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Trump Contradicts White House Explanation of Comey Firing. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[19:59:54] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening from Washington, D.C., where the president just made news on virtually every controversy facing him and might have stoked the flames on some of them, you can decide for yourself.

He sat down with NBC's "Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt. We're going to bring you extensive portions of that interview. But we'll start with one important exchange about Russia collusion probe which the president calls a charade, specifically the FBI investigation and the president's answer which suggest he's not entirely sure there even is one.



LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: There is an investigation underway, though, an FBI investigation. Is that a charade?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know if it's an FBI or if it's -- there's so many investigations. I don't know if it's an FBI investigation or if it's Congress, if it's the Senate and the House --

HOLT: Well, James Comey testified there was an FBI investigation.

TRUMP: Well, yes, but I think they're also helping the House and the Senate. So, you probably have FBI. But you have House, you have Senate. They have other investigations.

HOLT: But when you --


COOPER: The president speaking with NBC'S Lester Holt, and know probably about it, the FBI is conducting investigation. In fact as Lester Holt said, Director Comey testified to it under oath before he was fired.

As we said, there's no shortage of news from this interview. It was a fascinating interview, we're going to bring you throughout the program tonight. Right now, another portion of the conversation and another headline -- the president exposing the White House story line about his firing of FBI Director James Comey, as well there is no other word for it, false. You're going to hear in this clip. He also said that Director Comey on three separate occasions did something that we've never seen him do, namely say the president himself is not under investigation as part of the FBI Russia probe.

As director, Mr. Comey also -- always refused to talk about it, yet the president now says he did no less than three times after being asked by the president which some have suggested could be construed as obstruction of justice, which as you'll recall ended Richard Nixon's presidency, yet this president did not even hesitate to reveal what could potentially be a toxic fact if true, he volunteered it.

At the same time, as you'll see a bit later, so far, we have no reason to believe that any of what the president claims happened with Director Comey actually happened. We have no independent corroboration. We did ask the White House for the evidence today, got no answer.

And this came on a day that also saw other White House claims about Director Comey the investigation called into question or flatly refuted by people in a position to know. Right now, the dissolving Comey story line. I want to play for you what the president said to Lester Holt, followed by the original White House talking points, followed by deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this afternoon, trying to reconcile the two.

So, here is the president.



TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat. He's a grandstander.

The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that.

You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil -- less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that.

HOLT: Monday you met with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came into your office (ph).

TRUMP: I -- I was going to fire Comey. I -- there's no good time to do it, by the way.

They --

HOLT: Because in your letter, you said --


TRUMP: They -- they were --

HOLT: -- I -- I accepted -- accepted their recommendations.

TRUMP: Yeah, well, they also --

HOLT: So, you had already made the decision.

TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

HOLT: So, there wasn't really --


TRUMP: They -- he made a recommendation. He's highly respected. Very good guy, very smart guy.

And the Democrats like him. The Republicans like him.

He had made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

HOLT: Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write: I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.

Why did you put that in there?

TRUMP: Because he told me that. I mean, he told me that.

HOLT: He told you, you weren't under investigation with --

TRUMP: Yeah, and I --

HOLT: -- regard to the Russian investigation.

TRUMP: --I've heard that -- I've heard that from others. I think --

HOLT: Was it in a phone call? Did you meet face to face?

TRUMP: I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House --

HOLT: He -- he asked --


TRUMP: -- very early on. That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.

And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens.

But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time, he told you are not under investigation --

HOLT: That was --

TRUMP: -- which I knew anyway.

HOLT: That was one meeting. When was the -- when was the other two?

TRUMP: First of all, when you're under investigation, you're giving all sorts of documents and everything. I knew I wasn't under. And I heard it was stated at the committee -- at some committee level that I wasn't, number one.

HOLT: So, that didn't come directly from him.

TRUMP: Then, during a phone call, he said it. And then, during another phone call he said it.

So, he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did -- did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case I called him and one case he called me.

HOLT: And did you ask am I under investigation?

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said if it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation. He said you are not under investigation.

HOLT: But he has given sworn testimony that there is ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. You were the center piece of the Trump campaign so was he being truthful when he says you weren't under investigation.

TRUMP: I know I'm not under investigation, me personally I'm not talking about campaigns I'm not talking about anything else. I'm not under investigation.


COOPER: A lot to unpack there, but you heard the president said say that'd been planning to fire James Comey for quite sometime and saying crucially that it was his idea to do it.

[20:05:04] Now, keeping them honest, as you know, that's not at all what his surrogates and spokespeople even the vice president had been have been saying. Listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When he brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed, President Trump provided the kind of strong and decisive leadership the American people have come to be accustomed from him and he took the action necessary to remove Director Comey.



PENCE: Brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed.

SANDERS: Accordingly, the president accepted --

CONWAY: The recommendation of his deputy attorney.

PENCE: He provided strong leadership to act on the recommendation of the attorney general.

CONWAY: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

PENCE: He brought that recommendation to the president. And I personally am grateful that we have a president who's willing to provide the kind of decisive and strong leadership to take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove an FBI director who had lost the confidence of the American people.


COOPER: It's easy added together because they're using exact same words. That were basically the same words.

That was the story until the president today contradicted that, his own vice president. It is in the words at the time of Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, no longer operative, which is something his modern day counterparts, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, could not bring herself to actually say.

Here's a portion of what she did say during the daily briefing this afternoon.


SANDERS: I know he sent out a time line regarding the former -- the firing of former Director Comey yesterday because there seemed to be some misperceptions about the meeting between the president and the attorney general and the deputy attorney general on Monday. But I'm going to read it to you all again just to make sure we're all on the same page, because I want the sequence of events to be perfectly clear to everyone. The president over the last several months lost confidence in Director

Comey. After watching Director Comey's testimony last Wednesday, the president was strongly inclined to remove him. On Monday, the president met with the attorney general and the deputy attorney general and they discussed reasons for removing the director.

The next day, Tuesday, May 9th, the deputy attorney general sent his written recommendation to the attorney general and the attorney general sent his written recommendation to the president. Hopefully, that clears up some of those things.

REPORTER: I asked you directly yesterday if the president already decided to fire James Comey when he met with the -- the deputy attorney general and attorney general. And you said no.

Also, the vice president of the United States said directly that the president acted to take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove the FBI director.

Sean Spicer said directly it was all him, meaning the deputy attorney general. Now, we learn from the president directly that he had already decided to fire James Comey.

So, why were so many people giving answer that is just weren't correct? Were you guys in the dark? Was the vice president misled again as happened with Mike Flynn --

SANDERS: I know you love to report that we were misled and we want to create --


SANDERS: Hold on, Jonathan. You had -- I let you finish and read off every single one of those statements, so unless you want to trade places, I think it's my turn now.

I think it's pretty simple, I hadn't had a chance to have the conversation directly with the president to say -- I'd had several conversations with him but I didn't ask that question directly, had you already made that decision? I went off the information I had when I answered your question. I've since had the conversation with him right before I walked on today.

And he laid it out very clearly -- he had already made that decision. He'd been thinking about it for months which I did say yesterday and have said many times since. And Wednesday I think was the final straw that pushed him and the recommendation that he got from the deputy attorney general just further solidified his decision, and again I think reaffirmed that he made the right one.

REPORTER: Was the vice president in the dark, too? It's important, was the vice president in the dark, too?

SANDERS: Nobody was in the dark, Jonathan. You want to create this false narrative.


COOPER: Let's bring in the panel: Gloria Borger, David Chalian, David Gregory, and April Ryan. Also, Paul Begala, Jack Kingston, Kirsten Powers, and Ken Cuccinelli.

Gloria, I mean, it's interesting, because it isn't just Sarah Huckabee Sanders who -- whether you use the term in the dark or was informed, or didn't have all the facts, I mean, it was the vice president of the United States. It was Kellyanne Conway. It was Sean Spicer.

They all had marching orders. They all had the words to use that were clearly handed out as talking points. They just were not the real words.


COOPER: They weren't true.

BORGER: They were not true.

You have somebody from the podium, you know, talking to reporters, giving a tick-tock that had clearly been thought out, and had it on a piece of paper. This is -- this is what happened. And it didn't happen that way. And nobody shared it with her and she was going to go out and talk to the American public. Forget us -- talk to the American people.

COOPER: It was the vice president saying the same thing.

BORGER: The vice president had the same talking points.

[20:10:01] We have to believe that the vice president knew that the president was unhappy with Comey. I have to believe that he was not in the dark on this. I don't think so.

But they all went out there. And they gave the talking points about how this was -- you know, Rod Rosenstein. And now it turns out the president threw everyone under bus, as is his want very often and said, by the way, I wanted to do it all along.

I don't know if he meant to do that today to Lester Holt. But he sure did.

COOPER: David Chalian, I mean, some people suggested, I've seen on air, that, you know, these two ideas are not, you know, mutually exclusive that, OK, yes, the president had a long-term decision but he did wait until getting this thing. Does that jive with what his spokespeople were saying?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, no. I mean, yes, you can hold two different thoughts about this at the same time about critiquing Comey's performance and having concerns about the timing and the circumstances in the way in which he was fired. There's no doubt about that.

But to Gloria's point, the president of the United States put his people out there to speak to the American people on his behalf without the story, without the full story with false information. And so, he is undermining the people that are supposed to be speaking to the country on his behalf. That's a huge problem.

And by the way, in that clip you played of the Lester Holt interview, he's prepared to do it again. Listen to how he separates himself from his campaign, about when he says that the Russia investigation -- I can't -- I'm not talking about the campaigns. I'm not under investigation.

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: Well, if -- if it comes to be that his campaign that there was some inappropriate contact with Russians with people in his campaign, you just saw the clip, he is so ready to throw those folks under the bus and take no responsibility for that.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, they conceive at the nation they were in the dark. So, maybe they deliberately misled the American people, or they had no idea what they're doing, or maybe it's both.

The problem when you lose credibility when you're leading the country is you don't know what to believe. The president has said things that are untrue. His officials working for him and for the American people say things that are untrue. So, we don't know what to believe.

And, by the way, Rosenstein, who is deputy attorney general, why was he asked to do this investigation? Nobody is answering this question. Why was he two weeks on the job asked to go and evaluate Comey's performance when the inspector general of the Department of Justice is already doing that? Haven't heard of an answer to that --


COOPER: April, you were in the room today and we'll go -- go ahead.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I was in the room today. And it was fraught with a lot of questions and not many answers. And the problem is, as David said, the issue of credibility is -- is there, it's the elephant in the room.

And the problem is, this president and some officials have been the boy and girl who cried wolf, and how many times have they done that, and you want to figure out what to believe.

And I'm going to say this: Monday, Sean Spicer after we heard Clapper and Yates talking, giving testimony, Sean Spicer talked about the fact that it's time for this Russia investigation to come to an end. And now, today, we're hearing, oh, it should -- it should continue. It should continue.

But what some critics are saying is the fact that this report from the deputy attorney general gave this president cover to walk away from Comey and say, goodbye, which he should have done at the very beginning what they said he wanted to do. COOPER: Jack Kingston?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let me say this -- I think it's in the eye of the beholder. And I'll tell you why. Number, it's his call.

RYAN: Truth is truth.

KINGSTON: It's his call. He is the president of the United States.

RYAN: But truth is truth.

KINGSTON: He can handle his personnel the way he wants to. I know, having been in management, firing somebody is never easy. We've all been in that situation where there is a timing issues and there's --

COOPER: But did his spokes people say one thing that was not true and the president contradicted.

KINGSTON: Well, then, I want to get to the second point, which is more subjective. If you're a critic of Donald Trump, you're going to say, listen, this time line doesn't match up. But I believe you could say, you know what, he did want to fire him from the beginning. He actually said so in a "60 Minutes" interview right very first interview. He did say it.

RYAN: Why didn't he? That's the issue.

KINGSTON: Because as he said and I certainly know you will agree, there is no good timing on this, because the investigation has been going on.

RYAN: He could have taken the recommends and waited until after the Russia investigation.

KINGSTON: Let me explain the time on this about -- I think that the recommendation of the deputy A.G. really was probably the icing on the cake, maybe the -- the thing that put it over the line or framed it up. But the decision probably was almost there.

COOPER: Right. But that's not what was said repeated by the vice president or his surrogate.

KINGSTON: But I think his recommendation still was, hey, look, he's laid it out. If he had said, don't do this, I think it could have swayed the needle in a different direction.

RYAN: I think it's very ugly right now.

KINGSTON: Unless you're a Trump supporter and then --

COOPER: Paul, quickly, and then we go to break.


KINGSTON: The reason way why I say that is critics of Trump are always looking for something to jump on and this was --

RYAN: I am reporter who's covered four presidents now and seen the inner working. Optics are everything. The optics are very ugly with this. I'm sorry, you can be Republican, you can be Democrats.

KINGSTON: The optics --

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: They're not everything. They're important. Substance is more important than optics. He got the decision right and he did the wrong way.

[20:15:02] RYAN: Right.

GREGORY: Gosh, if only someone said this two day ago. Wait a minute --


RYAN: We have been saying it.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The substance of the deputy attorney general's memo was that Comey should be fired because he was so mean to Hillary. I happen to agree with that. But the notion that Donald Trump believes that is preposterous. He fired Comey because of Russia. That is what --


COOPER: We got to take a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Testimony under oath --.


COOPER: We're going to continue this discussion, I promise, when we come right back.

Also coming up next, the president is described as white hot and raging and yelling at the TV about James Comey. You'll hear what the president himself says his reaction was at being publicly contradicted by the man he fired.

Later, reaction from the one of the lawmakers investigating him, Senate Intelligence Committee Member Angus King joins us tonight on 360.


COOPER: Talking tonight and covering the president's wide-ranging interview with NBC's Lester Holt. In it, he revealed that the story we have been hearing out of the White House about the firing of James Comey was not the real story, that he had been thinking quite a while about giving the FBI director the boot and would have done it regardless of the deputy attorney general's report, which surrogates, including the vice president have been stating as the rationale. The president made other news as well. He spoke more about Director

Comey and as you'll see, he did perpetuate another White House storyline, continuing to characterize fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates' warning about Michael Flynn as no big deal. It's all contained in this next clip.

Take a look.


HOLT: Were you angry with James Comey when he went public and said he can't support your unsubstantiated charges of wiretapping -- that your -- your predecessor wiretapped you?

TRUMP: I was surprised he said it, but I wasn't angry. There's a big thing going on right now which is spying. And it's -- you can scroll to anything you want.

The unmasking and the spying. And to me, that's the big story right now. That's a very, very big story.

HOLT: You didn't take that as a sign that this loyalty that he came out and contradicted you?


TRUMP: No, I didn't -- I didn't -- I don't think of it as loyalty. I mean, I want whoever the director is, I want him to do the right thing.

HOLT: And what about when he went public and said that there was in fact an FBI investigation looking at your campaign and Russia? Did that anger you?

I -- I ask that because --

TRUMP: Well, I -- I -- you know I have that --

HOLT: -- there's a -- a sense that you --

TRUMP: -- I have that --

HOLT: -- that there was a building anger.

TRUMP: No, no, no. I -- I know every once in a while, you'll see that in the newspaper, anger, somebody will report or they'll have false sources that maybe don't exist because of the media -- the way the media is. No.

I will tell you, I think that -- I want very simply a great FBI director.

HOLT: And will you expect if they would -- they would continue on with this investigation --

TRUMP: Oh, yes, sure. I expect that. HOLT: General Flynn is a part of this investigation as you know. Sally Yates recently testified that the White House was notified that he had been compromised. He was at risk of --


HOLT: -- of being blackmailed.

It was 18 days later that he was finally fired.

During that 18 days, he had access, I assume, to all the nation's top secrets. One day you meet on the issue of Comey --

TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: -- and you fire him in a humiliating way, while he's sitting in a room with his colleagues and it's appearing on the TV.

TRUMP: Because my White House counsel Don McGahn came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any -- he didn't make it sound like he was, you know -- and she actually didn't make it sound that way, either in the hearings the other day. Like it had to be done immediately.

This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's a, in my opinion, a very good person.

I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general. Now --

HOLT: She's the acting attorney general at the time.

TRUMP: My White House counsel came to me. They had, I believe, two meetings. And we ultimately fired -- but we fired for a different reason.

HOLT: You're talking about General Flynn?

TRUMP: General Flynn, yes.

HOLT: Because -- because of lying to the vice president.

TRUMP: Yes, but everything plays in -- everything plays into it. But we fired him because he said something to the vice president that was not so.

HOLT: Did you know that he had had -- that received payments from the Russian government? That he had --


HOLT: -- received payments from the Turkish government?

TRUMP: No, but Obama perhaps knew because he had clearance from the Obama administration. And his -- and -- and this is something they never want to report. He had clearance from the Obama administration, the highest clearance you can have. And I think it's a very unfair thing that the media doesn't talk about that.

You know, you're talking about 2015. I don't know that I knew him in 2015.


COOPER: Back now with the panel.

So, for days the White House has been pinning the decision to fire Comey on the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. I talked to Senator Lankford, Republican, yesterday on the program who actually met in the White House with the president yesterday and asked him face-to-face, about why Comey was fired and this is the explanation that the president gave Senator Lankford, a man who's on the Senate committee investigating.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And I did have a side by side time with the president just to be able oh ask him perm my question was the question I've had all along in the last 24 hours, why right now? Why this moment?

I understand there's been controversy about Director Comey that's been there for months. It depends on the week whether Republicans or Democrats like Director Comey or who hates him that week. So, the controversy everyone understands, why right now.

COOPER: Because one of the things you said the American people need clarity and deserve explanation for Comey's firing. Did you get clarity in the --

LANKFORD: I did. I did. He didn't hesitate at all. He said it was Rosenstein.


COOPER: So, he tells the senator who is on the committee investigating, that is Rosenstein. But now, he tells Lester Holt it wasn't Rosenstein.


My theory is that maybe that did play a role in his final decision. I don't think it was the ultimate reason because I don't think he would fire him over something that he did to Hillary Clinton. But -- maybe they decided this was going to be the story that would go out there and then he realized he wasn't getting credit for firing Comey.

And I think he wanted it -- he wanted to look decisive. And he then came out and start today contradict it because I don't think he felt that he looked as strong maybe as he wanted to look.

COOPER: Well, is it also possible that Rosenstein didn't like being the one named as the reason?

POWERS: Yes, it's possible --

BEGALA: I think that's the reason. I think they wanted to pin this on Mr. Clean (ph).

[20:25:02] Rosenstein has a well-deserved reputation for integrity and ethics, career prosecutor, to bring him in. And Democrats all Republicans all vote for. It's great.

They want to pin it on him. The problem is he didn't put up with it plenty of leaks that say he threatened to resign.

BORGER: He didn't resign.

BEGALA: Did he in fact threaten to resign?

BORGER: Well, he didn't resign though is what I'm saying.

BEGALA: Right. He threatened to resign but that's why they had to switch the story because the story was.


COOPER: He is denying that that.

But there were plenty of other stories offense upset or angry at the way --

GREGORY: But what we don't know --

POWERS: But it doesn't change the content of the memo. I mean, the content of the memo is the same. I mean, whether it was his intention for that to be the result of it.


COOPER: So for, Ken, for you is the problem just not they're not on the same -- there is disorganization in the White House and they don't have power to the quiz the president and get their story straight?

CUCCINELLI: Look, they do have the power to quiz him if they would do it hard enough. And I mean, they can be tougher than the media.

COOPER: Right.

CUCCINELLI: And they should be. It's like a murder board before you go in oral argument. It should be harder than the case, right? And that's not clearly what's happening here.

I said two nights ago, the management of this and the timing, all the process pieces were terribly mishandled. You all have been talking now about another one, which is the changing narrative. And that just goes to the original point.

This is a repeated problem. The management of the process is a repeated problem in the first four months.

GREGORY: But can we just talk about the mystery about Rosenstein, just to stick to that for a second, because there's things we don't know. I mean, I'm confused. I've asked people whether it's stene or stein.


GREGORY: Well, you know, for all we know -- look, he wrote the memo, he may have, in fact, recommended and, in fact, may believed that he should be fired and maybe be fired now. And he is a guy who's got great integrity, because he would he would have been among those certainly who are apolitical, who thought that Comey did a horrible job.

So, we don't know. We don't know whether the White House is telling the truth about whether they used him and sort of set him up in a way or if there was some combination. It would be great to hear from him.

But there are a number of things that are possible, including what would surprise me is if he thought that this was appropriate to fire him in the middle of the Russia investigation, which I cannot believe.


BORGER: I also want to know about Jeff Sessions. I want to know what Jeff Sessions' role was in all of this.

RYAN: As he is recused himself from the Russian --


GREGORY: Here we go again.

BORGER: You have an attorney general who said he wasn't going to do anything about Russia. Now, you're going to say this isn't about Russia. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders today when she entered the press conference said, well, this should get us a closer to the solution of the Russia problem.


KINGSTON: You know what -- this is a double gift to the Democrats. They got rid of somebody they wanted fired for a long time and now, they get to complaint about it. This is -- this is absolutely, it's come early. This feigned indignation about Democrats -- everybody knew the guy was a loose canon. He is a political pretzel. He is a media gadfly. He should an unknown name.

You can't name five -- I mean, this channel you can't.

GREGORY: It's actually insulting to reduce all of this to pure politics.

RYAN: It's true. GREGORY: I guarantee you, when the history of this is written years

from now, this notion of like Democratic hypocrisy, Republican hypocrisy is not going to matter. I'm sorry what matters is the notion of running roughshod over our institutions.

I disagree with Ken, he and I found this agreement. I think that is a matter of substance, it is inappropriate to fire the FBI director in the middle of a major investigation on Russia. There may be other investigations. This is the big one and it's faced in direction of the White House.


KINGSTON: But let me say this I think, as somebody's been --


BEGALA: The Russians are hacking to election to tilt it for Trump.


KINGSTON: And there is 150 agents -- there is 150 agents who are investigating this case. Now, getting rid of this guy is not stopping that investigation and anybody that -- just let me finish this.

I do believe that the head of the FBI should not be a public figure who runs out to the media every -- every few weeks and tells the newspaper he needs to be quiet. He needs to be behind the scenes. He needs to be above the fray. He entered into the political theater.

RYAN: I would like to talk about partisan politics and reporters, your disdain for reporters. I want to go to something that I talked to Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state -- Republican secretary of state, today.

The president today said something to the effect that he doesn't believe there is a problem with Russia. He didn't do anything with Russia. Former secretary of state, Republican former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, told me today, she believes in the intelligence community. And she says this investigation needs to continue. They need to get to the bottom of it, your own Republican.


KINGSTON: A lot of Republicans believe that.

COOPER: The president said that in the interview.


CUCCINELLI: All right, but you don't believe anything he says.

BEGALA: Because he fired the --


CUCCINELLI: Today which heard under oath from the acting director of the FBI --

RYAN: I am going by what he is saying. Don't put words in my mouth.

KINGSTON: Here is the question; but at what point -- at what point did the Democrats say, you know, we admit there's no evidence of collusion, none whatsoever and that's what we hear from -

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: -- what the investigation is for at the end of these investigations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think to some, it's about --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You hear alarm bells going off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say there should be an investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: you hear alarm bells going off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not about collusion. None whatsoever.


KENNETH CUCCINELLI, PRESIDENT SENATE CONSERVATIVE FUND: The acting director of the FBI, no Trump fan, as you could tell if you watched his testimony today. There were several dings that hit Trump coming from McCabe today. He said very clearly the exact same thing I said two days ago to some people here that the investigations would continue a pace without a moment's hesitation thanks to the professionals in the FBN. That is exactly what the Democrat leaning acting director of the FBI said under oath today.


COOPER: He won't be there for very long. He will be replaced. But I think your point is well taken. He said --


COOPER: We got to take a break. More on the new interview with Pres. Trump had. Also get reaction from the Sen. Angus King from the Senate Intelligence Committee.


[20:35:08] COOPER: As we reported in a new interview with Lester Holt, Pres. Trump repeated the claim that FBI Director James Comey told him three times he was not under investigation. We don't know if that's true. In fact, Comey's associates are quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, "That didn't happen. It would never happen." One associate called the quote "literally farcical."

Lester Holt pressed the president on his claim. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: He's given sworn testimony that there is an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) U.S. PRESIDENT: All I can tell you, I know that I'm not under investigation, me, personally. I'm not talking about campaigns. I'm not talking about anything else. I'm not under investigation.

HOLT: Did you ask him to drop the investigation?

TRUMP: No. Never.

HOLT: Did anyone from the White House --

TRUMP: In fact, I want the investigation speeded up.

HOLT: Did anyone from the White House ask him to end the investigation?

TRUMP: No. No. Why would they do that?

HOLT: Any surrogates on behalf of the White House?

TRUMP: Not that I know of. Look, I want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with Russia or, by the way, anybody else, any other country. And, I want that to be so strong and so good and I want it to happen. I also want to have a really competent capable director. He's not. He's a showboater. He's not my man or not my man. I didn't appoint him. He was appointed long before me. But I want somebody who is going to do a great job. And I will tell you, we're looking at candidates right now who could be spectacular. And that's what I want for the FBI.

HOLT: What you said a moment ago about supporting the idea of the investigation, a lot of people would find it hard to believe that the man who just said that tweeted very recently, it's a total hoax, a taxpayer charade.

TRUMP: I think that looking into me and the campaign, look, I have nothing to do -- this was set up by the Democrats. There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians. The other thing is the Russians did not affect the vote. And everybody seems to think that.

HOLT: There is an investigation under way, though an FBI investigation. Is that a charade?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know if it's an FBI or -- there's so many investigations, I don't know if it's an FBI investigation or if it's a Congress, if it's the Senate.

HOLT: Well, James Comey testified there was an FBI investigation.

TRUMP: Well, yeah. But I think they're also helping the House and the Senate. So you probably have FBI, but you have House, you have Senate, they have other investigations.


COOPER: Joining us now, Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Thanks for being with us.

You hear the president talking to Lester Holt, I mean unable to simply say, yes, there is an FBI investigation going on, he sort of hedging on that. What do you make of the changing narrative from this White House that the surrogate is saying one thing on Tuesday, that it was Rosenstein and now it's --

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's troubling because the assertion -- and I just brought the letter with me. The firing was based, he says, I have this memo from the deputy attorney general and the attorney general recommending your dismissal. I've accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated. That's what the letter says, very short three paragraph letter. And that was the story for 24 hours. And then it started to unravel so we got another story that Comey was a grandstander and the FBI was in turmoil, and today we had testimony from the acting director and also hearing from FBI people that's not true. Comey was very well respected in the FBI.

COOPER: The acting director also when against the idea that morale is very low and that Comey is widely disliked.

KING: Well, I talked to a friend of mine in Maine 30 years friend who just retired from as a senior guy at the FBI. He said Comey is one of the most well respected leaders they've ever had. He's loved in the FBI and the idea he characterized the idea that the FBI was a mess or in turmoil as nonsense and unbelievable. I mean those are the words he used.

COOPER: You know, there's a lot of people who want to see these investigations, you know, done properly, want to see them conclude and whatever the conclusions may be, why should the American people have confidence that this will not have any impact? Do you believe the firing of Comey will have any impact on the FBI investigation, on your investigation on other?

KING: I don't think it will at the end because the FBI is full of very professionals. And as the acting director said today, they're going to keep going with their investigation. I do think leadership matters, however. And I do think that we've had -- that the -- this whole process has tainted the senior leadership for the Justice Department to the point where they have a statutory ability to appoint something called a special council. And that's -- I think that's what they should do.

I don't know Mr. Rosenstein. (Inaudible) has a great reputation as having high integrity. But he was used in this case. And I -- the whole point of this investigation both by the FBI and Senate and the House is come to a conclusion the American people can believe. Credibility is the key.

[20:40:13] And I think a special council on the FBI side would be very helpful just in terms of credibility. Some people say the reports are going to come out and say nothing was done. There is no collusion, no cooperation. We want the public to believe that if that's the conclusion or the contrary. And that's why I think we need a special council tomorrow and that the Senate and the House have to continue their investigation.

COOPER: Your committee has called Former Dir. Comey to testify next week. Do you believe he will and what do you want to hear from him?

KING: I'm not sure whether he will because now he's a private citizen, but I believe that he will. And, by the way, the idea of him being a grandstander and showboat, I mean he comes to Congress when he's asked to come. I've never known him to volunteer to come and I've never known him to volunteer to be on a TV show. He does his duty. I've worked with him for four years. I characterize him to my friend, people back home, say what's Comey like? He's a boy scout. He's one of the straightest arrows I've ever met. I disagree with him on some issues. Disagree with him in the past over the past four years. But he is an absolute straight shooter and he's anything but a showboat.

COOPER: And to those who say that's hypocritical for Democrats, but you're an independent, for Democrat to be complaining about the firing of Comey when many Democrats before were saying he should resign, he should be fired.

KING: Yeah, but -- I think the real question is timing. I mean, at first the justification was what he did with Hillary Clinton a year, almost a year ago. Well, that could have happened on January 21st. It's the firing in the midst of this investigation as it is really starting to heat up, subpoenas are being issued, and that's what makes it so difficult to swallow when the story has changed now twice in 48 hours.

COOPER: Yeah, Sen. Angus King, I appreciate you talking to us. Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

COOPER: More on the president's new interview including how he answered when was asked if he has -- had any dealings with Russia and yes the president brings up his old beauty pageant. We'll be right back.


[20:46:04] COOPER: We got more breaking news to report right now. "The New York Times" is just reporting on a dinner the president had with James Comey. I just want to read a portion of the "Times" is reporting, as they ate the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump's rallies and president then turn the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge, instead Mr. Comey has recounted to others he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him but he was not "reliable" in the conventional political sense. That's "New York Times" and a story by Michael Schmidt, just up on their site right now.

More now on the president's conversation with Lester Holt, we picked it up on the question of business deals with Russia that could present a conflict of interest.


HOLT: There is an investigation under way, though an FBI investigation? Is that --

TRUMP: Well, I don't know if it's an FBI there's so many investigations, I don't know if it's an FBI investigation or if it's a Congress, if it's the Senate.

HOLT: Well, James Comey testified there was an FBI investigation.

TRUMP: Well, Yeah, but I think they're also helping the House and Senate. You probably have FBI, but you have House, you have Senate. They have other investigations.

HOLT: But when you put out a tweet, it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer charade, and you're looking for new FBI director, are you not sending that person a message to lay off?

TRUMP: No, I'm not doing that. I think that we have to get back to work. But I want to find out. I want to get to the bottom. If Russia hacked, if Russia did anything having to do with our election I wanted to know about it.

HOLT: There's already a intelligence, a virtually every intelligence agency said, yes, that happened.

TRUMP: I'll tell you this. If Russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it's a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it and I want to make sure it will never ever happen.

HOLT: The Senate Intelligence Committee wants information from the Treasury Department's financial crimes unit about your finances, your business's finance. Can you tell us whether you, your family, your businesses, your surrogates have accepted any investments, any loans from Russian corporations?

TRUMP: Yeah, in fact, I just sent a letter to Lindsey Graham from one of the most prestigious law firms in country, a tremendous, highly rated law that had nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don't have property in Russia. A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don't have property in Russia. And I'm in very -- I mean, in total compliance in every way.

Now I have to tell you, I file document, hundreds of pages worth of documents with the federal elections bureau, everybody's seen them. I built a great company but I'm not involved with Russia. I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe Pageant which I owned for quite awhile, I had it in Moscow long time ago. But other than that I have nothing to do with Russia.

HOLT: And one last question on this matter. Did you ever --

TRUMP: And I have a certified letter. Just so you understand, I'm not just saying that, I've given the letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham. He has the letter. And, I think, frankly, I assume he's going to give the letter out. But it says I am not involved in Russia. No loans, no nothing.

HOLT: Did you worry at all when you made the decision to fire Comey when you did, the day before Lavrov was here in the White House and the Russian ambassador, did you think through the optics of the way this would look?

TRUMP: I never thought about it. It was set up a while ago and, frankly, I could have waited, but what difference does it make? I'm not looking for cosmetics. I'm looking to do a great job for the country. I'm looking to create jobs. I'm looking to create strength and security. I'm looking for strong borders. I'm looking for things like that. I think it's really a good thing that I meet with people.

[20:50:7] Now, this is a public meeting because, you know, when you cover this, the people watching, they say, oh, he met with Lavrov. Well, this was announced that I'm meeting with Lavrov, just like a number of days ago I spoke, had a very good conversation, very public in the sense that everybody knew this was taking place, I took all the time, just spoke with the new head of -- the new head of South Korea who just got elected. I speak with the head of India. I speak with the head of China. I have to speak with Putin also. It's called Russia. But when I spoke with Putin, he asked me whether or not I would see Lavrov. Now, should I say, no, I'm not going to see him? I said I will see him.

During that discussion with Lavrov, I think we had a great discussion having to do with Syria, having to do with the Ukraine and maybe that discussion will lead to a lot less people getting killed and will lead ultimately to peace. So, I'm OK with those discussions, Lester. I think it's a good thing, not a bad thing.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. You know, one of the things that was interesting, again, in the days -- the day that Comey was fired, his people said this had nothing to do with Russia. One of the things that the president said in this interview was that he was thinking essentially about Russia when he decided he wanted to fire Comey said, "In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost in election that they should have won." I mean, doesn't that contradict his saying it had nothing to do with Russia?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In ancient times it said all roads lead to Rome. With Donald Trump, all roads lead to Russia. You see it top of mind. You see it when he fires the guy who's leading the investigation against him. You see it when he defends his investments. His son in 2008 said this, Russian make up a pretty disproportion across section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. So at least at one point --

COOPER: He still could have been talking about rich Russians buying houses and properties --

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, can I take on Jackie Kent on this point which also connects to the "New York Times" reporting. You both have made the point, and you may be right, you may not be right, right? Because we do have the acting FBI director saying the investigation absolutely continues.

You're right, the senator just said a couple of minutes ago the investigation continues. But what do we see in this reporting? What do we see from the president? One he thinks the whole thing is a waste of time. Two, he found Comey to be disloyal. And according to "The New York Times," I know the president thinks that's all fake news, but according to "The New York Times," in fact, he asked him will you be loyal? And then he fires the guy who is doing this Russian investigation.

So, can't we just isolate on that? That's wrong. You shouldn't do that. And I'm surprised that both of you would defend that piece of it even if you believe things will be OK in the future which we don't know.

COOPER: Is it appropriate for the president of United States to ask loyalty of the FBI director?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think everyone should be loyal to our country regardless --

COOPER: But the country is not the president --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should have. But I want to get back to a point that Kirsten made earlier about --

GREGORY: So you don't think he should have a loyalty test, just to be clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what you mean by a loyalty test.


COOPER: And you're saying it is inappropriate for -- do you believe it's inappropriate for the president of the United States to say to the FBI director over a dinner which was apparently a lovely dinner according to the president, are you loyal to me? Will you be loyal to me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think if he asked that question, if he did and it came from "The New York Times," so you know, automatically -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's just answer the question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jake Tapper reported yesterday also --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the context of that question or the conversation. So I'm really -- I can't give a good answer to that. But I want to get to a point that was very important that Kirsten writes earlier in regard to the Rosenstein letter because it was a thoughtful letter, it wasn't just about Hillary Clinton and the treatment of it. He goes on to quote deputies attorney general Gorelick who was deputy general under Clinton, Larry Thompson under Bush, and then Eric Holder under Obama. And he cited all these people and said, here's what they have to say about the --


COOPER: -- we now know that that letter was just an -- I mean that letter had nothing to do with the president --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's still a factual --


COOPER: You're right. That's not fair. But the president had already decided --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That letter was a solid indictment. And I think what Kirsten was saying is if, if the letter had gone a different way, I don't think we'd be having this --



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- said in the interview tonight regardless of the recommendation from Rosenstein I was going to fire Comey. That is what he said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Well, he said that tonight, but I'm saying I've read the -- the whole letter which I know all of you all have and it wasn't just focused on Hillary Clinton.


POWERS: That wasn't my argument. But I think, look, even if there is a major indictment to be made of James Comey, there's no question, I mean I think what he did during the election was inexcusable. And he potentially, you know, could be fired over what he did. The problem is when you have the person doing the firing who has his campaign being investigated by that person. So if it wasn't for that, let's pretend that -- none of this ever happened. There was no investigation into the Trump campaign and Donald Trump did what he did, I don't know that there would be a problem.


[20:55:22] COOPER: Let me ask, Ken, what about -- do you think this idea, if it's true the reporting that the president said, you know, will you be loyal to me --

CUCCINELLI: The phrasing that I don't buy, but I'll be very categorical. No FBI director would or should ever pledge fealty to a president. They have an obligation --

POWERS: Right.

CUCCINELLI: -- to be objective and independent, and I will say the most accurate charge you heard from the president in his own defense was the grandstanding charge. By FBI director standards, he fits that category.



CUCCINELLI: One more. David said earlier this is the guy doing the Russian investigation. He isn't the guy doing the Russian investigation.


CUCCINELLI: As we heard under oath today, there are hundreds of people at the FBI --

BORGER: Comey --

CUCCINELLI: Who are doing this and continue to --


BORGER: -- the loyalty question, which "The New York Times" reported, OK, he wouldn't answer that. Why would he then say to Donald Trump you're not under investigation?


BORGER: Seems to me like --


BORGER: Comey would not answer that question either.


BORGER: It's not a question.

CUCCINELLI: -- easy misunderstanding. It's a term of art for one. So both sides to this conversation could think and mean very different things. Not under investigation means you are not currently the target of the investigation. That can change with one fact.

BORGER: Right.


CUCCINELLI: But perhaps not. That's another question. But this is a very easy piece of this discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it's possible that Comey does not agree with the interpretation that the president is putting forth --

CUCCINELLI: Yes, so every time this president sort of interprets things the way he wants to hear them.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you're probably absolutely right.



BORGER: -- loyal, he's certainly not going to say, oh by the way, you're not under --


COOPER: David and then we got to go.

GREGORY: Yeah, as a matter of law, kind of saying is, you could be told you're not being investigated now, that could change tomorrow.

Where I do disagree with you, Ken, you're suggesting I think that the FBI director doesn't matter. We know in the Clinton e-mail investigation who was more important than Jim Comey in making decisions about what happened, how was talked about --

COOPER: OK, we got to take a quick --


COOPER: We'll continue this discussion right after the break on this roller coaster day here in Washington, a lot more ahead. The president himself exposing the White House's explanation of James Comey's firings untrue, 48 hours after Comey's firing, the contradictions are hard to keep track we will ahead.