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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Washington Post: Sessions Discussed Trump Campaign-Related Matters with Russian Ambassador; Interview with Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California; Manafort, Trump Jr., Reach Senate Deal To Avoid Public Hearing; Scaramucci Named White House Communication Director. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 21, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
Tonight, a new story just out in "The Washington Post" says Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his Kremlin bosses that he did in fact talk about campaign matters with then-Senator Jeff Sessions. Current and former U.S. officials telling "The Washington Post" they know from American intelligence intercepts.
Now, if true, it's also possible that the Russian ambassador was boasting to his bosses. But if it wasn't a boast and the information bears out, it casts serious doubt on the credibility of Jeff Sessions, the highest law enforcement official in the land, who denied having any contacts with Russians during the campaign about the campaign.
This is what Attorney General Sessions said during his confirmation hearing back in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: All right. So that was January, and when asked in a written question whether he'd been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day, Sessions responded no.
Now, here's what he said when he recused himself from the Russian probe back in March.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Let me be clear. I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign, and the idea that I was part of a, quote, continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, there he said never had meetings with Russian surrogates about the Trump campaign. Now, here's the -- or about Russians about the Trump campaign. Here's the attorney general's Senate testimony back in June.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, there, he's changed it somewhat. He's saying about interference in the election or campaign.
CNN contributor Adam Entous is one of three correspondents on "The Washington Post" story. He joins us tonight.
I mean, Adam, this is just another bombshell report coming out on a Friday evening. Just explain what you and the others at "The Washington Post" have learned.
ADAM ENTOUS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we knew about the meetings. We knew about them in March, that Sessions did not disclose them when he appeared for his confirmation hearing. And we were trying to figure out, well, what was the nature of those contacts? What was being discussed?
And so, what we've learned is basically what Kislyak sent back to Moscow. This is his account of his conversations, these two conversations, one in April, a second one in July, of his contact with Sessions.
COOPER: So, while Sessions didn't seem to remember any specifics about these meetings, Kislyak sent back specifics?
ENTOUS: Yes. I mean at the end of his conversations, I assume he gets into his car and goes back to the embassy or back to his residence, and then he writes a report. That's the way most ambassadors, diplomats operate.
COOPER: So what did he tell his Russian bosses?
ENTOUS: He told him what he thought they discussed, which was campaign issues. In other words, what the relationship would be like between a future Trump presidency and the Russian government -- the kind of thing that Kislyak was under orders by his boss, Putin, to try to get information about. Kislyak was doing exactly his job, which is basically meeting with people in the Trump campaign, trying to get information about how that campaign would actually deliver on some of its rhetoric during the campaign if it was elected.
And so, that way Putin can make a decision about what he thinks of this relationship.
COOPER: So, the meetings that you know about between Sessions and Kislyak, that Kislyak is reporting on, how many meetings are there, and when were they?
ENTOUS: Well, there was a meeting in -- I don't know how to characterize the first encounter. So, there is a VIP reception before Trump gives his first foreign policy speech in April.
COOPER: Right. That was at the Mayflower Hotel.
ENTOUS: At the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
And so, there's an encounter there that Kislyak reports on in which they discussed campaign matters.
There's a second encounter in July. This is on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. It's in a hotel outside the convention area. And, again, Sessions gives a speech, and at the end, Kislyak as a pull-aside, if you will. We're not sure how long it lasts, but it was described by intelligence officials who have seen the reporting as a substantive conversation. It wasn't, at least in Kislyak's view, something superficial or cursory.
[20:05:01] And then there was a meeting, a third meeting which took place in Sessions' Senate office, which occurred in September.
COOPER: Which Sessions has said in the past that that was in his capacity as a senator, he held that meeting. But you don't have information about what Kislyak said about that meeting.
ENTOUS: Well, Sessions did provide a little bit of a readout of that meeting in which Ukraine was discussed. Just to be -- just to clarify, Sessions initially said -- and as far as I know still argues -- that all of these meetings were about his role on the Senate Armed Services Committee, not because of his advisory role that he was playing on the Trump campaign.
COOPER: All right. And clearly what Kislyak is saying is that they discussed the goings on in the Trump campaign and future Trump policies.
ENTOUS: Right. It's unclear what exactly Kislyak would be interested in talking about when it comes to Senate Armed Services Committee business. Why would Kislyak go out of his way, one of the few ambassadors actually that turned up at that April event --
COOPER: And at the Republican convention, it seems odd to not be discussing Donald Trump as a candidate and what he would mean?
ENTOUS: Correct. I think it's important for people to keep in mind this is Kislyak's version of events. Sessions, as you just showed very clearly, has sort of changed his accounts as we've gone through the months from basically saying there were no meetings initially to the meetings weren't about the campaign, to the meetings were not about collusion or coordination.
So, you know, again, either he doesn't recall clearly what they are and maybe shouldn't have said what he said initially, or he is not telling us the full account.
COOPER: And you hinted at this, but it's important to point out it's very possible that Kislyak is bragging to his Russian bosses, kind of making himself more important, saying, all right, I had substantive discussions and this is what they discussed and sort of trying to build his own credentials.
ENTOUS: Yes, he could be trying to impress his superiors by showing how much access he has in Washington. He could also be trying to plant false information into communications in order to deceive the American intelligence services or maybe actually plant derogatory information that could be designed to embarrass people down the road. That's also possible.
COOPER: In your article in "The Washington Post" tonight, I believe you have somebody quotes about Kislyak's past kind of conversations and whether he is somebody who is prone to bragging.
ENTOUS: Right. By most accounts of the officials that I deal with, they tell me that Kislyak's reporting to Moscow is accurate. So they see it, right? They'll meet with Kislyak. They'll deliver a message, and then they'll be able to read whether Kislyak reported that message accurately.
Sometimes if they think that message is not correctly reported, they will go back to Kislyak and basically tell him, without revealing that they were reading his reporting home, they could have a chance to basically say, you know, just want to underline again the way we're thinking about this or that issue.
So that's the way diplomacy actually happens. It's not just Russia. It happens everywhere, Pakistan, you name it. That's the way we have these conversations.
COOPER: Adam, just hold on for a moment. We've just gotten a statement from a Justice Department spokeswoman. I'm going to read it to you.
Obviously, I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that "The Washington Post" has not seen and that has not been provided to me. But the attorney general stands by his testimony from just last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee when he specifically addressed this and said that he, quote, never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.
Interesting that what they're specifying is he stands by that he didn't have any conversations about interference in the election. They're not saying he stands by the March statement that he had absolutely no contact about the campaign.
ENTOUS: Right. They actually sent us that same statement before we published our story. So, yes, they're addressing an issue that really isn't the subject of the story, which is I have no information to suggest that Kislyak spoke to him about that issue of coordination or interference in the election.
COOPER: Also, Adam, this could not come at a worse time for Jeff Sessions.
ENTOUS: Right. His relationship obviously with the president based on the president's interview with "The New York Times" is on the rocks. And the president in that interview criticized the way Sessions handled his answers to questions during his confirmation hearing. So, again, you know, Sessions seems to be kind of a moving target when it comes to explaining those interactions he had with Kislyak.
COOPER: Right. The president just in "The New York Times" interview, two days ago I guess it was or maybe yesterday, it blends together now, you know, expressing his anger that Sessions did recuse himself.
I mean -- I also want to bring in some other voices for a reaction. Distinguished "Washington Post" alumnus, CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein. Also, CNN contributor and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, former federal prosecutor Matthew Whitaker. Dana Bash is here. So is "Axe Files" host and former senior Obama adviser, David Axelrod.
David, I mean, this is just one more -- again, I hate to use that cliched term, but drip in this Russia story. How big is this?
[20:10:01] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's obviously big for Jeff Sessions. It impugns him in a way at a time, as you point out, that is very, very inconvenient because he seems to be on the rocks as it is. I think he will argue what he has, which is these are uncorroborated and there's no verification of them other than the representation of Kislyak in these cables.
It is interesting, as you point out, that he has moved the goal posts. So, he's now saying, we didn't talk about interference in the campaign. But if he was having conversations with Kislyak as a representative of the Trump campaign, giving him a sense of what Trump would do as president and indicating that he would take a different approach to issues like sanctions, that seems like a big thumbs up to Moscow if they were considering how deeply they wanted to invest in this campaign.
So, it could give, in the short run, the president the means to rock Sessions out of that job. But in the long run, it's one more piece in a puzzle that is becoming more and more troubling, Anderson, for the White House.
COOPER: And, Dana, the timing of this, it comes two days after the president publicly criticizes Attorney General Sessions. Could this give the president a reason to fire Sessions and appoint a loyalist, his attorney general during the upcoming congressional recess, who, by the way, if there was a new attorney general, they would not have to recuse themselves, I assume, from the Russia probe?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. Look, that is all possible. I don't want to get too far into sort of the weeds of the Senate and how their recesses work. But in the past, I don't know, eight years or so, and David can probably remember this more than I because it was -- it happened mostly when President Obama was in the White House. The sort of Senate and the senators, particularly those of the opposing party of that person in the White House, they kind of -- they're on to the notion of recess appointments.
So, they tried to stop the Senate from formally going into recess, which deprives a president of recess appointments. So, that is possible that that happens.
But I think, you know, perhaps -- and, you know, I don't want to sound overly conspiratorial here, Anderson, but you mentioned that "New York Times" article where the president already sort of rhetorically threw Jeff Sessions under the bus. This almost seems like somebody is putting the bus in reverse, backing up, going forward, backing up. I mean, it doesn't seem to be an accident that this comes at a time that Jeff Sessions is vulnerable.
COOPER: You're saying -- I mean, there's -- it's a theory, but a theory that it actually plays into what the president wants, which is --
COOPER: -- which is to get rid of Jeff Sessions.
Carl, I mean, do you think that's possible?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's possible, but I think we need to look at a couple other things. First of all, at the time, Jeff Sessions had been named the head of national security policy for the Trump campaign. Very important.
We need to find out from Sessions, probably the Congress needs to call him back very soon and get a full explanation of all of his conversations with Russians. But, really, what's most interesting here is what might have Sessions said to the candidate, to Donald Trump, about these and any other discussions he had with Russians, because now we're playing with the word collusion. We're playing with the word interference.
But now, we're beginning to see why these investigations are moving so close and why the president of the United States is so concerned that they're closing in on him, his family, his dealings with Russians. Pieces are starting to fall together. There can be some innocent explanations for all kinds of things. But we now need to know a lot more about how it is that all of these discussions took place.
COOPER: Carl, what does it say that the attorney general of the United States, the highest law enforcement official in the land, has to be called back a third time to testify under oath to try to explain what you would think a panel of senators or folks on Capitol Hill could have gotten out of him in two appearances on Capitol Hill?
BERNSTEIN: It says clearly that he has not been forthcoming, that he has very carefully chosen his words to give only as much as he wants to give without giving a full version of what occurred, trying perhaps to avoid a perjury charge as he continues to go through these motions. We don't know where this is going to go. But it's clear the highest law enforcement official in the country has not been forthcoming with the Congress of the United States unless, by some chance, these intercepts turn out to be braggadocio.
But we'll find out what the intercepts are.
[20:15:00] Mueller will find out what the intercepts are. The Congress and the intelligence committees will find out what the intercepts are.
But there also in the question what did Jeff Sessions and the candidate, Donald Trump, discuss about Russia in these conversations?
COOPER: Of course, same question of what did Donald Trump Jr. and his father discuss, if anything?
BERNSTEIN: It's exactly right. It's exactly right.
COOPER: Adam, the Justice Department is going after, you know, unnamed sources, uncorroborated. It is accurate to say you have not heard these intercepts?
ENTOUS: No, I have not heard these intercepts.
COOPER: Right, but you've talked to --
ENTOUS: We've talked to multiple current and former officials who described it, and I think we can all understand why we use anonymous sources. This same Justice Department conducts leak investigations and if we did not provide that anonymity, we would not be getting the information that we're able to provide to basically fact-check these officials, right?
And, you know, there's been a pattern in dealing with this Russia story where obviously initially we're told the meetings never happen. Then, we're told they were about something else. And then we find out actually there's intelligence showing that they were about something completely different.
The exact same thing kind of happened with Mike Flynn, right? We found out about the conversations. They tell us it's about something. It turns out it's not about that. And then officials basically revealed elements of intelligence which showed what actually was discussed.
COOPER: And the truth is it's only once it becomes public, it's only once you or the "New York Times" or CNN or whoever uncovers it, that then something changes. Mike Flynn only was fired after the story went public.
COOPER: John, I mean, just yesterday, Attorney General Sessions said he would stay on the job, quote, as long as that is appropriate. Do you think it's appropriate for him to stay on the job?
We lost his audio.
John, we lost your audio. We'll try to get it back.
Dana, I mean, what are the chances he will not stay on the job?
BASH: I mean, look, who would have thought that after the president of the United States says the kind of things that he said about his attorney general to "The New York Times," trashing him, that he would decide to stay? But he did.
At this point, you know, he might feel dug in and feel that he wants to stay just to spite President Trump, that he feels like he can do things that he's wanted to do for some time in the Justice Department no matter what is going on and swirling around him with Russia. That is also a very real possibility that he'll just kind of dig in and say, uh-uh, I'm not going anywhere. You want me to leave, you fire me, Mr. President.
COOPER: Matt, are there any restrictions for the president and who he could appoint as attorney general in a recess appointment, and is there any legal reason why, under a new attorney general, Robert Mueller couldn't be fired? Would it make it easier to get rid of Robert Mueller if there's a new attorney general?
MATTHEW WHITAKER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right, it would be very interesting to see a new attorney general first run the traps of getting confirmed in this Senate. You know, my home state senator, Chuck Grassley, would have a lot of input and influence in who the next attorney general would be.
I think that because of the recusal that Sessions currently faces, I think the ownership of the Russian investigation and Bob Mueller's appointment would then fall on the new attorney general. It would be a very interesting issue.
But, you know, this story comes out of, again, another intelligence community leak trying to undermine this president, his administration, and ultimately, it boils down to a he said/he said situation where, Anderson, quite frankly, I'm going to always defer to the American citizen, the man that served honorably in various states, including a U.S. attorney like myself, versus, you know, a Russian spy/diplomat.
COOPER: John Dean, I think we have your audio fixed. Is it appropriate for Jeff Sessions to remain as attorney general?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I was speechless there for a moment. It's because I'm really struck by the timing of the leak. I don't know of course who the source was, but given the fact it follows on "The New York Times" story, as well as "The Washington Post" story saying how senior aides were shocked that Sessions had agreed or wanted to stay on his job. This certainly makes it much more difficult.
And the question of how appropriate it is, is something he's going to have to address. He clearly wants the job, Anderson, and I think he's going to put up a good fight before he walks away from it.
COOPER: Just briefly, Adam, I know you may not be able to say this or know this. Is this information that the president of the United States would already have known based on his access to intelligence or because it's part of the Russia -- well, I don't know. Do you know?
ENTOUS: Yes, I don't know the answer to that. I'd be surprised if this information is -- why it wouldn't be widely shared. You know, again, I think as president I'm sure he could have access to this.
[20:20:00] But I'm not sure how far it's distributed and to whom.
BERNSTEIN: Let me say two things. One, the president can ask for this intelligence, and it would not surprise me if he did, particularly if he is intent on getting rid of Sessions. But the real thing, and I've been talking to people around the White House, that he's intent on is getting rid of Mueller.
That is his objective. He wants Mueller out. He's doing everything he can to undermine him. He would like to fire him, and there is a possibility that this disclosure could give him the mechanism, as we're talking about, as Dana is talking about, to do that through a combination of recess appointments and other internecine mechanisms.
But that's his ultimate goal. He wants this investigation stopped. Yes, he's talking about pardons. But he doesn't want to go there. He would like to end the investigation.
COOPER: And, Adam, just so I'm clear, if there is a new attorney general appointed, then does he or she oversee Robert Mueller's investigation?
ENTOUS: I believe so.
COOPER: I would think so because the investigation is under the offices of the Justice Department, isn't it?
BERNSTEIN: That's correct.
Everyone, hold on a second. I want to bring in Democratic House Intelligence Committee member, Congressman Eric Swalwell.
Congressman, first of all, your reaction to this reporting from "The Washington Post" which does completely contradict Attorney General Sessions' past statements. Again, it's based on Russian ambassador, the words he said to his bosses and in they're accurate.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Anderson.
Attorney general Sessions should no longer serve, I believe for other reasons. He's already lost the trust of the American people. He wasn't forthcoming about his contacts with Russia as they were interfering in our campaign. He participated in the firing of James Comey, which was improper.
And so, we now cannot trust his word. And so, with respect to this report, I will just say that as far as anything Jeff Sessions has said about his contacts with Russia, we should be able to corroborate or contradict those statements with all of the evidence and be able to review that. But for now, you need your top law enforcement official to be trusted, and he simply is not trusted. This is a time for Congress to thoughtfully and aggressively put a check on this president.
COOPER: So, you're saying he should step down?
COOPER: Are you concerned at all -- I mean, as a Democrat, are you concerned at all about whomever might replace him and what impact that might have on the Mueller investigation?
SWALWELL: Anderson, that's why I say we're not helpless in Congress from a presidency that is careening into a constitutional crisis. The Senate and the House can both check the abuses of power that we're seeing. The Senate should not recess or do anything that would allow a recess appointment to take place. They should ensure that whoever would be appointed next, if he does step down, is somebody who is going to allow the Russia investigation to proceed unimpeded as we've seen the White House try and obstruct and keep it from moving forward.
And so, we have to now step up as Republicans and Democrats for the sake of this country to get our democracy back in order.
COOPER: You say that the attorney general should step down. If, in fact, Ambassador Kislyak was just bragging, was just making this up, whether for nefarious purposes to confuse U.S. intelligence or to somehow affect investigations or the operation of the Trump administration, if he does step down and the ambassador was lying, isn't that playing into their hands or, you know, taking action based on a lie?
SWALWELL: Yes, Anderson, I'm not even speaking with respect to the report today in "The Washington Post." I cannot comment on that one way or the other.
What I am saying is he's already been found to not be fully forthcoming with the American people about his contacts with Russia while they were meddling in our elections. He participated in the firing of Comey, which again I think was improper considering that he had told the American people he had recused himself. And now, you see that he doesn't have the confidence of the president.
For all of those reasons, so that the Justice Department can function without this chaos, I don't think he should any longer be the attorney general, and I actually think Congress should step up and make sure that whoever is there next can lead it in a way that it can conduct the Russia investigation and the other business that we need the Justice Department to do.
COOPER: Congressman, it's kind of weird. You know, in March he said very point blank, very strongly, I had no contact with Russians, you know, during the campaign about the campaign. And then he amends that to, I had no contact with Russians about any, you know, interference in any election or campaign.
Do you believe the attorney general needs to be called back a third time to testify under oath for a third time just to try to clear this matter up?
SWALWELL: Yes, Anderson. I also serve on the House Judiciary Committee. I think he should come before our committee. We should be able to have access to all of the evidence so that we can again confront him with it to see just what is the truth.
[20:25:03] But also, Anderson, this is the pattern we've seen in this investigation, which has put more into focus the ties that the Trump team has had, which is they deny ever having contacts with Russia. Only when confronted and oftentimes because of dogged media reporting do they acknowledge it, and now, we've gotten to the point where the president is essentially saying so what? The alternative would have been Hillary. He is putting that out there now.
And so, I think we have to tell the country that the so what is that our democracy has been undermined by a foreign adversary and we have to do everything now as leaders in Congress to never put our country in a position like this again.
COOPER: Congressman Swalwell, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
I want to get the panel's take.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
COOPER: I'm joined now by CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Evan, you've been covering the Justice Department, the Russia investigation for a while. What do you make of this reporting by "The Washington Post" and the impact it's going to have?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it comes at a particularly tricky time for the attorney general as I think a lot of our guests have talked about. You know, given that the fact that the president essentially has said that he doesn't exactly want him there, and if he had known he was going to recuse himself, that he would never have appointed him. That really undercuts the attorney general.
It also raises a question about whether the president has some expectation that the attorney general essentially doesn't have any independence from him. So, that's going to be -- I think it adds the pressure of the attorney general over the next few weeks to see whether or not he stays on this job, Anderson.
COOPER: I mean, obviously, this White House can be very unpredictable with how it staffs its top positions. How would it work if the president decides he no longer has confidence in Sessions while Congress is in recess?
PEREZ: Well, you know, that's one scenario. I think Dana and I have talked about this in the sense that if you fire the attorney general and the Congress is not in session, then they could do a recess appointment. Obviously, the fact is he's got a Republican Senate and a Republican House. They can gavel out because traditionally for the last few years, they have not done that as a way to prevent Barack Obama from doing recess appointments. So, you know, they could cooperate with the president to do that.
But I think the more likely thing here would be that the Senate would take this very seriously and fire the attorney general. Here's the thing a couple folks have pointed out. You know, it raises a really interesting question because you appoint an attorney general who doesn't have the recusal issues that Sessions does, then you have someone with a clean slate who can come in and perhaps pull the levers to control this investigation. That's what the president may indeed want.
COOPER: So, Evan, just to be clear, a new attorney general without any need to recuse himself or herself, they would be overseeing Robert Mueller?
PEREZ: Right, exactly. Right now he's being overseen by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, Anderson.
So, what would happen is then his new boss, the new attorney general, who doesn't have this issue, would then be the most senior person at the Justice Department who has oversight of what Mueller does. Keep in mind when Mueller does find anything, if he decides that he wants to refer this to Congress or perhaps impeachment, it depends on Rod Rosenstein or whoever is in that position to make the official referral to Congress.
COOPER: All right. I've got to get a quick break in. We're going to pick the conversation in the panel. Later, the president's son, his former campaign chairman both reach a deal on their scheduled Senate hearing next week.
We have breaking details on that as well on a very, very busy night.
[20:32:16] COOPER: You heard the Congressman Eric Swalwell before the break that he thinks Attorney General Sessions should step down, given tonight's breaking new news, which cast doubt on the attorney general past statements on contact with Russians.
Back now with the panel in particular Adam Entous form The Washington Post. He's one of three reporters on the story, breaking story tonight.
You and I were talking during the break, and I just want to have everyone else hear what you said. Because I think it's important because there is -- I've seen it online, a lot of people sort of have a, I don't know if it's conspiracy theory to grant the term but the idea that perhaps given what President Trump said about his anger toward Attorney General Sessions and then the story breaks that it gives him a reason to get rid of Sessions. You've actually been working on this story for quite some time.
ENTOUS: Yes, I mean we had the initial story back in March which was that Sessions had two encounters with Kislyak and basically ever since then, we were trying to figure out what was the nature of those discussions, what were the contents of those communications, right? And so we've been working on it for weeks, you know, before this and when "The New York Times" had that excellent interview with Trump in which Trump commented about Sessions in particularly, you know, talked about specifically how he didn't appreciate the way he answered the questions in the confirmation hearing.
We realized that we may not have as much time as we thought and we should basically try to push the story out as soon as we could.
COOPER: May not have as much time because other reporters are going to be hunting it down?
ENTOUS: Correct, correct. Yes. It's a competitive environment and, you know, obviously something -- sometimes we can work on stories for months and not worry about the competition. But when we saw The New York Times story, we realized, you know, we really need to finish up that.
COOPER: I don't want the program the areas (INAUDIBLE) too much but then, you know better than anybody what to say or not to say, but the information about what Kislyak said to his boss is, is that information you had had for --
ENTOUS: That's information we had since basically early June.
COOPER: Wow. OK.
COOPER: So you've had it for a while.
COOPER: So for those who believe that this only fell into your lap 24 hours ago, that is not the case this is something you've been working out. ENTOUS: That's correct.
COOPER: You also made the point to me during the break and I think it's an important one and fair one to make, it is that -- there's nothing necessarily nefarious about Jeff Sessions working for the Trump campaign having a conversation with Kislyak about the Trump campaign.
ENTOUS: Right. I personally don't see any problem with that. I don't know why that would be an issue. Certainly, Kislyak he is doing his job, talking to Sessions and advise her to the campaign and it would seem like it would be Sessions' role as a foreign policy adviser to also engage, whether it's the British ambassador or the Russian ambassador. There shouldn't really be an issue with him engaging. The issue is, did he accurately characterize, did he even disclose when asked about that contact.
[20:35:05] And when he was asked about it, did he give an honest answer about the nature of it? And so I think as you showed at the top of the hour, you know, we have an evolving story line here.
January, it didn't happen. March, it happened but it wasn't about the campaign. June, it was yes. Maybe it did happen, I can't really recall. But at no point did I discuss --
COOPER: But it does raise the essential question of, again, if there's nothing nefarious about it, why not just be honest about having meetings like, yes, I met with the guy, he was asking by the campaign. I was a surrogate for the campaign. I've talk about -- I mean, Carl, is there anything wrong with that?
BERNSTEIN: It's the same question to the President of the United States, why won't he disclose all of his conversations and tell us, I am ordering everybody in my White House to disclose publicly all of their dealings with Russians during the campaign and since, unless, it involves secret diplomacy of a nature that can't be disclosed.
This is a coverup. It doesn't mean there's obstruction of justice, it doesn't mean that the law has necessarily been broken but we have seen for months and months now, there is a coverup going on, that various people are part of it, that the President of the United States has not been honest or forthcoming. That he's tried to demean, undermine and obstruct all of these investigations. He is now talking about throughout the White House, to many people in the White House, who are now aware that he is trying to get rid of Robert Mueller.
So he doesn't want this investigation. He wants all of this to go away rather than deal with it in a forthright way, the same way that the attorney general of the United States did not want to deal with this in a forthright way.
COOPER: So what you're saying it's a coverup because I mean, Carl Bernstein has a coverup that gets a lot of people sketching. You statement doesn't mean illegality.
BERNSTEIN: Not yet and is possible.
COOPER: But it just being speaks lies about what actually happen.
BERNSTEIN: Leis and lies and obfuscation and indigenousness and unwillingness to say to the people around the President by there President, hey let's tell him what we did. Let's see if it's really so innocent. Let's say we wanted to have a broader relationship with the Russians based on X, Y, or Z.
We had these conversations, we had these meetings. This is how we dealt with it in the campaign. There's a way to do it. They have done the opposite. They have sought to cover it up. And this is including Mr. Sessions' testimony.
COOPER: Another element of the investigation as some of our other breaking news tonight Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort have avoided subpoenas by cutting a deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee. They're going to talk in private on Wednesday. It's unclear if they will be under oath in those conservations typically they're not. Here is what Trump Jr. promised just last week.
(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, AMERICAN TALK SHOW HOST: You said in a tweet, you would fully cooperate with any investigation?
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: Of course.
TRUMP JR.: Hundred percent.
HANNITY: Turn over everything that they want and you feel you already have.
TRUMP JR.: I'd be, yes.
HANNITY: Yes and you have nothing to hide, you want to be -- that means you'll testify under oath, all of that?
TRUMP JR.: All of it.
(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)
COOPER: Manu Raju joins me now with the latest from Capital. First of all, Manu, when Donald Trump Jr. said he's already -- he thinks he's already turned over everything. I mean he revealed some e-mails, we don't know if it is fully e-mail change on that meeting but we haven't, we don't know if there are other e-mails, I mean there's could be a whole host of e-mails about this meeting or about the results of it or subsequent phone conversations. What do you learning about what's going to happen next week, because there was a lot of talk that they were going to testify publicly on Wednesday that's not going to happen. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. That's not going to happen is because of this deal that was cut behind the scenes after a series of active negotiations. The deal entails providing more documents. It was documents that you were just referring to Donald Trump Jr. His any contacts that may have occurred including the Trump Tower meeting that he had met with Russians and an effort to try to get dirt on the Clintons, as well as with Paul Manafort to provide some more records.
And these two men have agreed to have a private interview with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the staff as well. Now, there's no date yet set, Anderson, for that private interview.
And at this point, it's unclear if they will appear publicly but the committee did issue a subpoena for another witness who is expected to come on Wednesday that was Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the firm Fusion GPS, which of course is behind that.
Now infamous Russian dossier, Mr. Simpson's representative saying that they believe this hearing is a pretext and effort to throw cold water on the issue of collusion with Russian officials and Trump officials. That's why he is not appearing next Wednesday. But this deal cut with Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, Jr., has avoided the notion of subpoenas for now as for now.
COOPER: I want bring out panel, lots to discuss. CNN Political Analyst Carl Bernstein, former U.S. Attorney in Iowa Matthew Whitaker, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and Adam Smith, The Washington Post is here with us as well.
Dana, the negotiations the senators are having with Donald Trump Jr. and Manafort, what would they be negotiating exactly? Could it include the scope of the questions that either man could be ask or just the scope of the information that they're expected to turn over?
[20:40:11] BASH: Probably more likely the information. It's hard to imagine just like, you know, journalists, maybe even more importantly when you're talking about investigators that they would agree to limit the scope of questions, particularly because they're following the investigation and their questions will be based on what they learned.
What they, Manafort and Donald Jr. clearly want to avoid, is a spectacle. And they understand how red hot this issue is politically. And how incredibly rare, maybe even unprecedented and somebody will probably correct me if I'm wrong, for the son of a President to be called to Congress to testify about alleged conversations that he may or may not have had to further his father's campaign and those conversations being with a Russian national.
So that would be absolutely unprecedented. Not saying it won't happen but they're trying to slow walk it in the witness side and even though there is bipartisan agreement and they're working in a bipartisan way in the judiciary committee, to make these conversations happen, it is still a Republican led Congress. And these are still people that members of the Congress senators want to show a bit of deference and understanding to as they get their information together. COOPER: Matthew this behind closed doors discussion, if it's not under oath, do they still have to tell the truth? I mean if they don't tell the truth and it's revealed later, is that perjury?
WHITAKER: It's not. I would expect they will be sworn in but that's probably part of the discussions and negotiations they had. There's still a lying to Congress statute that is very broad that could be applied in this situation.
And you know, I say along with what Dana is saying, I think Dianne Feinstein, who is a ranking member together with my home state Senator Chuck Grassley. I think they did a really good job of minimizing the political circus that would have happened on Wednesday, but at the same time, getting the important information to the committee to conduct their investigation because these are two key people in that meeting that happened last year that will know details that are important to the judiciary committee and their investigation.
COOPER: It is interesting, Carl, Donald Trump Jr. is willing to go publicly on Hannity's program when this story is broke to give his side of the story, you know, in an interview which is pretty limited in scope. And yet when it comes to actually answering questions in public, seems, or at least his attorneys don't want him to.
BERNSTEIN: I'm going to come to their defense here. First of all, the Congress of the United States, they reserve the right to call these people into public sessions and into a further hearing. Normal investigative practice often dictates that you do want to pre- interview them.
COOPER: Is it smarter to have a pre-interview?
BERNSTEIN: Yes. Not only that, you can learn some things. There also are also is an oath involved probably. You can also be in contempt of Congress if you don't cooperate. There are all kinds of ways that there are repercussions that can be brought upon the witnesses. The can be brought into public session. And I would home and expected that would after this private sessions but more important than that, they too have rights. They have Fifth Amendment rights. They -- it's understandable they might want to avoid a public glare, at least until they've had an opportunity to say to members of Congress --
COOPER: That I fully get -- if they would want to testify publicly.
BENRSTEIN: Well, but they ought to eventually publicly testify. But first, let's see what they have to offer. I think that their rights need to be respected.
COOPER: When we come back, the big shakeup in the White House staffing. Find out who's in, who's out, and what it means, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:47:41] COOPER: Well, these breaking news tonight close another big story which in turn you had to going to go eclipsed Made in America week. The big news, just a few hours ago and it continuous to be right now, the departure of Press Secretary Sean Spicer the naming of Wall Street Financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director. He spoke in rarely televised White House briefing this afternoon. One thing became clear Scaramucci does say a lot of positive stuff about President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The President is a winner. OK. And what we're going to do is we're going to do a lot of win. I love the mission that the President has. I love the President. I obviously love the country. He's genuinely a wonderful human being. I love the President. And I'm very, very loyal to the President. I love these guys. I respect these guys. I love the President.
The President is phenomenal with the press. The President himself is always going to be the President. I think he's got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history he's done a phenomenal job for the American people. He's the most competitive person I've ever met.
OK. I have seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, standing in the key and he's hitting foul shots and swishing them, OK? He sinks three-foot putts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: To his credit, he tried to answer as many questions as possible, which is something we don't see a lot in that briefing room. And it was televised.
Also, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been named the press spokesperson, details now from CNN Sara Murray at the White House who joins us. A really dramatic end of the week to say the least, what more you're learning tonight?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not just the dramatic end to the week but to really months of speculation that a staff shakeup could be coming months of speculation that there be a change in the communication shop, that all came to play out and what is relatively short time frame. We started hearing about this last night.
It became clear this is what the President wanted but -- that he was doing this in many ways of his own accord without the advice of some of his top advisers.
Look, this is the President who feels very much like he is under siege in this White House between the Russian investigations at the Justice Department as well on Capitol Hill. And he felt in many ways expose like he wanted this job filled by someone he sees as a killer, someone who is going to go out and defend him. And that is how he sees Anthony Scaramucci.
Now it's not Scaramucci's job to be at the podium in front of us every day. He's the communications director. It is his job to develop strategy that's not something he has ever done. So it will be interesting. But this is something like a close personal relationship with President Trump different from what we saw with who Sean Spicer adopted this role, sort of the head of the press shops.
[20:50:07] So it will be fascinating to see how that relations (INAUDIBLE) and place out over the coming months, Anderson.
COOPER: And with Spicer's departure, Scaramucci's appointment, how did it go over in some sectors of the West Wing? I mean there are some were reporting that some folks were unhappy. Is that true, do we know?
MURRAY: Oh, no doubt, there's no doubt that this is something that not everyone in the White House was on board with. People are not exactly hiding their feelings about it. This is something the President decided with the guidance of his family members.
Ivanka Trump is supportive of this. Jared Kushner is supportive of this. They've worked alongside Anthony Scaramucci, known him for a while. And they trust him to be out there being the voice for the President and defending him.
But Reince Priebus, the Chief of Staff, was not supportive of this. Steve Bannon, the President's Chief Strategist was not supportive of this. And Sean Spicer was still opposed with that, that we saw him resign today. So this is really the President's decision in many ways over very serious objections from people in the White House.
And it's worth pointing out, Anderson, that now in this role Anthony Scaramucci has now reports to Reince Priebus he report directly to the President.
COOPER: The briefing room seemed a little less combative today with Scaramucci at the podium. Do you expect that that's going to last? Obviously, he is not going to be at the podium every day. I think he had a pretty commanding presence while he was there but it's going to be Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
MURRAY: That's right. It was a different vibe with Anthony Scaramucci. We saw he brought his sort of New York swagger with him. He seemed at ease when he is taking questions from reporters and he was also sort of gentler in paring those responses. There were no cries of fake news and that kind of thing.
It will be fascinating to see if it changes the tone from the top down. Sean Spicer really set the tone on the -- the first time he ever gave a briefing when he was talking about inauguration crowd sizes, he relied on faulty information and made it clear that he was going to go to battle with the press.
And I think he and Sarah Huckabee Sanders have really kept that up in a lot of ways, day in and day out. That's certainly has not been Scaramucci's relationship with different media outlets. He has a lot of close relationships with news outlets. But we'll see. This is the kind of job that's difficult to do. It wears on you.
Today, Scaramucci didn't have to answer for anything the President had tweeted. He didn't have to answer for very many things the President has said that are not rooted in fact. That will change in the months ahead and we'll see how he deals with it and how his relationship with the President as a result of it.
COOPER: Sara Murray, thank you very much.
Joining us now, people I have spoken for, spoken to, or written award winning news copy about president, including this one, David Axelrod, Jen Psaki, Carl Bernstein, Michael D'Antonio and Jason Miller.
David, why quit now? I mean, was this just a culmination of events for Sean Spicer or do you think this had specifically to do with the hiring of Scaramucci?
AXELROD: Well, Anderson, I would say of all of the pools that develop in Washington, all of the betting that goes on, I think one of the most prominent was exactly how long Sean Spicer would last. Some people had, you know, Easter, some people had July 4th, some people had Labor Day. I don't know anybody who had Christmas, because this has been a very, very difficult relationship from the beginning.
It is hard to speak for this President because you make representations presumably with his approval and then he will take it in a completely different direction, often cutting you off at the knees, costing you your credibility. So I don't think that Spicer was terribly comfortable over time in that role. And then, you know, Scaramucci extensibly is going to be the communications director in the White House.
Now, his whole background is in finance. He has no background in White House communications. Jen Psaki is sitting there. Jen was a White House communications director. It is a very complex job and it is a planning job.
Apparently he was hired to be kind of a preening peacock on T.V. and defend the President. But, you know, the thing that stunned me more than anything was that he said, we're -- I told the President that we need to let him be himself. We need to let him express his full identity. Was the President feeling restrained? I didn't get that sense. It seems to me that he has spoken his mind time and time and time again and that often is what gets him in trouble and it makes planning impossible. So if that is the philosophy of the new communications director, I don't think it bodes well for the White House in the long term.
COOPER: Yes. Jen, I mean what is the job of a communications director compared to the, you know, the person is doing the briefings in the room and how difficult is it for anybody, to David's point, in this White House where, you know, where they say one thing during the day and then oftentimes the President, you know, seems to contradict it within 24 hours online? JEN PSAKI, CNN political commentator: Well, incredibly difficult for anybody who is speaking on behalf of this President sitting in the White House.
The job, as David referenced of the communications director -- you know, the press secretary is the fireman who's dealing with the incoming press inquiries and things that are blowing up on a daily basis.
[20:55:06] The communications director's job is to see around the corner and to think about the strategy and how you're going to position the White House policies and the President six months, a year from now. That takes a lot of work directly with the President working hand in hand.
Now, Scaramucci clearly reportedly has a close relationship, so that's good but it's far more than being comfortable at the podium. You're a key partner with the policy teams, working with them on policy rollouts and announcements, approaching things that are terrible that are going to happen and there is a lot of deep policy work and thinking and strategy that happens. He doesn't have experience doing that and I think that's probably going to be a big challenge for him.
COOPER: Jason, how big -- I mean to me -- how big -- you know, I guess that's one challenge, he's obviously got a very impressive business record. But just the challenge of if it's a planning job and planning a month out or six months out, I mean you can plan all the Made-in-America weeks you want but if the President, you know, starts the week off by tweeting about something else, that's going to dominate the news cycle, you know, the best laid plans are going to get toss out the window.
JASON MILLER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So here is why I think Anthony is going to be so good in this job, is he gets the President. They clearly click. I think they get each other. Anthony proved himself on the campaign trail. He proved himself on the transition team and there is -- I think at a different level than we have seen other folks, he's been able to really relate to the President.
COOPER: He has a more personal relationship than Sean?
COOPER: Sean Spicer really didn't have that relationship.
MILLER: He really understands how the President wants to communicate his message. Now, that's going to look different from the previous administration, it's going to look different from other administrations before that.
I think it's also important to point out to that we saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders promoted to press secretary today which is a very important part of this. And look, Anthony Scaramucci has the strategic vision to look down the road and to plan this out. As far as some of the nuts and bolts or may be he doesn't have the long background in traditional politics, there's some very good deputies and folks in a communications department to work with him on that. What they needed was a leader. Keep in mind the communications director's spot had been open for a couple of months. This isn't a shake up. This has been of a new direction.
And the quick thing I got to say on Sean as well, a lot of folks I think have been piling on Sean today but I don't think he's got enough credit for some of the things he put in this White House Press Briefing Room including bringing in some of the regional reporters with Skype interviews, opening up the White House Press Briefing Room to more ideological press from both the left and the right. I think he should get some more credit for that.
COOPER: Carl, what do you make of these changes and the difficulties that he faces in reality?
BERNSTEIN: First all, let's not get caught up in atmospherics and this about atmospheric to some extent, and about who the President wants to be and the banker with.. But really but what we're talking about throughout all of this is the conduct of the President of the United States and how the White House is trying to explain the conduct of the President of the United States.
And that conduct, especially of late, is aimed at undermining the judicial system and integrity of the United States. And it is a job that nobody should have to do because it is by its very nature and by the nature of what the President is allowing to happen, by trying to undermine our judicial system and special prosecutor. We don't need to pay too much attention to the atmospherics. We need to pay attention to the President, his words and what the investigators are finding and our own investigation.
COOPER: Michael, I mean I think one of the things that's so fascinating about this President is, you know, he clearly has a long relationship with the press, very different obviously when he was a businessman in New York than it is now. But, you know, that New York Times interview which came right after lunch with the senators about health care. Apparently, the only other person in the room was hope hicks. I wonder if under -- with Scaramucci that there will be that sort of free-wheeling kind of interviews without anybody else in the room. I'm not sure if somebody else in the room would have made any difference or not than that.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I think he might see Anthony in the room. You know, I -- when I saw him speak today I thought that if the President could have an all billionaire team with uniforms by Brioni, this would be the guy, you know. You want -- he wants the atmospherics to fit a certain template. And Carl is right, that no one should have to explain a coverup if it is under way, no one should have to back and fill. But this is the reality with Donald Trump. He is a guy who is going to go his own way and he'll go three different ways sometimes before lunch.
And I think Scaramucci is saying, I love this man many times, him saying, I'm here to serve him. He made a funny equip about Sean Spicer where he said, well, maybe now he'll go make some money.
D'ANTONIO: You know, that could have come out of Donald Trump's mouth. So there's a real affinity here I think for these two fellows.
COOPER: Yes. It certainly came off that way. For all of our viewers just joining us, we are just at the top of the hour, a busy one at the end of a very busy week.