Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

First Charges Filed In Mueller Investigation. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 21:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Now, whatever you may think of the underlying allegations this is a landmark, CNN's Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz joins u now with the exclusive. Pam, what have you learned?

[21:00:13] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, our team, myself, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, have learned Grand jury, a federal Grand jury in Washington, D.C., today, approved the first charges in the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This is according to sources briefed on the matter.

The charges are still sealed under order from a federal judge at this hour. And plans are being prepared for anyone charged to be taken into custody, perhaps as soon as this Monday. The sources told us. It's unclear what the charges are, Anderson. As I said, the indictments are still under seal. A spokesman for the special counsel's declined to comment for our story.

But as you know, Mueller was appointed in May to lead this investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

And on Friday, top lawyers, who are helping to lead the Mueller probe, including veteran prosecutor Andrew Weissman were seen entering the courtroom at D.C. federal court where the Grand jury meets. According to our producer, Laura Robinson they were there to hear testimony in the Russia investigation, and the reporters, including our producer, Laura, saw a flurry of activity at the Grand jury room. But officials made no announcements.

And now we have learned that perhaps that flurry of activity was because today was the day that the Grand jury approved the first charges in the Mueller probe.

COOPER: Shimon, I mean, to bring charges like this, what is the process? Who would have had to approve that?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, so Bob Mueller and his team, and Weissman, who's been leading some of the work here, some of the presentation to the Grand jury, he's been in the Grand jury. He was seen today.

So he and his team would presumably, we're told, go to the Department of Justice, the deputy attorney general there, Rod Rosenstein, and review the charges with him. Now, Rod Rosenstein, is the acting attorney general because as you may recall, Sessions, the attorney general, was recused from this investigation. So the deputy attorney general took over this investigation, and appointed Bob Mueller as special counsel. So he and Mueller would ultimately go over the charges, and Rod Rosenstein would eventually approve what charges would be submitted to the Grand jury, Anderson.

COOPER: Pam, do you have any idea who the charges are against, what kind of charges they are?

BROWN: We do have an idea but we are not reporting that as of now, as we mentioned, the indictments were under seal. And to our knowledge, the people who have been charged have not been notified. We have reached out to some of the attorneys representing clients that we know are being looked at in the Russia probe, and so far they're unaware of anything.

But, you know, that is part of the challenge, that's one of the big challenges of covering a story like this. Until they are unsealed, it's hard to get the details. Of course, we'll know more when the first bid of law enforcement activity happens, whether this person or these people turn themselves in or arrested, possibly as early as Monday, we'll told. And we'll learn a lot more. Anderson.

COOPER: Pam, can you just explain for our viewers why we wouldn't report the names?

BROWN: Because we -- these people have not been notified, to our knowledge, the people who have been charged by the Grand jury. Today, to our knowledge, they haven't been notified. And so we want to wait and let -- of course, we'll do some more reporting as the story unfolds. But until those people are notified, we will not be reporting the names.

COOPER: How significant, Pam, is this development?

BROWN: It's very significant. As you said, it's a landmark. This is an investigation that's been going on for more than a year, that has to -- even involves the White House, the president and obstruction of justice probe. The investigators in Mueller's (INAUDIBLE) have are also been looking into possible collusion during the 2016 campaign, with the Russians. We know they've been looking at Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.

And this is really sort of what people have been waiting for, will Robert Mueller's team, special counsel appointed in May, after much drama, bring charges against anyone.

So this is the first significant step in this investigation that we have learned. They believe they have enough of a case, probable cause, to go to the Grand jury, and bring these indictments. And so it's certainly significant.

What will be interesting to see here, Anderson, is what these charges are. Because if they have nothing to do with collusion, with the campaign, with Russia, then you can imagine there will be some criticism that, you know, especially from the White House, which is already, the president as you know has come out and said this is a waste of taxpayer dollars, this is a hoax, a witch hunt, they'll make the argument that they're right. So we'll just have to wait and see what exactly these charges are. Anderson.

[21:05:02] COOPER: Pam, Shimon, as always, great reporting, thank you.

Speaking of the White House, CNN's Sara Murray is there for us tonight. Sara, we first reported this just over 30 minutes ago. Any reaction there tonight?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, so far there's no word from the White House, which is probably not a surprise as you pointed out. It just came out. We still don't have -- we're not reporting the names or the charges that were filed. So that puts the White House in a little bit of a difficult situation. But, you know, it's worth noting what the White House's tenor, what the president's tenor has been on this investigation so far. Obviously he's denounced the entire question of Russia collusion as a hoax, the entire Russia investigation as a hoax. He said it's politically motivated.

Now, as Pam points out, because Mueller has such a broad purview, we don't know what the charges are yet. We don't know if these could be charges that are related potentially to Russian collusion, or these could be charges that spun off of something else that Mueller and his team found along the way. So that's one of the big things that we're waiting to see. And obviously, that will be a big part of driving what the White House's response to this I imagine would be, once they have a better grasp of what those charges are, and of course, who could be involved in this.

COOPER: Sarah, thanks very much for that from the White House. We got a team of political legal experts assembled for us, as well as some of the most experienced reporters on the planet, Carl Bernstein, Paul Callan, Ryan Liza, Alice Stewart, Maria Cardona, also Jack Kingston, David Gergen, Laura Coats, Michael Zeldin, John Dean, and on the phone CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Who thought and knew it's going to be a very slow Friday night. Jeff Toobin, how big of a deal is this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): It's an enormous deal. I mean, you know, remember, the whole idea of a special prosecutor is to see if there are crimes to be prosecuted. Robert Mueller has determined that there are at least one defendant. If one -- you know -- crime, we will see whether he can make his case in court. We will see whether at least other people -- but the fact is, this is an investigation of Russia and collusion, and now the prosecutor has brought some charges.

COOPER: David Gergen, I mean, how do you rank this in terms of the magnitude? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we're going to be held in suspense until the documents are unsealed, the indictments are unsealed. Until then, we can't really measure it. What we do know is the dam is breaking. We do know that the Mueller investigation, you know, there was some speculation, and the Trump White House was trying to make us believe that there was nothing here.

We do know there's something here. We do know that Mueller has probable cause to believe that crimes were committed by at least one person. And that's significant. But how significant, I think it very much depends upon what charges are brought. I continue to believe that Mueller -- it would be an odd thing, it seems to me, if you think about for how you game plan this out, to go with a case only that involves a personal activity unrelated to the collusion, unrelated to the president, unrelated to Russia against Manafort. I just think to be -- be an odd way to start. Because I do think as the reporting from the White House says, they're ready to pounce in the White House if it's simply about a Manafort thing. No matter why -- I know legally, they could keep going from there. But that's going to be seen as a weak move.

If, on the other hand, the charges come back and they involve something that could go up the line, could go all the way to the White House itself and could involve the president. That is a very, very big deal.

COOPER: Michael, I've asked you about this in the last hour, but -- I mean, given the level of experience of the prosecutors on Mueller's team, to David Gergen's point, they would be very well aware of how this would be perceived. Would that be a concern?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I suppose if they think about things in political terms. But again, as we talked about in the last hour, if you look at the Whitewater case as an example, that was a case where the President Clinton was under investigation for fraud in the dealings in Whitewater.

What happened in the start of the investigation was that there were several investigations about collateral matters, that brought indictments, and those people were charged. And then they tried to leverage those people with respect to the primary target, Bill Clinton. The same thing could follow here. That they are bringing charges that they know they can bring, remember, Mueller's only been on the job five months. That's not a long time for a complex counterintelligence investigation.

So they bring charges that they can bring, which they can prove, which has the purpose of either letting other people know if they had any doubts about Bob Mueller's seriousness of purpose, that he's a serious fellow and they should take what he does seriously, and that he tells the person against whom charges have been brought. We believe potentially that you have more information to give us as it relates to our primary inquiry, which is this conspiracy, counterintelligence, collusion inquiry, and we want your cooperation.

So there's a lot of purposes when you bring an indictment that don't necessarily take account of sort of how the politics may spin out. It really is a very different matter sometimes when prosecutors look at their evidence and what they can prove and how they want to proceed along the time line that they have set out for themselves.

[21:10:19] COOPER: Michael, given also your experience with Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice, can you just explain the kind of team he has assembled? I mean, it's obviously a large number of very experienced attorneys, he has FBI agents. And what is sort of the process of, you know, how they conduct interviews, what they do in the field? How extensive is this?

ZELDIN: So, Bob Mueller has essentially assembled a little U.S. attorney's office under the auspices of the special counsel mandate that he has. The people he brought in are all very experienced prosecutors, in the area of fraud, and corruption, and counterintelligence. He's got Russian speakers as well on his team. He's got agents embedded in the prosecutorial team. They all have work streams. Some will be working on the Manafort quirly, some will be working on the Flynn inquiry, some of them working on the obstruction of justice if that's a line of inquiry, some of them will be working on collusions.

All these teams will be working in parallel to one another. And they'll see as they progress, where the roads intersect. And Mueller's team is known for its -- so lead prosecutor Weissman is a no-nonsense sort of guy. And we saw that in the way in which they proceeded in Manafort's case. They knocked down the door. They subpoenaed his lawyer and his spokesman. And so there may be an effort here, if it is Paul Manafort, because his case was one of the most advanced from what has been reflected in the public record, that he's trying to put down a marker with respect to somebody as important as Manafort in the collusion investigation, to say, we have you on this, we need you on that, let's talk.

COOPER: John Dean, what about the point that Jeff Toobin made earlier, that often the first indictments are often aimed at getting kind of the smaller fish?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's certainly been a truism with most prosecutors' offices. And it could play very interestingly here. We've got a lot of chatter on Capitol Hill about the funding of the special prosecutor's office. That's very current right now. This is going to play into that, and the Republican notion that they might want to cut back on the independent counsel or special prosecutor's efforts. So I think this is a big deal.

COOPER: Laura, how do you see this?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, forgive the pun here, but the comments about the idea of partisanship weighing in, you know, Robert Mueller's team is not playing a game of cards. They don't need to lead literally with Trump. They can build their case over time. They can decide which cases take the priority. And if there is enough evidence to have probable cause that a crime has been committed, and that particular case can be closed with an indictment, they can proceed with that. To have this suggestion that they may need to appease or placate people on the Hill about the order in which they prioritize the decision to prosecute, would really undermine his objectivity and the charge that he has.

His charge is to have an independent, yet parallel investigation, his being the criminal probe, and Congress being a legislative and run how to be proactive to run in the future. And so I think that Robert Mueller has shown over time, and in the past several months, you've seen a butting of heads or turf war between Congressional members, who wanted to have subpoenas, and were withholding information, or written transcripts offered to Robert Mueller's team in retaliation for his inability or his refusal to give them information ahead of time.

This turf war indicates to me that Robert Mueller is actually acting independently and perhaps in the interest of the criminal probe.

Now, what actually happened from here, we do not know. But I suspect that he is less concerned with the partisan viewpoint of how he's running the operation, and instead, the order of what he can prove right now to the Grand jury.

COOPER: You know, Ryan Lizza, it's interesting that this happens at a time when it seems like the White House and Republicans are sort of trying to take back the momentum in terms of launching, you know, efforts, saying that Hillary Clinton is the person who's colluding with Russia, and talking about investigating her, investigating the uranium deal.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's a lot of chatter tonight among Democrat saying, aha, this is why the Republican investigative machinery on Capitol Hill is suddenly seized on Hillary Clinton. This is perhaps maybe why Trump was tweeting about how the investigation into collusion is over today. I don't know if that's the case or not. I don't know if the White House would have been apprised of this.

COOPER: We're told -- I mean, we're talking about this in the last hour that it was unlikely that the White House would be apprised.

LIZZA: -- the Justice Department, we know obviously Rosenstein was -- as our reporters said, would been -- would have known, and will the White House -- that could have leaked to the White House or not, I don't know. They leaked it to CNN, maybe it could have leaked to White House. But, obviously, I don't know.

[21:15:01] And how big the deal this is? You know, it depends on who was indicted and what the charges are, right? If Donald Trump is indicted for obstruction of justice, pretty big deal obviously. I don't think anyone thinks that's what's going on here. If it's the most likely person, the person that we had the most public information on that he was close to being indicted, Paul Manafort, depends on what the charges are. Of course, being indicted does not mean that one committed a crime, right, it is a long process after this.

COOPER: Carl Bernstein, though, it does make real something that, at this point, has been sort of intangible the existence, I mean, people have known the existence of Robert Mueller, but it's been sort of this, you know, guy off in the shadows with his team. You know he was out there, clearly, that the White House was concerned about it. All of a sudden it's now in the headlines, it's very real.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's the first visible public move, and it will become public once this indictment is announced that Mueller has made. You got tot proceed on the assumption that the lawyers certainly involved in this case believe that Mueller is attempting to penetrate what he thinks is a cover-up. A cover-up of what occurred surrounding Russia's interference in our campaign, and the possibility that people around Donald Trump, perhaps including Donald Trump, members of his family, business associates, encourage that interference in our campaign. That's the underlying issue.

And whether or not these indictments are part of a puzzle that Mueller is putting together, to penetrate a possible cover-up, is really what we're looking at here. It's the first public move, and we can expect more. There's a long way to go, in a sprawling investigation, and as all the attorneys on this panel have pointed out, this sends a signal to others who may be part of a cover-up, that you could go to jail for 15, 20, 25 years, unless you cooperate with us and tell us what you know. And there's the political question that I would hope Republicans would raise among themselves. And encourage the participation of the White House, in cooperating with this inquiry. And see that the president and his people are cleared of all wrongdoing, if that's what's involved here, instead of attacking the special counsel.

COOPER: Alice.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the interesting this comes out at a time, on a day -- in a few days where the White House and many Republicans have been politically speaking pushing back really hard on Mueller talking about all the time and money that he's using with this investigation.

And Trump today tweeting that everyone is saying that it hasn't led to any kind of indication, there was collusion between Trump and Russia, but collusion between Hillary and Russia.

I was in the Little Rock during the Whitewater trials, in that investigation. Democrats back then at the time were saying that Ken Starr was nothing more than a $1 million paid taxpayer, sex police for a man who was caught cheating on his wife. So Democrats were pushing back on the Whitewater investigation just like Republicans are pushing back on this. I think this is important. I think this is significant.

When we're looking at this all came about based on possible Russia interference in the election, now the investigation is about possible collusion, potential obstruction of justice by the president and this investigation is much more broad than a lot of people think. It's what -- and it's a (INAUDIBLE) from the investigation or what may arise. So that opens it up to a --

COOPER: It's also easier to push back when the Mueller team hasn't put a marker in the ground. This is the first time they've actually put a marker in the ground of the beginning of something.

STEWART: Absolutely. And I think that goes to show more than anything that I think Republicans and those pushing back on this being a witch hunt and spending all this money, that's not going to deter him. It's not going to deter his team. What they're doing is not going to stop the investigation or change their momentum and their aggressiveness for pursuing these charges.

COOPER: Maria.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I completely agree. And I agree also that the smartest thing for Trump to do, that we know he's not going to do it, is for whatever comes out of this, for him to say, yes, let's do this. Let's get this done. Let's get everything out there. If he truly believes that there's nothing to hide, which is why he keeps saying that all of this is a hoax, but I think that betrays the fact that he is fearful that something is there and that they are going to find a cover-up. But if he's really wasn't fearful, if he really thought he's innocent, he would embrace this 100 percent and say let's do this.

COOPER: Jack.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that he has said that. And he said it publicly, let's go ahead and get the cards on the table.

I want to get back to something that Ryan said, though, about how big of a deal it is, just to keep things in perspective. During the Clinton administration, there were 47 people who were indicted, 14 were convicted and went to jail. But during the Reagan administration there were 31. So administrations that can be successful do have sometimes scars on them because of things like this. You don't know who this person is, or what he or she did. And until we know that, I think there might be assumption, and maybe some partisans are saying, oh, this is directly related to Trump. It might not be at all. Because we don't know, for example, what some of these people have done in prior lives, or even while they were involved in the campaign.

[21:20:04] COOPER: Paul.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, two things. I found it to be very, very strange that today of all days, the president would be giving speeches saying that he's been cleared in the Mueller investigation of Russian collusion. Suddenly we next hear about an indictment, a sealed indictment that's been handed down.

Now, Rod Rosenstein, the assistant attorney general in charge, deputy attorney general, under the statute, has to be notified by Mueller of any significant developments in the investigation.

So question number one is, did that leak back to the president? And that's why he's around the country saying he's been cleared. And I think secondly, what's going to be really interesting next week, if it turns out to be an indictment of Paul Manafort, let's say for money laundering, or something related to his business, which predated his involvement in the Trump presidential campaign. The message that the Trump administration is going to see is that the Trump financial empire could also have problems here, because this means --

COOPER: Which -- when he was asked by "The New York Times" about that, he said that was a red line.

CALLAN: That's the red line. Don't cross that red line. Well, he's crossed that red line possibly with respect to lower level people. And what does that mean to the president?

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We'll have more about the implications for the White House when we come back and the latest developments of the first charges filed in the Mueller investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:25:12] COOPER: Still no reaction from the White House at this late hour to tonight's landmark breaking news, first charges filed in Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

CNN's Evan Perez, Pamela Brown, and Shimon Prokupecz got the exclusive. A federal Grand jury in Washington, D.C., approving the indictment. We do not know who. We also don't know the charges. Arrests expected as early as Monday. Back now with the panel.

John Dean, what about the idea that Jeff Toobin was talking about earlier, that the first indictments usually are the smaller fish. In this case, though, I mean, could it be more advantageous if they're concerned about the politics of this, if they're concerned about, you know, being attacked for having no "there" there, that they would go for larger charges?

DEAN: Anderson, the politics of it are -- whether mistakes were made in Watergate. We wrote the book of what not to do. And one of the things is to not overreact, or take actions that are going to jeopardize your case or your situation. And so an unknown or unexpected indictment could be more problem than an expected indictment. Manafort is sort of expected. Something that they're not anticipating, they may well overreact to. So I think it's a good time to look at the history book and how they handle this politically.

COOPER: Carl, you wrote --

BERNSTEIN: So, Watergate is particularly relevant because Republicans took a principled stand about Richard Nixon above party. And we haven't seen that happen yet, and hopefully we will during this investigation. The other point to make is that Mueller, like the Congressional Committees, has 20, 21,000 e-mails from people in the White House, people in the campaign. And those are potentially perjury traps for all the people that Mueller is interviewing, who have provided those e-mails. So that all of those folks have got to tell the truth about what they observed, what they know, otherwise they are in danger of perjuring themselves and the examples of the people who are being indicted here is foremost in their minds. That, I believe, (INAUDIBLE) to the prosecutors on this is probably part of a strategy that we're seeing here. It's not just about the Manaforts of the world. It's about those who have been very close to Donald Trump in his entourage for many years.

COOPER: Carl, talks about the number of e-mails, I mean, which gets to a point that I think is important, Ryan, that we've only publicly, I mean, for all the reporting that's been done, really seen kind of peeks at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what other potential information is out there. I mean, you know, we don't know about what we know about the Donald Trump Jr. meeting in that, you know, in Trump Tower with the Russians, comes from, what, the one e-mail or so, or the little e-mail chain that we've seen. There are probably other e- mails related to that meeting that we have no idea about.

LIZZA: We have so little visibility into this investigation. Mueller is operating with a massive staff, spending resources that -- millions of dollars, with people flying all over the world, the ability that we in the press do not have, to subpoena documents obviously to bring in people and get them to testify under oath. We are seeing just a tiny, tiny sliver of what this investigation is all about. That doesn't mean that, you know, we're in a tough position tonight because we don't know who's indicted and we don't know what it's for.

And it would be very interesting to see what both Donald Trump tweets about this and general at the White House has to say about this. Or maybe he won't tweet what he says about in general. They're going to have a decision to make once they see who's indicted and what it's for. Does the White House and does Trump defended the person? Does he dismiss the allegations? Or do they say, well, you know, do they say, this is within Mueller's rights to do and let the process work out? It would be very interesting to see how Trump reacts. Other people who may be indicted will be watching Trump's reaction. Because remember at the end of the day he has authority to pardon anyone.

KINGSTON: What I'd like to say, though, I want to talk to my good friend to my left here. As a principled Democrat stand, if it shows, yes, this was Manafort, and he was misbehaving, but had nothing to do with the campaign, will the Democrats come out and say, you know what, we've run up this collusion stuff as far as we can go --

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: I also want to say --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- don't move on from that because you said it is not true. Otherwise, as we've been talking about, that could just be an opening salvo --

KINGSTON: It might be. But I want to see a --

COOPER: So why would Democrats or anybody come forward and say OK, there's nothing else there?

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: At the time when Mueller comes out and he says, you know what, there was no collusion, that in fact the Senate and House committees haven't been able to find something, they are right, there's nothing's out there.

CARDONA: You're kind of dreaming if you think that's going to happen --

KINGSTON: Well, but, you have remember this. The ranking member of the Democrat investigation team, my friend Adam Schiff, has spent more time doing press interviews than he has been sitting in committee hearings during the investigation.

[21:30:08] CARDONA: He's been sitting in committee hearings.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: -- that's not visible, that's not true at all.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: -- running out to the media every time they have --

CARDONA: We don't know half of it.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I just want to get -- John Dean, just from having been in a White House under fire like this, how would you see this White House sort of reacting to this? Or how would you advise them --

DEAN: I would advise them to look at what we did wrong, and not repeat that action. That's the first place I'd say. And I'd say not to overreact to this. That's where you can get into trouble.

So I think that the -- this White House has a tendency to overreact. Somewhat calm down since they brought on Ty Cobb at the White House, he's right there on the scene, so that might help. And I think that would be a good place to start. Let Cobb handle it, rather than the press office or the president.

CALLAN: And, you know, just hearkening back to a point that was raised by Carl a moment ago. I think in this indictment, what you'll probably see is an indictment for lying to the FBI, or lying to federal investigators. That would be a very important message to send to the White House that the special prosecutor's dead serious in this investigation, and if you tell a lie, you're going to be indicted. And telling a lie to the FBI is criminal.

COOPER: David Gergen, I heard you wanted to say something.

GERGEN: Yes, I wanted to say a couple of points. I want to go back to this, what Chris has been saying because I think he's got it right. It's a question partly, as we discussed all along, about what the indictments are for. But it's very much a question, too, of who the indictments are against.

And we've been talking, you know, the main person we've been talking all along has been Paul Manafort. It is just very possible that the indictment could be against Michael Flynn, because he -- and it's worth noting that in the last few days, Jim Woolsey, former head of CIA, who was in the transition, and abruptly left, abruptly left with no explanation, is a very honest man. He was there to see observe a lot of this, and he got the hell out.

Now, he just -- he went in to see the -- he talked to the FBI in the last few days. He's gone public with that. So there is that that possibility. I would think if it were someone like Flynn, that would also be a very, very big deal.

I just want to make one other point. Because I do think this is like a chess game. Both sides are, you know, playing chess. And the question arises among some Democrats, on this pardon question, of whether the president a few weeks ago intentionally pardoned Joe Arpaio, the sheriff, in order to send a signal to the people who are being questioned, hang in there, hang tough, I'll help you out at the end of the day.

COOPER: Which is entirely under his purview to do.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

ZELDIN: At the federal charges.

COOPER: I'm, sorry. Michael, go ahead.

GERGEN: On the federal charges.

ZELDIN: Only as the federal charges. And we know for example, that the attorney general of New York, Schneiderman, has an up and running investigation with respect to matters within his jurisdiction that are state.

But also, I also think David is absolutely right. But the danger in pardoning people before indictments, or before convictions, is that it runs the risk of being viewed as obstructionist behavior, or abuse of office behavior. So if you started willy-nilly pardoning anybody who would say something bad against you, I think Mueller would have to take that into account as part of an obstruction investigation and or referred to the House of Representatives for a potential abuse of --

GERGEN: That's true. But that's true. But the signal is, if you stay quiet and they eventually charge you with something or they eventually find you guilty of something, I will pardon you at that point.

ZELDIN: Well, right. If you're willing to wait until after your conviction, and hope that you get a pardon as opposed to seeing that there's an indictment against somebody, irrespective of what the charges are, knowing that Mueller is not a person to be fooled around with, he may then say, I better go in there and make a plea deal now. And I'd rather take a plea deal up front than wait until indictment and conviction and perhaps sentencing, and then hope for a pardon.

GERGEN: Everybody plays a chess game.

COOPER: Michael, how -- (CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: I want to go back to the Michael Flynn point --

COOPER: Go ahead

GERGEN: I just think it's, you know, that Michael Flynn, you know, was pretty deep into some stuff that was very, very questionable. We know he lied to various people along the way. If he lied to a variety of people around the White House, there's a decent chance he lied to the FBI.

COOPER: Well, and I think it was Michael who said earlier, or someone had said earlier, if it's Paul Manafort and it's financial, you know, relating to financial deals with Ukraine, that could also send a message to Michael Flynn who had financial dealings with Turkey.

[21:35:06] ZELDIN: That's right. And it also could send a message to Trump and Kushner and Cohen and others in the financial orbit of the Trumps, that Mueller does not accept "The New York Times" red line in the sand. And that he's going to pursue those cases, and those -- it doesn't make a difference in some sense legally where they are charged with, you know, a violation of collateral criminal statute or collusion, if you end up in jail for five years. So, you know, there's a lot of, you know, pressure on a lot of people who are under inquiry to cooperate with Mueller. I think after the fact of this indictment.

COOPER: Michael, how easy or difficult is it to get a Grand jury to indict? I mean, I know some people are critical of the process. Say it's -- you know, you can get them to indict anything. How do you see it?

GERGEN: Salami sandwich.

ZELDIN: -- ham sandwich --

(CROSSTALK)

ZELDIN: Right. Well, one who doesn't eat ham, I don't know about that. But the reality is that prosecutors have a great deal of authority and influence over the Grand jury. And one of the criticisms of the Grand jury process is that counselor or not, defense counselor are not invited in to give their chance of getting a no prosecution charge brought.

But I think that in a case like this, with the serious prosecutors that Mueller has on his team, they're not just going to indict the case because they have the power to, because -- I think Jeffrey Toobin said earlier, they want to indict a case that they can win. They don't want to indict a case and lose. So they're going to indict if they think they have sufficient evidence that they can prove in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt, and obtain a conviction that will be upheld on appeal. So I think that while in the routine state, Grand jury cases, maybe the ham sandwich gets indicted, but in this case it's a whole different standard that the prosecutors will bring to bear on the evidence that they bring.

COOPER: Michael, in the case like this, I mean, how much of it is a paper trail that, you know, that they have tracked down, and have, and how much of it is somebody giving testimony?

ZELDIN: I think it's --

COOPER: Obviously a combination but.

ZELDIN: That's right. It's a combination. And it depends on the specific charges. If it's a money laundering, or tax case, then those are going to be very paper intensive, and then bolstered by oral testimony, witness testimony. If it's not a paper sort of case, if it's a -- just a straight up lying to the FBI 1001 or some sort of perjury, false statements or perjury case, that's pretty much a witness driven case with some documentation that proves what the witness said under oath is a lie. So it depends on what charges they bring, Anderson, but typically it's a combination of both.

COOPER: Paul.

CALLAN: You know, on this subject of whether you can indict a ham sandwich, which is an old story, you know, in federal court, you almost never see what we call runaway Grand juries where they don't go along with the prosecutor. They almost always indict. And Jeffrey was starting to tell a story earlier, and I remember them from when I was presenting cases to Grand juries. You're in a room with 23 people on the Grand jury, a little auditorium, there's a little old lady sitting in the back knitting. And she's saying to the next person over, oh, here's Mr. Callan coming back in, he has an interesting witness today bet, and because they're seeing the same prosecutors every day that they come in to work on the Grand jury.

So they develop a sense of trust with the prosecutors. They're not seeing defense attorneys coming in saying, hey, you can't believe any of this stuff. And when the prosecutor submits the charges at the end of the evidence, more often than not they're going to indict. And that's why that phrase first came up. It's ironic, because, you know, the founding fathers created the Grand juries to protect us from overzealous prosecutors, but in essence it's the opposite.

COOPER: Laura, I know you want take --

COATES: Well, you know, that's true. And I, you know, I certainly am a prosecutor and have certainly both eaten and indicted my fair share of the ham sandwiches. But, you know, when you think about this issue you have to realize that we are moving now from the theoretical hypothetical case where everybody was complaining for months on end about the nebulous term of collusion.

Now we have -- maybe perhaps a reality based definition and a finger to point and maybe a name to attach that terminology to. And so, it's true that a Grand jury can be encouraged and certainly influence and persuaded by a prosecutor, but they are also independent people who are assessing information, not in the theoretical sense, but actually reviewing things they were able to obtain under their subpoena power. I think one tactic that will be used by the White House or anybody who may be a naysayer once we know the charges, is that the notion that the Grand jury was simply rubber stamping anything that an overzealous witch hunter was trying to do. But, in fact, that would belie once again what the charge of the special counsel is, which is to present evidence, not to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but to say here is all the information we have, now you tell me whether or not there's enough that this person probably committed the crime we are talking about.

[21:45:19] And so I think the tendency to discredit based on that notion of the ham sandwich will be one that will be a weapon by the White House or anybody else. But your headline, Anderson, says everything we need to know. This is the first charges that may be filed in this overall investigation. The first one, which really presumes there may be more. And also shows there may be a different priority scale. Not that there is a farcical or false charge being brought.

COOPER: We have to take a quick break and we're going to continue this discussion. More on the breaking news as -- Laura just said, the first charges filed in the Mueller investigation, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're still in the very early hours of what is by any stretch of the imagination a significant moment in the Russia-Trump-Robert Mueller saga. The first indictments in Monday, perhaps we're expecting to see the first people taken into custody which could make for quite a weekend ahead for all those involved as well for the White House. Back now with the panel.

[21:45:03] Again, the process I just find fascinating. I mean, there's going to be a lot of people sweating for the next day or so, until their lawyers are informed, according to Evan Perez and Pamela Brown. It could be Sunday when the lawyers are actually informed.

CARDONA: You know, one of the things I was thinking about, Anderson, when Michael Zeldin was talking about how this is presumably the beginning, and how this could last a very long time.

And you mentioned, Jack, all of the indictments under the Clinton administration, under the Reagan administration, this could go on for years. One of the things that we know Donald Trump is not good at is compartmentalizing. That was something that Clinton was very good at. They put a team together to make sure that that team was focused on the investigations while Clinton could govern until he has obviously had to deal with this.

I'm hoping just for the sake of the nation that somebody, or a group of people are sitting down with Trump in the White House today, hopefully it's Ty Cobb, hopefully it's Kelly, hopefully it's other lawyers, to put a plan together to say, Mr. President, you cannot be tweeting about this. You cannot overreact. As we have seen from John Dean.

COOPER: But I mean, look, how many times has that conversation been had. I think that's asked and answered.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: -- that will never happen.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: But this is like a level of --

COOPER: You're still looking for a pivot. I think --

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: If they refer to this as a witch hunt, again, I think that's a serious mistake.

CARDONA: Yes.

STEWART: And I think as John Dean said, learn from the mistakes made in the past. I think they don't need to overreact. I think they need to bring in Ty Cobb and his crew to answer questions on this from now on. This should be a full-fledged formal investigation. And we're not going to comment on it. I think there should be no more tweets about this is costly, and this is expensive, and everyone believes there's no "there" there. I think they should step back and --

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: The tweets have worked for Donald Trump.

KINGSTON: Absolutely.

BERNSTEIN: They are a road map of his mind. And what we see in the tweets are what he really believes and what his strategy really is. And we've seen a larger strategy all week. Muddy the waters, make the conduct of the press the issue here, make the conduct of Hillary Clinton issue here. Everybody's conduct but the president of the United States, his son-in-law, those around him, those in his campaign there's --

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: -- non partisan answer. Turn over all the evidence. Let it go. Let's let the facts determine what happened.

KINGSTON: But let me speak to that. During the Monica Lewinsky in the Clinton years when Hillary Clinton got on national T.V. and said this is a right-wing conspiracy, we in the Republican Party actually thought, that is the most ridiculous statement that we've ever heard. This is about perjury. This is about covering up. But when she did that, she brilliantly changed the entire debate to politics. And then when everybody broke into their political camps, Democrats rallied behind Clinton, and Republicans charged after him, and that's what I'm seeing right now. I think the Democrats are going to probably overplay their hand. In fact, I think they already have in many cases. And whoever it is -- but you know, when people say this is only the beginning, frankly, as an American I hope it's the end of it.

CARDONA: I know you do.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Ryan, the obvious thing is, we frankly, don't know -- I mean, what the charges are, or who it is. So I mean, it's a little bit down the road to sort of figure out how everyone's going to react to it or what it's going to be.

LIZZA: Yes, the spectrum is incredibly blind here, right? And, that's why I think Democrats should not who are sort of salivating over this being the end of the Trump administration, should probably be cautious. I mean, I remember not too long ago when everyone in Washington was absolutely certain that Hillary Clinton, not everyone in Washington, I should say, most conservatives and Republicans were absolutely certain that Hillary Clinton was going to be indicted over, you know, using -- putting classified information on her e-mails. And, you know, prosecutors looked at that and said there's not much of a case here. So we just don't know that --

COOPER: Very possible, there is no "there" there in this entire administration, I mean --

LIZZA: It could be a couple of people with very complicated financial histories like Manafort and Flynn. Once the prosecutors started looking at them intensely, they found indictable offenses for things that are far field from the core of the Russia probe. On the other hand, it could be the opposite. It could be the c word. It could be the collusion we've all been talking about.

BERNSTEIN: It's not --

LIZZA: We have to wait.

BERNSTEIN: -- or expect that -- if Mueller, given his history, were to find that there is no, "collusion or conspiracy to help the Russians," he would come forth with that conclusion in a very forthright manner. I think we could even expect it of him from what we know and what he's trying to do in this investigation.

CALLAN: Carl, he's looking at -- I mean, but what happened to Comey, when Comey came forward early and terminated the Hillary investigation --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Michael, you worked with Robert Mueller. If there was no --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- at the end of an investigation, do you expect Mueller to make some sort of a presentation publicly? Is that what he does?

ZELDIN: So under the regulations, 28 CFR, section 600, it defines what the special prosecutor's mandate is, how he reacts with the -- interacts with the Justice Department and what he does at the end of his inquiry. And he does issue a report to the Justice Department and I think to Congress. I have to look that last part up. And that indicates his findings with respect to matters that are not public indictments. Then I think the attorney general, in this case Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, has the authority to release that report. So I do think he has a final report obligation under the CFR.

[21:50:31] KINGSTON: You know, it's interesting, Trey Gowdy made the statement this week, and he said I still have faith in Robert Mueller. Other members like Trent Franks, was saying he ought to resign because of his potential role in covering up this FBI informant who wants to come public and who has made this statement this week. That's going to be interesting and I think that part of the chess game out there.

CALLAN: And Mueller has been on the job for five months, and so it's incredible that he's moving as quickly as he is. I mean, you know, when this started everybody was saying this is going to go on for years. You know, this is how this works, looking at past special prosecutors.

COOPER: Yes.

CALLAN: This action, I think, is an indication he's moving quickly, and I think we're going to see a resolution of this in the months to come.

COOPER: Laura Coates, do you see this as a fast moving investigation?

COATES: I mean, from May until now it certainly does suggest that he's moving at his own pace. What's faster to me than anything else is that you've got the speed in which Mueller is able to accomplish something and the pacing in which the media or anyone else is able to understand what he's done.

Remember, it was several weeks before anyone knew that a warrant had been, you know, actually executed at Manafort's home. It was several months before anyone was aware that Mueller's team had already investigated the dossier create or, et cetera.

You have a pacing in which we're all trying to play catch up to Robert Mueller, which indicates that he is moving on a track that is focused and singular focus on the charge at hand.

But we're not getting at a point that we can say that it's anywhere near the end. The Grand jury being impaneled is one thing. The actual focus of that investigation is another, but there may be multiple Grand juries who are impaneled to deal with multiple facets of this investigation.

And again, although the term collusion is now being able to be defined perhaps more narrowly, we've got a lot of arms, once again, in this. Many names have been touched and accused in this, from Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to Roger Stone to Jared Kushner to Donald Trump Jr. Everyone has been complicated in some form or fashion.

And mind you, it's not just the fact of the initial charge and the initial goal that Robert Mueller had to investigate collusion. It's all the things, including self-inflicted wounds that the president of the United States and other people have engaged in, that opens them up to additional scrutiny. So the more they react, the more they do things to maybe be obstructive or things to try to deflect makes Robert Mueller's team say, well, methinks the lady doth protest too much and again have that laser focus.

So it's evolving as quickly as the Trump campaign members are evolving their defense.

COOPER: Michael, more people obviously have been joining us. If you could just explain the process over the next couple of days and then weeks for these people who are being indicted. I mean, their attorneys, you think will be informed Sunday?

ZELDIN: Yes. So back up and go forward. An indictment is returned today. It's a sealed indictment. That means it's not made public and we don't know who was charged or what the charges were. Presumably counsel now, if they don't know already privately, will be informed that their client has been indicted and they'll be asked either to bring their client down to the courthouse to turn himself in or if they want to do something that was a little bit more political and showy in my estimation they go out to his place of residence or business and arrest him and handcuff him and there will be cameras that show him being taken away by the U. S. Marshals.

Once the indictment is returned then the individual who is charged goes to court and he appears and he makes an initial plea and then the case is set for trial. And then the matter proceeds.

So if counsel doesn't know already, they'll be notified probably over the weekend. Their client will be given until Monday or Tuesday to turn themselves in. In cases where an individual is likely not to make bail, sometimes they're not a flight with risk, (INAUDIBLE) give them a little bit longer time to get their affairs in order. The person is likely to make bail, then they often come in pretty promptly, they make their plea or they're presented initially, and then they come back and they get to continue with their business because they're out on their own release.

COOPER: And then if they want some sort of -- if they want that person to flip, those are discussions that they -- that the department of Justice -- that Mueller's team continue to have with their attorneys?

[21:55:59] ZELDIN: Sure. So, you indict the individual he is presented in court and the charges are given to him. And the lawyers then typically meet and the Mueller team could say to him, look, this is all we have against your client and it's ring fenced and we're going to go to trial or your client can plead guilty or they can say look, this is step one in the process. We've indicted your client. We are continuing our investigation. We believe he has informing that is relevant to other aspects of our investigation. Would you like to talk, leading to the possibility of cooperation and a plea agreement. And that's how they go back and forth and to decide whether they're going to be fighters or whether they're going to be cooperators or a little of both.

KINGSTON: And part of it, though, also, Michael, kind of a question but, you could pull somebody in for the equivalent of a traffic violation and really threaten them with the full force of the law and really bully them and that's one of the things that does worry about me. You can't fight a special prosecutor. You can't fight a federal judge when you get in their bull's eye and then you're more likely to talk.

COOPER: But wait a minute, isn't that what prosecutors do in like to every defendant who is, you know --

KINGSTON: They do. I just wonder if that might be in play. We'll find out.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Go ahead. Yes, go ahead, Michael.

ZELDIN: Can I respond to that? So there are a couple of things. Mueller is not just a loose, free agent, you know, getting to do whatever he wants. He's governed by procedures. He's not day to day supervised by Rosenstein, but he is supposed to go to Rosenstein with respect to important matters like an indictment. They are supposed to discuss it and if Rosenstein feels that the charges are unwarranted, I think the words of the statute are inappropriate or unwarranted, then he can essentially overrule Mueller. And so I don't think, Jack, there is likelihood that there will be some traffic court like indictment returned for the sake of bullying because of the process that they have to follow under the code of federal regulations.

Anderson, one last point.

COOPER: Yes.

ZELDIN: I did look up at the commercial break and Mueller does have to file a report with the attorney general. It's a confidential report, but I believe the attorney general has the authority to release it if he wants to.

COOPER: And does Rod Rosenstein have to approve if Mueller wants to try to flip somebody? Is that something that he has to --

ZELDIN: No.

COOPER: No. That something Mueller decides.

ZELDIN: To my estimation, that would be the day to day supervision that Mueller is not subject to by Rosenstein.

COOPER: David, go ahead.

GERGEN: I just wanted to ask a point of clarification. A very helpful explanation. Can we assume since the indictments have come down and they are sealed that Rosenstein has already signed off on these indictments? ZELDIN: My expectation is because of the way the CFR works is that Mueller went to Rosenstein, told him what they were going to do. Rosenstein made a decision, if you will, that this was not inappropriate or unwarranted, which would prevent Mueller potentially from bringing the charges, and therefore, Mueller was free to bring the charges. Because Mueller doesn't need his approval per se --

GERGEN: We can assume he's already got Rosenstein's blessing.

ZELDIN: Well, he's got --

GERGEN: For these charges.

ZELDIN: Well, yes. We can use the word blessing, but he wasn't -- the charges weren't rejected by Rosenstein. So Rosenstein sort of has the power to reject as opposed to a power to approve. Maybe that's a hair splitting difference, but that's the way the statute is set up. If it's inappropriate or unwarranted, then Rosenstein can intervene. Otherwise Mueller is not subject to day to day supervision and can proceed as his prosecutorial discretion informs him to do.

COOPER: So Ryan, we have only about five minutes or so left. How does this weekend play out? I mean, what happens next?

LIZZA: Well, with all of us in the press calling all of the lawyers of the various people associated with the people we think are --

COOPER: I'm surprised you stuck around for these two hours.

LIZZA: I've been texting various people. And trying to figure out who is indicted. I'm sort of curious about the fact that this leaked out. The fact and -- maybe this is a question work for the lawyers, but I have seen some commentators saying it is sort of surprising that a Grand jury -- sealed Grand jury indictment actually became public. And maybe that's because of this unusual process where we had -- the prosecutor had to go to the Justice Department to have it signed off on and maybe that's the source.

COOPER: Also reporters saw a lot of activity going on, on Friday.

LIZZA: I think you're going to see a lot. I think you're going to see some criticism of the fact that something is sensitive leaked out from either the Justice Department or Mueller world or the prosecutors. So I'd also look for that conversation to get started.

CARDONA: Are we concerned or terrified about Trump's early Saturday morning tweet storm tomorrow?

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: I'm a little terrified.

LIZZA: -- very revealing and very interesting.

COOPER: Yes.

CARDONA: Yes.

COOPER: That's all the time we have. Obviously, CNN is going to continue to follow this story, major story. Major breaking news, first charges filed in the Mueller investigation.

It's time to hand things over to Don Lemon in "CNN Tonight".