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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Source: Trump Donor Held Secret Meeting with Putin Ally; Interview with Congressman Eric Swalwell of California; Susan Rice on Unmasking: "I Leaked Nothing to Nobody". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, after weeks of seeing one puzzle piece after another emerged about contact between Russians and Team Trump, something new happened. The puzzle itself just got bigger. It now stretches into the Indian Ocean to a string of islands, the Seychelles, where a meeting took place that is now making headlines.

Tonight, we know that a Trump campaign donor who's also the brother of a Trump cabinet member and the founder of the controversial firm Blackwater, went to the Seychelles in January, and met with a Russian confidant of Vladimir Putin.

Now, we don't yet know exactly what it means or whether it involved any wrongdoing at all. We do it's yet another in a parade of Trump- Russia items that raise eyebrows to say the least and have led one House committee member to say this evening that some people in his opinion will end up in jail when all is said and done. We'll talk to the reporter who broke this story about the meeting in the Seychelles.

There's a new polling tonight from Quinnipiac showing a record low 35 percent job approval rating for President Trump. No surprise that the administration continues to try to divert attention from the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into contacts between the campaign and Russia.

We begin covering it all tonight with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

So, what's been the reaction on the Hill to this news that Erik Prince, who is a Trump ally, a big donor, and formally the head of Blackwater, was trying to establish a possible back channel with a Putin confidant during the transition?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL RPEPORTER: Well, Anderson, the congressional investigators, they want to learn more about this, particularly about the timing of this meeting that occurred in the Seychelles. This occurred in January, of course, right around the same time as the Obama administration issued new sanctions against Russia for its alleged role in trying to sway the election, according to the intelligence community, in favor of Donald Trump. Now, this meeting occurred around that time where there's a push to

perhaps loosen the sanctions. The question is, did that come up in any of those discussions? We don't know what occurred during those discussions. And the White House batting down this report, saying that Erik Prince had no role in the Trump transition team. Prince's spokesman himself saying there's really nothing there.

But the question about these contacts comes as the Russia investigation is trying to look -- the Hill investigation is trying to look largely into these Russian contacts with Trump officials, and this, certainly, is going to be one of them they'll dig into pretty deeply, Anderson.

COOPER: And where do both congressional investigations stand?

RAJU: Well, on the House side, things starting to look a little bit up. They, of course, have been stymied over the last several days over Chairman Devin Nunes' role running the committee and questions from Democrats about whether he can do that given some of the actions that he took that they believe show that he was too cozy to the White House at a time when the committee was looking at any of those alleged contacts that occurred with Russian officials during the campaign season.

Now, Democrats say that they're going to participate in this investigation and they have cut a deal with Republicans over the exact witnesses that they want to bring forward, including Trump associates.

Take a listen to how a couple of key members are talking about the investigation, where it stands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Going forward, there's basic agreement on the witness list.

RAJU: So, there's an agreement then on Flynn, Carter Page, Manafort?

KING: Well, again, you have to ask -- I don't want to be jumping the gun here. But I think you ask the chairman and the ranking member, you see there is general agreement on the witness list. From what I know, every individual who has been discussed will be called as a witness.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We don't have dates yet on our witnesses, but we certainly have made a lot of progress. The chairman and I have exchanged witness lists. I think we're in agreement on bringing in both the witnesses that we want, the witnesses he wants.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

RAJU: Now, Chairman Devin Nunes did not want to answer any questions today about his role given the controversy he's faced over the last several days.

But on the other side of the Capitol, Anderson, the Senate Intelligence Committee really moving forward on its interviews that are happening behind closed doors, including with intelligence community officials, Mark Warner. The top Democrat on the committee said the one thing that they're trying to learn is what was left out of that January report that said from the Intelligence Committee's perspective that Russian officials at the highest levels, including Vladimir Putin, tried to sway the election to help Donald Trump. They're trying to figure out what is not in that report.

And Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, telling me earlier today that they have learned, quote, "a lot so far," but the question is when do they bring forward those big witnesses like Paul Manafort, maybe even Michael Flynn or Carter Page, those Trump advisers? That's something both committees are looking at. The question is when they'll actually talk to them -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Manu Raju, appreciate the update.

One other item from the capitol, late today, one Democrat on the House committee kind of dropped a bombshell. Here's what Joaquin Castro told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I guess I would say this. That my impression is I wouldn't be surprised after all of this is said and done that some people end up in jail.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Really? And how high does that go in your suspicion? That's all we can call it right now.

CASTRO: Well, that's yet to be determined.

[20:05:01]BLITZER: But you think some people are going to wind up in jail, not just one individual, but people, plural, is that what you're saying?

CASTRO: That's my impression, yes.

BLITZER: Do you want to elaborate a little bit on that, give us a little bit more, because that's obviously a very intriguing statement?

CASTRO: I wish I could, but I can't at this time.

BLITZER: But at this point, you're confident that at least some Trump associates will wind up in jail.

CASTRO: If I was betting, I would say yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Pretty strong stuff. Now, I asked one of his fellow Democrats on the committee about that, Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. I spoke to him a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Congressman, I want to get your reaction to something that your Democratic colleague on the Intelligence Committee, Congressman Joaquin Castro, said earlier today on CNN, that he believes some people will go to jail at the end of the Russian investigation. Do you agree with that?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, right now, we are seeing that these deep personal, political and financial ties of Donald Trump's campaign team were converging at the same time that Russia's interference took place. I think the most important thing we can do right now is follow the evidence. I don't want to prejudge the result, but we need our House investigation to get back on track.

COOPER: And in terms of the investigation, is it back on track?

SWALWELL: So, today, we found out that the majority has agreed to our witness list, and so, we have a witness list now. We're going to be interviewing relevant witnesses. I hope that we also have the public hearing where Sally Yates and Directors Clapper and Brennan tell Congress and the world what Russia was doing and whether any U.S. persons were involved.

COOPER: So, has the second briefing, I guess, behind closed doors with Comey and with Rogers, has that been scheduled?

SWALWELL: No, it has not been scheduled and neither has the public hearing. We think both of them should happen, but one should not happen in lieu of the other.

COOPER: This morning, you and your fellow Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, you were briefed on the intelligence reports which are at the heart of Chairman Nunes' claims. I know you can't talk about specific information. Can I ask -- did it answer any questions for you and did it confirm what Chairman Nunes has been claiming?

SWALWELL: So far, there's still zero evidence that the president was wiretapped or that President Obama ordered him be surveilled. Also, Anderson, the president, President Trump, he holds these records. He can declassify them. I think it's very, very telling that he hasn't, and I don't believe he will.

COOPER: When will you see the actual documents? Will you see them?

SWALWELL: We're told that we'll see them before we go back home to our districts at the end of the week. So sooner rather than later, but we're going to continue this investigation. As I said, there's witnesses to interview and other evidence to review. Whether they put up hurdles or not, we're going to make it to the finish line.

COOPER: Why do you think the president would not declassify the documents which you were briefed on?

SWALWELL: Well, I've always believed if someone has information that can help them, they will show that information. And right now, this is just nothing more than a distraction. I think it's a foolish one because again, we're going to get back on track on this investigation, and we're going to continue to learn more about Donald Trump and his team's ties converging with Russia's interference. We're not relenting, and this isn't going to stop us.

COOPER: Do you have confidence that your investigation, the House investigation, can go forward with Chairman Nunes still leading the committee?

SWALWELL: I think it's a compromised investigation right now with him still leading it, but that's why I'm calling for an independent commission. Every Democrat and one Republican has supported that. I've been having private conversations with Republicans telling them that this is the most comprehensive way to get to the bottom of what happened and also an insurance policy of the House investigation that's now compromised.

COOPER: And when it comes to Susan Rice and the unmasking of Trump aides, Rice said today her actions were, quote, "were absolutely not for political purposes to spy or anything." She had previously denied any knowledge of any unmasking.

Have you seen any evidence that would contradict her latest assertion? I mean, do you think she crossed any lines either ethically or legally?

SWALWELL: I've seen zero evidence, and Donald Trump can actually declassify, if there is evidence. And I believe the fact he has not shows she did nothing wrong, and also any time someone requests an unmasking, it's for their eyes only, Anderson. It is not a reply all to the intelligence community. And again, this is nothing more than a distraction. We remain focused.

COOPER: Do you think Susan Rice needs to come and speak to your committee?

SWALWELL: Again, it would only be a hurdle for us to reach the finish line, but, you know, we'll interview any witnesses that the majority brings. But there are much more relevant witnesses like Paul Manafort and others who Chairman Nunes has said will be available. Those are the ones we want to hear from.

COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Coming up next, we're going to dig deeper on the key figure in the Seychelles story. Just who is Erik Prince? We'll hear from "The Washington Post" reporter that broke this whole story. The story of the secret meeting and bring in more of the latest reporting on it.

Also, North Korea has just fired another missile. The State Department has said in so many words, "We are out of patience."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:12:56] COOPER: Well, the president says Russia is a ruse. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro says he thinks some people will go to jail for it. Whichever you believe, each day seems to bring another story and more to investigate. The FBI is reportedly looking into this one.

We mentioned at the top of the broadcast, the January meeting on a remote Indian Ocean island involving Trump ally Erik Prince of Blackwater notoriety, and United Arab Emirates Putin tape and a friend of Vladimir Putin.

Joining us is Greg Miller, who broke the story for "The Washington Post."

Greg, this is an incredible story. And I wanted to just take this kind of piece by piece. Can you start by explaining how and why Erik Prince was then in President-elect Trump's orbit in the first place?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: There's a lot of connections between Erik Prince and Trump's orbit, as you put it. So, I mean for starters, he gave a ton of money. He contributed at least $250,000 to political action committees and other organizations that were supporting Trump.

He is tight with many people in Trump's inner circle, including Steve Bannon. He would -- he appeared in numerous interviews on the Breitbart radio program, Breitbart website, all of them singing Trump's praises, often very critical of Hillary Clinton. He showed up in the Trump transition offices in New York at least once that we know of, and, of course, he has a blood connection. His sister is the education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

COOPER: So, there are other things about Erik Prince. I mean, certainly, his history of Blackwater, his wealth, his family, as you said, his sister is Betsy DeVos. They're interesting and perhaps relevant, maybe not. But how did this meeting, the Seychelles of all places, I mean, how did it come about?

MILLER: Well, so, there's, you know, there's part -- there are aspects of this that we still don't understand completely, but what we do know is this was arranged and brokered by the United Arab Emirates, and it was designed to serve as sort of a backchannel communications between the Trump team and Russia. UAE makes this introduction. Erik Prince has lived in the UAE, is very close to the UAE ruling family, has made a great deal of money from that ruling family.

[20:15:04] So, it might be logical that he would be ideal for -- to function as a go-between in this scenario.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And the people you talked to believe that Erik Prince was representing or kind of standing in for people in the Trump administration or the incoming Trump administration? MILLER: Absolutely. He presented himself in that way. He presented

himself as an unofficial representative, an unofficial envoy, and was -- and this was for a meeting with a confidant of Putin. And this was, you know, set up by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

So, this is not -- these are -- these are important players in the Middle East making these arrangements approximate.

COOPER: The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, in terms of motive for him, besides being -- according to your reporting, a potential go between UAE would like Moscow to basically separate more from Iran and be more in the orbit of Saudi Arabia and UAE?

MILLER: Absolutely. In that scenario where the UAE's interests and the Trump administration's interests appear to be aligned. There was lots of discussion during the Trump transition among senior officials about how and whether it was possible to try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Iran, both in Syria where Russia backs Assad alongside Iran, Iranian forces, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

A lot of people think that that's a really tough thing to try to pull off, and that you would never be able to get close to getting any kind of -- that kind of an agreement from Moscow without major U.S. concessions on issues, including U.S. sanctions.

COOPER: And just in terms of possible connections to Team Trump during the transition, you say Erik Prince was seen in Trump Tower. Was that in -- that was prior to this meeting?

MILLER: Yes, weeks -- several weeks earlier. And the crown prince was in Trump Tower. He flew in a very unusual way here, undisclosed, arrival --

COOPER: Undisclosed to the U.S. government at the time.

MILLER: Undisclosed to the U.S. government and in particular to the Obama administration, which was still sitting in office, right? They felt they had a commitment that he was not going to be coming into the United States, not going to be meeting with the Trump team until President Trump was sworn in. Flies in, unannounced. They learned of it only because his name shows up on a manifest that's flagged by Customs and Border Protection.

COOPER: And he came, the crown prince came with his brother who I think, according to your article, if I remember correctly, is involved in national security in the UAE?

MILLER: Right. Functions as a national security adviser and also, Anderson, so this is all happening at a time when the Russian ambassador is also at Trump Tower. I mean, this is all sort of in the same December time frame when Sergei Kislyak is meeting with Flynn, the former national security adviser. He's meeting with Jared Kushner, son-in-law and close adviser to President Trump.

So, lots of important people filing in and out, including Kislyak, including the crown prince, including Erik Prince. COOPER: And the crown prince also met, according to your reporting,

Kushner, Bannon, and Flynn?

MILLER: Yes, the same sort of setup for that meeting as the Russian ambassador had, except you add one more name and that's Steve Bannon.

COOPER: So, I mean, the obvious question, based on your reporting, is there anything to rule out or rule in the possibility that the New York meeting essentially got the ball rolling for the Seychelles meeting? Because your article cites current and former U.S. officials who worked closely with the crown prince who suggests it would be out of character for him to arrange the meeting without getting a -- some sort of a green light in advance from top aides to both Trump and Putin, if not the leaders themselves.

MILLER: Yes, it's sort of -- it's sort of hard to imagine a scenario in which the crown prince would be engaged in something like this without seeing that this as a legitimate undertaking with the blessing of people in Trump's inner circle.

COOPER: Greg Miller, just fascinating reporting. Thank you so much.

MILLER: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, I want to bring in the panel. Ryan Lizza, Errol Louis, Carl Bernstein, Kirsten Powers, also Jeffrey Lord, Amanda Carpenter and Steve Israel.

Ryan, what do you make of all this? I mean, it's certainly a fascinating piece of the puzzle. There's still a lot that's not known. Clearly, Erik Prince is denying. I mean, he says the meeting took place but it had nothing to do with Trump.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Yes, it's a really complicated story. The White House has sort of distanced the themselves from Prince --

COOPER: They say it is flimsy reporting.

LIZZA: Right. And one of the reasons you would use someone like Prince, if this is indeed what happened, if he was officially sort of given the green light to set up a meeting like this, would be exactly so you could plausibly deny it later. There's a long history in foreign policymaking of presidents and incoming presidents using people who are one or two steps removed to test out ideas that does seem like what this was here. It's an awful lot of trouble for someone like Erik Prince to go through unless he had some idea that he was working on behalf of someone, you know, Trump or someone around him.

[20:20:04] COOPER: I mean, Erik Prince does have, you know, global business interests in a lot of different countries. He, you know, forms armies for different governments and things.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he's a controversial person. So, even if you were going to do this, he's a very controversial person to choose to do it with. This is somebody who has moved to Abu Dhabi basically reportedly because he needs to get out of the United States because there are so many lawsuits, whether civil lawsuits or criminal lawsuits, against executives of Blackwater.

I think most people know that Blackwater, you know, got in trouble for opening fire on a bunch of civilians in Iraq. I mean, these are pretty serious charges. You have Blackwater people who -- contractors who are accused of murdering people in Afghanistan.

And so, somebody who has to move to the UAE to basically outrun the law probably isn't somebody you should be choosing to be negotiating on behalf of the United States.

COOPER: And yet, I mean, it's interesting that he was in Trump Tower during the transition time.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me try to add another factual dimension to this. There were a number of foreign policy experts brought into the Trump transition who were very disturbed at what they saw with Erik Prince, that he was meeting with the president-elect. Some of these people left the transition effort partly because they saw a line close to what Putin was pronouncing, that Erik Prince and others, including Flynn, were declaiming time and time again.

And this is one of the things that people on the Hill investigating are looking at. It's one of the things the FBI is aware of. So, there's another dimension to this on top of what you were just talking to "The Washington Post" reporter who did that terrific story about.

But this is part of a larger piece of the puzzle that may or may not be crucial.

COOPER: The other --

BERNSTEIN: What is Erik Prince doing meeting with Donald Trump and what is this all about?

COOPER: The odd thing about the timing of all of this, Errol is this did happen before the story of Flynn and the Russian ambassador. It was sort of just I think a week or so before it really became on the front burner that the meeting took place, but it was also just a few days before the inauguration. So, you know, as the report for "The Washington Post" is pointing out, it's sort of an odd time to have an meeting when in just a short amount of time, you can have the meeting above board with the administration.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is what you get with an anti-establishment candidate and campaign, right? Everything in Foggy Bottom, everything in Washington was supposed to be bad. These are the people who brought us the Iraq war. We're going to take an entirely different approach.

Well, here's a different approach. You get sketchy characters moving in and out of what's basically the president's home as well as the location of his transition office -- undisclosed deals, undisclosed dealings, undisclosed financial ties between the president-elect himself at time and members of his family and the Trump organization, and oligarchs who were close to Putin and so forth.

So, it becomes almost impossible to try to put together this puzzle, and this is what you get rather than what we have seen in the past, which is sort of clear statements about human rights, foreign policy, where we're going, who's going to do it, people with actual experience. You get at best freelancers like Erik Prince floating around.

COOPER: We're gong to have more with our panelists.

A lot more to talk about ahead, including Susan Rice's public remarks since she got caught up in a White House surveillance controversy. What President Obama's national security adviser is saying now about the unmasking of identities of Americans who showed up in intelligence reports?

And later, breaking news, Kim Jong-un firing another missile and the Trump administration fires off a chilling response.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:27:38] COOPER: Former President Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice has landed at the center of the White House's surveillance controversy. And today, she defended the actions that President Trump and his allies have seized upon. In an interview with MSNBC, she said she never made public any of the names of Americans who turned up in intelligence reports and whose identities were unmasked.

Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR PRES. OBAMA: The notion that which some people are trying to suggest that by asking for the identity of an American person, that is the same as leaking it is completely false. There's no equivalent between the so-called unmasking and leaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I do want to show you what a number of particularly conservative news outlets have been pointing to, which is comments Secretary Rice made two weeks ago in an interview with PBS' "NewsHour's" Judy Woodruff.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: In the last few hours, we've been following the disclosure by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, that in essence during the final days of the Obama administration, during the transition, after President Trump had been elected, that he and the people around him may have been caught up in surveillance of foreign individuals and that their identities may have been disclosed. Do you know anything about this?

RICE: I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And back now with the panel. I mean, Jeff, what do you make of the two different statements?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listening to CNN's John King today, I mean, you know, will the real Susan Rice stand up? I mean, which one is it?

The problem here -- and she parses her words so carefully. There is a difference between unmasking and leaking. But if, in fact, you unmasked to the degree that in Washington you let a secret out to, what, 30, 40, however many people it is, you're doing this with a not unreasonable -- you could be doing it --

COOPER: But there's no evidence --

LORD: Right, right.

COOPER: There's no evidence about -- I mean, with unmasking, the names were unmasked to her. There's no evidence that she spread the names.

LORD: Correct, correct. But when this gets out, somebody did this. Somebody did this. And that has got to be -- I mean, I'm all for at this point an independent commission. My liberal friends will love this. Carl will just love this.

I think we should appoint Dick Cheney, who's very hard on the Russians, to head the commission with Joe Lieberman and get into this and just get to the bottom of everything. Have Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and all these people who volunteered to testify, have them come up, have Susan Rice, do it all, get it all --

[20:30:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: There's a difference between unmasking and spreading that information around, or just unmasking which is legal and -- which is -- can in many cases be appropriate and is done pretty frequently from what I understand, and actually leaking that information to a reporter or to others.

STEVE ISRAEL, (D) FORMER CONGRESSMAN - NEW YORK: Look, let's do a little reality check here. Donald Trump and his administration have proven to be masters of distraction and deflection. They want us to have the conversation we're having. They want us to be parsing the difference between masking and leaking instead of talking about the fundamental issue here, which is an act of a Russian's espionage against the United States Government and potential aiding and abetting of that act by people associated with Donald Trump.

This, today, the story is Susan Rice, last weekend it was Evelyn Farkas, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.

COOPER: I think her name was mentioned --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- by some on this panel.

ISRAEL: So these guys -- I mean, it's really -- it's quite amazing, they pull names out a hat, in order to feed the news narrative to deflect from what counts, what counts is this investigation of the Russians, this FBI investigation, whether there was aiding and abetting of and active espionage against the American people. And that's what we should be focus on.

COOPER: Amanda, is this just distraction one of several?

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: I think there's a lesson for many people in the Trump administration to learn from Susan Rice right now. And she is a lesson on what happens when you lose your credibility with a large portion of the public. Her credibility was shocked after she misled people about the Benghazi videos and everything that stemmed from that in a terrorist attack. She has no credibility with about 50 percent of voters. And so, when they look at her, it's just a feeding frenzy.

Meanwhile, it's not lost on any Republicans that there's an investigation into Pres. Trump's former campaign manager, National Security Advisor, oh, and by the way, his top most trusted person right now Jared Kushner is facing Senate Intelligence. But, look, he's going on a plane to Iraq right now. This is a lot of distraction. But Susan Rice does have a problem that people who are illegitimately defending Donald Trump right now may face themselves if they aren't much more careful.

COOPER: Ryan, you heard about this just -- recently I was reading -- you're kind of tracking the various distractions.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Well, a couple of things, one, this is now the third kind of intelligence collection that has been used to justify that famous tweet from Donald Trump, right? First it was FISA court order that Obama wiretapped his phones, then if everyone members, it was British Intelligence that was actually doing it and --

COOPER: Judge Napolitano sources.

LIZZA: Judge Napolitano -- I know he's back tonight, talking about this and now it's Susan Rice and unmasking the thing used to justify that. But pull all that aside in search to justify that tweet.

My understanding of the process of unmasking I think is really important to understand what this is all about, right? Say the National Security Agency that collects foreign intelligence, if they have a conversation where an American is mentioned or just happens to be on the line when they're targeting, legally targeting a foreigner, they make a decision, is it intelligence, is it relevant intelligence to sort of feed up the food chain? If it is, they write a report, if it's not, they purge the information. So they're making the first decision that this intelligence is useful and the policy makers need to know about it. That's the first thing.

Second thing is, Susan Rice she's a National Security Adviser, most important of National Security person in the White House. She gets that report, right? She sees a masked American name, as the NSA masks name. She has to decide, there she needs to know who this name or not? There's a process by which she can't unmask it. Unmasking does not mean disclosing to world. It just means that she gets to see it.

The NSA has to approve that unmasking, based on two criteria, whether it would help her understand the report more, anyway, it's a whole process that gets logged in a computer. The only reason we know about this is because the White House aides went to the computer and said, oh, Susan Rice was making this request. If this was a big abuse of the system, I'm willing to believe that perhaps it was abused by the NSA or Susan Rice. We just haven't seen evidence yet. But if this was abuse of that system of unmasking she did a terrible job covering her tracks, because she literally logged her request in a computer.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: I don't think the fact that she logged that means that she didn't do anything wrong. The question I think for a lot of people who are concerned about the behavior of some of the people in our government, in terms of violating privacy in terms of surveillance, you know, is -- why did she need to do this. I mean Eli Lake reported that it was dozens of requests. I mean, why did she have to do this? And what --

COOPER: Was it politically motivated or not?

POWERS: Yeah, was it politically motivated or not? And I think that's a reasonable thing to ask. We don't know that it was.

LIZZA: We don't know, but we do know that Devin Nunes, one of the two people who have seen all this -- one of the several people who've seen it all have said two things, one that it's not related to Russia and two that it's not illegal that he saw.

[20:35:08] POWERS: -- we should be more concerned. I mean, if it -- look, --

COOPER: Very briefly --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep our eye on the ball here, and I hate to go to the Watergate analogy, but in Watergate, what we knew was there had been an attack on the free electoral process in the United States of America. The same question is what looms over all of this. Not how did the press or anyone else get the information, that's exactly what happened in Watergate when Nixon tried to make the conduct of the press and leaks supposedly the issue.

We need to stay focused on the real story here. If there is an incidental story, about how certain pieces of information came to be, fine, down the line, take a look at it. But let's remember, Steve just said it, this is about a foreign power which interfered with our free electoral system.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. Up next, breaking news from North Korean, a missile launch and Trump administration's message to Kim Jong-Un. Plus, the gut wrenching images out of Syria today, reports from deadly gas attack, one of the worst in years, the White House has pointed the finger of blame at the Obama administration, the question is does the Trump team also bear responsibility? We'll take a look at that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's breaking news tonight from North Korea. Kim Jong-Un ordered his military to fire another missile. The Trump administration fires off a quick response. Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon with more. So, what did you learn Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Anderson. This happened a short time ago, North Korea firing a ballistic missile off at Eastern Coast, why was this missile important? Not so much about the missile, but about the program it represents, the missile was mobile launched, that means it's hard for U.S. satellites to track a mobile launcher and know where it's going to fire from. It had solid fuel on board, again, making it very tough for U.S. satellites to spy and predict where this launches are coming from, because it's all fueled up, it's ready to go. You have much less advance warning.

[20:40:26] This is the program that North Korea is working on to try and launch these kinds of missiles, keep them outside the eyes of U.S. spy satellites. This missile flew about nine minutes into the EC, also known as the Sea of Japan. It didn't go very far, but that's not really the point, it's what it represents.

And then, we had a really amazing statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, that I quickly want to reach. Mr. Tillerson saying, "North Korea launched yet another intermediate ranged ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea, we have no further comment." No comment from the State Department, it does make you wonder if they aren't the least bit worried tonight how Kim Jong-Un may interpret those words, Anderson.

COOPER: Or there's lack of words, kind of interesting. There's another, obvious, a big international story, a chemical weapons air strike against civilians in Northern Syria, the images are just horrific. What's the latest on that?

STARR: The images are horrific. And of course, we want to caution our viewers, they are very disturbing if they do have young children present at this time, they may want to take them out of their room.

This attack, very serious in Northern Syria, U.S. officials believe it was the Assad regime and most likely they attacked using Sarin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: (on voice): CNN will not blur out the horror. Activists say dozens of civilians killed and hundreds injured including children when air strikes hit in Northern Syria's Idlib province. Eyewitnesses say visibilities were short of breath, choking, foaming at the mouth, poeopel dies of asphyxiation, symptoms of a chemical attack.

DR. FERAS AL JUNDI, TREATED ATTACK VICTIMS: I saw children dead. I saw an entire family, a mother and three children all dead.

STARR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignoring shouted questions about the attack from reporters, just days after he made clear the Trump doctrine is to no longer aim to push Syrian Pres. Bashar Al Assad to be removed from power.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the status and the longer term status of Pres. Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

STARR: This may be the new reality.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There's no plausible way to get rid of him and we're all going to have to hold our collective nose and accept that and come up with a strategy that minimizes his ability to hurt Syrians in the future.

STARR: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also blaming both the Assad regime and Pres. Obama.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These heinous actions by the Bashar Al Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution.

STARR: And emergency meeting of the United Nation Security Council now scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Bana Alabed, the 8-year-old Syrian girl who tweeted from Aleppo during the government siege had a new message for Pres. Donald Trump, "This is today in Syria in Idlib, Hi Donald Trump do you love this?" She says with a photo of the children of her country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Heart breaking images, Pres. Obama came under years of criticism for his so-called red line, saying that Assad cannot use chemical weapons, but Assad did and U.S. didn't do much about it. Tonight, Pres. Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson issuing written statements condemning the new attacks but no sign that the U.S. is going to do anything about it, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah, Barabara, thanks very much. We should also point out -- no signs that Mr. Trump backed a tough stance on Syria when he was a business mogul back in September of 2013. And, in fact, Mr. Trump posted this tweet, "The only reason president Obama wants to attack Syria is to safe face over his very dumb red line statement, do not attack Syria, fix U.S.A." One of several tweets like that he sent at the time.

Joining me tonight two of our journalists who spent time in Syria, our Senior International Correspondents, Arwa Damon and Clarissa Ward. You know, Arwa, I mean this attack the Trump administration's response on the one hand they say that this can't be ignored by the civilized world. And they're basically the next sentence they go to blame the Obama administration for essentially setting the red line and then not acting on it which is certainly understandable. But it doesn't seem like there going to be any action on the part of the U.S. this time either.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's what's so devastating about all of this. I think there's some sort of moral compass that has been broken given that so many atrocities that's been happening in Syria for so long and nothing seems to be galvanizing more leaders to put aside their own personal political agenda to actually take actions to make it stop.

The Trump administration does have an opportunity right here not to allow history to repeat itself. Many would argue that they have a responsibility to do that as well.

[20:45:09] COOPER: And yet, Clarissa, I mean, we just heard from Rex Tillerson, essentially a change in U.S. policy, essentially where he said that basically it's up to the Syrian people whether or not, you know, the future of Syria and Assad. I want to play something John McCain said about that. Let's listen.

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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Bashar Assad and his friends, the Russians take note of what Americans say, I'm sure they took note of what our Secretary of State said just the other day that the Syrian people would be determining their own future themselves. One of the more incredible statements I've ever heard. I'm sure they're encouraged to know that the United States is withdrawing and seeking some kind of new arrangement with the Russians and another disgraceful chapter in American history and it was predictable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And I mean, I guess the question is, you know, is impossible to know at this stage is, you know, this attack is the result of those statements by Tillerson basically taking hands off?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is impossible to know and certainly I think that the regime of Bashar Al Assad with all the assistance and help that it's had from its proxies, from the Iran, from Russia, from Hezbollah, has been feeling emboldened to do whatever it pleases to its civilian population for quite sometime.

There's no reason to specifically conclude that this attack was a direct result of Secretary of State Tillerson's comments.

I do think, though, the secretary's comments are slightly disingenuous when you think about what that means, it's up to the Syrian people to decide? Well, do you think the Syrian people were asking to have chemical weapons dropped on civilian populations and women and children killed? Do you think the Syrian people were asking for nearly 50 percent of the people, some 10 million people displaced from their homes, 5 million living in other countries. The Syrian people have not had any say for a very long time. In what happens in their country and in their own future.

COOPER: Does anyone on the ground in Syria still have any hope that the U.S. or the International Community will intervene in any meaningful way? Because I mean, early on, clearly there was a lot of hope, but it has been so long and there's been such slaughter.

DAMON: You know, I was incidentally speaking not too long ago with a group of Syrians about this very issue, how do you still have hope? And they were specifically actually working on trying to begin to put together a file on human rights violations taking place inside Syria, and for them it's quite simple. If we don't have hope we can't keep telling.

And so, yes, I do think people cling to this notion because they have nothing else, everything else has been ripped away from them. That somehow the International Community, the United States is going to do what it takes to just stop this bloodshed.

COOPER: I wonder what you think the reaction to Jared Kushner visiting Iraq is, I mean on the international stage? Because on the one hand, it makes a lot of sense that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs would invite him there because clearly Kushner has the ear of the president and it's a wise move for the Joint Chief Chairman to be able to have significant amount of time with Jared Kushner or somebody who has that close relationship. But it's interesting that the Secretary of State is not involved in this and it does seem to be different centers of power.

WARD: It's extraordinary to see how much responsibility is being delegated to someone who may be a very smart capable person, but who has no diplomatic experience, who has very limited experience in the region, certainly, and generally speaking internationally.

I think most Iraqis probably in our way you might know better than I wouldn't even know who Jared Kushner is, per se. But, of course, there is an awareness of the fact that for whatever reason, there is a very small (inaudible) of people around Pres. Trump who he trust. And so perhaps it's a sign of the fact that Iraq is important to him, that he is sending his son-in-law on this trip, but I think to international leaders who are looking at this situation, it's a little alarming because he's going to have to do an enormous amount of learning on the job.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, good to have you here. Clarissa Ward, thank you.

Well, just ahead tonight, more breaking news, Vice President Pence back on Capitol Hill tonight meeting with key Republican lawmakers about reviving the bill, health care bill. Are they serious about another -- trying the health care or is this wait and kind of change the narrative away from Russia. More ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:52:21] COOPER: More breaking news tonight on Capitol Hill, at this moment Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with several key committee chairmen involved in health care. Latest evidence was being described as an attempt to revive the failed Republican health bill. It's only been 11 days since House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled that bill after coming up short on Republican votes.

Now, up until the last moment, the White House was also bravado, immediately after the blame game began, much of it directed at the Conservative Freedom Caucus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: You know, there is no plan -- this is -- there's plan "A" and plan "A." We're going to get this done.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) U.S. PRESIDENT: With no Democrat support, we couldn't quite get there. We're just a very small number of votes short.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, conservative think tanks have saved Planned Parenthood & Obamacare. So he seems to be putting it right on the right wing, the hard line conservatives in your own party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think the president is 100 percent correct.

SPICER: It's not just about making deals. It's knowing when to walk away from deals.

TRUMP: I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one. So I have no doubt that's going to happen very quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, fast forward to the past 24 hours. Vice President Pence's effort to take a second swing and (inaudible) to the 216 votes needed. Phil Mattingly has details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on voice): The White House led by Vice-President Mike Pence engaging in a blitz to bring members back to the table. Coming to Capitol Hill Monday night present a new proposal to the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservatives that wouldn't back the first effort.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there going to be a vote on health care?

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We're just talking.

MATTINGLY (on voice): The proposal would attempt to address conservative complaints that the original bill didn't go far enough to undo Obamacare's regulatory infrastructure. It would provide states the options to apply for waivers to opt out of Obamacare's 10 essential health benefits, the minimum requirements for any insurance plan.

And also, provide an opt out option for the community ratings regulations, which prevent insurers from racing premiums based on age, gender or health. But for the moment, the Freedom Caucus Members aren't committing.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: There is no deal in principal. There is a solid idea that was offered. We're certainly encouraged by the progress that seem -- we seem to be making.

MATTINGLY (on voice): And senior GOP aides which when underlying problem that remains unchanged. Start with a plan that appeals to as many as possible. Then move it to the right. That may bring conservatives on board. But it also risks bleeding very moderates necessary to reach the 216 votes needed for passage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see how that would work.

MATTINGLY (on voice): And that means leadership cautious behind the scenes sits in a very similar place. With one senior GOP aide telling CNN that any talk of a final deal is, "premature." The best way to describe the new talks would be, "very early discussion." But only one goal, any compromise must add net votes.

[20:55:18] REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Now we're throwing around concepts to improve the bill. That's occurring right now. But that is not to say that we are ready to go. Because we want to make sure that when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill. We've got the consensus that we've long been looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And Phil Mattingly joins us. Now, you've been taking an on- going late meeting between the vice president and just about all the big House Republican stakeholders. What do you hearing then?

MATTINGLY: Well, this is essentially the briefing on the policy that they've been waiting for. This is what was promised last night when they first unveiled kind of the top line components of this new compromise proposal. And what they're doing, they've got staff in the room. The tables I have been told are set up in a rectangular fashion. So the members of Congress, the administration officials including Mike Pence, Reince Priebus, Tom Price, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney are really trying to hammer out a way forward here, staff is in the room to brief on -- to the policy, Anderson. But there's no question about it, going into this meeting you heard from what the speaker had to say.

This was a conceptual stage. The White House says, this was further long, but I can tell you, talking to members and senior leadership aides throughout the course of the day, there's a lot of skepticism that they can actually close the deal. Which raises I think a really important question here, was this real or was this just trying to be an effort to act like they didn't give up on this? I'm told it's much more the former than the latter. But it's worth noting.

Mike Pence, the vice president has put himself out here on this. He has made clear he wants to try and close this deal. If the day is any indication, he's a long way away from that. They're pinning a lot of hopes on this meeting tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Phil Mattingly. Phil, thanks.

Much more ahead tonight on 360. More on the breaking news about a new strand in the expanding web of connection between Trump associates and Russia. What we're learning about a secret meeting on an island in the Indian Ocean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Topping our second hour of 360, island entry. One more item in what seems to be the almost bottomless story of contact between associates of Donald Trump operative of Russian figures. The latest came to light early today. CNN Jim Sciutto is looking into it. tonight, he's got new developments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDEN: Tonight the timing and proximity of meetings between Trump advisers and Russian officials during the transition is raising questions among Hill investigators a Congressional Intelligence source tells CNN.

In particular, whether the loosening of U.S.