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Comey Memos of Trump Encounters Send Shockwaves Through D.C.; White House Denies Trump Asked Comey to Drop Flynn Investigation; Source: White House Staffers "Disconsolate"; Kasich: Ryan Should "Be More Aggressive" on Trump; Trump/Netanyahu Phone Call. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:06] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: News of memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about some of his encounters with President Trump are sending shock waves through Washington. Now the White House, lawmakers, even the public, wants to know more about Comey and what he may do next.

For that, we're joined by Walter Mack, a former federal prosecutor, deputy commissioner of the NYPD, as well as a personal friend of Comey.

Mr. Mack, thanks for joining us here today.


SCIUTTO: I want to start with this. Perhaps our viewers may not know why. But why would he take such detailed notes of a meeting like this with the president?

MACK: Well, in many respects, I share with him the same training that every former assistant U.S. attorney has, which is you never want to be in a situation where you do not have a witness to a conversation with a subject target or anyone else. And if by some means you are required, and you can't bring somebody, an aide or a confidante or an agent or a detective, you are trained to immediately after the meeting sit down and to the very best of your ability write up in some type of a report exactly what happened.

SCIUTTO: Write it and share it, apparently.

MACK: Absolutely. Share it. It becomes part of the case file, and is information accessible to all of those who are going to evaluate it.

SCIUTTO: Now, you've heard Republicans, a familiar talking point in the last 24 hours has been, well, if he was so concerned about the meeting, why didn't he immediately share the contents of this memo.

MACK: Well, I think that's a judgment call that you have to give the benefit of the doubt to Jim Comey because as I -- and I read the press. I'm a newspaper news person. And I think his position was that he had a group of hard-working agents and assessors, evaluators working on it and if, in fact, the memo says what, in fact, it's purported to say, this would indelibly impact the brains of those investigators working on the case. It might cause them to react in a negative way.

SCIUTTO: He has now been invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's the second time. Initially, in just in the very wake of the firing, he refused. My understanding of his thinking at the time was, listen, I'm going to take some time off, et cetera. Not a hard no. Do you believe he wants to speak in public and be questioned in public more about these memos and the meeting with the president?

MACK: Well, I am a friend of Jim's, although I haven't spoken to him for probably six to eight months anyway. Most people who do their job right and the way you're trained to do it as a prosecutor or investigator or whatever, you want to be in a situation where, if called upon, you can be as precise and accurate and as objective as you can possibly be. So my view is, I don't think Jim Comey is the kind of person that looks to get involved in controversy, what have you. But if called upon and required to do so, not have a more accurate scrivener to provide you data.

SCIUTTO: If there are no tapes of this conversation, we will be in a "he said, he said" situation, the president's word versus Director Comey's word. Who should the person people trust?

MACK: Well, you know, I've been a prosecutor for a long time. I have also been a criminal defense attorney for a long time. So it depends what hat I have on. And obviously, and my experience tells me you have to do your homework. There's no priori view that one person is telling the truth or not. You gather every bit of information available to you, if you're the one to make the judgment, you assess it, you discuss it, you think about it, and then you make your decision. I'm not in that position. I don't know that I would forecast.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask this in a different way. You know James Comey. You have for a number of years. You've worked with him. Would he lie about a conversation like this?

[13:35:07] MACK: It would shock me, were he to do so. He would and a different Jim Comey that I have known and respected and been a friend of.

SCIUTTO: Walter Mack, thank you very much.

MACK: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: We'll keep in touch.

MACK: Great.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, the White House in damage-control mode as they deal with the fallout of controversy after controversy. What staffers are saying about the atmosphere inside the White House now. That's next.


[13:39:50] SCIUTTO: The White House now trying to contain the fallout on yet another you might say self-inflicted wound. The administration denies that President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Sources tell CNN, however, Comey meticulously documented that February conversation in a memo just after the meeting with the president.

I want to bring in my panel. In Washington, we have chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; along with CNN Politics reporter and editor- at-large, Chris Cillizza; and in New York, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

I'm going to begin with you.

I've spoken to Republicans who, last night, described a different mood among Republicans in response to this, as compared with the many previous controversies this administration has come through. In your view, is it different?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. It is different. It is being received differently. It is being taken seriously in a way that we have seen -- not seen from the many, many other self-inflicted wounds, crises that have been manufactured from the Oval Office. And there have been a lot of them. And this is not one that the likes of Paul Ryan can say, I'm going to shutout the noise. It's not noise. It's real. That's coming from people who are close with Donald Trump, people inside the White House, people outside the White House. It was an omg moment, no question. However, the big unanswered question, Jim, is what this means in real terms.


BASH: It certainly is knocking the White House off its game, knocking the Republican agenda off its game to the point where it's unclear, frankly, whether it can get back on track. But in terms of this particular issue, the next big thing is going to be Jim Comey's testimony and then that will open up the floodgates for whatever happens next.

SCIUTTO: Gloria Borger, you talked with a friend of President Trump. I'm curious, does the president believe that this one is different?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know the answer to that. I think these people have sort of given up on Donald Trump, to be honest with you. And I don't know whether they've said that to him. But let me read to you what this one Trump loyalist said to me. He does speak for Donald Trump quite frequently. He said, "I always thought that once he understood the weight of the office, he would rise to the occasion. Now, I don't."

So when you have people who are really close to Donald Trump saying this, and these people I should also add are in constant touch with Trump loyalists inside the White House.

And I had another source say to me yesterday that people inside the White House where is disconsolate, was the word that he used. He said look, these are the loyalists, not the mercenaries coming in and out. These people are the one who's really care about what happens to Donald Trump. And at this juncture, they have no idea what's going to come next and how the president is going to get out of this.

SCIUTTO: Chris Cillizza, obviously, James Comey has an enormous role because of this memo but going forward, he's been invited to testify. That's when he would really have a public bully pulpit to describe this meeting and answer hard questions about it. I understand you've spoken with someone who covered him for years. What sense are you getting?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Our colleague who did a lot of great Comey reporting around the U.S. attorneys as well as the Alberto Gonzales' attempt to convince John Ashcroft laying in a hospital bed to reup the domestic surveillance program. Eric's point is that Jim Comey has a flair for the dramatic. We saw that in the 2005 debate over the domestic surveillance program. And he expects him to testify and to push for that testimony to be public. I think, you know, it would be in an open setting. I think that's now essentially a guarantee. Comey has a lot of cards to play here. I can only imagine being in Jim Comey's head the day he was in Los Angeles. I guess it's now eight days ago. It feels like 80 days ago, but eight days ago, when he learned he was fired by watching television following what reportedly he knew in the memos, there's a lot more to come here. And the Trump White House does not hold the cards. Jim Comey does. Republicans in Congress as they decide special prosecutor or not hold the cards. Trump is in a defensive crouch, more so than usual.

SCIUTTO: You hear that word helpless coming out of White House staffers. I'm watching the Dow dropping 280 points. We know some of that reaction to these questions about the administration.

Ohio Governor John Kasich in a CNN town hall last night spoke specifically about the GOP House speaker, Paul Ryan, saying he needs to step up. Have a listen.


JOHN KASICH, (R), OHIO GOVERNOR: Frankly, I think he should be more aggressive. I think he should speak out more. This is not a time for Republicans to hide. And I also don't think it's a time for Democrats to exploit.


[13:45:01] SCIUTTO: Dana Bash, that was your town hall last night. We saw some relatively milquetoast comments from the House speaker today. But he did say we'll follow the facts.

You talk earlier about how this is a different moment for Republicans. Are you seeing evidence of that from the House leadership? BASH: Not yet. I think just in the sense that in the very, very

shortest of terms, the House speaker didn't say I'm not going to talk about this. I'm so sick of answering questions about the latest scandal out of the White House or the latest controversy out of the White House. That didn't happen. And it is a responsible thing to do to say everybody take a breath. Let's actually see the memos. We're trying to get them. We will get them. We'll hear from the former FBI director and so on and so forth.

But it really did strike me sitting in the town hall last night listening to John Kasich say what he said that disappointed, as a former House member himself, that the House speaker hasn't been more aggressive. You know, that says a lot. He's not the only one to say that. It's not just the House speaker. It's many, many in the rank and file that have tried. At least in the case of Paul Ryan, remember, many times to stand up and speak out when he thought that Donald Trump did or said thing that was wrong during the campaign and he ended up with political egg on his face when he became the president of the United States. So I think that, plus the fact that he still says he wants to try to get his agenda through, is why he tries to step back. I think even he realizes there's no agenda to get through if you have a presidency in constant crisis.


SCIUTTO: Gloria, I hear you wanted to pipe in.

BORGER: Yeah, if you look back at Watergate, for example, Republicans weren't exactly anxious to start ling up against Richard Nixon either. Less than half of them voted for the articles of impeachment on the House Judiciary Committee. So it's going to take a while for Republicans to start saying, well, Mr. President, we think you've got a real issue here. I think they're kind of trying to wait till they see the evidence. But having said that, look, the president doesn't have a lot of friends on Capitol Hill. And also, he's lost faith in everybody who, would for him, I've been told, according to one source. So you know, this isn't a great situation for him because he feels like he has no one to turn to. And he doesn't have people on Capitol Hill while they may be saying, oh, Mr. President, not be saying this is the end, what they are doing is demurring. You're not getting a lot of Republican surrogates out there defending the president vociferously here.

SCIUTTO: No question. That's part of the crickets we're hearing, right?

BORGER: Right.

SCIUTTO: There's not a lot of criticism but not a lot of defense either.

Chris Cillizza, Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead, only days before he is scheduled to visit, President Trump intel sharing puts Israel in a very awkward position. Is the relationship damaged? We'll discuss that possibility when we come back.


[13:51:58] SCIUTTO: Contain the fallout over the Comey memo, it's also scrambling to put out a number of other fires. High on the list is the classified intelligence from Israel to the Russians. We learned this morning that Mr. Trump spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a telephone call last night. His office saying the only thing discussed was President Trump's upcoming visit to Israel.

To discuss all of this, joining me is CNN military and diplomatic analyst, John Kirby.

Thanks very much.

Admiral Kirby, publicly, officials are saying all is well in the relationship. I wonder, though, you've been on trips like this before. Will the president and his team get a different, more critical message in private?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think it's possible that at lower staff levels, they might hear a little bit more. I want to caveat by this by saying I don't know what the third-party nation was that provided this sensitive intelligence to the White House that was divulged to the Russians. It's possible that they could hear it at the lower level. I doubt seriously it would come up in face-to- face meetings with President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I suspect, if there were any such conversations about it, they would have already occurred, by phone or other means, but I don't think it will be a major sort of issue when they sit down to talk.

SCIUTTO: I noticed with interest today, I'm sure you did as well, President Vladimir Putin, generously offering to provide a transcript of the meeting to help out the president. It struck me that this was state-sponsored trolling by the Russian president.

KIRBY: I'm not sure whether he talks about a transcript or a or record or maybe his notes, but I suspect he's enjoying this immensely, this whole issue. He's probably getting a lot out of it. And the propaganda machines in Russia are probably turning it out as well. It was more tongue in cheek than a serious offer. Of course, anything they would offer or provide, you'd have to take it at complete face value, because there's going to be nothing of substance and nothing you can trust coming out from Russian records of this meeting to whatever degree they are, they are not going to be trustworthy.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this on intelligence sharing. There's been a lot of questions, will allies be reluctant to share information with the U.S. because it might come out of the president's mouth or in a tweet.

KIRBY: Yeah. SCIUTTO: Clearly, the relationships are paramount here. These are

life-and-death intelligent-sharing relationships. You've been in the Pentagon and the State Department. Can you see circumstances, though, where even an ally might say that this is so sensitive, I can't risk it, I can't risk sharing it with my American partners because it might come out in a place we don't want it to?

KIRBY: That's the real worry. I think -- look, you'll see public comments. I think we've seen some recently where some allies have said it's not going to affect us. Be careful about the public statements, because they'll say that publicly. But that doesn't mean that, in the bowels of these intelligence agencies, people that are doing the day-to-day intelligence and counterintelligence work, that they are not going to have second thoughts, that they're not going to be a little bit cautions and wary of sharing certain sensitive intelligence with their American counterparts. I think it's a little too early to tell exactly what effect this divulgence this will have. I think, over time, we'll start to see it. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some intelligence agencies of nations that we work with on a daily basis that are going to be -- they will chalk this up, this will be something that they keep in the back of their mind the next time that they explore the option of sharing sensitive intel with us.

[13:55:31] SCIUTTO: Just a remarkable reality.

John Kirby, thanks very much.

KIRBY: Yeah.

SCIUTTO: That's it for me today. I'll be back tomorrow, filling in for Wolf.

For our international viewers, "Amanpour" is next.

For viewers here in North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts here, right after a quick break.


[14:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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We are expecting to hear from the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer --