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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Sources: Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him To End Flynn Probe; Interview with Sally Yates. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired May 16, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:02] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Statements like the one the vice-president made to CBS News on January 15, when he was asked if Michael Flynn had ever discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE-PRESIDENT: What I can confirm having spoken to him about it is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing, whatsoever, to do with those sanctions.
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We were really concerned about the underlying conduct in and of itself, even before there were misrepresentations about it. Then there were misrepresentations coming out of the White House again where they were saying it was based specifically on what General Flynn had told them and they were getting more and more specific. And it became clear they weren't going to stop.
The latest being I think it was Monday, January 23rd. And so we were balancing that with the need of an investigative agency to be able to complete its investigation and not to have any kind of notification negatively impact that investigation.
But when those final misrepresentations were made on the 23rd, the FBI then interviewed General Flynn on the 24th. We got the readout of that on the 25th. And then I called Don McGahn first thing on the morning of the 26th to go over and make the notification.
COOPER (voice-over): Don McGahn is the White House Counsel. He is the man Sally Yates met with on the 26th of January to warn him about General Flynn.
(on camera): Why wait until the 26th to take the information to the White House?
YATES: Just said -- just like in any matter, we were trying to balance the notification against an impact that it would have on an FBI investigation. But, we also --
COOPER (on camera): So you had to wait until Flynn was interviewed by the FBI? YATES: Well, it was a combination of factors where we looked at that as well as the fact that it was the misrepresentations that didn't really start until mid January that aggravated the situation.
COOPER (on camera): Because misrepresentations to the vice-president and others in the White House, that you believed took it to another level?
YATES: It did. It certainly aggravated the situation in terms of the ability for that information to be used or compromise with the Russians.
COOPER (on camera): Explain the idea of compromise, how that works?
YATES: Sure. Now, this has been a tried and true craft of the Russians for decades now. And the gist of it is pretty simple. If they have information that they can use to -- as leverage over someone, then they will use that. They even have a word for kompromat. And in this situation, we had both the underlying conduct that was problematic for General Flynn.
But then the public misrepresentations about it that were based on lies that General Flynn had told the vice-president and others. And the combination of that is absolutely information that the Russians can use as leverage with General Flynn who was the national security adviser, like the last person in the world that you would want for the Russians to have leverage over.
COOPER (on camera): He's privy obviously to highly classified information.
YATES: Yes. Yeah.
COOPER (on camera): What did you tell the White House Counsel, Don McGahn?
YATES: Well, we had two meetings with Don McGahn.
COOPER (on camera): The first meeting.
YATES: And I took actually the person who was overseeing this investigation, a senior career official from the Department of Justice with me there. And we began the meeting by pointing out some of the statements that had been made by the vice-president and Sean Spicer and others with respect to General Flynn's conduct and let them know that we knew that was not true and how we knew it wasn't true and what our evidence was and what he had actually done.
COOPER (on camera): Did Don McGahn tells you what he was going to do with that information?
YATES: No. I mean, we went through and told him not only what we knew but why we were concerned about it and why we were telling him about it. You know, again, that the public had been misled. We were very concerned about the underlying conduct and went through and explained the compromise situation with the Russians and told him specifically that we were giving him this information so that they could act.
COOPER (voice-over): It's important to note that Sean Spicer has portrayed Sally Yates' extraordinary warning to the White House in far less dramatic terms. He's repeatedly characterized it as just a heads up.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The acting attorney general informed the White House Counsel that they wanted to give, "a heads up" to us. She said, "I wanted to give you a heads up that there are may be information."
Sally Yates came over here and gave us a heads up. Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads up about something and said I want to share some information doesn't mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action.
COOPER (voice over): But Sally Yates insists it was far more than just a heads up.
(on camera): Did you ever use the term heads up like, "Hey, I'm giving you a heads up?"
YATES: No, this -- no, I absolutely did not use the term heads up. There was nothing casual about this.
COOPER (on camera): Heads up does seem to be somewhat of a casual characterization.
YATES: No. I mean, I called Don McGahn and told him I had a very sensitive matter that I needed to discuss with him that day and it needed to be in person.
[21:05:04] COOPER (on camera): When you actually met, were you just in his regular office?
YATES: We are, but his office is a skiff.
COOPER (on camera): It's a secure environment.
COOPER (on camera): So he would have been aware that this is unusual to have the acting attorney general coming over and doing this on such urgent notice in a skiff?
YATES: Sure. Mr. McGahn got it. He knew that this was serious and that it was important.
COOPER (voice-over): Just last week, President Trump continued to insist he didn't believe Sally Yates had been informing them of an emergency.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You made the decision before -- COOPER (voice-over): This is an interview he gave to NBC News.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: My White House Counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any -- it didn't make it sound like he was, you know. And she actually didn't make it sound that way either in the hearings the other day, like it had to be done immediately.
This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's -- in my opinion, a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.
HOLT: She's the acting attorney general at the time.
COOPER (on camera): President Trump said about your meeting with the White House Counsel in NBC, he said, "My White House Counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and did not sound like an emergency. He also said, "She actually didn't make it" -- meaning you, "She actually didn't make it sound that way either in the hearings the other day." Is he misinformed?
YATES: Well, I wasn't there for the meeting between Mr. McGahn and the president and so I don't have any way of knowing how that meeting went. But I know that we conveyed a sense of urgency when we went over and met with the White House Counsel.
COOPER (on camera): In a new testimony he is saying you didn't like it sound that way either, like there was an emergency.
YATES: I don't know if I used the word emergency, but when you call the White House Counsel and say you've got to meet with them that day about something you can't talk about on the phone and you tell them that their national security adviser may be able to be blackmailed by the Russians and that you're giving them this information so they'll take action. I'm not sure how much more of a siren you have to say on.
COOPER (on camera): That's not a typical day at the office.
COOPER (on camera): Don McGahn actually asked you at that first meeting whether or not you thought the national security adviser should be fired. What did you say?
YATES: I told him it wasn't our call.
COOPER (on camera): Was the underlying conduct illegal? Was it illegality about?
YATES: There's certainly a criminal statute that was implicated by his conduct.
COOPER (voice-over): Yates was asked to come back to the White House for another meeting with the White House Counsel on January 27th, the day after her initial warning. Yates disputes the way the White House is characterizing the reason for the second meeting.
(on camera): Sean Spicer said that meeting was to discuss issues that were left unclear in your first meeting with Don McGahn. Do you feel that you were clear in your warning to McGahn on that first meeting?
YATES: Yeah. I don't think there was anything at all unclear about the first meeting. Mr. McGahn had some additional issues he wanted to discuss. But, there was nothing unclear about the first meeting.
COOPER: Can you say what the additional issues were?
YATES: Sure. There were three or four things that he raised. The first issue that he raised was essentially why does DOJ care if one White House official lies to another White House official. And so we walked him back through the same things that we discussed the day before, that it was really a whole lot more than just one White House official lying to another.
COOPER (on camera): This was the vice-president of the United States being lied to who then went and told the American people?
YATES: Exactly. And then that we explained the compromise situation that this created again. So, we walked back through all of those things.
COOPER (on camera): So that's why the Department of Justice was interested, because of the underlying behavior, but also the potential for compromise.
YATES: Right. And we felt like --
COOPER (on camera): It was a national security threat?
COOPER (on camera): You have no doubt about that?
YATES: I don't think anybody in the Intel community has a doubt about that.
COOPER (voice-over): The seriousness of her warning isn't the only significant discrepancy between Yates and the White House. She said she made the evidence. Investigators had gathered on Flynn available to the White House on Monday, January 30th. That's not what the White House says.
SPICER: The White House didn't get access to that underlying evidence described by Ms. Yates until Thursday, February 2nd.
COOPER (on camera): They could have looked at it sooner?
YATES: Oh, yes. It was ready on Monday the 30th.
COOPER (on camera): You wanted the White House to act?
YATES: Absolutely. Yes. COOPER (on camera): To do something.
YATES: We expected the White House to act.
COOPER (on camera): Did you expect them to act quickly?
COOPER (on camera): There was urgency to the information?
YATES: Yes. I called on January 30th, that Monday morning to let Mr. McGahn know that it was ready. We had made arrangements over the weekend. That was one of the other issues that he had raised in the second meeting was whether they could look at the underlying evidence that established General Flynn's conduct. And, you know, this is really unusual for us or for the FBI to allow that.
COOPER (on camera): Because there is an ongoing investigation?
YATES: Right, that this was really important.
COOPER (voice-over): On that Monday, January 30th, three days after first warning the White House about Michael Flynn, Sally Yates was fired. She then instructed the Department of Justice not to defend President Trump's executive order on immigration. Sally Yates was out and Michael Flynn was still the national security adviser.
[21:10:07] (on camera): You are watching day after day after day go by and nothing seems to have happened to the national security adviser that you have informed the White House about. Just as a private citizen at that point, did it concern you?
YATES: Well, sure. I was concerned about it.
COOPER (voice-over): It took the White House 18 days after Sally Yates first warned them to get rid of Michael Flynn. On February 13th, he resigned as national security adviser. The next day, Sean Spicer said he was let go because of an issue of trust, not because he had done anything illegal.
SPICER: When the president heard the information as presented by White House Counsel, he instinctively thought that general counsel -- General Flynn did not do anything wrong and the White House Counsel's review corroborated that. There is not an illegal issue but rather a trust issue.
COOPER (on camera): Do you agree there was no legal issue with Flynn's underlying behavior?
YATES: I don't know how the White House reached the conclusion that there was no legal issue. It certainly wasn't from my discussion with them.
COOPER (on camera): Do you think Michael Flynn should have been fired? YATES: Whether he's fired or not is a decision for the President of the United States to make. But, it doesn't seem like that's a person who should be sitting in the national security adviser position.
COOPER (on camera): Michael Flynn was let go after "The Washington Post" reported a story. Some Republicans have accused you of leaking it. Did you leak to "The Washington Post"?
YATES: Absolutely not.
COOPER (on camera): Did you authorize somebody to leak to "The Washington Post"?
YATES: Absolutely not. I did not and would not leak classified information.
COOPER (on camera): Have you ever leaked information to them?
COOPER (on camera): The president seems to suggest that you were behind this "Washington Post" article. The morning before you testified, he tweeted, "Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified the information got into newspapers soon after she explained it to White House Counsel." He seems to believe that you are the leaker. When you heard that, what did you think?
YATES: There have been a number of tweets that have given me pause.
COOPER (on camera): Do you want to elaborate on that?
COOPER (on camera): If you hadn't been fired, if you were still in your position and you hadn't seen any action over the course of that 18 days, was there more -- your role as the acting attorney general would have permitted you to do?
YATES: Oh, I would have gone back to the White House.
COOPER (on camera): If you were still the acting attorney general, you would have gone back to the White House?
YATES: I would have been knocking on the door again, yes.
COOPER (on camera): Why?
YATES: Because I would have been concerned that we had a national security adviser who was compromised. I wouldn't have been able to control what happened, but I would have gone back to him.
COOPER (on camera): What sort of questions would you've asked?
YATES: What have you done?
COOPER (on camera): Some of the president's surrogates have pointed out that you come from a family that's prominent Democrats, been involved in Democratic politics, clearly implying that you're a partisan. Are you a Democrat?
[21:16:41] COOPER: Welcome back again. Our breaking news tonight, sources telling CNN that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote in a memo back in February that President Trump asked him to end the probe of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Our sources say that request was made in an Oval Office meeting the day after Flynn was fired. Director Comey himself was dismissed by the president last week. A White House official saying, "This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey."
Now back to my exclusive interview with another person fired by President Trump, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Before she became a household name, she was a career prosecutor and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. She comes from a long line of lawyers and her family, her father and grandfather both worked as state appellate court judges in Georgia. And her grandmother was the first woman to join the Georgia Bar Association.
It's began her legal career with the Justice Department three years after she graduated at law school and she stayed there for nearly three decades. She was known as a tenacious prosecutor. But after her Senate testimony on Russia, she was labeled as something else, a political opponent of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is she a political opponent of the president?
SPICER: She was --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was the acting attorney general --
SPICER: The appointed by the Obama administration --
COOPER (on camera): The day after you testify, the White House called you a political opponent of President Trump. Are you a political opponent of President Trump?
YATES: No. Look, I'm a 27-year veteran of the Department of Justice.
COOPER (on camera): Some people that hearing that will say, "Look, politics must play a role in some way." I mean, you have political beliefs.
YATES: Yeah, but that has absolutely nothing to do with how I did my job here. And I've been doing my job for a whole lot of years in DOJ. And even when you're appointed by a president, you know, at that point the politics is supposed to end at DOJ.
COOPER (voice-over): After she appeared before the Senate, "Time" magazine reports President Trump talked to them about Sally Yates' testimony.
(on camera): The president was with a "Time" magazine reporter watching a clip of you and DNI Clapper testifying and being asked about the unmasking process by Chuck Grassley. The president then said, "Watch them start to choke like dogs. Watch what happens. They are desperate for breath." What do you think when you hear that?
YATES: I'm not going to dignify that with a response.
COOPER (on camera): And you come from a family that's been involved in Democratic politics in Georgia. The White House put out a briefing paper on you after you were fired saying that your husband had made donations to Democrats, including President Obama, clearly implying that you're a partisan.
YATES: No. I certainly was appointed by President Obama. But as been talked about a little while ago, I've been working for DOJ for almost 30 years now and --
COOPER (on camera): You were hired by Bob Barr.
YATES: Yeah, and Republican and Democratic administrations.
COOPER (on camera): Are you a Democrat?
YATES: Yes, I am a Democrat.
COOPER (voice-over): Sally Yates is a Democrat, but she was first hired to the Department of Justice in 1989 by Bob Barr, a staunch Republican.
(on camera): So, tell me why you started in the law.
YATES: Well, I come from a long line of lawyers in my family, lawyers and Methodist preachers. And after I graduated --
COOPER (on camera): Were those two options?
YATES: I think that was it. It was pretty much a binary choice here, law or preaching. And after law school, I came to Washington and worked for a couple years. And I thought about career options, everything else seemed like a job and practicing law seemed like a profession.
COOPER (on camera): Why did you pick government service?
YATES: Well, I didn't start out that way actually. I went to a big firm in Atlanta after law school.
COOPER (on camera): You worked there like three or four years?
YATES: Yeah, for three years. And when I was in law school I didn't have any thought that I was going to be a prosecutor.
[21:20:07] I didn't even take many criminal law classes, which probably would concern some people given the job I ended up with. But, I went to private practice and then decided that I would go to the U.S. Attorney's office.
At the time, I was thinking more that I would get some trial experience and an opportunity to do some work that was really more meaningful. But I was totally unprepared for just how meaningful it would be.
COOPER (voice-over): She rose through the ranks. She was the lead prosecutor in the Eric Rudolph case, the Olympic Park Bomber. And she also went after lawmakers in Georgia for public corruption.
She successfully tried a series of cases against Atlanta City officials, including the city's Democratic Mayor Bill Campbell. Later, she became the first woman to head the U.S. Attorney's Office in the northern district of Georgia.
YATES: I'm very grateful for this opportunity and grateful for President Obama's nomination.
COOPER (voice-over): In 2015, President Barack Obama nominated her to become deputy attorney general under Loretta Lynch.
(on camera): Did politics rear its head in your job and in your career over the years?
YATES: I mean, it weird to say in the sense that U.S. Attorneys under whom I was serving would change, depending on the administration, but not in terms of how our cases operate.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Ms. Yates, you're going into a different world.
COOPER (voice-over): During her confirmation hearing in 2015, Yates was asked by then Senator Jeff Sessions if she would be able to stand up to the president.
SESSIONS: You think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper? If the views of the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?
YATES: Senator, I believe that the attorney general or deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.
SESSIONS: Like any CEO with a law firm, sometimes the lawyers have to tell the CEO, "Mr. CEO, you can't do that. Don't do that. We'll get sued. It's going to be in violation of the law. You'll regret it, please, no matter how headstrong they might be." Do you feel like that's a duty on the attorney general's office?
YATES: I do believe that's the attorney -- duty of the attorney general's office.
COOPER (voice-over): Sessions voted against her, but she was confirmed with wide bipartisan support. Two years later as acting attorney general, she did exactly what she told Sessions she would do, after President Trump issued his executive order on immigration on Friday, January 27.
TRUMP: I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don't want them here.
COOPER (voice-over): Just hours after her second meeting at the White House to discuss General Flynn. That executive order temporarily banned immigrants from seven mostly Muslim nations.
(on camera): When did you first hear about the travel ban?
YATES: Well, it was Friday afternoon, late Friday afternoon around 5:00 or so when I was in the car on the way to the airport.
COOPER (on camera): This is same day --
YATES: Same day.
COOPER (on camera): -- of your second meeting with Don McGahn.
YATES: Right. I'd been meeting with Mr. McGahn around 3:00 that afternoon in his office there at the White House. And I was on my way to the airport and I got a call from my principal deputy saying he saw online on a news report that the president had issued an executive order with respect to immigration. And this was the very first we had heard about it.
COOPER (on camera): You are the acting attorney general of the United States of America.
COOPER (on camera): And you did not know about this executive order?
YATES: That's right.
COOPER (on camera): The Department of Justice has an office of legal counsel and they had been asked to weigh in on this executive order.
YATES: They had been asked to review it for what's called form and legality.
COOPER (on camera): If the Department of Justice, if their office of legal counsel was given a heads up so to speak about this and asked to review it, wouldn't they have given you a heads up about it?
YATES: Normally, they would. But my understanding is -- is that they were asked not to tell us about it.
COOPER (on camera): The Department of Justice's office of legal counsel was advised not to inform you, specifically, the acting attorney general about this executive order?
YATES: That's my understanding.
COOPER (on camera): Do you know why you were not informed?
YATES: I don't know and I wasn't informed.
COOPER (on camera): Is that normal procedure?
YATES: No. First I've heard of that.
COOPER (on camera): You never heard that happening before?
YATES: No, no.
COOPER (on camera): Was it -- well just don't kick this up higher in the Department of Justice or don't tell Sally Yates?
YATES: I don't know all the details about that.
COOPER (voice-over): In courts around the country, the legal challenges came the next day. Sally Yates had to decide what she would do.
YATES: We spent the weekend and a flurry of activity trying to get our arms around what is this thing and what are they trying to accomplish?
COOPER (on camera): When did you make the decision you were going to instruct your attorneys, the Department of Justice, not to enforce this?
YATES: Well, on Monday.
COOPER: Or not to argue this.
[21:25:04] YATES: On Monday I brought in the folks from the Department of Justice who were hands on involved in this. That would include the career people at DOJ as well as the Trump appointees that were at DOJ at this time. And I had pulled up many of the legal challenges that we had and had read through those. I looked at the cases. I've written down the issues that I was concerned about.
COOPER (on camera): Had you already seen what was happening at airports?
YATES: Oh, sure, yeah. On T.V., I had seen what was happening.
COOPER (on camera): You've seen people coming in, people demonstrating. You saw the impact that was having. Did that have an impact on you?
YATES: It had an impact in terms of the chaos that was created. But I was trying to get a handle on what does this executive order do and is it lawful and constitutional. By Monday, I was advised that we were going to have to take a position on the constitutionality of the statute.
The facts reflected that this really was an attempt to make good on the president's campaign promise of a Muslim ban. That it was about religion and that as the Department of Justice on something as essential as religious freedom, I couldn't in good conscience send our DOJ lawyers in to make an argument that wasn't grounded in the truth.
COOPER (voice-over): On Monday, January 30th, Yates made a decision. She issued an order to the Department of Justice not to defend the president's executive action.
(on camera): You knew at this point you were taking -- you were challenging the President of the United States.
YATES: I didn't view it as a challenge to the President of the United States. I viewed it as fulfilling my oath and doing my job.
COOPER (on camera): You knew this was going to bring you into conflict with the President of the United States' desire?
YATES: Yes, it is.
COOPER (on camera): Did you think about that?
COOPER (voice-over): Several hours after telling Department of Justice lawyers not to defend the president's executive order, Sally Yates was fired.
(on camera): How did you find out you were fired?
YATES: A letter arrived at my office door.
COOPER (on camera): And you got the letter?
COOPER (on camera): Director Comey was sent a letter, but didn't get it.
COOPER (on camera): So, you actually got the letter?
YATES: I got the letter.
COOPER (on camera): Did you know you need to get that letter what it was?
YATES: I certainly had a strong suspicion as to what it was.
COOPER (on camera): Is it a letter from the president himself?
YATES: No. It was from someone else at the White House.
COOPER (on camera): Can you say what is it like after 27 years to read that letter?
YATES: Intellectually, I certainly knew that this was a possibility that this could happen. But I'd be less than honest with you if I didn't say it wasn't still a punch in the gut when the letter arrived at the door.
COOPER (on camera): That's emotionally what it felt like.
YATES: Sure. But to have done anything else, I felt like would have been an abdication of my responsibility, so I wasn't one looking to be fired. That given the situation that I was in, I couldn't have done anything else and lived with myself.
COOPER (on camera): Do you believe the president made the right decision in firing you?
YATES: He certainly had the authority to fire me and that's all I will say on that.
COOPER (on camera): I want to read some of the criticism that you received both from Republicans, but also from Democrats. Stephen Miller in the White House said your behavior was reckless, irresponsible, improper. A former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush called a "foolish, naked political move by what appears to be an ambitious holdover official". Was this a political move?
YATES: No. I was doing my job.
COOPER (on camera): Politics you say had nothing to do with this.
YATES: Absolutely not. No.
COOPER (on camera): Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said that you're a terrific public servant. "I think she made a serious mistake here. This is holdover heroism. It's so easy to be a heroine when you're not appointed by this president and when you're on the other side." He went on to say he thinks you made a political decision, not a legal one.
YATES: Right. Well, look, I struggled over the decision whether to resign or whether to direct the Department of Justice not to defend.
COOPER (on camera): You thought about resigning?
YATES: Oh, absolutely. I went back and forth.
COOPER (on camera): Because that's what--, you know, two former attorney generals, Alberto Gonzales and William Barr say you should have resigned if you're really disagreed with this order and that essentially you were grandstanding looking to get out in a way that would set you up for a political career.
YATES: Well, putting -- well, that step aside. No, I think it's a fair question to ask why didn't you just resign. And that is something I grappled with during that time. But sort of a bottom line is that I felt like resigning would have protected my personal integrity, but it would not have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice.
COOPER (voice-over): From the time she was fired, Sally Yates didn't speak publicly until she was asked to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Russia last week. While many Democratic senators praised her actions, she faced tough questions from Republicans.
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Are you familiar with 8 USC-Section 1182?
YATES: Not off the top of my head, no
CRUZ: Well, it is the binding statutory authority for the executive order that you refused to implement and that led to your termination. So it certainly is relevant and not a terribly obscure statute.
YATES: I am familiar with that. And I'm also familiar with an additional provision of the INA that says "no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality or place of birth." That I believe was promulgated after the statute that you just quoted.
[21:30:12] COOPER (on camera): No other president has been denied his authority under that 1952 provision, including Jimmy Carter who stopped issuing visas to Iranians during the Iranian hostage crisis. So I guest the question is, did you go too far?
YATES: Well, I don't know that we ever had a situation where the true intent behind a president's actions had been laid down in the kind of vivid detail that it was here and an intent that is unconstitutional and not to him (ph).
COOPER (on camera): Assuming this goes to the Supreme Court, that's what it's going to boil down to an argument over that 1952 provisions?
YATES: I don't know. I think it will boil down to -- well, it could be a number of issues on that. It certainly -- I would think the president's motivation, what he was trying to accomplish, was this an effort to disfavor Muslims, essentially an effort to make good on the travel ban as best he could -- excuse me, the Muslim ban as best he could. I would expect that that certainly would be an issue before the Supreme Court.
COOPER (on camera): Are you planning on getting into politics? Is that something you would think about down the road?
[21:35:07] COOPER: In a moment, more of our breaking news. Sources telling CNN that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote in a memo back in February that President Trump asked him to end the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House is pushing back against the report even as it struggles with fallout from the president sharing intelligence with Russia.
First, though, more of my exclusive interview with fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates. After she testified in front of Congress on Russia, the Trump White House put out a background paper about Yates inside an article which speculated if Yates would run for governor of Georgia as a Democrat. I asked her about that if she had any interest in running for governor or any other job in politics.
COOPER (on camera): Are you planning on getting into politics?
COOPER (on camera): There are some surrogates for the president who have said or, you know, pundits who support the president who said you've already been approached by folks in Georgia about running for governor or some political office?
YATES: You know, I read that, but I haven't even returned the calls. I'm not running for governor.
COOPER (on camera): It's well-known the president watches a lot of T.V. -- cable news. If he was watching tonight, is there anything you would want to say to him?
YATES: I don't think so, no.
COOPER (on camera): After 27 years working in the Department of Justice, is it strange to have your career defined in the larger public consciousness by the last week of your career? That's basically -- you know --
COOPER (on camera): -- people see you on the street. They recognize you. They recognized you as, you know, the person who testified or who took the actions you did on the executive order, or involved with Michael Flynn. You have an entire career before that. Is it strange to kind of be defined by the last couple of days?
YATES: Yeah. It feels a little weird. After having been, you know, a land prosecutor and a U.S. Attorney and deputy attorney general that folks would define me in that way. On the other hand, you know, they wouldn't really have any reason to know about the work that I had done and all the years prior to that. And I believe that the actions that I took with respect to those two issues in the last 10 days were consistent with how I carried out my responsibilities 27 years prior to that.
COOPER (on camera): You have no regrets?
COOPER (on camera): You wouldn't do anything differently?
COOPER: Quick reality check on just how fast developments are unfolding in Washington. I interviewed Sally Yates just yesterday morning, exactly one week after she testified about warning the White House about Michael Flynn.
More than 24 hours later, sources say a memo by then FBI Director James Comey first reported by "The New York Times" says the president asked him to end the Flynn investigation during a meeting in the Oval Office on February 14th. We reached out to Sally Yates after news of that memo broke today. She declined to comment on it.
What began as a day of crisis for the White House is ending it would seem on another level all together, more crisis. Joining us now, Jeffrey Toobin, Gloria Borger and David Chalian.
Jeff, first of all, just in terms of what we heard from Sally Yates, what stood out to you?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, she is -- I was proud to be a career justice department employee and she's a very much the model of a career justice employee, someone who worked there for 30 years. It's a great deal (ph) longer than I did.
And I think, you know, you can disagree with some of the conclusions she reached about her motives as I did. And -- but I think her motives and -- are impeccable. And I think she is someone who has done honor to the Justice Department. And, you know, what better thing can you say about on that?
COOPER: Gloria, it is interesting. I mean after this 27-year career that she's had that it's really -- she is being defined by many of Trump supporters, Trump, you know, surrogates as an Obama appointee, even though Bob Barr who initially hired her.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. She's being identified as a partisan. And as she told you, she's not interested in running for political office. She's always seen herself as a career person in the Justice Department.
And what was also striking to me, Anderson, about what she told you was that it was very clear that she called Don McGahn, the White House Counsel and her hair was on fire. And she said, "I can't talk to you about what this is about. I have to come over and meet with you today."
COOPER: Right. It wasn't safe to talk about even on the telephone.
BORGER: Right. As you said, it wasn't like a normal day at the office. She goes over there. Her hair is still on fire and then nothing. And it was just sort of striking to me as she recounted this in a very sort of, you know, matter of fact weigh without overdoing it. And then other thing that she told you is that, of course, she hadn't been informed about the travel ban which was kind of stunning to me.
TOOBIN: Well, I actually thought that part of your interview was really kind of amazing.
TOOBIN: I mean it really was like out of John le Carre novel. She's going to the White House to say that your national security adviser may be compromised by the Russians. I mean, that is something out of a novel. And nothing happens.
TOOBIN: And they treat it as if, you know, it's just a heads up.
COOPER: It was interesting, David. She said, you know, that if -- had she not been fired, you know, three days after she had gone to the White House initially about that Michael Flynn because of the executive order, she doesn't -- you know, she has no evidence that the firing had anything to do with going to the White House about Michael Flynn.
[21:40:11] But that had she still been the acting attorney general, she would have continued to go back to the White House over the course of those 18 days that there was no public action on General Flynn to, you know, pound on the door and see what was going on.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah. There was such a difference in the perception of urgency. You played that clip where Donald Trump in that NBC interview where he was just like, "Oh, my lawyer told me about it," and you know that was about it. And she clearly believed that she went with such a dedicated purpose.
I also thought, Anderson, it was really interesting to hear her describe that final weekend grappling with whether or not to resign and whether or not she was going to sort of protect her own hide or what she believed was really protecting the work of the DOJ. I had not heard her describe that in detail before.
COOPER: David, let's switch to the breaking story tonight. I mean, that the reporting according to sources that president asked Director Comey to end the Flynn investigation the day after Flynn himself resigned. If true, how damaging is this for President Trump?
CHALIAN: Really, really damaging. I said before that this presidency is off the rails. And I really think, Anderson, this entire story moves to Capitol Hill now. This is a new moment in time for Republicans to respond to the Trump presidency.
And you're starting to see -- you see Jason Chaffetz asking for a May 24th deadline to get all FBI memos, Comey memos on everything related to this. Up to the Hill, you hear people asking for tapes and transcripts of meetings with Trump and Comey. This is now a new moment in time for Republicans and we have to be on the lookout to see if they take a different public posture, specifically, I'm talking about Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell than they have today. COOPER: And, Gloria, that's what it's going to boil down. I mean, if it does move into -- I mean, some people have talked about sort of, you know, the specter of impeachment. It's going to be up to Republicans how far this goes.
BORGER: It sure is. And I can remind everyone though that, you know, during the Nixon impeachment, I kind of reread a little of this today. You know, half of the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans didn't vote for impeachment then, the articles of impeachment. So, you know, it's not as if Republicans have been eager to indict their own presidents, right? And so, I think what you're going to see is Republicans looking for information to hang their hats on.
And I was talking to somebody who's close to the president today, who is very upset about all of this that is going on. And I asked him, I said, "Well, what would be the strategy you would recommend for this president right now?" And the answer was, "I would tell the president he should encourage a complete congressional investigation, give a little cover for his Republicans there to go do that and then sit back and wait for it to occur if he has nothing to hide."
TOOBIN: Well, I think also the facts matter a lot. And, you know, there has been brilliant reporting by Michael Schmidt of the "New York Times", by Pamela Brown --
TOOBIN: Yeah, by Pamela Brown and Jake Tapper. I mean, we know a lot. But there's a lot we don't know. And mostly, we have not heard James Comey's testimony. And even more importantly, we have not seen his contemporaneous memos, what he wrote down about what Donald Trump said to him. That's going to be there. And, of course, hovering overall of this is the existence or non-existence of tapes.
COOPER: Of tapes. Do contemporaneous memos by an FBI agent, whether it's the director or an FBI agent, do they hold legal weight?
TOOBIN: Sure, absolutely. I mean, I don't want to get too nerdy about it, but the way they usually come in is that you can't introduce them just in evidence.
COOPER: Yup. We're all nerds here.
TOOBIN: I know.
TOOBIN: Thank you for making me feels comfortable. The way they usually come in is once an agent is cross-examined, if the agent's memory is challenged, they can introduce the FBI.
Well, first the notes and then what's called the 302, which is the typed up summary of the notes. And presumably -- I mean, one of the interesting things about Comey's records is will there be handwritten notes, will there be -- also in addition to the memos that we know exist?
COOPER: Go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: So I have a question because Jeff knows all of this. And I know in a political investigation motive always matters. But in a criminal investigation, for example, if the president said, "Look, I was just, you know, kind of offhandedly suggesting this," even though he did tell his vice-president and the attorney general to live the room.
COOPER: So does motive matter?
BORGER: Does it matter?
TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, you know, particularly in a political environment, motive matters enormously. But it's up for debate. I mean, people will say his motives were pure. People will say his motives were corrupt. But, certainly, it matters a lot both politically and legally.
[21:45:04] COOPER: I mean, if there are tapes, that's fascinating. I mean, fascinating.
TOOBIN: It's already fascinating.
CHALIAN: I'm imagining that Comey really hopes there are tapes.
COOPER: Yeah, I know. That's the thing on the reporting. Is that Jim Comey wants there would be tapes because he's confident of what he remembers. Jeff Toobin, thank you, Gloria Borger, David Chalian as well.
Just ahead, more late reaction from the White House and Capitol Hill. We'll also talk to David Gergen and John Dean who obviously worked for Richard Nixon during Watergate. We'll be right back.
COOPER: The breaking news source is telling CNN that then FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo saying President Trump asked him to end the investigation with Michael Flynn. The request is made in private in the Oval Office. The conversation, it might constitute obstruction of justice.
Tonight, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz has requested all memos written by Director Comey involving the president, the Republican chairman also says he's ready to issue a subpoena to get the Comey memo everyone is focused on tonight if needed. The White House is denying the report. Jeff Zeleny joins me now. So what is the White House saying about these allegations?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the White House is pushing back on that. They're saying, "Look, it just did not happen as these memos explain." Let's take a look at the statement released earlier this evening from the White House.
[21:50:05] It says this. It says, "While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving Mr. Flynn."
The president -- the statement says, "Has the utmost respect of our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey." That's from a White House official earlier.
And, Anderson, the question here is though the advisors, the aides that normally sort of have more of a sense of these things simply don't know because they weren't there. So the president is telling them there in this case, but that statement, of course, is very explicit.
COOPER: Right. I mean, that statement is based on apparently what the president maybe told some White House official. But as we know in the past, the president said things to White House officials that are not true, they go out and say it. And the next day, the president tweets and undercuts what they've said because he's changed his mind. I understand you have new reporting on what's going on inside the west-wing.
ZELENY: Well, Anderson, for all the talk of staff shake-ups. I mean, the president often fuels this himself saying he's not happy with one person or the other. I am getting a growing sense here after sort of this whiplash of controversy, that in the words of one top Republican who's close to this White House says, "This is on him." Meaning this is on the president.
I'm told that there has been more of a camaraderie building between some staff members as they're all involved in this, you know, constant state of, will I stay? Will I go? Will he fire me? Will he not? But this is a sense that this in particular is a rare controversy that is entirely on the president.
And as we see these Republicans on Capitol Hill subpoena these memos and documents, this is a "he said, he said". It will ultimately likely end up in a hearing on Capitol Hill with James Comey testifying and, of course, the White House will have to respond to that.
All of this of course coming ahead of the first foreign trip that president is taking on Friday. All of this -- the west-wing advisors will be on a plane flying from here to Saudi Arabia in closed quarters for a long time.
COOPER: Yeah. It's going to be upon arrival. It's also -- I mean a fascinating detail that he told Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave the Oval Office, the vice-president as well, but for Director Comey to stay behind. And that's why they have to have -- they had this one-on-one conversation. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.
Now, the reaction at Capitol Hill. Manu Raju joins us with that. So what are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Bipartisan questions and concerns. Anderson, earlier tonight, Democrats and the House Oversight Committee demanding an investigation into what they believe may be a "conspiracy" by the White House and by President Trump to quash the Russia investigation.
Now, Republicans are not going that far but they're raising concerns. Here are two Trump allies who raised concerns earlier tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARK WALKER (R), NORTH CAROLINA: If that's accurate, I don't have any reason right now that it's not, I'm just hearing it from one of our staff people. To say that we would have some concern would be accurate. That would be Trump. For me to act like it's not a concern would be a bit remised on my part.
REP. KEVIN CRAMER (R), NORTH DAKOTA: The larger concern is just what seems to be a lack of communication discipline coming out of the White House. And I think some of that is driven by the desire to have an immediate response to everything. And even, you know, you have to have to clarify all the time. I'd prefer that they wait a couple of hours, you know, half a day and get everything right the first time so that -- so you don't raise more suspicion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And, Anderson, I asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell directly what about the concerns within his Senate Republican conference. He said, "It would be helpful to have a little less drama."
COOPER: What happens next in terms of the next steps in Capitol? Gloria Borger or I think it was David Chalian earlier said, "Look, this all happens now on Capitol Hill." What happened?
RAJU: Yeah. We're expecting calls for more investigations, including from some Republicans. Earlier tonight, Jason Chaffetz, the House Oversight Committee chairman, sending a letter to the FBI asking for records related to James Comey, any of those meetings that he had with President Trump. They want those records, so Chaffetz is even suggesting a subpoena.
I talked to others Republicans today saying that they want Comey to testify publicly, including Trey Gowdy, the Congressman from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham also saying that.
The question though, Anderson, is will any of them embrace a special prosecutor? Graham telling me earlier, "It depends on what Comey says in a public hearing and if I think that Trump is threatening this investigation, then I'll back on." But right now, Republicans are not there quite yet?
COOPER: I mean, if Director Comey -- former Director Comey did testify it would be fascinating. You know, they get been invited before. It was going to be a private hearing. There was a reporting that he wanted a public hearing. Any idea of when he might actually testify?
RAJU: No clue yet, because several committees have asked him to actually come publicly. He has not accepted that invitation, but there's expectation on Capitol Hill that that will happen. And of course if it does, buckle up, Anderson.
COOPER: And is there any talk by Republicans about trying to subpoena any tapes if there are any from the White House, which is, you know, what the president himself raised?
[21:55:05] RAJU: That's -- it's a good question. I asked that question to Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who would have jurisdiction over the Justice Department. He said, "We don't even know if they have tapes yet."
They want to question Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the Justice Department on Thursday at a closed door session with all senators. So we'll see what comes of that and if the Republicans make any moves to subpoena any tapes if they exist, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks very much.
An extraordinary day in Washington. Joining us now is John Dean, CNN Contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel.
So, John, I mean last night you heard David Gergen, or earlier David Gergen who also served in the Nixon White House, he believes this has now entered "impeachment territory". Do you agree with him?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it has. We're talking about a potential obstruction of justice. We don't have all the facts at this point, but the broad outline certainly suggests something that, from an impeachment purposes, would fall right in the parallel with Nixon.
COOPER: Because it was -- take us back. I mean, for those who don't remember, I've been reading up on this. It was Nixon saying on tape that someone in the CIA should tell the FBI to end their investigation. Is that right?
DEAN: That's exactly what happened. It was Hallman (ph) talking to the president on June 23rd, which was just days after the arrest and he instructed Hallman, or Dave Hallman (ph) consent to go to the FBI, have the CIA, go to the FBI and tell them they were interfering or threatening CIA operations when that was a stretch. It wasn't clear whether it was true or not. But, anyway, they proceeded with that and it was just an effort to block the FBI in the long run.
COOPER: And once that tape emerged, that was the nail in the coffin?
DEAN: That -- not so much for the obstruction. What it did is really caught Nixon in the lie. He had said he had no knowledge of a cover up and had been saying that for month after month. He said he didn't know anything about the cover up until I told him on March 21st. That was his defense. Well, when the Supreme Court forced him to release the tapes and this tape was in there on June 23rd showing him having the CIA block the FBI, that certainly put to lie that he's not knowing anything about a cover up, because he was directly involved in it.
COOPER: You know, can I just ask you personally? What is it like working in a White House in chaos? Working in a White House where there are these swirling investigations? I mean, as you did. And -- I mean, I'm not sure. It's exactly the same parallel here. But it's certainly a White House where there's got to be lot of employees, you know, looking at the exits or wondering are they going to be fired or what's going to happen next?
DEAN: The Nixon White House was surprisingly calm, surprisingly well organized, surprisingly compartmentalized, so it really didn't affect a lot of people. The work went on with surprising quality and ease.
COOPER: You famously testified during Watergate that you warned President Nixon there was a cancer growing on the presidency. That's the phrase you used. Do you think President Trump merits a similar warning from someone close to him?
DEAN: I think he's certainly somebody he could trust who can tell him that the increase territory he keeps getting into. He doesn't seem to want to listen to anybody, other than his own gut instinct. And he should know now after what's happened since he really started his presidency that his gut instinct isn't doing well by him. So I think he does need somebody that can -- he respects and he'll listen to.
COOPER: You know it was interesting. We have Professor Alan Dershowitz from Harvard on and he was saying, "Look, it's time for the president to, you know, lawyer up, essentially." And the first thing that lawyer should tell the president is stop talking, stop tweeting, don't try to keep coming up with explanations that you think are digging yourself out, because it's only digging you deeper in.
DEAN: That would be very good advice. And I'm sure that's what any savvy lawyer would tell him. He got to understand post-Watergate. Anderson, it's very clear that the White House Counsel does not represent Donald Trump. They represent the office of the president.
In fact, they're having a tough time right now because their loyalty is to that institution and that office and not to Donald Trump. So, they can't really give him legal advice and he needs it.
COOPER: As you sit here tonight, all these year later, does it seem to you that the lessons, all the cautionary tales of Watergate have been lost on the president, perhaps some close in?
DEAN: I don't think this president seems to know that history very well. He's saying and doing too many things that are too of reminiscent and recall that very history. He seems to be following the same mistake that Nixon made. So I think somebody who could just remind him of that history, since he's not a reader, maybe somebody could tell him the story.
COOPER: I was going to say there are some great books, but, yeah, not a reader. John Dean, great to have you on. Thank you very much.
[22:00:02] And thanks for watching "360" tonight. Time to hand things over to Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, CNN's Town Hall, "White House in Crisis" with Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor John Kasich starts now.