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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Reports: Attorney General Sessions Offered to Resign; NYT: Comey Told Sessions He Didn't Want to be Alone with Trump; Sources Tell CNN: Comey to Testify He Never Told Trump He Was Not Under FBI Investigation. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 6, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:02] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good evening, and thanks for joining us.
Several big breaking stories tonight. Exclusive new details on what fired FBI Director James Comey will and will not say when he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning.
We begin, though, with more along the lines of Evan Perez's reporting just a moment ago. Multiple reports, including from "The New York Times'" Maggie Haberman that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has offered to resign.
Today at the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly decline to answer questions about the attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the Attorney General Jeff Sessions?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not had a discussion with him about that.
REPORTER: The last time you said that, there was a development. Last time --
SPICER: I'm asking -- I'm answering your question, which is I have not had that discussion with him.
REPORTER: You can't say that he has confidence in his attorney general?
SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. I don't -- if I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: More now from Maggie Haberman, who joins us on the phone.
So, I understand you're learning more about what is going on behind the scenes between the president and the attorney general.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Yes, we actually -- this follows up on the reporting that Peter Baker and I did that posted last night. That there have been, you know, tensions between the attorney general and the president going back to when Jeff Sessions decided to recuse himself from any Russia-related probe that was going on.
This is after, you remember, after he did not disclose in his Senate confirmation hearings that he had had at least one meeting with the ambassador from Russia and this became controversial. The president was blindsided by this recusal, felt very upset about it, and has continued to intermittently seethe over it.
At some point, during the last eight weeks, don't know exactly when it was, but at some point, the attorney general told the president, according to two of my sources, we were informed about this earlier today, that he, you know, needed to be able to do his job, he needed space to do his job, and if he couldn't have that, then perhaps he shouldn't be there.
It was not a hard resignation. It was not, here is my letter, but it was certainly making clear to the president that he was also frustrated with where this relationship has evolved to. And it's striking, Anderson, because Jeff Sessions was, as you know, one of his earliest and most vocal supporters, one of the people who help put policy planks beneath the Trump campaign.
And so, to arrive at this state is really complex.
COOPER: You said this is according to two sources that this happened sometime within the last eight weeks. Do we know if tensions have calmed at all since then?
HABERMAN: No. I mean, the president has continuing to be frustrated with Jeff Sessions. But the president, to be clear, is frustrated with almost everybody on his staff at the moment, including and not limited to White House counsel Don McGahn. But the president has been venting his people -- really almost anyone who will listen, that Sessions made a huge error, he's very frustrated.
A couple of people have said that one of the few times they've really seen him get genuinely angry as opposed to sort of some of the bluster that we know the president can be prone to was about Jeff Sessions. He's frustrated both by the Russia recusal decision and also he's angry and feels hamstrung about the fact that the executive order that the president himself signed related to a ban on travel -- a temporary ban, quote/unquote, from Muslim majority nations, seven of them, was struck down by the court.
He -- this was within the first week of the administration and set the tone going forward and in the president's mind, Jeff Sessions is tied to everything.
COOPER: And just, lastly, your colleagues at "The New York Times", Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, they just broke some news which is fascinating about former FBI Director Jim Comey asking Jeff Sessions not to be left alone again with the president or that he didn't want to be left alone again with the president.
HABERMAN: It's really -- it's quite striking. I mean, essentially, you have, you know, based on the reporting, you have the FBI director concerned about the position apparently that the president might put him in based on any kind of inappropriate conversation. It recalls an instance several months ago where the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara, who had been asked to stay on by the president during the transition. Preet Bharara got a call from the president the night before a broad dismissal of a number of Obama appointees in federal prosecutor's offices, and Bharara did not return the president's call other than to say that it would not be appropriate and he alerted his superior.
So, I think you're seeing, you know, this is an elitist in a number of instances where people have been concerned from outreach from the president and what it could mean given all of these investigations going on.
COOPER: Wow, two big developments.
Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.
I want to go next to CNN's Sara Murray who was at the White House.
What are you hearing from anyone there about or any source about the tension between President Trump and Sessions?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know it's been a frustrating relationship for the president ever since Jeff Sessions decided to recuse himself.
[20:05:00] Remember, this is a decision that came as a surprise to the White House and since then, as Maggie pointed out, the president has been fuming in his conversations about the fact that Sessions recused himself, which led to a special counsel. And once you're in a special counsel, there's no way to unring that bell, as one source told me today. That could delve into a number of different matters related to the president, related to his campaign, and related to the people around him and I think that we've already seen the way this investigation has touched members of his inner circle. It's touched Jared Kushner, the president's own son-in-law.
And we saw -- when the president appeared very briefly in front of the cameras today, he couldn't even get beyond that. He was saying that Jared Kushner now is even more famous than I am and I'm a little bit upset about that.
But, that, of course, it's because of this Russia probe. And so, there are moments I think when we get further into the Russia investigation, when we get closer to James Comey testifying on Capitol Hill where the president tends to get more spun up. He tends to get angrier about the fact that he's now in this position because, as he feels, one of his closest allies decided to recuse himself from this investigation. So, these tensions certainly aren't going away, Anderson.
COOPER: You know, when he said to Jared Kushner, he's more famous than I am now, didn't he also say that to Director Comey at some point? He's used that line before and it's never a good development.
MURRAY: He did also say that.
It's not a good development if you're somewhere between President Trump and sort of the media limelight, he likes to be the most important person in that limelight. We saw him get angry with Steve Bannon when Steve Bannon appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine.
MURRAY: We saw him mention to Comey that, you know, this is a guy more famous than I am.
So, certainly, that's not necessarily the position you want to be in if you're Jared Kushner. Obviously, he's the son-in-law. Most people in the White House feel like his position is relatively safe, but that's not necessarily a compliment when you hear it from this president.
COOPER: Sara Murray, thanks very much.
I want to bring in the panel, all famous than I am. Ryan Lizza is here, Molly Ball, Matt Lewis, Gloria Borger, Ken Cuccinelli and Steve Vladeck.
Ryan, I mean, fascinating developments. The idea that the director of the FBI doesn't want to be in a room alone with the president of the United States and that Jeff Sessions who is such -- been such a long- time early supporter of President Trump.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, two people, Comey and Sessions, despite Sessions' loyalty to the president and a lot of criticism about his testimony where he didn't disclose certain things he should have with his contacts with the Russians, he's a little bit more of an institutionalist. I mean, he was on the Judiciary Committee for years. He was someone who hammered Obama Justice Department officials about the separation between the White House and the Justice Department.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, how solid is the notion that Sessions offered his resignation?
COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead.
LIZZA: He knows these rules in a way -- and, obviously, Comey who has a very, you know, strict wall that he believes should be placed between the White House and the FBI, especially when the FBI is investigating something that involved the White House. You understand where they are coming from. Stay away from the president.
Sessions saying, if you don't let me do my job, I need to resign. And then you have Trump who knows none of these rules and doesn't understand that even though these people technically work for him, there is this tradition of separation and it appears that he sort of violated that norm again and again.
COOPER: And, Molly, you have Sean Spicer today saying he can't -- he said he hasn't asked -- when asked if the president has confidence in Jeff Sessions, I mean, most answers would normally be, you know, the president has confidence in his attorney general. Sean Spicer said, well, I haven't had a chance to ask him that.
MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: It seemed like a very telling omission. And I think, you know, as Ryan was saying, Trump uses people who work for him, not people who work for the country and Jeff Sessions views himself as someone who works for the United States and for the Constitution.
And so, for him to be put in this position where he's being told by the president, you have to be loyal to me, that's a difficult position for him and we're seeing, I think, an increasingly enraged president who wants all of these people to be loyal to him personally and to put that above everything else. And so, you know, none of us know what James Comey is going to say on Thursday, but these are all of the questions that are going to come up about whether the president is demanding loyalty to him about fealty to the law.
COOPER: Matt, what does it tell you about things at the White House?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think everyone here is right. It's about loyalty to Donald Trump and you're not allowed to be independent. And James Comey I think cares very deeply about an independent FBI. But I think this even speaks to Sean Spicer, that any other press secretary would have said, of course, the president has full confidence in the attorney general, even if they were lying, they would have said that because they would have assumed that I would have heard about it, if it wasn't true or that they would have to be loyalty of the president, right?
But I think what Sean Spicer realizes is that the president might take that as a slight, that he was off the reservation, that he was too far out of (INAUDIBLE).
[20:10:05] How dare you say that I have full confidence in the attorney general and might even tweet about it, you know, to contradict it.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, Gloria, if Sean Spicer faced any other version of that question, I someone had asked him if the president has confidence with the vice president or secretary of state, hard to imagine Sean Spicer would saying, well, I haven't specifically asked him about that.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So, we knew something was up or Sean would have said, of course the president has full confidence in Jeff Sessions and he didn't say that.
So, you know, people began raising eyebrows and saying, wait a minute, what is going on here?
And I just want to bring this back to this question of loyalty that you were talking about earlier. I talked with a source recently who's known the president for 20 years at least.
And this source said to me, you know, everybody says Donald Trump is a really loyal guy, but I will tell you this. He is not. He will fire somebody. He will cut someone off if he believes that they are not loyal to him. And that it's a one-way street.
And so, the president has been bad-mouthing Jeff Sessions to anyone who will listen and he's bad-mouthing his counsel, his in-house counsel, Don McGahn. He's bad-mouthing people on his staff, all of whom have been quite honestly have been quite loyal to this president, including Sean Spicer, I would say, and to his own detriment.
And yet, the president doesn't have any compunction to restrain himself when criticizing all these other people quite openly to people he speaks with.
COOPER: Ken, I mean, how do you read, you know, "The New York Times" reporting based on Maggie Haberman, based on two sources, that the attorney general offered to, you know, basically said, well, I need to be able to do my job and, you know, I can resign.
How do you read that?
KENNETH CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, for starters, it's important for people to remember that I've heard a lot of talk about loyalty here. That's very appropriate, I think, for all of the other cabinet positions, but the attorney general is unique in the cabinet in having an independent role in enforcing the law and that may at times be undertake -- involving undertakings the president doesn't appreciate, and it may involve protecting investigations from outside influence or even knowledge that the president may not appreciate.
That is part of the unique role of the attorney general. The first obligation is to the Constitution and to the law. Not to the president.
And that's not as clearly the case -- of course, they are all obligated to obey the law. But for all of the other cabinet members, they are implementers of the president's agenda and that is not necessarily the case with an attorney general.
So, if Jeff Sessions believes that that element of independence that is necessary for an attorney general who believes in the rule of law and the primacy of the Constitution to be able to do their job correctly, it shouldn't surprise anyone that he might offer to resign.
Now, it may just be, you've got a president here who's never been in government before and still hasn't learned a lot of these things, frankly, and that may be going on on a rolling basis, even if it may not be pretty right in front of us.
COOPER: Steve, is it possible that it's the president's learning curve?
STEVE VLADECK, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: I mean, it might be. But, Anderson, I think we're burying the lead a little bit, which is Jeff Sessions recused because he didn't want to have this air of impropriety hanging over the Justice Department and this investigation of Russia. If President Trump is mad at Jeff Sessions for recusing, it's because he's mad that he doesn't have the ability to control the investigation into Russia.
And that to me is the irony here and the tie into Director Comey's testimony on Thursday. The real concern here is, has President Trump been involved in obstruction of justice?
You know, let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees here. The reason why he's so upset about Jeff Sessions recusing is because he lost the ability to direct the investigation, to control him from the White House, an ability that legally he shouldn't have had in the first place.
COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We've got more of this.
Quick reminder, we're going to devote our next hour to a special in- depth preview of Thursday's testimony by Jim Comey and the impact it could have. Panel members will be joining us for that.
Next, more on Attorney General Sessions, his working relationship with the president and the continuing question of what happens next.
Also later tonight, my conversation with the family of the woman who has been charged with leaking classified information from the NSA.
[20:18:21] COOPER: Well, there's no shortage of breaking news tonight. CNN's Evan Perez reporting on tensions between the president and Attorney General Sessions reporting, including "The New York Times" that Sessions offered to resign. "The Times" also reporting that the FBI Director Comey asked Sessions not to leave him alone with the president of the United States.
All of it as tensions rising with James Comey about to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. We're going to preview the Comey hearings in just a moment.
Gloria Borger has got some exclusive reporting on that just ahead. Back with the panel right now.
Gloria, the idea of Jeff Sessions, I mean, offering to resign, he left his career in the Senate for this job. He's the top law enforcement official in the United States. Hard for him to imagine even broaching the possibility of leaving, unless tensions were pretty high or he felt this, you know, would really impede his ability to do his job.
BORGER: Absolutely. Don't forget, he was the first senator to come out and endorse Donald Trump. He traveled with him, he was a close adviser and he had a difficult confirmation. It wasn't as if it was a cake walk getting to this job. And he knew it was going to be difficult.
And so, you can imagine the tensions that arise and it's specifically because Sessions feels that perhaps the president was trying to stop him from doing his job, which is, as was stated earlier, to be independent. And Donald Trump believes that everybody works for him and that the people who work for him ought to be able to fix things when things go awry.
And that is not the way government works because people work for the government and the country and not in particular for the president of the United States, particularly when it comes to questions of law enforcement.
[20:20:04] And that was his trouble with James Comey and I gather that's his trouble with Jeff Sessions.
COOPER: Well, also, you know, Ken, it's interesting -- if Jeff Sessions, again, this -- according to "The New York Times," based on two sources, this happened sometime in the last eight weeks. We don't know the exact date on this.
But if Jeff Sessions did resign, then the deputy attorney general would take over, who is the one -- Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel, not something that the president was obviously all that thrilled about.
CUCCINELLI: Right. Well, and I would also point out that when they fired Director Comey, that left Andrew McCabe in charge of the FBI who what evidence exists suggests he has Democratic leanings. That's not something you'd expect to be favorable to the president either, that didn't stop that decision.
But at the same time, Comey was somebody who a lot of us have been calling for the resignation or firing for a year now, and on both sides of the aisle. So, there's a little more substance to that. It's a different situation with Attorney General Sessions where presumably the only reason he might offer a resignation is if he didn't believe that he could be left free to do the job -- the part of the job where he's supposed to be independent of the president to do it independently.
CUCCINELLI: And, you know, who knows when we'll know that. But that would be the only reason I can think of for former Senator Jeff Sessions to give up a choice slot in the Senate --
COOPER: That's a worrying -- if that is, in fact, you know, a concern about his ability to do the job, independently, I mean, that's absolutely -- that's a cause for concern, obviously.
CUCCINELLI: Sure, it is. Absolutely.
COOPER: I mean, it's also extremely rare for tensions between the president of the United States and his attorney general to go -- to get out in public like this.
LIZZA: Yes. Yes. You have to wonder if sessions wanted this out, if he wanted it to be known, because frankly, this story makes Sessions look good. The fact that Sessions is trying to keep the firewall between the Justice Department and White House intact, the fact that he has actually offered his resignation if it can't be intact, that is to his credit, right? I mean, that means he's trying to maintain some independence from Trump.
So, either he or the people around him wanted the public to know that, because so far what we know is his mistake in his testimony not disclosing his contacts with the Russians, saying he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation but then not actually recusing himself, including recommending that the actual investigator get fired.
The other thing -- one other thing to point out, most of the actions that Trump has taken to sort of bottle up this investigation, they all have backfired. I mean, he's done it in a sort of ham-handed way. If he hadn't fired Comey, we wouldn't have this special counsel. Special counsel is probably worse for him that the investigation being in the leadership of the Justice Department.
Same thing happened with the House Intelligence Committee --
VLADECK: But, Anderson, I mean --
LIZZA: -- investigation. He tried to control Nunes. That backfired. Nunes had to recuse himself. So --
COOPER: Steve, go ahead.
VLADECK: No, I was going to say, now, keep in mind, it's been less than 36 hours since President Trump basically threw the entire Justice Department, Jeff Sessions included, under his Twitter bus when he basically said anything that goes wrong with the second iteration of the travel ban, you know, it's all the Justice Department's fault.
COOPER: They did this as if, like he was a bystander to it all?
VLADECK: Exactly. And so, Anderson, I think we're quickly reaching a point where it's getting very hard for senior government officials to want to serve in this administration if the price for doing anything independent, if the price for doing anything, even if they are told to do but then got struck down by the court is to be called out publicly by the president. You know, that might have a lot to say for why it's been hard for President Trump to find nominees for all these really important open government posts like dare I say the FBI director.
LEWIS: Well, the leaks as well. I mean, when you declare war on the FBI, when you declare -- when you say things about the Department of Justice -- surprise, surprise, all of a sudden information starts leaking out. COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. More to discuss in a
moment. Gloria Borger has reporting on what Director Comey is expected to say when he testifies -- or some of it -- testifies on Thursday.
Also ahead, an NSA contractor under arrest, accused of leaking classified information to an online news site about Russian hacking efforts during the election. I spoke with her mother and stepfather a short while ago. What they have to say, coming up.
[20:27:53] COOPER: What we said tonight, breaking news. Another story is breaking right now, "The Washington Post" is just reporting that the president back in March asked the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, if he could intervene with the FBI to back off its probe of Michael Flynn's Russia connections. We're going to talk about that and get more detail on that because that's a story that is just posted by "The Washington Post."
There's another story you'll only see here on CNN, exclusive new details on what fired FBI Director James Comey will and will not say when he testifies Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning.
Our Gloria Borger has that and joins us now.
So, Gloria, the conversations between President Trump and James Comey, what are you learning about what Comey is going to say about those conversations?
BORGER: Well, Eric Lipglow (ph) and Jake Tapper and I are learning that James Comey is going to dispute President Trump when President Trump said he was assured three times that he was not under any kind of investigation. Rather, our sources say that Comey is expected to tell senators that he never gave Trump such assurances.
Although one source, without getting into the details of exactly what Comey will say, hinted to me today that perhaps the president misunderstood or misinterpreted the exact language that Comey was using to talk about any investigations because, as you know, Anderson, these things can be sort of complex whether you're the target or the subject or whether it's a counterintelligence investigation or some other kind of investigation, that perhaps Comey was hedging his words because he's a pretty slick guy, in a way that the president perhaps misunderstood him.
COOPER: Right. But if the president misunderstood, the president said that Comey told him this three times. So --
BORGER: Point blank, yes.
COOPER: The big question, obviously, is whether James Comey is going to suggest that the president tried to obstruct justice.
BORGER: And he won't do that. I mean, we know that what Comey is going to do is he's going to testify as a fact witness. He's going to talk about his meetings with the president.
We're not sure whether he's going to read from his memos. We know that Congress has asked for those memos and they haven't gotten them, but he's going to recount exactly what occurred.
But sources talking to us say he's not going to be in the business of legal analysis. He's going to leave the prosecution, if there is one, up to the Special Counsel Mueller, but instead he's just going to appear and tell members of Congress what happened.
Now my source said to me, look, well, people walk out of that room saying, oh, yeah, the president obstructs the justice. He said maybe some will but that's a political judgment and it's not a legal judgment and Comey is not willing to offer either one.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: So even if he believed personally it was -- his personal opinion was that the president was trying to obstruct the justice. He's not going to say that he's going to leave it up.
COOPER: He's just going to try to report the facts?
BORGER: Right. And he's going to say -- you know, there are a series of meetings and one source suggested to me that, in hindsight, things could look very differently --
BORGER: -- than they did at the time.
COOPER: Gloria, stick around. Back with the panel. Also joining us here are Bryan, Ryan and Christine.
First of all, Ryan, I mean Gloria's reporting on this is -- again, it's not going to be as satisfying for certainly, you know, some Democrats or opponents of the president who want --
RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Yeah.
COOPER: -- him to say he was trying to obstruct justice.
LIZZA: Yeah, I think so. And you could understand why he might have some qualms about making such a bold accusation. He's not the prosecutor (inaudible) he's not the investigator anymore.
But I think that what might be powerful in terms of what Gloria just laid out is hearing from Comey the sequence of events with details coming from his mouth rather than from, you know, anonymous sources. Hearing from, did he indeed -- was he indeed asked by the president to some kind of loyalty test. Did he indeed -- does he indeed contradict the president on this idea that he guaranteed that he wasn't a subject or target of the investigation, does he provide details about Trump saying to let go of the Michael Flynn investigation?
COOPER: And now based on the reporting, the breaking story tonight, did he say to the attorney general, --
COOPER: I don't want to be alone in the room --
COOPER: -- with the president of the United States?
COOPER: I still can't get over that --
COOPER: -- idea. I mean it's kind of a start telling idea.
LIZZA: It's startling, and then, obviously, members -- senators will ask him why. And the answer, of course, is going to be because he thought he was trying to influence him on this investigation. And remember, Comey, we've seen him testify before. He's a good story teller. He tells a powerful story.
COOPER: And Molly, on top of this the whole, you know, the idea that the president of the United States may live tweet this as well, which, you know, from a legal standpoint I would imagine every attorney on the planet would tell him don't do that, you know, this is Comey giving his version of events. You don't need to add to it in realtime. Your response that comes later.
MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Absolutely. Every presidential counsel on earth would basically be physically restraining their client trying to get him not to do this because there is almost no good he can do himself by bringing himself into this story in this way.
You know, as Ryan was saying, all Jim Comey really has to do here is confirm a lot of the events that are already on the record that have been reported in various news accounts. The whole episode where he's trying to hide in the drapes because he doesn't want to get entangled with the president, you know, that has been recounted secondhand by Comey's friends, where he to confirm that, that is very (inaudible), where he to confirm that he repeatedly warned the president that he should not be calling him, they should not be having these interactions, again, not wanting to be in the same room.
Simply for him to say, yes, that happened to a lot of things that we already think we know --
BALL: -- is going to be very explosive. COOPER: Bryan, you know, one can only assume the White House is preparing some sort of prebuttal or rebuttal for whatever James Comey says and even, you know, would go after the character of James Comey based on, you know, all of the things from the past.
BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIR., TRUMP CAMPAIGN: You know, listen, I don't think you need to go through the character. What I heard -- through the character of Jim Comey. What I've just heard is that Comey is going to, you know, not to say that any type of, you know, interference took place. I mean, that's what we're going to walk away from tomorrow's hearings.
COOPER: Well, no, what he's going to say is facts happen and people can determine whether or not --
COOPER: -- they believe that --
LANZA: He was the director of the FBI. If he was in the middle of something that took place or collusion on investigation, he has an obligation to speak forward.
And just because people want to sort of dance around the issues whether he's no longer the current FBI director, he was the FBI director for the bulk of this investigation and he has a responsibility to come forward if any type of interference took place and he never did.
And now we know by tomorrow's testimony that he's going to state the facts and the facts are going to be that nothing took place and partisans are going to walk away with the partisan views that they showed up with. That's what we know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But let's be --
COOPER: Christine, what about that point that if there was obstruction of justice and he believed there was at any particular moment that he had an obligation then, frankly, to come forward and say something.
[20:35:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, let's first just say, you know, Bryan just kind of asserted that we know what's going to be said on Thursday. We don't know what's going to be said.
LANZA: You're right. I'm basing it off a CNN report.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But point one, the fact that this is such an unorthodox series of events that the former FBI director is testifying in this way about the president of the United States. And I never expected Comey to draw a conclusion. That's not his job in this case. It's to tell us what happened and then lawyers and elected officials, et cetera, will draw the conclusions on a political end on a legal stage.
But let's be clear, we know, and I think we know Comey will confirm it, that he said to the attorney general, I don't want to be alone with the president of the United States. That certainly a conversation that may have led to disclosure we'll learn more about it. I used to be an elected official of a much lower level and the people you didn't meet with without staff were people you thought were dangerous or untoward --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- or bad actors. And I would think the same judgment applies to Mr. Comey's statement.
COOPER: We've got to take another quick break.
Coming up, chilling news by the key U.S. ally in the Mideast, one the president recently met with. Sources tell CNN, Russia planted a false news story by hacking to a Qatar's news agency, a story that led to multiple Gulf nations possible cutting ties with Qatar, exclusive details ahead.
COOPER: More breaking news. Another real world consequence of fake news, not the fake news the president talks about when he doesn't like the coverage by a legitimate news media. We're talking about real fake news that is a true sign of the times. This is the situation according to U.S. officials.
U.S. investigators believe Russian hackers got into a Qatar state news agency and planted a false news report attributing false information to Qatar's rulers, partly in reaction to the false news report, Qatar's neighbors severed ties with the country, the crisis in the Mideast instigated by a Russian fake news report. CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez has the reporting on this. He joins me now. So, exactly did you learned?
[20:40:15] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, you're right. This is a real crisis. And U.S. investigators believe Russian that hackers were behind a cyber breach against the Qatari state news agency.
The hackers planted a false news report friendly to Iran and critical to Pres. Donald Trump that is now being used by Saudi Arabia and some of the other U.S. allies in the region as a reason to carry out an economic and political blockade of Qatar. U.S. and Qatari officials tell us that the FBI sent a team of investigators to Doha to help Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident.
Now the alleged involvement of Russian hackers would add to concerns by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try to use some of the same cyber hacking measures on U.S. allies that it used to meddle in the U.S. 2016 elections.
As you know, Qatar hosts one of the largest U.S. military bases in the region. And Anderson, U.S. officials say that the Russian goal here appears to be to simply cause rifts among the U.S. and its allies in the region. COOPER: Is it believed that the Russian government is behind this?
PEREZ: Well, it's not yet clear whether the U.S. has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services that are blamed for the U.S. election hacks.
One official told me that based on past intelligence, "Not much happens in that country without the blessing of the Russian government." Today, Pres. Trump was tweeting criticism of Qatar that we hear from the Saudis and from others in the region. In his tweet, Pres. Trump didn't mention the hack but he voiced support for the regional blockade of Qatar and he cited Qatar's funding of terrorist groups.
By the way, the Qataris have rejected those accusations and I should mention, Anderson, that the FBI and CIA declined to comment for the story. The Qatar government did issue a statement of recent part, "The hacking of Qatar news agency is an aggressive coordinated crime that represents a continued escalation in the campaign against Qatar. These malicious efforts to undermine Qatar's reputation do not support the unity of the region to fight terrorism, instability and conflict." Anderson.
COOPER: And if FBI agents were looking at this in May, the president of the United States must have been aware. No?
PEREZ: Well, It's not clear. He didn't really refer to the hacking in his tweets. It's not clear what he's been briefed on and we know, according to the Qatar, is this investigation is still ongoing. They hope that they're going to be able to discuss some of the findings, Anderson, in the next week or so. That's one of the reasons they brought the FBI in.
COOPER: All right, Evan Rerez, appreciate your reporting.
PEREZ: Thank you.
COOPER: Joining me now is CNN National Security Analyst and Former CIA Senior Officer Steve Hall.
Steve, so either Russian criminal organizations or Russian security services would be behind something like this. Which seems more likely, given what you know about both?
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah, Anderson, it's not criminals. And that distinction is somewhat blurred in our own western mind is to who is criminal and who are not in Russia. But I can tell you, something of this nature, another cyber operation, in this case, an influence operation using propaganda. Another act of (inaudible) operation on the part of the Russians, definitely if the reporting is accurate and sounds completely consistent would be a Russian intelligence security services type of operation that would have been briefed and approved right at the very top with Vladimir Putin. This is extremely consistent with what we've already seen. COOPER: If this was in fact directed by the Russian government, I mean, this is what they tried to do, tried to disrupt and divide. I mean this is what in many cases covert actions are about.
HALL: Absolutely. If you sit back and look at it from the level 30,000 foot level in terms of what Vladimir Putin really wants geopolitically, he wants to drive wedges between the United States and its allies. So it's been a very good couple of weeks for Putin in that regard, especially if you look at the reaction of our NATO allies and our European allies to the president's visit, a lot of concern on that. And so, that was a win for Putin.
And now, I think it's only rational and actually, you know, good sense on the part of the Russians to say, look, this worked really well, the cyber piece of it works really, really well in Europe, it worked really, really well in the United States. There's really no cost -- not much of a cost to us trying to do this in the Middle East. It's another piece of hybrid warfare from the Russians. They can't conventionally go against us with their forces but this new use of their cyber capability is proving very profitable and very useful to them really around the world now.
COOPER: It would also show that it's not just U.S. or Europe that Russia wants to show division in it. The Middle East, obviously, is their prime target.
HALL: Sure. I mean, again, if you sit back and say what are Vladimir Putin's goals, it's a bit zero some game for him, a U.S. loss is a win for Russia because Russia, at the end of the day, Putin at the end of the day is concern about liberal democracy. He's concern about the United States and its allies because those things -- United States represents open society, rule of law, all these things are in (inaudible) to Putin, he wants no part of it. That's not his system. His system is like the other end to the spectrum. So whatever he can do to weaken the alliances that the United States has with other western-thinking countries and allies even in the Middle East is a benefit in the long term to Putin and to Russia.
[20:45:27] COOPER: And finally, Pres. Trump earlier seemed to be taking credit for the Gulf nation's moves against Qatar. I mean if the U.S. suspected, the questions or the motivations behind the move, wouldn't this have been included in the president's daily briefings?
HALL: Probably it would have been and I guess there's still a lot of analysis that's going on in terms of, you know, how the president takes his briefings and what he gets out of it.
But again, you have to -- the Russians really understand us, the west, and I think the president of the United States so much better than we understand them. They have watched this president to had gut-level reactions and used, you know, Twitter and other social media platforms to just come out and say things in a way that other administrations would have been probably much more measured and analytical about.
And so, I think what they do is say, look, if we get out there and mess around a bit in the Middle East, say, and give the president fodder for tweeting about something, then there's a good chance that he will. Let's give it a shot and see what happens. It's possible that that's one of their calculations and what they were thinking of here when they did this.
COOPER: Steve Hall, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
Coming up, Russia's meddling efforts hit closer to home, a 25-year-old federal contractor behind bars in Georgia tonight accused of sending classified information to a news agency about Russia's attempts to hack U.S. voting machines. What her mom and stepfather told me a short time ago, next.
[20:50:33] COOPER: A 25-year-old woman, a federal contractor with top secret security clearance is in custody in Georgia tonight. Reality Winner, face up to 10 years in prison for allegedly leaking classified information. Winner is accused of taking classified material from a government facility, mailing it to an online news outlet, The Intercept.
The classified material, an NSA report, on a Russian a cyberattack on U.S. voting software. There's no evidence any votes were affected. But Winner's life certainly has been. Just before airtime I spoke with her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, and her stepfather, Gary Davis.
COOPER: Billy, what is your daughter told you about what happened?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS, REALITY WINNER'S MOTHER: What she hasn't told us that much. She did tell me that she -- well, it was basically Saturday night. She came home from the grocery store and she was followed into her driveway and her home by FBI agents. She said she was very scared. They, you know, took her by surprise. She was not expecting any of this. She said they were all armed. They took her into the back room of her house, which is a room she never goes into, for reasons anyway. But, you know, basically, then she was arrested from that point. We did not have any information with regard to the charges or anything until after the hearing on Monday.
COOPER: And prosecutors have said that when confronted that she did admit to leaking a classified document. Has she admitted that to you as well?
WINNER-DAVIS: She hasn't admitted it to us at all. What she told me was that she was terrified. She was terrified of the situation and she did tell me also that she was afraid she was going to disappear. That they were going to make her disappear. And she felt like she needed to give them what they were asking for at the time. And so, you know, she was terrified.
COOPER: Gary, how much communication have you had with her since the arrest? And has she given any reason to you as to why she might have done something like this, if she did? GARY DAVIS, REALITY WINNER'S STEPFATHER: We have not discussed anything about the case, the charges. She called me on Saturday afternoon and, you know, told me she was in trouble, that there was -- that's why she was calling me. I spoke with the FBI agent at that time. And as far as discussing anything, our contact has been very limited because, you know, basically she's been talking to her mom. And, you know, we don't discuss anything about the case. Basically -- I haven't had the conversation with her. We briefly got to see her at the hearing. But we have not had a chance to talk with her privately at all. And the phone conversations we have are all subject to review by the prosecutor. So we can't ask her what's going on with that.
COOPER: Were you aware -- were both of you aware what she did for a living? Did she give any indication she had access to classified information, was thinking about, you know, doing something like this?
WINNER-DAVIS: No. She -- you know, for obvious reasons, she didn't share what she did. I didn't know what company she worked for. I didn't know anything. I mean it was just -- I mean it's a rule that you just -- you don't ask. You just -- I don't, you know -- I didn't know what she did. I don't know what she did when she went to work. No idea whatsoever.
DAVIS: She never discussed her --
DAVIS: -- job or details of her job in anything but very, very general terms.
COOPER: Billie, can I ask, I mean if in fact she did what she's being accused of doing, what do you feel about that? Well --
DAVIS: Well, let me say this. I don't care what they accused her of doing. I know that she served her country. She's a veteran of the United States Air Force and served with distinction for six years. She's patriot. And to see her maligns and slandered in the media is very disheartening. This young lady has served her country well. And received praise from her commanders. And she still continued to serve after she got out of the Air Force.
[20:55:02] WINNER-DAVIS: Yeah. And I just want to say that if she did what she's being accused of, she is -- I know that she's ready to pay the price. I know that she's going to do whatever she needs to do to pay that price.
Our fear -- my biggest fear in all of this is that she's not going to get a fair trial. She's not going to be treated fairly. She's going to be made an example of. And that's my biggest fear, you know.
I know that if she did something wrong, she's always come clean with it. She's always been willing to accept the consequences. But I'm terrified for her right now, because of the news, the climate, the social media. I'm terrified that she is not going to be treated fairly.
COOPER: You believe she will be made an example of?
WINNER-DAVIS: Yes. I do.
COOPER: Because -- I mean, you know, what she's accused of doing is -- it's a -- I mean it's a severe offense.
DAVIS: Yes, it is. And, you know, we haven't actually seen anything other than what's been posted online. And it sounds horrible. But we don't know the details. We don't know exactly what it was that she's alleged to have released. We're finding out more and more about the actual raid and her alleged admission. You know, I understand the government's position on this is to, you know, go strong with the case at first. But we don't have enough information to talk about that aspect of it at this point, you know. We're just here to support our daughter and to put a face on her that's not -- it's the true face of our daughter.
COOPER: Gary and Billie Winner-Davis, thank you very much for speaking to us. Sorry it's under these circumstances.
WINNER-DAVIS: Thank you.
DAVIS: Thank you, sir.
COOPER: Coming up, with fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony just two days away. We're going to spend the next hour focusing on what Senate Intelligence Committee members say they'll will ask him, what we know about what Comey will say, what's at stake. Also, all the breaking news stories that have just broken really over the last several hours. Details on all of them ahead.