beginning. I mean, it is very hard to wrap your head around the notion that it's the gold standard and it is a long investigation of vindicating the President and at the same time --

COOPER: Kellyanne Conway is talking about people besmirching Mueller.

BASH: Right.

COOPER: I mean the President today is besmirching Mueller.

BASH: And has for the past year --

COOPER: Right.

BASH: -- aggressively so and tried to undermine this investigation. So, look, if you're looking for consistency with the President and his rhetoric on anything, especially the Mueller investigation, you just need to stop looking because you're not going to find it. [20:35:08] But you are right in that the President has been very adept at trying to define just broadly the Mueller investigation, not only as a witch hunt, but as the notion of collusion, which is why to Carl's point, the whole idea of the Barr letter and something that he continued on his -- on the Hill in his testimony this week is that it's all wrapped up in the big question of is there collusion or not, and the answer is no, so let's just move on and there's nothing to see here, which is why we do need to see something here, which is the report, which hopefully we will see next week.

COOPER: Well, David, I mean it just makes me think that the release of this report -- I mean, we all know it's going to be explosive in one way or another whether, you know, if it's heavily redacted, Democrats are going to, you know, go after this. If, you know, if it says something negative about the President, it's going to be explosive.

So, the stakes have just been ramped up and you can -- I mean, again, another way to look at the release of the report is it will be very telling as a look at what Attorney General Barr's real motives are.

GERGEN: I totally agree with that. And, listen, I think the President was clearly signaling he thinks there's explosive damaging material in that report. And he's, you know, preparing the public for it and preparing his onslaught against Mueller. But once again, you know, we -- I think we should be cautious about saying what's coming because we were surprised the last time so much.

COOPER: Sure.

GERGEN: You know, I think -- but I want to go back to a fundamental point, and that is Carl's point about Barr. I was among those who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt when he came in. I just felt -- assumed a man of his -- having done this job once at his age, I think in his 60s now, mid-60s, he's got a legacy, I just felt he would want to protect his reputation for integrity and would want to show that he was independent and much the same way Mueller went over much of the public.

And he's now repeatedly acted in ways which have called all of that into question whether he, in fact, is going to turn out to be a toady for Trump and that is I think very disturbing, because we need at least one or two people in the government around the rule of law that we can trust as a people.

And we're now in a situation that there's nobody -- who can we trust? Who do we know that is reliable in telling the truth about -- and making the scales of justice, you know, balance out? And I just -- that's very, very disturbing.

COOPER: Carl, I mean, looking at Barr's statements today on spying, again, what we saw echoed what Fox News essentially has been saying for years. I mean, it does sort of feel like we're no longer discussing state run T.V., we're not talking about T.V. run state.

BERNSTEIN: It's the party line. The attorney general of the United States is uttering the party line that's coming from the White House. But, you know, I like -- David was one of those who said Bill Barr would not seek to do something that would hurt his reputation, and I seem to have been wrong.

And so I went back and I looked up some things that Barr -- that had been reported about Barr, particularly a series of columns in the "New York Times" by Bill Safire, the former Nixon speechwriter, great conservative, who wrote in "The New York Times" as an op-ed columnist in 1992, especially a column of October 19th, 1992.

He called Barr then the attorney general the cover-up general of the United States because of what Barr had done to obscure a number of actions by the Bush administration in terms of selling weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein. It's a very involved tale.

But Safire in a whole series of columns goes back to actions by Bill Barr in which he did exactly the kind of thing that we're watching Barr do now. And all reporters should go back and read those Safire columns, remembering Safire's credentials as a Republican, as a Nixonite, as a conservative.

COOPER: Dana, I mean, just quickly, Barr was asked by Lindsey Graham today why the Trump campaign wasn't advised for foreign interference. Graham said it was odd. It's actually not true.

CNN has reported that candidate Trump was personally warned in August of 2016 by senior U.S. intelligence officials that foreign adversaries would likely attempt to infiltrate his team.

BASH: Yes. I mean, there was a briefing, as you said, CNN has reported both campaigns, both candidates. The open question I'm told to look for the answer to is how detailed was that briefing, and we don't know the answer to that. But it might not have been very detailed if the people doing the investigating weren't really sure where it was going to go, which is entirely possible.

COOPER: Yes, just a moment ago. We got to leave it there. Dana Bash, Carl Bernstein, David Gergen, thank you very much.

New details coming up about the investigation to hush money paid to two women who allegedly had affairs with President Trump.

[20:40:05] According to "The Wall Street Journal," prosecutors have interviewed members of the President's inner circle, including his former aide and Communications Director Hope Hicks. I'll talk with one of the reporters who broke the story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As the release of the Mueller report or at least some redacted version of it looms over the White House, there are new details about the investigation into hush money payments paid to two women who said they had sexual affairs with Donald Trump.

According to "The Wall Street Journal," federal prosecutors have interviewed members of President Trump's inner circle, including former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks last spring. They also reportedly spoke to the President's former security chief, Keith Schiller, about his conversations with David Pecker, who's the CEO of the "National Enquirer's" publisher AEI -- excuse me, AMI, American Media Inquiry, yes, AMI.

The "Enquirer," you may remember, admitted to paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal on behalf of the President to keep her from going public with her alleged affair with him. Investigators also reportedly have a recording of a phone conversation between Michael Cohen, President's former lawyer and fixer, and a lawyer who represented McDougal as well as Stormy Daniels.

Cohen pleaded guilty to charges that included campaign finance violations and testified before Congress about payments he says he made on the President's behalf to both women.

Nicole Hong is one of the reporters behind "The Wall Street Journal" story. She joins us now. Can you just walk us through what investigators have learned from those interviews?

NICOLE HONG, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Sure. So we don't know the full scope of what the Southern District asked them, but we know at the very least that they were interested in both Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller's communications with David Pecker, who as you pointed out is the CEO of the "National Enquirer's" publisher. So we can see from --

COOPER: And a close friend of the President. I mean --

HONG: Exactly.

COOPER: -- they had a long relationship.

HONG: So, I mean, what this tells us is that the investigation went much deep into Trump's inner circle than we realized. Hope Hicks and Keith Schiller are very close to the President.

[20:45:01] They're two of the people that the people trust most. They've worked for him for a long time. So it just shows us the lengths that prosecutors went to really build this case.

COOPER: And is it clear whether any of the information provided in the interviews backed up with Michael Cohen he's saying?

HONG: So, one thing we do know is that they were interested in Keith Schiller because they want to know if -- in any of his phone calls with David Pecker if he was handing the phone off to Trump. So we don't know what investigators learned about that, but they were at least interested in sort of that connection with Trump.

COOPER: Because, you know, when I interviewed Karen McDougal, one of the things she said was that, you know, she is claiming a 10-month long relationship. She said that whenever -- she would always call Keith Schiller to pass messages or to get to then Donald Trump as a citizen.

HONG: Right. I mean, Keith Schiller would know about a lot. He was with Trump. He was physically there with him for a lot of meetings and conversations that I'm sure would be of interest to investigators.

COOPER: And the -- your reporting uncovered this record of a phone conversation between Michael Cohen, and was it Keith Davidson --

HONG: Right.

COOPER: -- the attorney for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal?

HONG: Yes. And so what the recording showed was this was in the fall of 2017. Mueller had been appointed special counsel and he was already investigating Cohen and Keith Davidson's bank actually flagged the transaction of the funds coming out of his account to Stormy Daniels.

He calls Michael Cohen and says, "Hey, of all the, you know, transactions they could have flagged, they zeroed in on this one. So, you know, maybe we should be worried about this being under investigation."

And I think the recordings showed that Cohen, you know, wasn't particularly alarmed by this, and it shows the degree to which he was probably very surprised at the April raid that he was indeed under investigation.

COOPER: We should also point out that this is what the southern -- prosecutors of the Southern District of New York that this is not the Mueller investigation. What -- do we know what if anything they plan to do with this going forward, because ultimately they report to the Department of Justice and Attorney General Barr?

HONG: So that's the big question. And I don't think they need to make that determination right now. We have had no public indication that they do intend to indict Trump even after he leaves office.

I mean, what we do know about how investigations usually pan out is they're probably going to keep this evidence and things could change but, you know, right now we just don't know what will happen.

COOPER: Wow. It's a fascinating article. Nicole Hong, thank you very much for reporting as always.

HONG: Thank you.

COOPER: Preet Bharara is the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York. He's also CNN Senior Legal Analyst and author of the new book, "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law." And if your satellite is still there, Preet -- oh, yes, it is. Preet, if prosecutors were in fact looking into Hope Hicks --

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm here.

COOPER: -- and Keith Schiller, key people obviously in the President's inner circle and what they knew about hush money payments, would that surprise you or would that be what you would expect of this kind of investigation from the Southern District? BHARARA: It's not surprising me at all. You know, the folks of the Southern District are thorough, they're meticulous. They go through the evidence. They talk to everybody that you would imagine they would need to talk to.

And the other reason why it's not surprising to me is, you know, remember, back in the day, Michael Cohen made a statement in open court in connection with his guilty plea proceeding in which he said that he committed those crimes in coordination with and at the direction of individual one, the President of the United States.

And I remember thinking at the time that the Southern District had to be really confident of the truth of that statement if they were going to endorse it in one of their own legal memoranda that they submitted in court.

And so you would think that they would have to have something more than just the word of Michael Cohen who has a lot of problems and a lot of baggage, although some people find him credible and some of his things corroborated, especially by canceled checks that he provided to the House subcommittee -- the House committee when he testified.

But, now, it sort of filling in some of these gaps that I think people had in their minds wondering what was the other evidence about Donald Trump's knowledge, Donald Trump's involvement, Donald Trump's intentions, and clearly this is how they came about their decision to endorse that statement it seems to me.

COOPER: How likely -- I mean, information like this that's gathered, you're saying one example is it could have been used to corroborate something that Michael Cohen was saying. But if ultimately this is, you know, under the auspices and under the control of Attorney General Barr, how -- is that a concern for you?

BHARARA: Well, I'm more concerned how Bill Barr is treating the Mueller Report and how much he's going to make public and how much he's going to give to Congress. I think it's a very difficult thing to sort of shutdown an SDNY investigation or tell them to go, you know, look another direction or to shut them down.

The bigger issue as I think Nicole mentioned earlier is this Department of Justice policy and practice and opinion that you can't indict or prosecute a sitting president. What that means for Donald Trump if he were to leave office in two years is a completely separate question.

But I think what the Southern District is doing is what they always do, which is follow the law, follow the facts and at least assemble it before you make, you know, the decision in the next phase, which is do you make a public accusation? Do you not?

[20:50:06] Do you wait for someone to be in a position to be prosecuted or not? But right now I think they're in the mode of collecting evidence and making sure they shore up everything that they have so far. COOPER: How likely do you think the information investigators got was maybe -- or perhaps used as leverage to get David Pecker, the head of the "National Enquirer's" parent company, to cooperate in the hush money case?

BHARARA: Yes. Look, I think, you know, prosecutors used lots of different levers and any lever that they can use to get other people to cooperate in the case is incredibly very important. It looks like they have information from a lot of different sources that support what Michael Cohen said and I think, you know, I think we should be watching this very carefully.

COOPER: The President obviously is already known as individual one, you know, in this case which Michael Cohen, we should point out, is going to prison, federal prison for. The President's essentially an unindicted coconspirator. Do people even seem to care much about that? I mean, in a typical administration, that would probably be a big deal.

BHARARA: Well, yes. Well, now you're asking a political question and there are lots and lots of things that this President has done that seem to be not such a big deal because we've defined deviance down.

I mean, just with respect to the Mueller report about which -- you know, through which Donald Trump says he's been exonerated over and over again, even though the Mueller report says no such thing with respect to obstruction.

In an ordinary administration, the fact that a special counsel seems to have found sufficient evidence of obstruction of justice by a sitting president that it's too close a question for him to call on whether or not a crime was committed is a huge deal and a big deal and would probably fail someone else and it doesn't in this case.

So, you know, we'll see where all this goes, but this would not be the first time that the scenario described has happened.

COOPER: Preet Bharara, thank you very much. Appreciate it. A lot more obviously to come.

BHARARA: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Obviously we expect the Mueller report, however much of it is going to be released to be come out next week.

I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The intersection of politics and law, that's what we're all about tonight. It is time for calm. The headline is very hysterical because of what the AG said over the last two days.

But if you notice his comfort in the chair, it's because he's been exactly here before. Looking at the AG's past, the last time around with the Bush administration, predicts exactly where we are right now. We're going to look at his legal ability to play by the book with spying as he calls it. What is right, what is wrong? On taxes with the President, why is the treasury secretary involved?

These are questions about the intersection of law and politics. A game is afoot. The real battle between the President and Congress has just begun. And we'll take you through it tonight.

COOPER: All right. Sherlock, the game is afoot.

CUOMO: The game is afoot.

COOPER: All right. I'll be Watson. Chris, thanks very much. I'll see you in a couple of minutes.

Coming up next, the 45th President's complaint about the first president's home, that's right. What he said about Mount Vernon and the big mistake that George Washington made. This is real and it's on "The Ridiculist" coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:56:23] COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." And tonight's entry comes from President Trump's department of anything you can do, I can do better. His latest target, George Washington, and, no, this isn't some trivia theme night terror, you are really awake. This is actually happening.

Politico citing three sources reports that President Trump while touring Mount Vernon with French President Emmanuel Macron last spring said of Washington's Virginia state, "If he was smart, he would have put his name on if. You got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you."

And I got to say, he has a point. I mean, really, who remembers George Washington, am I right? I mean, he doesn't have a Broadway musical the President hates. Hamilton, he's got a musical. Washington, he's got what, he's got that monument in that city. What's it called? Oh, yeah, Washington.

Anyway, Washington's ratings are low. His wall is low. He's choking like a dog in the street. John Hancock, him we remember, am I right? I mean he signed that, what you call it, the Declaration of Independence with a huge signature. I mean, that's branding. Washington, drawing a blank.

Let's just stipulate that when it comes to naming things, President Trump does indeed know what he's talking about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When it comes to great steaks, I've just raised the stakes. The Sharper Image is one of my favorite stores with fantastic products of all kinds, that's why I'm thrilled they agree with me. Trump Steaks are the world's greatest steaks and I mean that in every sense of the word. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Are we wearing the same tie? I mean, who doesn't buy their steaks at the Sharper Image? I mean, am I right? To be fair, it's not just -- it's not just meat that the President knows how to brand.

Gambling ventures, an airline, even a private yacht. The Trump name on each and every one of them, it's like gold. It's probably best not to dwell on how those actual ventures turned out financially. Let's just say they're in the file cabinet marked very stable genius.

Now, of course, there was also Trump University, the less of university, more of a $25 million class action settlement. And sure, the Virginia country side isn't quite Atlantic City, but Mount Vernon has got no posses (ph), no class. Washington's Joint, that would be memorable. Now, I know what you're thinking. This is a lot to process, I agree. How about a cocktail?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We launched a vodka called Trump Vodka. And we're considering it and I think it will be the finest vodka anywhere in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is it made?

TRUMP: It's made actually in various parts of Europe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Oh, yes, the old various parts of Europe vodka provenance. Oh, I love to travel in various parts of Europe for vodka. I don't know about you, but I'd love a Trump and tonic right now that may or may not have been distilled from a Slovakian canal.

It's not just that -- I don't know why Slovakian canal makes me laugh. It's not just that dump Mount Vernon Washington should have renamed, by Trump logic, he also should have put his name on something, you know, the whole family can enjoy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My new game is Trump: The Game, Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The game where you deal for everything you ever wanted to own because it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Yes. You got that, kids? If you lose, you're a loser, a loser, loser. Now, maybe I shouldn't talk, after all I do have my own game I'm marketing. It's called the "Anderson: The Game." It's got dice, red wine, even a crocodile. It's kind of like Super Mario Bros., except instead of hurdling toad stools, you're going to jump over Chris Cuomo while he does one handed push ups down the wrong way of an escalator. Try it.

As for President Washington, I mean, his name, look, obviously will not be forgotten, thankfully. And barring an act of Congress or executive order signed by a giant sharpie, Mount Vernon's name will remain Mount Vernon with nary a condo board in sight to remove its gilded letters from "The Ridiculist."