“It was unprofessional,” Cooper said. “I am genuinely sorry.”
The exchange occurred during a discussion about a New York Times report that claimed Trump called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job” in front of Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office earlier this month. Trump said that firing Comey, who was heading a counterintelligence investigation on possible Russian interference in the presidential election to help Trump win, relieved pressure from him.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off,” Trump said, according to the Times.
Cooper repeatedly asked Lord if Trump should’ve made such comments. Here’s the first part of the conversation:
Cooper: Sean Spicer didn’t deny that the president said these things about Director Comey. Do you defend the president on this one?Lord: I think he’s perfectly within his rights to say them. I mean, he’s the president of the United States. He can say what he wants.Cooper: He can say what he wants, but is it smart?Lord: Well, sure. I mean sure … You get subjective about this. As a matter of fact —Cooper: I’m not asking you if it’s subjective. Is it smart?Lord: Is it smart? I don’t think it matters either way. [Cooper smirks.] In truth, I really don’t.
Lord later brought up comments made by former president Barack Obama, who in 2012, was caught on a hot mic telling Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that he’ll have more flexibility to negotiate on the issue of missile defense after getting reelected. Obama’s critics resurrected the conversation late last year amid reports that U.S. intelligence officials had determined that the Russian government meddled with the election to skew the results in Trump's favor.
“Now that’s what we call collusion with the Russians,” Lord said of Obama’s comments.
Cooper, as he did throughout the interview with Lord, interjected, saying the 2012 conversation did not trigger an investigation by the FBI or calls for a special prosecutor and that Trump’s remarks to Russian officials were indefensible.
Here’s the exchange leading up to and including the “crude sentence” from Cooper:
Lord: I don’t care what he says to the Russians.Cooper: Okay.Lord: I mean, he’s the president of the United States.Cooper: Right.Lord: If he wants to say that, Barack Obama wants to say whatever, if George Bush says, “I looked in his eyes and —”Cooper: If he took a dump on his desk, you would defend it.Lord: What? [Starts laughing.]Cooper: I mean, I don’t know what he would do that you would not defend. You’re a loyal guy. I think that speaks well of you.Lord: Anderson, this is offending Eastern media elite sensibilities. Right here in America, they all think, “Yeah, the FBI director was a nut job.”
The Friday night interview wasn’t the first time that Cooper appeared snarky while talking to a Trump surrogate.
During an interview with Kellyanne Conway on May 9, shortly after Trump fired Comey, the CNN host questioned the White House counselor about the administration’s inconsistent statements on the former FBI director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
A parade of White House aides, including Conway, went on air that night, scrambling to explain why the president abruptly fired the FBI director. The initial explanation from the White House was that Trump was merely responding to a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who wrote in a memo that Comey mishandled that Clinton investigation.
Cooper noted during the interview that Trump, as a candidate, repeatedly praised Comey for his handling of the investigation.
“You’re conflating two things that don’t belong together. Thanks for the trip down memory lane,” Conway said, responding to a series of videos that Cooper had just shown of Trump praising Comey at campaign rallies. “I was on your show last fall saying we were going to win Michigan, and how we were going to do that. So that was fun.”
One of the videos was from an event in Michigan.
Cooper didn’t hide his annoyance. His eye roll was immediately immortalized into a viral GIF.
Trump later contradicted his aides and told NBC’s Lester Holt that firing Comey has been his decision all along. Several White House officials told The Washington Post that Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive to explain in writing the case against Comey.
A few days after the Cooper segment, Conway went on Fox News and criticized the media for combative TV interviews with those who go on air to defend Trump.
She said that anchors and hosts have used facial expressions — “the feigned pained look, the furrowed brow, the curled lip” — and comments such as, “That makes no sense” or “You must be lying,” to become viral.
Cooper’s eyeroll, she said, is “possibly sexist” and “definitely what I’d call Trumpist,” a new term that apparently describes anything anti-Trump.
For his part, Lord, a CNN political analyst who once called Trump “the Martin Luther King of health care,” didn't appear to take any offense. He laughed on-air in response to Cooper’s remarks and replied with a lighthearted tweet to the anchor’s apology.