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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Trump Fires FBI Director Comey. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 9, 2017 - 20:00   ET

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


[19:59:45] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening from Washington where, of course, covering the unfolding reaction to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. What happened to him, just to be clear, from the outset, was the president firing the head of the agency that is investigating whether his presidential campaign colluded with Russia and whether any improper conduct with Russia continued.

[20:00:02] It comes a day after what's embarrassing testimony on Russia from the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who the president fired back in January.

It was done on the recommendation of the current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The same Jeff Sessions who had actually recused himself from the Russian investigation because of his own contact with Russians that he didn't initially disclose and is being justified with apparently no sense of irony on the basis of Director Comey's handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton which candidate Trump celebrated at the time and praised Director Comey for.

That's what this is. It is also nearly unprecedented, potentially explosive, a lot to cover.

We begin with CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.

I understand this was being planned for over a week. What have you learned?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We do know that this is something that President Trump has been considering. What we're told by senior administration officials is essentially the deputy attorney general was confirmed two weeks ago. He had time to sort of look over James Comey's tenure to pull together the letters seen today, which are essentially an indictment of Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

He talked to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. They agreed that they no longer had faith in Comey's ability to lead this department. They took that recommendation to the president and he signed off on and seeing this firing today.

But, of course, there are a lot of questions of the timing of this, why this is all happening now when this is information that, of course, the president has celebrated in the past and certainly not new information to this administration.

COOPER: The letter that the president sent to the now former Director Comey is weird. I got to say. Can you explain what exactly it said?

MURRAY: This is certainly raising a lot of eyebrows in Washington and elsewhere tonight. I want to read you the portion that I think is particularly confusing in President Trump's letter to Comey where he is dismissing him but in the letter where he's dismissing Comey, he says: While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

Now, it's not clear what instances the president was referring to here where Comey may have told him he wasn't under investigation. They have made clear publicly that the FBI is investigating potential collusion between President Trump's campaign during the 2016 presidential race and any sort of collusion with a suspected Russian operatives -- Anderson.

COOPER: Is the president expected to say something himself on this?

MURRAY: He's been extremely camera shy the last few days and this may be a good indication of why the public schedule is so light. We are not expecting to hear from him this evening. The White House has said he will not be coming out. He will not be making a statement.

They have, in fact, said they're not going to be saying anything else even on paper about this tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: Wasn't Jeff Sessions recusing himself from anything to do with the Russian investigation?

MURRAY: Yes, Jeff Sessions did recuse himself with anything to do with the Russia investigation. I think that's why the White House is taking pains to point out that it was the deputy attorney general who made this recommendation that Comey be fired then took it to Sessions and then they took it to the president. But, of course --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So, but Jeff Sessions was still involved in the decision to fire the guy that was the head of the Russian investigation?

MURRAY: He would still -- yes. He still signed off on this recommendation. They both took it to the president and, Anderson, I think that's why you're seeing concern from both Republicans and Democrats tonight on Capitol Hill about the timing of this and the way it's being handled.

COOPER: And Comey was at an event in California when he learned that he had been fired?

MURRAY: This is a very awkward way to be fired because Donald Trump sent one of his most trusted aides over to the FBI with the note about Comey's firing. Comey wasn't there. Comey was in L.A. He was speaking to field office. He was meeting with agents there and that is how he apparently how he found out.

There were news reports that then broke that he was fired. It's unclear how he was directly given the information still, since the letter dismissing him was taken to the FBI here in Washington and Comey was in L.A.

COOPER: Is it possible he saw it on news reports?

MURRAY: It is certainly possible. Again, not the best way to be fired.

COOPER: Sara Murray at the White House, thank you.

Perspective now from David Gregory, Ryan Lizza, Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Jim Sciutto, Jeff Toobin, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, and former FBI deputy director Tom Fuentes.

Jeff Toobin, I've got to start with you. Is this normal?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This -- no. This is a dark day in American history, Anderson. This is so far outside of the American political and legal tradition. For a sitting president to fire the head of the FBI who is investigating his campaign with a completely bogus and pretextual explanation for why he was fired.

It's only happened once in American history and that was October 20th, 1973. The Saturday night massacre when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor.

[20:05:02] COOPER: You think it's -- I mean, you're comparing it to that?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. If not -- and arguably worse because Jim Comey is head of the whole FBI. Archibald Cox was only the -- was only the Watergate special prosecutor.

You know, this means that Donald Trump will install presumably one of his campaign stooges in that job. Maybe it will be Chris Christie. Maybe it will be Rudolph Giuliani. Maybe it will be Sheriff David Clarke of Wisconsin. But from now on, the FBI is going to be directed by someone who answers to Donald Trump and responds and will super vise the investigation of Donald Trump. That's what's going to happen now.

COOPER: So, you're saying even if there's a special prosecutor named, which is now what, obviously, many Democrats are calling for, but many, many on Capitol Hill are saying it might be the necessary step to kind of have some validity, you're saying even if there is a special prosecutor, they're still going to rely on the FBI?

TOOBIN: Exactly. You know, special prosecutors are lawyers. They are prosecutors. They're not investigators.

They rely -- when I worked on the Iran-Contra investigation, you know, we were independent but we worked hand in glove with FBI agents. Even if there's a special prosecutor now, they will rely on FBI agents who will answer to ultimately a Donald Trump appointee -- someone who will be appointed for the specific reason of not investigating Donald Trump.

COOPER: When you said that the reason that they are giving, you're talking about the acting attorney general's explanation, justification that this has a lot to do with Director Comey's investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail?

TOOBIN: Right. The explanation is that the Rod Rosenstein's totally absurd and unbelievable memorandum. His memorandum says the reason Jim Comey was fired is because he was too mean to Hillary Clinton. That he said too many nasty things about her during the campaign.

You'll recall, and we have been playing them tonight, that Donald Trump loved those things. He quoted them. He embraced Jim Comey, all through the fall.

And now, for those exact reasons, he claims that that's why Jim Comey has to be fired. It's not believable. It's simply -- couldn't happen.

COOPER: I want to bring in the rest of our panel. Gloria Borger, is this as --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What he said.

COOPER: Is this as strange as Jeffrey --

BORGER: Yes. I think it is. I think it's bizarre and it's an earthquake. And I think that, you know, Rod Rosenstein may well believe everything that he wrote in the memo because a lot of people believe it, that Comey misbehaved during the Clinton investigation, the emails. The he shouldn't have had the press conference July 5th. That he shouldn't have sent the letter on October 28th that sent the election upside down, right? Lots of people believe that.

But then you have to ask the question, I was hearing from somebody who was giving me the spin from the White House on this, basically saying that this is the deputy attorney general's recommendation and the attorney general's recommendation and they sent it to the president and by gosh the president approved it. You have to ask, why now?

COOPER: We have joining us on the phone is the Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Schiff, what did you make of the firing of Director Comey?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA (via telephone): Well, it's incredibly disturbing at many levels. First that you have it based on a recommendation from an attorney general who's supposed to have recused himself from making decisions about the Russia investigation and here he is recommending that the chief investigator of the Russia investigation be fired.

And then, you have the president, of course, making the decision who has his own associates under investigation and purportedly on the basis of something that president applauded during the course of the campaign. So very hard to understand, raised a whole host of very troubling questions. It should never have been undertaken and certainly not in the absence of a concurrent appointment of a special prosecutor.

I don't think there's anyone in the country right now that can have confidence that the president made this decision on a sound basis, instead everyone is going to suspect I think with very good reason, he's making this because he thinks it's in his personal interest to have Comey off the case.

COOPER: Do you believe this is an attempt at a cover-up?

SCHIFF: I don't know if I would call it a cover-up, but it's a brazen interference with a criminal investigation. After all, the president calls this whole investigation a fake. And here he had a FBI director who for all of his other flaws, and I agree about the criticism about how he handled the Clinton e-mail investigation, nonetheless, was seriously looking into whether Trump associates colluded with the Russians.

[20:10:06] And so, for this president to fire him and not at the beginning of his administration when he could say he wanted to make a fresh start, but seemingly out of the blue after Comey's testimony, after Comey's acknowledged publicly investigating the president's associates, it just harkens back I think to some of the most tainted actions by President Nixon.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin raised the point even if a special prosecutor is named that they're still going to be relying on the FBI and it's going to be an FBI that is now directed by somebody appointed by President Trump. Does that raise concerns for you?

SCHIFF: Well, it certainly is not a perfect remedy, but I think the public has more confidence of a truly independent prosecutor brought in to oversee the FBI investigation, and then a prosecutor has the ability there to tell the bureau to chase after this lead, to investigate that, to report back on these witnesses. They can really have an active hand in the conduct of the investigation. That is really what is called for here, and I would like to see so process by which an independent body helps select that prosecutor.

This can't be a situation where the president picks a crony to run the bureau and another crony as an independent counsel.

COOPER: Right now, where are all the FBI files, all the -- I mean, everything that's being investigated, who has control of that now?

SCHIFF: Well, the agents at the FBI that have been working this part of the counterintelligence squad or that are detailed to focus on the Russia investigation, they're going to continue doing this work regardless of who the director is. But if the wrong person is brought in now, who's brought in with an eye to shutting it down, that really threatens the -- not only the reputation but the entire independence of the FBI. So, this was a first really tainted and bad decision but it can be

followed by an equally tainted and even worse decision if the president picks someone that is merely there to do his bidding on the investigation.

COOPER: So, who now has the power to appoint a special prosecutor?

SCHIFF: Well, I think this is something that the deputy attorney general can facilitate, can analyze what's the best way to approach the situation, how do we avoid any appearance of impropriety. I would have liked to have seen the deputy attorney general in that lengthy letter he wrote justifying the firing of Comey, directly apparent conflict of interest, the quite obvious conflict of interest and also urge the attorney general to butt out of the decision because he was supposed to have recused himself on the matter.

COOPER: Congressman Schiff, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

Director Comey was expected to speak tonight at FBI recruitment event in Los Angeles. It's unclear if he still plans to attend that. There's that.

New details of how he got the word of his firing as well as details of an e-mail out to FBI employees. CNN's Evan Perez joins us with that.

Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPOINDENT: Well, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent an e-mail to FBI employees trying to reassure them about this transition. He says that the president of the United States has exercised his lawful authority to remove James B. Comey as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation by operation of law and effective immediately, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe assumed the position of acting director of the FBI.

As you well know, the FBI is an exceptional law enforcement and intelligence agency. It is made so by you, the devoted men and women, who work tirelessly to keep our country safe. Thank you for your steadfast dedication and commitment during this time of transition.

Anderson, the FBI director was traveling in Los Angeles. He was there for that event that you just mentioned. And he was actually speaking to some of those agents in the Los Angeles field offices, one of the largest offices that the FBI has when this news broke on television.

That's how he found out at about the same time we're told there was a person who had delivered from the White House the letter the president telling him that he was gone. So, that is how the FBI director found out --

COOPER: Wait a minute. He found out from seeing it on television while he was speaking to FBI agents?

PEREZ: The news broke. That's how we're told he found out essentially what had happened. The question to ask now is, how does he get home, right? He -- under the law, the FBI director supposed to travel on a special plane which has special communications capabilities in order to be able to speak to the president and to talk to other top officials.

He flew out to Los Angeles on that plane. Does he come back on that plane? Does he have to fly commercial? We don't know. Those are questions that, of course, are being asked.

We don't know what happens now when he comes back. Does he get a chance to clean out his desk, his office? Again, that's another question we don't know.

We know that Andy McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, is now in charge of the bureau.

[20:15:04] He's now going to be working with Rod Rosenstein as far as running this investigation into Trump and Russia. Again, many, many questions left to be answered.

COOPER: And, Evan, just to be clear. I mean, Jeff Sessions, again, he has recused himself supposedly from this Russia investigation and yet why is he -- why was he brought in to oversee or approve the firing of the guy running the Russia investigation?

PEREZ: Right. That's a question we have asked for the Justice Department to answer, Anderson, because he is recused from this investigation.

I think, my guess is what they say is that this decision to fire Jim Comey was outside of the purview of the Russia investigation. That is not, obviously, the way some of the critics, the Democratic critics on the Hill and some Republicans, are seeing this because it does -- everything that you do with James Comey right now affects this investigation. It certainly affects the confidence that people have in this investigation which is something that is very important to what the FBI and what the Justice Department does.

COOPER: Evan, I want to bring in Pam Brown, justice correspondent.

Pam, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We learned that not long ago, Anderson, President Trump met with then deputy director of the FBI, Andy McCabe, now acting director of the FBI, according to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and we learned that the president wasn't necessarily convinced before that meeting that, in fact, Andy McCabe would be the acting director and wanted to meet with him in the Oval Office before any final decision.

And, of course, as we know now, that final decision was made and Andy McCabe will be the acting director for the time being. I'm also told by a person familiar with the situation that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions is reviewing potential candidates to become the -- to take the place, the director of the FBI. We haven't been told any names yet but that process under way because as we know, the firing of James Comey has been in the works for a couple of weeks now -- ever since Rod Rosenstein confirmed in the Senate. So, that process is well under way.

I'm told by the person familiar that there were various ways that the White House tried to inform James Comey that, in fact, the president was firing him. That, of course, the hand-delivered letter to the FBI headquarters but as we know James Comey was not there. He was in L.A.

And I'm also told it was an e-mail sent to him with the letter informing him of this decision but we're told by people familiar with the situation, Anderson, that James Comey didn't find out from this letter from the president. He actually found out by watching, looking up and seeing it on the television. He was apparently talking to agents in the FBI's L.A. field office, talking to them about the recent testimony on Capitol Hill. They had a lot of questions and he looked up and saw the news on television.

And I'm told by a source apparently he made a joke at the time and made light of it.

COOPER: Wait. OK. Just -- I have to stop it. He was talking to FBI agents in Los Angeles and he looks up and TV screens in the background and he sees that he's fired from television?

BROWN: That is what we're told from our sources, myself, my colleague Rene Marsh, that he is there in the squad in the L.A. field office. And lots of agents were there apparently and he was talking to them about recent testimony. He felt like it was important to have that face to face time with them, given how much he was front and center in the news and looks up and apparently sees the news on television.

And that is from sources we have been speaking with is the first time he found out that he was fired from the FBI by President Trump. And then shortly after that, he left because he had an event in L.A. that he was supposed to speak at. And at that time when he thought his initial reaction, according to people familiar with the situation, was to make a joke and to sort of make light of the situation because everyone in the room we're told was so shocked.

There is just silence and when they realized what was going on and so, then now fired FBI Director James Comey just tried to lighten the mood because there was such shock in the room, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, wow. Yeah. How do you finish that speech? I mean, that's -- that's incredible.

Pam Brown, appreciate that reporting.

Back now with our panel. Dana barb --

BASH: Wow.

COOPER: On Capitol Hill, I understand that President Trump made a few calls --

BASH: He did.

COOPER: -- to several folks on Capitol Hill before the news broke unlike to the director himself.

BASH: Exactly. He called just, for example, the chairman of the Subcommittee in charge of the FBI. That is Senator Lindsey Graham. On the Democratic side, we know he talked to Dianne Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the full Judiciary Committee. Of course, they all have oversight.

And it was just maybe a few minutes before the news became public that they got that information, but what I was told and back at the White House, that is, maybe not as shocking as the FBI director finding out that he is fired by watching television while he's speaking to the FBI, but maybe gives you a sense and window into why that was allowed to happen -- I was told by a source familiar with conversations inside the White House that they were surprised about the political explosion here.

[20:20:16] It's surprising that they were surprised but that they were. Why? Because they believed that the spin that, you know, is in this letter and some of it -- much of it is --

COOPER: You're talking about this letter from --

BASH: The letter from Rod Rosenstein detailing the reasons why they thought James Comey did a bad job, mostly focused on what happened in the Hillary Clinton investigation, that that would be -- sort of music to the ears of Democrats. The question that they did not answer obviously was, well, what about the investigation going on now of the Trump administration? And the question that is not answered which is, why now? Why now?

We don't know the answer. The fact that they were not prepared for this seismic event is mind-boggling.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is on so many levels to this. First of all, hearing Pam Brown's reporting of how James Comey found out about this, apparent abuse of power of the government, but it was rude on top of all of that, what the president did.

The real question now, I think, what Dana's reporting accurately lacks credibility insofar as believing what the White House is saying and what they're putting out there, for a couple of reasons. You can actually support the firing of Jim Comey because of how he handled the Hillary Clinton issue and be absolutely opposed to this.

I would love to ask Hillary Clinton who no doubt will be happy that he's being fired whether she supports purging someone who's investigating a Russian tie to the election.

Another critical point --

COOPER: By the way, the director of her campaign has spoken out, Robby Mook, who will speak to as well, who said this terrifies him.

GREGORY: Right. So the issue here is Rod Rosenstein who has an excellent reputation among career prosecutors.

COOPER: He's the deputy attorney general.

GREGORY: Deputy attorney general. He's the one who wrote this memo, outlining what a lot of nearly all career prosecutors believe which is that what Comey did in the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation and going public with it was 100 percent inappropriate. But why I wonder was he asked to do this investigation when the inspector general of the Department of Justice was doing the very same investigation.

If not for perhaps to be used so that, oh, those career prosecutors and other politicians, the other Democrats, career prosecutors thought Comey was no good, couldn't be trusted, yes, we ought to fire him for that. And so, the question for Rosenstein is, does he have the guts, does he have the political independence to do his, say, Jim Comey did in 2004, stand up to the White House and say --

BASH: The answer is no because he wrote this letter.

GREGORY: Well, right. He may have been trying to do the right thing and maybe shouldn't have put his name to the letter. My point is he has the power to put in a special prosecutor. That's where the momentum, that's where the pressure is right now.

COOPER: Seems like the time of the prosecutor was in that letter.

I want to go to Capitol Hill, as we go along here, developments keep unfolding. We're going to be breaking away as often as we can from this conversation to go to our correspondents who are on the field.

Manu Raju is standing by on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Concern from even some Republicans, Anderson, even one very influential Republican, Senator Richard Burr, who is a chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying that he was troubled by the timing and the reasoning behind this firing. Also, raising concerns that this could impact the Senate Intelligence Committee's own investigation into Russia meddling and any of those ties that exist with the Trump campaign, saying that it confuses an already difficult investigation and why that's important is because the intelligence committee spends a lot of time meeting with people in the FBI, in the intelligence community, trying to gather evidence and trying to gather evidence.

And Burr is raising concerns because Comey apparently has been more forthcoming than other past FBI directors on various issues and including on this Russia issue. He's concerned that this could impact how the investigation is going to go forward.

Now, other Republicans who sit on the committee have not gone that far, including Marco Rubio, on the committee told me earlier he wants to understand exactly what happened here, including Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who also sits on the committee, also member of the Republican leadership, waiting to hear more. But one thing that's universal, Anderson, this claim is a surprise to virtually everybody on Capitol Hill, even members of the leadership, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, did get a heads up, I'm told, before it came up, not soon before this came up. This came very shortly learned before this was announced, clearly Republicans here, too, are grappling with this news and uncertain about how it impacts the key investigation on the Hill. That's the Senate Intelligence Committee.

COOPER: Right, what does it do to the Senate intelligence committee investigation to Russia?

RAJU: Well, they're still going to move forward I'm told. Still continuing to try to interview witnesses.

[20:25:02] They're going to try -- they have asked for actually records for a number of Trump associates to issue, to lay out exactly their context with Russian officials and during the campaign season. They have gotten the responses from two officials, two responses so far including from Carter Page, a former Trump foreign policy adviser who is not actually responsive to the request, not giving much information.

So, they're still going to try to gather that information. But it could be much harder if the FBI is not as cooperative, given that they are trying to work in tandem with this FBI investigation. So, we really don't know the ultimate impact here, but clearly, some concerns voiced from the prominent Republican Richard Burr, Anderson.

COOPER: Manu Raju from Capitol Hill.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Just a point about the investigation. The president in his letter to Comey citing three times, thank you for saying that I'm not a subject of this investigation. The president yesterday tweeting out, in fact, making it a home page of the Twitter page, that Clapper, former Director Clapper in the hearings yesterday, confirmed there's no evidence of collusion.

The fact is neither of the statements is true. The Senate and House Senate Intelligence Committees are still investigating, not only Russian interference in the election, but this question of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials.

Today, I called Democrats and Republicans before this whole thing broke on the Senate and House Intelligence Committee, and I asked them, have you eliminated the possibility as the president claims of collusion between Trump associates and the Russians? All of them said, Republican and Democrat, absolutely not. That's exactly what we are investigating.

GREGORY: Comey did say to him --

SCIUTTO: No, but let me finish.

GREGORY: Possibly said that you are not being investigated. SCIUTTO: Well, it's possible --

GREGORY: That could be true today and not true tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: That's true. Let me say what the members of Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee said, they're still looking into the question. It's CNN's reporting that the FBI investigation which is a broad counterintelligence investigation that is ongoing includes among its questions, was there collusion?

Now, that could be -- and you're right. The distinction is, Mr. President, you individually may not -- may not have evidence of you individually conspiring or colluding but Trump associates is another issue and something we know that they continue to look into. Did the Carter Pages of the world, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort colluding in some ways? Those investigations are still under way by multiple bodies.

GREGORY: And can I just underline the important here, which is -- you talk to the associates, you investigate the associates, and to your point, it could all change. The president could be directly investigated at another point, or maybe he is not and people -- it would be hugely embarrassing or worse to the president if associates were found to be colluding with the Russians. That would be a huge problem.

BORGER: Right. But just --

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me make a point about just taking a step back and looking at the pattern here now.

COOPER: Yes, go ahead.

LIZZA: We have the White House interfering with the House Intelligence Committee investigation, with the whole saga of Devin Nunez and trying to change the subject there that led to Nunes --

SCIUTTO: Another thing debunked by both --

LIZZA: -- recusing --

SCIUTTO: -- Democratic and Republican lawmakers (ph).

LIZZA: Right. So, the White House trying to shut that investigation down. We have reporting this week that the White House tried to cancel the -- trying to get the Senate Intelligence Committee to not have Yates testify this week.

We have the White House telling Republican leaders not to appoint an independent committee to investigate and now we have the White House really absurd circumstance where you have someone that recused himself from the investigation, sessions, advising the president whose campaign under investigation to fire the investigator.

BORGER: And one more thing -- LIZZA: So, all of these investigations, the White House is putting

their thumb on the scales.

BORGER: And one more thing.

BASH: The U.S. attorney who was in charge of the district that would have prosecuted Donald Trump in New York, Preet Bharara, he got fired after he was brought in by President-elect Trump, told, I want to keep you over from the Obama administration and --

BORGER: And then Sally Yates. Sally Yates get fired. Sally Yates made him look horrible.

So, what happens if you cross the president? What happens if you threaten, threaten the president directly, indirectly, disagree with? You get fired. You get fired.

There is -- you know, there is a pattern here. And again, timing is everything here because if he had questions about Comey and you could look through the twitter feed from when he praised Comey to when he criticized Comey, and he's clearly soured on him if his Twitter feed is any indication.

But if you look at this, he could have fired him January 20th if he wanted to, but he didn't want to then. But now, it's getting very close to home. What they could have done and, you know, to Dana's point that they didn't expect this kind of fallout -- well, they could have said, OK --

LIZZA: Which is just amazing.

BORGER: -- we feel we need to fire Comey but we think there should be an independent prosecutor.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: That would have saved them a lot of this grief if they had called for an independent prosecutor at the same time.

LIZZA: That would have been credible.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: -- institution of the presidency. I mean, the problem with --

BORGER: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: I mean, the problem with Donald Trump is, it never occurred to him that what Vladimir Putin did to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, he'd be happy to do to him. He's got to protect the presidency. He doesn't care about the presidency enough to protect the notion of purging your political enemies to not do that. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And yet -- let me just also bring in one reaction that we haven't gotten in that sure, surprisingly, the Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and other Republicans, John McCain are very upset about this, but then, you know, in this sort of up is down, left is right world that we're in right now, you have Lindsey Graham, who has been a very staunch critic of the president, saying he thinks that this is just fine. And I talked to him right before coming on the air. He's standing by that statement. He thinks it was time for Comey to go, too much drama over there. And Susan Collins, who has now, you know, the cheerleader for this administration, just released a statement saying the FBI is not about the director. The FBI is doing its job and, OK, so we'll get another director. So it's not entirely lockstep on --

COOPER: I do want to say that we are expecting here very shortly from the counsel to the president, Kellyanne Conway. She's going to be joining us. There's also more breaking news, Hillary Clinton's spokesman has just weighed in, saying Secretary Clinton has no comment at this time.

GREGORY: I mean here's the bottom line is. You know, there is reason to fire Jim Comey.

BASH: Sure.

GREGORY: There is bipartisan agreement on that, and then forget the politicians, how about the people in his field? Career prosecutors, FBI agents. There is a reason to do it. You don't do this when he's investigating you for colluding --

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: It's just wrong.

BASH: Or if you do it and you have reason, you get more of an example and proof of why now. Why now? We don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, this was a firing in search of a rationale. And Rosenstein gave him the rationale.

COOPER: I want to bring in presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, who's also been standing by.

Douglas, how do you see this, I mean, as a presidential historian?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it's a very troubling abuse of power. Donald Trump just behaved like a tyrant. We see that in other countries in the world. We don't expect it here.

Jeffrey Toobin correctly was pointing out about the Saturday night massacre, about October 20th, 1973, when Archibald Cox was fired. What was important about that event though was we had resignations, two real profiles occurred, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus said this is not OK. We're putting our country above party and they quit.

And after that Saturday night massacre, eventually just like Donald Trump didn't want to talk a lot now, Nixon didn't want to talk a lot. When Nixon did come out of the wood work, he said that's when he famously said I'm not a crook. And public opinion poll started turning. You had a plurality of Americans starting to talk about whether Nixon needed to be impeached or not.

So the fact that Donald Trump is trying to exonerate himself is deeply troubling, I think, to everybody and there's the only historical president to it, Anderson, really it that Saturday night massacre. So we need now heroes in the Republican world, and we're starting to see them with Richard Burr and John McCain, men of duty, honor, country, that aren't going to just play this is a partisan game but do what's best for our nation.

COOPER: This is the motorcade of former Director Comey, we believe, who is at a motorcade earlier -- who was at an event, obviously, earlier in Los Angeles. And I want to -- as we watch this, I want to go to our Jeffrey Toobin who's standing by.

Jeff, what do you say to Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins who support this and say look, you know, the FBI is not the director and that other people can lead this investigation and, you know, it can go on?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think it is transparently bogus. First of all, you know, to say that the FBI can be -- that the rest of the FBI can continue to function is a debatable proposition, but that doesn't answer the question of why they fired Jim Comey in the first place.

I mean -- you know, I think it is not at all clear that this investigation will continue. The person who will be -- who will be supervising the FBI, henceforth, will be a Donald Trump appointee, and it may be Chris Christie, it may be Sheriff David Clarke and it may be Rudolph Giuliani. It will be someone who is loyal to Donald Trump. That's his judgment -- that's how he appoints people.

And so the idea that the FBI is just going to be fine, because they're fine agents. It's not -- there is little basis to support that. And it doesn't address the question of why James Comey was fired in the first place. And he was fired because he was investigating the White House. And that is an unacceptable -- that is an unacceptable rationale, to fire the head of the FBI, and no -- and no confidence in the FBI.

[20:35:12] COOPER: But there are certainly plenty of Democrats, Jeff, who have been calling for, you know, James Comey, who say they don't have confidence in James Comey. They're not -- even some of those Democrats now are saying, well, this is not the time to do it, but there are plenty of Democrats who previously have said, look, I have no confidence in James Comey because of his handling of the Clinton investigation.

TOOBIN: That's right. And there was never one Republican and certainly not candidate Trump or President Trump who said anything like James Comey should be fired. Yes, there were a lot of Democrats who said James Comey did terrible things to Hillary Clinton and he should be fired for it. But how can it be that the whole Republican Party just changed overnight to be outraged by James Comey treatment of Hillary Clinton? It's just not credible.

The only reason to fire James Comey now if you are President Trump is because you don't want him investigating you. That's the only possible rationale here. Even -- I mean look at those ridiculous letters that Donald Trump wrote, with this crazy paragraph where he claims to be exonerated by James Comey, which I can imagine is true. But you can't fire someone who is investigating you and do it credibly. It should -- you know, regardless of what Democrats think, it has nothing to do with what Democrats think. It's Trump doing this and he is the guy who was praising Comey all through the fall for the behavior that he now says justifies his firing. That is ridiculous and not believable, and shows that it's not the real reason that Comey was fired.

COOPER: And we continue to watch the motorcade what we believe is James Comey.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- irony of watching a slow speed police motorcade on a busy rush hour in Los Angeles. And if you remember O.J. Simpson is this just kind of crazy.

COOPER: OK. Actually, joining us right now is the White House Counsel to the president, Kellyanne Conway.

Kellyanne, you know, to those who say why now? Why fire James Comey now? What do you say?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would point them to the three letters that were received today, Anderson, the letter by President Donald Trump and letter by Attorney General Sessions and really the underlying report by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who the FBI director reports to, the FBI director traditionally reports to the deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was confirmed just 14 days ago by a vote of 94 to 6 by United States senators. He's well respected across both sides of the aisle. He served as U.S. attorney in Maryland under President Obama. And he sent out a memo today to the attorney general and the re line, Anderson, says "restoring public confidence in the FBI." And Mr. Rosenstein --

COOPER: Right, but a lot of the -- most of these letters focuses on Hillary Clinton's e-mails, this stuff that as a candidate Donald Trump praised James Comey for. James Comey -- Donald Trump talked about this on the campaign all the time, all of a sudden, the White House is concern about James Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mail?

CONWAY: No, it's not all of the sudden but there are many things covered in this letter. It goes to the fact that there's a --

COOPER: Well, I mean but the first thing is all about the -- I mean that main big paragraph was --

CONWAY: The first thing is all about the quote, FBI's reputation and credibility is right in the first paragraph if we're reading the same letter.

COOPER: The director was -- third paragraph to usurp --

CONWAY: That is true.

COOPER: -- the attorney general's authority on July 5th. I mean why now are you concern about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation when as a candidate Donald Trump was praising it from the campaign trail?

CONWAY: I think you're looking at the wrong set of facts here. In other words, you're going back to the campaign. This man is the president of the United States, he acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who oversee the FBI director --

COOPER: That makes no sense.

CONWAY: It does make sense, Anderson, I get that's a new talking point --

COOPER: He said one thing as a candidate and now he's concerned as president?

CONWAY: It makes complete sense because he has lost confidence in the FBI director and he took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general to whom the FBI director reports to. Deputy -- the deputy attorney general has been on the job for two short weeks. He went in there.

He assessed the situation and I would quote for you. He says it almost everyone agrees that the director, meaning Mr. Comey, made serious mistakes. It's one of the few issues that unite people of diverse perspective.

This is a man who's trying to, "restore public confidence in the FBI." And I would really ask everyone tonight instead of conjecture -- all the conjecture to read Mr. Rosenstein's memo. This is what he presented to the attorney general who presented to the president --

[20:40:04] COOPER: Right. It's actually his memo that lot of people have been pointing to as saying that this is just bogus and ridiculous. I mean, Chairman Burr has said it raises serious concerns, a Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, is concerned about the timing of all of this.

CONWAY: So the same senators that just voted to confirm this man whose integrity is not in doubt, 94-6, two short weeks ago, we're supposed to believe I think the derogatory descriptions you just made of him? That's not fair. And it was Senator Schumer who said about Mr. Rosenstein on the Senate floor on April 24th and I quote, "He has developed a reputation for integrity." COOPER: Senator Schumer has said this raises concerns. He's saying essentially this is a cover-up today.

CONWAY: Well, he's wrong. It's not a cover-up. In fact, the president makes very clear in his letter the fact Mr. Comey, on at least three occasions, assured the president that he is not under investigation.

COOPER: When did he say that? On what occasions did he do that?

(CROSSTALK)

CONWEY: In the letter, the president says -- the president says -- that's between the president of the United States and Director Comey but he is telling him on three occasions, he assured him he is not under investigation, Anderson. But at the same time, he is taking the recommendation of his deputy attorney general and the attorney general of the United States that it is time for fresh leadership and to restore integrity at the FBI.

This is what leaders do. They take decisive action based on the information they're provided. That's what President Trump did today.

COOPER: You don't think it looks odd at all that the president of the United States is firing the guy who's leading the investigation into the president's White House and the people around the president?

CONWAY: Well, let me repeat that the president has been told by the FBI director that he is not under investigation.

COOPER: But there is an --

CONWAY: That's right in the president's letter.

COOPER: Well, the president's letter is -- I mean, yes. The president gratuitously in his letter says, while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I'm not under investigation, he then goes on to say that he agrees with the decision to fire, to let go Comey.

But -- I mean, clearly, this White House is under investigation. The people around the president, the people around the president are under investigation. You would agree with that, yes?

CONWAY: No, I don't. I know that you -- that some are obsessed with --

COOPER: You don't believe -- James Comey said that there's an ongoing investigation.

CONWAY: The president is not under investigation. I'm around the president. I'm not under investigation. I can name many people in that same situation. But I know everybody wants to say --

COOPER: So you're saying there is no investigation by the FBI that's ongoing right now into the people around the president of the United States?

CONWAY: I'm saying that -- well, I don't know that. But I'm saying that to the extent that any of that is true, the president himself is -- excuse me, is not the subject of an investigation and most importantly, are you talking about the folks who were involved in the campaign?

COOPER: Yes.

CONWAY: OK. Well, you said the people around the president. So are you talking about people who were on --

COOPER: Some of them may still be around the president. Some of them -- I don't know exactly who is being investigated. There's an ongoing investigation by the FBI.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: -- not investigation of Donald Trump. But again, you want this to be about Russia when this is about, "restoring confidence and integrity at the FBI."

COOPER: You want this to allegedly be about restoring confidence in the FBI. But I'm not sure --

CONWAY: No. I'm just reading the deputy attorney general --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: As many people believe, this doesn't restore confidence in the FBI. In fact, a lot of people are raising questions about saying it destroys people's confidence in the FBI about whoever the president may appoint is now going to be in charge of an investigation into people who have been close to the president during the campaign, any potential collusion with Russia.

CONWAY: And today's actions had zero to do with that. Today's actions have everything to do with what Mr. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director and he's been on the job for two weeks, but he's been in government for decades and most recently served for President Obama as the U.S. attorney in Maryland.

Anderson, if everybody would read his letter rather than just trying to squeeze it into a sound bite or wonder what he meant --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We're not trying to squeeze it into sound bite. We got two hours. I can read the whole letter over the course of the air tonight.

CONWAY: Well, let's do that. I would love to read the letter.

COOPER: But --

CONWAY: I'm sure the president would love for us to read the letter out loud. Would you like me to start?

COOPER: But what I don't understand --

CONWAY: Do you want to take a passage each?

COOPER: -- in this kind of a letter, why not ask for a special prosecutor at this point? Is that --

CONWAY: This letter is about restoring public confidence at the FBI.

COOPER: Right. But in order to restore public confidence, there's a lot of -- I just talked to Adam Schiff, who's, you know, the leading Democrat on the House Committee

CONWAY: Yes, right.

COOPER: Who said we've got to have a special prosecutor. John McCain has talked about the need for a special prosecutor.

CONWAY: What does it have to do with this letter? You are asking me the core question of why --

COOPER: You're talking about restoring confidence, there's a lot of people on Capitol Hill who say in order to restore confidence, we need a special prosecutor. You're saying pointblank --

CONWAY: What happened to all the Democrats? I've got all their quotes right here. They had no confidence in Jim Comey when it was politically exceeding for them with their comments on October 28th, their comments on November 3rd, their comments last week or two, when Jim Comey testified again and had --

COOPER: Right. There's plenty -- a lot of Democrats who don't have confidence but feel the timing right now at this point in an investigation into possible collusion of people in the Trump campaign and Russia seems very odd that now all the sudden the president has lost confidence in Jim Comey.

[20:45:08] Jeff Sessions told Fox Business News on October of 2016 that Comey had an absolute duty to make an October announcement and had to make one -- and had to make a July 1. Why did he say that?

CONWAY: Nothing -- none of that has anything to do with today's actions, has nothing to do with what Mr. Rosenstein concluded.

COOPER: Jeff Sessions said that though and now you're taking issue with that very announcement.

CONWAY: What Jeff Sessions said in his letter today is most important. What he said in his letter, read it, is that we need confidence and integrity and action capability at the FBI and they feel that the current director wasn't able to perform his duties. So you mentioned the Democrats, that's rich.

(CROSSTALK) CONWAY: No, you did. You said the Democrats don't have confidence. You just said that. You said Democrat a couple of times, Anderson, respectfully. Let's talk about the Democrats, have you seen Democrats who can't muster up a single vote for health care, a single vote on budgetary matters, three whole votes on Judge Gorsuch even though dozen didn't voted for him, 11 short years ago to be a circuit court judge. These same Democrat who go out there every single day and say our job is to resist and obstruct. They don't want our democracy and our government to work for them.

COOPER: I just want to play you what --

CONWAY: Let's focus on what happened today.

COOPER: -- Donald Trump, the president of the United States, said about James Comey during the campaign. Let's play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I have to give the FBI credit. That was so bad what happened originally, and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had when they're trying to protect her from criminal prosecution.

I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did. I respect that very much.

Good job by the FBI.

I have respect that the FBI has given it a second chance.

As you know, the FBI, and I give them a lot of credit, because they're fighting forces that they're not supposed to be fighting.

I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan, but I'll tell you what. What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back. He's got to hang tough, because there's a lot of people want him to do the wrong thing, what he did was the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So now your White House is saying that what he did was wrong, but previously as a candidate, Donald Trump was saying it was the right thing.

CONWAY: You're comparing two things that don't belong together. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, I was on your show often last fall saying we were going to win Michigan and how are we going to do it. So that was fun. But here's what happened today, today, not in the campaign, in the White House, the president of the United States took decisive action --

COOPER: Candidate Donald Trump, that's a fictional character we no longer allowed to refer to, we can now only refer to that Donald Trump who exists today? CONWAY: Anderson, I'll ignore how unkind that is and I'll say as president of the United States, he needs confidence in his FBI director and he doesn't have it. And the attorney general -- I mean deputy attorney general didn't have it.

COOPER: When was the moment he lost confidence?

CONWAY: Well, read his letter. Read these letters. It's just -- it's a confluence of events. What Mr. Rosenstein says is so important. He says, "The FBI's reputation and incredibility has suffered substantial damage. I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's email. The FBI director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."

He also says that the dismissal of an FBI director, defying FBI director should not be done lightly and that he doesn't take this -- he doesn't -- he's not doing this lightly but he still thinks that we need to regain, "Public and congressional trust if we have a director who understands the gravity of mistakes and pledges and never to repeat them."

I mean that is what happened. It has nothing to do with the campaign from six months ago. This has everything --

COOPER: OK.

CONWAY: -- to do with the performance of the FBI director since the president has been in the White House. He took decisive action.

COOPER: Jeff Sessions --

CONWAY: He's not the subject of an investigation and I -- we appreciate the time and the platform tonight.

COOPER: And just finally, Jeff Sessions who has recused himself or anything to do with Russia, why was he involved in this decision? Why somebody has recused himself having anything to do with the Russia investigation involved in a decision to fire the guy who's heading the Russia investigation?

CONWAY: OK. The FBI -- the FBI director reports to the deputy attorney general. The deputy attorney general reports to the attorney general and the attorney general reports to the president of the United States.

This had nothing to do with Russia as much as somebody must be getting $50 every time the word is said I'm convinced on T.V. This has nothing to with Russia. It's everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the president's confidence and can faithfully and capably execute his duties.

[20:50:07] The deputy attorney general decided that was not the case. He wrote a very long memorandum about it. He presented it to the attorney general.

The attorney general presented it to the president. The president took the recommendations as he says in his brief, a very powerful letter today. He took their recommendations and he agreed that the only way to restore confidence and trust -- public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission, that of the FBI, was to have a new director.

COOPER: Kellyanne Conway, appreciate your time tonight as always.

CONWAY: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much.

Jeff Toobin standing by and our panel as well. Jeff, your thoughts?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, Kellyane Conway just read from the letter where she -- she read that all the criticism of what James Comey did during 2016. All of that was what candidate Trump praised. So the idea that he is being fired for what he did as -- during the Trump presidency as opposed to 2016 is just simply not borne out by the letter itself. The letter is such a pretext. It's such a phony.

COOPER: I guess, she's saying that as a candidate, he can say whatever he wants to say. I mean I assume that's what she means. Because he's a candidate, he doesn't bear the responsibility as president. But now that he's president, it doesn't suit his interests to have that opinion anymore. I guess.

TOOBIN: Well, sure -- I mean I admire your game attempt to characterize what Kellyanne Conway just said. But I think -- you know, obviously, he's not legally bound by what he said. It's not like he -- it's a promise that he is obliged to keep. But when we're evaluating the credibility of this firing, it seems highly relevant to me to look at what candidate Trump said in 2016. How can you fire someone in 2017 for what you praised him for doing in 2016? I understand that's not a legal difference. But, you know, in the realm of logic and politics, it just suggests that the reason is not the real reason. The real reason is Russia.

COOPER: It's also interesting, Dana, that in the White House ecosystem, it's -- they believe the Russia investigation doesn't exist because Donald Trump says he is not being investigated, therefore --

BASH: Right. Well, they want to believe it.

COOPER: They want to believe it doesn't exist.

BASH: Right.

COOPER: Therefore, this has nothing do with Russia.

BASH: Yes.

COOPER: When in outside the White House, the Russia investigation seems to be a pretty big idea. s BASH: That's what they say.

COOPER: It's a big deal.

BASH: Totally. That's what they say. The reality is, they know that the Russia investigation is a huge political problem. Death by a thousand paper cuts as one senior adviser said to me. It will not go away. They're incredibly frustrated by it. Whether or not this firing is part of it, you know, it certainly seems that way. But can I just make one point?

COOPER: And we're watching, by the way, James Comey departing LAX. I guess he's still --

BORGER: It's not a bronco.

BASH: Even if -- let's just say that Donald Trump never said anything about James Comey during the campaign. Let's just say that that happened. OK? It doesn't matter. This letter, which we have all read now many, many times and I'm sure you can now go on our website and read it back at home -- from Rod Rosenstein goes through the errors that James Comey made during the Hillary Clinton investigation. You tried so many times and we didn't get an answer to what has changed between then and now.

Why now? Why today? Why 100 plus days into his administration did he say, oh, by the way, James Comey, he stinks, let's get rid of him. There's no answer to that in here, no answer that Kellyanne Conway could give. She was, I think, doing her best, clearly sent out to try to give -- put the best spin on it. There's no answer because I don't think that there's an answer that they can give that would not be the obvious.

BORGER: And you know that they were thinking about this, because in the president's letter he says, well, while I've been told three times by you that I'm not under investigation, I still fire you. Well, if it wasn't on their mind and they didn't know that this was going to create a stink here, why would he even have said that?

(CROSSTALK)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The investigations, as Dana made a point, are not going away. James Comey is not going away. James Comey just like former director of National Intelligence Clapper, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, can and almost certainly will be called before public hearings of these multiple Senate and House committees that are investigating this.

So just as Michael Flynn was fired but he is not going away. In fact, he's got many legal problems and many strands of investigations focusing on him. So the investigations won't go away. And the people who have been leading the investigations, they will be asked hard questions in public and classified settings.

[20:55:11] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This episode itself is now going to be part of these congressional investigations. GREGORY: Look, I mean -- and we strip away the formality. We got to call this what it is. I stopped listening to Kellyanne Conway when the president fired the guy investigating the campaign for colluding with the Russians of foreign power. And she wants to compare that to some drinking game here in Washington. Again, distain for the presidency, this is bigger than Trump. It's bigger than Kellyann Conway. It's about America. It's about protecting our institutions. They apparently don't care about that. That's what their disdain shows in their answers tonight.

He fired the guy investigating him. And I don't care if Jim Comey had him on speed dial to tell him every week, Mr. President, we're not investigating you. That could change tomorrow. Anybody who is a prosecutor knows if that's the case.

And by the way, even if Trump is not being investigated, you're telling me, look at all -- look how bad they look because of their poor judgment with General Flynn, who talked about locking up Hillary Clinton and who was playing footsy with Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Erdogan. You're telling me that there's others who colluded with the Russians who are in Trump's orbit that he wouldn't look awful and that there wouldn't be serious political blow back? Of course it would whether he's being pursued legally or not.

BORGER: So this leads me --

GREGORY: This feed is just outrageous.

BORGER: This leads me to believe because everything you say is true and they knew -- and they knew what the repercussions would be. This leads me to believe, this is Donald Trump. This is Donald Trump who wanted to do this.

COOPER: And another reason to believe that is --

BORGER: No, no, but they're blaming it on Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions --

GREGORY: Right. And why would he choose him? Because he had a great reputation to do a duplicate investigation that was already being done. Here's every reason to believe that Rosenstein is being set up here. Now he may have let himself be set up and maybe he's going to be fired --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: The interesting thing about President Trump is he always telegraphs what he's going to do.

BORGER: Yes.

COOPER: Just last night the fact that, you know, he went on this tweet storm. He had his -- you know, the home page changed to exonerate himself based on Clapper. The fact that he so clumsily in this letter for no reason inserts this sentence like a -- it's like a fifth grader inserting the sentence, you know, because the dog ate my homework, I am not, therefore, responsible.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Here is my, you know --

BORGER: And he tweeted on May 2nd, FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton and that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds.

SCIUTTO: The parallel to -- and of course, we don't know the background necessarily whether the deputy attorney general was set up. But the parallel to this, it looks very similar to the Devinn Nunes case, right? Where Devin Nunes has a conversation in the White House --

COOPER: Right.

SCIUTTO: -- comes forward to the cameras, claims that there's this great crime that's been committed. Now debunked -- I should say, again, CNN's own reporting by Democrats and Republican who have seen those same reports. It looks very similar to the Nunes case.

COOPER: Right. This is all Rod Rosenstein when in fact it's all probably President Trump using them.

More reaction now from Capitol Hill. Joining us now is Senator Chris Coons, Democratic Delaware and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Coon, first of all, what's your reaction to Comey's firing?

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This was a simply stunning development, Anderson. Not just because of the timing, but also because of the justification. It's striking to me that the attorney general, who had recused himself from involvement in the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign, the Trump administration and Russia, had a direct role, had a hand in this decision to fire the FBI director. The director who is responsible for oversight of the agency that we recently learned is conducting an ongoing investigation into that exact matter. So it is striking. And I think this deserves unique focus and attention in a bipartisan way in Congress in the coming days.

COOPER: The White House's rational is saying that he lost the confidence of the president and the reason that they are citing in this letter from the deputy attorney general largely is how he handled the Clinton e-mail investigation. Does that -- and that's the argument that Kellyanne Conway was on just now trying to push. Does that make sense to you considering the fact that as a candidate, Donald Trump was praising repeatedly Comey's handling of it during the campaign?

COONS: Anderson, that's exactly why this is hard to square with reality. The Trump administration has been in place for six months now. There's no new developments here. His handling of the Clinton e-mail issue was questioned, was criticized by many at the time. But that's not a new or recent development. And it doesn't seem as if it is a full justification of why President Trump would take this action at this time.

Just in the last few days, we have had concerning testimony from Sally Yates, the fired former acting attorney general, that suggests that there was more going on with the national security adviser, General Flynn, than was previously understood.