Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Comey: Trump Said He Wasn't Involved With Hookers In Russia; W.H. On Comey Statement: Timing Of Release "Interesting"; Trump Atty: President Feels "Totally Vindicated"; Comey's Statement Raises New Questions For Tomorrow's Hearing; Intel Chiefs Decline To Answers Trump Questions At Senate Hearing. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:02] REP. JIM HIMES, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It doesn't matter what Comey felt at the time. You know, the comments that we got out of the Senate today where the DNI and other said, "Well, I didn't feel."

What matters is whether the president intended to influence this negotiation and to know that we're going to have to hear the answers to questions tomorrow from Jim Comey, because this -- I mean, this remarkable document, there's a lot of stuff between the lines that as we speak there are a lot of smart Senate staffers who are coming up with the questions to get at what's between these lines.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So you said the opening statement painted accord (ph) a detailed and disturbing picture of President Trump.

HIMES: Well, at one level there's something that's undeniable and that point is that in a society and a country that values the rule of law that for generations has built structures that keep the FBI independent, to keep law enforcement independent of the executive. The president demanding loyalty asking that, you know, just let this -- let Flynn off. That is something that, you know, you wouldn't except in, you know, Bolivia of 1934.

I mean, that is something that a military dictator would do with his law enforcement. So, at some level there shouldn't be any argument over whether the behavior was in any way shape or form appropriate for a country that believes in the rule of law, whether it was obstruction of justice is something I think we need to listen in to tomorrow on.

COOPER: The shear volume of contact between the president and Director Comey compared to the contact between Director Comey and President Obama is interesting. I mean, Comey said basically I think he had, you know, had two interactions with --

HIMES: Well, the volume is one thing because circumstance is another. I mean, it's very interesting that twice -- according to Comey's statement, the president cleared the room. "Get out of here. I'm going to have this conversation by myself." Why? Why didn't he want anyone else listening in? And so -- and, of course, Director Comey as he said in this memorandum in his opening statement, that made him profoundly uncomfortable.

COOPER: Is it possible, though, because some supporters of the president have made the argument, well, look, he is not a professional politician. He hasn't served in the government before, you know, he's sort -- maybe he's naive to the separations that are supposed to exist and perhaps the kind of wanting one-on-one meetings are just his way of doing business, the way of kind of developing, you know, a personal connection which is probably something he did in the business world.

HIMES: Anderson, we're talking about a man who could wake up in two hours or in three hours and start a nuclear war, who controls -- you know, whose words send armies marching and, you know, change markets. The argument that he didn't know better, you know, maybe for one of my interns, but for the President of the United States that doesn't cut the ice.

COOPER: It's not a comforting argument.

HIMES: To say the least.

COOPER: You know, can you explain the standard that for Congress to take some sort of action against the president? Because, I mean, I thought a lot of people watching this, you know, probably are confused about where does this actually go, if anywhere?

HIMES: Well -- and this is why at the end of the day the question of whether you've crossed the legal standard of obstruction of justice is a little bit of an academic point, because what really matters, you know, and not to get into a lengthy conversation about it. But, you know, this is not an indictment.

This would be a question if in fact all the evidence pointed towards obstruction of justice. The remedy, of course, is removal from office. And that's where all of a sudden the politics become as or more important than the law.

And, you know, here's what's going to happen. I can predict this. It almost doesn't matter what Jim Comey says tomorrow. Already the effort has started to damage the integrity and the credibility of Jim Comey. And I was one of the people that was concerned with his judgment on a couple of his judgment calls, but I don't think anyone has ever done -- you know, I'm not believed in his integrity and honesty.

And by the way, there's going to be an effort to create a lot of -- sort of smoke in the air. You know, well, why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that? And, you know, in a court of law, you know, you would create some uncertainty on the part of the jury.

And my friends on the other side of the aisle, whatever happens tomorrow, there's going to be all sorts of questions that serve the purpose of making sure that there is not serious discussion about removal from office. COOPER: To that the point -- to the point of sort of the counterattack against Director Comey. We've just gotten the RNC talking points, I understand. One of them reads, "President Trump knew firing Comey would be detrimental to his presidency, but he knew it was the right thing to do for the country so he did it anyways."

HIMES: That's interesting. In as much as it has nothing to do with any of the three, I think explanations that the president and his people gave for why Comey was fired. We got that he was a showboat. OK. We got that perhaps lifted pressure around the Russia investigation. We got a whole bunch of explanations. The RNC's explanation is the best interest of the country was not one that we've heard until today.

COOPER: When you hear the president's private attorney saying that the president feels vindicated based on what they've read in the Comey's opening statement, that basically backs up the president saying that Comey told him three times he was not personally being investigated.

Does that argument hold water? Because it seems like they're ignoring many of these pages in the statement. They're just focusing on that and they're right in that it does confirm what the president said.

HIMES: Yeah. And to be fair to the president, you know, a lot of us read that in the president's firing statement of Jim Comey and we said, "That doesn't sound right." I mean, it would be odd for an FBI director to say you're not being investigated.

[21:05:06] But take a step back away from that, you know, in March when Director Comey was in front of the intelligence committee of the House. He didn't say that. He just said, "We are looking into the possibility of links and collusions -- collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign." I can't remember quite the construction, but he never told the committee that he was investigating the president specifically.

So, yeah, the president is vindicated on that point. But as a member of the committee that's doing the investigation, there are still three active investigations about the possibility if there was in fact some sort of link or collusion.

COOPER: Congressman Himes, appreciate your time.

HIMES: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

It should be quite a day tomorrow into our viewers who may just now be tuning in. Here's a quick look at why CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto takes a closer look at the seven pages that we are all talking about from Director Comey tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dramatic written testimony released a day early at James Comey's request outlines in stunning detail his interactions with the president, including the series of nine one-on-one phone meetings and phone calls with Mr. Trump. The president Comey says was also very interested in establishing his loyalty.

In their January 27th dinner, Comey said President Trump told him, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." Comey went on, "I didn't move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed." He said he told Trump, finally, "You will always get honesty from me." To which the president responded, "That's what I want. Honest loyalty."

On the crucial question of whether the president attempted to influence ongoing FBI investigations, Comey said the president told him, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey makes clear, "I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador."

In his letter firing the FBI director, the president said that Comey had told him three times that he himself was not under investigation. He repeated that claim in an interview with the NBC.

LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write, "I greatly appreciate you informed me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation." Why did you put that in there?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Because he told me that. I mean, he told me.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): And in his written testimony, Comey largely confirms those occasions, but says they were specifically about whether the president was the subject of a counter intelligence investigation.

First, on January 6, when Comey went to Trump Tower to brief the president-elect on a dossier of allegations involving Mr. Trump, first reported by CNN. Comey says, "During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-elect Trump's reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance that he was not under FBI counterintelligence probe."

The second time in a dinner on January 27, Comey says the president told him he was considering ordering an investigation into the dossier. Comey says, "I relied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren't."

And in a March 30th phone call, Comey, "Explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me, 'We need to get that fact out.'" The dossier in particular attracted the president's attention. "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Jim Sciutto joins us. Now, last month, Jim, that the president flatly denied he'd asked James Comey to end the investigation to Michael Flynn in any way shape or form. Now, Comey seems to be contradicting that on the record.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely a lot of spin. We heard it in the hours since this testimony was released on that issue Comey extremely clear. On May 18th, President Trump was asked and I quote, "Did he in any way shape or form try to tell Comey to lay off the investigation of Flynn." He said, "No, no, next question."

Today in that testimony, Comey laid out a very detailed case that contradicts that directly. On that issue, Comey saying that the president when asked little more than two and a half weeks ago was lying.

COOPER: Jim Sciutto, appreciate the reporting.

Reaction this evening from the president's attorney. The president, "The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda."

We obviously invited the White House to provide some -- to come on the program to talk about Comey statement in tomorrow's testimony. They declined. Let's bring in the panel, Matthew Rosenberg, Ryan Lizza, Carl Bernstein, Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin, Jonathan Turley, Jen Psaki, and Jeffrey Lord.

[21:10:08] Professor Turley, from a legal standpoint, does any of this rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, I hate to be a buzz kill, but no. This is not -- what Comey is describing is not a criminal case for obstruction of justice. It's just not. It's been rejected by courts. The courts look whether there's a pending investigation. They often distinguish -- I'm sorry, pending proceeding. They distinguish investigations and reject that.

There's a case called Higgins that expressly said that you shall -- you cannot take these provisions into a pure investigation. Even the one circuit that would support obstruction of justice in the Kelly case distinguished this type of case saying that if you have a purely law enforcement investigation, that's not obstruction of justice.

There's a reason for that that if you broadly define obstruction of justice, they could bring charges against a wider ray of people for talking to witnesses or mishandling evidence. And so, I think people are getting ahead of their skis on this.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But there was a grand jury investigation in the eastern district of Virginia.

TURLEY: Not on what he was discussing.

TOOBIN: It doesn't have to be the exact same subject.

TURLEY: Pretty much.

TOOBIN: Investigation of this matter.

TURLEY: This is --

(CROSSTALK)

TURLEY: What?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is on Flynn.

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: In eastern district, it's absolutely on Michael Flynn. Was it gone on February 14th? I don't know. But we know that by March and April it absolutely was going.

TURLEY: Yeah. I don't think that the grand jury in that case would satisfy the statute. Even if it did, you'd have to show that he tried to corruptly influence. And I don't think there's evidence of that either.

COOPER: You're making an argument about what -- if this being prosecuted through courts. Jeff, I mean, you've talked about it. This is not necessarily being something that would be prosecuted through courts.

TOOBIN: Well, see, this is the complexity here is I do think there is a very real criminal case to be made for obstruction of justice against Donald Trump. It will never be made in the real world because there is a constitutional question never fully resolved about whether a sitting President of the United States can be indicted.

The only real remedy for presidential misconduct is impeachment. The standard there, high crimes and misdemeanors, is much more of a political standard than a legal standard. So this detailed parsing of what's a pending investigation wouldn't really matters if this ever got to Congress, because Congress would be making a broader political judgment about whether this president should remain in office.

TURLEY: I'm afraid I have to disagree with my friend again. You know, I was lead counsel in the last impeachment trial. This doesn't make what you need for impeachment. Now, it's true. You can take Gerald Ford's approach that impeachment, defenders, whatever I say it or whatever Congress says it is that's not how people actually treat it.

I mean, the -- when people point to the obstruction case in Nixon, read the actual count. Read what they allege. They alleged that he was involved in covering up an actual crime of breaking at the Watergate, involved in procuring essentially false information. When my friend mentioned that John Dean was convicted of obstruction, that was obstruction. He actually paid hush money to the people that broke in to the Watergate.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wait.

TURLEY: As our friend confessed about this --

BERNSTEIN: Let me try something here if I may. I try to stay away from Watergate a little bit. But in Watergate, we had a long investigation by a select committee of the Senate of the United States. We had a long investigation by a special prosecutor. We had a long investigation into articles of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee.

We are nowhere near that benchmark yet. We are at the early stages of a sprawling investigation by special prosecutor who is just appointed a few weeks ago. And in the brief time of his appointment, we have seen so much devastating information about the conduct of the President of the United States and we don't even know what the special prosecutor is doing in terms of possible aids, accomplices, underlings except that.

COOPER: Matt, we haven't heard from you.

BERNSTEIN: That's -- so I don't understand why we're jumping to the conclusion either of impeachment at this point or indictment at this point. Where are the facts and we are seeing the facts being delivered day after day to horrible effect in terms of these investigations.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Getting back to what Comey said today in his statement what's --

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wait, I just want to make one point about articles of impeachment. This is getting ahead of our skis as you just warned against. But, Article 1 of the impeachment articles against Nixon that was voted on by the judiciary committee, right here. Interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigation by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Watergate Special Counsel and congressional committees. So, I think arguably, Jeff's point stands here. Right, but that is language from Article 1, right?

[21:15:02] There are obviously lots of other crimes thrown in there, because Nixon was a pretty serious criminal. But, we are in the realm of the same exact charge of at least one of the charges that was leveled against Nixon in those articles.

BORGER: But as Professor Dershowitz said earlier, you can make the case that the president did not order Comey to shut down the investigation. He said to him, "I'd like you to see your way to get rid of it." That's fairly his intent.

LIZZA: He was trying to interfere.

BORGER: That was clearly his intent.

ROSENBERG: I'm still intensely interested to find out why Michael Flynn is the person Trump is standing up for.

BORGER: Right.

ROSENBERG: I think you have a number of people. You said it at a lot of people.

BORGER: Yeah.

ROSENBERG: Trump is throwing people under the bus left, right and center for his entire career.

COOPER: He even indicated to Comey -- according to Director Comey that if satellites in his campaign -- in his word, satellites, you know, that should be investigated.

ROSENBERG: And Flynn would certainly qualify one of those satellites. You know, they weren't old friend. They met a year before. They'd obviously become somewhat close during the campaign. But, is there something else there we're missing?

COOPER: Jeff Lord, does that make sense to you why Michael Flynn?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, having been around and seen fall guys from all sides, I have a feeling that this is going to end well for General Flynn one way or another, because you got --

COOPER: No. But the question of why the president of all the people who seems willing --

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: Well, I mean, clearly, clearly, the president, Anderson, is being said to be in trouble here because he tried to help him. Anderson --

COOPER: But the White House hasn't even said that the president's conference in Jeff Sessions in the last 24 hours. He seems to be speaking up for Michael Flynn repeatedly.

LORD: Yeah. He does. He does. I mean, I have a different view of his loyalty. I think he's a loyal guy.

BORGER: Really?

LORD: Hello? Yes.

BORGER: Hello, ask Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani or any of the people he's --

LORD: Let me -- in listening to everybody here --

BORGER: -- Jeff Sessions, right?

LORD: -- and then quickly listening to our two lawyer friends here, just politically speaking, the juice isn't there for this. If you're going to have this much division already and I think the congressman was talking earlier about the blowback that's coming, it is coming. And there is no smoking gun here. This is going to fall apart, maybe right away, maybe gradually. But falling apart, it is. The story isn't there.

COOPER: Jen?

LORD: I think politically, it's not (inaudible).

COOPER: Jen Psaki?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I think one of the points a number of people has made I think that's pretty important here is this is just the beginning of the process. The Comey hearing is not the end, not the conclusion for the members of the -- my party who think that Trump is going to be, you know, handcuffed and taken to jail tomorrow. That's not going to happen.

But it is interesting that the FBI director who was fired is contradicting the president under oath in statements he made, so there is a significance. However, at the same time, there's multiple investigations going. They could take years. Mueller's investigation could take years. The Senate investigation could take months.

So, there's a breathlessness in the sense that this is going to be resolved very quickly, but I think we are -- there's no smoking gun here. It's not taking into account the fact that there is troves and troves of information coming out and lots of processes trying to get to the bottom of it.

BORGER: And you had people testifying this morning before the Senate who had had encounters with the president in which he tried to get them apparently to stop their investigation or go out there and say that there was nothing there. And they refused to tell the Senate in open session and the senators were furious about that.

So when you think about a Senate investigation and you think about what happened in Watergate or you just think about what happened in Iran-contra, these people are not cooperating. They're not.

TOOBIN: Can I just say for the record? I think there is a smoking gun here. The February 14th meeting where the president says to Jim Comey, "Can you see your way to shut this investigation down," if that testimony is accurate and believed, that's a smoking gun of obstruction of justice as far as I'm concerned.

(CROSSALK)

BERNSTEIN: And also possibly, possibly -- when the president says aloud to the whole country that I fired Jim Comey because of the Russia thing, that seems to me also a prime --

TURLEY: The problem is he doesn't ask to shut down the Russia investigation. He ask to shut down --

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: That's why I see. A prosecutor would develop further information in support of the prima fascia case of what the president himself have said. And let's follow not just the money, let's also follow the evidence and see where it leads.

TOOBIN: Unanswered questions, you know, Matt raises a very good one which is, why --

ROSENBERG: Why Flynn?

TOOBIN: Why Flynn of all people?

BORGER: Yeah.

TOOBIN: And the related, even broader question is why Russia? Why always Russia? Why are all these people? You know, Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions, why are they all afflicted with bad memories about their contacts with Russian leaders?

[21:20:03] Why are they all making false or inaccurate statements to Congress and on the security clearances about Russia? Why can no one remember -- why are there so many contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia? I don't know the answer to that question.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: May there be a conspiracy case that perhaps could develop from this.

BORGER: We don't know either (ph).

LIZZA: There was one overlooked detail in Comey's testimony that was posted today. And he quoted the president saying that Flynn didn't do anything wrong on Russia.

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: It's just that he lied to the vice president and that's why I had to fire him.

COOPER: He also once said that there was some other stuff.

BORGER: There was some other stuff, yeah.

LIZZA: What I think is interesting about that, there is this question that's been looming over the Flynn investigation is what did the -- what did President-elect Trump know about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador? Did he direct him to have those conversations? And if not, was he at least briefed on those conversations afterwards? Comey at least is suggesting that Trump knew everything he needed to know about Flynn's relationship with the ambassador and he thought he didn't do anything wrong.

COOPER: He's meant -- that is a big question of how much did President-elect Trump direct him to speak to Kislyak.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSENBERG: A huge question and it's ambiguous.

(CROSSTALK)

COPPER: Well, let Matt speak and then we'll --

(CROSSTALK)

ROSENBERG: I mean, apparently, you know, people who have seen the Intel on this said it's not clear. It's not clear. There were multiple phone calls. It's not clear what's going on in between those phone calls. And the who knew, what, when, is still an immense -- it's an unanswered question and there are other meetings as well.

There's the Jared meetings with the ambassador and a Russian banker who is deeply tied to Russian intelligence. These could all just be bad judgment. We don't know. But they're all, as you pointed out, a ton of people who are meeting with Russians, individually, without anybody else witnessing it. They don't seem to remember any of the conversations they had. They don't seem to remember when they had them. And I think those were answers that still yet -- it's not clear yet.

COOPER: We're getting much more ahead, including what Gloria mentioned a moment ago. The fireworks today when Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee tried to get answers on some of Director Comey's allegations from some of the country's top intelligence and law enforcement officials. We'll have that ahead.

And later, we travel with the president to Ohio to see if any of this is giving loyal Trump supporters any second thoughts. That and more when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:25:40] COOPER: Until the Comey testimony came out, the lead story was the hearings today before the Senate Intelligence Committee and if they were widely seen as a warm-up for tomorrow, it certainly lived up to the billing and then some.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, NSA Director Mike Rogers, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, they are all there to talk about foreign surveillance legislation. But, we're all asked to talk about Russia, James Comey and the president, as when the warm-up tomorrow turned into the Senate equivalent of a House on fire. Details now from CNN's Ryan Nobles. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nation's top intelligence officials today refusing to provide details of their conversations with the president.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do not feel it's appropriate for me to -- in a public session in which confidential conversations between the president and myself, I don't believe it's appropriate for me to address that in a public session.

NOBLES (voice-over): Not answering a barrage of questions about whether President Trump tried to interfere with the investigation into Russia meddling.

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VICE CHAIRMAN INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If any of this is true, it would be an appalling and improper use of our intelligence professionals. An act, if true, that could erode the public's trust in our intelligence institutions.

NOBLES (voice-over): The director of the National Security Agency only offering this broad claim.

ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: I have never been directed to do anything I believed to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.

NOBLES (voice-over): But as the hearing went on, frustration from both sides of the aisle over the refusal to answer specific questions.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Has anyone ever asked you now or in the past, this administration or any administration, to issue a statement that you knew to be false?

ROGERS: For me, I stand by my previous statement. I've never been directed to do anything in the course of my three plus years as the director of the National Security Agency --

RUBIO: Not directed and asked.

ROGERS: -- that I felt to be inappropriate, nor that I felt pressured to do so.

RUBIO: Have you ever been asked to say something that isn't true?

ROGERS: I stand by my previous statement, sir.

NOBLES (voice-over): Again and again refusing to acknowledge whether any such conversations with the president took police.

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Do you realized how simple or would simply be to say, "No, that never happened?" Why is it inappropriate, Director Coats?

COATS: I think conversations between the president and myself are, for the most part --

HEINRICH: You seem to apply that standard selectively.

COATS: No, I'm not applying it selectivity. I'm just saying I don't think it's appropriate --

HEINRICH: You could clear an awful lot up by simply saying it's never happened.

COATS: I don't share -- I do not share with the general public conversations that I have with the president or many of my colleagues within the administration that I believe are -- should not be shared.

HEINRICH: Well, I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question speaks volumes.

NOBLES (voice-over): An increasingly exasperated Senator Angus King pressed to get answers about the lack of answers.

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the President of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?

COATS: Not that I'm aware of.

KING: And why are you not answering?

COATS: Because I feel that it's inappropriate, Senator.

KING: What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral. What you feel isn't the answer. I'm not satisfied with, "I do not believe it is appropriate or I do not feel I should answer." I want to understand the legal basis. You swore that oath, to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and today you are refusing to do so. What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?

COATS: I'm not sure I have a legal basis.

NOBLES (voice-over): The Republican chairman of the committee closed the hearing with a stern warning.

SEN. RICHARD BURR, (R) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: At no time should you be in a position where you come to Congress without an answer. It may be in a different format, but the requirements of our oversight duties and your agencies demand it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Ryan Nobles joins us now from Capitol Hill. I mean, clearly, frustration displayed by the senators today. Will there be other opportunities for them to get the answers they seek, you know, even at closed door?

NOBLES: Well, Anderson, you heard Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, suggests that maybe he'd be a little more forthcoming if they were in a closed session. But he also said there was no legal barrier that was preventing them from talking about their interactions with President Trump in an open session.

[21:30:09] So, essentially, there'd be nothing special about a closed session. So, why then would he be more forthcoming in a setting like that. And, also, Anderson, we should point out at this point, both Rogers and Coats are not scheduled to testify in a closed session in the near future.

COOPER: Ryan Nobles, appreciate that.

Back with the panel. Joining us now is also former CIA Director and Trump Campaign's Senior Adviser James Woolsey.

Ambassador Woolsey, let's start with you. You certainly know how to be discrete about conversations you had with former presidents or with current president. What -- did they do the right thing in not answering those questions?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think they could have saved themselves a lot of hassle by agreeing to go into some of these issues in closed session. Whether or not it's strictly responsive to an individual rule or not, I think is less important, than helping when you can help. But a private conversation with the president to testify about it in public, I wouldn't.

COOPER: Even if the president hadn't -- I mean, there's no executive privilege.

WOOLSEY: If the president told me, "Jim, we're talking about in here last Friday, if they ask you a question about it in the Congress, don't hesitate to talk about it." I said, "All right." But I'm not going to -- I wouldn't -- I worked for four presidents and I'm not going to do that just to answer a question.

I've also been general counsel of the Senate Armed Services Committee back in the Mesozoic Era, back to '70s, and we would work these things out. If a witness had a problem when absolutely sure it was classified or sensitive, we'd get together ahead of time. I'd get together with the government's lawyer and we'd sort it out and we'd have a section at the end of the testimony that it was executive with an executive session. And then we'd have that reviewed by the classification people to see if -- when maybe it was put out sometime and some parts of it'd be excised, we compromised.

COOPER: So, Professor Turley, I mean, it doesn't seem like they were talking about classified information here.

TURLEY: No, no, no. They literally did everything wrong. They started to talk, describe a conversation with the president. And then they refused to go further.

LORD: Right.

TRULY: The only thing they didn't say is, "I'm now going to hold my breath." I mean, it did not make any sense at all.

Now, I think the correct thing to do is to come and say, "Look, I don't feel comfortable with this. I'm going to give the White House a chance to review and decide if they're going to invoke privilege. I don't like speaking about conversations to the president, which is a position a lot of people have held."

You don't start down that road. Describe it and then say, "This is as far as I go to a committee that's investigating potential crimes."

BORGER: But they said they went to the White House. They went to the White House. They tried to get some kind of reading on privilege and they didn't get any. So they went up there without any read from the White House. And that's quite surprising to me because --

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: Or some guidance from the White House.

COPPER: Do we know that --

BERNSTEIN: There might have been --

BORGER: Well, that's what they said.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: They said that they asked the White House, they never got a response.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: You know, Jonathan and I have been having a disagreement about the nature of criminal behavior if any. But I think everyone can agree. These congressional hearings are dealing with very important subjects involving Russia's involvement in our election, involving how to prevent it again. The public has a tremendous interest in getting some answers about those issues independent of any criminal investigation.

BERNSTEIN: More than that --

TOOBIN: So -- let me finish. So that the fact that these people are refusing to answer questions, when they don't have a legal basis to refuse, is really damaging.

BORGER: That's what --

LIZZA: I disagree with Ambassador Woolsey on this is the idea that they should just say, "Oh, I'll tell you about this in closed session." No, that's not good enough. Close session is for something what is actually classified. There's no suggestion that this was --

WOOLSEY: Director Comey did that all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: The stunning assumption is you only do that when it is something that is classified and you can't talk about it in the public.

BORGER: Right.

LIZZA: So, to me, that's --

WOOLSEY: A lot of things are borderline classified. They may be. They may not be. You're not absolutely sure.

LIZZA: But the idea of these hearings is for the public to learn about what happened.

WOOLSEY: It's not just for the public to learn because when the public learns how things are done that can be classified, the terrorists learn too.

LIZZA: I agree with you on that.

WOOLSEY: And so the public has an interest in here, but certainly not a complete and total.

LIZZA: My point is there was nothing classified about their conversations with Trump. They're not saying it was classified. They're just saying, "Hey, sorry, congressman in a duly --

COOPER: And really what they're asked about was a specific, you know, question.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Did the president ask --

LIZZA: They just want to answer --

BORGER: Right.

BERNSTEIN: Back with stuff the president himself has tweeted about.

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: Can you imagine if the president had issued an executive, you know, saying, well, I'm not going to -- executive privilege, "I'm not going to let you talk about this." What we would all be talking about tonight, we'd be saying, "Oh there's something to hide there. We know now." So they didn't do it.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: Let's look at a really stunning element of this. Here we have the Congress of the United States. We finally see a duly- appointed committee of the Senate do its job, be methodical, go by procedure.

[21:35:09] Things Americans have been saying for years, we don't see in the Congress of the United States. These guys have every opportunity to go up there, be respectful. If they want to say, "To hell with you guys, we have executive privilege, we're not going to talk about it. And right here, I have some classified information that I can only give to you in closed session." That's one thing.

These guys went up there, stuck their fingers in the eyes of the Congress of the United States, including Dan Coats, who just left the institution a few weeks ago. It's extraordinary. It's inexcusable and it is a terrible civics lesson for America.

BORGER: And he said, "I'm not sure that I have a legal basis for this." So, they couldn't even explain why they were doing this other than they just didn't want to talk about it.

TURLEY: Things you never want to hear your client say.

BORGER: Right.

TURLEY: That was in the top ten lists.

PSAKI: But then he asked -- putting the legal basis aside, which I'll leave to the lawyers, what we're all now concluding is that probably Trump asked them things -- to do things that were inaccurate or illegal. So, they actually had a terrible outcome from the White House by not getting back to them.

BERNSTEIN: That's what the bottom line of the story is, that they were asked to comment on in "The Washington Post." Did they --

PSAKI: Right.

BERNSTEIN: It had been suggested to them by the President of the United States that they do something untoward.

PSAKI: And they didn't deny it.

BERNSTEIN: That's what they -- and they didn't deny it. And one of the things hearings are for and one of the things testimony is for is to get to the gray area. We sit here and look at things in black and white on these panels, partly because we don't have enough information. The idea is to get into these gray areas and learn the truth. And these guys said, "To hell with learning the truth."

BORGER: But they were unified at one point, which did work for the White House at the beginning of the hearing. They both said, "We had never felt pressure to intervene." They both agreed on that. That's where they pushed the door open a little bit and it's kind of hard to shut it after you've done that.

But they did have kind of a talking point together on that. And it seemed to me like they had both agreed they were going to say that and this was going to be their strategy. It wasn't a bad strategy because the hearing turned on them.

COOPER: But you could also -- I mean, it was also interesting, Ambassador Woolsey, that it was the Republican -- I mean, you had Republicans, McCain, Rubio who seemed as frustrated as others.

WOOLSEY: It's back in the good old bipartisan days of the Senate when they did things together. I remember those. LIZZA: I mean, that's one thing that will anger both sides is when witnesses come before them and just won't answer their questions.

PSAKI: Right.

LIZZA: That affects the Democrats and Republicans.

COOPER: To the point, I think Angus King made, or I thing it was -- you know, you sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and then you're not. You're not telling the whole truth, but you also don't have executive privilege so --

BERSTEIN: And they got out what they wanted to get out, which is we have not been pressured without the ability to ask a follow-up question. So they ended up stirring the water of the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: A lot of this falls on the White House counsel that it is the way this happens. And the ambassador is absolutely correct, because usually there's communications between the White House counsel and counsel for the committee. It's laid out in advance.

The White House counsel can say, "We want to study this. We don't feel comfortable with it and so they're not giving you much information." But they also know that the committee can force that information. These guys can be brought back. They can be compelled under the right circumstances.

Jeff and I are in total agreement that this is a legitimate investigation. These are important issues. There might even be crimes out there. No one doubts the jurisdictional footprint.

WOOLSEY: This is a Madisonian conflict between two parts of the government. It's exactly the kind of clash and argument that may -- has kept us free for two-and-a-quarter centuries. It's to -- it's important issues. It's a big fight. That's what we do. That's the way we have preserved our democracy.

TURLEY: But the Madisonian fight is about laws that favor each side. When you have a witness who says, "Well, I don't have any law. I just don't feel like answering the question." That's not Madisonian. That's ridiculous.

(CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY: I must admit I really (inaudible) Madisonian, so I don't want to get in, in that.

COOPER: We got to take a break. Everybody, how this is all playing out for the president's fans, are they still backing him on the subject? Our Gary Tuchman spoke with a number of the president's supporters in an event in Ohio today. What they have to say about James Comey and the Russian probe, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:43:10] COOPER: Our breaking news tonight, we're just hours away from fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Today, we've got an opening statement outlining face-to-face meetings and phone calls he had with the president and the discomfort that he felt he had with the conversations.

Comey also reveals that the president asked him to "lift the cloud over his presidency". According to a new Quinnipiac University Poll, only 34 percent approve of the job the president is doing. This is a new low for the president in Quinnipiac's polling.

Meanwhile, new ABC News/"The Washington Post" Poll shows the president is far less credible than Director Comey on the Russia probe, but a majority of Americans don't trust either of them. 55 percent trust Comey less, 72 percent trust the president less on Russia.

But what about the president's most active supporters, are they worried at all about the Russia investigation and Director Comey's testimony tomorrow? We'd like to get a range of opinions on this program, including shock, those from outside of Washington, D.C. Here's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA WERNER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: My shirt says, "I never met a deplorable I didn't like."

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you can't tell, Barbara Werner is a fan of the president. She talked to us as she was waiting to see him speak in a marina in Ohio. She says she has all the faith in the world with Donald Trump, thinks he's doing a great job. But --

Do you think James Comey is trustworthy?

WERNER: I do. Yes. I think James Comey is trustworthy.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): So how will she feel when watching the testimony if the former FBI director says something that contradicts the president?

WERNER: If he's under us, I will take his word for it. Yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And that is a complicating factor for many here. We trust Donald Trump, but also trust James Comey and are trying to figure out how to reconcile that.

DARRIN WARGACKI, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I do trust James Comey, but he is one person in this entire machine that I think the president like any other citizen of the United States deserves this day if front of the council, the Senate body, the investigation, former Director Mueller. I think it will eventually play out, but we can't rely on just one person making this testimony.

[21:45:02] TUCKER (voice-over): Chris Fisher works as a miner. If he contradicts Donald Trump under oath, will you be troubled by that?

CHRIS FISHER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Yes, a little bit. But, you know, you still got to believe in the president.

TUCHMAN (on camera): It's nothing new to hear Donald Trump supporters like these speak proudly and fondly of him, but what is new and increasingly evident is the concern and anxiety that some of them now feel, too.

Are you concerned about the future of his presidency with all of the trials and tribulations involving the White House?

DENISE HARRIS, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I am. I'm very concerned, because there are so many different aspects of things that are going on and there's so much to cover all at one time and I hope he gets a chance to do the things that he said that he is going to do.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Do you think any of this is his fault, the troubles?

HARRIS: Of course. I think so, because he is a key player in all of this, so it has to be -- some of it has to be -- somebody has to take ownership.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But there are others here at the marina not ready to assign any blame to the president, like the skipper of this boat.

(on camera): Do you trust Donald Trump?

DWAYNE COFFEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: 110 percent.

TUCHMAN (on camera): What about James Comey?

COFFEY: No. Absolutely not.

TUCHMAN (on camera): James Comey might be talking about the Russia investigation. He might contradict things Donald Trump has said during his testimony. Does that concern you?

DAN GRIESSMAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Not at all.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But for almost everyone we talked to, tomorrow's hearing is must-see-TV with a dose of trepidation.

Is there some anxiety?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins us now from the other side of the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky. So did anyone you talked to say that they are losing faith in President Trump? TUCHMAN: Well, Anderson, the Trump supporters who go to his rallies and go to his speeches are the least likely to lose faith. However, many of them are very concerned. Many told us today they are worried that Donald Trump will not be able to keep his campaign promises that they're going to fall to the side because of the political, ethical and legal headwinds that he is facing. Anderson?

COOPER: Gary, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel, Paul Begala, Jason Miller, Jen Psaki and Jeffrey Lord.

Paul, I mean that is a very reasonable fear, even if you believe as many supporters do that the president did nothing wrong. If you believe in the president's agenda you want to see that agenda moving forward. And right now, it doesn't seem like its happening and certainly to the speed with which they would like.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is not happening. They controlled the House and the Senate and the White House and yet they can't seem to get their program through. That is not the fault of the evil Democrats or the lying media. This is the Republicans and their leader, our president.

They got to get that going. But some of this is also what the president chooses to focus on and focus our attention on. It's why tweeting tomorrow, live tweeting that hearing is a disaster for Donald Trump.

Those voters, I think they hope he's OK on Russia. They hope he didn't collude and steal the election, but they really want jobs, better health care, a better way of life, they want someone --

COOPER: Right. The things the president won on.

BEGALA: -- someone to tackle this opioid crisis, where people dying before their times. The president is not focusing on any. Well, he went out in campaigned style rally this week, which is good. It's good for him. But he's got to find a way to pull himself out of himself and that's a tough thing to ask of a narcissist.

COOPER: That's fair to blame that it's the president who's got to pull himself out of himself?

BEGALA: Yes.

COOPER: It is. Then you're saying that --

BEGALA: I've been through this.

COOPER: I mean, you do this in the past, the example of Bill Clinton you worked, or that he could compartmentalize.

BEGALA: Yes. And every day he went out, and back then it was Sam Donaldson who would scream in the aisle. "Sam, I know you have your job and things you're obsessing on, but I have mined. And I got to get back to work creating jobs for the American people making sure that we have health care for these poor children." And he focused on the agenda for real, too, for real.

And his team, it was second term we are more organized than we were in the first. But, this president is giving his voters a sense that the only thing -- only job he cares about is his own.

COOPER: Jason, do you buy that?

JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think the White House definitely has to figure out how to compartmentalize this ongoing Russia cloud. And I think this is part of the reason why the president was frustrated, the fact that he was told three different times that he was not under investigation, but Director Comey wouldn't put that out. You can see where that would cloud everything that's going on with the administration.

Look, I think Reince Priebus has done a good job setting up a structure now in the White House to where they have a disciplined message calendar. They have this whole next month planned out. June is jobs month and I think there have some really cool things that are coming up.

They have to stay on offense in aggressively pushing that because the job is president, jobs, jobs, jobs. That's what Donald Trump ran on. And the Russia investigation, all the rest of this distraction, they have to find a way to stay away from that and leave that to the outside if they're going to be successful. I think they can do it, but there have to be disciplined.

COOPER: Jen, I mean, they're clearly trying to do that by saying, "Look, Russia questions go to the president outside council," whether that's going to work, another question.

PSAKI: Sure. And I think as Paul touched on some of it is that the president is jumping himself two feet into this by tweeting, by kind of taunting on a lot of these issues. And while the staff may be -- are very disciplined in trying to work to have a message calendar, you can't clout over the President of the United States.

[21:50:10] I think the big challenge they have with their agenda is for any president, even presidents who are much more popular than Donald Trump, the first year is really the sweet spot of getting your agenda done.

And once you get to September, it's going to be a budget fight and you're really almost done with trying to get anything done, because then you're in election year. So really they have June and July to try to get tax reform or health care or something done, and that's really the short timeline they have left.

LORD: Yeah. One of the problems that I think that the folks were trying to do the Russian deal here is the backlash. I mean, I'm talking to people just like Gary is talking to. I mean, they stop me in the streets there in Pennsylvania and they are very revved up about him. I mean, in this kind of thing, only upsets them, it makes them really angry. Which they -- you know, I'm not asking.

COOPER: They're feeling that this Russia thing is basically a distraction and not real, and therefore it's being used against them.

LORD: Correct, correct. So the folks who are doing this, at some point they've got to put up or shut up, they got to have something here and we're going to go through this situation tomorrow, but at some point, there has to be a dare there.

PSAKI: That's not going to be the reality.

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: But these guys are also right. The White House -- and they are doing it. They are going to be doing jobs. They are going to moving on infrastructure. They are going to be doing these things. And they need to do it.

My one criticism was, you know, what does the Republicans in the House doing? I mean, you know, too much vacation, I mean they should be there doing their jobs.

COOPER: Paul, is that how investigations work? I mean, you know, I certainly get Jeff saying, you know, they've got to move this along and get some answers quickly. But, I mean, you've lived through investigations, the Clinton administration, they go on for a long time.

BEGALA: And this one has the added complexity of involving national security. So, this is counterintelligence as well as just run-of-the- mill allegations of corruption. This is going to take years. And its why -- if the president wants to succeed, he's got to have his agenda. So, they're coupling.

I'm going to hear ones voice (ph) tomorrow at the House. The House Republicans are voting to limit regulations on "Wall Street." That is not what those folks in Ohio and Kentucky voted for. They didn't vote to let "Wall Street" off the hook. They have -- they've got to find ways.

There's a couple of key dates. The first is June 20th, the run-off in Georgia, which is neck and neck between the Democrat and Republican, in a rock-red Republican district. If the Democrats can win that, that's a big signal.

The other date Jen allude to is, for me, it's always the August recess. The first 100 days is always a phony deal. It was. It always has been. The August recess is not. Every president gets the bulk of his most important domestic accomplishments by August recess of his first year. That's August 1 this year. Time is ticking and he hasn't gotten anything important passed yet.

LORD: One of the thing, and Paul was touching on it to some degree, off-year elections are terrible for presidents. I can't think of one. You went through 1994, Reagan '82, and -- I mean, this goes back a long way. This special election in Georgia, in Richard Nixon's first year, they had a similar situation. The secretary of defense had held his seat in Wisconsin for long time. It went to a Democrat.

These elections may not go well, but then there is a rebound from all of this. So, all the bad news is going to be ready until these things go south, but there is a come back.

COOPER: Coming up, on tomorrow's hearings promises to be the latest in a long and storied history of highly anticipated congressional hearings that become political theater in some ways from McCarthy hearings to Benghazi and beyond, details on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:57:06] COOPER: Welcome back. James Comey's testimony tomorrow is about to join a long, long line of congressional hearings that have become part of American history. I wanted to take some time tonight to look back at some of those congressional hearings and see how they played out. Tom Foreman has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For airing grievances, probing issues or political punch, congressional hearings can be explosive.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The fact is we had four dead Americans.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Consider 2013's testimony on the Benghazi attack and this moment, from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decide they'd kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

FOREMAN (voice-over): It's been that way for generations, from testimony on the sinking of the Titanic to Joe McCarthy's hunt for communist and his denunciation by Army Attorney Jo Welch.

JOSEPH WELCH, ARMY ATTORNEY: Have you no sense of decency, sir? If there is a god in heaven, it will do neither you nor your cause any good.

FOREMAN (voice-over): To a hearing on allegedly obscene music in which the lead singer of Twisted Sister argued with future Vice President Al Gore.

AL GORE, AMERICAN POLITICIAN: What does SMF stand for when it spelled out?

DEE SNIDER, TWISTED SISTER SINGER: It stands for the sick mother (inaudible) friends of Twisted Sister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

FOREMAN (voice-over): The Watergate hearings proved enormously consequential for President Richard Nixon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if there come a time when you were asked to develop a capability in the White House or intelligence gathering?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Intelligence gathering, the answer would be no.

ANITA HILL, AMERICAN ATTORNEY: He talked about pornographic materials.

FOREMAN: Anita Hill's accusations against Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, spurred debate about sexual harassment. His denial and slamming of the committee even more talk.

CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: As far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Hearings had brought impeachments, corruption probes, harsh accusations against the IRS.

LOIS LERNER, IRS EXTEMPT ORGANIZIATION ORGANIZATIONS DIVISION DIRECTOR: I have not broken any laws.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Scathing words for cigarette makers.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Difference between cigarettes and twinkies and the other products you've mentioned is death.

FOREMAN (voice-over): And outraged questions for the Secret Service.

REP. NITA LOWERY, (D) NEW YORK: We're talking about a respected member of the Secret Service who was absolutely drunk.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Admittedly, congressional hearings often lead to nothing, but every now and then, this unique type of political theater collides with something important, and then it really can be a show worth watching. Anderson.

COOPER: Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

And thanks for watching "360" tonight. I hope you tune in tomorrow, 9:00 a.m., we'll put you an eye. We're going to host special coverage of the Comey hearing. Right now, it's time to hand things over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.

[22:00:06] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news, James Comey's highly anticipated Senate appearance just hours away. This is "CNN Tonight." I'm Don Lemon.