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Trump Escalates Conspiracy Theory; Comey Fires at Trump; Justice Department to Brief on Source; Interview with Rep. Mike Quigley; Judge Rules on Trump's Twitter Feed Case. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 23, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 7:00 a.m. on Hawaii's big island, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 2:00 a.m. Thursday in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Up first, spygate, the deep state, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories coming from the president of the United States. In a barrage of tweets today, President Trump repeated claims that the FBI spied on his campaign, once again offering no proof. He was asked moments ago, where's the proof?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All you have to do is look at the basics and you'll see. It looks like a very serious event. But we'll find out. When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen. I hope it's not so, because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country. I hope -- I mean, if you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday, inadvertently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, but here's precisely what James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, actually said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": So, I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump's campaign?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, no, they were not. They were spying on -- a term I don't particularly like -- but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand, were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence. Which -- which is what they do.
BEHAR: So why doesn't he like -- so why doesn't he like that? He should be happy that we're doing --
CLAPPER: Well, he should be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president also went after the fired FBI Director James Comey. He went after John Brennan, the former CIA director. Tell us what else he said.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he did indeed. The president certainly wanted to flesh out a little bit of what he's been saying for the last several days. Essentially where he has, you know, escalated what was a -- you know, basically a rumor into now a full-blown conspiracy that he is leading. But he was asked directly about, is he undercutting the investigation? Are you trying to discredit everything that's going on here? And the president brought up James Comey on his own. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a terrible situation. What we're doing is we're cleaning everything up. It's so important. What I'm doing is a service to this country. And I did a great service to this country by firing James Comey. And, excuse me, a lot of people have said it. And you go into the FBI and a lot of those great people working in the FBI, they will tell you, I did a great service to our country by firing James Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, of course, we'll see how history actually judges that. A lot of his own supporters and advisers believe that that is one of the worst things the president did because, of course, it set off this special counsel's probe in the first place exactly a year ago this month. But the president, of course, doing what he often does, Wolf, in these situations, doubling down, acknowledging no mistakes here, but trying to make the case and obscure this investigation and muddy the waters, if you will, by raising the whole prospect of spygate.
One question the president did not answer, Wolf, is -- as I and other reporters tried asking him directly, and that, of course, is the future of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who was over here at the White House earlier this week. In fact, he'll be with the president this afternoon on Long Island as he's talking about MS-13 and other gangs. But what the future of Rod Rosenstein is, of course, he oversees the entire Mueller investigation. The president asked that probably a dozen -- or a half dozen or so times, did not answer that question. He punted on it yesterday in the Oval Office as well.
So, Wolf, what we saw here today, the president trying to brand this even more as spygate. He said even is calling it that. Important to point out, Wolf, he is about the only person calling it that, with the exception of a few other friendly media hosts who are essential advisers to this White House.
Wolf. BLITZER: Very quickly, that meeting that's scheduled for tomorrow at the White House briefing, Republicans only on all of this, I know Democrats want to participate as well and some other Republicans would like to come. What's the status of this highly classified briefing that's been prepared for tomorrow?
ZELENY: The status of the briefing is it is going on. And we do know that White House officials themselves will not be at this meeting. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is setting it up. But some Democrats were crying foul saying he should not be at the meeting. We're told he is not going to be at the meeting. But Democrats are not going to be there either. But the president was saying that this is going to get to the bottom of all of this.
He also, Wolf, was asked if the Obama administration was responsible for this, as he has suggested. He said, I don't have any proof of that. Of course, that hasn't stopped him from saying so on Twitter.
BLITZER: Well, we'll monitor all of this.
Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.
Before the president took aim at James Comey, the fired FBI director took a swipe at the president. He says President Trump's promotion of unproven conspiracy theories is putting the agency and the country at risk. Comey tweeted this, facts matter. The FBI's use of confidential human sources, the actual term, is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country. How will Republicans explain this to their grandchildren? That's the quote from James Comey.
[13:05:34] Let's bring in former federal prosecutor Seth Waxman, who's joining us, CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
First of all, Gloria, what's your reaction to Comey's tweet, because the president has really been going after him, among others?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, we know they're not friends. The president fired him. Comey's -- and Comey now is firing back and say this is outrageous, ridiculous. It's an assault on the way the legislative -- the executive and the judicial branch should interact with each other.
And, you know, Donald Trump is very good at weaving conspiracy theories. Those of us who covered the campaign know that he did it very well. Starting with Barack Obama, the birther theory. Remember that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, which came from a tabloid report.
So what the president is doing here now is very transparent. I mean he is weaving a conspiracy theory so that you can investigate the investigators. So that if he decides not to testify or a report comes out and says, you know, this is really terrible, he can say, well, you know what, I didn't testify because these people are not credible. And if a report comes out, which hurts him, he can also say, you know what, these people are out to get me. They're part of the deep state.
BLITZER: Yes, and that's a good point.
You know, Julie, in analysis by CNN's Z. Byron Wolf (ph) says, and I'm quoting Byron, the president has taken a kernel of truth and contorted it into an all-out conspiracy theory of entrenched bureaucrats out to get him. First of all, what's that kernel of truth that he's building this entire conspiracy theory on?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the kernel of truth is that there was an FBI informant, we now know, who was talking to associates of the Trump campaign. And the reason why is because the FBI, in the course of a counterintelligence investigation, had found that these campaign aides had some contacts with the Russians. And what the informant had been sent in to do, as far as we understand it right now, is to snuff out what those were, what that was about and what actually was going on with the Russians were up to.
He has taken that now and sort of conflated it with what he had already been basically saying was a politically motivated effort to tarnish him and tarnish Republicans, but particularly him. And I think the important point here is, I mean Gloria's right, this is the sort of thing that he did during the campaign. But when you're the president, it has actual impact. And I think that's what Comey's tweet was referring to. When you say this about the FBI, when you say this about an ongoing federal investigation, it has consequences and it has implications. And the president doesn't really seem as focused on that as he does on protecting himself and his own reputation. You heard him say there this was about, you know, doing a service to the country. But, clearly, this is a self-interested action that he's taken in consultation, by the way, with his private attorney to basically try to undercut the investigation that's going on.
BLITZER: The top Democrat, Seth, on the intelligence -- House Intelligence Committee, he said that what the president is doing, the president's spy theory, in Adam Schiff's words, is making a major threat to the rule of law in the United States.
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Sure. All these counter narratives are designed to undermine the integrity of our law enforcement institutions. But I also think this kind of goes to the broader strategy that Mr. Trump and his team may be employing. I think that they have convinced themselves, maybe rightly so, that a sitting president will never be indicted and, therefore, they're looking to impeachment proceedings. If articles of impeachments are issued up by the House, there will be a trial in the Senate and there needs to be two-thirds of the Senate to remove the president. That means the president needs 34 Republican senators to stand by him and vote in his favor no matter what the evidence is. We see him polling at 30 percent to 40 percent right now. If those numbers translate into those 34 Republican senators, that's the end game for him. And if he wins that, I don't know that he necessarily cares about the impact on the institution of the presidency or how this affects law enforcement long-term. He wants to win. BLITZER: If the president really wants to know what's going on, what
happened, he's the president of the United States. He can call in the head of the CIA, the head of the FBI, the Department of Justice top officials.
BLITZER: He can bring them all in and say, tell me exactly what happened.
BLITZER: I don't want to be embarrassed by suggesting conspiracy theories. I want to know.
BORGER: Right. There is nothing stopping him. And, by the way, we don't know what he's done, actually. There is nothing stopping him from doing exactly what you say, and getting to the bottom of it.
[13:10:06] But what is stopping him is that he's already established a narrative that he doesn't want to get rid of because it's working for him. It's working for him among Republicans. You know, Bob Mueller has been discredited now among his Republican base. We see that in the polling. You're absolutely right. These are the Republicans he's going to need in case of impeachment. So while his lawyers are kind of going along doing their work, Rudy Giuliani is his kind of partner this crime here, and is throwing out all these things about spies and informants and misinterpreting what James Clapper said on "The View" purposefully, purposefully to kind of rally the base. And I wouldn't be surprised if he tried to use it in the campaign.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Julie, because the president keeps talking about this deep state, spygate, all of these conspiracy theories. Mike Pompeo, the new secretary of state, the former CIA director, he was a member of Congress for a while, he was on the Intelligence Committee, he was asked about all these deep state rumors. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you believe there is a criminal deep state at the State Department?
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't -- I haven't seen the comments by the president. I don't believe there's a deep state at the State Department.
LIEU: That's your experience also when you interacted with colleagues at the FBI and Department of Justice, as well?
POMPEO: Uh, yes. There are always exceptions to every rule. I've never led an organization that didn't have bad actors. I don't think any government organization is exempt from having malfeasance as well.
LIEU: But, in general, you're confident that the members of the various agencies are honoring their oaths to the United States Constitution?
POMPEO: Yes, in general, yes, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How is the president going to react to what Mike Pompeo just said?
DAVIS: Well, I mean I think Pompeo worded it very carefully, and probably by design, because the president does not like to be contradicted by his advisers in public or in private for that matter. We also heard the homeland security secretary doing a little tap dancing yesterday about another issue related to this, about, you know, the evidence that the intelligence community, the assessment the intelligence community has arrived that, that Russia did intervene in the elections to help Trump, to try to help Trump, and she said, well, I'm not aware of that, and then she had a very carefully parsed answer because nobody wants to say in public that they agree with these theories because they -- you know, if they have the information, that clearly that's not the case. But they also don't want to differ too much with the president because he gets very angry about that. I think probably Pompeo's answer met his bar. But you can see that there's a lot of careful work being done to not seem to be undercutting the president.
BLITZER: Yes. This is what he tweeted earlier today, the president of the United States, about a deep state. Look how things have turned around on the criminal deep state. They go after phony collusion with Russia, a made up scam and end up getting caught in a major spy scandal, the likes of which this country may have never seen before. What goes around comes around.
WAXMAN: Yes. I mean I think that's consistent with the narrative that we've been hearing for weeks, if not months. I think the gloves will come off even more in the weeks and months to come. The closer this gets to a report being issued by Bob Mueller's team, you're only going to hear the rhetoric, you know, become greater and more inflammatory. I think that's why Rudy Giuliani was brought onto the team, not to be a criminal defense lawyer, but to be a spokesperson speaking to that base, speaking to those 34 Republican senators that they're ultimately going to need to stand by the president.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Gloria, the latest on whether the president will answer questions from -- you and our team have been doing some excellent reporting on this.
BORGER: Yes, we have. Well, what my colleagues, Evan Perez, Dana Bash and I have learned is that the president's legal team is really trying to narrow the scope of any potential interview with the president to Russia, and what happened pre-presidency with Russia. And what they're saying is, pre-presidency is fine. There are no issues there. There is no constitutional issues there. There's no privilege issues there. But they are saying to Mueller, and our sources are also telling us very unlikely Mueller will accept this, but they're telling -- saying to Mueller, if you want to deal with the issue of obstruction, we would like to do it in written answers. And so they have proposed this. Again, nobody expects Mueller to accept this, but it's part of a
narrative also that says, we're trying. We're not just going to dismiss testifying. And Trump can then go out and say, if it all falls apart or this goes to the Supreme Court or -- they can say, look, you know, we were dealing in good faith, and we made these proposals. And Bob Mueller didn't think it was good enough. And we believe we have the Constitution on our side here in fighting this over presidential testimony. So, again, it's part of making their case.
BLITZER: Yes. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that Q&A to develop.
All right, guys, thanks very, very much.
[13:15:02] So why isn't the White House inviting Democrats to this controversial, classified meeting scheduled for tomorrow? I'll ask a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. There you see him, Congressman Mike Quigley. He's my guest. He's standing by.
Also, fears of another sonic attack, this time in China, after a U.S. worker suffers a brain injury after a mystery sound sensations. We're going there live.
And, breaking news in a cultural war the president relishes, the NFL imposing a new rule involving players who kneel during the national anthem.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: President Trump unveiled a new nickname today, spygate. He says, spygate could be the -- one of the biggest political scandals in history. That's what the president tweeted. With spygate, the president is referring to reports that the Justice Department got information from a confidential source who had contacts with some members of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
[13:20:02] Tomorrow, officials from the Justice Department will brief two members of Congress on the source. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders explained why no Democrats were invited.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To my knowledge, the Democrats have not requested that information. So I would refer you back to them on why they would consider themselves randomly invited to see something they've never asked to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley. He's a Democrat. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. She was right, as of yesterday, no Democrats asked to participate in the meeting. But, today, there was a statement released from Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House, asking for a formal briefing of what's called the gang of eight, four top Republicans in the House, and four top Democrats in the House and Senate to be briefed, instead of having this separate meeting with only Republicans tomorrow at the White House. What's your reaction?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, this is a part of a pattern. Ever since the investigation began, my Republican colleagues in the House Intel Committee have had rogue, unilateral investigations. They have never consulted with us. They have met with others. Never talked to us at all. This is a real threat to the process.
First of all, the Justice Department should not release information that they believe hurts their ability to protect our country, our national security, revealing sources and methods, under any pressure from the White House or from Congress. But if they're going to do this, there is a mechanism that we describe here, a revealing this to the gang of eight, not just one party or just a couple members.
BLITZER: Have you heard anything about that latest request from Schumer and Pelosi? Have they received any reply yet from the administration?
QUIGLEY: To my understanding, no. And that this part we're hearing is that Justice is occasionally briefing on a few minor matters, Republicans, here, there, and everywhere. It makes absolutely no sense.
You know, to a larger extent, I thought that the Russian attack on our democratic process was the most important thing that had happened in our lifetime, the greatest threat to our democracy. I now believe the greatest threat to our rule of law, our democracy, how our intel community works to protect us is not from that attack but from the president's reaction to that attack.
BLITZER: So just to be precise on this, congressman, you think the president and how he's behaving right now represents a bigger threat to American democracy than what the Russians were doing and apparently are still doing here in the United States, interfering in the election process?
QUIGLEY: The Russians came at us. Director Comey said they'll be back. We just appropriated some money to protect our election infrastructure. We now know, because FaceBook releasing some of these ads and other social media platforms releasing these ads, we now know what we're confronted with.
What's here -- what's happening here is far more insidious. It's an attack on how the intelligence community collects its information. If they can't assure our sources and our methods will be secured, we will be less safe as a country. If the independence of the Justice Department is threatened for all time, if this establishes a pattern of behavior where the Justice Department doesn't have that independence, the rule of law is greatly threatened. At this point in time, I see that as a greater threat.
BLITZER: The president today said he just wants transparency, his word, transparency in this matter, and he also insisted that's what the Democrats want, as well. Do you believe this is all about transparency?
QUIGLEY: I think it's about helping the president politically and legally. I think Mr. Giuliani has put it best when he said that this is exculpatory information. It should be passed on to the Trump legal team. I mean he has to be kidding. The Justice Department can't be forced to reveal information in an ongoing investigation to the Trump legal team. If he thinks this is, what, exculpatory information, that happens after one has been indicted. I'm not sure he's anticipated that or not. But it's way out of bounds here and, frankly, very dangerous.
BLITZER: If the president decides to provide this information to what's called the gang of eight, Democrats and Republicans, would that ease your concerns?
QUIGLEY: Look, I think it's a better way to do it, but it doesn't get past the point that it shouldn't be allowed to happen. The Justice Department feeling this kind of pressure from the House, feeling this kind of pressure from the White House, this will have a profound impact on how they operate for generations to come.
[13:25:06] BLITZER: Congressman Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Any time. Thank you.
BLITZER: We're getting some more breaking news.
A judge ruling whether President Trump can legally block Twitter users from following him. It's a big First Amendment case. Stand by. We have new details.
BLITZER: We now turn to breaking news on a First Amendment case involving President Trump and his Twitter feed.
A judge, a federal judge, has now ruled that the president of the United States can't block people out of his Twitter feed for expressing their political views.
Joining us now, Hadas Gold, CNN's money, politics, media and business reporter.
You've got a long title there, Hadas.
Take us through this ruling. It's pretty significant. The president, what, he has about 15 million followers on Twitter. [13:30:00] HADAS GOLD, CNN MONEY, POLITICS, MEDIA AND BUSINESS
REPORTER: Exactly, Wolf. This is a very significant ruling and somewhat surprising. The judge in this case from the southern district of New York, a federal judge, ruled that the president cannot block people on his Twitter feed. You know, he would block people that maybe he disagreed with. And some of these people.