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Trump's Explanation Raises Questions; Acting FBI Director Contradicts White House; White House Upset Over Trump Photos With Russians. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] ISHA SESAY, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: You are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour, despite what the White House says, Donald Trump is telling a different story of why he fired James Comey. Plus, testimony from the Acting FBI Director contradicting another White House narrative. And later, Russian media post photos of Trump meeting with the Russian Ambassador and the White House is furious about it. Hello and thank you for joining us. I'm IshaSesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A.

We're learning new details about Donald Trump's controversial decision to fire FBI Director James Comey including from the President himself. A source tells CNN: Mr. Trump wanted Comey to pledge his personal loyalty to him but Comey refused. The New York Times reports the conversation happened as Comey had dinner with Mr. Trump at the White House back in January.

Meanwhile, the President is explaining his decision to fire Comey. He tells NBC News, he made up his mind long before recommendation by the Deputy Attorney General. Now, that is in stark contrast to the White House' version events. The President says Comey was not fired because of the FBI investigation into the campaign's ties to Russia.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS HOST: Did you ask him to drop the investigation?


HOLT: Did anyone from the White House?

TRUMP: No. In fact, I want the investigation speeded up.

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

TRUMP: No, no. Why would we do that?

HOLT: Any surrogates on behalf of the White House?

TRUMP: Not that I know of. Look, I want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with Russia, or by the way any - anybody else, any other country. And I want that to be so strong and so good and I want it to happen. HOLT: A lot of people would find it hard to believe that the man who

just said that tweeted very recently, "it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer parade."

TRUMP: I think that 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 - these so many investigations, I don't know if it's an FBI investigation or if it's Congress if it's the Senate or the House.

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

TRUMP: Well, yes. But they're also helping the House and the Senate.

HOLT: But when you put on tweet - 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 layoff?

TRUMP: No, I'm not doing that. I think that we have to get back to work but I 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 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 and I want to make sure it will never ever happen.


SESAY: Well, the President says he didn't think Comey was doing a good job at the FBI. He called him a showboat and a grandstander. CNN's Athena Jones has more.


ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Another day, explanation for why, when, and how President Trump arrived at the decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. The President now telling NBC-

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

HOLT: Because in your letter you said, "I accepted their recommendation." So, you had already made the decision?

TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless.

JONES: Those words at odds with the storyline White House staffers, begin pushing just hours after the bombshell move to oust the man leading the probe into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think you're looking at the wrong set of facts here.

JONES: Tuesday night, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said the President was acting on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose memo written at the request of the White House was critical of Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

CONWAY: This man is the President of United States, he acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General who oversees the FBI Director.


JONES: That line echoed the next morning by the Vice President.

[01:05:02] MIKE PENCE, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: President Trump made the right decision at the right time, and to accept the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General, to ask for the termination, to support the termination of the Director of the FBI.

JONES: By Wednesday afternoon, the story had changed. The White House arguing the President had been losing confidence in Comey since November. Despite evidence to the contrary, like this statement of support just last month.

TRUMP: I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.

JONES: The White House today downplaying the conflicting stories.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It was a quick moving process. We took the information we had as best we have it and got it out to the American people as quickly as we could.

JONES: According to the new timeline from the White House, a key factor in the President's decision was Comey's appearance on Capitol Hill last week. Sources telling CNN, Trump was infuriated by the testimony, particularly when the Director said this.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION DIRECTOR: This is terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that it might have had an impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision.

JONES: And sources tell CNN it was Comey's handling of the Russia probe; not the Clinton e-mail one that left the President, "white hot" and concerned that Comey "was his own man." The President today, openly admitting that on three separate occasions, he spoke directly to Comey about the Russia investigation. TRUMP: I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he

wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House-

HOLT: He asked for the dinner?

TRUMP: That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to say 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.

HOLT: Directly from him?

TRUMP: During the phone call he said it, and then during another phone call. So, he said once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did you call him?

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

HOLT: And did you ask him, am I under investigation?

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

JONES: And one more interesting bit of news out of that interview with NBC, the President said there would never be a good time to fire the FBI Director, but he also said that he knew that his decision to do so might confuse some people. Now, it seemed to be an acknowledgment that some might take this decision the wrong way, which begs the question given that the enormous backlash of why he decided to go ahead and do that. Athena Jones, CNN, the White House.


SESAY: To talk all of this now is CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, he has also been an Adviser to four Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. David, thank you so much for joining us. For the past 48 hours, White House officials had been front and center with the explanation that the President fired FBI boss James Comey on the recommendation of the Acting Attorney General. Only for the President himself, to come out on Thursday and say it was all his own idea. What do you make of this administration's inability to get on the same page as they scrambled to explain this to everyone?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this has been one of the most chaotic careers in the American presidency in my memory and I've been around long-time, I'm afraid. And I must tell you, what they basically did was the President fired the head of the investigatory unit that was looking at the White House, and White House essentially invented a cover story for why he did it. We've never had that in my memory, a cover story that collapses quite so quickly then unraveled right in front of our eyes.

And everyone now is sort of grasping, not sure what the public reaction is going to be. It's a little early to judge, but I must tell you, (INAUDIBLE) for a lot of us who've been around marching at a long time. This was a shocking two days, shocking two days that reminded us a lot of the Nixon administration; I worked in that White House. I was there during the Watergate period. And this is different in many ways, but the mendacity along with the incompetence of how they told the story is very striking.

SESAY: Yes. Well, more details emerging in the midst of all of this. We're getting from the New York Times that on one occasion, where the President met with James Comey during dinner at the White House. According to the New York Times, the President tried to extract some kind of loyalty pledge - I mean, which is extraordinarily in and of itself, trying to extract the pledge from the man who's leading an investigation into your campaigns alleged ties with Russia. Can you even begin to make sense on that reporting?

[01:10:03] GERGEN: Well, what we do know is, Jake Tapper from CNN was reporting this yesterday that one of the major reasons why President Trump was so unhappy with Mr. Comey was that he was disloyal. That he wasn't following the wishes of the President. And that seem - on one hand, that may reflect President's inexperience. On the other hand, it is extraordinarily inappropriate for President of the United States to be telling the FBI to do anything especially when the FBI is investigating his own associates.

SESAY: But what about the fact that the President - very casually tells NBC's Lester Holt that he spoke with James Comey on three occasions about the FBI's Russia probe. And he doesn't seem to think that there's anything wrong with that. That - beyond the fact of it, seeming improper that some people go as far to say that that smacks as obstructionism.

GERGEN: Well, there are those who put the interpretation on it, that he was saying that, Mr. Comey, well listen, if you're investigating me; I'm going to fire you, but if you're not investigating me; I'll hold on and I'll keep you. I actually think that's a little more innocent, and I think anybody talking to the head of the investigatory unit might well ask, are you coming after me too? So, I - that to me is less offensive than demanding a loyalty over firing the head of the FBI, doing a various thing which comes very close, very close what we call obstruction of justice. That's a crime in the United States. Is this White House, in that zone now? Are they, in fact, pushing up against the boundaries of what one has normally considered obstruction of justice?

SESAY: There are many, many questions on this evening. Dave Gergen, we appreciate the insights.

GERGEN: Thank you.

SESAY: Well, the FBI has been investigating alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia since last summer. Still, Mr. Trump insists it's a fake story manufactured by Democrats because he won the presidency.

(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 in an election that they should've won. And the reason they should've won it is the electoral colleges' almost impossible for a Republican to win. It's very hard because you'd start off at such a disadvantage. So, everybody was thinking they should've won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.

HOLT: Are you angry with Mr. Comey because of his Russia investigation?

TRUMP: I just want somebody that's competent. I am a big fan of the FBI. I love the FBI. I love the people of the FBI.

HOLT: But were you a fan of him taking up that investigation?

TRUMP: I think that - about the Hillary Clinton investigation?

HOLT: No, about the Russian investigation and the possible links between-

TRUMP: No, on. 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 as it should. In my opinion, it should be over with a long time ago because all of 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.


SESAY: Well, joining me now here in L.A.: CNN Political Commentator and Democratic Consultant, Symone Sanders; and Talk Radio Host and Republican Strategist, Andrea Kate. Ladies, welcome. Good to have you with us.


SESAY: Andrea, let me start with you.


SESAY: Is this a White House that is trying to back into a credible explanation for why they fired James Comey?

KAYE: I don't think it's about trying to find a credible reason to fire James Comey because if we, you know, look at all the reasons that the Democrats have given for the past few months as to why James Comey needed to be replaced with another Director. I think that there's already - it's already documented why he needed to do it and then I think people are - I think those who are wanting to undermine the Trump administration are looking for something wrong. There was a combination of reasons why James Comey needed to go. Some of - most recently, when he went before Congress and gave and

misrepresented the facts involving one of the highest - most important investigations we've had involved in the Clinton e-mails. Yes, that was the previous but it's still under investigation now or at least it's still coming up in hearings. His facts had to be corrected by people below him and he still doubled down on his misbehavior in the way that he handled the situation, overstepping his bounds and when acting as though he was Loretta Lynch. So, there were plenty of good reasons for why he needed to fire Comey. A variety of reasons, if he says one day and the next the next day, I think he's just people looking to undermine Trump, he has enough credible reasons.

[01:15:02] SESAY: All right. Symone, this is the White House that said one thing, for the first 48 hours that this decision to fire Comey was predicated on that Deputy Attorney General memo so much so that the Vice President went out and said that and says that this is a reason Trump fired him but when he said to the President to come out and say It's all my idea.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know poor Mike Pence. He has a history of going out there and saying one thing and find out days later that, actually Mr. Vice President that wasn't the truth. I do believe that we can -- we cannot ignore the fact that literally the President of the United States went out there today and he said hey, I know my White House told you yesterday, let me tell you the truth totally undermining his entire team and his Vice President. I think folks should be concerned. I know that we know from recent polling the American people are concerned. They're concerned about this timing. You've had high-ranking Republicans and Democrats for that matter saying this is concerning look I'm not shedding tears over James Comey. I absolutely believe he has egregiously handled a lot of different things from the (INAUDIBLE) where all the way back to this summer but the timing definitely is suspicious and we cannot forget that there are questions about this President's ties to a foreign country. Not just any foreign country but the foreign country that the entire intelligence community United saying interfered in our election.

SESAY: And to that point, this White House has been a great pain to stress that this firing has nothing to with the Russian investigation that Comey was leading but then you have the Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders say this. She said we want this investigation to come to a conclusion. We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity and we think that by removing Comey we have taken steps to make this happen. So is this about the Russian investigation or isn't it by the White House's very own words?

KAYE: It's about trying to make sure that we actually have a Russian investigation. Here's what we know after a year under James Comey's investigative leadership. We know that there's been absolutely no crime that they've been able to uncover that have anything to do involving Trump and his campaign colluding with Russia, but we do know that crimes were committed some these involving leaking we know that there were unmasking of Americans and we Susan Rice is still refusing the combo for Congress to actually discuss that, we know - (CROSSTALK)

KAYE: I'll let you speak. James Comey while going at great length to mind read Russians in terms of what their intentions were with their hacking or attempts to interfere in the election. He refused to even acknowledge that there was an investigation into the only crime so far that we know exists how about getting new leadership and that will look into every aspect of the investigation, I would like to actually see some investigation into Russian compromise of the previous administration and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton foundation in terms of donor money and speaking fees that Bill Clinton got in terms Russian compromise after the Russian reset. I would like to see if we're going to talking about hacking of elections and influence of election let's talk about the DNC and their influence.

SANDERS: I'm sorry this is so absolutely ridiculous.


KAYE: Did it not happen?

SANDERS: Let me just say first and all -

SESAY: I want to let you say everything that you want to say to Symone.

SANDERS: The entire intelligence community is united saying that the Russians interfered in our elections and not that the Russians, I think it's important that we use the right terminology here. Not that the Russian actually got Donald Trump elected but they influenced the election and their influence definitely affected the way our election played out and that the Russians had no luck for Hillary Clinton so clearly they were intervening on behalf of Donald Trump.

Now the question is what's their collusion with the campaign and the Russians? Were they directly connected in that, we do not know because the investigation the currently underway an investigation which that FBI Director former Director Comey was leading. The lines are very clear here. So yes, there are lots of people questioning what is going on. There are many folks that have called for a special prosecutor in this case, but we have to remember that the integrity of our government, of the way we are interacting, is at stake. I was just in Switzerland last week and I was embarrassed. OK? First time I've been embarrassed to step on American soil and answer questions about my President.

KAYE: I think you should have been.

SESAY: We could go on forever. So I'll tell what were going to do, you're going to come back, both of you to keep this going. Great conversation, ladies. We appreciate it thank you. This will go on. Thank you.

All right, we must hit pause and take a break. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., what happens to the FBI's investigation into the Russian election meddling now that James Comey is no longer Director, we'll have the answer when we come back.


[01:21:49] SESAY: Well, James Comey may be out of the FBI but the Bureau's investigation into Russian meddling will go on. In fact, the Bureaus new acting Director for the probe quote cannot stop. Here's CNN's Jim Sciutto.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, definitive words from the acting Chief of the FBI. The investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia will not stop.

MCCABE: There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. Quite simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.

SCIUTTO: Under tough questioning from lawmakers acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe pledged to notify the Senate of any interference including from the President or the White House.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: You commit to informing this committee of any effort to interfere with the FBI's ongoing investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign?

MCCABE: I absolutely do.

SCIUTTO: McCabe rejected the White House assertion that fired FBI Director James Comey had lost the confidence of FBI agents contradicting one of the administration many evolving and sometimes contradictory accounts of his dismissal.

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: Is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported Director Comey?

MCCABE: Can confidently tell you that the majority the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.

SCIUTTO: Asked about the President's claims that Comey told him he was not under investigation, McCabe refused to answer repeated questions.

RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Would it have been wrong for the Director to inform him he was not under investigation? Yes or no?

MCCABE: Sir I'm not going to comment on any conversations that the Director may have had -

WYDEN: I didn't ask that. Would it have been wrong for the Director to inform him he was not under investigation? That's not about conversations. That's a yes or no answer. MCCABE: As you know Senator, we typically do not answer that

question. I will not comment on whether or not the Director and the President of the United States had that conversation.

SCIUTTO: The Senate Intelligence Committee is pressing on with its own investigation. It has invited Comey to testify next week and subpoenaed fire National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for both documents and his testimony.

RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: In the absence of voluntary participation were willing to go to whatever basket of tools we feel is necessary.

SCIUTTO: Today the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to work out coordination on their Russian investigations. Sources tell CNN that Rosenstein was unhappy with how the President fired Comey while he was traveling outside of Washington. Even though the Deputy Attorney General wrote a memo justifying the dismissal but he says he's not quitting.

BURR: Regardless of what happens by the Justice Department by the FBI, that the investigation that's done by the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue on its current course.

SCIUTTO: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokesperson added one more reason for Comey's firing today. She said that it was intended to help bring the Russian investigation to an end with integrity she said but they saw this as a step on that direction. Of course, that raised alarm from people not only inside the FBI but the Senate and House Intelligence Committees who continue their investigations, who argued that it is certainly not the White House's place to interfere in an ongoing investigation. Jim Sciutto CNN, Washington.


[01:25:26] SESAY: Once again some insight into what the FBI was like under Comey, let's bring in CNN Law Enforcement Contributor Steve Moore who was a retired FBI Special Agent. Steve good to have you with us lots to talk about. Let's start with the headline from that interview with Lester Holt from "NBC" the President saying that James Comey was a showboat and a grandstander. Do you agree with that assessment?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: No, not at all. I think James Comey was -- even if what he did was a mistake and I'm not putting a value judgment on it, he was certainly forced, felt forced into his public statements and certainly he didn't ask for any of these audiences with the Senate, they called him. So I don't see that at all and that's never been a part of his character that I've seen.

SESAY: OK. The other question to ask is this issue of morale within the FBI because this is something that the White House is doubling down on saying that there was low morale. The President saying the FBI was in turmoil. You have retired but you know people, what's the truth?

MOORE: I've got many friends in the Bureau and this is going to come as quite a surprise that they're in turmoil. I think Director Comey was a popular Director. There was a feeling of purpose and there's always a feeling of purpose in the FBI, but the - that you know how that outside -- outside threat equals internal cohesiveness, right now you have the most unified FBI probably that you've had in a long time. Because now their unified because their Director was fired and a lot of them probably think that it was unjust, and again, I'm not making a value judgment but you've got a lot of angry agents and suspicious agents so if anything this is going to light a fire under any espionage investigation that might involve the Russians were this administration might come into it.

SESAY: Well what about happiness exist at the FBI right now it could likely be impounded by some reporting by the New York Times on Thursday reporting that James Comey had dinner with the President, which we knew, the President himself said in the NBC interview, but according to the New York Times reporting at that dinner we assume that's one of the same dinner the President tried to extract a loyalty pledge from the FBI boss, one which James Comey refused to give him. These ties in with reporting from our own Jake Tapper that the issue of loyalty that he wasn't loyal enough to the President is one of the reasons he was fired. What do you make of all of this?

MOORE: Well, first of all, any loyalty pledge to a President violates your loyalty oath to the constitution which you take when you bring your -- when you join the FBI he has a higher purpose. The FBI is not loyal to any President any more than is due his office. You are -- you are loyal to the constitution. You are loyal to the nation and you are loyal to its founding principles. You are not loyal to an individual. I mean, that's how things get turned sideways. That's how you become a banana republic and so that's offensive. If that happened. I can't validate.

SESAY: Yes, New York Times reported it.

MOORE: If the New York Times is correct, that's offensive to me and I'm sure it was offensive to the Director, but we spoke two days ago and I think I said at that point, I don't think this is necessarily about the Russian investigation specifically. I think its Trump not believing that Comey was going to follow policy guidance.

SESAY: That he was his own man.

MOORE: I hope I get fired one day for being my own man.

SESAY: We'll see what happens in time. Steve Moore, we appreciate it. Thank you. Quick break here. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., the pictures that are causing an international uproar. We'll hear from the photographer behind it. This image.


[01:32:40] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. A Russia has a message for American journalists: Don't lose your

professional dignity. Aleksandr Shcherbak was the only photographer in the room during President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday. He told U.S. reporters to quit blaming others for not receiving access. Shcherbak also called reaction to the photo shoot, quote, "hysteria."

The U.S. president addressed a meeting with the Russian foreign minister just a day after the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Here's what President Trump told NBC's Lester Holt.


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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never thought about it. It was set up a while ago. And frankly, I could have waited, but what difference does it make?

I'm not looking for cosmetics. I'm looking to do a great job for the country. I'm looking to create jobs. I'm looking to create strength and security. I'm looking for strong borders. I'm looking for things like that.

I think it's a really good thing that I meet with people. This is a public meeting, because, you know, when you cover this, the people watching, they say, oh, he met with Lavrov. This was an announced meeting with Lavrov. Just like a number of days ago, I spoke, had a very good conversation, very public in the sense that everybody knew this was taking place. I took all the time. Just spoke with the new head of 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. Do I say, no, I'm not going to see him? I said I will see him. During that discussion with Lavrov, I think we had a great discussion, having to do with Syria, having to do with the Ukraine, and maybe that discussion will lead to a lot less people getting killed and will lead ultimately to peace. So I'm -- I'm OK with those discussions, Lester. I think it's a good thing, not a bad thing.


SESAY: Well, there's also disagreement over when President Trump will officially meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Our own Brian Todd explains.


[01:35:02] BRIAN TODD, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dynamic between President Trump and his Russian counterpart now seems to be a battle of optics. Russian state media, citing Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reports the two leaders will meet in July at the G-20 summit in Germany. But a Trump administration official tells CNN that no meeting is confirmed and the Russians are getting way ahead of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no doubt that the Russians have been pushing harder for a meeting.

TODD: It comes as these optics are making White House officials furious, President Trump photographed in the Oval Office with Lavrov and with a man some U.S. intelligence officials consider a spy, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Moscow denies he's a spy. The photos taken a day after the president fired his FBI director, which sources tell CNN, was partly a response to the Russia investigation. These photos were taken by Russian media and posted by TASS.

A White House official says Putin asked for the meeting with Lavrov but says the Russians tricked the White House about the photos, which the White House didn't want published. Analysts say Putin must be enjoying all this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he loves is that Americans are spun up about the Russia issue. We have investigations ongoing. We have constant media coverage. We have public and political debate. We have outrage. And we have an administration that is increasingly hemmed in by all of that.


TODD: Putin skates through it all. He scores six goals and has never checked into the boards during an exhibition hockey game in Sochi.

He tells CBS James Comey's firing is an issue with the Americans, not him.

PUTIN (through translation): We have nothing to do with that. He's acting in accordance with his law and constitution.

TODD: Trump promised a warmer relationship with Putin and Russia, which drew fire during the campaign.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He'd rather have a puppet as president rather than --


TRUMP: No puppets. No puppets.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear --


TRUMP: You're the puppet.

TODD: But with the investigations probing his campaign's tries to Russia and the fiasco over the Comey firing, analysts say President Trump now risks giving Putin the upper hand whenever they meet.

UNIDENTIFIED ANALYST: Former KBG agent watching Trump's behavior, he's just salivating. Just thinking, oh, my gosh, like this guy throwing a temper tantrum, totally undisciplined, can't say focused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin thinking this guy is going to be incredibly easy to manipulate.

TODD (on camera): On the idea of Putin having the upper hand on President Trump, a Trump administration official told me that's preposterous. One analyst says Putin himself would have a weak hand in a meeting with President Trump, liabilities like the Russian interference with Ukraine and Syria. But this expert says Putin is good at playing a weak hand, strongly.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: Joining me now here in L.A., CNN's senior reporter for media and politics, our own Dylan Byers.

Dylan, good to have you with us as always.

This is a White House scrambling to get on the same page when it comes to its explanation for why the president fired James Comey. Why is this administration so bad at messaging?

DYLAN BYERS, CDNN SENIOR MEDIA & POLITICS REPORTER: Well, if you want to be generous, you can say they're inexperienced. If you want to be less generous, you can say they're inept. They -- you've got a president of the United States making a lot of his decisions on the fly. He's not necessarily keeping his communications shop in step with what he's doing. And then, you know, most notably when you talk about the inexperience or ineptitude here, you have an administration that didn't even anticipate the media blowback and the political blowback and, indeed, the public blowback and the scrutiny surrounding what is an extraordinarily abnormal decision, to fire the FBI director who is currently conducting an investigation into ties between your campaign and Russia. There is -- you know, it's -- you and I so often on this show have talked about the alternate realities of people living in this country due to the sort of partisan nature of our politics and our media. Trump lives in a different word. I don't think he expected so much blowback from this decision. It's happening now. The entire White House staff is scrambling to address it. They've got mixed messages. Nothing about their story is consistent, despite the claims of the press shop that the story is consistent.

Look, the move to fire Comey has raised so many more questions, it has raised so much more scrutiny. If his goal here, if you expect the worst, was to get rid of the investigation, he has only encouraged not only FBI but the public and the media to pay far more attention to it.

SESAY: But you said there are so many inconsistencies in the White House story but what is consistent is that the president would come out and say, no, no, no, it wasn't anybody else. It was all me. I made the decision.

BYERS: Right.

SESAY: The president who was always right, to taker of all credit.

BYERS: Well, yes, but at the same time, leading his -- all of his folks, all the president's spokespeople --


BYERS: -- to go out and say, well, he did this at the recommendation of the deputy, you know, and then he goes out and he undercuts his whole staff effectively throwing them under the bus.


[01:40:08] BYERS: Even his vice president. Of course, he would take credit for this. He cares about being defiant. He cares about being the guy who calls the shots. He likes having the authority to fire the director of the FBI. He probably likes having the ability to then go and be photographed with Russian officials. It's a way of saying, I'm above it, I don't care.

SESAY: To that point of the first draft of the Washington officials, they were asked, did you think about the optics of getting Sergei Lavrov, and let's not forget, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, in the Oval Office, and he said, no, he didn't think about it, which is, again, strange and contradictory coming from this White House.

BYERS: Yeah. It would not be fair of me to sit here and say that he is lying --


BYERS: -- but he is a president who is obsessed with optics. He has defined everything he has done about the sort of stage craft of the presidency. If you think it -- it was not lost on him who he was meeting with. Also, while American media was not allowed into those meetings, a Russian photographer was allowed into those meetings. Those pictures were widely disseminated. It sent a message. You know, he's basically sticking his thumb in the eye of Comey, of all of his critics, and I would argue of the --


SESAY: The White House seems to be surprised that the image captured by the Russian photographer was released by the Russians. A White House official telling CNN, they tricked us, that's the problem with them, they lie.

BYERS: They lie, right. That's a convenient argument to say afterwards. If you're the president of the U.S., you look at previous administrations, the way they treated anyone holding a camera -- you know the media environment we live in. You know that you have no sort of jurisdiction over what a photographer for a foreign state and his organization does with that photograph. I mean, it's very hard for me to accept the argument that he's somehow believed those photos weren't going to come out.

SESAY: Dylan Byers, it's a busy time.

BYERS: It's a busy time.

SESAY: Thank you.

BYERS: Thank you.

SESAY: See you soon.

All right. Next on NEWSROOM L.A., if you have a long flight from Europe to the U.S., better bring a book. How the U.S. might expand its laptop ban, ahead.


[01:45:35] SESAY: Well, Europe's bracing for turbulence over news the U.S. could extend its airline laptop ban. A similar ban is already in place in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Gadgets bigger than cell phones are barred from the cabins of U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports, including Cairo, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Trump administration says the rules will stop terrorists who could hide explosives in electronic devices. But the restrictions have been slammed as bad for business. The European transport official says the U.S. is expected to expand the ban and calls the situation a "total mess."

For more on this, CNN's safety analyst, David Souci, joins us by skype from Denver, Colorado.

David, always good to see you.

Well, one aviation expert describing this possible expansion as a major logistical problem for the airline. What's your assessment?

DAVID SOUCI, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It's really interesting some of the things, some of the reactions that have happened when there's a threat like this. One of the things that we've been talking about with the leading industry group, and the gentleman you were just mentioning before about how he thinks that it's a total mess, it gets worse than that. Because one of the reactions is that one of the plans was to take people's laptops and put them all in one particular area on the airplane as people fly, and that in itself creates another hazard because, let's say that one of those laptops is a bomb, now they're with all of the other laptop batteries, which would exponentially grow the impact of whether that bomb went off or not. They're not thinking this all the way through. They need to involve the industry. They're not doing that.

SESAY: Is there a way to guard against, say, not even a bomb but one of these batteries exploding, not due to nefarious purposes but exploding and causing a knock-on effect. Is there a way to guide against that other than just banning them from the luggage hold altogether?

SOUCI: Yes, there is. There's ways to certify specific laptops and identify them uniquely so they could be brought to another source where they could be verified as to what they are and have tamper-proof tape put on them so they're not changed. That way, as they go through security, you can see that that particular laptop has been screened not only by TSA but by a professional beforehand, and then afterwards as well, if need be. But there are ways. There are ways to do this. The industry knows these ways and the electronics industry knows these ways as well. As an example, one company has a very good system for ensuring this but they're not being used and TSA and Homeland are not referring to these folks to help them mitigate this threat.

SESAY: What are the implications, given the fact that there's so much business travel from Europe to the U.S.? What are the implications, the financial implications to the industry?

SOUCI: Very significant. You know, you -- the thought of me, I take myself, I travel to Europe quite a lot. I would not put my personal laptop in the hands of the baggage carriers, for example. I just wouldn't do that. I would ship it. I would wait. I would not travel as much as I need to. I certainly wouldn't be able to get as much work done on the airplane as most business travelers do between Europe and the United States. It could have a significant impact on it.

But I think it's further than that, Isha. One of the biggest things is safety always comes first, but have they identified that this is a true, credible and imminent threat? I don't think so. They've not produced any evidence that it is other than the potential.

SESAY: Yeah. What is -- I mean, should they decide to go through with this, and we'll all know in the next couple of days, what's going to be the best way of informing passengers to minimize the disruption that's going to follow from this ban?

SOUCI: Well, they need to notify people as soon as they purchase their tickets that they will not be able to take their laptops. If not, you'll have a lot of upset people when they try to board these airplanes. It has to be a notified at the time of purchase and there has to be a separate notification sent by e-mail. There needs to be notices out everywhere for people if they're expecting to mitigate any confrontations and actually violence that can happen -- breakout when people can't take their personal belongings on the aircraft with them. They'll have to do a lot of preparation for this.

[01:49:53] SESAY: People are very attached to their laptops.

David Souci, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Now Britain's Labour Party is offering voters a big government policy agenda intended to shore up its left-leaning base against Theresa May in this month's general election. The plan was revealed in leaks to the British media on Wednesday and party leaders are not disputing it. Under the plan, the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wants to renationalize large chunks of British industry, the railways and postal service, increase spending on health care and education, and increase salaries of public-sector workers. Polling suggests the left-leaning agenda could have broad appeal when voters cast their ballots on June 8th.

Next on NEWSROOM L.A., members of Congress are getting an earful over the firing of the FBI director. We'll take you to some very heated town halls, next.



SESAY: Well, outrage over the firing of FBI Director James Comey is spreading from Washington across the U.S.




SESAY: People chanted outside the Republican National Committee meeting in San Diego, California. And at town hall meetings, constituents gave Republican lawmakers a piece of their mind.


[01:55:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can the American people have confidence that the four different investigations you talked about are going to be credible? I would like you to stand with me, many of your colleagues and Americans wanting an independent investigation of Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I respectfully disagree. We have four investigations going on now of the president. We'll see what they produce. We'll see what they produce. And I have heard zero evidence, zero evidence of collusion with Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We seem to have a pattern that most people who are investigating it seem to be getting fired.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support an independent group investigating Russia's ties into the 2016 election?



UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: The answer is, no, not yet, not yet.


(END VIDEO CLIP) SESAY: Well, the scenes reminiscent over the anger over proposed changes to the nation's health care. The White House said it had not anticipated the strong reaction to Comey's dismissal.

Yu are watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

I'll be back with much more news right after this.


[02:00:11] SESAY: This is CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.