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Trump: Didn't Ask Comey To Drop Russia Investigation; Trump Contradicts WH Explanation For Comey Firing; Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: (INAUDIBLE) unfortunately, we're out of time. Thanks very much watching. Erin Burnett OutFront starts now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: Next breaking news, the president's extensive interview, his first since firing FBI Director Jim Comey. Is Trump's story about why Comey lost his job unraveling tonight. Plus, the White House repeatedly saying Comey's firing had nothing to do with Russia. But is the White House admitting that tonight? And the president's obsession with Rosie O'Donnell is back. Let's OutFront.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news. President Trump speaking out now in his first television interviewer since shocking the country by firing the FBI Director Jim Comey 48 hours ago. Since Comey lost his job, the president and his staff have repeatedly changed their story as to why now, that all- important question. The president today contradicting himself, his staff, and his vice president. Here's what Trump is saying this evening in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the democrats for having last an election that they should have won and the reason she should have won it is the Electoral College is almost impossible for a republican to win, very hard, because you start out with such a disadvantage. Everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost the election.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS HOST: Are you angry with Mr. Comey because of his Russian investigation?

TRUMP: I just want somebody that's confident. I am a big fan of the FBI, I love the FBI, I love the people of the FBI.

HOLT: But were you a fan of him taking up that investigation?

TRUMP: I think that -- about the Hillary Clinton investigation?

HOLT: No. About the Russian investigation and possible links between -- (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Look, let me tell you. As far as I'm concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly. When I did this, now I said I probably maybe will confuse people, maybe I'll expand that, you know, I'll lengthen the time because it should be over with - it should -- in my opinion should have been over with a long time ago because it -- all it is an excuse. But I said to myself, I might even lengthen out the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He's the wrong plan for that position.

HOLT: Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write, I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I'm not under investigation. Why did you put that in there?

TRUMP: Because he told me that. I mean, he told me that.

HOLT: He told you you weren't under investigation --


TRUMP: I've heard that from others. I think --

HOLT: Was it in a phone call? Did you meet face to face?

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 --


HOLT: He asked a dinner?

TRUMP: A dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, I'll you know, consider it. We'll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me you are not under investigation which I knew anyway.

HOLT: That was one meeting, what was --


TRUMP: First of all, when you're under investigation, you're giving also (INAUDIBLE) I knew I wasn't under and I heard it was stated at the committee, at some committee level that I wasn't. Number one --

HOLT: So that didn't come to --


TRUMP: Then during the phone call he said it and then doing another phone call, he said it. He said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone call.

HOLT: Did you call him? TRUMP: In one case I called him and in one case he called me.

HOLT: And did you ask am I under investigation?

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

HOLT: But he's given sworn testimony that there was an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government. You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign --


TRUMP: I know that I'm not under investigation, me personally. I'm not talking about campaigns, I'm not talking about anything else. I'm not under investigation.

HOLT: Did you ask him to drop the investigation?

TRUMP: No, never.

HOLT: Did anyone from the White House --

TRUMP: No. In fact, I want the investigation speeded up.

HOLT: Did anyone at the White House ask him to any investigation?

TRUMP: No, why would he do that.

HOLT: Any surrogates on behalf of the way?

TRUMP: Not that I know of. Look. I want to find out if there was a problem with an election having to do with Russia or by the way, anybody else, any other country, and I want that to be so strong and so good and I want it to happen. I also want to have a really competent, capable director. He's not. He's a show boater. He's not my man or not my man. I didn't appoint him. He was appointed long before me. But I want somebody who's going to do a great job and I will tell you we're looking at candidates right now who could be spectacular and that's what I want for the FBI.

HOLT: What you said a moment ago about supporting the idea of investigation, a lot of people would find it hard to believe that the man who just said that tweeted very recently it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer charade.

TRUMP: Well, I think that looking into me and the campaign, look, I have nothing to do. This was set up by the democrats. There's no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians. The other thing is, the Russians did not affect the vote and everybody seems to think that.

HOLT: There is an investigation under way, though, an FBI investigation. Is that a charade? TRUMP: Well, I don't know if it's an FBI or if it's - there's so

many investigations. I don't know if it's an FBI investigation or if it's a congress, if it's a senate --

HOLT: Well, James Comey testified there was an FBI investigation.

TRUMP: Well, yes, but I think they're also helping the house and the senate. So, you probably have FBI. But you have house, you have senate. They have other investigations.

HOLT: But when you put out tweets, it's a total hoax, it's a taxpayer charade and you're looking for a new FBI director, are you not sending that person a message to lay off?

TRUMP: No. I'm not doing that. I think that we have to get back to work but I want to find out - I want to get to the bottom. If Russia hacked -- if Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about it.

HOLT: Well, there's already intelligence from virtually every intelligence agency that yes, that happened.

TRUMP: I tell you this. If Russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it's a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it and I want to make sure it will never ever happen.

HOLT: Were you angry with James Comey when he went public and said he can't support your unsubstantiated charges of wiretapping that your predecessor wiretapped you?

TRUMP: I was surprised he said it but I wasn't angry. There's a big thing going on right now which is spying and it's -- you can call it anything you want. The unmasking and the spying, and to me, that's the big story right now. That's a very, very big story.

HOLT: You didn't take that as a sign of disloyalty that he came out and contradicted you?

TRUMP: No. I don't think of it as loyalty. I mean, I want -- whoever the director is I want him to do the right thing.

HOLT: And what about when he went public and said that there was in fact an FBI investigation looking at your campaign in Russia? Did that -- I ask you that because --


TRUMP: Well, you know, I have that --

HOLT: -- building anger.

TRUMP: No, no, no. I know every once in a while you'll see that in the newspaper, anger somebody will report or have false sources that maybe don't exist because of the media, the way the media is. No. I will tell you that I think that I want very simply a great FBI Director.

HOLT: And will you expect that they would -- they would continue on with this investigation?

TRUMP: Oh, yes, sure. I expect that.


BURNETT: And that, of course, was Donald Trump and we'll hear the rest of the president's interview in a moment. I want to go to Sara Murray right now though OutFront at the White House. And Sara, obviously, this is the first time the president has spoken out since firing the FBI Director. But what you can see in that exchange is that in less than 48 hours, the president's story about what led to Comey's firing has changed again and again and again and completely, by the way, conflicts with the story that his own vice president gave.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's a very different tale from what we've heard from White House officials, including the vice president for the last two days. For the last two days the explanation has been that they got this recommendation from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general as well as Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. The president took their counsel. And that's how he ultimately made the decision to fire James Comey.

He made very clear in that interview that it was his decision that he was planning on firing the FBI Director regardless of what his attorney general and deputy attorney general said. And Erin, I think it's a good indication of just how set the president was in this decision and sort of how tightly held he kept it. He did not let his communication staffers know until right before he announced it and sort of let them scrambling to defend it.

And that again had left the White House in a position where they're telling a number of different stories to try to explain how the president came to this bombshell decision.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you very much. And I want to go now to our special panel with us through this hour. Zeke Miller, Time Magazine's White House correspondent, he interviewed President Trump Monday night. Got an exclusive tour of the president's residence in the Oval Office. Laura Coates, former federal prosecutor, David Gergen, former adviser to four president, Chris Cillizza, reporter and editor-at-large for our political unit and Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for President Obama. Jeffrey Lord also here, former Reagan White House political director.

Look. The bottom line here is that Jeffrey, the president did completely contradict his own team today when he came out and said very clearly, you heard under pressing by Lester, again and again, he would have fired Director Comey no matter what. But that's totally different than what they've said over the past few days. They said that it was Rod Rosenstein who made that recommendation and it was all him. Is this a problem?

JEFFREY LORD, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, I don't -- the recommendation was a - was a serious one. I mean, clearly the president asked for recommendation and he got it. But, you know, this has been on the table -- frankly, one mistake I think they made is not firing him the day after the president was sworn in. You should have gone it immediately. I mean, you had all kinds of people on -- in both parties and in the media, the Wall Street Journal, et cetera, saying that he shouldn't have been appointed in the first place or that he made serious mistakes, he should be out the door, he should resign, be fired, whatever. It was very clear he had no credibility across the board. So, that's if one mistake I think he made. But other than that, you know, he's now gone.

BURNETT: But some - and he is now gone. Of course, the problem is that the story of the reason they're giving frankly has changed, right? So either people didn't know or people lied and it's unclear which it is. But here is what the vice president, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders who's been the deputy press secretary, all said -- they did not say it was the president who decided he wanted to fire Jim Comey. That is not what they said. Here's they are.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president took strong and decisive leadership here to put the safety and security of the American people first by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president accepted the recommendation of his deputy attorney general to remove James Comey from his position.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT FOR DONALD TRUMP: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who -- to whom the FBI Director reported.


BURNETT: Accepted the recommendation, Chris, accepting the recommendation, took the recommendation. The president of the United States says not so. He didn't care what the recommendation was, I was going to fire him, anyway. He just said it.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. Look, I don't know how to put it any better than that clip does, Erin. The line clearly yesterday was he accepted the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein. It was about the Clinton e-mails, the mishandling of it. James Comey remembered going out -- I think Sarah Huckabee Sanders used the word atrocity of going outside the chain of command with the attorney general.

And then now it's Donald Trump saying, yes, I was going to do that anyway. This is Donald Trump. You know, the blame for this, I actually -- I'm with Jeffrey. I think that Donald Trump could have very easily said on January 21st, you know what? I wasn't happy with James Comey, we need a change. The problem is he did it on May 9th, not on January 21st. And the explanation for why he did it, which is what is the most important thing, has changed more times than I have fingers in the last 36 hours.

The real reason he did it is because he's not - he wasn't happy with him. He didn't think that -he thought he was pursuing the Russia thing instead of the surveillance. He makes that clear in the interview with Lester. But again, it's very hard to be a staffer of Donald Trump's, because he does what we wants, he -- and then you have to try to square that circle.


CILLIZZA: And that includes Mike Pence.

BURNETT: And you know what, Laura, I want to ask you about something else that's very important here. He said -- and we all saw it in the letter, right? To Director Comey. He said thank you very much for telling me three times that I'm not under investigation. In this exchange he answers the question, he said the first time -- two times were on phone calls and one time was over dinner. And the purpose pf this dinner was a dinner where the FBI Director Jim Comey was telling the president of the United States that he wanted to keep his job. And then the president said, yes, so I asked am I under investigation. Laura, is there any -- anything improper about doing that? I mean, the guy's asking to keep his job. And he's saying, wait, am I under investigation? Is there an issue?

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, there's everything improper about that. If you're doing it with a wink and a nod that says the answer can only be no if you want to keep your job as director of the FBI. But the timing is going to be so important here because remember, if he made that statement over this alleged dinner early on in January prior to Comey's March hearing where he confirmed there was a criminal investigation ongoing about collusion with Russia and the Trump campaign and its aide, then at that point and before that, it's an inappropriate act if somebody was trying to throw their weight around to somebody in an improper unethical fashion.

If it's after that March event, then you have somebody who knows there's an investigation, who is now insinuating that you may or may not be able to keep your job if the answer is yes, you are being investigated and it sounds more like the basis for him actually terminating him is based on that exchange. But of course, we didn't get the dates of any of these conversations unfortunately (INAUDIBLE)


COATES: We don't know when that is. But we do know is as this pendulum keeps going back and forth, Erin, about whether or not this was a political motivation or a more benign explanation from Rosenstein, we get farther and farther honestly from obstruction charges. And the reason for that is because obstruction charges really require a specific intent to corrupt or stop an investigation. And what it requires is really the absence of any other plausible explanations for the firing. So --


COATES: -- in this case double speak may actually be helping the president --

BURNETT: Interesting.

COATES: -- in the criminal investigation.

BURNETT: And the other thing, Zeke, that the president said here that I thought was interesting was his use of the word if. It was resounding and it was overwhelming and he said it, Zeke, if Russia hacked, if Russia did anything regarding our election. There's a lot of ifs that frankly are not ifs according to the uniform view of the U.S. Intelligence Community, OK? That is Russia hacked and Russia did something regarding our election. OK? There's no if about it anymore. But what's the significance, Zeke, to the fact that he is still saying that? He's trying --


BURNETT: Oh, excuse me. Go ahead, Zeke.

MILLER: Oh, sorry. This is the same still Donald Trump of all of last year during the campaign when he was talking about maybe there's the 400-pound hacker sitting in his bedroom in New Jersey, hacking into e-mails. It only took to that press conference just a couple of weeks before he took office where he admitted very, very briefly in a fleeting answer in a press conference at Trump Tower that he believed the intelligence community's assessment that Russia had been involved in hacking some of those e-mails.

And here he is still months later qualifying that. It's a sign that he doesn't want to give his critics even an inch. You know, he still believes any questions about Russia or questions about his legitimacy. If he'd come out six months ago and said Russia is trying to hack the election and I condemn them for that, it would be -- we'd be in a different place. We're here only because the president for so long denied the obvious, you know, what all the intelligence agencies had spoken about a lot of voice.

BURNETT: And he's still not admitting to that tonight. And Jen Psaki, he also said Russians didn't impact the vote. Well, you know, we have no idea if that's true. And in fact, there are many who would argue the complete opposite. You may be among them.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think he's one of the very few number of people, most of them probably work in the White House currently who think Russia did not impact the vote with their meddling. Now, there's a varying degree but I think most people think it was significant while there were other factors as well. What it also shows, his comments, is that he's naive about Russia's objectives. Russia was not just just trying to elect Donald Trump. That was part of it.

But they also want to create confusion in the United States and they're successfully doing that right now. So, they are at home right now as the weeks have had gone forward here and, you know, laughing about what's happening here as a result of their efforts and the fact that nothing is being done to prevent this from r from happening in the future. Putin is not a Trump supporter. He's not a republican. He's somebody who wants there to be confusion in the United States.

BURNETT: David Gergen, how do you think the president did in what you saw in this interview and how he answered the Comey questions and answered the questions about the Russian investigation?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Oh, it was fair. I, you know, I think he put the best face he could on it. And I agree with Jeffrey Lord had he done this back in January, it would have been more acceptable. But I think what we now have, the central point now, Erin, we've had an astonishing 48 hours in which the president of the United States has reached in and fired the investigator who is investigating the White House.

The White House comes out with a story about it that they tell the world, the vice president tells the world, they tell the congress, they tell the country, here's what -- here's why we did it. It has nothing to do with the Russians. It has everything to do with the e- mails and we did it because the deputy attorney general at the justice department came with the recommendation, supported by the attorney general. And it turns out the whole story has unraveled in the last 48 hours. It turns out not only there's just contradictions but they're lies.

And I don't think we've seen anything quite so brazen in a long - in a longtime. I can't remember -- I can't even remember the Nixon people being so incompetent in lying. I must tell you, it's like keystone cops come to it. But just remember one last thing, the attorney general said he was going to recuse himself from anything to do with the Russian investigation. It was the attorney general -


GERGEN: -- who came over to the White House and in the room, it has his fingerprints on it. That has compromised the administration far more than I think has been accepted so far.

BURNETT: All right. Well, all of you please stay with me and we're going to come back more of the interview with Donald Trump and why he took 18 days after Sally Yates walked to the White House and said Michael Flynn is a problem, why did it take him 18 days to fire General Michael Flynn during which time he kept all his security clearance access. Plus the acting director of the FBI directly contradicting the White House today.


MARTIN HEINRICH, UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR NEW MEXICO: Is it accurate that the rank and file no longer supported Director Comey?

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: No, sir, that is not accurate.


BURNETT: And on a lighter note this evening, Jeanne Moos on why Trump demands two scoops of ice cream while everyone else at the table only gets one. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news. President Trump denying he has any investments in Russia. Here is more of what he had to say moments ago.


TRUMP: I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don't have property in Russia. Lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don't have property in Russia, and I am in very -- I mean I'm in total compliance in every. Now, I have to tell you, I file documents hundreds of pages worth of documents with the Federal Elections Bureau. Everybody's seen that. I built a great company but I'm not involved with Russia.

I have had dealings over the years where I sold a house to a very wealthy Russian many years ago. I had the Miss Universe Pageant which I owned for quite a while. I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.

HOLT: And one last question on this matter. Did you ever --

TRUMP: Can I have a certified letter? Just so you understand. I'm not just saying that. I've given the letter - I've given the letter to Senator Lindsey Graham. He has the letter and I think frankly, I assume he's going to give the letter out, but it says I am not involved in Russia, no loans, no nothing.

HOLT: Did you worry at all when you made the decision to fire Comey when you did, the day before Lavrov was here in the White House and the Russian Ambassador. Did you think through the optics and the way this would look?

TRUMP: I never thought about it. It was set up a while ago, and frankly, I could have waited, but what difference does it make? I'm not looking for cosmetics. I'm looking to do a great job for the country. I'm looking to create jobs. I'm looking to create strength and security. I'm looking to have strong borders. I'm looking for things like that. I think it's really a good thing that I meet with people. Now, this is a public meeting, you know, when you cover this, the people watching may say, oh, he met with Lavrov.

Look, this was announced that I'm meeting with Lavrov. Just like a number of days ago I spoke, I had a very good conversation, very public in the sense that everybody knew it was taking place, I talk all the time, just spoke with the head of - the new head of South Korea who just got elected. I speak with the head of India, I speak with the head of China. I have to speak with Putin also. It's called Russia. But when I spoke with Putin, he asked me whether or not I would see Lavrov. Now what do I -- should I say no, I'm not going to see him? I said, I will see him.

During that discussion with Lavrov, I think we had a great discussion having to do with Syria, having to do with the Ukraine and maybe that discussion will lead to a lot less people getting killed and will lead ultimately to peace. So I'm OK with those discussions, Lester. I think it's a good thing, not a bad thing.


BURNETT: All right. My panel is back with me. Let me go straight to you, Jen Psaki. I wants to start with what the president just said that he's got this letter that says no investments in Russia, nothing, never, never, nothing to see there. Is that enough?

PSAKI: Well, a certified letter as far as I understand is something anyone can do at the post office. So, I'm not sure what the certified letter means. And certainly, there have been enough - there's been enough excellent reporting about the connections he does have to bring in question what he claims. I do think it was also interesting what he said in the interview about how he -- Putin asked him to meet with Lavrov and he met with Lavrov. Lavrov is not the same level as Trump. He's not a head of state. When I was in the White House, the negotiations with Lavrov happened at the secretary of state level. And bringing him to the Oval Office is a significant give to - putting a significant gift to Russia and certainly it is a questionable time to do that.

BURNETT: What do you say to that, Jeffrey Lord? Because obviously Rex Tillerson was in Moscow, you know, he did - he did get that meeting Putin. But it is different for President Trump to do that. Do you think he will do that?

LORD: Well, I mean, with all due respect to my friend, Jen Psaki here, I guess the American people wanted a change. And they were well aware that the Obama administration started out with Hillary Clinton and that famous reset button and the premise at the time was that the Bush administration had so badly dealt things in the world that they needed to go to Moscow and reset things. She brought that button along as an example. And there was President Obama himself promising a prominent Russian leader that, you know, right before the election in 2012, if you just give me a little bit of time and tell Vlad I'll get things in order, whatever the conversation was.

The fact of the matter is at the end of the Obama administration, relationship with Russia - the relationship with Russia was in at (INAUDIBLE) so President Trump, understandably is trying something different. He's going to take criticism for it. But the American people wanted something different because they saw what a failure this had been.

BURNETT: So, Chris, I want to ask you about, you know, as you continue there making the case as to why he should go ahead and do this meeting, you know, do you think that he made the case there as to why he should meet with Lavrov?

CILLIZZA: Jeffrey is right.


CILLIZZA: That Donald Trump promised to be different. And he has certainly lived up to that promise. The one thing -- so look, it's his prerogative. I take Jen's point about sort of, you know, equals meeting equals. But Donald Trump wants to do things differently. He won. He gets that right. The thing I would say, if Donald Trump wants the Russia investigation to end, if he insists that he has absolutely nothing to do with it, he can do two things really easily.

He could urge everyone in his administration to say we are going to -- we are going to give you everything that we have on that. We -- I want -- we're going to cooperate 100 percent. I'm going to stop calling it a hoax. I'm going to - you know, a tax fair funded hoax. I'm not going to run it down - we're going to cooperate. We're going to do everything we can because I want to be vindicated. I want to show that there's absolutely nothing there. That's one. Two, he could release his tax returns.

I don't want to bang this drum too loudly but the reality of the situation is the best way to prove that you have no ties to Russia is release your tax return. I know he keeps coming back to what we put - we -- I've sent hundreds of pages of documents.

BURNETT: Right. He did say that.

CILLIZZA: It's not the same thing. Release your tax returns. Those are two very easy ways that he has control of that could make good on what he insists he wants which is need to be done because there's nothing that he has to hide.

BURNETT: Right. And Zeke, and he says obviously, you know, he wants this investigation to finish, right? OK. That's what he says. But he has called it a hoax as Lester fairly pointed out before. In your piece in time, you actually were with him in the White House in the private quarters, right? You were talking about this big T.V. and he had it cued up on TiVo to rewatch important moments of testimony in the most recent hearing where Sally Yates and Jim Clapper were testifying. And you write -- he's watching it, making you watch it with him. And here's how he characterized and how seriously he took the commentary they said. You wrote, "watch them start to choke like dogs" Trump says, having fun. Watch what happens, they're desperate for breathe. Clapper on the screen, pauses several beats to search his memory. Ah, he's choking. Ah, look, the president says.

What do you say, Zeke?

ZEKE MILLER, INTERVIEWED PRESIDENT TRUMP MONDAY NIGHT: Yes. I mean, this was -- it was like watching a -- you know, a Sunday afternoon a play-by-play announcer telling you -- dissecting a play gone wrong. That's the way Donald Trump consumes media but also that, you know, the fact that he not only he DVR'ed it, cued it up for -- he took a bunch of reporters back to his private dining room just off the Oval Office, with several other aides to have us watch him watch it. See his reaction, hear his color commentary.

He feels vindicated. He believes that everything about Russia undercuts his own legitimacy. And if he can move beyond that and recognize that there's a political expediency to accepting the criticism that will with that, and just opening the books, things will go a lot easier for him. But as long as he adopts this defensive posture where every question

about Russia's involvement or attempted meddling in 2016, is somehow an attack on him or is an excuse by Democrats, he's not going to resolve this and it's going to prolong the political nightmare that this has become for him.

BURNETT: All right. And now, you know, obviously, his own deputy press secretary admitting today that the Comey firing was related to the Russia investigation, saying that it would come to its conclusion, more efficiently if Director Comey was taken away. So, obviously, directly saying that getting rid of Comey was related to the Russia investigation.

I want to bring in Tom Foreman who's been tracking the White House's changing story about the Comey firing.

And, Tom, obviously, tonight, the president coming out and contradicting Kellyanne Conway, what his own vice president five times in just a few moments, again changing the story.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're contradicting each other. They're contradicting the president. They're contradicting common sense at any given moment.

And when you lay it against the time line of everything that's happened, it's very hard to square all these versions.


FOREMAN: Mid-summer the election is raging and even as candidate Trump's frustrated fans call for Hillary Clinton's arrest --

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Honestly, she should be locked up.

FOREMAN: -- he remains publicly pleased, crowing about the FBI's sharp criticism of her handling of classified e-mails despite the political uproar.

TRUMP: And I have to give the FBI credit. It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made.

FOREMAN: But the smiles and handshakes evaporate two months after the inauguration when Comey tells Congress he's looking into Russian meddling in the election.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

FOREMAN: Now when the president is asked if Comey should have been dismissed like others from the Obama years, his support is suddenly tepid.

TRUMP: No, it's not too late but I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens. FOREMAN: What has happened is the Russia probe has expanded,

intensified. And just a week ago, sources tell CNN, Comey asked for more resources to pursue it. The Justice Department denies that and the White House has now put out several different versions of what led to Comey's firing.

One, the president took action after the deputy attorney general told him the bureau had lost faith in Comey, starting with the Clinton e- mail probe.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump made the right decision at the right time, and to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.

FOREMAN: Two, Comey committed atrocities by going around the chain of command while serving under President Obama.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Director Comey has shown over the last several months and frankly over the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes.

FOREMAN: And three, the president says he decided on his own sometime ago that Comey was too much of a showboat, not enough of a leader.

TRUMP: He wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.


FOREMAN: Still, White House critics believe Comey was mainly sacked for aggressively chasing the Russian investigation, for dismissing the president's claims he was bugged by Obama and for generally irritating the president, by showing the very political independence Donald Trump once praised -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

So, Laura, let me go to you rights away here. On this whole changing story, right, about what happened with the firing of Jim Comey, when you had Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mikes Pence five times in just a few minutes all saying it was done on the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein. President of the United States point blank said that's untrue.

How big of a problem is that, that they were either misled or they were lying on his behalf, or whatever it was, how big of an issue is it?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's an issue in the sense that, look, when you have the impression that it's a politically motivated firing, what was going to immunize that perception was the idea that there was a benign reason for it.

[19:35:06] That you had the backing of somebody who had credibility across different parties who was just confirmed two weeks ago, I think 96-4 by the Senate. You had somebody saying, well, there were justifiable reasons to terminate James Comey that were more recent than last July. They were because of the recent testimony he gave just about a week ago.

But when the president came out and said, no, no, that didn't factor into my calculus at all, it undermined the argument that he was basing his decision on a benign reason. That's a very big issue when you think about the fact that you had this impression. You had people saying, listen, one of the bases for obstruction or for impeachable offenses could be that you're trying to abuse your power in an inappropriate way to try to deflect attention away from you when the attention about the Russian investigation comes too close.

It was called Nixonian for the past 24, 48 hours. And that's a problem he's facing and it's very, very peculiar that he would choose that route when frankly, Erin, he had a cover.

BURNETT: Which was what?

COATES: The cover was Rosenstein's memo. Now --

BURNETT: Right. He just said yes, I did.

COATES: Yes, I did it.

BURNETT: I think that's a psychological thing. He doesn't want to say I did what Rod Rosenstein told me to do. He wants to say I'm the boss.

COATES: I agree. But, you know, sometimes when you -- it comes with the territory that you take the blame as well. And I'm not saying the Rosenstein was angry about being used I think in a way as a pawn to say, I -- my justification was the only reason this person was terminated, that's not, in fact, the case.

But if that was the perception lingering, that did undercut an argument that was being made and being built in a criminal investigation perhaps, and in an impeachment investigation, that he was acting under political motivation as opposed to a very benign reason.

BURNETT: So, David, he also was asked about another part of the whole Russia investigation, we now know that General Michael Flynn has been subpoenaed for documents that he refused to hand over.

And tonight, the president was asked about why. He waited 18 days to fire General Flynn after Sally Yates came in and warned him, right? And he said he didn't think her warning was very severe.

Here's what he said.


TRUMP: My White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any -- didn't make it sound like he was, you know -- and she actually didn't make it sound that way either in the hearings the other day, like it had to be done immediately. This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's -- in my

opinion, a very good person. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.


BURNETT: Compelling answer, David Gergen? Of course, I will remind everybody that President Obama two days after the election also warned President Trump about Michael Flynn, but maybe not perhaps on the specifics of the Russia situation, David.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it may be much to satisfy his base and maybe Jeffrey thinks it's entirely defensible. But I think most people listening to that would say, you know, it just -- it doesn't fit the facts.

You know, Sally Yates was deeply disturbed as the acting attorney general. She went to the White House counsel to say you've got a very big problematic guy who's been compromised, who is vulnerable to the Russians and you're telling me that when this that goes to the president of the United States -- he said, well, we don't know Sally Yates very well. It sounds like, you know, maybe it's this, maybe it's not. I'm not going to do much about it.

That's just not credible. Just as the cover story they invented about blaming everything in the last 48 hours on Rosenstein and the Department of Justice and the whole question of the e-mails.

I'm sorry. The president fired Michael Flynn 18 days layer after the story broke. That really showed that the vice president had been lied to by Flynn. He knew -- the president knew when McGahn came to him that the vice president had been lied to. He should have taken action right then.

BURNETT: And so, a quick final word to you, Jeffrey Lord, on this issue of the vice president, right, being lied to by Michael Flynn. Today, the vice president has come out, you know, five times in the past 48 hours, he came out and said that the president fired Jim Comey because of Rod Rosenstein's recommendation, on the recommendation of. He said it five times. The president now tonight says that isn't true.

How big of an issue is this, that they're not even on the same page about Comey?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't -- I really think this is, you know, pulling -- or parsing words. Look, the president is the boss and this president in particular is going to make his own decisions. But it's totally typical of him, I think, to ask the professional in charge, in this case was the deputy attorney general, for his recommendation.

[19:40:00] He got it and I think that reinforced his own -- you know, in a very legalese sense reinforced his own instinct here and so, he went through with it finally. BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.

And next, the White House says firing Comey will help the Russia probe. Congressman Adam Schiff, member of the House Intelligence Committee, is my guest, leading this investigation. We'll get his answer to if that's true.

Breaking news, Republicans facing backlash. These are live pictures of protesters outside a major gathering of the GOP tonight.


BURNETT: Breaking news: President Trump setting the record straight in his view after his administration has struggled for three straight days to explain the controversial firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. Trump said it was his decision and his decision alone.


TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat, he's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that. You look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

[19:45:01] He's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee which, of course, is in the midst of a massive investigation into Russia's role in the election.

Congressman, you heard that. The president saying he fired Jim Comey because he's a showboat and a grandstander. The FBI has been turmoil.

Your reply?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My reply is I don't think anyone finds that credible, and certainly not after getting a completely different explanation yesterday or the day before. I think the reality is this has everything to do with the Russian investigation and the president's discomfort with Comey leading that investigation or Comey not paying enough attention to the real story because he considers the Russia investigation to be a fake. The real story being -- wanting the director to look into leaks or whatever else the president has in mind.

But it's simply not credible. I think the shifting explanations given by the president and his team and it's all the more important I think for Congress to make sure we do our job to do a thorough investigation and oversee what the FBI does, to make sure they have the resources, they have the independence, whoever takes that job next.

BURNETT: So, I want to ask you about that. The Interim FBI Director McCabe was testifying today and he said two very significant things. One was that the investigation into Trump's ties to Russia is a significant investigation for the FBI. That is the word he used. The other, though, is that so far, he says, Congressman, the White House has made no effort to impede the investigation. No effort to impede.

Do you agree?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think if you look at the firing of Comey, if that was designed to influence the election, and I don't think you can say so categorically he's made no effort to interfere. I think that the firing was all about the Russia investigation.

So, I'm certain that what Mr. McCabe said may be true in the sense that the president isn't calling line agents who are working on the investigation or in other very ham-handed ways trying to interfere with the day-to-day operation of the investigation. But nonetheless he fired the top cop of that investigation and I think no one believes this was about Hillary Clinton's e-mails. I think it was all about the Russia case.

BURNETT: So, so, in that, if you're saying if that in and of itself, you're saying possibly could be interfering. Your Democratic colleague, Senator Richard Blumenthal, said that President Trump's decision to fire Comey in and of itself could lead to possible impeachment proceedings.

Do you think it's come to that? Do you agree with that?

SCHIFF: I certainly wouldn't be ready to leap to that kind of conclusion. I do think we need to learn more about the circumstances that led to the director's firing. But I wouldn't leap to that conclusion on its face. I will say this, that I think that many of the president's actions have been really quite inexplicable going back to his hurling of these unfounded accusations against President Obama claiming that he was illegally wiretapped, then charging Congress to investigate that claim and now continuing with the firing of the person who was leading that investigation.

So, I think there's a lot more that we need to find out about just what went into this decision. It wasn't as portrayed plainly earlier in the week, that this is something that began with Rod Rosenstein and continued with the attorney general and the president only acted on the recommendations of these two within the Justice Department.


SCHIFF: That story has already been debunked by the president himself. And, of course --


SCHIFF: -- few people believe it to begin with.

BURNETT: It has been debunked. And, in fact, here's what the president is saying now about exactly why he fired Jim Comey or exactly who fired Jim Comey. Here he is.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Monday, you met with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.


HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision.


BURNETT: His decision. Look, he's making that very clear.

Do you believe that Rosenstein was manipulated by the president in any way or do you believe that Rosenstein wrote a memo that reflects what he truly believes, which is that Hillary Clinton's e-mails are the reason Jim Comey should be fired?

SCHIFF: Well, I'm sure that Mr. Rosenstein believes what he sent out in that memo, that Comey mishandled the Clinton investigation. And I concur. I also think that Comey mishandled that investigation.

But if this memo was going to be used as a pretext of firing him, to give the public one impression of why the action was being taken when the president's motivation was different, then, unfortunately, I think that work product was used by the president to give a very misleading impression to the country and yet another, I think, abuse of his office, that is the president.

This is a president who has very little, if any, either understanding or respect for the independence of the Justice Department, to our system of checks and balances, and I think in that context, it's all the more important that Congress provide the checks and balances where this executive tramples them.

BURNETT: So, before we go, you know, look, he's saying that there's a lot of hypocrisy here.

[19:50:03] And frankly, on a lot of levels, there is. It's hard to hear Democrats, yourself included, all the things that were said about Director Comey last summer, the same people now saying, why is Trump firing him? People who even called for him to be fired. You didn't go that far, but you did -- you did say some very critical things.

The president is highlighting this and he's highlighting it actually in the face of Rosie O'Donnell. I don't know if you saw this, but he re-tweeted a tweet from her in which she called for Comey's firing, saying, quote, we finally agree on something, Rosie. Her original tweet was: fire Comey.

Now, aside from the absurdity that somehow Rosie O'Donnell is being brought into this, what do you say about his point about hypocrisy?

SCHIFF: Well, I would say this -- look, Democrats have a big problem with what Comey did and how he handled the Clinton investigation. There's no mystery about that.

Had the president made the decision at the beginning of the administration to have a fresh director, a new start, that would have been one thing. Had the president agreed with those criticisms during the campaign, that would have been one thing.

But for a president who applauded the director's actions at the time, now months later and months further into this investigation into Russia, an investigation the director was pursuing, to use that as a justification, nobody buys it. And I think that's the point.

It would be one thing, if this was credible. It was done at a different time. But, plainly, this is being used or at least it was up until today as a dodge. And I think that was exposed and that I think is the answer.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Congressman. Appreciate your time tonight.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, the breaking news. Growing outrage over Comey's firing. Live pictures there of a big Republican gathering. These are protesters outside. We'll be there live.

And Jeanne Moos with the scope of President Trump's dessert, why does he get double that of his guests?


[19:55:55] BURNETT: Breaking news. Growing questions tonight over the president's decision to fire the director of the FBI.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT in Coronado, California, a national Republican meeting is under way there.

And, Kyung, of course, that means protesters are there as well.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And a sizable what you might call a snap protest. You may notice I'm marching on a beach. This is what we're walking with, a number of Indivisible groups that organizes snap protests and marching along the beach because, take a look over there, that's the Hotel Del Coronado. The RNC having their spring meeting here.

And what the people out here are saying is they want the RNC to hear their displeasure, how angry they are about the firing of Director Comey. So, that's the point of all of this. You see a lot of signs, Erin, saying independent special prosecutor, saying that this is a constitutional crisis and there is one overriding message, throughout all of the signs that they're holding, that they hope to flip Congress in 2018, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung Lah, thank you very much.

And as Kyung said, the RNC meeting going on there in Coronado, California, obviously, so many questions there as well.

And now, the lighter part or perhaps the heavier part when you hear what I'm going to say, but the lighter topic of the evening. What does the president of the United States have for dessert?

Well, Jeanne Moos has an investigation.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "TIME" magazine got a scoop, literally a scoop.

SONG: One scoop for me, please.

MOOS: On the president's scoop, we already knew he hankers for taco bowls and Big Macs and KFC eaten with a knife and fork. We know he sometimes insists on fellow diners eating meatloaf.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: And then he says, Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's emasculating.

CHRISTIE: No, it's not.

MOOS: We've heard him lovingly describe that dessert being served as he informed China's leader that U.S. missiles have been launched against Syria.

TRUMP: And we had the most beautiful pass of chocolate cake that you've over seen.

MOOS: Which brings us to ice cream.

Now in the blue room of the White House, the president sits down for dinner with three correspondents from "TIME" magazine, dining with the enemies of the people, of course, they're going to notice every little thing.

With the salad course, Trump is served what appears to be thousand island dressing instead of creamy vinaigrette for his guests. And then the gem, at the dessert course, he gets two scoops of vanilla ice cream with his chocolate cream pie instead of the single scoop for everyone else.

SONG: Two scoops, two scoops for me please

MOOS: Tweeted one critic, so the whole dominance thing extends to desserts, too?

Joe Biden has spoken as if he were a member of ice cream addicts anonymous.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: My name is Joe Biden and I love ice cream.

MOOS: But Joe doesn't have an ice cream parlor named after him in Trump Tower, as the president does.

And check out Impeachmint. It's not a real Ben & Jerry's flavor, just a spoof. President Obama got the same impeach-mint.

President Trump's face has been plastered on ice cream. Maybe he should invite this Italian champion to the White House. He holds the Guinness Record for the most scoops balanced on a cone, 121.

That is a tall cone to climb, Mr. President.

SONG: Nine scoops, ten scoops --

MOOS: Jeanne Moos --

SONG: Ten scoops for me, please

MOOS: CNN, New York.

SONG: Ten scoops for me.


BURNETT: That 121 scoops is true gluttony. All I got to say, look, I'd be grateful if someone gave me one scoop. If they give you two, you're going to eat it and who really needs it anyway.

Thank you all for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime anywhere on CNN Go.

"AC360" with Anderson Cooper begins right now.