Return to Transcripts main page


Rep. Chaffetz Asking for IG to Look Into Comey Firing; Sources: Comey Sought to Expand Russia Probe Before Firing; Comey Sends Farewell Letter to Friends and Agents. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening from Washington.

There's breaking news here in the Russia investigation on top of everything else. When we left you last night, we were struggling to make sense of what happened, all of us asking the same key questions. Could the firing of FBI Director James Comey been anything but the president getting rid of the official who was investigating him and his campaign? Could it have been about anything but Russia?

Today from the president on down, the White House tried to explain the president's actions, and even as the surrogates and spokespeople spoke, the words ran smack-dab into one undisputable things, the president's own words, things he has said in the past that run counter to what the White House is now saying. One piece of new reporting after the other, one point on the timeline after another, one tweet, one letter, one prior statement after the other, all of it casting doubt on the official line.

In fact, we learned Director Comey's firing came right as he was seeking more resources for the Russia probe. We saw reports citing people close to the president, including one by Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" who joins us shortly, in which Russia figured highly in Mr. Trump's decision.

And again, we don't have to guess here. We know the president's thoughts about the investigation because as we all know, the president likes to tweet, again and again, includes just two days ago. Quote: The Russia/Trump collusion story is a total hoax. When will this taxpayer funded charade end?, he asked.

If by charade he means the half dozen investigations now ongoing here in Washington, the answer likely will not please him. In fact, tonight, at least, one shows signs of growing.

Pamela Brown joins us with that breaking news.

So, I understand you have new information about the congressional Russia investigation about the Comey firing.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. In fact, in what is the first formal call by a Republican, Anderson, Republican Jason Chaffetz on Capitol Hill, congressman, has now asked the Department of Justice inspector general to expand his probe looking at the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton probe among other issues to look into the firing of James Comey.

Jason Chaffetz sending out this letter, saying that he wants the inspector general to get down to the bottom of what happened, especially as you pointed out, given all of the inconsistencies coming out of the White House in terms of what really happened and the timeline. This is coming as we're learning that the Senate Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas -- subpoena to Michael Flynn to hand over documents related to its Russia probe.

This is happening, this is really an elevation for the Senate Intelligence Committee, especially for Senator Burr who has been more reluctant to do this, but Michael Flynn had not handed over documents in response to a letter that was sent late April from the committee, so now, they're escalating things sending the subpoena for him to turn over documents.

And we've also learned, Anderson, that subpoenas have been sent from the eastern district of Virginia U.S. attorney's office to associates of Michael Flynn as part of the FBI's investigation.

So, even though James Comey has been fired from the FBI, it is clear that the FBI investigation still moving forward, as well as the investigations on Capitol Hill, Anderson.

COOPER: The Senate Intelligence Committee has a hearing tomorrow. The one that Director Comey was supposed to testify at. What do we expect to see?

BROWN: Yes, there's sort of some confusion about, OK, he's going to testify now? And it turns out that the now acting director of the FBI, Andy McCabe, is expected to testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. What's interesting here is that there is a bipartisan invitation from the Senate Intelligence Committee to James Comey to come testify next week.

So, even though he won't be arriving there tomorrow, this invitation has been extended to him for next week. It's unclear what he is going to do. He's stayed mum since the firing. We're told that if this hearing does happen with him testifying next week, that it will be in a classified session, Anderson.

COOPER: Where does the FBI go from here? What are you learning about how people are reacting inside the bureau?

BROWN: Well, we can tell you that Andy McCabe, the acting director, held a call with senior FBI officials today, basically reassuring them amidst all this turmoil that everything will move forward, that the bureau will not miss a beat, that everyone should stay focused on their work.

I can tell you -- I've spoken to several current and former FBI agents, including a senior FBI agent who was overseeing the national security branch who recently left by the name of Michael Steinbach. And they dispute the White House claim that there was bad morale in the FBI under James Comey. He said specifically that is inaccurate. He says that he was widely respected among the rank-and-file, and that he was a man of integrity.

There were, of course, different viewpoints, different opinions about how James Comey handled the Hillary Clinton probe and the Trump campaign/Russia probe. And there are some people who felt uncomfortable with how the FBI was sort of thrust into the spotlight. But agents I've spoken with have said that is not true that morale was low. In fact, one agent called me last night really in tears, saying that morale was good when James Comey was at the helm. If anything, morale has plummeted since his firing -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Pam Brown, appreciate those details.

More on how today unfolded at the White House and who was there as it did. CNN's Sara Murray has that for us.

[20:05:00] So, I understand you're learning more about Comey's Russia investigation, what he was asking for.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What we have learned from sources just days before FBI Director James Comey was fired, he actually went to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and he asked for additional resources to pour into this Russia investigation.

Now, we know this because Comey met with the heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and during that meeting, sources tell us they expressed their frustration, senators, that the Russia investigation wasn't moving more quickly and Comey sympathized with that and said, yes, you know, I agree, it needs to be moving more quickly. In fact, I went to the deputy attorney general who had just been confirmed and asked for more resources to devote to that.

Of course, now we know how that ended. James Comey was fired on Tuesday.

And, you know, it just adds another layer to this question of whether the White House truly being forthcoming. They said the reason they fired Comey was because of the way he handled Hillary Clinton's e- mails but as you follow this, things just continue to lead back to Russia, Anderson.

COOPER: We should point out the Department of Justice denies that Comey asked for resources, correct?

MURRAY: That's right. They said it was 100 percent false that Comey went to Rod Rosenstein and asked for more resources or money.

COOPER: The White House, you know, you indicated this, seems to move the goalpost as to why they chose to fire Director Comey yesterday.

MURRAY: That's right. And I think this was particularly evident in the White House briefing with Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She said initially the reason the president decided to fire Comey was because of this sort of full-throated letter from Rod Rosenstein essentially saying that the way James Comey handled Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal was just not acceptable, he was no longer fit to lead the department.

Listen how Sarah Huckabee Sanders described it today.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Having a letter like the one he received and having that conversation, that outlined the basic just atrocities if circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice. When he saw that, he had to speak up on that action. I think that was the final catalyst.


MURRAY: But here's something Sarah Huckabee also said today. She said that the president had been considering firing James Comey essentially since he was elected.

This led the White House to go through another cleanup effort tonight. They put out another timeline saying the president had been losing confidence for months when he saw Comey testifying, the president had even more concerns and after meeting with his attorney general and deputy attorney general and sort of reading their letters, that is when the president decided ultimately to fire Comey.

You can see obviously once again the White House not prepared with how they're crafting they narrative around this.

COOPER: I don't want to nitpick over her word choice, but atrocities? He committed atrocities? Rwanda was an atrocity in 1994, Syria, there are atrocities going on. I mean, these atrocities -- these were the atrocities that president -- that candidate Trump was praising during the campaign. So, if they're atrocities, the candidate was praising atrocities, right?

MURRAY: That's absolutely right. I mean, during the campaign, we all saw Donald Trump then a candidate talking about how Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal was the biggest thing in the world, he would praise James Comey when it worked to his political benefit. Now, a very different sort of tactic that we're seeing from the White House and using the word, atrocities, and also, Anderson, one that doesn't necessarily match with what we've seen from a number of Republicans.

We've seen a number of Republicans come out and, you know, sort of praise Comey for being a public servant for his devotion to the United States of America, to the government, saying if I don't necessarily agree with all the decisions he made, he still deserves our respect. Obviously, the White House does not share that view.

COOPER: Also probably the worst-timed meeting -- I don't know if in history -- but certainly in the history of this White House thus far, the president today met with the Russian ambassador and Russian foreign minister which given everything that's going on was quite a sight. How is the White House describing the meeting?

MURRAY: Well, essentially what the president did is yesterday he fired the guy who was overseeing this probe into whether his presidential campaign colluded with the Russians and today he welcomed into the Oval Office, one of the Russians who was at the center of that probe.

So, yes, the timing, the optics of this certainly are not ideal. They seem to be suggesting that it was already previously scheduled. Although it's worth noting, Anderson, that just last night, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, was out here in the bushes under sort of the dark of night talking to reporters saying nothing had been set yet. So, this certainly seems like the kind of meeting the White House could have postponed, could have canceled had they wanted to, had they not wanted these optics out there today, but they obviously made this decision to welcome these Russian officials into the Oval Office today.

COOPER: The story of how Sean Spicer ended up in the bushes outside the White House is one we will obviously get to over the next two hours.


COOPER: Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Let's bring in the panel. Juliette Kayyem, Abby Phillip, Jeffrey Toobin, Dana Bash. Also Maggie Haberman and Phil Mudd.

Jeff Lord, I wrote it down, you said a short time ago Trump wins, these investigations will just --


[20:10:04] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You're in too much trouble --


COOPER: What did I say? Jeff Lord.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know what everyone says, 6-1, half a dozen or the oath.

COOER: All right, all right.

You said, Jeff Toobin, Trump wins these investigations will just fade away. Do you really believe -- if they pick somebody, you know, from the FBI, who was has a long record, how can you say these investigations can fade away? Have absolutely, because Mitch McConnell is starving the Senate investigation, there are a handful of investigators. If you really want to investigate this, given the amount of classified

information, you need at least as many people as they used to investigate Benghazi and they have a fraction of that many people. House investigation is even in worse shape because they had a change in leadership.

And at the FBI, people can pretend that leadership doesn't matter but whoever comes in is going to be chosen by Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein who just fired Jim Comey.

Now, why is -- what message are you going to get if you are the person who was succeeding the fired Jim Comey? You know, these are hard investigations. There may be nothing there. There may be no -- nothing at the end, but you have to throw resources at it and the lesson of the past 24 hours is that there are going to be fewer resources, rather than more.

COOPER: It does -- Dana, I mean, this reporting by CNN and others that just days before he was fired, Comey had asked for more resources from the Department of Justice, which the Department of Justice, as I said, flatly denies.

BASH: Right.

COOPER: If that is, in fact, the case, that seems damning.

BASH: Absolutely. No question. I mean --

COOPER: I mean, it's hard to see it in any other way --

BASH: It is impossible to see it in any other way. What they argue at the White House is not only that that's true, they say, even though our sources differ, is that -- is that the president saw it as a bigger picture issue. And they -- they tell a story, source I just talked to, of him watching James Comey in his hearing last week getting more and more and more angry.

Now, what was he angry about? I couldn't, you know, get whether or not it was specifically not about the fact that he said many, many times that he was investigating potential collusion. The source insisted that it was anger about the fact that he was not telling the truth. You know, there are also some things we all know from covering Donald Trump for two years now probably sent him up a tree which is that he felt nauseous about the notion that effectively he made Donald Trump president.

I mean, there are a lot of things in that testimony that probably made Donald Trump very upset. That was one of the -- one of if not the key point.

Now, whether or not the resource issue was the straw that broke the camel's back, possibly, probably, we're still reporting them now.

COOPER: Maggie, it's hard to understand now that Donald Trump clearly seemed to have been stewing about James Comey for a while or thinking about getting rid of James Comey for a while, to then believe that, oh, it was this letter that just happened to show up from the deputy attorney general, outlining his atrocities against Hillary Clinton, that that is what motivated the president.

It's a little bit like them saying it was Devin Nunes discovering this stuff elsewhere in the White House and bringing it to the president's attention. It seems a little bit like they like to have somebody outside bringing them information.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's true. And also, I have similar reporting to what Dana is talking about, including the nauseated line. That did upset the president according to two sources we have and we reported that earlier, Glenn Thrush and I did. I -- among other things.

I also think that just in general, watching the hearing, the topic of Russia, and they saw the fact that Comey had this miscue involving Huma Abedin's e-mails which then had to be cleaned up, which did cause frustration at the bureau as an opening essentially to go against this.

Yes, to your point, this is against the idea this was just sort of handed to the president by the A.G. and deputy A.G. who are concerned about past, quote/unquote, atrocities.

I think there is the question -- there are separate questions. One is the question of whether the president was -- had the authority to do this which I know that Jeffrey and I talked about last night. He did have the authority.

The question is whether it is prudent to do when there's an ongoing investigation that related to his campaign. That's one issue. I do believe he's been stewing about this a long time.

And then there is the other question of the fact this White House has a tendency to make what is a not great situation vastly worse, almost every time. So, this actually reminds me a lot of what happened with -- these are not the same in terms of magnitude, to be clear, but just in terms of how they played out, the lack of a plan, the lack of anything.

The complaint that I heard from people close to the administration was, even his supporters, I understand doing this, I don't understand the timing, I don't understand not having a successor lined up, I don't understand not explaining to people why they did this, doing this ahead of time, talking to congressional leaders.

[20:15:05] Paul Ryan was essentially in hiding today in Ohio, not answering questions about this.

COOPER: A lot of people hiding in bushes.


HABERMAN: That was a whole other thing. But there was -- you know, this is like what happened with the travel ban that first week, where they did a clearly bombshell thing, that by any measure was going to create a massive stir and they seemed surprised that that's what happened and had to keep sort of reversing course and explaining and there were conflicting things and that hurts them, too.

The basic issue, though, of firing somebody who is overseeing an investigation into you, that's not going to go away any time soon.

COOPER: Phil, I mean, does it make sense if the director is asking for more resources, if, in fact, that's true, because the Department of Justice says it's not, though numerous sources say it is, how do it you explain that in any way that doesn't reflect poorly on the White House?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I can't figure this one out. Look, you got a deputy attorney general with two weeks in and that's the individual you're relying on for judgment as your supervisors. He's the FBI director's supervisor and for judgment about morale in an organization that's nationwide, 56 field offices, 35,000 people.

Two weeks in, he's got the authority to determine the capability of the FBI director and the morale of the organization. And then you have the discourtesy as a former federal official to say, in the midst of Comey asking from me more resources and the midst of Comey's I'm guessing 25, 30, 35 years of service, you can't even pick up the phone or call him and shake his hand?

President Obama called in Stan McChrystal, a general, who embarrassed him in "Rolling Stone" magazine and had the courtesy in person to say, you're fired.

The president does have the authority to fire the FBI director but in all this swirl, he should have called him personally and said you're done. That's inexcusable.

COOPER: He found out from watching from television and all the reporting.

We've got to take a quick break. As you see on the screen, we got James Comey's farewell letter to the FBI. We're going through it right now. We'll tell you what it is after a quick break.

We'll also talk to the rest of our panelists and put White House claims that investigators all but cleared them of collusion with Russia to the test. We heard that a lot from White House surrogates last night. New reporting on what key Republicans are now saying.

Also ahead, what do the president's staunchest supporters me of all this? Nothing much has shaken them in the past. Question is, is this any different? That and more when we continue.


[20:20:40] COOPER: Two pieces of breaking news to bring you right now. James Comey's farewell letter which we'll bring you momentarily. Also, the Senate Intelligence Committee demanding fired national security adviser Michael Flynn turn over documents regarding his interactions with Russian officials. The subpoena comes after Flynn's lawyer refused to supply them voluntarily.

And just as a reminder, the intelligence panel is one of six committees, subcommittees, agencies and inspector general, looking into the matter. There is the FBI, the Pentagon inspector general, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

At her briefing today, Sarah Sanders said, quote, there's no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Keeping them honest, that's simply not precisely true.

CNN's Jim Sciutto has more on that own the Comey letter. He joins us now.

What does the letter say, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, let's begin, I'm going to read most of the letter here now. This to FBI staff and friends.

It reads: I have long believed a president can fire an FBI director for any reason or for no reason at all. I'm not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won't, either. It is done and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.

He goes on: I have said to you before in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty and independence. What makes leaving the FBI hard is the nature and quality of its people who together make it that rock for America.

A final line: Working with you has been one of the great joys of my life. Thank you for that gift.

Anderson, obviously, a heartfelt note for someone who was for many years inside the FBI, took his work very seriously. But some meaning there, you might say, within the lines, he says that the president can make this decision, I'm not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed, though, of course, in those lines raising both the decision and the way it was executed.

And in addition, that message about the FBI being a rock of competence and independence, interesting to make that note here in light of the fact that the president has fired him as he was leading this investigation that potentially involved the president. We know at a minimum, the president's advisers and associates.

COOPER: Jim, let's talk about some of the claims now coming out of the White House, despite the repeated claims by the president, by his surrogates, there is still an active investigation over possible collusion between president Trump's associates, candidate Trump's associates and the Russians. SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Multiple congressional committees and the FBI

and the DOD inspector general as you detailed. Let's just get into some of the details.

I spoke today to both the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Democratic ranking member Mark Warner, Richard Burr and Mark Warner. I asked them this question directly, is collusion still a subject of your investigation? They said without equivocation, yes, indeed, it is.

And I've heard the same thing from both House and Senate members of those intelligence committees, and from both Democrats and Republicans. No question there. We know that the FBI's investigating this line because Comey, himself, before he was fired, in March, told the House Intelligence Committee as much. We know that the Pentagon's inspector general is zeroing in on Flynn's communications with Russia.

So, it is untrue, it is factually incorrect to say that there is no -- that this investigation is dead, that there's no evidence, that there's no there, there, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today. Just ask -- don't ask us, ask Republicans and Democrats on those relevant committees. They give the opposite answer.

COOPER: And in the letter that he sent to Comey, that Comey didn't get because Comey wasn't there, he was in Los Angeles and watched this firing on television, the president said that he appreciates Director Comey informing him he was not under investigation on, quote, three separate occasions. The fact he fired Comey, the very man leads that investigation, this is not going to go away any time soon.

SCIUTTO: It is not and we know it's not because you have multiple bodies continuing their investigations there, and now as you say, accelerating. You have one committee pursuing financial records of potential Trump business ties to Russia. You have another committee which has now subpoenaed Michael Flynn to come onboard and invited director Comey, former Director Comey, to testify next week.

You have grand jury subpoenas issued as CNN was first to report yesterday. These are -- we also know as well that Director Comey was asking for more resources, more people and money to continue this investigation.

[20:25:01] So, in fact, not dying, not withering on the vine by any means, but growing each of these investigations. And that is something, to answer your question -- no, this is not going away any time soon.

COOPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel. The panel just got supersized with the real Jeffrey Lord, not the fake one over here, Paul Begala as well.

Abby, why do you think it took the White House so long to get the story straight on how and why Director Comey was fired?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, to begin with, it was pretty clear they didn't have a plan, to Maggie's point earlier, they didn't know early enough what would happen and couldn't develop a plan to get out the news. And then after a couple of hours of really, really bad press, immediately sent out several -- several senior officials to start to correct the record to the president's liking.

But also, you know, part of the problem is there's a disconnect here between what Donald Trump says is the reason that Comey was fired, and what he strongly implied both in his letter to Comey and also in his conversations with friends and associates. That disconnect is hard to square for the White House and that's part of the reason why in reality, it's hard to make this whole thing work.

When Trump says I fired Comey because he wasn't doing a good job or because of the Clinton investigation and on the other hand says, oh, well, by the way, he cleared me of the Russia investigation, and by the way, in a tweet last week, he said James Comey was the best thing that happened to Hillary Clinton, this whole Russia thing is a hoax. Those two things are very hard for them to reconcile.

TOOBIN: Can I offer an alternative possibility?


TOOBIN: Maybe the reason why they're having trouble with the public story is the public story is a lie. And it's just not true. That none of this is true.

That the reason he's being fired has something to do with Hillary Clinton's investigation. I mean, that, to me, is a bigger problem than sort of a communication strategy and who was hiding in the bushes.

COOPER: Right, because, Dana, to your point, if -- Maggie, your point as well, if he's getting progressively more annoyed yelling at the television, watching stuff, watching Comey testify, annoyed that he said nauseous, it seems odd it was only this letter from this guy who got the job two weeks ago when there is an internal investigation from the IG at the Department of Justice into Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton stuff. So why --

TOOBIN: Which is not finished.

COOPER: Which is not finished, but now, this new employee who's been there two weeks writes this letter and all in the same day, it happens.

Juliette, I mean, it's just hard to believe their sequence of events.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. It's just factually not plausible, if you just look at the timeframe at this stage and so, what you're now seeing in them trying to scramble in emergency management, disaster management, we used to say you can't have good talking points unless you have a good response.

And that's exactly -- you know, you can't talk your way out of Hurricane Katrina, right? And so, that's essentially what you're seeing them do right now. And I have to say, not only do they think we're buying it. You know, it's worth noting that we are the United States of America and the rest of the world is watching. His -- Donald Trump's meetings today are viewed by NATO as shocking if not jaw-dropping. He can't even pick up the phone to congratulate the new president of France but has time to meet with the ambassador from Russia.

I should say even an ambassador from Doha tweeted out today, I don't know if she's going to get fired for this --

COOPER: A U.S. ambassador.

KAYYEM: A U.S. ambassador says, increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions. I don't what, yikes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And to her since then --


KAYYEM: When you think about how we are portrayed.

In the past, we've been loved and we've been hated. We've rarely been ridiculed and even less often trolled. That's what's happening now.

COOPER: Paul Begala, does any of this make sense to you? I mean, you've worked in the White House.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, no. Look, full disclosure, I was not for Donald Trump, anyway.


BEGALA: Frankly, I knew he was going to be crooked. I didn't know he'd be stupid. I always thought he was a smart guy.

He -- this is not only corrupt, it's stupid. And get in to Jeff's point -- you cannot convince anyone that the reason that the president fired the FBI director is that he was too mean to Hillary. That's what they want us to believe. It's preposterous. It's stupid.

And the problem with this is if, in fact, the motive was to interrupt the investigation of allegations that Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians, you know, that was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. That he subverted the FBI investigation. That is really, really serious stuff.

If, in fact -- we know he didn't do it because he was upset that Comey was mean to Hillary. If, in fact, the motive was to disrupt the investigation, it's catastrophic.

COOPER: But something like, you say catastrophic, but some of that requires Republicans to start to believe that, doesn't it?

BEGALA: It does. It does. And I do think back to Watergate where the Senate majority -- Senate Republican leader at the time, Hugh Scott, the House Republican leader, John Rhodes, Barry Goldwater, himself, in fact, I looked it up. Goldwater told his colleagues on August 6th, just before he went to the White House when Nixon resigned. He said, there are only so many lies you can take and now there's been one too many. Nixon should get his rear end, he used a different organization, out of the White House today.

[20:30:18] The Republicans today there are no Barry Goldwater. They've all put their integrity in a blind trust and jump in the Trump train.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You don't think we're not there yet?


BASH: Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Democrats have no political power right now. And they need it in order to force the hand of Republicans in Congress for any kind of special investigation. I think that Republicans have to go further down this road before that they start jumping ship toward ...

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I want to hear from Jeff Lord.

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: As you gather, I may dissent here. Listen to this, and I just, honestly, I love you all. I think you're in a bubble. I truly think you're in a bubble.

Let me just hold up one -- this is from slate. Now we all know that Democrats all -- they wanted Jim Comey out of that job. But here's the headline. Harry Reid, FBI Chief Comey covered up, covered up, Russian hacking which is why he should resign. In other words, Democrats were making the case that Comey should be fired because he was covering up for the Russians. And now they're saying suddenly --

COOPER: And Paul what about that?

LORD: He was fired.


BEGALA: What Sen. Reid was saying was that Comey was very vocal about the investigation of Hillary which cleared her and ended and yet he attacked her and said nothing about the investigation of Trump. I can defend being quiet about the investigation of Trump. But I can't defend talking about one politician's investigation and not the other.

By the way, let me penetrate your bubble. The Quinnipiac poll today came out. And it's really troubling for the Republicans. I looked at the cross tabs just for non-college whites. This is the heart of the Trump base. The percentage of non-college whites who think Trump is honest has dropped 12 points in the last five months. He's below 50 on honesty. His favorable with non-college whites is down to 47. This is core of Trump's base. That's realty. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's the real Trump voter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on a second here. Can we be precise with language? It doesn't say fire on your piece of paper. It says resign.

LORD: It says resign. Right, right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me tell ...

LORD: They wanted him out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... someone who serving the FBI. If FBI director resigned yesterday, people like me would have said this is a sad day. Last nine months were difficult. My friend universally would say this investigation was conducted improperly. For the subject of the investigation or one of them, the man who managed the campaign where subjects of the investigation were involved to fire him is substantially different from a resignation. Let's not use the two words as if they're not different.

LORD: He's gone. He's gone.


LORD: That's what they wanted this.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is what congressional Democrats will say. And I spoke to many of them today. Yes. We did not like how Comey handled the Clinton e-mail issue. We did not like how Pres. Obama handled that issue and dealt with the FBI. But that does not mean that we think he should leave in the middle of an active investigation and it's really important to remember, I understand that the White House believed that they were going to tie Democrats in knots. I mean I had several people say this to me because of that criticism. Democrats, at this point, have come to see the Comey/FBI piece as only investigation that they can count on because they are worried about the congressional ones.

COOPER: We have more breaking news. New reporting on the depth of the president's anger this weekend in the run-up to the Comey firing and did that actually have an impact on why he was fired? We'll bring that to you next.

President lashes out on Twitter at a senator who is among those calling for a special prosecutor. I'll get reaction from that senator, Richard Blumenthal, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:36:34] COOPER: Dana Bash and Maggie Haberman alluded to this early. The president's thinking in the days before he fire James Comey. CNN John King just got new reporting that speaks directly to that question. He joins us now on the phone. John, what did you learned?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, just reaching out to friends and associates of the president as we know sometimes from the White House and very often when he goes away from the weekend. He reaches out to old friends, campaign associates and the like, just like sometimes a friends call it venting. Some time sound them out, am I doing the right thing? Am I doing wrong thing? What do you think of my team?

But it I spoke to a friend who talked to the president over the weekend and described him as, "white hot." And the friend said he was quite surprised by that because he thought the president would be in good spirits because of the House health care bill last week. He thought the president would think especially after what the friend called, "a couple days of more positive coverage," as the president watches the news so much, but the president would be in a better mood, but he said, "he wouldn't hear it, " meaning that the president should be more encouraged.

And he said the president just kept complaining that it was Russia, Russia, Trump and Russia. And he said the president used some explicit in describing Comey's testimony to Congress last week about being mildly nauseous at the suggestion perhaps, you know, he's disclosure by Hillary Clinton had influenced the election in anyway.

And the friend left, Anderson, said it was clear that the president was frustrated that he thought on James Comey's testimony that Comey didn't take the leak seriously enough. He was much more interested in investigating possible collusion and investigating Russia meddling and not spending enough time investigating the leaks. And the friend said that he knows the president for a long time but he was just really struck by the president's anger about this. Thinking that after the House health care vote the president would be in a much better mood, but he said he was not.

COOPER: And, John, that certainly raises questions about -- again, questions which have already been raised about how much this really was about this letter from the deputy attorney general about Hillary Clinton's e-mails and Dir. Comey's actions toward Hillary Clinton during the election and how much it was about the president's own feelings about Dir. Comey and his anger over this Russian investigation?

KING: Look, it was very clear from this conversation and other conversations I had with people around the president who discussed this with the president had seen the president's anger about this. I know other reporting from Dana and others. As a friend put it, it's been festering for a long time. That's a quote, "It's been festering for a long time.

And he said, you know, the president -- he said the president was blaming Comey and he's got a lot with conflated in the president's anger with Comey. Because the engaged testimony was coming up, because he knew Michael Flynn was going to be back in the news. He thought (inaudible) he was going to be held on the carpet again for waiting 18 days to fire Gen. Flynn.

But t he friend said the president over the past couple months has just expressed frustration as the friend put it, "They can't all just make this go away." And I asked, what do you mean by they? And the friend said this is a messy one. He's mad at Sessions, the attorney general back when he recused. Really mad at him the friend said. Mad at his lawyer. Mad at the staff. Mad at you guys on TV. Mad at the committees. Mad at Comey. There's no doubt this has been festering in the president for a long time that he thinks this Russian cloud, the friend said, is over the administration.

And again, the friend said he thought he was going to have a positive conversation with the president this weekend. In his words the president was white hot. Very mad at the media coverage. Very mad at Comey and friend said he didn't get it. He said he kept telling the president, I watched Sunday shows too they're actually, you know, we thought we favorable because president wouldn't hear it.

COOPER: Wow, fascinating details. John King, thanks very much for that reporting. More reaction now to the president's decision, Senator Richard Blumenthal is among the Democrat, of course, calling for an independent special prosecutor, now that the president has fired the person who is in-charge of investigating his campaign's possible ties to Russia at the FBI.

[20:40:02] Senator Blumenthal, will join us in a moment. He was on CNN this morning called the president's firing of the FBI director, "A looming constitutional crisis." The president was apparently watching because he had some things to say on his Twitter machine as Sen. Blumenthal was speaking. He didn't comment on the point the senator was making, but instead took personal shots at the senator. (Inaudible) military service these are from the president quote. "Watching Senator Richard Blumenthal speaks of Comey is a joke. Richie' devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For years, as a pol in Connecticut, Blumenthal would talk of his great bravery and conquests in Vietnam - except he was never there. When caught, he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness. And now he is judge & jury. He should be the one who is investigated for his acts." Senator Blumenthal joins us now. Do you want to respond in anyway to the president's tweets?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: Just to say this issue is not about me. It is about the integrity of our justice system and this kind of distraction doing certainly won't silence me and my call for a special independent prosecutor.

COOPER: Do you believe -- you talked about this as a looming constitutional crisis? You stand by that. You think it's that serious?

BLUMENTHAL: It is a looming constitutional crisis because it involves a potential confrontation as did Watergate between the president and other branches of government. And it may well produce another United States versus Nixon on a subpoena that went to the United States Supreme Court. It may well produce impeachment proceedings although we're very far from that possibility. And right now the president has not been charged, and there is an investigation under way which should be given the kind of integrity and independence that it deserves.

COOPER: Does the administration time line, their explanation of Comey's firing, make sense? On the one hand White House saying, oh the president has been mulling this over for months. We're hearing from John King, obviously, and others that he was white hot. He's been this way. He was angered at Comey's testimony. On the other hand they're saying Rosenstein you laterally expressed his concerns in this letter and that very day it so moved the president that is what led him to fire Comey.

BLUMENTHAL: The Rosenstein letter really is a ludicrous pretense for this action.

COOPER: You think that's cover for the action.

BLUMENTHAL: And the reason I say it is indeed that actions that are the subject of his complaint -- and I was critical of Dir. Comey at the time for the way he did the Clinton e-mail decision not to prosecute. He made the announcement. He made statements in the press, which are a violation of normal rules that apply to prosecutors. And he justified it in the hearing we had recently by saying it was a matter of intense public interest.

But still, as critical as I was, I did not consider it a reason to fire him then. And 10 months afterward, Donald Trump actually expressed his faith in Dir. Comey.

So, the timing and the time line make no sense here. What makes more sense is that he saw the investigation ongoing and even expanding with a request for more resources.

COOPER: You know, I talked about with Kellyanne Conway last night. You know, we kept pointing out candidate Trump repeatedly praised Comey for the things which now in this letter the Department of Justice, you know, deputy attorney general says there is (inaudible) today described it as atrocities. Does that make sense to you that as a candidate he's praising it and now all of the sudden that's their biggest rationale for getting rid of him?

BLUMENTHAL: It is an internal contradiction and inconsistency that I think further belie the reason given as a pretense and the question now is, Anderson, very profoundly why now? Why this firing? What is behind it? And that's what we need to know in the senate of the United States and that's why I've called for a special prosecutor to make sure that this investigation is above politics, no one is above the law.

COOPER: Does your committee have the resources they need, the people they need, the investigators they need? I mean the personnel? There's a huge amount of information to go through. BLUMENTHAL: The simple answer is no. No Congressional Committee right now has ample resources to conduct this broad wide ranging investigation. And that is one of the key points here.

In Watergate, the crime was a two-bit break in. And the same goes -- the cover up was worse than the crime. Here we have a massive attack on our Democratic institutions by the Russians and the possibility, I don't want to overstate it, that Trump associates were colluding or involved in it. And that is a crime that must be investigated. The Russian attack and hacking into our system and that's why Dir. Comey apparently went for more resources. The resources are essential.

[20:45:02] COOPER: Sen. Blumenthal, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up after the president fires the FBI director in a letter that includes a weird sentence about how he supposed not being investigated. He then meets with the Russian ambassador at the White House, the same Russian ambassador who (inaudible) from former U.S. Intelligence officials describe as a top spy and recruiter of spies. We'll talk about that. Also joined by legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein about the comparisons between this story and the Watergate. We'll be right back.


COOPER: It's a fast moving night of breaking news. We just got more Preet Bharara. One of the two others besides Jim Comey alleged fire in connection with Russia questions just tweeted, " As a matter of math," he writes, "infinitely more evidence Comey fired for Russia investigation (some) than there is evidence Trump was wiretapped (zero)." Another piece of the picture unlike any we've seen before.

Today at the White House, the president meets with at least one Russian we know at the center of the storm, Russia's Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. You remember the president's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired for lying about his contacts with that ambassador.

The Kremlin released pictures today, the Russian embassy tweeted this one. "Reporters were not allowed in the room." Also today, the president welcomed Henry Kissinger to the Oval Office. He served as secretary of state under Richard Nixon, another president who fired the man investigating him and what quickly became known as the Saturday night massacre.

With us now, two people who watched it all unfold up-close. Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein and equally legendary Presidential Adviser David Gergen.

So Carl, John Dean, the White House Counsel under Nixon. He says the firing of Comey is a, "Very Nixonian move." You know what a Nixonian move looks like better than just anybody. Do you agree? CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I suppose you could say that. I think we need to look at a central fact here. And that is that the president of the United States, for four months since his inauguration, has done everything in his power to impede, obstruct, undermine and demean a legitimate National Security investigation.

Nixon did not try to impede a legitimate National Security investigation. And what you do in the process if you are the president of the United States? I'm not saying this means he is literally and legally obstructing justice. But he has impeded this investigation, especially through the firing of Comey. And in the process, he has undermined the National Security of the United States by making it harder for us to know what occurred with Russia destabilizing the United States.

[20:50:36] You know, we have never had a situation in modern times in which there has been an accusation such as this that associates of the president of the United States colluded with a hostile foreign power to undermine and destabilize our country. That doesn't mean necessarily that it happened. But the president is keeping us from knowing whether it happened or not. And this is a terrible, terrible thing to happen because he is impeding our ability to know what occurred.

COOPER: So, David, I mean, you served as an adviser to Pres. Nixon. A lot of people describe the Saturday night massacre as a constitutional crisis. Does this meet the same threshold? Is this a constitutional crisis or (inaudible) one?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO REAGAN, FORD, CLINTON & NIXON: It's not yet, Anderson, but the echoes of Watergate grow more powerful over the last couple of days in particular. And both cases I think there's a parallel that they were challenging the integrity of the rule of law in this country. I think Carl has a good point. There are differences, especially on National Security. But this is threatening the integrity of the rule of law is very serious. In each case in both the Nixon case and the Trump case, you have the president firing the manage in-charge of an investigation which comes right into the White House, into the staff and potentially the president. We don't know yet where this is going.

I think in each case, Nixon and Trump, you find questions about whether the president himself is impeding the investigation. You remember with Pres. Nixon, the articles of impeachment, the first article was about obstruction of justice by the president. I also think, Anderson, you've got finally this question of the investigation in Nixon's case led to the tapes, the taping system and then the effort to get the tape from Nixon and that brought the constitutional crisis when he refused at first.

Whereas, in the Trump case, I think Carl would agree with this. It may well come down to eventually the investigators or the people on Capitol Hill calling for and subpoenaing the tax records of Pres. Trump. And there's a very strong likelihood he will try to refuse turning them over given his, you know, strength of belief here. So, while there are differences, I do think there are growing parallels. COOPER: Carl, do you think that's what it could come down to, the tax records?

BERNSTEIN: I think much more than the tax records. I think, yes, they could be included in this. But already the president of the United States has resisted and kept the Senate and the House investigators from getting legitimately subpoenaed papers from the Congressional investigation, or requested papers. He refused to turn over the papers of his aides.

Look, we need to know what Mike Flynn may have told the president of the United States or the candidate for president of the United States and those around him. Increasingly, it's apparent and if you talk to people who know what was happening in investigation by the FBI, to some extent, I don't think we have deep knowledge of it. But we do know that FBI investigators were beginning to look at the conduct of Donald Trump. There's no question about that in the sense that those around him and what they might have told him. That was becoming part of the investigation. Therefore, it makes some sense when we hear John King talk about the president's rage.

The president's rage may have something to do with the fact that the investigators are moving towards the president and his obstructing their ability to find out what happened and what these other players might have said to the president of the United States when he was a candidate for president.

COOPER: David, I just spoke with Sen. Blumenthal, he said this may well produce another United States versus Nixon and may produce impeachment proceedings. I mean you saw this going down with Nixon. Do you see this happening again?

GERGEN: Well, I think it has to be emphasized upfront, the president, you know, we should not say -- talk about a president who is guilty of anything. That has not been determined. You know, he may be quite innocent. And the rage may be well be -- it may well be over.

Look, my whole agenda is imperiled by this.

[20:55:04] COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: ... television set. I can't talk about taxes. It may well be that his rage is also -- why aren't they looking at the leaks more closely that's been reported is enraged about that.

So, I think we have to be very careful and, you know, and take it one step at a time as we go through. As Carl and Bob Woodward did, I thought admirably. I was inside the White House. I was always told these guys are lying. They're trying to get us. They turned out to be the people who are doing it really carefully and very, very patiently waiting to see what -- where the truth led. But -- could this grow into something that it would be a constitutional crisis? It could. We're not there yet. We're a long way from there. But we're in deep water here. And this is very serious.

COOPER: And Carl, you pointed this out during Watergate. It was actually --


BERNSTEIN: Look, Republicans were the heroes in Watergate. Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee on the Senate Watergate Committee said, what did the president know and when did he know it? The key votes for impeachment articles of impeachment against Nixon were cast by courageous Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 nominee of his party for president marched to the White House after there's articles of impeachment passed the committee and said to Richard Nixon, you must resign for the sake of the country.

But as David says, we're not there yet. But what is so baffling and troubling about Donald Trump's conduct in regard to this investigation is he has it in his power to simply say, here is what occurred, here's what didn't occur, I want to open up my White House, I want to open up my campaign so that investigators can put this behind us quickly and we can move on and get on with the business of the country. He has done exactly the opposite. Just as Nixon did exactly the opposite and chosen to impede rather to be open, transparent, forthcoming and helpful to the investigators.

COOPER: Carl Bernstein, David Gergen, thank you very much.

More ahead, I'll talk to Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes. A Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee about the firing of Comey and what comes next for his committee. We will be right back.