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Source: Trump Sought Loyalty Pledge, Comey Declined; Clapper: There Could Be Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion; WSJ: Treasury Department Unit To Share Records In Trump-Russia Probe; Sources: Rosenstein Sees No Need For Special Prosecutor In Russia. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:02] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: There's more breaking news tonight, a new clip from the president's conversation with the NBC's Lester Holt. In this one he revisits the notion that he fired James Comey because the FBI director violated Justice Department rules in the Clinton e-mail case.

That said, he seems more concerned that -- that Director Comey exonerated her and in reconciling those two opposing thoughts. The president may have also revealed something of how he sees his responsibilities as a candidate and a president to the truth.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Well, I mean, justification that he shouldn't be doing that or you didn't like the fact that the investigation didn't lead into an indictment?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I was a candidate, that's a lot different than being president. When I was a candidate I will tell you that what he did, what Comey did had good moments for me as a candidate. I'm only talking as a candidate. I'm not saying as president where I want to do what's right for the country necessarily. I'm talking purely as a candidate for me to get votes.

When he came out with that scathing set of circumstances, the server, the illegal server, the e-mails -- 33,000 e-mails that you get subpoenaed and then you don't show and you erase those, you delete them, you get rid of them, you acid-wash them. When he did all of that stuff, it was disgraceful when he's covering everything point after point.


COOPER: This is only one of a string of new developments today, including the president issuing what many saw as a thinly veiled threat against former Director Comey denying he tried to extract a loyalty pledge from him refusing to deny that he seek really records conversations in the Oval Office. And more details on that all from CNN Sara Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump firing off an apparent threat to the ousted FBI director. Trump tweeting, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

Trump's barbed warning coming as the president is facing scrutiny for his private conversations with Comey before he was fired. Today, the president is refusing to explain what tapes he was referring to and whether he is secretly recording conversations in the White House.

TRUMP: I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest. And I hope he will be. And I'm sure he will be, I hope.

MURRAY (voice-over): As Comey was overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump said he asked Comey repeatedly for reassurances that he wasn't under investigation.

HOLT: And did you ask him, "Am I under investigation?"

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, "If it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation? He said, "You are not under investigation."

MURRAY (voice-over): Those conversations which quickly raised ethical red flags coming twice in phone calls and once over dinner. When Trump said Comey was vying to keep his job.

TRUMP: The dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head and I said, "I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens."

MURRAY (voice-over): But a source close to Comey disputes that account saying Comey did not request the dinner and had already been reassured by the president that he would keep his job.

During that dinner, a source says Comey was taken aback when Trump asked for a personal pledge of loyalty, which Comey refused to provide. All of this as the administration struggles to get the story straight about why the president ultimately decided to fire Comey.

After administration officials initially said it was at the prompting of Department of Justice officials, now Trump said it was his call and says he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made the decision.

TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

MURRAY (voice-over): Trump took to Twitter to explain the discrepancy saying, "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy." (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Sarra Murray joins us now. I mean, that tweet I find just amazing, the idea that he's so active that his surrogates can't catch up with him to find out what is true and what's not and then actually speak the truth at the podium. What are you learning about morale at the White House at the end of this week?

MURRAY: Well, certainly for some of these White House staffers, it has been a demoralizing week, like you were saying about the president's pace. Some staffers in the White House refer to him as the hurry-up president. It comes with high risk, but also high reward that he's able to just pull the trigger and make decisions.

But this week, they certainly saw the down side of taking those risks and I think we saw it over and over again as the White House struggled to figure out what their narrative, what their story was around the president's decision to fire James Comey.

Now, we're told that the president tried to sort of personally offer some assurances to the staff and so maybe people are a little bit more buoyed going into the weekend, but a number of staffers acknowledge that this was certainly not the president's best week by far.

COOPER: Yeah. I mean, it seems like he might make decisions quickly, but then he reverses them the next day when he says something completely different than what they've agreed on the day before, anyway, Sara Murray.

More now on the state of the Russia investigation which the president is called the charade of ruse, fake news, you name it. He's also, according to both our sources and some of the principles themselves, mischaracterized it.

[21:05:07] Today he tweeted, "When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt says there is no collusion. When does it end?" So, is that really what the former director of national intelligence said?

Pamela Brown has got the answer with that. She joins us now. So, does our latest information on the Russia investigation line up with the president's claim that this is all just say witch hunt?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't. In fact, it basically indicates the exact opposite that this investigation is only moving forward and picking up pace.

And James Clapper, the former head of the DNI today, Anderson, made clear that his previous comments he has made that he has seen no evidence of collusion doesn't mean there isn't hard evidence that exist.

He said that information would be closely held by the FBI and it wasn't shared with him by the FBI before he left his post on January 20th. In fact, he said he didn't even know that this investigation existed. Here's what he said on MSNBC today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It's not surprising or out of -- or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or even more importantly the content of the investigation. So I don't know if there was collusion or not. I don't know if there's evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you were not intending to clear -- to convict or to clear anyone of collusion. It just was outside of your scope.

CLAPPER: That's correct.


BROWN: And previously, former FBI Director James Comey has said there's an ongoing investigation on the matter. Several people with knowledge of the probe have said there is information suggesting possible coordination. So it's something that the FBI and committees on the hill will continue to pursue, Anderson.

COOPER: And the "Wall Street Journal" just posted a story that a Treasury Department unit focusing on money laundering is going to share financial records with the Senate intelligence community to aid in the investigation to any ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. How would this kind of information be significant in helping to move the Senate investigation forward?

BROWN: Well, a couple of ways. So this is in response to the Senate Intelligence Committee requests earlier this week. So, now we're learning that Treasury Department will share these financial records that the committee has asked for to help with the Senate probe into the Russia and possible ties with President Trump and his associates according to the "Wall Street Journal."

Now, this is coming from a unit in the Treasury Department that specializes at combating money laundering. And we've heard, Anderson, senators on Capitol Hill, they have made clear they are particularly interested in that issue, money laundering, Shell companies, and whether Russia used money to gain leverage over Trump or his associates. So these records may shed light on that. They may not.

But we should mention, today, Donald Trump's lawyers released a letter to senators on Capitol Hill stating their review of the last 10 years of his tax returns do not reflect, "any income of any type from Russian sources," Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Pamela Brown, Pam, thanks.

More now on the question of recordings in the White House and also the questions that so many people asking about the president's demeanor and behavior. Joining us now, someone with perspective in all those things, David Axelrod, CNN Senior Political Commentator, former Obama Senior Adviser and current host of "The Axe Files" airing on CNN this Saturday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

David, I want to ask you about these recordings. But, first, just got ask you, this notion that Donald Trump tweeted out that because he's so fast-moving and so busy that his surrogates, Sean Spicer, his spokes people, can't accurately speak from the podium because he's so, I don't know, improvisational like he's playing jazz that they just can't keep up. Does that make sense to you?

I mean, how does it normally work in a White House? Doesn't everybody just sit down in a room and say, "OK, here was my thinking on this, go forth and explain that to reporters."

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, generally there's an agreement on what it is you're trying to communicate and that agreement is in concert with what the president believes and what the president is going to say subsequently. That's not the case in the Trump White House.

He is an improvisational figure. He always has been and that means he makes stuff up. And he's sent people out there this week, including the vice president of the United States with a cover story for his decision on why he got rid of the FBI director. And then cut them all off at the knees.

And that is not a problem with his spokespeople and it's not a problem with him being an active president. It's a problem with telling the truth, sticking with a story and coordinating properly with your people so you're not exposing them the way he has exposed them.

COOPER: Right. It seems like if you're telling the truth that's the easiest thing to do because it's the truth and then everybody just repeats the truth as opposed to what we have been seeing this past week. Well, here's this story. It's Rod, you know, Rosenstein, and then it's -- well, lo and behold, it's not.

AXELROD: Yes. There's no question about it.

COOPER: Rosenstein.

AXELROD: I have -- Rosenstein. I have some sympathy for the people who go out and speak for him.

[21:10:04] This is a monstrously difficult job because, A, you don't know whether the story is going to stick. And, secondly, you're constantly called upon to react to things that you didn't expect.

What's very clear about what happened this week is the president in an apparent fit of peak, you know, fired the FBI director and then fired off a series of tweets. And his people were spinning madly trying to explain all of it.


AXELROD: And so, you know, if Donald Trump wants to deal with this communication problem he should look in the mirror because that's where it begins. COOPER: The new -- that new clip we just heard a moment ago the president making distinction between what's good for him as a candidate to get votes and which good for the country, seemingly comfortable toggling between those worlds as they relates to the Comey firing.

It's interesting because obviously, look, many candidates say something on the campaign trail and then they reverse themselves once they're in the office and the seriousness and the responsibility weighs on their shoulders. But he seems to basically just embrace that and say, "Look, I was doing things which were good to get votes and now I don't need to do that. Now, I'm doing things which are good for the country."

AXELROD: And you're right. I mean, there's that -- that is not -- that wouldn't be unique to Donald Trump among office holders or presidents. But the fact is that in his presidency and through the first hundred, whatever days it's been now, he's still seems highly political in how he reacts to things. And he judges it through this narrow prism of how it affects him. And this was a good case this week.

I mean, he has no compunction, even though he is the trustee of our institutions of democracy, he has no compunction about going after anyone or any institution, the FBI, the CIA -- you know, the intelligence community, the media, the courts.

And so, you know, I mean, I know he wants to claim the mantel of responsible president looking out for the country. But he ought to start by looking out for the institutions of our democracy that are essential to the functioning of our country.

COOPER: The notion he also raised in Twitter that there are maybe tapes whether or not there are or not. I mean, would it be -- I mean, you worked in the White House. Were there tape -- was everything recorded in the Obama administration?

Would it be normal to have taped recorded conversations? Not just recorded conversations with world leaders on the phone, but actually like Nixon had of, you know, voice activated conversations in the Oval Office.

AXELROD: Yeah. Look, I think that it was normal to tape conversations between the president and the news media. For example, if they came into the Oval Office to tape an interview, or an author who came in to tape an interview --

COOPER: Right. You would usually see an aide take a recorder and put it down. If I have an interview with somebody, often they record it because they want to make sure I'm not going to misquote them.

AXELROD: Exactly. I was not aware of any taping system and certainly -- first of all, let's start with the fact that it would be very, very unusual. I could not see a set of circumstance where the president would invite the FBI over -- FBI director over for dinner and certainly not one where he'd invite him over to dinner to ask him whether he was under investigation. So, let's stipulate that.

But, I knew of no such taping system when I was there. And I don't know whether Donald Trump actually was taping or not or whether he was just trying to menace Mr. Comey.

The irony of it is I don't think there's anybody on the planet who would be more delighted to have tapes of that dinner disseminated than Jim Comey. I suspect that he feels that those would support his version of what happened there. And I'm sure that people will be challenging the president to produce such tapes if he has them.

COOPER: Yeah. David Axelrod, thanks very much. Again, "The Axe Files" airs CNN tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. David's guest is California Governor Jerry Brown. I'm looking forward to that.

Coming up next tonight, breaking news on what the Justice Department thinks of calls for a special prosecutor on Russia, as well as what GOP lawmakers now are saying. We'll also update you on the state of all the investigations, a half dozen and counting when we continue.


[21:17:59] COOPER: More breaking news tonight. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tells CNN he doesn't yet see a need for a special prosecutor in the Russia probe. One source telling us he's not inclined to make a change unless the FBI investigation appears to be imperiled. That said, many top Democratic lawmakers as well as the former director of national intelligence believe otherwise.


CLAPPER: In light of the events of the last day or so, I am moving toward that (inaudible) and swinging in more towards some kind of independent effort, whether it's a commission or special prosecutor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What must happen now is that Mr. Rosenstein appoints a special prosecutor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An independent prosecutor should be appointed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There needs to be a special prosecutor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House Democrats have called for an independent investigation.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The necessity of an independent investigation is increasingly being recognized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president cannot oversee an investigation into his own associates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That should be clear to everyone regardless of political affiliation, regardless of where you are in the Justice Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a partisan issue. That is ultimately an issue of patriotism.

CLAPPER: This is in the best interest of the president, the best interest of the Republicans or Democrats. I don't care what the stripe is.


COOPER: Democrats calling for a special prosecutor, which gives the question what about the GOP? CNN's Manu Raju has the latest on that for us tonight.

So, Manu, what are Republicans saying tonight about these controversies created by the White House?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Republican leaders are really tired of President Trump's tweets. Paul Ryan earlier today was asked about these tweets, about the threats to James Comey from that one tweet and he didn't want to comment. So I'm not going to get into all the president's tweets.

And Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has said repeatedly that he thinks that these are a distraction from the agenda on Capitol Hill. And a lot of Democrats -- Republicans feel the same way. They want to focus on the things that they are trying to achieve here, health care reform, tax reform. And when the president says things like this, the tweets, the controversy over James Comey, it distracts from what they're trying to do on Capitol Hill.

[21:20:02] But one thing that the White House does have going for it right now is that there really is not a ground swell of support on the Republican side for special council or special prosecutor in light of the James Comey firing, really only on a handful of Republicans even calling for a special committee and really nobody embracing the idea of a special prosecutor as Democrats want.

So, right now that's what the White House has going for it. But if the controversy continues that sentiment could change, Anderson.

COOPER: And the Justice Department doesn't name a special prosecutor in the Russia investigation, what, things just continue on as they have been.

RAJU: Perhaps. Yeah. But Democrats say that they're actually going to put up a fight if there is no special prosecutor named. Tonight, Anderson, I spoke with Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who said that they're going to use some leverage. And that leverage means trying to block the FBI director nominee, the new FBI director nominee, if there is no special prosecutor named. This is what he said.


SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA: If he doesn't do that, then I think it's going to be very difficult to solicit a lot of support from Democrats. And support for Democrats in terms of whoever the president picks to be a permanent FBI director. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Anderson, in that same interview, Mark Warner would not say if he has confidence in the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He would not even go that far. He said that this -- he wants to see the special prosecutor named. But to block an FBI director nominee, Anderson, they would need three Republicans to vote against him.

There's no indication that will happen yet. We have to see who that person is first. But, clearly, you're seeing some of the controversy building -- continue to build in light of that James Comey firing, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Manu Raju. Manu, thanks.

RAJU: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, of course, there are at least five other investigations now under way in addition to the FBI probe. It is a lot to keep up with. Our Tom Foreman has a rundown of where things stand tonight.

Tom, what can you tell us?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, when you look at the Russia connection and all of this investigation into whether or not somebody was involved or the Trump administration was involved, there are many different agencies that are involved in investigating it right now from the Department of Justice and the FBI to congressional committees, to the Department of Defense and the defense intelligence community out there. A lot of different ways this could be looked at.

Point of the sphere though, FBI, right over here. The FBI around the clock now is collecting evidence. They are questioning people on the record and they are analyzing data. And if they find evidence of something really being done wrong here along with the Department of Justice, they can pull together a grand jury and then they can actually press criminal charges.

Is this aimed specifically at Donald Trump's team? No. It's at the Russian investigation overall, but as the departed director has said already, yeah, they're considering whether or not somebody on team Trump might have been involved. Anderson?

COOPER: So that's the criminal part of all this. What's Congress up to?

FOREMAN: The Congress -- this is the political part in the middle. You look at all those committees right there. What they can do is pull those committees out and put people on the spot. Summoning witnesses to appear on T.V. and on the record telling them what they know, establishing timelines, just pecking away at the story and keeping the story front and center in terms of the politics and the news cycle. Now, you can expect that was Republicans in charge of the House and the Senate. They might want to be somewhat protective of a Republican administration. But if they get bombshells coming out of this that they can't avoid or the FBI produces such a thing, then what you might see is this producing a special commission or committee to look further.

And if you get close enough to the midterm elections, you could see the Democrats hanging on saying, hey, maybe we get more advantage here and they could press more for this, Anderson.

COOPER: And if the special commission or select committee is empanelled, who has oversight?

FOREMAN: Well, it is an oversight committee in a sense, so they don't really have oversight normally. Here's what I can tell you about it. It could be a bipartisan group, but most likely it would reflect the majority.

The Republicans would shape it so that even this special group would have a majority of Republicans on it. They would have more of an independent feel generally in terms of their fact-finding.

And I say it is what it is because there aren't rules that stand up for all of these committees. They basically come up with them from time to time. And that means that if you get a committee (inaudible), if they are working with strong members to it, it could be something that had real teeth or you could wind up with people out there who would simply shuffle papers and ask a lot of questions and let the issue die away. Anderson?

COOPER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Coming up, the White House said several times this is week that James Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file in the FBI. The FBI's acting director says that's just not accurate. We'll take a look at the White House's defense, next.


[21:28:45] COOPER: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today said the president is dismayed that the press parses the words coming from the White House. That's kind of in the job description.

So right now, we want to pull one thread from the sweater of misinformation given a closer look. It's the idea put forth by the White House that James Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file in the FBI. Listen to what Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president over the last several months lost confidence in Director Comey. The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.


COOPER: That was Wednesday. Yesterday, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe was asked about that at a Senate hearing.


SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, (D) NEW MEXICO: You've been there for 21 years. In your opinion, is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported Director Comey?

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: No, sir. That is not accurate. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity. And it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him.

[21:30:03] I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.


COOPER: So that contradicts what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the day before. Let's hear what she said when she was pressed on what led her to believe that Comey had lost the confidence of the rank and file.


SANDERS: I've heard from countless member of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president's decision. And I think that, you know, we may have to agree to disagree. I'm sure that there are some people that are disappointed, but I have certainly heard from a large number of individuals and that's just myself. And I don't even know that many people in the FBI, between like e-mail, text messages, absolutely.




SANDERS: Look, we're not going to get into a numbers game. I mean, I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they're very happy with the president's decision.


COOPER: Joining us now, two people with experience working for the FBI, Philip Mudd and James Gagliano.

James, I mean you -- I know you're no longer in the FBI, but you talked to rank and file FBI agents since Comey was fired. What are they saying?

JAMES GAGLIANO, FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Anderson, I've got to tell you, listening to the White House spokeswoman speak, you know, I don't obviously know who she's spoken to. I've spoken to a number of agents in the hundreds. The FBI is not a monolithic group. It represents America today.

And their folks that came down on the side that said Director Comey had made some missteps, that they disagreed with his calculus. Their folks have come down on the other side and said they supported what he did. The only thing that has united FBI agents in this is the mistreatment at the hands of the president by, you know, to Jim Comey.

COOPER: The way it was done.

GAGLIANO: Absolutely. Utterly the way it does. Decent people can come down on the two sides of this and say he should have gone, he should have submitted his resignation and the president has the right to let him go. He does.

And if he had done something wrong, if he had been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, I can understand sedition, treason, bribery. This was an instance where the president was just going to go in a different direction.

And I'll submit to you, Anderson, that the moment he made that decision, had nothing do with the Russian collusion investigation and nothing to do with rank and file FBI members, you know, disagreeing with him.

It was the day when the president was inaugurated and invited Jim Comey forward and the press cameras were there and he said, "Hey, here's Jim and guess what, he's almost as famous as I am." And that was the day that I think he made a mental note that this was not going to be a long marriage.

COOPER: Because the president does not like that sort of competition?

GAGLIANO: You heard the conversation today. What struck me, you know, the grandstanding and showboating. It just struck me as so much hypocrisy.

What I'm really offended by and I talked to a number of agents that felt the same way. When the president was having a conversation with Lester Holt, you guys played that clip, he never referred to him as Director Comey or former Director Comey. He referred to him as Comey.

And in Washington where titles are important and we teach our children no matter what you think about the president you refer to him by their title. And to refer to him as Comey in such a dismissive way, I think a lot of folks in the bureau were offended by that.

COOPER: Phil, it doesn't necessarily mean that he had broad support from within the FBI for the way he handled the Clinton investigation though.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. This is very clear. Jim nailed it. And that is there's a difference between saying I agree or disagree with how he handled the Clinton investigation and this investigation particularly violating that basic principle of speaking publicly about cases. But I can't find anybody who agrees with the president's handling about this, anybody.

Let me be blunt, Anderson. Money talks, bullshit walks. Andy McCabe has money. You can figure out the rest of that comment. I just talked to a former senior FBI official 10 minutes ago. He disagreed with the director's handling of those cases. He was united as every FBI official I have including sitting in former officials and saying it's completely inappropriate for the target of the investigation to eliminate the person who led that investigation.

Every college student who comes to Washington is told one thing. Speak truth to power and the message of this in the FBI is, when you speak truth to power you get your head cut off. The word at the FBI isn't morale, its anger today because the man who led the investigation who spoke truth to power lost his job.

COOPER: So, James, I mean, if that is the message, that some are getting, if you speak truth to power you get handed your head, what is this do to the ongoing Russia investigation?

GAGLIANO: And that's a good question, Anderson. And I think a lot of people -- I've heard a lot of this. There is going to be a chilling effect on the FBI. The FBI has been around since 1908. The FBI agents, the folks that do these jobs, they're supervisors, they're GS- 15s, GS-14s, GS-13s. The folks that are doing this job, they are not going to be frightened by somebody tweeting 140 words in a veiled threat.

They are going to follow the FBI's motto, fidelity, bravery, integrity. And the fidelity isn't to a president, it's not to a politician, it's to the Constitution and protecting the American people.

COOPER: Phil, I assume you agree with that that this goes on -- you made the point the other night that, look, in Watergate it was an -- you know, high level official to the FBI who ended up being deep throat because of what he saw going on.

[21:35:14] MUDD: This is pretty simple, Anderson. Think about when you get out of college or when you join an organization you join an accounting firm, you join a bank, you become a teacher. At the FBI you chase a terrorist, you chase somebody from the Chinese embassy who's trying to steal American defense secrets, or you chase political corruption or someone interfering with the American election.

Can you imagine the motivation of an individual who's told you got to find out if there are American citizens who violated the principles, the basic principle of American democracy that you can vote for a president? They don't care what the president says. They will hunt if somebody did something wrong in this case.

COOPER: Phil Mudd, always good to have you on, James Gagliano as well. Thanks so much. Nice to see you again.

GAGLIANO: Thank you. COOPER: Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any Trump campaign investigations because of his own failure to disclose a meeting with the Russian ambassador. So why does he have any part in firing the man heading the FBI investigation much less choosing his replacement? Is it appropriate? We'll take a look at that ahead.


COOPER: President Trump has admitted that when he decided to fire James Comey he said to himself, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story," which raises all sorts of questions, not only about the president firing the man who's leading the investigation to this Russia thing, but also by Attorney General Jeff Sessions' involvement in the firing and the search for a new person to head the bureau and therefore the investigation.

[21:40:16] Randi Kaye tonight reports.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and its meddling in the presidential election. That was March 2nd, after Sessions failed to disclose his meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation hearing.

SESSIONS: I should not be involved investigating a campaign I have enrolled (ph) in.

KAYE (voice-over): But more than two months later, right back in the sick of it, despite Sessions officially sidelining himself, many are now questioning if he violated his recusal, by advising President Donald Trump on the decision to fire FBI James Comey.

The fact is Sessions promised to recuse himself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related to the campaign. So why was he in the Oval Office on Monday this week counseling the president about Comey who was heading up the Russia investigation?

SANDERS: He asked them for their recommendation based on the conversation that they had on Monday, he asked them to put that recommendation in writing. But they came to him on his own.

KAYE (voice-over): The White House says the president reviewed those written recommendations and made his decision the following day.

(on-camera): Still, let's remember, the White House initially said Comey was fired because of how he handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal. But we now know that according to the president himself that is not accurate. He says the Russia investigation played a role in his decision to cut Comey loose. (voice-over): Which brings us back to Jeff Sessions and his so-called recusal.

KATHLEEN CLARK, LEGAL ETHICS EXPERT, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: He violated that public commitment when he made a recommendation to Donald Trump -- to President Trump to fire Comey. There's strong evidence that the firing of Comey was related to the investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign.

KAYE (voice-over): Democratic Senator Al Franken slammed Sessions in a statement saying he was deeply troubled. Franken called it a complete betrayal of his commitment to the public that he wouldn't be involved in the investigation.

On top of that, we've learned Sessions is also interviewing candidates to replace Comey, meaning, Jeff Sessions will have a key role in picking who will be in charge of the Russia investigation. The very investigation he vowed not to be a part of.

CLARK: Based on his commitment from March, Attorney General Sessions needs to recuse from participating in the vetting of those candidates as well. Attorney General Sessions shouldn't be involved in selecting the next director of the FBI.

KAYE (voice-over): The White House sees it very differently.

SANDERS: Look, the FBI is doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation. So he should absolutely have a role in seeing who runs that agency and that department.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Well, Paul Butler worked with Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department. He's now a law professor at Georgetown. He joins me now along with CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates.

So, Professor Butler, let me start with you. We hear Senator Franken saying that basically Senator Sessions had said he would recuse himself. He should not be part of this. That it's inappropriate for him to be part of looking for a replacement. Do you agree?

PAUL BUTLER, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL: The senator is wrong. The attorney general recused himself from in the investigation of the presidential campaign of 2016. He remains the boss of the FBI director. And he has a responsibility to evaluate him and to say something when the director exceeds his authority, when he acts unethically in the way that Director Comey did.

COOPER: That the White House is saying essentially it's a personnel issue. You seem to agree?

BUTLER: Yes. The problem with this focus on recusal is where do you draw the line? Do we really think he should have no role in evaluating who the next director will be? He still will be the boss of that person as well. Shall we say that he shouldn't have conversations with the President of the United States because the president may be under investigation as well?

Recusal is supposed to be narrow, it's supposed to be about a limited conflict of interest director or the -- the United States attorney general remains the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

COOPER: Laura, what about that point? I mean -- and you heard, not only a professor here, but you also heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders say, "Look, the FBI has a lot of stuff going on. It's inappropriate to -- that Sessions should have to recuse himself from any oversight of it."

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's certainly true that they are saying it's a personnel issue. And if all points indicated that it was simply a personnel issue, then we may have an agreement, me and Paul.

[21:45:07] However, you have a slippery slope not just in terms of the limitations of the attorney general. You have a slippery slope when it comes to figuring out whether or not Jeff Sessions was aware of any of the political motivation that there may have been by President Trump to fire James Comey in order to impede or somehow stall the Russia investigation.

If he was aware that there was even the slightest basis, so that was he was going on, then this issue was not about personnel, it's a foundation for his reason for thinking that he had no longer had the confidence of the FBI agents or that he was no longer to be trusted as his chief investigator under the umbrella organization of the Justice Department.

If that was even based on an iota, based on the Russia investigation, it's not a personnel issue. And it tends to swings the pendulum right back into the area of perhaps the attorney general himself being involved and perhaps the obstruction of justice in our country.

COOPER: Paul, I see you're shaking your head.

BUTLER: Yeah, I disagree with my friend, Laura. So, look, the president asked Rod Rosenstein and the attorney -- well Rod Rosenstein for his opinion about Director Comey. Rosenstein said what every federal prosecutor I know says that when Comey inserted himself into the election and made all of these spurious allegations against Hillary Clinton without giving her a chance to prove herself in court, to defend herself in court, Comey violated every rule in the ethical investigator's playbook. So he had to go.

Was the timing wrong? Yes. But, look, if your boss asked you for your evaluation of someone, you have to give that evaluation. Do you think that would he know there is a possibility that Trump would use this in a political way? Yes. Well, that shouldn't stop him from rendering his ethical opinion.

You know, the problem I have with folks say go ballistic when Comey -- when the attorney general makes any move that undermines their credibility. Let me keep it a hundred. I'm not a big fan of Sessions but, again, when he does something that is concerning I don't want that credibility to be undermined when folks complain about it.

COOPER: Laura, I want to give you the final thought.

COATES: Thank you. Well, you know, let's just be clear. I'm not questioning Rod Rosenstein's ethics in this particular case. I'm questioning the ethics of somebody who was trying to parse words on a highly ethical issue, which is the attorney general, about whether or not he is limited to personnel issues or whether or not he had some part and was aware that his recommendation was going to form the basis of the president's decision to terminate based on the Russia investigation.

It's neither ballistic and, certainly, 100 to say that when you have the attorney general of the United States who certainly has oversight over a various departments within the FBI, he still has a responsibility to not obstruct or enable somebody to try to do so. Remember the law says, even to endeavor to impede or halt or (inaudible) is enough.

COOPER: I should have gone to law school. Laura Coates, I appreciate you educating me, Paul Butler as well. Thank you guys so much.

Just ahead, a world away from the drama that's rocking Washington, Anthony Bourdain tells me what drew him back to Laos for his newest episode of "Parts Unknown."


[21:52:11] COOPER: Well, it has really been an eventful week to say the least. The week unlike almost any week we can remember. There's no end in sight to the drama rocking Washington, but this weekend you can count on Anthony Bourdain's to deliver a new episode of "Parts Unknown," that we can depend on. This time he head to Laos. Here's a preview.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, "PARTS UNKNOWN" HOST (voice-over): From the first time I heard of Laos, I was hooked and filled with the desire to see the place. Once, a story both kingdom of misty mountains and opium (ph) had one time a protector with France (ph). A mysterious, land- locked nation boarder by China, Thailand, Cambodia and as state would have it, Vietnam.

JAMES SIHABU, CHEF: Best restaurant you ever with women butcher.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Chef James Sihabu (ph) earned his (inaudible) in San Francisco.

SIHABU: This is the first thing I knew off the plane, but it's a (inaudible).

BOURDAIN (voice-over): He learned to cook from his mother and never looked back, until recently.

SIHABU: It's crispy pork, spicy pork. (OFF-MIC)

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Beef broth?

SIHABU: Beef broth, yeah. It's like steaming hot.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): James family like many fled to fighting in Laos with a communist takeover that fall of it.

Now a days, things are looking up a bit, and some like James are returning.


COOPER: I talk to Anthony about his trip over a beer at La Sirena, here in New York.


COOPER: So this episode is about Laos, which I went to once like 20 something years ago and I'm dying to go back. You weren't long (inaudible), which everyone says it's just some kind of a magical city.

BOURDAIN: It's beautiful. It's spiritual. Its -- we were there during the lantern festival, which is incredibly beautiful where all the local villagers and temples spend weeks of building these elaborate boats filled with candles that they silently push out into the river.

This is the second time I've done a show in Laos and the second time we focused on the unexploded ordinance in the country, because I think it's well worth reminding people. I mean, I think most Americans are unaware that -- of this gigantic secret war --

COOPER: Right.

BOURDAIN: -- that went on there between -- I guess, the late '50s and 1975 --


BOURDAIN: -- and enormous effort. And that more bombs were dropped on this tiny, little, low-population agrarian country than all of World War II combined, Germany and Japan. And a lot of those ammunitions are unexploded and blowing people up who weren't even alive during that time.

[21:55:00] So that's the story worth looking at always. And it's just an incredibly beautiful country. It looks unlike any other place on earth.

COOPER: As you said, you had focused on unexploded ordinance before. And I read in "The New Yorker" that the White House actually -- in the last administration, had seen the show and hadn't sort of realized the extent to which there were unexploded ordinance in Laos. BOURDAIN: I don't feel like an activist, you know, it was an unanticipated thing. Most of the people stepping on these millions of bomblets from cluster bombs in particular, weren't even alive during the conflict. They were not on one side or the other.

You know, to see that again and again and again, you know, it changed my life the first time I went and its -- I think it will change the point of view or the outlook of I think anyone with a heart who sees it now.

It's a beautiful, very gentle country. It's a government I don't have any particular love for and a system I don't like, but the people and the country and the cuisine and the landscape, it's really enchanting.

COOPER: I look forward to seeing it.


COOPER: Makes me want to go. Tune in for a new episode of "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown" in Laos this Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern here on CNN. We'll be right back.


[22:00:05] COOPER: Hey, that's it for us. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts right now. Have a great weekend.