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Acting FBI Director Contradicts White House on Comey. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 16:30   ET



[16:33:12] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

With the cloud of firing Director Comey still reigning all over Washington, yesterday, President Trump welcomed the Russians to the White House, despite all the alarms being sounded by U.S. intelligence agencies about Russia interfering in the U.S. election, despite Comey having been leading the probe investigating it, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, along with Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in the Oval Office yesterday.

Kislyak, you might recall, he's the one who spoke with former national security adviser Mike Flynn, a conversation that Flynn ultimately lied about to the public and the vice president, and thus lost his job. Kislyak is also the one who's meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not disclosed to the Senate by Sessions, thus requiring Sessions to at least say he was recusing himself from the matter.

The White House did not let the American free press into the Oval Office for this meeting. The only reason we're setting any visual evidence of the meeting is because the White House let in Russian state media.

Today, the White House is said to be furious over the fact that the Russians tricked them and didn't think that the Russians would be using these photographs as propaganda, which is an interesting assumption, especially given the fact that Russian Ambassador Kislyak is considered by U.S. intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies and top spy recruiters.

The presence of Kislyak was not mentioned in the official Trump White House readout of the meeting. The Russian embassy however was sure to tweet its own mini readout of the day's events, including the handshake that apparently President Trump did not want us to see. Incidentally, the White House confirms that President Trump welcomed these Russian leaders into the Oval Office at the personal request of Vladimir Putin.

After the meeting, Foreign Minister Lavrov told reporter that he and President Trump did not discuss Russian interference in the election. There was, quote, no need for the president to tell us anything or give us assurance behind closed doors, Lavrov said, because President Trump has already called the Russian interference, quote, fake news.

[16:35:05] The Russian foreign ministry also tweeted out video of Lavrov joking about the Comey firing. The Russians are literally mocking the United States government and the American people right on camera in the nation's capital.

Now, the man thrown into the middle of the fallout over the firing of James Comey is also contradicting the White House today. The new acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee it was not accurate to say that the rank-and-file at the bureau no longer supported Comey before he was let go, and he said that there is no crisis of confidence among FBI employees now.

McCabe also challenged reports about funding, saying that the FBI has adequate resources to keep up its investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

Let's bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what are you learning about where the investigation -- the FBI investigation stands?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, like the interim or the acting FBI director says, the rank-and-file of the FBI who were involved in this investigation, they are going to plow forward with it, they are committed to it, and you're hearing the same thing from the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees from both Republicans and Democrats on those committees, saying that they're going to move ahead with their investigations and, in fact, will alert the Senate and House and others if there is any interference from the White House, administration or others.

That said, it remains to be seen who the new permanent director of the FBI will be because that director does have tremendous influence and could have influence on this investigation going forward.


ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: We don't curtail our activities.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, definitive words from the acting chief of the FBI. The investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia will not stop.

MCCABE: There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date. Quite simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.

SCIUTTO: Under tough questioning from lawmakers, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe pledged to notify the Senate of any interference, including from the president or the White House.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Do you commit to informing this committee of any effort to interfere with the FBI's ongoing investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign? MCCABE: I absolutely do.

SCIUTTO: McCabe rejected the White House assertion that fired Director Comey had lost the confidence of FBI agents contradicting one of the administration's many evolving and sometimes contradictory accounts of his dismissal.

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: Is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported Director Comey?

MCCABE: I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.

SCIUTTO: Asked about the president's claim that Comey told him he was not under investigation, McCabe refused to answer repeated questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would it have been wrong for the director to inform him he was not under investigation? Yes or no.

MCCABE: Sir, I'm not going to comment on any conversations that the director may have had --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't ask that. Would it have been wrong for the director to inform him he was not under investigation? That's not about conversations. That's yes or no.

MCCABE: As you know, Senator, we typically do not answer that question. I will not comment on whether or not the director and the president of the United States had that conversation.

SCIUTTO: The intelligence committee is pressing on with its own investigation. It has invited Comey to testify next week and subpoenaed fired national security adviser Michael Flynn for both documents and his testimony.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: In the absence of voluntary participation, we're willing to go to whatever basket of tools we feel is necessary.

SCIUTTO: Today, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to work out coordination on their Russia investigations. Sources tell CNN that Rosenstein was unhappy with how the president fired Comey while he was traveling outside of Washington, even though the deputy attorney general wrote a memo justifying the dismissal.

But he says he's not quitting.

BURR: Regardless of what happens by the Justice Department or by the FBI, that the investigation that's done by the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue on its current course.


SCIUTTO: Today the White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the administration, she said without hesitation in fact, that the administration wants the Russia probe to end with integrity, she said, and that by firing James Comey, they hope that that would be taking steps to bring that about, which might say hints at least of interference.

TAPPER: Jim, I want to ask you about the Russians in the Oval Office yesterday. We talk about the freedom of the press issue, not to mention other issues swirling about. But you're a national security expert. Are there national security concerns about letting Russians with camera equipment into the Oval Office?

SCIUTTO: There is. In fact, the former deputy director of the CIA tweeted about this yesterday and I reached out to him and I said, do you stand by that, are you actually saying there is a genuine national security risk here by bringing Russia media in without being screened perhaps or at least presenting an opportunity?

[16:40:08] TAPPER: They went through metal detectors but probably not more than that.

SCIUTTO: They did. But the thing is, a small enough device could be snuck in. That's what the deputy director of the CIA says and that's what other securities expert say. And if you think it sounds out there, there are a lot of stories out there of this, once Russia had Russian schoolchildren can give the U.S. ambassador to Russia a wooden plaque which turns out it had a listening device inside it.

So, this is not stolen out of a John Le Carre hit novel, right? This is the kind of stuff that has happened between these adversaries overtime.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

When Loretta Lynch met with Bill Clinton on that plane in Arizona, on the tarmac in Phoenix, while Hillary Clinton's e-mail servers were still under are investigation, there was backlash and there was outcry, including from then candidate Donald Trump. But now, apparently, it's OK for President Trump to ask the FBI director specifically if he's under investigation? We'll discuss that, next.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Last summe, as the Presidential campaign was really heating up, former President Bill Clinton caused quite a stern, changed history when he ambled across the tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona and boarded the plane of Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Both Clinton and Lynch would later insist that the conversation never broached the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server, but the appearance of impropriety caused Lynch to step back from the probe and give the reins to then FBI Director Comey and, yes, that ambling across the tarmac ignited a political firestorm.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think what the FBI did and what the Department of Justice did including meeting with her husband the Attorney General in the back of an airplane on the tarmac in Arizona, I think it's disgraceful. I think it's a disgrace.


TAPPER: Perhaps you would agree that it was disgraceful. It could be perceived as unethical for any powerful person to have conversations with a top law enforcement official about an investigation. As President Trump just admitted he did with FBI Director Comey in person and then twice on the phone.

TRUMP: I had a dinner with him, he wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked for the dinner?

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said if it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation. He said you are not under investigation.


TAPPER: Let's dive right in with my panel. Matt, I'm coming to you first.


TAPPER: Is it different? Is it different what Bill Clinton is accused of doing, we don't actually know what they talked about, but let's assume the worst, and what President Trump admitted to having done?

SCHLAPP: I think the big difference in a lot of people's minds and I think in the President's mind is this, is Donald Trump the target of an FBI investigation. This is the piece of all this. We say, is there an investigation, is there not an investigation? Having worked in the White House, been around theses types of investigations, the first thing you want to know is are you a target or are they just checking around you to see a wrongdoing? From everything I can tell about Comey, they're checking around the campaign to see if there's wrongdoing. At no point has anybody ever said the President is a target. The difference with Hillary Clinton is that it was actually her activities that were front and center, an investigation that took many fronts on her handling of sensitive information. That's the big difference.

TAPPER: Michelle?

MICHELLE COTTLE, THE ATLANTIC CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: I think what we've learned in the short Trump era so far is that there is always different when it's Donald Trump involve. There's no situation in which he cannot explain why it's perfectly fine what he's done and it doesn't matter if it's inappropriate to ask that question or to have those discussions. I suspect he could sit you down and have a good conversation about why it's perfectly above board. TAPPER: What do you think?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it's pretty clear that there's a reason why no one wants to say in a public setting whether Donald Trump is being investigated or not. And that's because it's the subject of an investigation. And you know, if Donald Trump -- even if Donald Trump was not the actual subject of this investigation, but his associates are, and his campaign is. He was the head of that campaign. That seems to me that being analogous situation to big Bill Clinton who is not Hillary Clinton, and was not himself under investigation. But if Bill Clinton did, in fact, talk to Loretta Lynch about his wife, then it's a -- it's a very similar situation. The degrees of separation here are not that great. And I think everything I've seen suggests that it's very appropriate for someone who would've been the head of a campaign under investigation to ask repeatedly or to be told repeatedly that he was not under investigation. No one has publicly confirmed that Matt.

SCHLAPP: Can I say as we're sitting here talking, one of the things I always wondered in the midst of that incredible historic campaign was, what were the conversations between the Obama White House and Jim Comey on Hillary's investigation? We really never got that answer. Did he talk to Valerie Jarrett ever about it? Did he talk to President Obama ever about it? Did he talk to the Chief of Staff ever about it? What you're really asking is is that, can there be that kind of conversation between the White House with and the FBI. And you're going to make the comparison. Whatever happened with those conversations? I always wondered why did Jim Comey seem so frustrated when he went public against Hillary Clinton's actions. He didn't (INAUDIBLE) but he seems to almost want to publicly indict her. Why did he do that? What were the conversations that led to that?

PHILLIP: And those conversations might matter more if Hillary Clinton were President.

TAPPER: Right. I want to -- President --

SCHLAPP: I guess we have Jim Comey to thank for her not being President.

TAPPER: President Trump just tweeted something and we know he watches cable and we were just talking a few minutes ago about the Russians laughing and here we have President Trump saying, "Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a democrat excuse for losing the election." First of all, President Trump, thanks for watching. We appreciate it. But Michelle, what do you make of the fact that the Russians were laughing? Sergey Lavrov was laughing, mocking the idea that Comey was fired and people were asking about it, how do you take that?

[16:50:09] COTTLE: You know, look, internationally, there is a lot of kind of questions about how this President operates. You know, whether he thinks things through. Of course, they're going to take any opportunity where it looks like he has done something that is politically boneheaded or ethically questionable to giggle up their sleeves. I suspect they are not the only ones but, you know, Trump doesn't much seem to care.

TAPPER: Abby, I want to ask you about the President's signing ever the new executive order today. It creates a commission on voter fraud. It will be Headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Pence. It looks into the unsubstantiated claims that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were passed for Hillary Clinton. So I've heard Democrats on the Hill complaining now taxpayer dollars are actually going to be spent looking into a crazy conspiracy theory there is no evidence for.

PHILLIP: Yes. We'Ll see how much taxpayer dollar is actually spent toward this. And it seems like the White House wants to follow through on something the President promised even though there is no evidence. But it's actually I think beyond optics of this. You know, Kris Kobach is a very controversial figure. Someone who has been believed to be pushing certain kinds of voter I.D. laws that democrats say lead to voter suppression. So this is whether real or not, putting someone that controversial in charge of something that could end up looking like an effort to sort of push certain kinds of voter I.D. laws from the federal level is going to create a lot of political controversy going down the road. This is something that will only extend this issue for the President at a time when he should probably ought to just let this one fall by the wayside and move on to things that are more relevant to his agenda especially the economy.

TAPPER: And Matt, let me just say, I'll go on the record. I'm opposed to voter fraud. I'm opposed to voter suppression. After the 2000 election, George W. Bush appointed a commission, it was headed by Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

SCHLAPP: I remember that.

TAPPER: And it was a bipartisan commission. This commission does not appear to be in that same spirit especially headed as it is by Kris Kobach who -- I think it's fair to say, it's fairly controversial even within his own stage.

SCHLAPP: I know him well, I'm a Kansan so I know him and I know of controversies. And o -- the one thing I would like to correct is that the funding will have to get approved by Congress, and Congress can block the funding. And when it comes to the question of illegal voting, I think it's something we should all -- we should all be against and if there are facts that's interesting, you know, Reince Priebus, the Chief of Staff, he was the RNC Chair for a long time, he's sitting in the White House. The RNC prosecuted all these cases and there were dozens of cases of illegal voting. It's interesting that the RNC has a lot --

PHILLIPS: You just said dozens of cases of illegal voting --

SCHLAPP: Yes, even more than dozens. Actually hundreds of cases.

PHILLIPS: When he's claiming -- he's claiming millions.

SCHLAPP: I'm just telling you what there is. It's interesting that the people had actually handled that or actually working in the Trump --

COTTLE: Just like that. Dozens of cases of illegal voting --

TAPPER: No one disputes that there are dozens of cases of illegal voting. The questioned is are there millions?

SCHLAPP: I just said documented. So the question is how deep does the problem go. Just because you don't have prosecutions of millions, doesn't mean that there's not a lot of --

COTTLE: That's not -- that's not how you assign who gets investigated. You don't do it because there's no proof that there is not. You need to have proof that there is.

SCHLAPP: No, but the country should -- the country should figure out the circumstances by which people are able to vote illegally and we should -- we should tighten it up.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, are you as concerned or forget even as concerned. You're against voter fraud. Are you also -- as am I, are you against voter suppression?

SCHLAPP: I don't know. Define it for me. I probably am, but define it. Define it.

PHILLIP: I mean if people -- if people who are legally permitted to vote in this country are not able to for various reasons --

SCHLAPP: Terrible. Just as bad. Both of those would be just as bad. Some people define voter suppression a lot more aggressively and I don't have a problem with like, for instance, advocating for your candidate right up until the minute before the election. I have no problem with electioneering around the elections site but I agree with you. If anybody who's legally allowed to vote and somehow blocked because of their political opponents, that is un-American and disgraceful.

TAPPER: But do you -- and let me ask you this, do you agree that this commission assuming it's funded would be better if it were headed by a democrat and republican and then results would be more credible to the public?

SCHLAPP: I think it's better on the questions -- on these kinds of questions that get to all like the most sensitive questions in our culture, I think it's always better if we handle it in a bipartisan fashion.

TAPPER: All right. I think we can all agree on that. Thank you very much one and all for being here.

The possible ban that could be affecting hundreds of airline flights coming into United States every day. What you might not be allowed to carry on the plane if you're flying from Europe. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "MONEY LEAD." The U.S. is considering expanding its ban on laptops from flights from the United -- from Europe to the United States. That means it's a ban which already affects flights coming from airport in eight Muslim-majority countries will expand massively and affect U.S. airlines for the first time, particularly Delta, United and American airlines. The airline industry is already warning that the laptop ban could disrupt the global aviation industry and slam U.S. tourism with nearly 350 flights crossing the Atlantic, on a daily basis roughly 40 percent of overseas travelers to the United States come from Europe. Today Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about aviation threats. The Trump administration has said that the original ban was necessary because intelligence suggested that terrorists are newly able to hide explosives in laptops and other devices. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Facebook @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We actually read them. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, he's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, showboat.