Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Director Refutes Trump Wiretap Claims. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: He's in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Under investigation. FBI Director James Comey reveals the bureau has been conducting a criminal investigation of Russia's election meddling since July, and now, for the first time, he says that includes alleged links and coordination between Moscow and Trump associates.

No wiretapping. The FBI chief publicly dismisses President Trump's claims that he was wiretapped by President Obama, saying there is no information to support those allegations.

On defense. The White House is not apologizing, saying nothing has changed, while the president's tweets suggest a new conspiracy theory, even as the FBI director is testifying.

And not afraid. After an ominous rocket engine test, North Korea says it's not afraid of the U.S. and threatens to use what it calls its nuclear sword for self-defense.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: FBI Director James Comey today publicly rejected President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. And then Comey dealt the White House a stunning new blow, saying for the first time that the bureau is looking into alleged links and coordination between Russia and Trump associates, part of a criminal investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. Election. That investigation has been going on, he says, since July.

National Security Agency director Mike Rogers joined Comey in telling the House Intelligence Committee there is no information to support the wiretapping claims, and Rogers flatly denied that his agency asked its British counterpart to carry out a wiretap. That follows a claim publicly repeated by the White House which infuriated the British government.

Democrats are demanding the president retract his claims and apologize, but the White House is refusing to back off, saying nothing has changed. Republicans are choosing to focus on national security leaks, saying the naming of former national security adviser Michael Flynn violated laws that masked the identity of U.S. citizens caught up in surveillance of foreign nationals.

And President Trump is teasing a new conspiracy theory right now, sent out over his White House Twitter account during Comey's testimony.

I'll talk to Democratic Senator Chris Murphy and Republican congressman Peter King. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the truly stunning rejection of the president's wiretap claim and a brand-new problem for the White House, courtesy of the FBI director, James Comey. Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's in Louisville right now where the president, believe it or not, will be holding a 2020 campaign rally this evening.

Jeff, there's certainly a lot that the president may want to get away from Washington tonight. And he is on the road.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no question, when the president arrives in this hall here in about a couple hours or so, he will be surrounded by true believers, people who have his back and support him at every turn.

But that does not erase the fact that today was an extraordinary day for this White House. One, his own FBI director said that he has not been -- was not wiretapped last year at all. And also said he is under investigation.


ZELENY (voice-over): FBI Director James Comey delivering an extraordinary rebuke of President Trump's wiretapping accusation.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets.

ZELENY: Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, the FBI chief said he's found no evidence to support the president's astonishing investigation he was spied on at Trump Tower by President Obama.

COMEY: We have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.

ZELENY: Those tweets, now infamous, have been rejected in every corner of Washington except at the White House. For 16 days, the president has gone to great lengths to defend this tweet: "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."

But those words debunked in rare public fashion today by his FBI director.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: so President Obama could not unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone?

COMEY: No president could.

ZELENY: And Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the NSA, took issue with the subsequent unfounded claim from the Trump White House that the British could have been involved.

SCHIFF: Did you ever request that your counterparts in GCHQ should wiretap Mr. Trump on behalf of President Obama?

[17:05:04] ADMIRAL MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: No, sir. Nor would I. That would be expressly against the construct of the FISA agreement that's been in place for decades.

ZELENY: But for the first time, the FBI director publicly confirmed the agency, since last July, has been investigating Russian meddling into the presidential campaign and any links the Trump campaign had to Moscow.

COMEY: The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

ZELENY: While the hearing was under way, the president fired off this tweet: "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process." But that statement took Comey's words out of context, he later explained.

COMEY: It certainly wasn't our intention to say that today.

ZELENY: The FBI director spoke about Russia's actions in blunt terms, saying their goal was to influence the election and help Donald Trump.

COMEY: They engaged in a multi-faceted campaign of active measures to undermine our democracy and hurt one of the candidates and hope to help one of the other candidates.

ZELENY: At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer argued today the hearings showed nothing new. He was pressed on how he drew that conclusion, considering Comey and Rogers said they were still investigating any links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things. There's a point at which you continue to search for something who everyone who has been briefed hasn't seen or found. I think it's fine to look into it. But at the end of the day, they're going to come to the same conclusion that everybody else has had.

ZELENY: As the investigation into the 2016 campaign continues, the FBI director also warned that Russia may not be finished meddling with American democracy.

COMEY: They'll be back. They'll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018. And one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful, because they introduced chaos, and division, and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process. It's possible they're misreading that as it worked, and so we'll hit them again in 2020.


ZELENY: Certainly ominous words there from the director of the FBI, saying the Russia operatives could come back in 2018 or 2020. That all but ensures this is going to remain a pressing issue in the White House, a soundtrack, if you will, happening as they are trying to do everything else here.

Now Wolf, we know the president has dismissed all of the Russian investigation as fake news. I expect he will do that again tonight at the rally here. We've already seen signs to that effect. But Wolf, as he arrives tonight in Louisville, Kentucky, there is a real investigation under way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a real criminal investigation, I must add. All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Joining us now Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He's a member of both the Intelligence and the Homeland Security Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So the FBI director, you heard him today; you were there. He confirmed the FBI is investigating what he called links and coordination between Trump associates and Russia. Do you, first of all, support this criminal investigation?

KING: Well, first of all, being on the committee, I have been aware for quite some time this investigation is going on. I can't comment too much on it.

I -- listen, I have no problem at all with the investigation. I think any involvement by Russia in our electoral process should be examined and should be investigated.

But I agree with Chairman Nunes. I have not seen one shred of evidence that in any way links the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence or the Russian government.

So the investigation will go on. And the frustrating thing is listening to Democrats making allegations, and we're not in a position publicly to rebut them. But I would hope -- listen, I don't want Director Comey to speed up the investigation, but I do hope that it can be finished so we'll find out exactly what happened. Because as far as I can tell and so far as I know, there's no real evidence at all of any collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: So why do you think the FBI director has launched since July -- and you say you've known him for a long time. Your committee chairman says he's only known about this investigation for a -- for a couple of weeks. Why do you think it's been going on since July? KING: I said sometime -- sometime in the last month Director Comey

told us about it in executive session. No, listen, he has to investigate everything. You're talking about an investigation that involves several countries. It involves numerous allegations that are made.

And I'm just saying is, so far as I know, that after eight months of investigation -- and not only that, I'll go back to what Director Clapper said, that as far as he knows, there's no evidence at all of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And that's from Director Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Now, he said he was only speaking up to January 20. Well, again, that was already six months into the investigation. But yes, something may turn up. If it does, it does. And if anyone is guilty, they should be prosecuted. I'm just saying, right up until now, there's no evidence at all that I'm aware of. And Director Clapper says, as far as he knows, up until January 20, there was no evidence whatsoever.

[17:10:06] BLITZER: And the circumstantial evidence that the ranking Democrat on your committee, Adam Schiff, referred to, he had a whole line of circumstantial evidence. You don't accept any of that?

KING: It's circumstantial. And that's what it is. The -- if you go into almost any campaign, you're going to find people who have been involved in business in Russia.

Listen, I was in Moscow with President Clinton back in 1998 when he was meeting with President Yeltsin. We were encouraging American business to go over there.

There's been -- that was part of American policy and American government policy. And, you know throughout the Bush administration, throughout the Clinton administration and certainly into the Obama administration.

Wolf, I would point out that, if we're going to be make charges, probably no president did more to help Putin and Russia than President Obama. I mean, he knew about all the allegations against -- against Putin. He wanted to reset the clock. He was the one who, during 2012, told Medvedev after he is reelected tell Vladimir we can get a lot more done. He's the one who berated Mitt Romney when Romney said that Russia was a threat. And he laughed at him and ridiculed it. He was the one who...

BLITZER: All right, so Congressman.

KING: The point I'm making is we can always make these circumstantial cases.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this, because you're a straight -- a straight shooter.

KING: Right. BLITZER: Why do you think that Donald Trump, during the campaign and since -- since the election, since the inauguration, he has either been silent or says nice things about Putin and Russia. He never says anything critical. He says a lot of critical stuff about everything else, but as far as Russia is concerned, he's silent or supportive. Why?

KING: Well, until the last year or two President Obama said nothing critical about him at all. He was also defending Putin.

Donald Trump -- and I disagree with him on this. He believes that you can change policy with Russia and that -- he believes that, if -- we can use Russia as an ally in fighting ISIS and in fighting Islamist terrorism. I don't think it would work. I disagree with the policy, but I understand why he's saying it. That doesn't mean there's any collusion between him and the Russians or there's any kind of conspiracy.

BLITZER: You agree with Comey and Admiral Rogers that Russia is an adversary of the U.S.?

KING: Absolutely. I am anti-Putin. I believe he is dangerous to the world. There are other feel who legitimately feel including President Obama until a few years ago. He invited them into Syria. They were out of the Middle East, basically, for 40 years; and he brought them back in. So it's only recently that he had his anti-Putin conversion. I've been anti-Putin all along.

BLITZER: Another bombshell today: the director, Director Comey, he said there's no information -- no information -- that supports Donald Trump's four tweets from 16 days ago on wiretapping claims. He claimed that President Obama ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower in New York City.

Do you accept the conclusion of the FBI director and the Department of Justice?

KING: Yes, I do. I have a great regard for Jim Comey.

BLITZER: Should the president -- should the president, as a result, apologize to the former president?

KING: The president has to decide what he has to do.

BLITZER: What do you think?

KING: I would, but I'm not the president. And I do think -- here's where the president overshot the mark on that, Wolf. I think that there are people, whether they're holdovers from the Obama administration or people in the national security apparatus, who have been leaking -- and this is a real scandal that Director Comey spoke about today -- the classified top-secret information which is being leaked out. This is not -- I'm not talking about palace intrigue or political gossip. I'm talking about national security, top-secret information that's been leaked out to hurt President Trump. And to me, if the president said where is the information coming from,

who's doing it, that would have been a lot better than talking about President Obama ordering a wiretap. I think there are people in the government, or formerly in the government, who leaked out, against the law, committing felonies in an attempt to hurt Donald Trump.

BLITZER: In this particular case, if you believe the FBI, if you believe the Department of Justice, as you do, he released 16 days ago in those four tweets very, very grave accusations, felonies, basically, against the former president, President Obama. Do you think he owes the American people an apology for that?

KING: I think he has to explain exactly why he was basing it on, whether or not he overstated the case. Once again, I think there is legitimate evidence that can be used against people in the government who have committed felonies. And some of them may have been involved with the Obama administration. They could have been holdovers, people in there who were leaking out very, very classified, top-secret information. Most of it was false in the way it was leaked out.

And that, I think, is what the president overreacted to. To me it was an overreaction to a very legitimate complaint.

BLITZER: Because look what we're talking about. He's got an agenda out there, important issues.

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: But you have to blame him for the -- for the investigation that's now going on and the rebuke he received today from the FBI director or the National Security Agency director. He's at fault.

KING: Well, that's the investigation.

BLITZER: You agree that he's at fault?

KING: I don't blame the president or the investigation, because nothing has been proven.

BLITZER: No, no, no. I'm talking about those tweets.

KING: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: The accusation against President Obama.

KING: Yes. He should not have done it. I've said that -- I said that almost from day one.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, we're going to have to leave it there.


BLITZER: I have Peter King, a member of the Intelligence Committee. You had a busy day today, and I'm sure there will be many more down the road. KING: Many more.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for joining us.

KING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Much more on the breaking news coming up. Democrats are demanding that President Trump apologize for his wiretap claims against President Obama, but the White House says nothing has changed. I'll speak with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. There you see him. He's on Capitol Hill. He's standing by live.


[17:19:42] BLITZER: Our breaking news. The FBI director, James Comey, publicly rejects President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor. And Comey drops a new bombshell, telling the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI is looking into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign as part of its criminal investigation into Russia's election meddling.

Democrats are demanding that the president apologize.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Were you satisfied, Senator, today with Director Comey's testimony?

MURPHY: Well, I'm satisfied to the extent that we now know that the FBI was conducting an investigation during the campaign. That, frankly, would have been relevant information for the American public to know back in 2016, when the FBI was disclosing the existence of investigations into Donald Trump's opponent. And I'm glad that he has finally put to rest this ridiculous claim that President Obama tapped Trump Tower's phones.

Obviously, the hearing left a lot more questions unanswered. And that's the nature of these complicated investigations.

But yes, it should certainly concern every single American that the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation into potential collusion between Donald Trump's campaign and the Russia government. I hope -- I hope that he doesn't find any evidence of that collusion. That would be terrible for American democracy. Republicans and Democrats alike shouldn't be rooting for that. But the fact that that investigation is going on is just a reminder of how exceptional these times truly are.

BLITZER: Do you have a good answer why Comey released -- revealed the investigation involving Hillary Clinton during the campaign but failed to reveal the information about an investigation going on involving the Trump campaign, Trump associates during the campaign?

MURPHY: Well, what I heard Director Comey say today is that he can't reveal information about a pending investigation. But, you know, frankly, he didn't need to do that. He could have just revealed the fact that it was happening and, you know, given the fact that he was releasing information about the Clinton campaign, it suggests that that probably would have been wise.

But no, I don't think we've heard a good explanation as to why there seems to have been a double standard.

BLITZER: He said the practice of the Justice Department and the FBI is not to release information about a pending investigation. In his words, especially those investigations that involve classified matters. In this particular case, there are a lot of classified matters. That appears to be his investigation.

Even as he was testifying, the president, President Trump tweeted this. He said, "The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College and lost." He actually tweeted that -- he actually tweeted that this morning at 6:35 -- 6:49 a.m., just before this hearing started.

Respond to that. Respond to this is -- this is all just the Democrats pushing a Russian story as an excuse for losing the election.

MURPHY: Well, listen, Hillary Clinton shouldn't have lost to Donald Trump, period, stop. This isn't about trying to explain the results of this election. This is about whether or not a foreign government gets away with trying to influence a presidential election.

And, you know, Republicans may not be raising alarms like Democrats are today, because it happened to us. But the Russians are not sympathizers of the Republican Party. They are going to try to manipulate elections with respect to how it affects them at the immediate time and moment. You know, two years or four years from now, it may be that the Russians are trying to manipulate elections against Republicans.

So this really shouldn't be a partisan issue; this should be an American issue. And I don't know: It disturbs me when I hear the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House say he doesn't know who Roger Stone or Carter Page are. That doesn't sound like a fair investigation, if the guy in charge of the investigation doesn't understand who some of the key players are.

BLITZER: Yes, he said once again the Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story.

On the other hand, Senator, do you worry that, without confirmation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, Democrats are taking this line of questioning too far; they're trying to damage the credibility of the sitting president?

MURPHY: Well, listen, like I said, I hope there wasn't any evidence of collusion. But as Representative Schiff laid out for everyone to hear today, you know, every day there is a new drip, drip of connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Many connections that were denied by the campaign and the administration until they were revealed by good reporting.

So I hope that we don't find that connection, but I think we owe it to the American public to find it.

And listen, we also have to keep our eye on all the other important things that are happening here. Right? We can't let this story dominate this week, because on Thursday, the House of Representatives is going to vote to strip health care away from 24 million Americans. So we have to find a way to be able to focus on the Russian investigation while also talking about the other damaging things that are happening to the American public right now.

BLITZER: If the Russian president, Vladimir Putin's, goal was to sow chaos, disruption, within the United States, do you worry this kind of questioning so publicly accomplished that goal?

[17:25:00] MURPHY: Well, listen, I think we have to get to the bottom of this. And right now, we are in an investigatory phase that is absolutely necessary.

What worries me is that, as we speak, Putin is not just trying to destabilize the American system of government. He's doing that all throughout Europe. He's doing it all throughout the Balkans. And this administration -- what worries us is that this administration not only seems to be denying the extent of their interference in American elections but is taking America off the playing field, essentially ceding big parts of the world to the Russians overseas.

So we need to have a larger conversation about how we combat Russian interference, not just in the United States but overseas. And let's get the American government back in the game in trying to help our allies make sure that what happened here doesn't happen in other places.

BLITZER: Senator Murphy, thanks for joining us.

MURPHY: All right. Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on today's breaking news. The FBI director, James Comey, publicly confirming an investigation into the possibility of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The FBI director, James Comey, testifying today before the House Intelligence Committee, publicly confirming for the first time his agency is conducting a criminal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

[17:30:47] When asked about President Trump's tweets alleging he was wiretapped by President Obama, the FBI director told the committee -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I have no information that supports those tweets."

Let's bring in our correspondents and experts. And Dana, I want you to listen to Director Comey confirming for the first time that this criminal investigation is under way and has been since July. Listen to this.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counter-intelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.


BLITZER: Just the counter-intelligence investigation, whether crimes were committed. So this has been going on since July, during the campaign. During that time, he publicly disclosed an investigation going on involving Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, but he failed to do so involving Donald Trump, the Republican candidate. What's his explanation?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He didn't have one. And surprisingly, he wasn't, as far as I remember, wasn't really pressed on it, on why he revealed that there was an investigation going on of Hillary Clinton and the e-mail server situation and not Donald Trump.

But you know what? He did it now. And the fact of the matter is, Donald Trump is now president of the United States, and what we had today was the FBI director revealing publicly, in public testimony before Congress, that there is an active investigation going on and has been going on for some time. That was obviously No. 1 bombshell. I say "bombshell" only in that, you know, we all kind of knew that there was very, very likely an investigation going on, but the fact that he announced it is quite telling.

But then, I think the other thing that was just remarkable on its face is the FBI director saying that, when the president of the United States accused his predecessor of wiretapping Trump Tower, he was wrong. It didn't happen. And that is his assessment and that of President Trump's own Justice Department. Double whammy.

BLITZER: And a third whammy -- and Phil Mudd, let me bring you in. You worked at the FBI and the CIA for a long career. The director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, effectively rebuked the White House for repeating that claim, citing that claim that was on FOX News that Britain was really engaged in surveillance of Trump Tower on behalf of President Obama, as well, which obviously is not true. PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, that's flown under

the radar a bit, but as an intelligence professional, do you understand what this means to people like me?

You have not only accused the U.S. Intelligence Committee [SIC] of participating in something illegal, that's the president of the United States ordering a wiretap. He can't do that. You've accused a partner of conducting an operation that's illegal under U.S. law.

If you're in London, as I was many times, talking to British security officials, they've got to be saying, "What's going on here?" What we're happening -- what's happening here, Wolf, less than two months or about two months into the administration is a divide between members of the executive branch, which is led by the president, and the president himself, to the point where the president is live tweeting stuff today about statements by James Comey that are simply incorrect. And Comey had to go back and the NSA director and say not true.

BLITZER: Yes. That was @POTUS, which is the president's account. Not sure he personally tweeted that; @RealDonaldTrump he takes responsibility and credit for that.

BASH: It's pretty remarkable.

BLITZER: It is pretty remarkable. It's totally -- totally right.

Clarissa, you're here from London. You spend a lot of time in Moscow, as well. And I want to get your analysis. We heard from the FBI director, the director of the National Security Agency, saying the Russians really hated Hillary Clinton, wanted to undermine her, even if they weren't 100 percent convinced they could help Donald Trump get elected. How did they view all of this commotion that has erupted here in the United States now?

[17:35:05] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Wolf, in the beginning, there was a sense that they were kind of enjoying it almost, because it really speaks to the power of President Vladimir Putin that, wow, whether it it was confirmed or not, the very prospect that he could potentially throw the U.S. election in favor of the candidate of his choice, doesn't that say something remarkable about the position of Russia, about the ascendance of Russia and the power of this man, President Vladimir Putin?

Having said that, up to a certain point, I think they were enjoying that. Now I think it's very interesting that the one TV channel that was not covering today's hearing while the BBC, and Sky News and Al Jazeera were all covering it, Russia Today was not.

And we are starting to see in the Russian media a little bit of a cooling off. We're seeing much less of this kind of fawning, glowing coverage about President Trump, far less talk about a sort of rapprochement between Russia and the U.S., as the Kremlin now try to wrap its head around the idea of what will be the next step. Because they can see the writing on the wall here. They understand

that President Trump is now under a huge amount of pressure domestically to lash out against President Putin, to lash out against Russia. And so they also understand, ergo, that their key wish that the sanctions be lifted is not likely to take place anytime soon.

BLITZER: You know, it's pretty unprecedented, Jackie, what's going on right now. It's pretty amazing to see all of this unfold in public.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And not only -- in that vein, we talked a little bit about the tweets. The president was prebutting (ph) this on Twitter before the hearings. During the hearings, the POTUS account was tweeting. It was rebutted live by -- by Comey.

All of this, just having it happening live in front of all of us, in front of the public. It's all so unusual; it really is, to wrap your mind around it.

BLITZER: Yes. It was riveting testimony.

Everybody stand by. We have a lot more coming in on the breaking news. We'll be right back.


[17:41:42] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and experts.

And Clarissa, you just came from Moscow. Is Putin emboldened by all of this, and will he do it -- do it again here in the United States?

WARD: I think there is no indication that he has any plans on stopping what has actually been going on for quite some time. I mean, there may be a big hue and cry about this now.

But in the context of Europe, this is something that European leaders have been witnessing and have been very anxious about for a while. We have big elections coming up in Europe that could threaten, potentially, the future existence of the European Union in France, later on in Germany.

So there's no indication that he's backing down, because there's no indication of how you take him to task for doing this. He is engaging in something called hybrid warfare. And because he has the element of surprise, it allows him to sit on the world stage and play high-stakes poker and have a pair of 5's and still win round after round after round, because nobody else knows when he's bluffing or not.

BLITZER: So how does -- put your CIA hat on. How does the U.S. retaliate or respond and prevent this?

MUDD: I don't think we can prevent it. One of the questions going forward in the cyber world is where does the Congress sit with the White House on ensuring the candidates in the next round of election have protection by the federal government, not by their own campaigns, to prevent this? You've got a follow-on question, which is how do we interfere with the

Russians themselves? We don't want to play the same game with them. Do we start getting into Kremlin computers? Do we get into Putin computers? I don't know. But we can't descend to the level of participating in somebody else's election. This is a tough decision for the president. You can't play at Putin's level. If you do, he's going to win.

BLITZER: And the White House...

BASH: They don't have free and fair elections. That's a different question.

BLITZER: Yes, Dana. The White House, as we heard today, the Sean Spicer briefing, refusing to accept any of this. They're saying nothing has changed. Paul Manafort, who was once in charge of the campaign, really was sort of a bit player.

BASH: Look, we talked about this in the immediate minutes after this hearings and that briefing ended. It's hard to find words to describe the way that Sean Spicer, frankly, to his defense, is kind of forced to put his head so far into the sand. And to the point where anybody watching it with any modicum of understanding of what's going on thinks, "Is this guy kidding me?"

It's because he has to say, because he knows that he has an audience of one, the president of the United States at this point, that's really his focus. It's pretty obvious -- "No, there's no conclusion." Even though five minutes earlier the FBI director said exactly the opposite. There is a conclusion. The conclusion is that there was no wiretapping of Trump Tower.

So, you know, "Oh, well the hearing is still going on." I mean, it was really -- it just didn't make any sense on its face.

And then the whole question that you mentioned about Paul Manafort and other people who were tangentially involved from Sean's perspective with the campaign.

Now, there certainly are lots of questions about whether Paul Manafort was effective, whether he knew what he was doing. He didn't last all that long. He was there for about three months. But there's no question he had a significant role. He was the chairman of his campaign for three months. To say that he was barely involved is just -- it's hard to imagine that Sean Spicer could say that with a straight face.

BLITZER: You know, Jackie, he's flying now, the president, to Louisville for a campaign rally event today. His campaign, his 2020 campaign is paying for it. A lot of us are going to be listening closely to see, how does he deal with these bombshells today?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, he is supposed to be there to sell the health care bill. He is there with Mitch McConnell. He is there to push this effort that's going on in the House, and later the Senate, to this major agenda item for Republicans across the board.

Can he stay on message? Will he spend a lot of time talking about today and talking about the fact that the wiretapping as well as the investigation?

We'll see if he just pays, you know, a moment to that or whether he'll go on and on and on, which we've seen him do in the past with the travel ban. He spent most of that rally talking about the travel ban and just touched on health care. So how much he will stay on task will definitely be something that we'll be watching.

BLITZER: We will see if he hits the FBI and the intelligence community, both of which he has hit in the past and he's ridiculed them. We'll see if he says anything along those lines tonight.

Stay with us. Don't go too far away. Coming up, also another developing story, a dangerous new provocation from Kim Jong-un. North Korea tests a powerful new rocket engine, raising fears it could be destined for a long-range missile aimed at the United States.


[17:50:47] BLITZER: Another ominous development out of North Korea where a new rocket engine test has Kim Jong-un's regime celebrating. Brian Todd has been looking into all of these for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, U.S. defense officials are telling us that the North Koreans, while celebrating now, did probably try to conceal this test beforehand. This rocket engine, they say, had been camouflaged under netting just before the test. We're told intelligence officials are now closely watching tonight to see if Kim Jong-un is about to conduct another nuclear or missile test.


TODD (voice-over): From an elevated observation post, North Korea's ruthless dictator gives the order and oversees a crucial test of a rocket engine. Kim Jong-un is so pleased with what he witnesses that he hugs an officer, and one overzealous officer hops on Kim's back. North Korea's news anchor, as always, is overjoyed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Another miracle happened.

TODD (voice-over): The engine test, just as new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrapped up a tense visit to the region. Kim's regime calls this a new high-thrust engine. South Korean military officials acknowledge this test shows the North Koreans have made meaningful progress with their rocket engines.

Tonight, experts warn of what that could mean.

MICHAEL ELLEMAN, SENIOR FELLOW FOR MISSILE DEFENSE, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: The constant testing, ground tests mixed with flight tests, means that they're making progress on ICBM, intermediate range, submarine-launched missiles, and a lot of shorter- range systems that threaten the region.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, two U.S. defense officials tell CNN they believe this engine could be placed on long-range intercontinental ballistic missile that could, one day, hit the United States. But the officials say they're still studying it.

Outside experts say, right now, this engine's too big for a long-range missile. That it more easily fits onto rockets North Korea uses to launch a satellite into orbit.

TODD (on camera): Could this engine be adjusted to fit onto a long- range missile?

ELLEMAN: Yes, it certainly could. By moving these steering engines in, closer to the main engine, they could reduce the size and fit it onto the prototypes that they've displayed in the past.

TODD (voice-over): And this expert says this engine produces enough thrust, about 80 tons, to propel one or possibly two stages of a long- ranged nuclear tipped missile that could reach the U.S. Experts say Kim's regime hasn't yet flight-tested its long-range missiles enough to be sure that they could survive reentry into the atmosphere.

But a U.S. intelligence official tells CNN, Kim's constantly fine tuning his missiles. That with each test, he solidifies his status as an international pariah.

Just this month, Kim fired advanced missiles from launchers like these, missiles which landed close to Japan. Analysts say the aggressive young leader is sending an unmistakable message to America.

DENNIS HALPIN, FORMER UNITED STATES DIPLOMAT IN SOUTH KOREA: Don't mess with me. I am not going to be left without my weapons of mass destruction like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi and be left to the mercies of the western powers.


TODD: And, tonight, Kim's regime seems to be responding to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's recent indication that the Trump administration would consider a military strike on North Korea if the threat from Kim is elevated. North Korean officials saying recently, they would hit the U.S. with enough fire power that, quote, "No living thing can be found if one single shell is fired on them" and calling their arsenal a, quote, "treasured sword of justice" to defend their country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what's the latest assessment you're getting of how close the North Koreans actually are to being able to fire a reliable, long-range missile with a nuclear warhead at the U.S.?

TODD: Frighteningly close, Wolf. One respected weapons analyst told us today, Kim's regime could be three to five years away from that capability once they start flight-testing those missiles. They haven't done that yet, but they are close to doing it.

This expert says they could launch those ICBMs even sooner if they want to accept the lower percentage that they're going to work. But to achieve what the major nuclear powers have, three to five years after they start flight-testing those missiles.

BLITZER: Not long down the road at all. Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Coming up, our breaking news. The FBI Director James Comey publicly rejecting President Trump's claims that he was wiretapped by President Obama. And then he drops a stunning new bombshell.


[17:54:59] JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Investigation confirmed. The FBI Director publicly acknowledges an active probe of Russia's election meddling, including possible coordination with the Trump campaign and whether any crimes were committed.

[17:59:57] No support. In another blow to the President, James Comey declares there is no evidence that Mr. Trump was wiretapped by President Obama during the campaign.