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AT THIS HOUR
Deputy A.G. Pressed White House to Correct Record on Comey Firing; Trump: Firing Flynn "Did Not Sound Like an Emergency"; Officials at RNC Meeting Shrug Off Comey's Firing; W.H. Attorneys: No Money from Russia with "Few Exceptions.". Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:31:53] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Another contradiction between the president and his White House today on what really was behind the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general who oversees the FBI --
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, A.C. 360: That makes no sense.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He made a determination that the FBI director had lost his confidence, made a recommendation to the attorney general.
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.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: The "Wall Street Journal" now has some very interesting, new detail on that deputy attorney general and his reaction to all of this, how this played out over the last couple days, saying that he was actually looking for the White House to correct the record as they were going on the record on this.
Let me bring in one of the reporters behind this piece from the "Wall Street Journal," Aruna Viswanatha.
Aruna, thank you very much for coming in.
ARUNA VISWANATHA, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: Rod Rosenstein wanted the White House, according to the report, to correct the record on how the Comey firing went down.
BOLDUAN: What is his version of events? What are you hearing from folks close to him? What was inaccurate?
VISWANATHA: So, what we've heard is that he had this meeting with President Trump, with the attorney general. They laid out what they thought of Comey's tenure at the FBI. And then the president asked him to write this memo. He writes the memo and it's sent over, and it's, obviously, ultimately, the president's decision to make this call. And when you have the White House coming out immediately after the firing saying that this is all what deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, told us to do, and we're only doing what he told us to do, he didn't think that that was an accurate representation of how this decision got made.
BOLDUAN: And it's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg kind of thing, because do you know -- you said that the president asked him to pen the memo. There's kind of an outstanding question of why we know Rod Rosenstein did pen that memo, if he was asked directly, or would he have done this on his own in his first two weeks in his post?
VISWANATHA: There was a lot of displeasure within the Department of Mr. Comey's actions at the time with dealing with the Clinton investigation. And so, I don't think he felt differently from how he describes the events in the memo. But the fact that it was done as one of his first acts in the job, I think that is something that he was asked to do, not that he took the initiative to write it.
BOLDUAN: Fascinating stuff.
Aruna, thanks very much for coming in. I really appreciate it.
VISWANATHA: Thank you.
[11:34:36] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, he lied to the vice president of the United States about his contacts with Russian officials, but according to President Trump, still today, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is still a very good person. We'll have details on that, ahead.
Plus, more on our breaking news. The president threatening James Comey, raising the possibility now this morning that there are tapes of their conversations. Clearly, more to discuss there.
We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: President Trump now defending and explaining why it took 18 days before he made the decision to fire Michael Flynn. President Trump saying that former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, saying she left the White House with the impression that it wasn't an emergency. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: My White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me, and did not sound like an emergency of any -- it didn't make it sound like he was, you know -- and she actually didn't make it sound that way, either, in the hearings the other day, like it had to be done immediately. This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's, in my opinion, a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[11:40:04] BOLDUAN: Let me bring in right now former Republican Congressman and former U.S. attorney, Bob Barr. He first hired Sally Yates as assistant district attorney in 1989.
Thanks for coming in.
BOB BARR, FORMER CONGRESSMAN & FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Always a pleasure, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
What do you think of President Trump not heeding these warnings from Yates about Michael Flynn? What do you make of it?
BARR: I think what he ought to do is take a very hard, serious look at his staff and how information gets to him, how it's filtered, because, obviously, the system is breaking down. When Sally Yates, when she was acting attorney general, made the overture to the White House, it doesn't have to be that she puts red flags on it and says the world is going to end if you don't look at this. Somebody on the president's staff should have been in a position to look at that professionally, review it, find out more about it, and get it to the president. Yet, that didn't happen, and I think it indicates -- and the mess that we've seen with the White House and the communications over the last few days confirm to me that that system for getting information to the president how and when he needs it still is not working.
BOLDUAN: You, as I mentioned, you hired Sally Yates as assistant U.S. attorney in Georgia way back when. Here is how Sean Spicer describes Sally Yates when asked about this earlier this week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads-up about something and says. I want to share some information, doesn't mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action. I think if you flip this scenario and say, what if we had just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance, you would argue that that is pretty irrational to happen in that manner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: What do you make of that, the White House calling her a political opponent?
BARR: None of it makes any sense if what we are talking about is having somebody professional speak for the president who knows the judicial system, knows how these procedures work. This was not simply somebody off the street coming to the White House and saying, hey, I have some information. It was the acting attorney general of the United States, and that is far more important than a presidential press secretary or spokesperson thinks it is. There needs to be a better system. Sean Spicer should not be in charge, whether he is or isn't, of how this important information from the Department of Justice got to or didn't get to the president.
BOLDUAN: Yeah. It's not clear -- it came from Sean Spicer, but exactly, your point is taken. So, you have Flynn -- you have the Flynn firing and now you have the Comey firing. The president this morning seemed to threaten Comey about all of this in a tweet. Is there any legal, possible legal problem here that you see, Congressman? Do you see this as abuse of power or obstruction of justice?
BARR: I see it as very unfortunate, certainly, at a minimum, for the president to say those sorts of things and to publicly get into this battle between the presidency of the United States -- it's not just Trump, it's the office of the president that's at stake here -- and the head of an investigative, the top investigative agency at the Department of Justice is unfortunate. Whether or not something rises to the level of a criminal offense, I don't see that at this point. The president I think did something that was very unfortunate that indicated very bad policy, unethical and so forth. And if, in fact, Director Comey responded to that by saying anything other than, Mr. President, I cannot discuss ongoing investigations and who individuals are that we might be looking at, you know, I certainly would hope that would have been his response.
BOLDUAN: Real quick, you helped lead impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. Some Democrats are now talking about impeachment with President Trump. Do you think there's a case? Do you think there's something there?
BARR: No. I think this is unfortunate talk. It's way too early to be talking about impeachment.
BARR: And I think it's very unfortunate that the Democratic leadership, both in the House and the Senate, don't exert a little bit of influence over their members and say, look, cut this out, this has nothing to do with impeachment, let's focus on issues and the procedure here, you know, and not get off on these tangents and impeachment and traitor and calling somebody a traitor and so forth. I don't see that. And I don't think it helps the Democrats by focusing on these things.
BOLDUAN: Bob Barr, great to see you. Thanks so much for coming in.
[11:44:31] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Trump's approval rating just hit a new low. That despite -- but despite that, of course, he says that his poll numbers are good. "So, so good," are his words. We'll discuss. We'll take a look at what poll he's actually looking at.
Plus, what is going on here, despite the fun music? Is that Sean Spicer? Is that an illegal vehicle on the road? Or is that Melissa McCarthy in her now-famous impersonator role, returning to the streets of New York City just outside CNN? We'll take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: More on our breaking news. President Trump fires off threats against James Comey this morning after firing James Comey, but RNC officials are seeming to be shrugging it off, what happened. At their annual spring meeting in California that's been going on, the controversial barely came up, according to our reporters there. Officials there insisting regular voters simply don't care.
Let me bring in right now Doug Heye, CNN political commentator, Republican strategist, and former communications director for the RNC; Angela Rye is here, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.
So, Doug, does that surprise you, members of the RNC, they're gathering for their annual meeting, they don't think the Comey firing's a big deal, it doesn't need to come up in their meeting? Why is that?
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, the RNC committee members are elected by their state parties. That means they're going to be loyal to the president, just as Democratic National Committee members were loyal to President Obama, come hell or high water. And we've certainly seen a lot of both over the past 100 days, so that shouldn't be a surprise at all. What they do want to talk about are jobs and the economy and health care. And I can tell you from the conversations I've had with members of Congress, any day that we're talking about James Comey or tax returns or tax returns or some other crisis du jour, is when we're taking our eye off the ball and not talk about the issues where we can connect with the voters and effect change for the voters and that's a real problem. [11:50:15] BOLDUAN: It's hard to keep your eye on the ball with all
these tweets coming out, Doug. You'd be a magician if you could.
Angela, on the flip side -- I was talking about it with Bob Barr seconds ago -- some Democrats are now talking about impeachment. Clearly, they think very differently than the RNC members that are gathering. Is that going too far too fast?
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I don't see why it's not happened yet, why there's not been any proceedings, except for the Republicans seem to be in control of the House, the Senate and, of course, the White House. So I think that's what's standing in our way.
To Doug's point, one of the reasons we actually get along is there's this threshold baseline standard called human decency, and we have violated it at this point.
You brought up James Comey. Here's a man hardly into his recent 10- year term. The reason there are 10-year terms to begin with is because of, you know, this guy named J. Edgar Hoover. All of a sudden, it looks like J. Edgar Hoover has moved into the White House. And lo and behold, we're talking about impeachment on this side. That is the only thing we're talking about on this side.
BOLDUAN: Here's another thing to talk about. We just got this in. The White House has released a letter from the president - from attorneys for the president on tax returns involving business interests in Russia. Questions surrounding that, obviously, have been going on forever. The president, in an interview, said he actually sent a certified letter to Lindsey Graham about this. We're told that -- here's a little bit of what we know. They released this promise letter and here's what this letter says, "With few exceptions, the tax returns do not reflect any income of any type from Russian sources or any debt owed by the president or the Trump Organization."
"With a few exceptions," that's going to make everyone's ears perk up.
Doug, I can see your face right now.
The exceptions listed, the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. We knew about that. The president sold a property in 2008, Florida property, to a Russian billionaire. We did know about that. The final exceptions would be ordinary course of sales of goods and services to Russian entities.
Is this helping, Doug? Does this help?
HEYE: Possibly. What I mean by that is if you wanted to distracted from the James Comey news, which is not great news for the White House, there's no shinier object for the press than the tax returns, which he's never going to release.
But I think more importantly, Kate, is what President Trump tweeted about maybe you shouldn't listen to my White House communications team at all. I can tell you, as a former press staffer, I've been very fortunate when I've made a dumb come meant -- and believe me, I've made plenty -- my bosses have backed me up to the hilt. Having the president undermine the credibility of his staff makes their job hard not just today but moving forward. This White House has had a lot of crises, but not a lot of true crises.
HEYE: When that crisis hit, Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, they need credibility in front of those reporters who are going to be running after them. The president hurt them today. That's a real challenge for this White House.
BOLDUAN: Real, real quick, Angela. What's your advice to Sean Spicer, because the president has put him in a bad position?
RYE: The only advise I can give him is just to watch Melissa rolling down that New York street today with that podium. He needs to break, that he can break out of there as quickly as she has on the street with the podium rolling. I don't have any advice for Sean Spicer. It's a job he should have never taken. I've watched him on this network before he took this job and he was far more credible than he is now. It's impossible to defend a liar. Your credibility means more than that. I'm going to end where I started. Human decency is the threshold standard, and we violated it on all fronts with this president.
BOLDUAN: Sean Spicer was away on Navy Reserve duty and he is coming back to a lot to deal with as he takes us through the daily briefing today.
Guys, thanks very much. Angela, Doug, always great to see you guys.
HEYE: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Stephen Colbert firing at President Trump again after President Trump called him a no-talent guy, and he doesn't seem to be too upset.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:54:10] STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, LATE SHOW: The president of the United States --
-- has personally come after me and my show, and there's only one thing to say: Hee-hee-hee-hee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Two CNN heroes joining forces. Their goal? Much-needed support for women trying to rebuild their lives in refugee camps. Take a look at their unique project.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: The problem is making welcome mats from the life vests. So they're weaving these, paid to weave these. We are going to sell these in the U.S. And the idea is we're laying down the welcome mat for them.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: We can do so much better welcoming people into our country.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: This is a direct way to give empowerment and hope in something as simple as purchasing a mat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Simple but so powerful. To find out more about their project, go to CNN.com/heroes. And while you are there, nominate someone you think should be a 2017 "CNN Hero."
Thanks so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.
"Inside Politics" with the one and only John King starts right now.
[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate. Have a good weekend.
Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your time with us.
First, the president changed his story about why he fired James Comey. Now the president is threatening James Comey. In one of several angry tweets this morning, the president --