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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Could Announce New FBI Director Pick By Friday; Dems: No New FBI Chief Without Special Prosecutor; Clapper: I Cannot Refute Or Confirm Any Collusion; Trump; I Won't Talk About Comey Tapes, Tweet; GOP Senators To Trump: If Comey Tapes Exist, Release Them. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. Thank you for joining us. "AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan" begins right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are following breaking news. The president in his own words this hour. President Trump is set to speak at an event on Capitol Hill honoring fallen police officers. It's the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service.

Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they will also be on hand for this annual gathering. The president will be addressing law enforcement as he continues, of course, to face the fallout from his firing of one of the country's top law enforcement officers, FBI Director James Comey.

We're going to bring you the president's remarks in full as soon as he begins. Will he address his now search for the new FBI director? We will see.

So, with that, FBI Director James Comey out, the search for the next director is well under way and the president himself has been hinting he could announce his new pick by the end of this week.

So for more on this, let me bring right now, CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. So, Jeff, the latest we know is there are at least eight candidates for the spot that have been interviewed. What do we know?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. We do know there are at least eight candidates, but there could be other candidates who are not on that list that we have been discussing. I'm told that the president is looking for a wider group of people, but for now, we do know the eight people who interviewed over the weekend.

I am told that all of them are not equal, of course. Mike Rogers, the former member of Congress, former FBI director, he is the favorite of the FBI rank and file. In fact, the FBI association, the agents association has come out in favor of him. Now, we do not know what type of sway that will hold with the president, but I am told by a senior administration official the president plans to interview or have a discussion with the finalists, probably the top one or two people here.

But much of the formal interview process is, indeed, happening at the Justice Department with Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, as well as his deputy attorney general here. But we do not know the timing, quite frankly.

The president said over the weekend it is possible to make a decision before he leaves on Friday, but it is not certain and these things generally take longer than they think. This is someone who has to be confirmed in the Senate.

And Democrats are already making a noise this morning about the fact that they will try and block any potential nominee if they don't see that they are a fit for this.

So, you get the sense, Kate, that the White House would like to get some buy-in from Democrats on this and get some agreement on this. But Comey was fired abruptly, so perhaps the hiring will happen abruptly as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Or maybe just the pick will happen abruptly. The confirmation sounds like it's going to be anything but quick at this moment.

ZELENY: It's going to be bruising.

BOLDUAN: There you go, bruising, abrupt and bruising. That's a tough job, before anybody even takes the posts. Great to see you, Jeff. Thank you so much, for keeping an eye on Capitol Hill.

Because as Jeff points out, no matter who the president picks to replace James Comey at the FBI, that pick can't go anywhere without first facing the Senate.

And Democrats there are making it clear that they're preparing for a fight, even promising to block any potential candidate to lead the FBI unless their demands are met.

Congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, he is following all of this from Capitol Hill. Phil, what are Democrats demanding here?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're waiting, they're watching but most importantly they are pressuring, both publicly and behind the scenes, Kate, trying to set groundwork, lay the groundwork for whoever that nominee is going to be.

One of the key demands you're hearing repeatedly from Senate Democrats, almost in unison right now, is in order for the next FBI director to be confirmed, they want a special counsel appointed by the deputy attorney general. Take a listen to what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had to say this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: I would support that move, because who the FBI director is, is related to who the special prosecutor is. Remember, the criteria for a special prosecutor, independent in making day-to-day decisions from the hierarchy in the Justice Department, in the White House, can only be fired for cause, has to report to Congress, and very importantly, can look into any attempts to thwart the investigation, are all really important criteria.

And to have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief, because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now, Kate, here's the catch, and I think it's a pretty important one -- Democrats on their own can't actually block anything in the U.S. Senate. It takes 51 votes in order to approve any nomination or to confirm any nomination that President Trump selects to be the next FBI director and Republicans control 52 seats in the U.S. Senate.

So what does that mean? That means behind the scenes, I'm told, some Democratic aides say they are working to kind of reach out to concerned Republicans. It's worth noting, there were no shortage of Senate Republicans who said they were troubled or concerned or had problems with the circumstances that surrounded the firing of Jim Comey.

[11:05:00]What they want, and frankly, what they need in order to be able to block anybody, is for those Republicans to join them and essentially say we also will not vote to confirm any FBI director nominee unless Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints a special counsel.

I'm told right now there is no dramatic signs that there is a wave of Republicans looking to join that position, but that's what's going on behind the scenes. Again, Democrats trying to set the stage, lay the groundwork for this pick, which as you note and what Jeff noted earlier, could come at any time -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, is it more for Democrats, like I don't want to say a shame campaign, but a pressure campaign that they'll make very public on maybe they think vulnerable Republicans to come out and put them on the spot to say how can you support this confirmation if you don't get a special prosecutor, something like that?

MATTINGLY: That's exactly right, and I think you would see repeatedly this week public statements. We saw it yesterday on all of the Sunday shows, whenever you hear from Democrats, trying to make clear, Republicans, it's incumbent upon them to join this effort if they care about this institution, if they care about the institutions that they feel are under attack from the White House.

But again, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made very clear he plans on keeping his conference together. While they've raised concerns, it hasn't dramatically split up to this point, so something would need to happen.

There would need to be a dramatic change for this effort to really have teeth, for it to really work, but that, at least at this moment, is their behind-the-scenes strategy -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but when it comes to this firing of James Comey, dramatic change and dramatic moments we've seen plenty of, so I guess stand by maybe on that one. Great to see you, Phil. Phil is on Capitol Hill.

We are keeping again our eye on Capitol Hill because that is where President Trump will be speaking at the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service shortly and we will bring you his remarks live when they begin.

But as we wait for that, let me bring in my panel with me right now. David Drucker is a CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," Sahil Kapur, a political reporter for "Bloomberg News," and Amanda Carpenter, a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, and Guy Cecil, the head of Democratic super pac, Priorities USA. Thank you all for being here.

So David, how big of a fight do you think this is going to be over the next FBI director?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's going to be an ordeal. I'd put it that way.

BOLDUAN: OK.

DRUCKER: We're looking at a month-long process, more or less, from the time the appointment is made because the committee process takes about two weeks. Even though the hearings are about two days or so, the whole process is probably about two weeks.

Then you've got a floor debate process or floor fight. That's probably another couple of weeks, and it really could be disruptive in the Senate because they're trying to process a health care bill, they want to get on to some other business, and they have a lot of other nominees that Trump has put up or will put up that they wanted to get to, so that presents some challenges.

I think the thing to watch here are Senate Republicans and exactly how supportive they can be for the nominee that Trump puts forward. And because it's such a close vote, they can only lose two seats, then Mike Pence, the vice president, would be the tie-breaker.

I don't think the president can afford to nominate a stooge or anybody that could be sort of interpreted that way, and that's because you've got two Republicans that could face tough re-elections in 2018, but two is all you need.

BOLDUAN: Right. Two is a lot. DRUCKER: And then you've got Republicans that are very -- I mean, in the Senate as compared to the House, they tend to be a little bit more independent-minded, and a lot of them were unnerved by the way this whole thing went down. So, that's why I think the president needs to nominate somebody that is unimpeachable and has good law enforcement credentials. If he does that, I do not think you'll see Republicans defect and join Democrats in an effort to say no confirmation unless we get a special prosecutor.

BOLDUAN: Right. But Amanda, who is this perfect candidate right now, because there seems to be a pretty big, conflicting standards and demands on what people are looking for here. I mean, of the list of possibilities, is there a perfect candidate who can make it through confirmation in terms of get Democrats and keep Republicans on board, also restore confidence in the FBI at the same time, and also be a candidate that the president is comfortable having in the post?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, just not too many things to ask for there.

BOLDUAN: None.

CARPENTER: Listen, the confirmation hearings will be very important. I think Mike Rogers is very well positioned to do this, but we will see, because he is a Republican and Democrats could object --

BOLDUAN: Outright.

CARPENTERS: I've been noticing that the Democrats have been asking who do you like. They won't say because they want to preserve all their ammunition. And so, what I think is kind of smart that the Democrats are doing, they're making a clear act, saying we want a special prosecutor for the FBI director.

But here's where I'm concerned about that ask. If you appoint a special prosecutor, that prosecutor can only investigate crimes. So, it's sort of incumbent on the Democrats to say, you know, what crimes do you want him to look at?

I think they'd be better off doing a congressional commission, because listen, there's lots of bad ethical judgments that have happened that may not rise to the criminal level.

I think Congress is going to need a way to get this out of their hands so they're not just solely responsible for the Senate investigation. A congressional commission might ultimately be that compromise spot.

[11:10:02]BOLDUAN: And I also think -- I think there's also a healthy bit of confusion amongst the public of there is a difference between a special prosecutor and an independent commission.

A special prosecutor and a special committee in Congress, it gets into the weeds, but actually, these are very different things, and that's where you're kind of seeing where members of Congress are falling along different lines. But Guy, back to the FBI director and who will be picked, when it comes to, traditionally, I will say, when it comes to senators when they're picked for important posts like this, there is an amount of deference that is paid to them.

If Donald Trump would nominate John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate who is, you know, amongst the list that has been interviewed, would Democrats really want to hold that up and fight against that?

GUY CECIL, CHAIRMAN, PRIORITIES USA: Absolutely. I mean, I think these are extraordinary times. We've seen over the course of just the last seven days this administration consistently change its story about whether or not the president of the United States has tried to exert influence over the FBI director, pressure the FBI director, insult the FBI director into making decisions that he fundamentally opposed.

And the idea of hiring a partisan politician for this job at this moment I think is fundamentally the wrong way to go. You know, Democrats have been relatively clear about the type of FBI director that they would like to see. They want to see somebody independent. They would like to see somebody that has a career of independence, of investigations, somebody --

BOLDUAN: But Guy, depending on the day and the investigation, people thought Comey was independent or not independent, right? So, it's a little bit of the eye of the beholder.

CECIL: But while they expressed concern about Comey, they still recognized one simple fact, and that is that this president fired the FBI director because he did not want him investigating the role of this president and this administration and its relationships with Russia.

So, regardless of whether or not you have concerns or complaints or questions about somebody in this role -- by the way, that's been true over the course of the last several decades -- the fact is not whether we have questions. It's whether or not this president fired the FBI director to cover his own behavior and the behavior of this administration.

BOLDUAN: An interesting kind of wrinkle in all of this, Sahil, is that President Trump all along, especially recently, has kind of hung his statement that there is no collusion between the Trump campaign, there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia with regard to the election. He's hung that on James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence. Well, James Clapper seemed to clarify what he thinks about that this weekend. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The bottom line is, I don't know if there was collusion, political collusion, and I don't know of any evidence to it, so I can't refute it and I can't confirm it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: He's saying I don't know and you can't claim I do know, basically. Does he eliminate the multiple tweets we've seen from president Trump saying Clapper backs him up just in one interview?

SAHIL KAPUR, POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Looks like, Kate, what he did was essentially what Director Comey did, which is to say I don't know one way or another. President Trump didn't seem particularly happy with the fact that Director Comey didn't exonerate him, didn't say publicly that he wasn't under investigation.

I think the director said as much as he could have said in the sense that he doesn't know where this investigation is going to go. In the bigger picture, we've seen a president who has agreed by the fact that he's not getting enough credit for his upset victory in the 2016 election.

And this cloud named Russia that's hanging over his head is exacerbating his feelings over this whole process because now there are questions of legitimacy in terms of whether his associates had illegitimately colluded with a foreign power to help sway the election.

I think all of this is factoring into the president's behavior, whether it's the defensiveness about this, the attacking of lawmakers, name-calling of Democrats, the tweets calling this fake news.

Now you have Democrats who don't have the numbers to block the successor, but they do have the political wind at their back. There is a poll out this weekend that showed 78 percent of Americans want either a special prosecutor or an independent investigation of some sort.

BOLDUAN: True.

KAPUR: And only 15 percent want Congress to handle it. So, I think the two things I'd be looking out for is if Democrats don't get that, they need to either pick off three Republicans on their side or they need to put pressure on leadership and potentially if there are some cracks in Senator McConnell's armor there, this could take a very different shape going forward in terms of who the next FBI director is going to be and how much weight Democrats are going to have.

BOLDUAN: Let's get the vote count tracker up and running as we speak. I'll try to get a couple of you respond to this in the short time we have left. Preet Bharara, David, the U.S. attorney from New York who was also fired by the president, he did not go quietly, to say least.

He wrote an op-ed for the "Washington Post" and in it he asked this -- and he's talking about the firing of Comey -- with the firing of Comey, he says, "In the tumult of this time, the question whose answer we should perhaps fear the most is the one evoked by that showdown." Are there still public servants who are prepared to say no to the president?"

[11:15:08]Is he being overly dramatic? Do you think that's (inaudible)?

DRUCKER: Look, I think that the problem with the president's actions is the way in which he's gone about most of them. The president had every right to fire Preet Bharara, he had every right to fire James Comey, but the manner in which he went about it, in not laying a foundation for fresh leadership at the FBI versus his own personal animus and own concern about whatever the FBI is investigating or not investigating is what creates a crisis of confidence, if you will.

And I think that the president has done himself a disservice by going about things this way and then taking off the table that presidents come in all the time and make changes at the top at the Justice Department, but the president likes to do things with sound and fury. Sound and fury is his M.O., but it's what causes people to wonder and second guess his real motivations.

BOLDUAN: Amanda, do you think there's someone around Trump that will still tell him no after Comey's out?

CARPENTER: No, I don't think there's people -- I don't think he attracts those types of people, but I think we really need to have clarity. There's so many complaints about Trump right now and watching a lot of the Democrats.

We need to get to the nub of this so people know what we're looking at. Donald Trump and his associates have not been forthcoming good their contacts with Russia. They three times tried to hinder investigations. That is what this is about, plain and simple.

Cherry on top, because he's so focused on managing his own PR, trying to avert this crisis, he's letting actual real crises pass by his desk without comment.

North Korea is firing off missiles, and they say, oh, what are the Russians going to do about it? We are in the middle of the largest cybersecurity attack our nation, world has ever seen. He says nothing. That's the problem.

BOLDUAN: We'll see maybe what he'll say today. We do know, we're told there were two meetings held over the weekend regarding that massive cyberattack that's hitting the world at this very moment. David, Sahil, Amanda, Guy, thank you all so very much. We really appreciate it, guys.

Coming up tonight, a live town hall you won't want to miss with the top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. That's tonight, 9:00 Eastern.

Ahead for us, North Korea just launched a new missile. This time it did not fail. Now the north is warning that it could reach the United States with a large nuclear warhead. A report and fact check from inside that hermit kingdom. That's ahead.

Plus, it's the next big test for President Trump's travel ban. That's happening today before a court. The president has threatened to break up, all happening today. Details on that ahead. And any moment now, as we've mentioned, we're going to hear from President Trump himself live from Capitol Hill. He's going to be speaking this hour at an event honoring fallen police officers on the front of the capitol at a beautiful ceremony.

Last hour the president signed a proclamation promising to further protect law enforcement on the job. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Some of you have suffered greatly, and we're going to take care of it, OK? We're going to take care of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:21:57]

BOLDUAN: One of the most surprising twists in the firing of James Comey was the president threatening this on Twitter. I'm sure you will remember. "James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

That, obviously, raised many more questions than he offered answers, but now the president says that he cannot talk about any such tapes. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings that is --

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, that I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be. I'm sure he will be, I hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I hope. Joining me now is a man who knows a thing or two about the legal workings of the White House, former White House counsel to President Obama, Bob Bauer. Bob, thanks so much for coming in.

ROBERT BAUER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So the president, as you heard there, told Fox News that he's not going to talk about any tapes. Does he have an obligation to talk about it publicly, talk about if he's recording conversations? Can anyone make him?

BAUER: I don't know whether he has an obligation to talk about it publicly. I think he is a legal obligation to turn those tapes over to Congress or any investigative authority, any authorized investigative authority. He put the question into play about what his motives were in the firing of the FBI director. Let's be clear, he can fire the FBI director.

BOLDUAN: Right.

BAUER: However, the FBI director was appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and the question is why he fired the FBI director, and his story on that has changed. It began as firing the director over his behavior in 2016 during the presidential campaign.

And then the president himself said, no, in fact, displeased with the management of the Russia probe. So under these circumstances, Congress can certainly ask for the tapes that bear on that question specifically, as can anyone in the investigative world charged with looking into the question of whether or not this together with any other facts could conceivably constitute attempted obstruction.

BOLDUAN: And it sure seems that you now have a bipartisan movement towards wanting to get those tapes, if they do exist. Of course, we know in the past the past presidents have had a system in place to record conversations and have used it. To your knowledge, Bob, did President Obama ever use this system to tape conversations?

BAUER: Well, to my knowledge, absolutely not. I've never heard it even suggested. As you know --

BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you, is that something when you're going in, is that debated or even a possibility?

BAUER: Certainly not in my experience. I can't say I've ever been a party to that conversation. Now, as you know, there is some question about whether presidential communications can be reconstructed. They're transmitted over voip, voice-over-internet protocols.

And so those data pacts can be presumably reassembled and particular conversations recaptured, if I understand the technology correctly. What's at issue here is the installation of a taping system as other presidents in the past have done, but not to my knowledge since President Nixon did it.

We don't know what President Trump had in mind. He put the word tapes into quotation marks.

[11:25:01]Did he mean an installed taping system that is regularly operated, or did he mean that he could retrieve it, or did he have, for example, a cell phone recording that he somehow triggered during the conversation with Mr. Comey or other conversations as he saw fit?

We don't know. Whether he chooses to talk about it is a separate question from whether he has a legal obligation to turn it over to address legitimate Congress that Congress may have or that prosecutors may have.

BOLDUAN: So, Bob, in terms of legal advice, in your old post, would you have advised the president to have dinner with the FBI director when the FBI was investigating his campaign? BAUER: Well, you always want to be humble about what you would have said, particularly when you're sort of speaking with hindsight, but I have to say, there is a very clearly established norm that the president of the United States does not communicate with senior officials in charge, and particularly, the FBI director in charge of a criminal investigation.

One that touches upon at least the president's campaign, President Trump's campaign associates and his campaign, conceivably on President Trump himself, but we don't know that. It is more than imprudent.

It's really inconsistent with the norm for the president not only to have had dinner with the FBI director, to apparently discuss with him his loyalty, but to have asked him on three separate occasions whether he, President Trump, was exposed to legal risk.

BOLDUAN: Well, on that point, Bob, what would you have said to the president when he told you that he asked the FBI director directly about this investigation?

BAUER: What would I have said to President Trump?

BOLDUAN: If this was a president -- if it was a president you were serving.

BAUER: If I had been told that he had had a dinner with Director Comey, I would have been surprised that that question had not been addressed, because had it been addressed within the White House by the normal advisory core, he certainly would have been counseled in the strongest terms not to do it.

Had I found out that he had done it, I think he would have heard from me and other responsible lawyers that it was a mistake and we would have looked at ways of redressing it and also assuring that it wouldn't happen again in the future.

BOLDUAN: Bob Bauer, great to have you and great to have your perspective, as always. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

BAUER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, sticking up for President Trump. A state attorney general says the president made the right call in firing Comey. We're going to talk to her next for her perspective on this whole thing and the fallout, of course, continuing.

And also, again, we're keeping an eye on Capitol Hill. Live pictures of Capitol Hill. The president expected to be speaking any moment now at an event honoring fallen law enforcement officers.

This, of course, days after firing the head of the FBI, one of the top law enforcement officers in this country. We're going to take his remarks in full for you of the peace officers' memorial service. Hear what the president has to say. We'll be back in one moment.

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