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Grilled on the Hill; Vicious Debate Ahead of French Election. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 4, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:00:08] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour --

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Grilled on the Hill, the FBI director says he feels mildly nauseous about a decision he made right before the U.S. election but says the alternative would have been catastrophic.

VAUSE: Marine Le Pen called Emmanuel Macron arrogant. He accused her of lying -- a vicious debate ahead of the French election.

SESAY: And #FireColbert trending after the late night TV host blasted President Trump and he tells his audience "I would do it again".

VAUSE: Hello everybody, great to have you with us. I'd like to welcome our viewers all around the world. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. NEWSROOM L.A. starts right now.

VAUSE: Just a day after Hillary Clinton said the FBI director James Comey was partly to blame for her election loss, Comey defended his investigation of Clinton's e-mails during last year's presidential campaign.

SESAY: But Comey also had to explain why he kept quiet about another probe -- the one into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia.

CNN's justice correspondent Pamela Brown has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: FBI director James Comey in the hot seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling lawmakers he has no regrets about his letter to Congress announcing during the election that the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe was reopened --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So help me, God.

BROWN: -- even if it affected the outcome.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Look, this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision. Everybody who disagrees with me has to come back to October 28th with me and stare at this and tell me what you would do. Would you speak or would you conceal?

And I could be wrong, but we honestly made a decision between those two choices that even in hindsight, and this has been one of the world's most painful experiences, I would make the same decision. I would not conceal that on October 28th from the Congress.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Was there any conflict among your staff, people saying do it, people saying don't do it as has been reported?

COMEY: No. There was a great debate. I have a fabulous staff at all levels. And one of my junior lawyers said should you consider that what you're about to do may help elect Donald Trump president. And I said thank you for raising that.

Not for a moment. Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent institution in America. I can't consider for a second whose political fortunes will be affected in what way. We have to ask ourselves what is the right thing to do and then do that thing.

BROWN: And Comey made the stunning admission that he lacked confidence in the Justice Department's after then Attorney General Loretta Lynch met with Bill Clinton on the tarmac which paved the way for his unprecedented press conference last July announcing he wasn't recommending charges.

COMEY: The department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American's people's confidence in the justice system. That was a hard call for me to make, to call the attorney general that morning and say I'm about to do a press conference, and I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to say.

I said to her I hope some day you'll understand why I think I have to do this. Look, I wasn't loving this. I knew this was going to be disastrous for me personally. But I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about. I want to start --

BROWN: Democrats fired back, asking him why he didn't also publicly acknowledge the ongoing probe into Russian connections with Trump's campaign associates before the election.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Had there been public notice that there was renewed investigation into both campaigns, I think the impact would have been different, would you agree?

COMEY: No. I thought a lot about this. And my judgment was a counter intelligence -- we have to separate two things. I thought it was very important to call out what the Russians were trying to do with our election.

And I offered in August myself to be a voice for that in a public piece calling it out. The Obama administration didn't take advantage of that of in August. They did it in October. But I thought that was very important to call out. BROWN: And looking ahead, there will be another hearing on Russia

specifically next week with Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general attending that hearing as well as the former head of DNI James Clapper.

Susan rice, President Obama's former national security adviser declined the Senate's request to testify on Russia hacking. A letter obtained exclusively by CNN from Rice's lawyer outlines the reasons for that decision saying she was informed by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse that he did not agree to Chairman Lindsey Graham's invitation for her to testify and didn't think it was pertinent to the topic.

According to a source Rice considered this invitation a quote, "diversionary play to distract attention from the investigation into Russia's interference in the election.

Pamela Brown, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Steve Moore is a CNN law enforcement contributor, also a retired special agent with the FBI.

[00:05:04] Steve -- I want to take a closer look at the FBI procedure and guidelines to try and understand how Director Comey made his decisions. The Justice Department's code of ethics says no employee may use his official authority or influence to interfere or affect the result of an election. The department also urges employees to avoid the appearance of interfering with elections.

An internal memo was sent out from the attorney general back in 2008. It was then re-sent in 2012. It says in part "Politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party."

So as a former FBI agent, when you look at those guidelines, are they suggestions? Are they unbreakable rules? How would you describe them?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there are guidelines for everything in the FBI, from what you do with your bureau card to not getting involved in politics. But to be real honest, they need that kind of advice like they need a memo saying don't jump off the roof of the building.

Politics -- getting involved in politics is radioactive for FBI agents. It is culturally unacceptable to get involved in politics. You are -- that's drilled in you from day one at the academy.

VAUSE: Ok. So in keeping with all of that Director Comey, he said politics played no role when he decided to go public 11 days before last year's election. He announced he reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

Listen to Director Comey here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: I stared at "speak and conceal". Speak would be really bad. There is an election in 11 days. Lordy, that would be really bad.

Concealing in my view would be catastrophic. Not just to the FBI, but well beyond. And honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team we've got to walk into the world of really bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: He doesn't explain why conceal would be catastrophic. You know, it seems it would be legally catastrophic because, you know, he was following department guidelines. But, you know, politically catastrophic maybe if this got out after the election and Clinton had won.

MOORE: Well, two points here. First of all, I think he is mischaracterizing the question. The opposite of speaking is not concealment. The opposite of speaking is silence. There is nothing wrong with silence. I don't think this would have been concealment.

And earlier he said that anybody in my shoes on October 28th might have been the -- would have done the exact same thing. Well, maybe. But your problem didn't start on October 28th. The problem started in July when you got involved in politics.

And once Pandora's Box is opened, it's wide open. And the questions about why aren't you talking about this case are legitimate. Because once you talk about one, you've ruined your excuse not to talk about anything, which is the FBI's rule.

VAUSE: Yes. That was sort of what many people here see as the original sin for Comey. That was the July news conference when he went public for the first time, announcing Secretary Clinton would face no charges for her mishandling of classified information.

What was astounding during his testimony, he said he did that because he lost confidence in the Attorney General Loretta Lynch because she had this tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton.

So explain the logic which is coming from Director Comey here when he said he just didn't trust the attorney general which is why he went public.

MOORE: Well, some people think that he may have been saying he didn't trust that the public would believe the attorney general. But I think what is really important is the FBI, most of the agents I know lost confidence at the moment that that meeting occurred.

Because you're talking about the President of the United States former, and the attorney general of the United States, both Ivy League attorneys saying that they didn't realize that Bill Clinton rather than just being the husband of an FBI investigatee, he was actually part of the investigation.

So she was meeting with a suspect. There is no way you can say she didn't know about that. And I can understand people who are not in the law enforcement business not seeing the gravity of that. But to Comey and to the FBI agents in the field, that was grievous.

VAUSE: Very quickly here, he tied himself up in knots trying to explain why he went public on the Clinton matter. He followed the guidelines when it came into the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.

If he followed the guidelines -- the department guidelines on both investigations, all of this could have been avoided, right?

MOORE: Yes. That's what he should have done. He should have followed the investigation. And you know, he said I had no intent of being politically active in my July statement.

Well, here is the problem. And I respect the man quite a bit. But you also have to wonder if something that you're going to do, which you don't think is political is going to be seen as massively political.

[00:10:04] I think that his statement in July was actually prohibited by Justice Department guidelines.

VAUSE: Yes. Ok, Steve -- thanks for the insight. We appreciate you being with us.

Steve Moore -- former FBI agent, thank you.

SESAY: Now U.S. President Donald Trump is vowing to work as a mediator to help broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. He met with Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas in Washington Wednesday. Mr. Trump said peace must be achieved through direct negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's something that I think is rightly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years. But we need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing. We believe you're willing. And if you both are willing, we're going to make a deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Joining us now Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson and Republican consultant John Thomas.

SESAY: Gentlemen -- welcome.

VAUSE: Good see you both. Dave, not only will the President get a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but he is going to make Mexico pay for it. DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Donald Trump is the ultimate

deal maker, right? That's why we've seen so many pieces of legislation go through Congress.

I remember him saying that health care was, quote, "so easy".

VAUSE: It is complicated.

JACOBSON: Right -- that isn't as complicated -- right.

And just last week, he said again how complicated or how difficult the presidency was. So I think this is largely emblematic of the President sort of minimizing these largely complex, highly- sophisticated dynamic issues. And I think it really undermines his presidency and his understanding of how difficult these challenges are.

SESAY: Yes. I mean John -- to that point, you do have to wonder bearing in mind one minute, you know, he's for a two-state solution, then he's for a one-state solution, then he doesn't really care.

You have to wonder how much he truly understands about the difficulty here and whether this is just about the optics. He wants to crack the deal nobody else has.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, I'm certain he wants a win. I mean, there is no question about that. But remember, one thing the President prides himself on, it's not being historian. It's not his experience in government. It's being a negotiator. I think he firmly believed that to his core. That's not posturing that everything is up for negotiation. And he might just be the guy to do it.

Look, I applaud his efforts to trying to do it. I don't know if he can get it done. But at least he has taken a crack at it.

SESAY: But that's not to say others haven't taken a crack at it. It's not saying he is taking a position that other presidents haven't. They have all wanted to crack this.

THOMAS: That's true. But I think he is saying he is a better negotiator.

JACOBSON: But I think when it comes to this issue, you could be somewhat pie-in-the-sky. But you have to kind of get into the weeds a little bit to understand the issue. And he hasn't done that.

VAUSE: Mideast peace might just be easy compared to Sean Spicer trying to explain the difference between a wall and a fence. He even brought props to the daily brief. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are various types of walls that can be built. Under the legislation that was just passed, it allows us to do that. As we've mentioned, that is called a levee, wall on the left. That is called a bollard wall -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that's not a wall. You call that a wall.

SPICER: That's what it's actually called. That's the name of it. It is called --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's called a fencing --

SPICER: No, no.

What we've done is taken the tools that we have to replace. And if you look at that one in particular, you've got a chain-link fence is what is currently at our southern border. That is literally down there now. We're able to go in there and instead of having a chain link finish, replace it with that bollard wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So John -- I mean Sean Spicer here. This is some a-grade spin coming from the White House press secretary. He is trying to make out as if this construction which is already under way is part of the President's promise to build a wall. And you know, really who is buying this?

THOMAS: I think he would have made a better case if he brought out his dollies. And explain to those folks -- yes.

But no, I mean look. He is not fooling anybody that Donald Trump promised a wall. Now, does it have to be entirely wall? Can it be a hybrid of sorts? Yes, I think Trump supporters would agree, that's fine. But to spin that the wall was in this budget is a bridge too far.

SESAY: But not only that. Let's just remind ourselves of what the President said. I mean did he say a fence or did he say a wall? Let's run the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, the fence, it's not a fence. It's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: He wasn't talking about the hybrid.

THOMAS: There was a survey that came out this week that said 90 percent of Republicans and Trump supporters believe that he lies, but they don't care because his intent is proper and right.

I think it's the same thing here with the wall. If Trump can get a fence, a levee, whatever it is as long as the intent is there, I think his supporters will be with him.

VAUSE: Although -- it was interesting Dave because that exchange between the reporter, that was a Breitbart reporter. And Breitbart has been hammering Trump on this promise -- not coming through with the wall.

JACOBSON: Well, I think this whole like sort of forcing this message today I think underscores the fact that you have a very desperate White House. They are desperate for a win. They didn't get the budget bill that they wanted. They weren't able to gut the federal government. They didn't get to defund sanctuary cities or ultimately get a real wall along the Mexican border.

I think all of this largely, it paints the picture of a failing presidency.

SESAY: Sorry. Let me just --

[00:15:04] VAUSE: Are you going to --

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: I do. But I just want to pick up on a point that John made about conservatives. How long will it be low level grumbling -- the fact that these promises aren't being fulfilled? At what point does it become --

THOMAS: It's a good question. I mean conservatives have a much longer time horizon than Democrats or even the mainstream media. They go "100 days, how come it's not done?"

I'd say a year, you know, if he hasn't made meaningful progress on most of his campaign promises -- not just the wall.

JACOBSON: But you're raising the civil war within the Republican conference, right? That's why you're not getting this overwhelming number of support for the health care bill.

VAUSE: It sounds as though he may be closer though to the health care reform bill through congress. He may have the votes. He may not. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA: We're going to pass it. We're going to pass it. Let's be optimistic about life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: It may get through the house, John, but it's not going get through the Senate.

THOMAS: Probably right. Here is what is interesting about if it does get through the House. I think it's a testament to the President, because he has taken this process into his own hands. And he has actually been lobbying, persuading members of Congress to make a deal.

So you're right. It will probably get killed in the Senate but hey, baby steps.

SESAY: Yes. I mean the other point to be made here in terms of the crux of the matter, obviously pre-existing conditions. We know that was a big issue. We know that they found some kind of work around for the House.

But, you know, the likes of Rush Limbaugh already coming out and saying, you know, trying to provide insurance for people with pre- existing conditions is effectively putting them on welfare. I mean there are those on the right who are opposed, who are offended by this and they will cause problems down the line.

THOMAS: Yes. And just like we were talking about earlier, where President Trump is not a principled conservative, I think conservative leaders know that. So they're speaking out more than ever against the President to hold him accountable because they're worried that he'll just go where the winds are blowing because he wants to make a deal.

VAUSE: Ok. Let's make a deal.

SESAY: We'll see the votes tomorrow -- 216 votes.

JACOBSON: It's exciting.

SESAY: You'll be on vacation.

VAUSE: Now that you mention it. See you guys next time.

Ok, we'll take a short break.

When we come back, France's presidential candidates have come out swinging in their last debate. The heated accusations and the issues they clashed over just ahead.

SESAY: Plus trending now, #FireColbert. We'll talk about the joke that has critics demanding an apology and calling for a boycott.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello, everyone.

France's most important election in decades is now three days away. The presidential candidates faced each other Wednesday evening in a heated final debate before polls open on Sunday.

VAUSE: Far right leader Marine Le Pen and her rival centrist Emmanuel Macron clashed as they went back and forth on key issues.

We get details now from CNN's Melissa Bell.

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARISCORRESPONDENT: This was the fourth French presidential debate, but the first time that the two finalists -- the far right's Marine Le Pen and the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron had had the opportunity to face one another directly and with no other candidates involved.

[00:20:08] The result was an electric debate. The two anchors barely got a word in edgewise for two and a half hours. The two candidates debated everything from the economy to Europe to the very nature of French society.

Now this debate came just under two weeks after the last terrorist attack here on the Champ Elysees. Marine Le Pen, of course, took on her rival on that crucial issue of security. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARINE LE PEN, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): You were indulgent against Islamic terrorism. What we need to do is look at the rise of fundamentalism in France and close the caliphate's mosques and put a stop to hate preachers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BELL: But Emmanuel Macron gave as good as he got, challenging Marine Le Pen on the very nature of her project and of who she is, accusing her of being a parasite on the society that she is denouncing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): I am talking about the party of the far right, the one that you lead, the party that spreads lies on social media, which encourages hatred, molests journalists, who generously dispense brutality everywhere.

LE PEN: We have never molested anyone.

MACRON: You did on several occasions -- at my meetings, you have threatened and beaten people. And I have experienced that. That is the truth, Miss Le Pen.

So it is your party, the party of the far right which has no resemblance to our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BELL: Those two very different visions will now be put to the French in just a few days on Sunday. By about 8:00 p.m. local time we should have a clear idea of which of the two the French have chosen.

Melissa Bell, CNN -- Paris.

SESAY: Well, Dominic Thomas joins us now. He is the chair of UCLA's Department of French and Francophone Studies. He is a friend of the show. Welcome back. Good to see you.

Listen, this debate has not been well received in certain quarters in France among the French analysts and commentators who really have mourned the death of good manners and the shouting and the pointing. I mean this is not going down as a classic. How did you see it?

DOMINIC THOMAS, UCLA DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES: These debates, televised debates started in 1974. They've been held in every presidential election except when Marine Le Pen's father made it through in 2002. And it is important. And Jacques Chirac the incumbent president, sitting president, said we don't debate with extreme right wing folks.

So historically all of these debates have taken place between a right wing candidate and a left wing candidate that had been part of the establishment representing mainstream political parties.

And one can say that this debate that took place earlier today lacked decorum. It didn't follow on in a sort of respectful dialogue and the gloves came off. In the opening sequences, they were throwing mud at each other.

And so you can see where that criticism comes from. These are untested officials, running for government, don't represent mainstream political parties. And here they are altering this tradition in a way.

SESAY: For Marine Le Pen, as you mentioned, right out of the gates launching full frontal attacks on Macron, sniping at him, pointing at him, interrupting him -- did she do -- I mean basically launching all these punches. But did she land any? Did she achieve anything on this evening that would cause unconvinced voters to change their positions?

D. THOMAS: I think that's unlikely because I think that her loyal base have heard all that she has to say and her positions have remained relatively unchanged in that regard.

She does very well in large forums, much in the same way that Donald Trump did talking about the specific issues she keeps going on about -- national identity, Islam and so on. And she did quite well in the larger debate where she got to intervene on an irregular basis.

The problem with this format that lasted two and a half hours is that once she starts to be pressured, for example, on the question of the economy --

SESAY: Yes.

D. THOMAS: -- she is not very good at answering detailed questions on her plans, because ultimately, her plans are based on fear, anxiety, prejudice, and so on. She can appeal to those.

So right out of the box she accused Macron of being a, you know, cold- hearted banker, an advocate for near liberal policies and essentially Francois Hollande's candidate because he'd served that administration.

But she has been saying this for a while.

SESAY: Yes. Those aren't --

D. THOMAS: And I don't think that will go very far.

SESAY: What about Macron? Did he -- well, how far did he go in terms of shattering this idea that, you know, to Marine Le Pen's point he is an elitist banker who has no comprehension of what it is like to be --

(CROSSTALK) SESAY: -- how well did she do --

D. THOMAS: Well, back to --

SESAY: -- connected?

D. THOMAS: -- yes. I mean she lied a lot and she made up a lot of, you know, sort of false -- she made a lot of false statements and false (inaudible). And he was pretty good at countering many of those and for trying to bring the message back.

The most important blow that he struck was to remind her and therefore the audience as well that she is not just a new candidate that has emerged. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

SESAY: He kept saying her name, over and over again.

D. THOMAS: Right. And he kept using the word "extremist" again to point out that this is -- as much as she has made an effort to detoxify her party, this is the National Front.

[00:25:04] And for those voters out there who are skeptical or reluctant to vote for me, Emmanuel Macron -- Emmanuel Macron is not Marine Le Pen. And his movement En Marche is not the Front National.

And whether or not you will follow me down the road, I represent the values of a liberal democracy. And by voting for me, you're supporting these crucial kinds of values.

And so the reminder of the extremist values of her particular party and just how offensive those are I think was very important.

SESAY: Fair the say he won this debate?

D. THOMAS: Yes. He did win the debate.

SESAY: All right. Dominic -- appreciate it.

D. THOMAS: Thank you.

SESAY: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: Anti-government protesters in Venezuela have again clashed with police, leaving a teenage demonstrator dead just outside the capital. The unrest over the past month has now claimed 32 lives.

Meantime, officers used tear gas and water cannons on a large crowd of protesters in the capital of Caracas. The demonstrators came out to oppose President Nicolas Maduro's plan to rewrite the constitution.

Critics say Maduro is trying to avoid elections and cling to power. He though claims that changes to the constitution will be mean giving power back to the people.

With that we'll take a short break. In a moment, Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, winging his way to New York for a one-on-one with Donald Trump. We'll see what happens after the rather abrupt phone call more than three months ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay.

The headlines this hour --

[00:29:57] France's presidential candidates went head to head in their final debate. Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron laid out radically different plans to address the country's sluggish economy, terrorism and other key issues. French voters go to the polls this Sunday.

VAUSE: FBI Director James Comey says he made the right choice announcing the renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails just days before last year's presidential election. Comey told senators the idea he influenced the vote made him mildly nauseas, but he wouldn't change what he did.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrives in New York, Thursday, for his first face-to-face meeting with the U.S. President Donald Trump. Their last encounter was a testy phone call in late January. North Korea is expected to top their discussions. Pyongyang recently threatened Australia with a nuclear attack.

VAUSE: The U.S. and Australia have a long history as military and economic allies. 75 years ago during World War II, the U.S. and Australia turned back Japanese invasion forces in an epic naval encounter known as the Battle for the Coral Sea.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Turnbull will mark the anniversary with a visit to the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned warship now docked in Manhattan as a museum.

Well, joining us now from (INAUDIBLE) is "Sky News" political reporter Samantha Maiden.

So, Samantha, I guess, you know, North Korea, security trade, that's the official reason. And that's what is officially on the agenda of this meeting. But a lot of people will be taking a close look at the tone of the meeting for these two men.

SAMANTHA MAIDEN, SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, that's right. I mean, given that Donald Trump had that explosive phone call that leaked out with Malcolm Turnbull just a few weeks ago really where he declared it the worst phone call that he had all day with a world leader, and had that fight with him over the deal that the Obama administration entered into to accept some refugees from Australia. He didn't like that deal, but he is going to honor that deal. I think that it will be all smiles. Everybody wants to sort of start with a clean slate as fantastic as that confrontation was. And I think a lot of people enjoyed it in Australia, enjoyed the reporting of it.

And Malcolm Turnbull was always trying to suggest that he had talked tough to the U.S. president. I think people want to see a friendly meeting and see the relationship get back on friendlier ground.

VAUSE: Look, clearly, this is a relationship which for Australia is incredibly important. It's the basis of its entire defense policy, relying on the United States.

You know, but Prime Minister Turnbull, he won't be hosted at the White House. He won't be hosted at the winter White House in Florida.

Is this seen as some kind of step down in diplomatic protocol here?

MAIDEN: Not at all. I mean, there is a reasonably small amount of world leaders that have actually been hosted at the White House since the U.S. President Donald Trump took over.

And I think that, you know, this is a very solemn event to mark a very important moment in history. I don't think there is any suggestion that there has been no discussion in Australia that this was somehow, you know, less respectful than the two men meeting anywhere else.

This is obviously a reminder of the very important history between the two countries. And what an important ally the U.S. and Australia have been to each other. So I don't think anyone's got a problem with that at all.

VAUSE: OK, politically, though, is it a balancing act for Malcolm Turnbull? He obviously needs a good relationship with whoever is president of the United States. But given how unpopular Donald Trump is in Australia, does he want to be seen too chummy with Mr. Trump?

MAIDEN: No, I don't think the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would be driven by that sort of thinking. They have a fair bit in common. They're both millionaires, self-made millionaires.

Malcolm Turnbull is sometimes chipped in Australia for being a bloke who has made his own fortune in life. But Malcolm Turnbull likes to think of himself as a very individualistic person who wouldn't be pushed around.

I think that he'll be respectful of Donald Trump. But both leaders I think have played that conversation that we spoke of earlier for domestic purposes in their own countries.

So Donald Trump has made the point that he gave Australia a talking to over this deal with refugees that he will honor, which I think was more for the domestic audience I presume in the United States in terms of explaining why he was doing that when he was at odds with other policies.

And equally, I think, that Malcolm Turnbull would like to paint himself as the man who stood up to the U.S. president in Australia's interests to ensure that that deal went ahead.

VAUSE: And just a little translation here for anyone not aware, chipped in Australian actually means criticized.

Samantha, good to speak with you. Thank you so much.

MAIDEN: Thank you.

SESAY: We'll all be watching.

VAUSE: Absolutely. It will be interesting.

Turnbull is worth about $150 million. Trump is $8 billion. You did say that Mitt Romney who is worth $250 million. He's not rich, though.

(LAUGHTER)

We'll see how that works.

SESAY: We'll see how that works.

All right. Time for a quick break here.

[00:35:00] And late night comedian Stephen Colbert is facing major controversy as Twitter calls for him to be fired. The joke that set this all off and his response, next.

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SESAY: The #FireColbert has been trending on Twitter after "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert mocked President Donald Trump with this joke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE NIGHT SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: So you attract more skinheads than free Rogaine.

(LAUGHTER)

You have more people marching against you than cancer. You talk like a sign language gorilla who got hit in the head.

In fact, the only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) holster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Well, critics call the comments crude and homophobic, and many say Colbert crossed the line.

VAUSE: It seemed almost out of character for Stephen Colbert. But the comedian, he responded to all of this on his show just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT: If you saw my monologue on Monday, you know that I was a little upset with Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine. So at the end of that monologue, I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don't regret that.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

He, I believe -- I believe he can take care of himself.

I have jokes. He has the launch codes. So it's a fair fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: And joining me now to sift through all the #FireColbert backlash is comedian Frank Decaro.

Frank, welcome.

Thank you.

SESAY: So, first off, you actually know Stephen Colbert. You worked with him for about five years on "The Daily Show." You know all about what he said on Monday that set people ablaze in certain quarters.

He came out on Wednesday. While he didn't apologize for the remarks, he did say this. He says he might have used different words in describing what the president's mouth is good for in relation to Vladimir Putin.

I guess my question to you is this.

Do you think he should be expressing regret or apologizing for what he said in that Monday night monologue?

FRANK DECARO, COMEDIAN: I can't imagine why he would apologize for what he said. The words were shocking, definitely. But they weren't -- they didn't do anything really bad. And the idea that they're homophobic to me is mind-boggling. I cannot imagine how people would take that as homophobic.

SESAY: You say you know him. And he is the least homophobic --

(CROSSTALK)

DECARO: Oh my god. He's -- I've known him for 20 years. And he -- there is no straight man who is more comfortable around gay people than Stephen Colbert. But I'm one of those people. I wonder if it's not playing into the hands of the right wing by getting upset with someone who is such a staunch ally of the gay community and civil rights and human rights in general.

SESAY: Well, as you make the point about the uproar, I mean, there are some pretty riled up people out there after what he said on Monday. I want to read you a couple of the tweets. You know, one viewer tweeted this. "Colbert went over the top last night," in reference to Monday. "CBS should at least suspend him for what he said about Trump. CBS should apologize over the top."

What about the point that he made the comment in relation to the president? Was that disrespectful and going too far?

[00:40:00] DECARO: I don't think in our current society, after some of the words the president has used himself and been quoted on, and we've heard the words that he's used, I don't think -- I think the gloves are off now. And I don't think anyone needs to apologize.

I do think we should all have a sense of decorum would be nice. But I don't think one needs to sugarcoat anything now. And I don't -- I mean, what were the words would he have changed? Would he have said wiener quiver? I mean, what was he going to use, I mean, that you can come up with other things, but it doesn't make any sense to me to get upset over that.

SESAY: I mean, this has been -- you express about words used by the president, and how those are offensive to some is, again, something that appears on Twitter.

Let me put up this tweet. This person says, "Where were you all when Trump was insulting women, gays, African-Americans, Mexicans, et cetera. Now you're upset?"

There is a sense that this kind of almost like a double standard about who free speech applies to and when.

DECARO: Yes, I think that we have to always look at who is the person that is doing the most harm. And I think we also sometimes in our society now, in terms of political correctness, we take the notion of intent out of it. And if someone is on your side, I give them a lot of leeway in terms of what they can say.

And, you know, I mean, if you really have someone's back, you ought to be able to use all of the language, I think. And I'm not kidding. I just want a T-shirt with those two words on it. I think it would be hilarious.

SESAY: I think opposition disperse into two camps. Those who are offended that he said it about the president or in relation to the president, and people in the gay and lesbian community who feel like it was homophobic. So I think there are two separate camps that are taking offense.

But for someone like Stephen Colbert, I mean, do you see him backing off this kind of rhetoric or these kinds of jokes, bearing in mind his show has done so well recently since he started targeting the president?

DECARO: I can say I certainly hope not. Because I think any time you laugh in the face of danger, you're doing something pretty brave. And I think that's what he is really doing. I think when you make a joke at the president's expense, given all that's going on, that many of us are opposed to, I think that if you can make sport of that or make light of that, it's a good thing.

I think of all those years ago when Mel Brooks talked about that, you know, that if he could make Hitler funny, he could do something.

I think if you look at all the horrible things that are going on now, that if you can get people to laugh in that cathartic kind of laugh that Stephen Colbert is able to do, you're really doing a service to all of us out there. All of us who feel downtrodden, who feel that the tide is -- there are people who are trying to turn, you know, saying that it's all turned against us. Well, it's not and we're only going to get louder.

You know, I mean, I think that -- the thing I give the president credit for is he has brought us together in a wave of opposition that I didn't think we would ever do.

He has politicized so many of us who were running around, worrying about the next pair of expensive shoes we were going to buy. And now we're like, well, I'll pick up the shoes, but I got to go to the rally, you know.

And so I think that he in some ways, that's been the -- I mean, believe me, that's making lemonade out of lemons. But, still, I feel if someone is on your side, let them say what they want to say and as long as they've got your back.

SESAY: You say it's all about the intent.

DECARO: Yes, everything is about the intent.

SESAY: Frank Decaro, it's such a pleasure. Thank you.

DECARO: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SESAY: You're welcome.

Interesting stuff. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us. "World Sport" is up next. You're watching CNN.

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