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CNN TONIGHT

Growing Doubts in Washington; Comey's Firing Shook the World of Politics. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 22:00   ET

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


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[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: CNN Tonight starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thanks, Anderson. Lots more on our breaking news right now. Growing outrage over President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Sources telling CNN the president was more and more agitated about the Russia investigation, decided he couldn't trust the FBI director. Another source telling CNN Trump was "white hot," that's a quote, angry and cursing about Comey testifying he felt "mildly nauseous" that his actions last fall could have influenced the election.

But if the president was hoping that firing Comey would somehow make everybody forget all about Russia, this was not the best idea. Posing for pictures, tweeted by the Russians, with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. There he is. Whose conversations with Michael Flynn got the former national security adviser fired.

Flynn, by the way, subpoenaed by the Senate tonight. So, no, none of this is going away any time soon. And we're going to report on it right now.

Let's get right to CNN's David Chalian, Chris Cillizza, Athena Jones, Pamela Brown, and Laura Coates. Good evening to all of you. Pamela, you're first. First on CNN now, the former FBI Director James Comey sent a farewell letter. What does it say?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did, he sent this farewell letter today a day after he was fired by President Trump which was a shock and really sent shockwaves throughout the bureau and this is what he said in his letter.

He said to all, "I have long believed that 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. I have said to you before that in times of turbulence, the American people should see the FBI as a rock of competence, honesty and independence. My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission that protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution. If you do that, you, too, will be sad when you leave and the American people will be safer."

So this is really the first we've heard from Director Comey since the firing yesterday. He's really stayed mum. But he wanted to send this letter out to agents in the bureau to let them know what he was thinking in the wake of all of this turmoil.

LEMON: Pamela, as I understand it, excuse me, you also have some new reporting tonight on the congressional investigation. What can you tell us?

BROWN: Yes, that's right. In fact, a republican on Capitol Hill, Jason Chaffetz, a congressman, is now asking the Justice Department inspector general to expand its probe and look into the firing of James Comey and the circumstances surrounding it, given all the accusations that have been swirling around under the inconsistencies coming out of the White House.

He's now asking in this more formal request for the inspector general to look into this. At the same time, the Senate intelligence committee is now ordering Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser, to turn over documents related to the Russia probe. This is in response to a letter that was sent in late April asking for these documents. Flynn's attorney says he wasn't going to turn them over. So now they're taking it to the next level, and ordering him to do so, Don.

LEMON: Here we go. OK. Athena, you now. After all the explanations as to why President Trump decided to fire James Comey, from Spicer, from Kellyanne Conway, from Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, tonight the White House set to release a timeline to try to clarify how all of this went down. Tell us about it

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And that's because as you say, there were evolving explanations. The most striking difference is the fact that it was a month ago that President Trump in a televised interview said he had confidence in Director Comey.

Today, we learned from the White House that he has been considering letting Comey go since the day he was elected. So they put out this timeline. You see there at the top, he loses confidence over Director -- in Director Comey over several months then you saw that Wednesday testimony last week and was very angered by it. We heard that from the reporting of my colleagues as well.

And then for the president meets Attorney General Sessions and the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and they talk about reasons for removing Director Comey. Then you have that memo that attorney general -- deputy Attorney General Rosenstein writes explaining the rationale for letting Comey go.

So that is the explanation we're seeing there. It's a little more clarity than we were getting yesterday, for instance, the White House wasn't really answering the question of whether the president asked the deputy attorney general to write up this memo. It's clear now that they discussed, they talked about reasons to let the Director Comey go. So, a lot of explanations now it looks like there's one they're sticking with by putting out this timeline.

LEMON: It's interesting because public statements about the Director were quite opposite than what, you know, what that timeline shows. David, President Trump met with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak and the president, of course, got questions on Comey. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[22:05:05] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you fire Director Comey?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because he wasn't doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today?

TRUMP: Excuse me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today?

TRUMP: Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will the new FBI director be in charge of the Russia investigation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: No answer on the investigation there, David. If the president thought that firing the FBI Director would make the conversations on the Russia investigation go away, sadly mistaken.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I can't possibly think he thought that would be the result, but I also couldn't possibly think that he and his team couldn't anticipate the political blow-back to the decision.

So, it is quite a bit be befuddling, the thinking going on inside the West Wing and inside the Oval Office. No doubt, Don.

I will say in the sound you just played there, that was the first indication back to what Athena was saying about a changing story line. That was the first time we had heard Donald Trump say that he had not been doing a good job.

Even Mike Pence was out this morning sort of sticking to the line that it was all Rod Rosenstein's memo, all about the Clinton investigations, and that Donald Trump sort of gave a clue that they were going to try to beef up the rationale because the rationale they provided last night that this was all about Jim Comey not treating Hillary Clinton correctly just made absolutely no sense and didn't hold any water.

LEMON: Yes, and Rod Rosenstein touting his resume, and he was confirmed with this, saying that was -- he was the one who wanted to fire him, and the president went along with him.

Chris, let's talk about this New York Times reporting that President Trump expressed anger over Comey to the vice president, to his White House Counsel Don McGahn, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who apparently all backed, by the way, dismissing Comey, while Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus had concerns over the timing though Reince Priebus was ultimately supportive.

It's unbelievable that this White House would not be prepared or didn't realize just how big this would be.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: Yes, I -- this is -- David mentioned this and I would just echo it times 1,000 which is firing James Comey on January 21st, let's say, day after Donald Trump gets into office, it would still be a big deal.

There would still be questions about the Russia investigation, but, you know, I think he said we needed a change, you know, I felt very strongly about this, I made this decision that if I was elected, I was going to do this.

Firing him on May 9th in the middle of the Russia investigation as CNN is reporting that subpoenas have gone out to associates of Michael Flynn is totally and completely baffling, not just because of Donald Trump's past statements, which are contradictory, not just because the reasons, the rationalization they put out last night made zero sense, but because this was obviously going to be a massive, massive story.

I was reading reports and talking to some folks who said Donald Trump thought that everyone would be happy that he did this. It's odd for me because I do think whatever you think of Donald Trump, he is usually an able reader of sort of the media political landscape. If he thought that, it's a huge misread.

LEMON: And I'm wondering maybe he's -- about the advice he's getting, Chris, because...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: What...

LEMON: Go on.

CILLIZZA: Yes. Don, the issue you talked about this, that Donald Trump from the start, and you can trace this all the way back, Donald Trump set up a quartet of people that were basically all in the same level, you know, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway. They all have different titles. It's not clear whose job is what. Those jobs change. He plays favorites. Who he listens to, who he doesn't listen to, who's up, who's down.

There are strange bed fellows there. Priebus and Bannon one time. Priebus and Conway another time. Bannon and Kushner although that one doesn't happen that much. Point being, there's just a lot of, he set up a structure by which you never know who he's listening to or if he's listening to anyone and it could change day by day.

You get, as a result, you get three or four different rationalizations or explanations for why he does something like this, and then they have to kind of force them, push them all together to figure out one.

LEMON: Laura, let me bring you in. Because I want you to listen, this is another moment from the press briefing today and I want to get your reaction to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think one of the big catalysts that we saw was last week on Wednesday, Director Comey made a pretty startling revelation that he had essentially taken a stick of dynamite and thrown it into the Department of Justice by going around the chain of command when we decided to take steps without talking to the attorney general of the deputy attorney general when holding a press conference and telling them that he would not let them know what he was going to say. And that is simply not allowed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[22:09:59] LEMON: OK. So what she's talking about there, Laura, is Comey's July Clinton presser and Comey saying last week that he made the decision to not tell the then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch about it.

If that's the explanation, OK, does that mean that this administration was worried that Comey might do the same thing with the Russia investigation? Especially with Sessions having to recuse himself?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that was a genuine concern of this administration, but to characterize it as a revelation is completely disingenuous. We knew that he had kind of gone around and usurped the role of the prosecutor back in July. That was not the revelation.

The revelation that really does point to the point you're making, Don, is that he did it and said I would do it again, essentially, I had no remorse about the actual thing, I asked myself, I've weighed it and I said it was the right call.

I think what this administration feared was that his past behavior was going to be predictive of his future conduct, and if you're Rosenstein, you're thinking to yourself, I've got somebody who is going to possibly go rogue again and I may, too, get the same call Loretta Lynch did which did not include an explanation of what he would say.

And if you're Donald Trump you're thinking to yourself, well, before Comey has described himself as somebody who is nonpartisan, who is very willing to ruffle the feathers of the administration, no matter who was the seated president or their potential likes or dislikes. Well here, he was getting closer and closer to continuing to ruffle the feathers of Donald Trump.

I think in both instances, this administration was running scared, a knee-jerk reaction and put the proverbial horse before the cart and that is why everyone has been scrambling to concoct a timeline that makes sense to try to support something that was already done.

LEMON: David, I want to talk to you quickly about, remember how we talked about the travel ban, how they rolled it out and there was a big issue with that and they stumbled. It appears it that it could have been the same way here because Sarah Huckabee Sanders is filling in this week, David, because he's on naval reserve duty, Sean Spicer is.

There is some speculation about Sean Spicer's future, especially about how he handled this last night, briefing reporters in the bushes. What do you make of that? Because we're told if Jeff Zeleny is -- Jeff Zeleny says that they were -- they only found out like an hour before the announcement, but what do you make of that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. Clearly the communications team was completely out of the loop on this and they were scrambling last night. It is also quite clear, Don, that the president was not at all pleased with his communications team's efforts last night even though they had to scramble. He wasn't...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Can you blame this on Sean Spicer, though?

CHALIAN: He wasn't -- well, we haven't heard him blame it on Sean Spicer, and in fact, you know, this reservist duty that he's performing over at the Pentagon, as you noted, is long scheduled.

But let me ask you this, Don, just let me ask you, if you were out on a big news week and somebody was the substitute anchor on your show and you weren't here to anchor that show and they got really good ratings, would you be a little bit worried about your future?

LEMON: Well, I never take a day off so it would never happen. I would fly back or do the show where I'm from. But, yes, I think if you as a hypothetical, absolutely he should be concerned. She's doing a good job.

CHALIAN: Right. You know, I think she clearly did a good job in the room. She's able to deal with lowering the temperature a little bit even on a white hot day like this. There's no suggestion out there that Sean may be -- his job may be sort of on the line right now imminently but it just is true that he wasn't there to speak on behalf of the president on one of the newsiest most important days to speak on behalf of the president in this administration.

LEMON: Yes, it's -- listen, they all say the same thing, they're both saying the same thing. Sarah and Sean Spicer, just she's not doing it, she's not so angry when she speaks about it. OK. Thank you. When we come back, the president's firing of James Comey being

compared to Nixon's Saturday night massacre. Should it be? Dan Rather is here to discuss.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Trump White House defending the firing of James Comey. Let's discuss now with Dan Rather, the host of Access TV's the Big Interview. So good to have you here. Thank you so much.

DAN RATHER, AXS TV HOST: Good to be back, Don.

LEMON: So he said he fired Comey because he wasn't doing a good job. Do you think this was about that or is it about Russia?

RATHER: No, it was clearly about the Russia investigation. Look, this has echoes of the Nixon administration. There's a Nixonian tone increasingly enveloping this. Because keep in mind, it wasn't so much the crimes, the war crimes that President Nixon and those around him committed, it was the attempted cover-up that spelled the end for Richard Nixon.

Now, what we have here is clearly a cover-up. It may not be a cover-up for anything very important, on the other hand, the question of whether a hostile power got deeply involved in American presidential politics is clearly much bigger than anything that happened in Watergate which only dealt with domestic crimes, if you will, but this is about the cover-up.

President Trump and those around him have something to hide. It may not be something criminal. You have to ask yourself what is it they're trying to hide? Because they're in a desperate cover-up mode at the moment. There's a question of absolutely obstruction of justice.

You know, Don, I think it's worth remembering that we have carved in stone in our buildings in Washington around the country equal justice under the law. And whether you're a kid in hop or watch accused of dealing dope or stealing hub caps, a President of the United States is supposed to equal justice under the law.

What President Trump is trying to do is get unequal justice for himself. He wants to kill off this Russian investigation and that's the reason he fired Comey.

LEMON: Let's talk about some of this reporting then I'm going to go through because the New York Times has some good reporting but I also want to go through some of the reporting that -- quickly because you brought it up -- that my colleague John King says that he was -- he's been fuming that the people around him can't make this go away. They can't all just make this go away.

When you're the CEO of a company, you're the boss, you pick up the phone or, you know, call someone in your office, say make this go away.

RATHER: Right. LEMON: You can't do that when you're president of the United States.

RATHER: Well, particularly you can't do it with a system of justice and law enforcement. It doesn't work that way.

LEMON: Yes. OK.

RATHER: And if you're accused of some crime in your neighborhood, you can't call up the police chief even if you're the mayor and said, listen, I want this to stop, which is what Donald Trump is trying to do here.

[22:20:05] LEMON: So he said he's mad at Sessions, that Sessions recused himself, he said he was really mad, mad at his lawyer, mad at the staff, mad at us guys on television, mad at the committees, bad at Comey. He's mad and frustrated at everyone.

RATHER: Again, echoes of Richard Nixon who got mad at everybody. He was mad at everybody, thought everybody was against him.

LEMON: Yes. Here's the New York Times reporting. It says, "After President Trump accused his predecessor in March of wiretapping him, James B. Comey, the FBI Director was flabbergasted. The president Mr. Comey told executives was outside the realm of normal, even crazy. OK. That's what Comey said. For his part, Mr. Trump fumed when Mr. Comey publicly dismissed the sensational wiretapping claim. In the weeks that followed, he grew angrier and became -- and began talking about firing Mr. Comey. After stewing last weekend while watching Sunday talk shows at his New Jersey golf resort, Mr. Trump decided it was time. There was something wrong with Mr. Comey, he told aides." So thinking he must go. What do you make of that?

RATHER: What I make of it, it tells you a lot about who Donald Trump is as a leader. Ideally, a leader is steady and reliable and he lets a lot of things just sort of roll off his back and roll with it.

And the main thing that a leader, particularly a President of the United States has to do, what's best for the country? And what President Trump is doing is what's best for President Trump and that is to lead a cover-up of whatever happened and didn't happen with the Russians in the campaign.

And with FBI Director Comey, when he asked for more resources to increase and speed up the investigation into what the Russians did when they did it, how they did it and what President Trump and his associates knew, when he asked for those extra resources, he became what the mafia would call metaphorically a walking corpse.

LEMON: Right.

RATHER: He was dead, his directorship was dead from that moment on.

LEMON: This is -- you mentioned Nixon, you said it was Nixonian, right, am I correct that you said that?

RATHER: Right. LEMON: Because people are making the comparisons to Nixon's Saturday night massacre, this was back in 1973. You covered that and you asked President Nixon the first question at a presser just days after that. Let's look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: Can you tell us what goes through your mind when you hear people love this country and people who believe in you say reluctantly that perhaps you should resign or be impeached?

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm glad we don't take the vote of this room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He said...

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER: Well, the Saturday night massacre for people who weren't alive during that time or whose memories have faded, a special prosecutor had been appointed to find out what the facts were on all these allegations about this widespread criminal conspiracy known as Watergate.

President Nixon knew that the -- they were closing in on him so he sought to fire the special prosecutor.

LEMON: Archibald Cox.

RATHER: And that's the reason it echoes now and two members of the -- high ranking members of the Justice Department resigned rather than to carry out his orders to fire them.

In this case, the head of the Justice Department, Mr. Sessions who had, by the way, you note this, we all do, had recused himself because he had met at least once with a Russian representative during the campaign.

So Sessions, quote, "recused himself," but when it came to firing Comey, he stepped back in. Very strange and very troubling.

LEMON: While we're on the Nixon, what did you make of seeing Henry Kissinger in the White House today?

RATHER: Well, it was odd, say the least. First of all, it was a very strange day. All of these accusations and all of this confusion and cover-up style going on around the Comey administration. The president meets with a well-known Russian representative and then he meets with Henry Kissinger.

You would have thought somebody at the very least in the White House, you know, the optics of that are bad, we don't need a reminder of the Nixon administration on a day when many people, Don Lemon and Dan Rather, are making these comparisons. But somebody in there is not thinking very well, and it all begins with the president.

LEMON: Always a pleasure.

RATHER: My pleasure, Don. Thanks.

LEMON: Thank you so much.

When we come back, where does Comey's dismissal leave the Russia investigation and will there now be an independent investigation?

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let's get more insight into this now and the wake of the firing of James Comey, democrats in Congress doubling down on calls for a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation.

Republican leaders not really onboard with that. So let's bring in now Nick Akerman, he's a former assistant special Watergate prosecutor, Robert Ray, the former White House or Whitewater, I should say, independent counsel and special prosecutor. It's great to have both of you on to give us insight into this.

ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER PROSECUTOR: Thanks.

LEMON: Given your ties, Nick, first of all, good evening to both of you, about Watergate, do you think this is as Nixonian as has been said so much?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: It's Nixonian to the point Trump fired somebody who is in charge of investigation that's directed at him, it's somebody who's investigating him. In terms of kind of comparing this to Watergate, there's a lot of differences but certainly the big one that is right on the mark is that he fired somebody who is conducting an investigation that could eventually lead to Donald Trump.

LEMON: You say this is not Watergate.

RAY: Well, unless you can prove some kind of cause and effect, the president has the absolute right and nobody's contesting his absolute right to remove the FBI director. He doesn't have to have a reason. In fact, even former Director Comey acknowledged that today. So.

LEMON: But it is unusual.

RAY: It's unusual and it was intended to be unusual because Congress in the wake of, you know, the end of the J. Edgar Hoover tenure intended that it would be a term of 10 years that would, therefore, stretch over at least one presidency in the ordinary course.

LEMON: So to not know that this would be a big deal or would be just politically naive.

[22:29:59] AKERMAN: It's really the timing. Look, Director Comey should have gone. He should have been fired in July of 2016 when he got out there and started speculating and talking about Hillary Clinton investigation.

But the fact of the matter is to suddenly come up with this pretext excuse to fire Comey now when Donald Trump previously made a zillion statements about how much he admired Comey, how much he thought Comey was doing the right thing in terms of what he did with Hillary Clinton both in July and then in October.

I mean, hypocrisy here just cries out that the only reason for firing Comey at this point was because he didn't want him to do what Comey did to Hillary Clinton, that is to reveal the investigation and the facts.

ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER PROSECUTOR: Well, there's plenty of hypocrisy on both sides. As you suggested earlier, the democrats doubling down on this, it's coming from a rather odd place.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Yes.

RAY: I think everybody can acknowledge that. I mean, the point is we're going to need a fresh start here. It's a personnel decision. The president has the right to have an FBI director that he has confidence in. He doesn't have to have a reason, pre-textual or otherwise. He made the decision so we move on.

LEMON: Do you agree he should have gone back in July?

RAY: Well, that's entirely for the president to decide. I think -- I do think this, and I think you said this a couple of segments ago, once you, as a Justice Department official, travel outside of your lane, and I think there were understandable reasons why Jim Comey felt he had to travel outside of his lane back in July and October of last year, you obviously put yourself in a position where somebody from another administration, a different party, wonders whether or not you might travel outside your lane as to them.

LEMON: OK.

RAY: So that's a fair point.

LEMON: Have you guys here because I want to talk about where this investigation is. OK. And where it stands right now. Because yesterday just hours before the president fired Director Comey, CNN learned that federal prosecutors had issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. What does that tell you, if anything, about the state of the current investigation?

AKERMAN: Well, what it means is there's a grand jury that they've convened, that the grand jury is looking at this, that they're actively investigating it. They're outside of the scope of just going in and interviewing people and talking to people.

They're actually using the subpoena power of the grand jury to get documents. Just a normal way you would start an investigation. It means that there is a real investigation going on into the Russian influence in the American election. RAY: The point is, though, that's the start of an investigation,

that's what it signals to me and that's what you would expect in any serious investigation to be doing. You would be issuing subpoenas.

LEMON: Yes.

RAY: You also if you were the FBI director would be calling for more resources and people.

LEMON: Well, that's what I want to ask you about.

RAY: That would be done in the ordinary courts. That's nothing unusual about that.

LEMON: We learned this week -- last week that last week Comey wanted more resources for this investigation. More people. More resources. Does that make the timing even more questionable?

RAY: No, I mean, I think, again, it -- I mean, I get everybody can say, well, the timing is suspicious, but I mean, absent some sort of cause and effect, you can speculate all you want about, gee, so Jim Comey was asking for more resources, that's why the president fired him. I think that's entirely speculation.

AKERMAN: Yes. But you take it of the whole context of everything else that's come up in the course of this, it's not just the investigation starting this week, it's not just what Comey said. It's also the fact that the process that went on here.

Deputy attorney general comes on, in two weeks they have him write up a memo that I would agree with 100 percent, by the way, what Comey did wrong, but then they use that, they take what he wrote and Sessions who's supposedly been recused from this whole investigation recommends to Donald Trump that Trump fire him and then Trump writes a letter firing him thanking Comey for telling him three times that he wasn't under investigation.

LEMON: Is that inappropriate?

AKERMAN: Yes. Totally inappropriate. I mean, I'd like to know what it was that Comey said to Donald Trump, what Donald Trump said to Comey. I mean, to me, no one has really gotten to the bottom of this. To me, that raises all kinds of questions about this investigation and what the real motive was behind it.

Look, there are enough facts on the table that one could reasonably conclude that Donald Trump did this for the sole purpose of making sure that no investigation ever came close to fingering him and that is why I think he fired Comey.

LEMON: I want to get this in before we run out of time. This was Flynn's attorney released a statement, this was back in March. He said, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit. No reasonable person who has a benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution." That was Robert Kelner, whose Flynn's attorney.

RAY: Exactly what a criminal defense lawyer would be, should be doing.

LEMON: Do you think there's a chance he'll be granted immunity?

RAY: I think it's unlikely and it certainly won't be done early on in an investigation and everybody understands the consequences of granting immunity early.

[22:35:00] The consequences of granting immunity early is that you can't prosecute him and you may end up impairing any further criminal investigation to get to the bottom of this. So that's something that's going to be very reluctantly done if at all.

LEMON: Before I let you go...

(CROSSTALK)

AKERMAN: And more importantly, I mean, you want to actually get your ducks in a row. That is get all the facts you can.

LEMON: Should he be granted immunity?

AKERMAN: Maybe at some point he should, but not at this point. I mean, I totally agree that what you really want to do is do more of your investigation to determine what he can say and so that he can't get in there and lie and put you in a position where you grant him immunity and you really don't get anything.

LEMON: Because you said some of this shows by asking for subpoenas and all is that it's early on in the investigation. We heard people say...

RAY: Right.

LEMON: ... there's been no evidence, there's been no evidence. Is it too early now to come to that conclusion because it is still being investigated.

RAY: The one thing you can say, the president is right about the fact about one thing, and that's -- that there is not at the moment any credible evidence to indicate collusion and more importantly it would have to show that it extended into the higher reaches of the Trump campaign. Now, that's why you have an investigation to try to figure out whether or not any of that is there.

LEMON: Quick.

AKERMAN: We don't know that. I mean, that's the whole fact. We don't know. There is a lot of classified information that we are not privy to that others are and we'll just have to wait and see it.

RAY: But it distinguishes it from Watergate. I mean, this is clearly not a situation where you've got evidence of obstruction of justice. LEMON: Thank you very much. When we come back, FBI reaction to the

firing of James Comey. I'm going to speak with people who know what's going on inside the bureau.

[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Shockwaves over the firing of James Comey spread from the White House across the country. But what about the men and women inside the FBI?

Let's discuss now. Chris Swecker, is a former FBI assistant director for the criminal investigative division, and former FBI agent, Stuart Kaplan. Also CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd.

Gentlemen, good evening. I can't wait for this conversation. Chris, I'm going to start with you. Because you served under William Sessions when he was fired 25 years ago, the only other FBI director who was fired and that's the only other time in U.S. history, by the way, that the president has fired the director of the FBI. What does it take to fire, to have a director fired?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, I always thought that 10- year term was a little bit stronger and I thought that Congress intended to take politics out of the FBI director position, but my sense is you have to have cause. I really don't think it's an at-will position. I think you have to have pretty solid cause to fire an FBI director. And, you know, that -- in this case, I'll jump out on a limb here and say I think he had cause.

LEMON: You do? Why?

SWECKER: Well, I mean, we know -- we all know what the policies and procedures are between the FBI and the Department of Justice, and he sort of turned it on its head. He took over the role of prosecutor and investigative agency and he would never allow that when he was the deputy attorney general. He actually occupied the position of the person that wrote the memo about him, and he knows -- he knows the rules of the game and he deviated three or four times and agents and prosecutors know that.

LEMON: Phil, you think he had cause?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, I don't. I mean, Chris has more experience in this than I do, but let's be clear, there's a difference between what happened with the FBI director over the last 10 months. I completely agree with Chris. I served four and a half years at the bureau.

What the director did and among my friends, I have a lot of bureau friends, we all looked at this and said not only is this odd, it's completely inappropriate. But the problem we have here is the core of an investigation is a political center that we call the White House.

The investigative center has decided that the people who are conducting the investigation have to be removed. I don't know how you can argue that the FBI director shouldn't be politicized ever regardless of whether he's made mistakes and then say it's appropriate for the politicians who are the subject of an investigation to be the appropriate ones to remove a director. I don't get it. I think he made mistakes. I don't think it's appropriate at all for the president and the target of the investigation, one of the targets, to remove him.

LEMON: Stuart?

STUART KAPLAN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: He bucked the system, Don. I had met with some of my former colleagues today, Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Robert Hansen investigation, the Cobourg tower, 9/11, you name it, the most notorious organized crime investigations.

Could anybody recall who the director was during those investigations? I say not. If you stop the average person on the street now and ask them who was the recent director of the FBI? Everybody is going to know it was James Comey.

He took a position, he bucked the system, as my colleague said, he took the role of the attorney general. Loretta Lynch was not there. It should have been her day if she wanted to talk about the investigation. It was incumbent upon her. You don't have an FBI director discussing an ongoing investigation. It's never -- it never has happened and it should not have happened.

LEMON: OK. That's what you guys say. I want you to listen tonight, this is General Michael Hayden. He spoke with my colleague, Anderson Cooper, about Comey's firing. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: My international network has kind of checked in with you guys are going to be OK, right? And so I was just trying to describe that this kind of behavior is not normally associated with a mature western democracy. It's associated with autocratic populist states.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you actually feel that could be the future, and that's where we're heading?

HAYDEN: Look, I lived enough in the world, America has sent me to places, usually places that weren't happy at the moment and I have seen how thin that the near of civilization really is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Phil, this is coming from a man who's a former four-star air force general, NSA director and a CIA director. What's your reaction?

MUDD: Well, look, I can understand, I worked for General Hayden. I can understand why he's uncomfortable, but let's be clear about this. The FBI does counterterrorism, they do white collar investigations, they do gang investigations and one of the things they do, in this case, is counterintelligence that might reach political circles.

[22:45:01] If anybody thinks that because there's political turmoil at the top of the FBI, investigators and analysts on this case won't proceed tomorrow as they did yesterday, they're nuts. I don't care if we identify a special prosecutor or special counsel, those individuals at the bureau agency and analysts will do the same thing, so regardless of the turmoil that's caused by the president, it's not just this case.

It's what happened when he accused the former president of wiretapping. It's what happened when he accuses judges of malfeasance. Regardless of that, below that, there is a bureaucracy in this republic of ours that will continue and if there's a fact to find that indicates the White House was involved, Don, they'll find it.

KAPLAN: I agree, Don.

LEMON: So, listen, I want to ask you, because the concern is, or was, that he was fired, didn't know about it, he was out of town and, Chris, they're wondering, where are those files, what happens to the information Comey has? Is that information secure? Is it going to be turned over to the White House? Are they going to follow-up on that information as they were before he was fired?

SWECKER: Yes, they're not in Comey's office. Those files are in the electronic system of the FBI. They're in the hands of the agents conducting the investigations and the supervisors and the assistant special agents in charge and the people in the trenches.

And Phil is right. This investigation is going to go on. I really think that the firing actually enhances and expands the investigation because whoever sits in that chair as director is going to get a blistering confirmation process and this is all out in the sunlight.

And I think there's even more focus on this than there ever was and agents will continue to work. And there's just no way that this case gets swept under the rug. It's not going to happen.

LEMON: Stuart, I want to ask you, because the former Attorney General Eric Holder showed his support for the men and women of the FBI and Department of Justice and he tweeted this. He said, "To the career men and women at DOJ, FBI, you know what the job entails and how to do it. Be strong and unafraid. Duty. Honor. Country."

Do you think this firing, in the end, is going to backfire for the president?

KAPLAN: It's -- I don't know if it's going to backfire for the president but I can tell you that the men and women got up today, they executed search warrants, they executed arrest warrants, they did surveillances, they ran leads down. They didn't miss -- you know, nothing changed for the men and women when they got up this morning. They did their job as they have sworn to do.

In fact, if anything, I think it's going to reinforce the brick agents on the ground to be more diligent and more vigilant in following out whatever leads there are and certainly in connection with any of the ongoing investigations, whether it's the Russian investigation, whether it's the Clinton Foundation, et cetera, et cetera. Let me just also touch upon something, Don. I came out of the New York

office and I can tell you that the New York office is kind of an island to itself and there are investigations that are running out New York...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I got to go, Stuart, quickly.

KAPLAN: OK. Well, I will just tell you, I think that the president may have made a federal mistake with respect to firing this director. This is a man of great integrity. While he made a mistake, he's human. It could be worse.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

When we come back, what Vladimir Putin said about the firing of James Comey.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Vladimir Putin laughed off questions about the firing of James Comey today. The Russian president speaking to CBS while dressed in full hockey gear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Your question looks very funny to me. You can't be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President is acting in accordance with his confidents and in accordance with the law and Constitution. And what about us, why me? You see I'm going to play hockey with the hockey fans and I invite you to do the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Joining me now is Max Boot, the senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Invisible Armies," and CNN national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennessey.

I think it's -- how bizarre is this interview. Anyway, let's move on now. Vladimir Putin says the questions were very funny, Max, as you saw in that video and then the Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov latched of reporters with asked about the meeting with Secretary Tillerson. Is this a joke to the Russians do you think.

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think they are trolling over it that they have managed to screw up our political system basically. I mean, this is all a direct result of the Russian interference in the election last year which got Donald Trump elected in which may not have resulted in 100 percent pro-Russian policy across the board. For which certainly caused so much upheaval and consternation and chaos that yes the Russians are benefitting from it.

So this is, I mean, and you know, you put your finger on it when you said this is surreal. I mean, the whole -- I think this is nuts. We've never had a president investigated for collusion with a hostile foreign power. We've never had that president fired the FBI director who was investigating him and we've never had this bizarre scenes with Russian president and the foreign minister laughing about it on that same day. I mean, this is off the chart it's crazy.

LEMON: Susan, if you talk to the White House you listen to the president they say there is no investigation that Comey told them three times that he wasn't being investigated.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: That doesn't really make any sense. The notion that Comey would tell somebody was under investigation that he was under investigation that breaches sort of fundamental law enforcement norms. We're already we're seeing from individuals with knowledge of that actually is not accurate.

So the notion that the president would include that in the letter in the first place is incredible strange. The notion that he would actually lie about it, even stranger. Consequently he might have actually waved executive privilege which will now allow Director Comey to talk about those conversations when he might not have been able to do before.

LEMON: Well, they don't see it as scandal, and you say, what do you say of this scandal that they don't see as a scandal.

HENNESSEY: Yes. So firing the FBI director, you know, the White House continues to act this as this is sort of an ordinary personnel move just that Trump didn't like hi and so he fired him. The FBI director has 10-year terms in order to insulate him from exactly this kind of political whim and interference.

[22:54:55] And so, the -- what the White House is sort trying to full a past on everyone this is a profoundly consequential and profoundly dangerous moment for the United States.

LEMON: Max, you say, here's what you said. You said, "President Trump has consistently acted like a man with something to hide, the administration saying nothing to see here." Explain that.

BOOT: Well, that their claim is that this whole Kremlin gate scandal is a big nothing that there is nothing to it, and yet, every time it flares up Donald Trump flips out. And you saw this happen in early March when Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself because he's lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. And within two days Trump was putting forward this cockamamie theory about how Barack Obama had supposedly wiretapped him.

And now the scandal it's more than two months later, the scandal has not gone away, and Trump was flipping out again firing the FBI director. And what to me, it looks like a prima fascia case of obstruction of justice. Because the explanations as the White House has put there don't passed the laugh test.

I mean, does anybody really believe that fired Director Comey because he was too tough on quote, unquote, "crooked Hillary?" I mean, that's ridiculous. And in fact, all the reporting that we're seeing today suggests that Comey was fired because he was pursuing the Kremlin gate investigation. Well, if you get rid of the guy who's investigating you and your associates that is call obstruction of justice.

LEMON: Susan, you predicted this back in November, right, that President Trump would fire James Comey. There was a quote from Law Fair, we'll put your quote up, but I want your respond because we don't have much time.

You said, "For Trump to fire Comey would be a serious aberration." And then you go on to say at the end that Comey's independence that it would -- you feel that Comey's independence would strike a blow against an important check on modern, the modern presidency basically saying if he was fired. Do you still feel that way?

HENNESSEY: Yes. So I hadn't intended it to be a prediction so much on a worst case scenario a canary in a coal mine so that something was going really wrong. So this is a scenario in which the president of the United States has clear legal authority to do something.

LEMON: Yes.

HENNESSEY: However, there's a huge norm of an independent Department of Justice that presidents ordinarily don't breach, so it's the perfect storm and a real indication that President Trump is trampling over sort of really fundamentally important people that protect the rule of law.

LEMON: That's going to have to be the last word. Thanks to both of you. I appreciate that.

BOOT: Thank you.

LEMON: Our live coverage of today's news continues in just a moment with Jake Tapper in Washington.

[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)