Return to Transcripts main page
Planned or Coincidental; Heavily Guarded Office; Interview with Sen Richard Blumenthal.. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 11, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
[22:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news is, what really happened during President Trump's White House dinner with James Comey.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
I want you to listen to what the president tells Lester Holt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 very early on.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS HOST: He asks to have a dinner.
TRUMP: A dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, you know, I'll 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But that's not exactly how Comey remembers it. Sources say the president tried to get the now fired FBI director to pledge loyalty to him. And Comey wouldn't do it. That's according to a report tonight in the New York Times. And it comes as the president insists the Russian investigation is, in his words, "a made-up story." An excuse by democrats for losing the election.
So here we go. Let's get right to it now. CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here, our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here as well. Also political analyst Carl Bernstein, and White House correspondent Athena Jones.
Good evening to all of you.
Gloria, I'm going to start with you. And we're going to start by listening to part of this interview with Lester Holt tonight with President Trump, he continues to insist that democrats are using a made-up story about the Russians to explain their loss. Here it is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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 an election that they should have won. And the reason they should have won it is the Electoral College is almost impossible for a republican to win. Very hard. Because you start off at such a disadvantage.
So, everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.
HOLT: Are you angry with Mr. Comey because of his Russian investigation?
TRUMP: I just want somebody that's competent. I am a big fan of the FBI. I love the FBI.
HOLT: But were you a fan of him...
TRUMP: I love the people of the FBI.
HOLT: ... he were taking up that investigation?
TRUMP: I think that about the Hillary Clinton investigation?
HOLT: No, about the Russian investigation and possible links between...
TRUMP: No, I don't care. Look. Look. Let me tell you. As far as I'm concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. 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, it should have been over with a long time ago, because all it is an excuse.
But I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He's the wrong man for that position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Gloria, I mean, it sounds like he just admitted that he fired Director Comey because of the Russian investigation.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It does sound like that. I mean, he said when I decided to do it, I thought about Russia, and it was a made-up story, it was an excuse for losing and blamed it on the democrats. And the clear implication here is that Comey was spending too much time on the Russia story.
And from my reporting, and other people's reporting at CNN and other news organizations, we know that this really rankled him, particularly after he heard Comey testify last week. And I think that that is something that was clearly on his mind.
Comey wouldn't pledge loyalty to him, or to anybody else. And I think that you've got to believe that this was something he was thinking about. Although he did then come out and say, and you heard it, that he wants somebody who's competent, as in Comey is not competent, and that he wanted it done, quote, "properly."
BORGER: Whatever that means.
LEMON: It's not about the Russian investigation, but it's about the Russian investigation, right? Athena, this investigation into the Russian meddling into our elections should have been over a long time ago. And firing Director Comey might confuse some people here. What do you make of those two comments?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to know what to make of it, Don. It's kind of a muddle because you have the president saying that this investigation should have been over a long time ago. His suggestion that there's nothing there, that's why it should have been wrapped up.
But then he also acknowledges that maybe his decision to fire Director Comey could confused people, in his words. Or certainly be taken I guess the wrong way. But then he acknowledges that this could end up lengthening the investigation, which is the opposite of what he said his goal was.
The bottom line here is that we know how the president feels about this Russia investigation. He recently called it a taxpayer funded charade. He's called it all sorts of other things. But it's odd, because he sounds like he's making sort of a muddled point here, arguing it that there's never a good time to have made -- to have made this decision to fire Comey. But then acknowledging that it could create confusion. It's a little -- it's a little odd, Don.
[22:05:08] LEMON: Yes. To say the least. Jim, as we know in his letter, firing Director Comey, President Trump wrote, "That the director told the president three times that he was not under investigation." And then Lester Holt asked him about that. Here's part of the president's interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, will 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, was he being truthful when he says you were not under investigation? (CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Well, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Jim Sciutto, should a sitting president even be asking the director of the FBI if he is under investigation in the first place?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN'S CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I asked a number of democratic and republican lawmakers today that question, and unanimously, they answered no. It should not be. Because whether it is interference, it certainly smells of interference in that investigation.
The other point I would make is this, Don. I think it's important to set the record straight. The president repeating what he said many times that the Russian investigation is just an excuse for the election that the democrats lost.
Look at the time line. One month before the election, it was October 7th, the month before the election in a day that the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security announced, that made a public statement that Russia is interfering in the U.S. political process. They determined that their intention was to help Trump.
It was three months before that, we've learned since, that the FBI first began to look at possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. Which is a still open part of the investigation. That happened months, weeks before the democrats lost the election.
So the fact is, it does not have anything to do with the democrats' election loss, ask the FBI that question, ask both the democratic and republican members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. It is -- it is a frequent claim from the president and the White House that does not stand up to the facts.
LEMON: The investigation started in July. And the election was in November. So, now to Carl. Carl, the New York Times reporting about one of those conversations between the former Director Comey and the president. And one of the topics, the loyalty, here's an account of that.
He said "By Mr. Comey's account, his answer to Mr. Trump's initial question apparently did not satisfy the president," the associate said. "Later in the dinner Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty. Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him honesty and did not pledge his loyalty." That's according to an account of the conversation.
"But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be honest loyalty. You will have that, Mr. Comey told his associates, that he responded. Throughout his career, Mr. Comey has made loyalty from the people -- Mr. Trump," I should say, "has made loyalty from people who work with him a key priority, often discharging employees he considered insufficiently reliable."
So my question Carl is, our very own Jake Tapper also reported that a lack of a promise of personal loyalty was one of two reasons that those close to Comey believe that he was dismissed. That is really stunning. Because the FBI directors aren't supposed to be loyal to any president that they serve, right?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. But the bigger question here is one of honesty, transparency, and really a delusional view by the President of the United States of what proper conduct of the presidency is.
He has been evading for months and months, attempts to learn the truth about a grave matter of national security, and whether or not he and/or his aides colluded with a hostile foreign power. And his inability or deliberate attempts to show that this is not the issue is simply disingenuous.
We are now facing a situation where there's a great search for the truth going on about these grave, grave matters. The search for the truth is being conducted by the FBI, by committees of Congress, by the press, and there is one person in the middle of all of this who has from the beginning tried to evade the truth.
That is the President of the United States. And that's the situation we face right now. And we're going to be facing it from every available indication, in tonight's interview with Lester Holt shows...
LEMON: I want to play some of that, Carl.
BERNSTEIN: ... the degree to which the president seems unable -- seems unable to move toward the truth on these matters.
LEMON: Pardon. I know there's a delay. But I want to play that. Because he remains convinced that there was no collusion in this campaign. And he said as much tonight. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:10:02] TRUMP: I think looking into me, and the campaign, look, I have nothing to do. This was set up by the democrats. There's 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 underway, 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 Congress, if it's the Senate.
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 put out tweets, it's a total hoax, it's 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: There's already intelligence from 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. I want to make sure it will never, ever happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Gloria, I have to ask this. I've watched that sound bite with a number of different people today, and every time it's come on, someone in the room will say, does he know what he's talking about? Does he know what he's talking about?
BORGER: Well, I think that he made it clear he's not clear how many investigations there are. Although, you have to sort of scratch your head and wonder why he wouldn't know about the FBI investigation, since he asked James Comey whether he was out of trouble in those investigations three times, right?
He asked Comey about it three times, according to his own retelling of it. So, I think that this is a president who has been briefed on Russian interference in the election. It's not he doesn't know about it. He sounded in that clip by saying I want to get to the bottom of it, I'd like to know about it. He does know about it.
His own intelligence agencies have briefed him about it. What he wants to say is that, I, the president, had nothing to do with any of this. And he said it. And he said his campaign had nothing to do with it. Let the FBI do its job. Let the congressional committees do their job.
He should be out there encouraging that. He should be out there saying, I want the FBI to do its job. Let's get this done so that -- and have a good thorough investigation so that I can get the work of the country done. He should be saying that every day.
BORGER: He should be promising the American people, this will never happen again in this country.
SCIUTTO: Hey, Don. LEMON: Quick Jim, because I'll get you on the other side of the break, but go ahead, Jim. I want you to make your point.
SCIUTTO: If I could just add. I mean, you know, to highlight Gloria's point, because it's inconvenient information which goes back to questions about his election victory, he still puts it in the if category, if Russia were to do this.
SCIUTTO: In fact, the intelligence agencies months, weeks even before the election determined that very fact. And yet beyond saying that, he also continues to characterize it as sort of a democratic story for how they lost the election.
He's willing to throw, if not the truth, the assessment of his own intelligence agencies under the bus to feed, in effect, this questioning about -- or just to feed the questioning about this assessment which he may perceive as undermining his own victory.
LEMON: OK. Plenty more to come. We can talk more after the break. Athena Jones, I know you have to get off the White House lawn. So thank you, Athena. Everyone else, stick with me.
When we come back, is the White House story about why Comey was fired unraveling?
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The president saying tonight that he was going to fire James Comey no matter what his deputy attorney general recommended. But that directly contradicts what his top aides have been saying.
Back with my panel now. Carl, I'm going to start with you. Here's what Vice President Pence, Sarah Hchabee-Sanders, and Kellyanne Conway had said over the past 48 hours.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president took strong and decisive leadership here. To put the safety and security of the American people first, by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI.
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president accepted the recommendation of his deputy attorney general to remove James Comey from his position.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, DONALD TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General to whom the FBI director reports to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But again, he told Lester Holt that he was going to fire him anyway. So why is this story constantly changing, Carl?
BERNSTEIN: Because it's dishonest propaganda put out by the President of the United States and his aides. And we now face a situation in which it is essential for the country that we find out what has occurred here in the conduct of the President of the United States. And whether or not he is engineering, or is engaged in a cover-up of what occurred.
That is now part of the investigation, part of what the Senate and the House need to find out, part of what the American people need to know. It is possible that the president is not engaged in a cover-up, but it certainly is the belief of many investigators, including in the FBI, that he is.
Whether that is an obstruction of justice that could lead to his removal or something of the kind, we're far away from that at this stage.
BERNSTEIN: But we are in an area of deep water that is really bringing this president down into a position where he is in great peril because of his inability to be truthful, honest, factual, and tell the country and the United States and the world he wants to know what happened here.
[22:20:04] Let's get to the bottom of this. If he doesn't, as we're seeing now, there is great pushback within the FBI, which feels many of its agents that the firing of Comey is a sign that he does not want -- the president of the United States does not want the truth to emerge.
LEMON: Gloria, you think this puts the vice president...
BERNSTEIN: And he's got another problem...
LEMON: ... in an awkward position, again, Comey because that was the first awkward position.
LEMON: Why is that?
BORGER: Yes, it puts the vice president in a terrible position because he was out there telling the same story. Now, either the president lied to his vice president, which Mike Flynn was fired for, if you recall, which I don't believe, or the vice president was toeing the line because that's what they were told to do.
I've got to believe that the vice president knew about the president upset with Comey. But you know, this isn't the first time this has happened, Don. It's a pattern here. When you look from the very first full day in office, Donald Trump is talking about his crowd sizes at the inauguration, compared to Barack Obama's. Sean Spicer was sent out there to sort of spin that one.
Then, you know, we heard about voter fraud. Three million voters. They were sent out there to spin that one. Today we have a commission on that. The wiretapping. Obama wiretapping Donald Trump. Everyone was sent out there to spin that. And they did.
BORGER: And so now we have this decision which the president made himself. He's mad at Comey. He didn't like him. The guy didn't pledge loyalty. And it had been stewing. He makes it closely held, and suddenly they have to figure out a way to kind of rationalize this and explain the firing.
LEMON: It's not -- I mean, if you watch it today, listen, any rational person, Gloria got -- I mean, you understand what's going on here. It is so blatantly obvious that they're not telling the truth. They can't even spin it properly. If anyone out there believes what they're saying, I've got a bridge to sell you.
But I want Jim, this is very interesting. This is from Jeff Zeleny reporting and this is just in. "Two government officials inside the FBI headquarters today said that Comey's office has been cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. All that the bureau had on hand to mark it off-limits. And it's important to note here that's not an actual crime scene. The tape is all they had to mark it off to keep people from entering." What do you make of that?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, a lot of folks asked the question, was it intentionally timed that Comey was fired when he was out of Washington and away from his office. In fact, on the opposite coast of the country in Los Angeles. With the question, does it prevent him, and the fact is it does prevent him from getting to his papers, et cetera, under those circumstances.
So that's a fair question. Why while he was over there. And what's the consequence of that. What can he not get to, e-mails, files, et cetera, that's a fair question. And just to Gloria's point. I remember as we were there that day that the crowd size was the issue within hours of the president being inaugurated.
I remember wondering and saying at the time, when you have a false -- when will we have a falsity of consequence? Right? Crowd size is just crowd size. Since then and Gloria ticked off a few of them. These are falsities of consequence. The president and the White House creating a false narrative behind the firing of the nation's most senior law enforcement official.
The president, the White House creating a false narrative about Michael Flynn. And when they got a warning about Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer said that Sally Yates just gave an innocent heads up. Sally Yates testified last week under oath that in fact she warned that he was in danger of being compromised by the Russians. The president said that, President Obama ordered him to be wiretapped. That has not stood up to the facts either, including Director Comey himself contradicting the president... (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: None of this stands up to the fact.
SCIUTTO: These are falsities of consequence.
SCIUTTO: And they are repeated.
LEMON: None of it stands up to the fact but then they just continue to move on. And they present something else that's not factual. They lie and they have to -- the president says something that's wrong, or that doesn't that is basically not true. And they have to come out and spin it as if it's fact when it's not.
But I have to get this in in our short time that we have left. Because we have from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who made Monday night's recommendation to the president for the first time tonight he heard from him. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Rosenstein, did you threaten to quit over the Comey fallout? Can you say as to you?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, UNITED STATES DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I'm not...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you threaten to quit, did the FBI lose confidence in FBI Comey? Today the top seven officials in the hearing today said that they still had strong confidence in Comey. The FBI did. Do you have any comments to that? Have you spoken to the White House lately today?
[22:25:06] ROSENSTEIN: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, we didn't hear much, Carl. So what's your reaction to what happened to the deputy A.G. next?
BERNSTEIN: Well, what we have learned is, that the deputy attorney general was co-opted, either the President of the United States attempt to deacon and co-opted the deputy attorney general of the United States and the investigation itself.
I've been very reluctant to stay we're in a constitutional crisis, but it appears that we are, because the rule of law is really what is at issue here. And the President of the United States throughout this has tried to subvert the legal means to conduct the investigations into the gravest of national security matters.
And what we see in the Rosenstein example is once again how he has tried, the president has tried to undermine, demean and make it impossible for investigators to do their job, including here's the deputy attorney general of the United States who is apparently trying to see that there is an independent investigation conducted.
But have the threaten to quit, really, unless the president or the White House corrected the record and came out with the truth. This is what we're seeing at every juncture in this story is about untruth and the attempts by others to get at the truth. And that's where we're heading.
LEMON: All right. Thanks, everyone.
When we come back, I', going to speak to a senator who is calling for an independent investigation into Russia. What he thinks of the president's comments tonight about James Comey.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Trump insisting tonight that he wants to get to the bottom of Russia's meddling into the election.
I want to bring in now Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut democrat who is member of the judiciary committee. Thank you for joining us in the studio. Good to see you.
The president fired the man who is leading the investigation into the Russian dealings. Where do we go from here?
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Where we go from here in my view is for an independent special prosecutor to be appointed by the deputy attorney general. It is the only way, literally the only way that Rod Rosenstein can save and redeem his reputation.
He has become a pawn of the president in perception. And I'm afraid in reality. And he must now do the right thing, appoint a special prosecutor who will be independent of Donald Trump, and him, and the attorney general, who should all take themselves out of the investigation, have no contact with the FBI, unless they are interviewed for the investigation. And allow sufficient resources to be devoted to this president.
LEMON: But your republican colleagues are not, you're calling for an independent investigation, right? Your republican colleagues are not. So then do you think that will actually happen?
BLUMENTHAL: Don, I think that's really the key question politically. I think the ground is shifting. The politics and the dynamic here are moving, because the ground under their feet is shifting as the human cry, the outcry and outrage from the public grows.
LEMON: So I've heard this so much, on our air and others. When are responsible republicans going to stand up? When are republicans, you know, who have the backbone, the kind of republicans that they had, you know, during the Nixon administration.
What makes you and your colleagues actually think that's going to happen, considering this election, with some of the -- with the whole genitals thing, the way how he spoke about immigrants, and on and on? And who spoke out against him initially, but then all embraced him in the end? And are still -- what makes you think they're going to change now for there's going to be some sort of moral shift with them?
BLUMENTHAL: Key question, first of all, the ground has shifted for my democratic colleagues. I was one of six democrats who voted against Rod Rosenstein. I was the only member of the judiciary committee to do so, because I asked him to commit, to appoint a special prosecutor and he refused to do so.
So now we have virtually unanimous support for a special prosecutor among my democrat colleagues. And I can tell you from my conversations just today on the floor of the United States Senate, a number of my republican colleagues are absolutely chilled by what they are seeing unfold.
And here's why, Don. What we have here is not a two-bit brewery. What we have here is an assault on our democracy. In the Watergate era, the cover-up was worse than the crime. Now what we have is a theft of our democracy. And that is chilling to republicans as well as democrats. So I think it is moving that are now...
LEMON: So you think it may not be Russia collusion, but that impeding the investigation may be you think the crime here?
BLUMENTHAL: Impeding the investigation, obstruction, cover-up, call it what you will.
LEMON: OK. So let me, I have to ask you about this interview. As you heard this interview with Lester Holt on NBC, did it change anything for you? Did you understand the president's reasoning about firing James Comey?
BLUMENTHAL: It established clearly a contradiction with his subordinates, which we now have highlighted numerous times. But it also indicated to me that Russia was very much on his mind. And I think he fails to understand how serious this assault on a democracy was. Unless the Russians are made to pay a price.
BLUMENTHAL: They will do it again.
LEMON: OK I want to ask you, since you mentioned that. This is Politico tonight, OK? Politico is reporting that "Trump did a lengthy interview with Holt even though some of his staff believed it was a bad idea and gave his answers off-the-cuff." That's something so serious. Off-the-cuff.
"One person who spoke to him said, he had been fixated on news coverage and believed his press team was failing him and that he needed to take the situation into his own hands."
BLUMENTHAL: If he took the situation into his own hands, maybe he was telling the truth, that in fact, he made the decision to fire Jim Comey because of the Russian investigation, because Jim Comey said in response to questions at the judiciary hearing when I asked him, that he would not rule out the president as a target because he went to Rod Rosenstein and asked for more resources.
[22:35:01] Which, by the way, are the life blood of an investigation. When he went to Rod Rosenstein and he said I need more resources. It was a sign that the investigation was expanding not diminishing.
LEMON: So in the context of responsible republicans, as your colleagues have been saying, when are they going to stand up in the context of this interview, this off-the-cuff interview, also part of the interview said, part of the Politico article says, asked what the strategy was to get through the crisis, one senior administration official laughed and asked, if the reporter was joking.
And then said there was widespread recognition that this was handled terribly in a real sense that there wasn't much that they could do.
So, is anyone in the White House ready to tell the emperor about his clothing, and that maybe less is more? Because the more he speaks, the more he continues to dig himself into a hole as it relates to Russia, Flynn, and on and on and on.
BLUMENTHAL: If a rational person were advising the President of the United States, he would tell him he needs a strong chief of staff, Jim Baker, to organize, bring together, make sure that the truth gets out, on the assumption that the truth is what eventually will get out. As Leon Panetta said just an hour or so ago on CNN.
LEMON: Do you think this is incompetency?
BLUMENTHAL: I hope that whatever it is, incompetence, or lack of truthfulness, will be corrected. And I say that as a democrat who believes strongly that there must be an independent prosecutor to make sure that the truth is uncovered, and that people who colluded with the Russians, whoever they are, are held accountable.
Because the Russians need to be made to pay a price. And so do the people who helped them. Because the Russians will do it again. They tried to get into the vote counting. And they'll do it in 2018. And so will the people who colluded and helped them. If they are not made to pay a price.
LEMON: The American people want you guys, all of you to check your politics and your party at the door. And it doesn't seem that anybody is doing that.
BLUMENTHAL: And that's why...
BLUMENTHAL: ... my hope is that my republican colleagues will listen to their constituents.
LEMON: Thank you. It's a pleasure, senator. When we come back, new details about what the president said to James
Comey, the two telling very different stories about a dinner where the president asked if he was under investigation.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Sarah Huckabee-Sanders with an interesting statement today about the firing of James Comey.
Let's discuss now with CNN legal analyst Page Pate, Michael Moore, the former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia, and CNN national security analyst Steve Hall, and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.
Michael, you first. The White House said today that removing Comey from his post may hasten the agency's investigation into Russian meddling. Sarah Sanders-Huckabee had this to say about the investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want this to come to its conclusion. We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity. And we think that we've actually by removing Director Comey taken steps to make that happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Isn't the place of the White House or the president to decide when this investigation is concluded?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: No, it's not the place at all. I tell you, we're living in a never-never land, I think, when you've got somebody who's under investigation who is now trying to call the shots about the investigation.
I listened to what the president said about Comey's assurances that's in his letter that he sent to Comey. And I'll tell you, that makes no sense to me at all. And even if, and I don't believe it was said in the way the president has relayed it, but even if Comey made some reference about whether or not he was under investigation, it was an improper question to ask him.
And these investigations continue to roll from thing to the next. So while that may have been the case at the time, if it was, that doesn't mean that the next day something didn't come up which might put to press his conduct or someone close to him under the microscope.
LEMON: And here's that moment that you've discussed there. President Trump admitting that he ask Comey if he was under investigation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, will you let me know? Am I under investigation? And he said, you are not under investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Every single person who watched that interview, that part, they were struck by that, Laura. It may not be illegal, I don't know, you're the legal expert. But was it ethical?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think that it was. It was an inappropriate question for him to ask, and inappropriate question if Comey actually answered it. That's a big if. But really the real issue here is the timing of it. And we don't have the actual timing of that conversation. It matters.
Remember, in March is when Comey came forward and said at a hearing that there actually was a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign, whether it colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
If that conversation that he asked that question at the dinner or the two phone calls that came after it happened before March, then arguably you could argue that, listen, he didn't know there was an ongoing investigation, and you miss an important link about obstruction of justice.
If, however, it came after that, and, of course, it probably came a little bit before and after, then you have more of an inkling to say, listen, you knew there was an investigation. Did your question at the time he was looking to extend his tenure, that you hoped to influence that decision? And did that have an impact ultimately? That's going to be the conundrum we're facing. What was the timing and what was your intent at that time?
LEMON: Here's how you know that politics is involved when there is this sort of disingenuity and that it's hypocrisy. Do you remember, Steve, when Bill Clinton met with Loretta Lynch on the plane, everybody, republican and democrats, said it was inappropriate, right?
Now you have the President of the United States meeting with the director of the FBI, and admitting that he asked him if he was under investigation. Yet, republicans in Washington, and I'm sure many around the country, are still standing up for him, and not condemning it like they condemned the meeting with Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton on the plane.
[22:45:03] STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is one of the central problems that we're having, Don. I mean, there's no doubt in my mind that although I understand the administration's desire to have this investigation, you know, be over with, there's no doubt that Comey's removal has slowed that down. And it is a question of perception, and integrity.
I mean, people are saying things like, you know, the good people at the FBI and there are lots of good ones and I've worked with lots of good ones, you know, will continue to work on this investigation regardless of, you know, who's the director.
And the bottom line is while that's true, these people also have mortgages to pay, they got kids to put through college, they need the political top cover. You were just mentioning, you know, when politics gets involved. In this sense it's a positive thing.
They need an FBI director who is completely apolitical who will protect them from the political wind so that they can do this counterintelligence investigation. That's the only way we're going to get to the bottom of this.
Ironically, Comey, who, you know, was disliked by both sides of the aisle at various times, you know, in today's polarized Washington, he's about the closest you can get to actually apolitical and they just got rid of him. So what's got to happen is the republicans and the rest of Congress are going to have to make sure that whoever Donald Trump, who is the guy being investigated, whoever he names is up to a very high standard. And that's you know, whether the republicans can actually come through and do that, because they control it, right?
HALL: Then it will be interesting to see.
LEMON: That's an interesting point. Because as we say in this business, if you're ticking everybody off on every side, people mad at you on the left, in the right in the middle, then you're doing something right.
HALL: It's a good sign.
LEMON: In the press briefing today the White House said that they want the Russian investigation to come to its conclusion with integrity, they say. Here's what the president told NBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.
HOLT: So there was (Inaudible).
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 democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Page, I've heard some people say that this is a president confessing to obstruction of justice. What do you think?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Don, I certainly think he's trying to put his thumb on this investigation. He wants somebody he can control in the position of FBI director. Because I don't understand at all if the real reason to remove Comey is what he did in the Clinton investigation, or what he said in the congressional hearing, why also get rid of McCabe?
Now I did not expect the acting director of the FBI to actually make it through the hearing today. Because it's clear from what he said, he is independent, he's strong-minded and he is somebody who I think could run this investigation.
But I understand that the attorney general and the deputy attorney general are already looking for replacements for this guy, and he hasn't been on the job for a full week yet. So I don't know why we can't keep someone like McCabe in his position to allow him to continue to run the investigation.
Because if we cannot do that, the only way to have any credibility at all in this investigation is to appoint a special counsel. And if the deputy attorney general is the kind of guy that I hear that he is, I expect that he will eventually do that. He has no other choice.
LEMON: Yes. But isn't it their entire goal, it appears they don't care about a credible investigation? Especially if you look at what's happened with the investigation over time, from Nunes on and on and on. I mean, that doesn't seem to be the party's goal, and the president said it's his goal but his actions contradict that.
PAGE: Don, they want it over with. That's certainly true. No question about it. They want it over with without anybody being charged. And the best way for them to do that is to keep someone that they control in the decision-making position.
So if the deputy attorney general now decides to start off, you know, looking into this case individually, or independently, Trump can remove him. And he's shown that he'll remove people in that position because he's done it in the past.
I think the only way for this investigation to have any credibility, the only way for this administration to move on to other things is to have somebody from the outside sit down, get the resources that they need, and be independent.
COATES: Let me just say...
LEMON: Stick -- hang on. Can you hold that to the other side of the break? When we come right I'll get to you, Laura.
When we come right back, the acting director of the FBI contradicting the White House in his public appearance today. We'll discuss that and more.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Back now with my panel. I know you want to get in, Laura, but I want to say this. And I want to get the dates correct. So we know that Sally Yates, right? Met with the White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 26th to say that Flynn had been compromised, right? Had been compromised.
The dinner that the New York Times is reporting about where the president asked James Comey to pledge loyalty happened the very next day on January 27th. What does that say to you?
COATES: Well, that tells me that, one, obviously it was prior to his congressional hearing where he confirmed that there was in fact a criminal investigation into collusion. And it also suggests to me that you have a president who was pushing his weight around at the time and was trying to put his thumb on the scale to figure out whether this person would actually go forward with an investigation perhaps, and whether the answer to that question had to be no for you to keep your job.
Now, again, that if Comey answered that question. The interesting part about this, however, is we all want to hear from James Comey. But the question is going to be, listen, will there be the assertion of the executive privilege by the president to say, I said there was a conversation, but you cannot talk about what was actually inside of that conversation.
So I'm very eager to figure out how they're going to defend or have an opportunity for us as the public to hear what Comey in fact did. And if he answered the question, it would be highly inappropriate of Comey. It would be improper of the president. But we're still not yet at the unlawful part for a criminal investigation or charge.
LEMON: Michael, maybe it's just a coincidence, but, you know, the acting attorney general says, hey, you know...
[22:55:01] MOORE: That's right.
LEMON: ... your national security adviser is compromised. And then the next night you have dinner with the President of the United States? Come on.
MOORE: Well, let me tell you. I think that James Comey lost his job because the president realized that the fox was getting a little close to the hen house. And they realized at that point after they met with Sally Yates, and she brought to their attention that they were on to what Mike Flynn had been up to, and the stories he had been telling and the contacts he had made are not reported.
And then Comey is coming up and he's talking about Russia, I think that they were starting to feel the heat and they felt they had to move at that point. The danger I think for the democrats is that we start talking, or the democrats in Congress talk more about Comey and the firing of Comey than they do about Russia. And the focus has got to remain on Russia, and not on Comey. And this could be just a clever tactic by this administration, and
they're good at this, they throw these red hairs out here all the time.
LEMON: To change the subject.
MOORE: To move the moves, to move the discussion.
MOORE: And so they've got watch that. I think that's the danger in something like that.
LEMON: Notice we're not, that's a good point, we're not talking about policy, about anything, about you know, signing bills and...
MOORE: That's right.
LEMON: ... you know, what he does with the executive orders.
LEMON: Steve, why are you shaking your head? Do you agree with what he said?
HALL: Absolutely. I mean, we have to have this laser-like focus on the Russian part of this investigation. I mean, more serious stuff is indeed coming out, which raises, you know, the legal questions about the president's behavior, and, you know, all of that sort of thing.
But you've got to remember that, really, the real threat here is if there was indeed that collusion and cooperation with the Russians that is a -- that is, you know, existential threat as probably a bit of hyperbole there.
HALL: But you know, that's the real serious thing. And you know, again, Comey is, you know, now gone. Who's going to replace him. You're in this unenviable position where the president of the United States is going to name the guy who's going to investigate him?
HALL: I mean, how can, you know, how does this go forward with the Russian investigation...
LEMON: I've got to get Page in here before -- Page, I have a short time here. But what do you make of -- what do you make of the timing here, and everything what we've discussed just now?
PAGE: It's entirely coincidental, Don, can't you see that? That's just the way the world works. No, it's not coincidental at all. It is clear that the White House had some information that something was going on, they were being investigated.
Flynn was starting to obviously be under the microscope. So what are they going to do about it? Well, they're going to inquire from the FBI director who at that point Trump thinks is his buddy. He helped him win the election, right? I'm going to have my buddy over for dinner, we're going to talk about this, I'm going to get an assurance from him.
I don't think Jim Comey ever told him word one about this investigation, and certainly not on three separate occasions. And why would Trump be asking for three different assurance that he's not being under investigation if there wasn't there to investigate.
LEMON: Thank you all.
COATES: If I may...
LEMON: Quick. Quick.
COATES: I got to say it, Don.
LEMON: All right.
COATES: The elephant in the room is also Jeff Sessions. Did he, was he also involved in any attempt to obstruct justice if he had a part in trying to shut down this investigation? He cannot be forgotten. I know he's probably thinking he's in a safe place right now. He's not. Come to find -- we're going to find out what was the date he chose to recuse himself from the rest of the investigation. I bet it will be a coincidence that you just mentioned as well.
LEMON: Yes. It's all a coincidence. Have you guys seen the New Yorker Cover? Have you seen that? With Jeff Sessions dragging Jim Comey off the plane? Like...
MOORE: Off the plane.
LEMON: Yes, yes. OK. Thank you all.
When we come back, more from president's first --the president's first interview since firing James Comey. It seems the two men have very different views on how their White House dinner went down.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)