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Clapper Won't Answer on Trump/Russia Business Ties; Trump Fires FBI Director Comey; Sessions Interviewing Potential Interim FBI Directors; Grassley Has Concerns About Acting FBI Director; Sen. King: Intel Committee Should Hire Comey to Lead Investigation. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Because there is still the matter of -- that has not yet been publicly fleshed out of was he just acting on his own in his conversations with the Russian ambassador, or was he acting with anyone's knowledge, nudging, suggestion, support, including the president? There are obviously more players who would be interesting to hear from on a congressional panel, but I think when you look at those three, you have a good lay of the land.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And the question now, we'll continue the conversation in a moment, is, as they pick an interim FBI director, they have an acting right now. Then they pick an interim and nominate somebody else.

What will the administration say about the continuing of that investigation? And what happens to the investigations up on Capitol Hill? Much more on the firing of the FBI director, James Comey in just a moment.


KING: Welcome back. The president of the United States today defending his decision last night to fire the FBI director, James Comey. And on Capitol Hill, Republicans brushing aside Democratic calls for a special prosecutor, or for a special congressional committee to investigate and take over the investigation of Russia election meddling, including the question of whether associates of then candidate Donald Trump were in some sort of coordination or collusion with the Kremlin back in 2016 when all the election hacking was taking place.

[12:35:09] Let's look now at some of the key players as this goes forward. Because leader McConnell says, no, but Richard Burr, who's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who among handful of people has access to the most sense information. He knows a lot things that none of us at the table know. Here's what he said he feel about this. "I'm troubled by the timing and the reasoning of Director Comey's termination."

Richard Burr in part owes his re-election to President Trump. He won a close race in North Carolina in part because Trump (inaudible) the voters. But here, troubled by the timing and the reasoning. That's important. PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a worthy statement. Because the Senate chairman of the intelligence committee has worked very, very hard to stay away from political statements of any kind or any statement he could make that could be perceived as political as he has pursued the investigation of the intelligence committee is working on right now. I spoke to him this morning, my colleague, Manu Raju also spoke to him separately this morning and he made clear that the investigation is ongoing, it continues, they still believe it's bipartisan, they still believe it can actually work. But the fact that he would raise any concerns at all, given his posture publicly over the course of the last two and a half months is notable and it's absolutely something to pay attention to.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: And while I wouldn't question the sincerity of that sentiment, that is also by going forward with his concerns, with his doubts. He's also, I think building a case to keep this investigation in his own committee, as opposed to sort of taking it out of the purview of the committee and putting it into either a select committee or some kind of commission.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think it's an important point that -- look, Republicans can say whatever they want. They can have concerns, they can raise questions, they can go to the floor and say that this was a bad idea. But until they actually take action or try and put legitimate pressure on their leadership to change course or change posture, it doesn't necessarily matter at all.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: I think it's important to point out, there aren't exactly zero Republicans on the Hill who have questions, senators in particular who have questions, that have forceful questions about the Russia question. You know, I think there are plenty of them up there and the pressure they would put is in the discussion about who replaces Comey. And that's where they can have, I think, some place to play, and where they can hold them accountable, before you get to the pulling the trigger on yet another investigation.

TALEV: If there's a -- well, if there's a robust FBI investigation that continues throughout this process, what happens on the Hill is perhaps less important. The scope of a political investigation is obviously deeper and richer, and in theory, less politicized than congressional hearings in the House or the Senate. But the congressional investigations create a backstop to -- in case there are problems on that front. And so for some of these lawmakers in both parties, their ability to preserve their independence and their credibility is important. Almost as a way to keep pressure on the continuing investigation inside the FBI.

KING: It's a great point because Chairman Burr said that he found Director Comey to be as forthcoming, if not more forthcoming than any FBI director when they're trying to get access to these sensitive information. On the House side, they're a little bit more mixed on that view. But the question will be, a week and a month from now when they ask for information and there's an interim or an acting, do they get that cooperation or do they sense there's a change in cooperation at the FBI? That will be a key thing. I think a lot of these Republicans are buying themselves space. And a lot of them have worked -- Richard Burr not among them, but others have been critics of Trump for a while or have raised questions about Trump. Is he too authoritarian, does he respect the rule of law, does he respect the separation of powers?

Among them, Ben Sasse of Nebraska who said this today. "Regardless of how you think Director Comey handled the unprecedented complexities of the 2016 election cycle, the timing of this firing very is troubling." Again, you had a key point in this investigation and the president himself said he's been assured but we've never seen this in a public setting. But the president in his letter says, James Comey told him three times he was not under investigation.

OK. You know, I'm not saying that we don't know that to be true, but we don't know how that happened. But the context was, you're not a target, you're not a subject, you're not involved at all. We don't know. But they seem to be creating space, that if a month from now, they don't sense cooperation or they think this is an effort actually to tamp down the FBI investigation, they've given themselves room to speak out.

TALEV: I think that's right.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think that's right. And I think that Senator Sasse is one of those senators that Mary Kathatine points out has not held his tongue when he's had criticism when it comes to the Russia issue as well. But I will note that when he said publicly in that statement is repeated behind the scenes from just about every Republican senator.

KING: And you hear Dana Bash was reporting this that I think they were taken aback at the White House. That they thought because Democrats had been so critical, Democrats have been so critical of James Comey because of the Clinton e-mail investigation, that the Democrats, most of them, would be muted about this or supportive of this.

HAM: It is -- I mean, they thought Democrats (inaudible).

KING: Well it's -- to your point you say it with a little snacker and I get it, but to the point that Democrats, if Trump says good morning, they say bad morning. If Trump says up, they say down. The fact that they thought that the Democrat -- that their base would allow them.

[12:40:00] Now, some Democrat statements early on, Dianne Feinstein's initial statement, very muted. If the president called me and give me a heads up, we'll see who he nominates. Today she comes out scathing because she's getting pressure from the base. But the key question for me is much like on the health care debate, what about the Republicans?

Barbara Comstack, the congresswoman from just across the bridge here, she used to work at the Justice Department when John Ashcroft was the attorney general. And she says this, I can't defend or explain tonight's actions. There must be an independent investigation. So, there are not enough Republicans yet to demand it. But there are enough Republicans who are keeping their cards, keeping their cards that if the president doesn't handle going forward well, this could change.

TALEV: The first bipartisan deal of the Trump administration.

TUMLUTY: That does go back to Jeff Zeleny's reporting that this decision was handled by a very small group within the White House that did not include their communications professionals. It seems like -- and it goes to President Trump's management style, that this is the kind of thing that should have been vetted with your best people in the room. Because it was obvious that essentially, every -- you know, everything was going to break loose. That the whole town was going to go nuts over this.

KING: Maybe they don't care. Maybe they don't care. That is, you know, bad political intelligence or you meet with the Russian ambassador the day after you fire the guy who's leading the Russian investigation and then you met with Henry Kissinger at a time of everyone's saying you're being Nixonian. I take that as (inaudible) speed up but that --

TUMULTY: The man likes to triple down.

KING: The man likes to triple down. Thank you, that's a much better way to put that. But when we come back, the FBI director has been fired, who's next? One Republican senator on Capitol Hill says he doesn't like the man who's now the acting FBI director.



[12:45:32] JEFF SESSIONS (R), ATTORNEY GENERAL: I asked for their candid and honest opinion about what I should do, about investigations, certain investigations. And my staff recommended recusal. They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation.

I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluations. I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.


KING: That was the attorney general back in March. I don't want to dwell on this but if you say in March -- I am dwelling on this, I know. But if you say in March -- you're the nation's top law enforcement official and you say in March, my staff has convinced me, I need to recuse myself on everything involved in this, how can you two months later write a letter to the president saying, I recommend you fire the guy leading the investigation that I have promised to not have anything to do with.

TALEV: I think this is part of something larger which is a calculation to the extend that it's (inaudible) calculation by the president that this is a big deal in Washington and not a big deal in the country. That among his base and among many regular Americans, this seems like Jim Comey, he's a weird, controversial guy. Who cares? It's the president's prerogative.

And, you know, that average voters, average Americans are not going to get hung up on whether Jeff Sessions recused himself on Russia and Clinton and whether that's hypocritical. Now, that's the bet. I think, you know, 18 hours into the development of this, we don't really have any sense of how it's settling in with the American people.

HAM: Can I say to that point when Colbert went out and briefed his audience on this during I guess his monologue last night, when it was breaking live. They at first cheered about Comey being fired because they don't know which side they're on anymore, and they had to inform them that they're now on the other side and this was a bad idea. So I do think there is some sense that many in the country will be like, wait, weren't we talking about this guy being a bad actor for a year and how that's permeated the culture.

KING: We wanted him fired, just not by you. I think it's the part of the conversation nevertheless.

HAM: They were confused.

KING: And at the moment, the acting FBI director is Andrew McCabe who was the deputy to Jim Comey. Now, he, himself is under investigation by the department's inspector general. It's a controversy, his wife ran for office, she took a lot of money from Clinton allies, including the Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Again, to complicate matters here, you want to have trust in the FBI, here's Senate Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, excuse me, just moments ago to our colleague, Manu Raju.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: What do you think about McCabe as taking over as --

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, listen, if you're telling me McCabe is taking over, is that true? Is that been said?


GRASSLEY: OK. Well, he's got political problems because of McAuliffe helping his wife. And I don't think he's a person that should be taking over.


KING: You have that complication. Now they're looking -- he's the acting. They're interviewing an interim. And again, back to the bee in my bonnet, Jeff Sessions is involved in interviewing the guy who will take over the investigation. He's recused himself from but he slipped that one go.

Now you have democrats --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not letting --

KING: Now you have Democratic senators on Capitol Hill saying they may tie up the weeds here. They may hold things up, use their procedural power to put the Senate into fits until they get a special prosecutor. Does that make sense?

TUMULTY: And this also goes back to, you know, the political calculation of the timing of this move. I mean, he's got a little bit of momentum coming out of health care, President Trump has this big project ahead of him on tax reform and as -- this is just going to tie everything up as long as it's hanging out there.

MATTINGLY: Can we also point out that this has happened so quickly and so suddenly that the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee was not aware who the person currently running the FBI is which seems a little odd, particularly because the senator, as he noted, has had a real problem with now Acting Director McCabe for a long time, based on what happened in the last years. So, I think, look, when it comes to the Senate, as we all know very well and the majority of America doesn't because they have better things to do, it only takes one senator to stop everything from happening.

And I know there's very real discussions going on behind the scenes right now, as if you just shut down the entire chamber. Is that the only mechanism they have whether to try and force some action whether it's a panel or a special prosecutor or anything like that. Not really sure we'll get to that point. That's absolutely being considered right now.

But I think Mary Katherine made the best point which is the FBI director in that vote for both parties and that individual for both parties is going to be the mechanism for where they get answers.

[12:50:06] KING: And all these questions, all these (inaudible) say, just remind us. There's a lot we don't know in the day after. You have the fallout the day after, you have the shock the day after, and everybody tries to figure out exactly what happened and why it happened. And that's the question (inaudible).

Up next, OK, FBI Director Jim Comey just got fired, but one senator has a pretty interesting idea for his next gig.



SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Now, I had a fun idea in the middle of the night. I think our committee, the intelligence committee ought to hire James Comey to direct our investigation. Already got clearances, knows the subject, man of integrity.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Oh, there's nothing wrong with a little light heartedness, a little comedy in the middle of what many in Washington think is a crisis over the firing of the FBI director. Is there anyone at the table that think Jim Comey is going to take it? You know, they're understaffed, right, they needed help. Jim Comey (inaudible), the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation? I think not.

[12:55:02] TALEV: Zero percent chance.

MATTINGLY: I have no reporting on this. I would just say it's probably fairly unlikely.

KING: Fairly unlikely.

HAM: He might be willing to just hang out, though, you know.

MATTINGLY: (Inaudible) and just chill for a bit.

HAM: Chill a bit.

KING: But everyday, we've got less than a minute left. Just A final thought on where we go from here?

TALEV: Yes. Well, I think that if President Trump really was not trying to slow down the Russia investigation and really was just frustrated with Comey's tactics and past -- his choice for the next FBI director will be viewed as a litmus test for that. If somebody like John Pistole, an Obama appointee, as well as a longtime FBI official, that would send a different signal than if it's a Republican partisan.

KING: Might change the narrative pretty quickly.

HAM: Yes, I think Margaret's right. This is the next step and we'll know more about what this step was when we get to the next step, which is a sort of an unfortunate position to be in. But I think it's true and I want to speak up for the idea of taking some space. And I think in the Trump presidency, many people are like, unless you jump to the absolute worst conclusion immediately, you are complicit in some sort of wrongdoing. And that actually doesn't help us to get to the bottom of it. So taking a little space and waiting for that next step I think is part of this process.

KING: Let the dust settle. Keep asking the legitimate questions. An excellent point. Thanks for joining us everybody. Thanks for (inaudible).

That's it for Inside Politics. See you back here tomorrow. Standing by now live for what will be an interesting White House press briefing, Wolf Blitzer picks up our coverage after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following --