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AT THIS HOUR
Trump Threatens Comey: Better Hope There Aren't Tapes; Trump Admits Story Has Changed Over Comey Firing; Trump: I'm So Active, It's Not Possible To Be Accurate; Did Trump Obstruct Justice With Comey Firing Revelations?; Trump Undermines His Own Reasoning For Firing Comey. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's one way to start your Friday. If there was bad blood last night between President Trump and the former FBI director, James Comey, this morning it's become a full on boil.
In a tweet this morning, the president said the following, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
No, I am not paraphrasing. Yes, those are all his words. The president of the United States publicly threatening the man he fired Tuesday for reasons still unknown, honestly, because of the various stories coming from him and from his White House.
We're also getting new details right now about that dinner between the president and James Comey at the White House back in January.
For more on this, let me bring in right now, senior White House correspondent, Joe Johns, live at the White House. So, Joe, some good tweets to start off your day. Has the White House said anything yet, had any reaction yet to the tweets the president sent out this morning?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Just a little bit of a reaction. I went back and asked the White House press shop about the one tweet from the president, indicating that James Comey ought not have made any recordings of his conversations with the president, and I asked them, is that a threat?
What is that? What does that mean? And the word back from the press shop was, it is what it is, and we're not going to go any further than what the president tweeted, which is not surprising, given the fact that there's been so much talk about the contradictions between the people speaking for the president and the president himself, and that last interview with NBC news.
The other takeaway, I think, from the president's tweet was that, yes, it was a warning to James Comey not to leak anything, and it also raised the question, clearly, of whether there might be recordings or any other type of record of the conversations between James Comey and President Trump -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: The White House saying the president's tweets speak for themselves is this administration's version of no comment, it seems, because we get that quite a bit. Great to see you, Joe. Thanks so much. We'll see what comes next. Joe will stay close to his camera.
Joining me now to discuss all of this and much more, CNN senior political commentator and former senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod is here, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA and FBI official, Phil Mudd, CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, Tim Naftali, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics," Caitlin Huey-Burns, and retired FBI chief of staff and a man who knows James Comey, knows the second in command that's now in charge, James Galliano.
Everyone, we've got a lot to get to and a lot of voices. Let us begin. David Axelrod, I had a whole other idea of how to start our conversation today, but once again, we'll start with some tweets, this tweet that we get from Donald Trump this morning seeming to threaten James Comey.
Are these the two options available for what this tweet means? Either the president maybe illegally has recorded conversations with the FBI director or the president is not telling the truth? Is there another option here?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can't think of one. I would suggest the president release the tapes, if he has tapes. I think the country would like to hear those tapes. If he doesn't have tapes, then yes, he's lied.
But listen, it's just the latest of an incredibly peculiar, disturbing 48 hours, starting with the firing. When they say we don't have any comment on his tweets, these tweets speak for themselves.
If I were a White House spokesman, I wouldn't want to speak for him either, because every time the White House speaks for the president, things change and they end up looking either dishonest or clueless.
So, perhaps it's best to let his tweets speak for themselves. But on the tapes themselves, the notion that there are tapes, and he did put them in quotes, let him release them. I think he should release them to the country.
BOLDUAN: Phil, what's your reaction to this? I'm not asking you to get into the president's head here. What do you think is going on?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Please don't. Believe me, I know this is going to sound facetious. I'm breathing a sigh of relief. You can't take this seriously. You could have taken this seriously from President Bush or President Obama, from President Bush's father, from President Clinton. You can't take this seriously.
You feel like you've got to give the president of the United States a pacifier and a rattle and put him in the crib. You're threatening the FBI, who's in the midst of an investigation of presidential aides? The FBI has been around since 1908. The president of the United States has been around for three and a half months. If you think you're going to intimidate the former FBI director and the dozens of people in the workforce who are conducting this investigation with the Department of Justice, you've got another think coming.
[11:05:06]Anybody outside the beltway, any everyday American who looks at this and takes in a breath and says I'm worried, I'd say, don't worry about it. This is a joke and nobody in the investigation would take this seriously.
BOLDUAN: Well, that -- James, you know Comey, you know the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. You know them. What do you think? How do you think they reacted when they -- what they thought when they saw this tweet this morning?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Both those gentlemen, Kate, are consummate professionals, and I'm sure they brushed it off and went about their daily duties. What I found to be the most ignominious in a line of questionable actions by the president, to send this tweet out -- we tell subjects in criminal investigations in the FBI all the time, you don't have to make a direct threat. There's an implied threat and in that tweet, it is an implied threat.
BOLDUAN: You see it that way?
BOLDUAN: Yes, ma'am, I do. You do this, sir -- meaning you divulge any information -- and I will do whatever. He has executive privilege, the president, but to flaunt it like that way I think is utterly repugnant and a disgrace.
BOLDUAN: Phil, do you agree?
MUDD: I do. Look, if somebody suggests there's executive privilege here, my first response would be the president of the United States has already tried to malign the former FBI director. I think it's perfectly within their rights, not of an FBI director, but now Jim Comey's a private citizen, to defend himself.
Let me be clear, if you put up a Twitter poll among American citizens, the 320 million-plus, who do you think wins the trust pool? Do you think it's the president of the United States, who should win, or do you think it is the FBI director, who will win?
Nobody believes the president of the United States from the day he came in and misrepresented how many people showed up at the stupid inauguration to the claims he made at the beginning about where the president of the United States, his predecessor, was born.
Nobody believes this guy anymore, which is why I look at the threat, the tweet, and can't take it seriously. The man doesn't have any credibility.
BOLDUAN: I have immense respect for you. We talk all the time. You can't call the inauguration stupid, but --
MUDD: No, the crowd -- the claims of how many people showed up. That was ridiculous.
BOLDUAN: We've got enough to deal with in the present. Let us not go to the past, please, Phil? I can't go to those tweets right now. Tim Naftali, you have spent a long time studying a thing or two about taped conversations in the White House. Is this even possible?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I want to say two things. First of all, we look a little bit like a 20th-century Banana Republic at moment to the world. This is outrageous.
Second thing, this is not 1973. In 1973, the president could have assumed that he owned the tapes. If for some strange, bizarre reason -- and we've seen so much that's bizarre lately -- Donald Trump put, installed or had installed a taping system, those are federal records, thanks to Richard Nixon's court challenges.
Not every moment on those tapes would be federal records, but most of them, they are federal records, so he couldn't even destroy them. In 1973, Richard Nixon, actually before the subpoenas, could have destroyed the tapes. I don't believe there are tapes, but if there are, this is not going to be a very long administration.
BOLDUAN: Caitlin, the president has already made the White House -- David Axelrod spoke to this -- the president's already made the White House staff's job harder with contradicting their reasoning, contradicting the message he had of why he fired James Comey, and then you have this. How does the White House handle this?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Well, what's really interesting here is you have to think about -- OK, take this out of the context of what the American people should care about regarding the information that the White House is putting out versus what the president is putting out.
When you're talking about domestic policy, certainly that matters. When you're talking about foreign policy, those implications are huge.
What's interesting about the interview that the president gave yesterday was that he not only contradicted his own White House staff, but he confirmed the reporting that had been done through places like the "Washington Post," "The New York Times," other outlets.
So, to then call the media fake news when you're actually confirming reporting that you saw is problematic. The reason that it's important to have everything coming out at the podium as accurate as possible is because everybody is watching. You have to -- the credibility issue is on the line, not only here, but throughout the world.
BOLDUAN: Let's get directly to that credibility issue, David. This is what we're kind of talking about. We've got the tweets this morning -- another set of tweets this morning. Let me read it for you. You're on tweet watch today. You didn't know you're the Twitter reporter.
Here we go from President Trump, "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy. Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy."
Forget about threatening to cancel the White House press briefing, it's a threat that they've talked about in the past and it hasn't happened. But it's already been hard for the president and his communications team to be on the same page. My question's pretty simple -- why is it so hard?
[11:10:08]AXELROD: Well, it's so hard -- I mean, when he says he's an active president, what it means is stories shift, and they shift very rapidly. I mean, the vice president of the United States went out there and told one story and then had the president of the United States pull the rug out from under him.
So, you know, the problem emanates from the oval office from the man who's sitting in that chair. He's mercurial. He has spent a lifetime flouting norms, rules, and yes, truth, and he's conducting himself that way in the presidency.
It is very hard to be the spokesperson for someone who, A, shifts stories, and B, often doesn't tell the truth. So, I think he's putting it -- he is destroying the credibility of everyone around him in addition to his own.
BOLDUAN: David, you also wrote this on Twitter this morning. You wrote, "The first 100 days were intermittently stormy. The second 100 days have begun with this crazy, maybe sinister, episode. Can it go on like this?" You spent a lot of time in the White House.
BOLDUAN: You've also spent a lot of time watching this campaign and the short time that this president's been in the White House. Do you think it can and will go on like this?
AXELROD: Well, look, I mean, I pose that question back to you and everyone. I mean, I think the country is exhausted already, and we're only 100-whatever days in. And I just don't think that the country can take more of this.
Now, what you would hope is that cooler heads, if there are cooler heads there, will prevail, the president will understand that he is really doing damage not just to himself, but the country, but he may be focused on himself.
He is, you know, in his own parlance, he's not winning, he's losing, and if he doesn't change course and get a grip on himself and put the Twitter account down and focus, you know, he is going to get into a deeper and deeper hole.
But the thing that worries me, Kate, is like policies come and go, but institutions have to endure. When you kind of wage war on the intelligence community, FBI, the media, the courts, on, you know, on Congress at times, you are going right at the pillars of democracy, and you're supposed to be the trustee of those institutions, and that I think is very, very concerning.
BOLDUAN: Yes, where is the cooler head right now? I think that's a pretty big question. Great to see you, David. Thanks so much. Everyone, stand by. A lot more to come.
But an important programming note, everybody. Do you want more David Axelrod? You get it! "The Axe Files" returns to CNN tomorrow night, 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN, of course. Here's a little preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: I do think that Comey's public statements about the e-mails and Hillary was a very bad and unprofessional -- and he never even acknowledged it. So, I think Comey has real serious problems.
AXELROD: What about the timing of it?
BROWN: No, but that's the other point, that he asked for resources to investigate the Russia/Trump connection. So, yes, that smells, no question about it.
AXELROD: And where do you think this all goes now? Is this going to hang over Trump?
BROWN: Well, it's hanging over Washington, that's all they can think about. I would like to see the Senate restore some of its earlier luster. Think of the great giants in the Senate in the past and with truly bipartisan, Democrat and Republican, let them investigate.
I think that maybe you bring the House in, too. But Watergate was a lot -- the investigation there was driven by the House of Representatives and by the committees. So, I think they're capable if they can get off this circus of partisanship and polarization, which they seem addicted to, tragically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: More of that tomorrow night.
Coming up still for us today, the big question right now. Forget political trouble, did the president just enter the realm of legal trouble? Could what he said to James Comey be obstruction of justice? Serious, new concerns after his revelation that he divulged in a television interview.
Plus, he is the man the White House first leaned on as the reason the president fired James Comey, but now his side of the story is starting to come out. That's ahead. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He wanted to stay on as the FBI head, and I said, you know, I'll consider it, we'll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time, he told me you are not under investigation. So, he said it once at dinner, and then he said it twice during a phone call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you call him?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: In one case I called him, in one case he called me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And did you ask him, am I under investigation?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation? He said, you are not under investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: President Trump doubling down there on what he said in his letter firing James Comey, claiming that the FBI, now former FBI director, assured him that he is not under investigation.
Let me bring back the panel and also joining the panel, Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. Laura, first to you. Asking the FBI director if you're under investigation when there is clearly an investigation by the FBI into your campaign. Did the president cross a line? Is this obstruction of justice? What's your take here?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he was certainly throwing his weight around. And according to the reports, that this conversation took place prior to Comey's March hearing, where he confirmed the criminal investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
I think it's an issue of being improper, and of course, ridiculous, but it doesn't yet swing the pendulum back to obstruction, which is, of course, a very difficult case to prove, not because you don't have some proof of it, but because it requires a specific intent to actually completely undermine the investigation.
[11:20:02]And in that conversation, it sounded more like he was trying to throw his weight around and push his thumb on the investigation and say, do you want your job? I hope the answer is no, that I am not under investigation.
BOLDUAN: Phil, when Laura says throwing his weight around, does that mean abuse of power?
MUDD: I think so. I think there's a significant difference between a legal question and the appropriateness question. There's been too much focus on single threads of what happened at this dinner, assuming we believe what we've seen in the press. For example, questioning whether the president can say, am I under investigation.
You can't look at this, Kate, without putting everything together. A new president meets an FBI director who has a mandated tenure, tenure. Evidently, there's a conversation about whether the FBI director can keep his job, whether the FBI director is loyal to the president of the United States, and whether the FBI director and the FBI have an active investigation.
If you put those two together, there is no way to look, assuming those are accurate, no way to look at this dinner other than the president of the United States pressuring the FBI director, if he wants to keep his job, to shut down the Russia investigation.
BOLDUAN: What does this do -- there are a couple of threads of this, trying to add another thread to this, if we're going to take it in total, Phil, James, because then you've got reporting from "The New York Times" and CNN, Jake Tapper, that Comey, the president asked Comey to basically pledge his loyalty during this dinner, and Comey declined, saying that he would pledge that he would be honest with the president.
The White House denies that characterization, just to put it out there, but you know James Comey. Do you think that he -- how do you think he would have responded to a question like that from any president, Trump or Obama?
GAGLIANO: Righteous indignation, Kate. And I can tell you, all the way down to the most junior G-man, all of us in the FBI, our focus, hyper-focus, is on fealty to a mission, not to a politician or any person.
BOLDUAN: How does this affect the mission, though? If people see this and say this is ridiculous! Even if they're angry about it, does the FBI turn on the president?
GAGLIANO: If you want to see a great encapsulation of what this means, Kate, you saw it yesterday in full display when Andy McCabe, the acting director, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The way that he took exception with two things that the president and the president's spokespeople have publicly stated about the morale in the FBI.
And if you also noticed, the FBI acting director, when asked specifically, did you have -- how many meetings did you have with the president, said I'm not in a position to discuss that, because that is executive privilege that the president deserves. The president just doesn't give you that reciprocity.
BOLDUAN: Here's the thing about all of this, Caitlin, this all comes back to why was he fired? I don't think anybody can really trust any of the answers because there's been so many contradictions in the last 24-48 hours.
It's the president's prerogative, you can say, to fire the FBI director, but if you fire the FBI director, I would make the case, you'd better have one good, clear reason and articulate it. The White House has not provided that.
Everything they've done, the president has contradicted and just take Russia for example. The White House says it had nothing to do with Russia. The president has a different take. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This absolutely has nothing to do with any investigation into Russia?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has nothing to do with Russia. It has everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the president's confidence.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This investigation into --
PENCE: That was not what this was about.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- between campaign officials and Russia?
PENCE: But that's not what this is about. The president took strong and decisive leadership here to put the safety and security of the American people first.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won. And the reason they should have won it is the Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win. It's very hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: President Trump blew up that explanation very quickly. Do they have an explanation why they can't come up with an explanation for the firing?
HUEY-BURNS: It's so completely muddled. I think what you have to do here is look at the commander-in-chief. He is the commander-in-chief, right?
HUEY-BURNS: So, he is not --
BOLDUAN: The buck stops there.
HUEY-BURNS: The buck stops there. Not only did he give that interview and talk about how he thought the Russia investigation into collusion was a hoax, he tweeted that last week. He's given -- this president is a president who has a paper trail on Twitter and in public statements and from things that he said in the past.
So, what's really interesting here is not only did he throw his White House communications staff under the bus, but also his vice president. This is the second time that the vice president has gone out there without the right information. [11:25:00]And also you have in the broader context Republicans chairing these certain committees looking into this have not ruled out collusion. So, that also puts them in this difficult position.
BOLDUAN: I would love to know what Vice President Mike Pence is thinking this morning after being -- after the position that he was put in. Whose words do you trust now, Tim? As a presidential historian, as someone who's watched this so closely, do you see this as short-term damage or long-term damage?
NAFTALI: I want to say this -- to anybody in Congress who's working on a subpoena right now, the tapes are considered presidential records. They are public records. Then U.S. v. Nixon, you cannot keep presidential records secret under executive privilege if they involve a crime. Just for anybody who's thinking of subpoena.
BOLDUAN: Just throwing it out there?
NAFTALI: Just throwing it out there.
BOLDUAN: There you go.
NAFTALI: But I would like to say, I believe the president of the United States needs to think about his credibility. He is acting in a way that makes him seem guilty. There's no evidence that he's guilty of a crime. Let's all say that.
We are in -- in this country, we are innocent until proven guilty, but he's acting like somebody who has something to hide. Perhaps he might want to reflect a little bit on the effect not only on his credibility. This is bigger than him.
He's our head of state. He is our bald eagle. He represents our country. Perhaps there might be a time for a little bit of moment, a little thinking, a little reflection, that he's acting like someone who is engaged in a cover-up.
There is no evidence that he is, but he is acting like someone like that and perhaps he might want to think about his conduct more seriously than he has up until now.
BOLDUAN: There is also a case to be made that the White House may be concerned when the president is left alone with his thoughts. We saw when the wiretapping tweet came out and we can see a little bit of what happens when he is left with that. I'm just kidding, guys. Great to see you all. Thank you so much.
Coming up for us, more on our breaking news, the president tweeting out a real or perceived threat against James Comey, saying that he'd better hope there aren't those tapes of their conversations. I'm going to speak live with Bob Baer.
But first, to hire Sally Yates and how that all plays into this. Remember that? It feels like a year and a half ago. That was just Monday. Plus, as the president throws his communications team under the bus, Sean Spicer is returning to the White House press briefing today. If he had a hard job before, he has a harder job today.
And Melissa McCarthy isn't making it any easier. His impersonator returning to the streets of New York just outside CNN. See what happened. We'll be right back.