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Trump Contradicts W.H. Explanation For Comey Firing; Trump: Comey Told Me I'm Not Under Investigation; NYT: Trump Pressed Comey For Loyalty At Private Dinner; Acting FBI Director Vows Russia Probe Will Move Forward; Trump; Deputy A.G. Rosenstein: I'm Not Quitting. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 21:00   ET



[21:00: 17] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, tonight's breaking news, the President making headlines on many of controversies surrounding him on the Russia investigation on whether he himself is a target of it on his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his characterization of how that came to be, which contradicts the storyline up until now. Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Monday you met with the Deputy Attorney General Rob 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 in the room?

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

HOLT: Because in your letter you said, "I accepted their recommendations."

TRUMP: Yeah. Well, they also --

HOLT: You had already made the decision?

TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire him regardless of recommendations. (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: He made a recommendation. He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It's an excuse by the Democrat for having lost an election that they should have won." When I did this now I said, "I probably maybe will confuse people, maybe I'll expand that -- you know, I'll lengthen the time because it should be over with, it should."

In my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago, because -- all it is, is an excuse. But I said to myself, I might even lengthen up the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He's the wrong man for that position.

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 regard to the Russian investigation?

TRUMP: Yeah. And I heard that from others. I think --

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

TRUMP: I had 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: Do you asked him --


TRUMP: Our 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 me, "You are not under investigation," which I knew anyway.

HOLT: That was one meeting?

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 --

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: Then during the phone call he said it, and then during another phone call he said it. He said it once at dinner, and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did you call him?

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

HOLT: And did you ask him, "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's given sworn testimony that there's an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign. So, is he being truthful --


TRUMP: All I can tell you is 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: No. In fact, I want the investigation speed up.

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

TRUMP: No. Why would they do that?

HOLT: Any surrogates on behalf of the White House?

TRUMP: Not that I know of.

HOLT: There was an investigation under way, though, an FBI investigation. Is that --

TRUMP: 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 a Congress, if it's the Senate.

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

TRUMP: Well, yeah. But I think they were 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 put out tweets it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer charade and you're looking for a 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 want to know about it.

HOLT: Well, there's already intelligence -- virtually every intelligence agency that, 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.

[21:05:06] HOLT: The Senate Intelligence Committee wants information from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Unit about your finances, your businesses' finance.

TRUMP: Yeah.

HOLT: Can you tell us whether you, your family, your business, your surrogates have accepted any investments, any loans from Russian individuals?

TRUMP: Yeah, in fact, I just sent a letter to Lindsey Graham, from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country, tremendous highly rated law firm that I have 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 own property in Russia. And I am in very -- I mean, I'm in total compliance in every way.

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 a 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 to have strong borders. I'm looking for things like that. I think it's really a good thing that I meet with people.

Now, this is a public meeting, because, you know, when you cover this, the people watching may 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 at a very good conversation, very public in the sense that everybody knew this was taking place. I meet -- I took all the time.

I just spoke with the 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, what do I -- 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 leave ultimately to peace. So, I'm OK with those discussions, Lester. I think it's a good thing, not a bad thing.


COOPER: That was the president speaking with NBC's Lester Holt.

A short time ago "The New York Times" put up a story on the Comey/Trump dinner shortly after the inauguration in which the president reportedly demanded that Director Comey give some sort of indication of loyalty.

CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman contributed to that report. She joins us now by phone. So, Maggie -- hey, Maggie, if you can explain what you have learned about this dinner and if this is the same dinner that the president was referring to where he said that Comey told him he wasn't under investigation?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Sure. This is my colleague, Michael Schmidt's reporting primarily. But my understanding is this is the same dinner and that, you know, essentially there were the two of them at the table, that there was this discussion about loyalty, you know, raised by the president, and the director of the FBI indicated something to the effect if it that's not, you know, something that he could promise, that the issue is really honesty.

And the president responded with a request for honest loyalty, which I think the director said that he could do. The White House has disputed that version of events as inaccurate but said that really if there was any suggestion of loyalty it would be about loyalty to the country.

You know, the issue, Anderson, I think is that we have seen the president struggle to some extent in the new job that he has after decades of running his own company, being his own boss with the concept that the government is not a company and it's not his employees. These are not Trump employees and that there is a reason why the FBI director is supposed to be seen as apolitical and not as loyal to the president who he or she is serving. And that's where this becomes an issue.

You know, the president, as I understand it, in some discussions that he has had about who could be a replacement for James Comey, has discussed the question of loyalty again. And I think we're going to find out exactly what that means.

COOPER: Yeah. I mean, loyalty is something we did hear about during the campaign. I think you discussed it. A lot of people, you know, who has contact that loyalty is something which is important to Donald Trump. It certainly was in his company life. HABERMAN (via telephone): That's right. I mean, look, in his company life in terms of people who are private about him, people who are not going to talk about him, you know, the irony as you know is that this White House has been incredibly leaky, as we have seen, and I know that the White House has tried to suggest that that has slowed down, but in reality it has continued.

[21:10:09] The president is very, very consumed with sort of control and to that extent loyalty relates to it. And it's just not the way government works. All presidents want loyalty from their employees to an extent. That's not new. And all presidents want loyalty to some extent from, you know, their own west-wing officials and from, you know, cabinet secretaries. This is something different.

And, again, it is involving somebody who at that point was already overseeing an investigation that touched on Trump associates, you know, the question of whether Trump -- it touched on the president himself has been unclear. The president said that's not true. But either way it is an unusual thing to ask even if what the president meant with the loyalty to the country, it is understandable why that could be misconstrued.

COOPER: And then -- OK, Maggie Haberman, appreciate you joining us with the latest on that. That story is up now on "The New York Times."

Sara Murray is standing by at the White House. Sara, A, how is the White House responding to this? And certainly a lot to talk about what went on at the White House today and the interview he did with Lester Holt.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we really haven't seen a lot from the White House in sort of explaining what happened at this dinner or in the subsequent phone calls that President Trump had with James Comey. I can tell you we've asked him repeatedly to give us more details, even dates for when these things occurred. And it's very clear that this is something the White House isn't really interested in providing the details on, Anderson.

COOPER: You know, one of the things that the White House is sticking by is this assertion that Director Comey was unpopular with the rank and file of the bureau despite the acting director of the FBI fully contradicting that today in sworn testimony.

And Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that -- at one point during the briefing today she said she had spoken to countless FBI agents and personnel who had expressed that to her and then later on she seemed to backtrack and said she didn't really want to get into numbers. I'm not clear she said she doesn't actually know many people who work for the FBI. They're standing by that idea?

MURRAY: Well, there have been a lot of sort of fascinating contradictions today, Anderson. I think you point to a good one, which is the president insisting that morale was low at the FBI and also Sarah Huckabee Sanders just yesterday insisting that morale was well and that was all sort of part of the reason the president made this decision.

But we saw testimony from McCabe on the Hill basically saying the opposite, saying there were lots of people who supported Comey, who are sad to see him go and that Sarah Sanders gave an interesting defense. She said she had spoken to countless officials from the FBI who said that they were happy about that decision.

She was actually challenged at one point in their briefing. Do you really think you have a better sense of where the rank and file and the FBI stand than McCabe who is actually there helping to oversee that bureau? And she basically said she wouldn't get into a back and forth.

But, it is interesting to see sort of how the White House continues to try to frame their decision, the president's decision to fire James Comey and how we continue to sort of see different (inaudible), different sorts of reasoning behind that. That's very different from what they said initially, of course, which is that this is all because of what the deputy attorney general recommended.

COOPER: And, Sara, finally, the president I think was supposed to go visit the FBI. I think it was tomorrow. That's not happening anymore, is that correct?

MURRAY: There were some rumblings that he would make a trek over to the FBI tomorrow, that he might perhaps announce an acting interim director that he might perhaps try to address the morale. There were plenty sort of rumors about whether that would happen.

As often is the case here at the White House, those plans were up in the air. As of right now, it doesn't look like that is going to be happening now. But, Anderson, again, this is the White House that likes to make and change plans at the last minute.

COOPER: All right. Sara Murray, thanks very much.

I want to listen to McCabe talking about the question of Mr. Comey's support among the rank and file today. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've been there for 21 years. In your opinion, is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported Director Comey?

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: No, sir. That is not accurate. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity. And it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.


COOPER: I want to bring in the panel. Matthew Rosenberg, is joining us, "New York Time", Gloria Borger is here, Phil Mudd, Jim Sciutto, also Paul Begala, Jack Kingston, Kirsten Powers, Ken Cuccinelli. Phil, I mean, you worked both at the FBI and the CIA. You know the acting director. What do you make of the testimony from him today?

[21:15:03] PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You can take him to the bank. I mean, he's a soft spoken man. I knew him when I was at the bureau. He's there not only to represent the bureau, but to represent a tradition that goes back to 1908 of integrity.

I don't care what the American people see. If you're working at the FBI, you cannot view this intervention as anything but an intervention in investigation into the presidential office.

There's two issues that are being confused here. People at the bureau routinely might say and many of them told me, I agree. The actions of the director over the past 10 months many were inappropriate. He should not be in front of the microphone.

That said that is fundamentally different that saying, "Do they see him as decent, a man of integrity, a man who brought thoughtfulness to the office?" That answer is yes as well. They're looking at the same president who wants to undercut the investigation and they'll say, "He ain't going to do it."

COOPER: So, do you believe -- I mean, because that's what -- McCabe was testifying today that this investigation will go on, it will not slow down. Do you believe that this will have an impact? Can it have an impact taking off -- taking the director out?

MUDD: Not immediately. The only way I could see an aim pact is if the president appoints an FBI director who gets confirmed who is -- who subverts the investigation. Even there, remember, I'm not suggesting this is anything close to this. But who in Watergate was deep throat? That was deputy director of the FBI.

There were a lot of people out there, hundreds, who knows what happens here. We're 10 months into the investigation. It's not like the initial phases. Even if they cut this down today and shut it down, the truth will come out eventually and it's going to be ugly.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, he also said today that it's a highly significant investigation and that has not been the line coming out of -- either the president or the White House. And that would -- you know, if he were a political appointee, it would be political suicide.

MUDD: I mean, come on. If you're in Omaha, Nebraska, you know this is a significant investigation.



BORGER: Exactly.

ROSENBERG: The entire (ph) story was that this is an investigation that had to end and that morale of the FBI was bad and has to be fixed. McCabe gets up there and says it's not a morale (inaudible), in fact, you know, supported Comey and this is a highly significant investigation. He put it clearly in there (ph). This is one of our top priorities if not our top priority.

And so -- and now today we got Sarah Huckabee getting up saying she's getting calls from countless FBI agents. There's just a level of honesty here and questionable honesty. It needs to be addressed. Who are these countless FBI agents that is calling up the White House to tell me he did a great job?


COOPER: Does it make sense that -- sorry. Jim, does it make sense that countless FBI agents would be randomly calling the White House and that they would all get referred to Sarah Huckabee Sanders?


KENNETH CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: If I could say, we have a lot of these folks who live right around here. Some are no longer with the FBI. At least anecdotally, there are some over the last 10 month in particular that have really, as Phil noted, he put forth two points.

COOPER: Right.

CUCCINELLI: They're not mutually exclusive. And that doesn't mean you keep him. And with the bipartisan consensus to get rid of him, the real question becomes, what I keep hearing and this isn't an illegitimate question, this is one of timing. I would add to it method process and so forth. But it's still substantively the right decision probably done --


COOPER: I just raise the question about if Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the one who phone call would be directed to --


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No. Here's the thing. FBI is a big organization. There's no question that after James Comey's performance last July there were some on the FBI who are not happy with that. But it's different from the proposition made from the White House podium that James Comey lost the confidence of the bureau. That is frankly not true.

I would think in this situation you talk to the career people, don't talk to the political and I know that Phil does that same thing, I do, my colleagues do as well. And the reaction to the firing was shock and awe and disappointment and anger. That's why you have FBI folks changing their profile pictures to the picture of James Comey right now. But let me go on, because --

COOPER: People are doing that? SCIUTTO: Yeah.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: People are doing that, yeah.

SCIUTTO: And it's not just on the issue of morale, because, look, even in the president repeating this as well, that the security clearance, that it was the Obama administration, right, who had the security clearance for Michael Flynn and they're to blame.

Talk to the people who have served both Republican and Democratic administrations about who is responsible for the clearance and the vetting of the most senior national security officials when they come to the White House. That is the administration, OK?

BORGER: Of course.

SCIUTTO: So the fact is the White House story does not stand up to the facts. And not from partisans, Democrat, but people inside the intelligence agencies, people inside the bureau.

KINGSTON: Well, let me ask you this on -- as somebody who is involved in the Trump campaign, now I would not have necessarily seen anything or not seen anything, but I can tell you I saw absolutely no relationship to coordination with Russia.

At what point would it be fair for people who are making all these accusations to show something, some -- show some shred of evidence? Recently, Dianne Feinstein said they had seen nothing. Adam Shift, who as you know is very partisan and would love to say, but he actually said there is no evidence yet.


KINGSTON: Joe Manchin said there's no evidence. Susan Rice was there nosing around the entire time.


[21:20:03] KINGSTON: I would just like -- because, I mean, we heard from --

COOPER: We're getting you question. Your question is when would be the appropriate time or --

SCIUTTO: Once this is declassified one and two --


KINGSTON: And Watergate -- Phil said, deep throat was the deputy of that --

SCIUTTO: Listen to the comments today. Democratic and Republican chairman of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees said that this investigation is continuing. They continue to look at collusion. They haven't established it, but it's an open question.

COOPER: Phil, for you, what's the answer to Judge Gorsuch?

MUDD: Never, never. The FBI director should never have spoken about the investigation. Once it was closed, he should never weeks ago have spoken about Huma Abedin ever. She's a private citizen.

These are private citizens being investigated regardless of whether it's the President of United States or the national security adviser, you cannot discuss the private citizens that you're collecting on when you have the awesome power in a Democratic society of the FBI unless you're going to go and say that person is under indictment.

KINGSTON: Which is why he should have been fired because Hillary Clinton he said was innocent. He gave her a 13-minute indictment and then he said, but we're not going to --

BORGER: OK. But --


KINGSTON: I'm telling you Eric Holder, July 5th said, guy's got to go because he's broken the standard --

COOPER: Gloria, what do say?

BORGER: Look, you weren't complaining about it then and Donald Trump wasn't complaining about it then, OK. You know, he --

KINGSTON: Actually, I was.

BORGER: He was quoting -- OK, well, he was quoting James Comey talking about Hillary Clinton being reckless.


BORGER: He wasn't complaining about the release of the letter on October 28th either, which was cited in Rosenstein's memo. So, nobody was complaining about it at the time before the election, which is why all of this is such a ruse, OK? It's a total ruse.

The president himself told everybody today he wanted to fire this person and he found a reason to do it with Rosenstein. His reason was very different. His reason was that he didn't have the loyalty, to go back to the "Times" story in Jake's reporting, he didn't have the loyalty of Comey and he has to --

KINGSTON: That's a subjective conclusion, though. I mean, I can tell you. When Jerry Nadler and Maxine Waters and other Democrats and we can -- they have all made statements and they're all out there raising their fire Comey hashtags, which they all had up on Twitter all summer long. I mean, can we at least agree that Comey was damaged goods for both parties?

BORGER: Yes, yes, absolutely.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: I'm sorry, Jack, you're insulting the audience's intelligence. The Democrats had nothing to do with this. The President of the United States, Donald Trump -- excuse me for talking while you're interrupting.

The President of the United States fired the head of the FBI. The FBI is investigating that president's campaign to find out if in fact that campaign colluded with Russia. First he told us he fired him because he was so mean to Hillary. That's preposterous. Then he told us because morale was low. Under oath, the current acting director said no, that's preposterous.

Now we're hearing the stuff about loyalty --

KINGSTON: Well, I really met --

BEGALA: Excuse me, loyalty to the country. He fired him because of Russia.


COOPER: We're going to continue this. We've got to take --

BEGALA: That's stupid. It doesn't affect --

KINGSTON: The Democrats actually did brand this guy, whether you say it had nothing to do with it or not --


COOPER: We've got to take a break. We're going to have more on this, including a timeline of the Comey firing and how the timeline has changed. Also, questions on how the president operates and how he lives from a reporter who recently spent time with him. We'll be right back.


[21:26:28] COOPER: Welcome back. In a conversation that made many headlines tonight this was perhaps the centerpiece. The president saying it was his decision to fire James Comey. That it was a long time and coming and he would have done it regardless of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's critical report of Director Comey.

In a literal sense it's not new. Only a president can fire the FBI director, obviously. However, in another key respect, this was very big news indeed because it is -- in revealing it to Lester Holt, the president also revealed that the White House storyline in Comey's firing was not true. CNN's Dana Bash tonight "Keeping Them Honest".


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: You're looking at the wrong set of facts here.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember when Kellyanne Conway appeared on this show and cited this letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the basis for firing James Comey?

CONWAY: He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general --

BASH (voice-over): That was so two nights ago.

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

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room?

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

HOLT: Because in your letter you said, "I accepted their recommendations."

TRUMP: Yeah. Well, they also --

HOLT: You had already made the decision?

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

BASH (voice-over): That not only contradicts explanations from a slew of his aides, but even the vice president just yesterday morning.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey because of the actions that the deputy attorney general outlined to the president to act on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.

BASH (voice-over): Now, Trump is doming clean about his ill will towards Comey.

TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil.

BASH (voice-over): Sources tell CNN, Comey's testimony last week enraged President Trump.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Look, this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.

BASH (voice-over): Comey unwittingly targeted one of the president's most obvious insecurities, the legitimacy of his election. Sources familiar with the president's reaction said he was "white-hot and couldn't let it go" stewing all weekend while at his property in Bedminster, New Jersey.

One Trump source tells CNN he was already holding a deep grudge against Comey since March for publicly contradicting President Trump's apparently false claim via tweet that President Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower before the election. COMEY: With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that support those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.

BASH (voice-over): Also upsetting to Trump, Comey's surprise announcement at that same hearing that the FBI had been investigating the president's associates since July.

COMEY: That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.

BASH (voice-over): Sources familiar with the president's thinking say he is perpetually frustrated by the Russia probe and leaks about its status because of the way it often overshadows his agenda.

A critical open question is if the president got the impression, the FBI Russia probe was accelerating. Sources tell CNN the week before Comey was fired he met with the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and told them he was asking the Justice Department for more resources. The Senate's number two Democrat draws a controversial conclusion.

[21:30:03] SENATOR DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: If you're in the Trump White House and you know that they're looking for collusion by members of the Trump campaign, it's pretty clear they're on hot pursuit when they're asking for more resources for investigation.

BASH (voice-over): A Justice Department's spokeswoman insist Comey did not ask for more resources for the Russia probe. And the man leading the FBI now was careful today when asked.

MCCABE: I cannot confirm that request is made. As you know, ma'am, when we need resources we make those requests here. So I don't -- I'm not aware of that request.

BASH (voice-over): Whether or not the president thought Comey was expanding the FBI probe when he fired him would raise serious questions about impeding the investigation, perhaps more startling is this conversation between Comey and Trump.

TRUMP: 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 me, "You are not under investigation."


BASH: Talking to FBI director about a probe in his own campaign is out of the norm to begin with. Doing it in the same conversation where they discussed whether Comey would stay in his job, that seems to be dangerously out of bounds. Anderson?

COOPER: Dana, thanks very much. Back now with the panel. Ken, how much do you think this has hurt the president's agenda? I mean, obviously, this entire week has been (inaudible) focusing on this.

CUCCINELLI: Oh, sure. So, you know, how many people watching know what executive order was issued today? Probably about -- OK, there's one. I got an e-mail on it and I can't remember. Look, this is --

COOPER: Cyber security.

CUCCINELLI: That is part of their problem is there are a lot of things, of course, on a presidential agenda. And you never want to see this kind of sidetracking no matter what any of us think about the substance of it. There's no question, Anderson. It is overshadowing other things.

And I take the president absolutely at his word. He wants to focus on the economy. He wants to do these other things that grow and strengthen America. But, look, this is a huge distraction and it's going to remain one for a while until --


CUCCINELLI: Wait, one quick.


CUCCINELLI: -- until they appoint someone beyond reproach and that burden, as I keep saying, is on them to do.

COOPER: Paul, I mean for someone who worked in the White House, how do you fix what is clearly an ongoing issue? I mean, not just --we're not just talking now about FBI but, you know, the White House saying one thing and then the day later the president says something else and then they spend a couple of days sort of trying to align all that. It eats up a lot of time.

BEGALA: A ton, if the president is clearly obsessed about it.

COOPER: I mean, Ken made a point about, you know, is there a chief of staff problem the other night? Is it -- what is it?

BEGALA: It's the President of the United States problem. OK. I went through --

COOPER: But that's not changeable, so what it is --

BEGALA: Well, I don't know what to tell you. I've studied Nixon and Watergate when I worked for President Clinton. They tried impeached him. One of things I learned was it Nixon was, in fact, obsessed with Watergate. They never talked about anything else.

President Clinton -- now, people criticize him for this. We had the ability to compartmentalize. And he would focus -- I was -- I would be in meetings with ambassadors or generals or domestic folks who could not believe that this guy was under this stress about his personal life over there, but he had to work. This guy heads back to learn how to focus on the work.

The problem is I think he's fixated on this because there's some there, there. He said this to Lester Holt, sometimes with Trump. You know, there's a whole lot going on, but if you can kind of pull through the manure, you can find a pony. And here's what he said to Lester.

COOPER: Never heard of that.

BEGALA: President Reagan used to say that. It's still from Ronald Reagan.

COOPER: That's quite the visual.

BEGALA: "When I decided to fire Comey," he told Lester today, "I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story." So, he actually revealed that when he fired him he's thinking about Russia and the investigation. And that's the one thing he shouldn't have discussed with the FBI director or shouldn't have used as a rationale to fire him.

BORGER: How about asking three times whether he was under investigation. Should he have done that either? And I was just saying during the break that when my kids used to ask me, "Am I in trouble?" I would know they were in trouble.

COOPER: April, you've been to a lot of White Houses. I mean, you've covered them as a reporter. Is it a staffing thing? Is it an organization thing? Is it too many people having the president's ear or not the power to say to the president, "You know what, you shouldn't do this right now?" Or we got to get our stories straight?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the last piece, one of the last pieces you said. The people who don't have the power, he's got these people around but he does what he wants. And he's changed the story. They may have the story right here and he goes and does something else.

And when you have an issue of this magnitude, everyone needs to be on the same table. Everyone needs to be on the same playing field. And the problem is they're going for different scripts and then they have to go back and change after the president says something.

But this is also an issue, I believe, of the fact that this president when he speaks to the nation, people do not believe him. And there's also an issue of checks and balances, and he doesn't understand the -- just what it is to govern and the fact --

KINGSTON: Well, I think the people who voted for him believe him. And I think there's --

RYAN: Well, but there's a large number who disapprove it and who do not believe. They don't feel he's credible.

[21:35:04] KINGSTON: Anderson, I actually think that he's very similar to President Clinton. And I was there during the impeachment proceedings.

RYAN: But how so?

KINGSTON: He could walk and chew a gum. Now -- and let's talk about it. Immigrations, he is down 60 percent because of what he's done. He's passed health care out of the House.

RYAN: But it hasn't gone all the way yet.

KINGSTON: He has started to renegotiate trade agreements. He has -- he appointed a Supreme Court justice. He's done ethics changes. He's introduced a tax bill. He's built pipelines for energy. He is absolutely positive that he walked with a chewing gum just in the --

COOPER: I know. But you would agree that he has stepped on -- like he's had good things happening and then he has stepped on them.



KINGSTON: I think that messaging on this issue isn't the highest priority because he's not obsessed with this. He has a priority.


KINGSTON: He's not. He's not. He's moving on. No, he's not being obsessed about it.

BEGALA: He tweets about it and talks about it.

KINGSTON: I may be slightly closer to the administration than you.

BEGALA: Maybe not, but --



COOPER: OK, Kirsten.

POWERS: Thank you. Gosh. I mean, it's like -- if you look at his own words in the interview today, how much he talked about Russia, what he says should be happening. He's saying Russia -- the Russia investigation should be over with. I mean it's very clear what he's concerned with and what was motivating him. He said it should be sped up. I mean, he's not hiding his feelings on this.

And if you look at the -- you know, we can debate whether "The New York Times" story is correct about the loyalty thing. All we have to do is look at his description of the dinner. His description of the dinner is that they went to dinner and that he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And then he also -- "We had a very nice dinner and then he told me I'm not under investigation." I mean, this is intimidation that's going on with him. COOPER: Well, we got to break there. We have more ahead including a new interview President Trump gave to "Time" magazine where he plays the James Clapper and Sally Yates hearing on a huge T.V. and says they choked like dogs. I'll speak to the reporter who was there.

Next, it's actually when you look inside the White House. We'd be right back.


[21:41:05] COOPER: We just got a late reaction from one of the figures at the center of the Comey firing, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It's been reported, as you know, that he threatened to resign in connection with all of this. Just moments ago, he spoke about it. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Rosenstein, did you threaten to quit over the Comey fallout? Can you say as to why you --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you threaten to quit?



COOPER: With us now is Michael Scherer of "Time," who just had a fascinating profile of the president the day before he fired Comey, CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, Philip Rucker of "The Washington Post," and Del Quentin Wilber of "The Wall Street Journal." I appreciate all of you being with us.

First of all, Michael, again, it is fascinating and I recommend people read this in "Time." What struck you most about from your conversation with the president?

MICHAEL SCHERER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME: He kept switching back and forth between different views of the world. In one moment he'd be saying -- he admitted at one point that he may have been too combative in his time in office so far and that could have been his fault. The next moment he was name calling his opponents again. We watched him watch T.V., you know, calling former federal officials dogs.

COOPER: They choked like dogs.

SCHERER: Choked like dogs, he said. But I think there's really attention. I think he flits back and forth between these two views. And all of it comes back to a very deep sense of grievance he has about the way he's been treated.

And it animated our entire -- we were with him for two and a half hours, Monday night, in a number of different settings, you know, throughout the White House. But that sense of grievance followed him throughout the whole time he was there.

COOPER: It went -- there was one detail. He talked about it. He probably fired up his TiVo while you were there, which he said he called, "One of the greatest inventions of all time." I happen to agree with him on that. It's either that or the George Foreman Grill for me. But I agree with him on the TiVo.

But, he want -- you know, I'm just fascinated by how much he watches news, watches himself. So many people I know, you know at a high level, choose not to look at themselves or read about themselves because it doesn't help them.

SCHERER: And at the same time, he made the point and he described everything that's been said about him very well so he is paying attention. But he made the point that he's been trying to not read everything about himself.

And he said at one point, "I can't believe I'm able to do it. I'm really surprised that I've been able to serve tune some of this out." So think there is -- he's found in office that it's more difficult than it was in his private life in which his media clips were his life. I think he has more responsibilities now. And I think that's another one of the big themes here.

He's trying to figure out how to fit the Donald Trump he knows and loves, this gut instinct person who's been very successful into the box of the presidency, which has a different set of rules and a different set of restrictions. And I think there's a real struggle going on right now.

COOPER: Del, in your report in the "Wall Street Journal," again, fascinating details. You reported that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, wanted the White House to correct the record on the Comey firing. Is that part of or the reason why kind of the story changed from the White House?

DEL QUENTIN WILBUR, CORRESPONDENT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think so. As we know, that first night it came out, it was a very haphazard moment. I think Sean Spicer was hiding among the bushes. And they didn't really have a message. It seems like it just happened very quickly and very fast without a lot of preparation.

COOPER: And they did really put it on --


COOPER: -- the deputy attorney general.

WILBER: Especially next day or two. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was talking about, you know, it was based on, you know, Rod Rosenstein's recommendation. He did not like that. He felt that, no, we had a meeting with the president on Monday and he asked me for -- in writing what I thought of what Jim Comey did and I did it.

And some would argue that that kind of makes him look a little worse, right? That he looked -- kind of like he was Donald Trump's stooge in all of this. He said, "Do this. Give me the justification to fire him." And he did.

But to Rosenstein's credit, he wanted it to be -- he wanted the truth. He said this -- I want it -- I'm not going to -- I cannot operate in a world where we're being inaccurate and not truthful. And I think, I don't -- he didn't threaten to resign.

Our reporting didn't say threat to resign. But I think he definitely had some issues with it, pushed that narrative. And then if you noticed, right after he does that, the White House changed. But then now we've changed again.

[21:45:10] COOPER: And so, Philip, I mean, what was -- according to your reporting, what was the president angry with Comey about?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST: The president -- the anger built over a lot of time, actually. It -- there were a number of instances during the campaign that made him angry. And then once the president -- Trump came in to office.

He was angry that Comey didn't back him up on his baseless claim that President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. He was angry with some of Comey's comments in his testimony in the Senate. He appeared twice.

COOPER: About being mildly nauseous.

RUCKER: Exactly, about being mildly nauseous about having influence the -- or thinking he might have influenced the outcome of the election. It just not at the president and it built over time. And over -- with this past weekend when the president was at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, he really decided, "Look, I had it. Comey has to go." And the Russia question hangover all of it.

He was bothered because every time Comey would come out in public, every time he was on Capitol Hill, the question was always Russia and that's the thing that Trump wanted to erase in the headline.

COOPER: And, I mean, you, I think, pointed out in one article even the Lester Holts interview. He point blank said, you know, everything's about Russia, Trump-Russia while he was thinking about firing Comey.

RUCKER: I thought that was an incredible revelation in that Lester Holts interview where the president actually said, "As I was making the decision to fire Comey I was thinking about the Russia Trump story," which of course he calls fake.

COOPER: Which is what the White House -- I mean, all the surrogates on, you know, the night he was fired was this had nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with Russia.

BORGER: Right. And so the White House -- and they does -- the staff has done this -- found themselves in this situation many times before. I mean, they started out, for example, when the president said his crowds were bigger at the inauguration than Barack Obama's, the voter fraud issue, the wiretapping issue. You had a White House staff who suddenly had to justify what the president was saying. And they had to come up with a fake narrative.

COOPER: You just wrote an article, "No one can save Trump from himself" at

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Does -- is there no one who can say to the president, "You know what, let's get all the stories." You know, its -- I mean, Sarah Huckabee Sanders say, "Well, I didn't ask the president that exact question today and that's why we're all wrong before."

BORGER: I don't know if there is anybody on the staff right now who can actually do that. The only people who might, who by the way have been quite silent during this whole controversy are maybe Ivanka and Jared. But we haven't heard from them, as much as I tried to find out what they're thinking about this.

COOPER: I got to get this detail in from you. You had a dinner -- I guess a four-course dinner with the president and there were some fascinating details in your article.

SCHERER: Well, I -- the actual conversation was fascinating. But, I mention I think is what you're going at how the dinner was served. And it was interesting. Usually, when you go to a dinner the host will eat the same food you're eating. But it almost every course of this meal he was eating something slightly different.

He had a different salad dressing for the salad. It looks like a Thousand Island Dressing. He had more of an extra dish of sauce for the chicken. And when the dessert came, we all got a piece of chocolate pie with a scoop of ice cream on it and he got a piece of pie on a separate plate with two scoops of ice cream.

COOPER: He's the president. He should get two scoops of ice cream.


COOPER: Yeah. All of you are just doing remarkable reporting. Thank you so much. I really thank you all being on tonight. Thank you.

I just had some much needed perspective time from a season (ph) government official, Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and defense secretary. What does he make of the events for the last 48 hours? I'll talk to him.


[21:52:19] COOPER: On days like this when the President of the United States give us an explanation he's firing the FBI director that directly contradicts what his own White House's said. And when you consider that the man he fire was investigating his campaign ties to Russia, an investigation that President Trump is called a taxpayer charade.

On days like this you want perspective. This before we went on air tonight I spoke with Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and secretary of defense.


COOPER: Secretary Panetta, this evolving timeline from the White House, does it make any sense to you? I mean, how you go from, you know, the White House, I guess on Tuesday saying it was really all about Rod Rosenstein doing, you know, sending this memo in the president agreeing with it. And now it's, you know, the president saying admitting he would plan to do this all along.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, it's obviously very confused. And it just shows a lot of disorganization within the White House and the relationship between the president and his subordinates, because if you're going to take a major step like firing the FBI director, you would assume that everybody would get together, and agree on some common talking points. That obviously has not been the case. And I just think it raises even greater questions about the credibility of the investigation into the Russian situation.

COOPER: You know, in the past when -- as a reporter, when you say, well, the White House says, that is -- that sentence, the White House says, that's supposed to have some credibility to it, some meaning to it, that the White House has made a public statement or declaration of something.

It now seems like, "Well, Tuesday the White House is saying one thing, but then Wednesday, or the surrogates from, you know, the White House are saying one thing, but then the next day the president says something completely different."

And then the surrogates pretend like, "Oh, that's what we meant all along, or it doesn't matter that what we said on Tuesday wasn't right because we actually hadn't talked to the president. We were just given those talking points." I mean what should the American people believe about what is coming out on a day-to-day basis out of the spokes people from the White House?

PANETTA: Well, it creates obviously a great deal of confusion in the country, and I would suspect it creates a great deal of confusion around the world. I mean, you know, when the president speaks, when the White House speaks, you assume that what is said is credible and that it's the truth.

COOPER: Do you trust what the White House is saying right now?

PANETTA: You know, I -- you have to cross your fingers and give it 24 hours to see whether or not what they say is in fact the truth.

[21:55:03] I mean, I just think that they're creating incredible problems for themselves in terms of the credibility that they have with the American people.

You cannot continue to have several different versions of what took place here. There's one version. There's one truth about what was really involved here. And they ought to say it, and they ought to stick to it. COOPER: As far as the president having dinner with the director of the FBI and, again, this is according to the president, this is the only account we have of it, discussing whether or not he's under investigation.

He says it was Comey -- at the dinner was Comey basically saying he wanted to continue on and the president said to him, "Am I under investigation." Is that a problem, because according to the White House today, they say it's entirely appropriate that at a dinner where somebody is concerned about their job, the president is asking him about whether or not he's under investigation?

PANETTA: I think I can tell you, Anderson, that no president I ever worked for would have asked that question over an FBI director, because of the appearance of a conflict by just asking that question.

The FBI director is appointed for 10 years. He's supposed to be independent. If he's conducting an investigation, that investigation is supposed to be under the control of the FBI director and it should not be influenced one way or the other by the White House or by the president.

COOPER: I had retired General Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, former head of NSA on last night and something he said has really stuck with me. I've been thinking about it ever since. He said that the behavior we're seeing is, "not normally associated with a mature western democracy. It's associated with autocratic populist states."

And he went on to talk about how fit -- in his term -- in his words, "how thin the veneer of civilization really is and that we're seeing that here." This is a reminder of how thin the veneer of civilization is use the example of (inaudible), which was a multiethnic cosmopolitan city that then descended into chaos and violence and atrocities for years and years as the world set by and watch. I mean, do you worry about that here?

PANETTA: This president, any president cannot run away from the truth. Ultimately the truth is going to show itself. It's always happened throughout history. And so regardless of what this president may or may not try to do to possibly influence this investigation, the bottom line is it is going to happen and we will find the truth. And when we do, hopefully, this country can continue to move on in terms of our democracy.

COOPER: Secretary Panetta, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

PANETTA: Thank you.


COOPER: We'll be right back.


COOPER: Thanks very much for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts right now.

[22:00:09] DON LEMON, CNN ACHOR: Breaking news is what really happen during President Trump's White House dinner with James Comey? This is "CNN Tonight." I'm Don Lemon.