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CNN NEWSROOM

Biden on Hillary Clinton: "I Never Thought She Was a Great Candidate"; Friends of Comey Begin Speaking Out; Ivanka Trump/Jared Kushner Needed Special Permission to Enter Saudi Arabia. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


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[14:33:41] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Joe Biden, not one to mince words, and now six months after Hillary Clinton's election loss, he's speaking candidly about the former Democratic nominee. So at a conference in Las Vegas, the vice president said this of Hillary Clinton, quote, "I never thought she was a great candidate. I thought I was a great candidate.

Let's talk about that with Chris Cillizza, our CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large.

I mean, right? That was a doozy.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It's the most blatant Joe Biden has been about his disdain or dismissal of Hillary Clinton's candidate skills. But there are a number of --

BALDWIN: He stood by her. He stood by her.

CILLIZZA: He did. And he endorsed her soon after the Democratic primary in June of 2016, but throughout that time and then after the election, especially, he repeatedly said that it was a burden for her to run, she wasn't really sure if she wanted to, that he didn't understand why the message wasn't more focused on assembly line worker who make $65,000 a year. He's offered a lot of implicit criticism. This was a lot more explicit criticism.

BALDWIN: Maybe, a thought bubble, come 2020, who know? Who knows?

[14:35:54] CILLIZZA: In that same talk, he did say, look, could I do it? Yes. Will I? Probably not. But he certainly left the door open. Look, he'll be 78 years old, Brooke, in 2020. But Donald Trump was the oldest person, at 70, ever elected to a first term, you know, three and a half months ago or five months ago. So it's not impossible in this day and age that Biden would be entirely ruled out. And I think he wants to keep the option open.

BALDWIN: Before I let you go, let's have a little fun. You're posting gifts of these handshakes with President Trump and fill-in- the-blank leader. This is the moment that's been looped enough today with the former FBI director. So now one of the Hillary Clinton aides has posted this video onto

Twitter. It's from debate prep at some point last year. We can watch it together. She's walking towards the would-be Trump and he tries wrestling her into a hug.

CILLIZZA: Yeah. So that's --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Is the president just a huggy guy?

CILLIZZA: That was her top aide. and what you see there is them trying to simulate every possible outcome. Trump was unpredictable. To be honest, I'm wondering if there are more videos of the debate prep between Philippe and Hillary Clinton, which would be fascinating. She, Hillary Clinton, tweeted out that tweet. She obviously enjoyed it. But, yes, an odd moment, but it shows you how these debate preps, you have to prepare for every possible eventuality.

BALDWIN: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump debates, does that not seem like years ago? I mean years?

CILLIZZA: James Comey being fired feels like years ago, and it was 10 days ago, so, yes.

BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, always great to see you. Thank you very much for that.

CILLIZZA: Great to see you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, it's now been 10 days since Jim Comey got fired. Still radio silence from the former FBI director. But friends of his are starting to speak out. What a confidant says about the former relationship between the former FBI director and the president, and why James Comey was disgusted.

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[14:41:39] BALDWIN: He has been fired now for 10 days and Americans still haven't heard from the FBI Director James Comey. He may not be able to speak publicly about his firing or relationship with President Trump, but a personal friend is doing that for him. In this fascinating interview with PBS, this friend, Benjamin Wittes, describes that now infamous White House visit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN WITTES, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE & FRIEND OF JAMES COMEY: He really wanted to kind of blend in and not be singled out and he's 6'8", so when you're --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAM BRANGHAM, PBS HOST: It's tough to do that.

WITTES: When you're 6'8", it's really hard to blend in. If you watch the video of it, he's wearing a blue blazer and he stands in the part of the room that is as far from Trump as it is physically possible to be and also against blue drapes that are the same color as his --

(CROSSTALK)

BRANGHAM: He chose that spot?

WITTES: He chose that spot because it was, you know, almost like a chameleon or camouflage against the wall. If you watch the video, he extends his hand pre-emptively and Trump grabs the hand and kind of pulls him into a hug but the hug is entirely one-sided. So one guy in the hug is shaking hands. Comey was just completely disgusted by --

(CROSSTALK)

BRANGHAM: Disgusted?

WITTES: Disgusted by the episode. He felt it was an intentional attempt to compromise him in public because the most dangerous thing in the world, if you're Donald Trump, is a person who tells the truth, is dogged, you can't control who is as committed as Comey is to the institutional independence of an organization that has the power to investigate you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That, again, coming from Benjamin Wittes. That moment took place five days before the dinner where the alleged loyalty oath was requested.

With me now, Eric Lichtblau, CNN assistant managing editor in our Washington bureau, who has been reporting on James Comey for more than a decade and he has led "The New York Times" on the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Eric, good to see you again.

I think it's important to point out that we're getting this from Wittes and "The New York Times" today. This was an FBI director who apparently didn't want to play basketball with President Obama for the very same reason. But listening to this interview, Eric, did it sound like the James Comey that you knew and that you covered?

ERIC LICHTBLAU, CNN ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, WASHINGTON BUREAU: Yeah, I would say so. Someone who is uncomfortable in situations where he thinks he might be politically compromised. Of course, we didn't realize the significance of that handshake back then. It was just a handshake. Maybe half a hug. Now as we realize the obvious tension, animosity between the two since the firing, it's taken on all sorts of other implications. It's almost as if the book versions with all the color and grist and behind-the-scenes drama is being written for all of the president's men.

BALDWIN: You can see this two different ways. You can see it through one prism where the president didn't know what the protocol dealing with the director of the FBI and another anecdote where the president told Marine One, hang on a second, he needed to urgently call Jim Comey and he realized the president just wants to chitchat and it made him furious. Is a piece of this maybe that the president just didn't know that that's not what you do?

[14:45:14] LICHTBLAU: You know, that's certainly possible. We've seen that before in any number of situations. Trump is not a person who has ever held elected office, much less the presidency. He does not want to be bound by the usual protocols that most presidents and politicians have and doesn't really like boundaries. That, I think, is the most innocent explanation in Trump's favor. Of course, there are critics, most of them Democrats, who see more nefarious motives behind this, that this was an attempt to get to Jim Comey, to find out the status of the investigation in several conversations and even perhaps to shut down the investigation into Mike Flynn, his national security adviser, in one conversation.

BALDWIN: Well, reportedly James Comey felt disgusted by how the president was behaving towards him in some of those instances and felt it was his role in protecting the FBI from the White House.

Let me play one more clip because he comes into this, Benjamin Wittes, talking about how Comey told him, this is going to be a long few years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WITTES: This was somebody under intense pressure and, look, Jim is a trooper. He handles pressure very well. He's not a whiner. And -- but the color of the wall paper was that these were not honorable people and that protecting the FBI from them was his day job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: "The color of the wallpaper was that these were not honorable people." Do you think in Comey's eyes that that applied to the president as well?

LICHTBLAU: I think that's still an unknown question. That's one question that people would love to hear, if and when Comey testifies in public before the House or the Senate. But I think you also have to remember, you have to put this in some context. The election seems like years ago now. But remember, Jim Comey, who we're now seeing shine away from a political role with President Trump in some of these situations that are coming out, had a very prominent role before the election with Hillary Clinton and that did a lot of damage to his reputation. So I think you need to see those as bookends where he was accused of taking extraordinary steps that had never been taken before by an FBI director prior to the election and I'm sure a part of him was gun-shy about waiting even further into politics with this new, untested president.

BALDWIN: You hit on it a moment ago, the question swirling, will Comey testify? We wait to see.

LICHTBLAU: Right.

BALDWIN: Eric Lichtblau, please come back. We'll talk again. Thank you so much.

LICHTBLAU: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up, he was Al Gore's running mate and a long-time Democratic Senator. So why are Democrats furious that Joe Lieberman is apparently the front-runner to lead the FBI?

Plus, wheels up for the president's first overseas trip, but also making her debut as first lady overseas, Melania Trump. Find out what she'll be doing on this big, big trip.

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[14:52:27] BALDWIN: We saw Air Force One there with wheels up. The president is on his way to Saudi Arabia for his first overseas trip as commander-in-chief. It's not just a first for him. It is a first for his wife, the first lady. She is also making her international debut. Some of the excursions overseas will be without her husband. One of the questions swirling regarding Melania Trump in Saudi Arabia is will she cover her head? Michelle Obama made headlines when she did not during her 2015 visit to Saudi Arabia, which, of course, has rules demanding women cover their hair in public. Back in 2007, First Lady Laura Bush also chose not to do the same.

Joining me now is CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett.

Kate, let's talk about it. By the way, their child, Barron, is going on the trip overseas as well, is my understanding. What will Melania Trump be doing the whole time?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, she has events planned with the president, obviously, but she also has some events on her own. And while her office is being sort of tight-lipped about what exactly those events are, I think we can expect to see her doing some of the same things she's already done here stateside, visiting hospitals and sick children, possibly going to schools and visiting students, maybe experiencing some cultural outlets while she's abroad. I don't think she's going to stray too far from what she's already done here. I haven't heard anything.

The one time we know that she'll make remarks is at the very end of the trip where she'll speak to U.S. military families based in Italy, servicemembers. She is expected to speak towards the end of the trip.

But this is a global stage for Mrs. Trump this time out and things like the head scarf and the protocol issues will come into play because this is a five-city stop and each place has its own rules and its own traditions and things, and she's going to have to adapt to those. It's going to be interesting to watch.

BALDWIN: We'll be watching.

Also on the trip is Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, her husband and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. We know they're Orthodox Jews, so they had to get special permission to travel on this Friday. BENNETT: That's true. We often don't see them on the weekends

because they are practicing Orthodox that don't do much in terms of making public appearances over the weekend starting sabbath. Apparently, they did get special permission and they are, of course as we saw today, aboard Marine One and aboard Air Force One as well. So, yes, exactly. I think that they will also be making their own appearances abroad. I would imagine, from what I'm hearing, we'll probably see them in Israel -- on the Israel trip as well.

[14:55:15] BALDWIN: Nine days, five places, we'll be watching closely the entire family.

Kate Bennett, thank you so much. Have a great weekend.

BENNETT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Do not miss tonight on CNN, "The White House in Crisis." It's a special CNN report that airs at 10:00 eastern here on CNN.

Just into us here, Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's long-time aide, is filing for divorce against Anthony Weiner. The news comes as Weiner pleads guilty in court today for a sexting case. We'll tell you how long this man may have to spend behind bars.

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[15:00:03] BALDWIN: Thank you for being with me on this Friday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.