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Trump: I Would Have Fired 'Showboat' Comey Anyway; Acting FBI Director Vows Russia Probe 'Will Move Forward'. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, showboat. President Trump attacks the ousted FBI director, James Comey, calling him a showboat and a grandstander and saying he would have fired him regardless of the Justice Department recommendation.

[17:00:18] Ending the investigation. The White House says it wants the Russia investigation to come to its conclusion and said it has, quote, "Taken steps to make that happen" by removing Director Comey.

Broad support. The acting FBI director rejects White House claims that FBI employees had lost faith in Comey, saying he holds Comey in the absolute highest regard and that Comey still has the support of the vast majority within the bureau.

And Russian relations. A day of after President Trump welcomed Russia diplomats into the Oval Office, giving the Russians an exclusive photo opportunity, Moscow says President Trump and President Trump Putin will meet in July. An administration official says that's premature. Is Moscow calling the shots?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: the contradictions keep piling up and the White House story just doesn't add up on the firing of the FBI chief, James Comey. President Trump today got personal, calling Comey a showboat but now says he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Justice Department's recommendations and requested a memo from Justice to back up his decision.

But the president's own letter to Comey says he had accepted the recommendation of the attorney general and his deputy; and the White House repeatedly said the president acted on that recommendation.

And while the White House still insists James Comey lost the confidence of the FBI employees, the acting FBI director today testified that he holds Comey in the absolute highest regard and that Comey still has broad support within the FBI bureau.

Acting Director Andrew McCabe says the FBI has questions about Comey's firing. He promised lawmakers he'd reveal any attempts at political interference, and he pledged the Russia probe will move forward.

The president today repeated that Comey told him three times that he is not under investigation. He says Comey told him that directly, and he said he thinks he heard it from others.

And the White House today said it wants the Russia investigation to, quote, "come to its conclusion," adding that it has taken steps to make that happen by removing Director Comey.

I'll talk to Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

President Trump gets personal, attacking James Comey and saying he planned to fire the FBI director before getting any such advice from the Justice Department, but that's a sharp departure from the scenario painted over and over again by the White House over the past 48 hours.

Let's begin with our White House correspondent, Athena Jones.

Athena, more confusion, more contradictions out of the White House today.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, that's exactly right. We're talking about constantly changing stories coming from the people whose job it is to speak on behalf of this administration.

Over the last couple of days, it seems that we've gotten a new explanation or partial explanation every few hours, depending on who's doing the talking. And this suggests a real crisis of credibility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): Another day, another explanation for why, when and how President Trump arrived at the decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. The president now telling NBC...

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey. There's no good time do it, by the way. They...

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Because in your letter you said, "I accepted -- accepted their recommendation."

TRUMP: Yes, well, they also...

HOLT: So you had already made the decision?

TRUMP: Oh, I was going fire regardless.

JONES: Those words at odds with the story line White House staffers began pushing just hours after the bombshell move to oust the man leading the probe into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I think you're looking at the wrong set of facts here.

JONES: Tuesday night White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president was acting on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose memo, written at the request of the White House, was critical of the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

CONWAY: This man is the president of the United States. He acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That makes no sense.

JONES: That line echoed the next morning by the vice president.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump made the right decision at the right time, and to -- to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to ask for the termination -- to support the termination of the director of the FBI.

JONES: By Wednesday afternoon, the story had changed, the White House arguing the president had been losing confidence in Comey since November, despite evidence to the contrary, like this statement of support just last month.

TRUMP: I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.

JONES: The White House today downplaying the conflicting stories.

SARA HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It was a quick-moving process. We took the information we had as best we have it and got it out to the American people as quickly as we could.

JONES: According to the new time line from the White House, a key factor in the president's decision was Comey's appearance on Capitol Hill last week. Sources telling CNN Trump was infuriated by the testimony, particularly when the director said this.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: This was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision.

JONES: And sources tell CNN it was Comey's handling of the Russia probe, not the Clinton e-mail one, that let the White House, quote, "white-hot" and concerned that Comey, quote, "was his own man."

The president today openly admitting that, on three separate occasions, he spoke directly to Comey about the Russia investigation.

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 you to dinner?

TRUMP: 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 very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, "You are not under investigation."

HOLT: Directly from him? TRUMP: And during a phone call he said it and then during another

phone call he said it. He said it once at dinner, and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case I called him and 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, would you let me know, am I under investigation?"

He said, "You are not under investigation."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: So very interesting exchange there. The president clearly sees no issue with the fact that he's talking repeatedly, he says, to the man who is heading up this Russia investigation. But from his perspective, there's nothing to see here. He's not personally being investigated.

We know the president has been hostile to the whole idea of this Russia investigation, recently calling it a taxpayer-funded charade. And he took to Twitter just in the last hour to say more, saying, "Russia must be laughing up their sleeves, watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat excuse for using -- for losing the election."

So coining a new turn of phrase there.

BLITZER: Well, certainly is. All right. Thanks very much, Athena, for that. Athena Jones at the White House.

The White House says that, by removing James Comey, the investigation into Russia's election meddling may send sooner, but leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are vowing to push ahead with the investigation, and so is the new FBI acting director.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, tell us about today's testimony.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the now acting director of the FBI testified today that James Comey's firing will have no impact on the Russia probe that he called "highly significant," and he said Comey had the full backing of the FBI rank and file, directly contradicting the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight the acting director for the FBI, Andrew McCabe, assuring the Senate Intelligence Committee the Russia investigation has not and will not be hindered by the firing of former director James Comey. ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: 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, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

BROWN: And McCabe pledging that he will alert the committee if there are any indications the investigation is being tampered with.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: Mr. McCabe, for as long as you are acting FBI director, 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.

BROWN: While the interim director would not comment on conversations President Trump says he had with former Director Comey where Comey allegedly told the president that he was not personally under investigation...

MCCABE: I can't comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president.

BROWN: ... he did say that reports of Comey asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for more resources to conduct the probe are contrary to the normal procedure.

MCCABE: I'm not aware of that request, and it's not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources. I strongly believe that the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.

BROWN: But McCabe did contradict the White House assertion that Comey lost the confidence of FBI rank and file and that morale of the bureau was low.

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

[17:10:06] BROWN: The White House today even saying it believes Comey's firing will help bring the Russia investigation to an end.

SANDERS: We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity, and we think that we've actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.

BROWN: And a telling sign of where the Senate investigation is focused, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden grilled CIA Director Mike Pompeo about what the CIA did to mitigate any potential damage surrounding former national security advisor Michael Flynn continuing in his role, despite being compromised by the Russians. The committee has subpoenaed Flynn.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Director Pompeo, did you know about the acting attorney general's warnings to the White House, or were you aware of the concerns behind the warning?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I don't have any comment on that.

WYDEN: Were you aware of the concerns behind the warning? I mean, this is a global threat. This is a global threat question. It's a global threat hearing. Were you aware.

POMPEO: Senator, tell me what global threat it is you're concerned with, please? I'm not sure I understand the question.

WYDEN: Well, the possibility of blackmail. I mean, blackmail by an influential military official. That has real ramifications for the global threat.

BROWN: The ranking members of the committee meeting with a deputy attorney general on Capitol Hill today to discuss the Russia investigation's path forward.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Regardless of what happens by the Justice Department or FBI, that the investigation that's done by the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue on its current course as aggressively as we're able to.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And all of this as questions swirl around Rod Rosenstein's role in the controversy. Sources say Rosenstein was unhappy with the way Comey was fired, with Comey only learning about it from television reports while at the FBI Los Angeles field office, Rosenstein telling reporters today that he has no plans to quit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting. Thank you.

As the White House doubles down on its criticism of James Comey, and the president launches a sharp personal attack against him, the fired FBI director got high praise today from Republican Senator Richard Burr. He's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president just told Lester Holt that he was going to fire Director Comey whether or not he had that recommendation or not, and he called Director Comey a showboat. He called him a grandstander. Do you agree with that assessment? You just heard something different from the...

BURR: I'm not going to speak for Senator Warner. I'll let him do that.

I put out a statement the night of the director's firing. I found him to be one of the most ethical, upright, straightforward individuals I've had the opportunity to work with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to what the president said about Comey, a showboat, a grandstander, and he said the FBI was in turmoil.

BLUMENTHAL: Absolutely wrong. We heard it most authoritatively from the deputy director of the FBI, but whatever his faults may be, Director Comey is a professional prosecutor. And I may have disagreed with him, in fact, I did on a number of occasions, but firing him raises the specter of a coverup. And we face a looming constitutional crisis because of the loss of trust and confidence in our justice system.

BLITZER: Those are strong words. Coverup. A looming constitutional crisis.

The White House press secretary -- deputy press secretary said today that this Russia investigation should come to its conclusion with integrity. They think that removing Comey is a step toward making that happen.

Some have suggested even those words could be elements of obstruction of justice.

BLUMENTHAL: I have no doubt that they want it to come to a conclusion. The question is with integrity. And right now they're on a track, seemingly -- and I want to give them the benefit to bring. it to conclusion without a just outcome. To stifle and stop it. And I fact, think one of the precipitated factors for firing Jim Comey was his request for additional resources.

Anybody who has done investigations -- and I'm a former federal prosecutor as well as state attorney general -- knows that the life blood of a successful investigation is resources. Agents, money, support. And I think that request may have precipitated his firing.

BLITZER: Explain what you mean when you say there could be a coverup here. What do you mean by that? Who's covering up?

BLUMENTHAL: If Jim Comey was coming close to people whom the White House wanted to protect, people who might have information that implicated people now in the White House, and it wanted to stifle or stop that investigation by firing Jim Comey, that's a cover June. That is potentially obstruction of justice.

[17:15:10] And that is why we need an independent special prosecutor to assure not only that this investigation is effective and fair, but also the trust and confidence of the American people in that justice system.

Even if you believe that the president of the United States has done nothing wrong, and no one in the White House is culpable, all the more reason there should be an independent prosecutor, because the result has to have trust and credibility.

BLITZER: Over the past 24, 48 hours, you've thrown out the word "impeachment." Tell us what you mean.

BLUMENTHAL: No one should pre-judge the results of this investigation, but the evidence has to be pursued wherever it leads. The old saying history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes. There is a feeling and tone here, a sense that it may look very much like Watergate in the sense that people at the top wanted to stop or stifle the investigation.

And Watergate, remember, was a two-bit break-in. Here we have a threat to the democracy. In fact, the theft of our democracy attempted by the Russians and possible collusion by Trump associates in that criminal act that threatens our democracy.

BLITZER: In that letter firing Comey, the president wrote, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively the bureau."

Today, in that interview with Lester Holt on NBC News, he defended -- he repeated three times he got the word, he said, directly from the FBI director that he himself was not under investigation. Your reaction?

BLUMENTHAL: I have doubts that Jim Comey put in those words or anything like them that the president was not under investigation or that he wouldn't be in the future, potentially, a target. Because when I asked him under oath before the Judiciary Committee whether he would rule out the president as a potential target, he said he would not do so.

Now, he added that he couldn't rule out anyone, but that's the way an investigation is conducted. And no one is ruled out until the investigation is concluded. The reason is that one of the targets may lead to evidence implicating others. And Jim Comey has done enough investigations that he would not, in my view, use those words to rule out the president.

BLITZER: Here's the question. The Senate minority leader, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, he just announced that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is inviting the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, to an all-senators briefing at the Capitol next week. What would you ask him, if you were at that meeting?

BLUMENTHAL: I would want to know, Wolf, what the time line was, whether he received instructions as to what he should say in that letter; what research he did to determine that the Justice Department was in so-called turmoil; and whether he believes that he handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mails was sufficient reason to fire him, that having occurred ten months before. I find that letter, really, a ludicrous pretense to fire.

BLITZER: The letter from the president? BLUMENTHAL: Correct. And -- and the letter from Rod...

BLITZER: Do you not believe -- do you not believe the president when the president says that Comey told him on three separate occasions that he was not a target of this investigation?

BLUMENTHAL: I have trouble believing that he put it in that kind of emphatic language.

BLITZER: Why?

BLUMENTHAL: Because it would be improper for Jim Comey, in supervising that investigation and leading it, to tell anyone that they were not potentially under investigation.

BLITZER: Senator, we're going to take a quick break. We're going to resume this interview. We have more questions on all the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:53] BLITZER: Our breaking news. President Trump slams the ousted FBI director James Comey as a, quote, "showboat" and a grandstander. He says he would have fired Comey, regardless of a Justice Department recommendation, but that directly contradicts repeated White House claims that Trump based his move on the advice of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general.

We're back with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a member of the Judiciary Committee. Why didn't the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recuse himself from this dismissal recommendation?

BLUMENTHAL: That is a question that I'm going to put to him when we have the all-senators meeting that has just been announced. But I believe he ought to be called back to the Judiciary Committee. And to answer that question, and why he denied meetings with the Russians.

I also believe that the deputy attorney general ought to testify before the Judiciary Committee under oath. And the mystery is why he chose to involve himself in this decision to fire Jim Comey, involving an investigation that he felt he could not oversee as attorney general. And his refusal, as a matter of fact, makes all the more necessary, the appointment of this independent special prosecutor by the deputy attorney general.

[17:25:04] BLITZER: Some of your Senate colleagues, Senator Kamala Harris of California, she just told CNN she thinks Sessions should resign. Do you believe that?

BLUMENTHAL: I think we're at the point where there may need to be a review of whether he should resign. I'm not prepared without hearing his explanation, to say he should right now. But if Jim Comey is going to go, there's certainly equal merit in having that considered for the attorney general.

BLITZER: The Judiciary Committee would have to confirm the nomination of a new FBI director, right? So that will come before your committee. Who would you like to see? Give me an example of someone you would like to see the president nominate to become the next FBI director.

BLUMENTHAL: The next FBI director has to be of unquestionable integrity, expertise in criminal justice, preferably in prosecuting, and the kind of leadership skills that will be required to sustain the morale and determination of the FBI. And as I said just this afternoon on the floor of the Senate, the FBI is one of the great law enforcement agencies in the world. And I work with FBI agents over the years in various capacities. They really deserve a leader who will sustain and help restore, if there's been a loss in credibility, their reputation for excellence.

But equally important is a special prosecutor, because only an independent special prosecutor can make decisions about whether to prosecute. The director of the FBI doesn't bring criminal charges.

BLITZER: It's interesting. Senator Lee, one of your Republican colleagues, he recommended Merrick Garland, the federal judge who was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court. Is that someone you could support?

BLUMENTHAL: Senator Lee should get an "A" for originality, but I think that it's unlikely that Merrick Garland would take that role. I would support him for it, if he chose to do so, because he does have a background in criminal justice. He's been a prosecutor. And I think would bring the kind of integrity there that position demands at this point.

BLITZER: The chances that the president would nominate Merrick Garland are pretty, pretty slim.

BLUMENTHAL: Slim to none, and slim just left town.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: We've got more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:57] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: We're following a breaking news. President Trump calling the fired FBI Director James Comey a showboat and grandstander. The president also went into detail about the three times he says Comey assured him he was not under any investigation. The president's story raising a lot more questions. Let's bring in our specialists. And, Dana, let me play the clip where the president was asked to explain his assertion that Comey on three occasions told him, he is not being investigated.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: He said it once at dinner and

then he said it twice during phone call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case, I called him. In one case, he called me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And did you ask him, "Am I under investigation?"

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."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So the president just admitted that he formally asked the FBI director about the status of a possible criminal investigation into his campaign involving, and he was the leader of that campaign. Your reaction?

BASH: Look, that it makes sense that that's the way you do business in New York. It does not make sense that that's the way you do business when you are the President of the United States, and you were talking to the FBI director. This is - this is a double whammy because not only did he go out of bounds in admitting that he talked to the FBI director about an investigation into people who worked for him during the campaign. But in the same conversation, they've talked about James Comey's job prospects, and whether or not he was going to stay in that job. And who decides whether he's going to stay in that job? The president. I mean, it almost feels like a scene out of The Godfather, but it's not. It's real and it's very - it's alarming. I mean, it really - it really is. And I think what's even more alarming is that he doesn't seem to get how unusual and out of bounds this is.

BLITZER: I want you to, Laura Coates, elaborate on that, but also listen to the Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the briefing earlier today. Listen to this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity, and we think that we've actually by removing Director Comey taken steps to make that happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Was that appropriate from your former federal prosecutor?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: In a word, no. And the reason is because, you have the perception right now and the impression to the American people that one of the motivations was political, that you wanted to somehow stop or impede or interfere or whatever fancy way (INAUDIBLE) to say, halt an investigation. And you're saying we fired James Comey, the person in charge of the investigation with (INAUDIBLE) able to conclude an investigation, that suggest that your motivation was not with respect to what your letter said or what Rosenstein's letter said. It was about the Russia investigation. And that's inappropriate and potentially open to exposure for obstruction, and that --

BLITZER: Obstruction of justice.

[17:34:57] COATES: And that should have a very wide implication for this President of the United States. It's as if he's oblivious to the fact that the words that the words that he speaks must match the ones of his - of his spokesman, and that they have to connect in order to give a coherent explanation. They are all under a very big magnifying glass, and their statements continue to harm them.

BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, you know that a lot of people are already drawing comparisons to the inappropriate meeting that former President Bill Clinton had with the then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch who was in charge of the investigation of the Hillary Clinton e-mail uproar as you remember. Are these two meetings similar?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I mean, let's see James Comey's side of things, which I hope we get but I think it's certainly not in the good space that you would do. Again, we went through this in the campaign a lot. Dana makes a really good point. When does (INAUDIBLE) which is Donald Trump would say and do things where you would think, "oh." He's running for president, and he's saying and doing that. But it's even different now because he is the president. He can't say enough. Dana said he can't say enough. We're talking about the President of the United States in a dinner with James Comey, saying, "So, oh, you want to talk about your job? You know, I just wanted to bring up, am I under investigation?" What are you supposed do if you're Jim Comey? I mean, this is the guy who literally holds your job in his hand. He has no filter, he -- Donald Trump. He has no sense of sort of what you say and what you can't say. That's always been true of him. The problem now is -- to return to the point -- he's the President of the United States. What he says and does matter.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, you've worked at the CIA but also with the FBI. You heard the acting FBI director today, Andrew McCabe, testify up on Capitol Hill. He said it would be outside standard practice for a Director Comey to reveal the status of any investigation to a potential target. What do you make of this?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST AND FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Look, this is pretty straightforward. The president signed a check, Jim Comey is going to bounce it one of these days. Remember, there is a President that's not that old. The President of the United States alleged that there is a wiretapping of Trump Tower. That wiretapping would have been conducted by the FBI. Jim Comey came out in public testimonies, you recall and said, "No, didn't happen." Not only do I guarantee you that Comey didn't say that at that meeting but he could not have said that. The investigation isn't over. How does he say, "I can guarantee it to you, Mr. President, you will never become a target." It doesn't make sense. BASH: And can I just go back to what you said about the comparison to Loretta Lynch boarding President Clinton's plane, that was, by all accounts, a perception issue.

MUDD: Yes.

BASH: People who were there said that they didn't talk about the investigation. It was mere perception. Here you have the president saying it's not that they had dinner, they had dinner and talked about something that they're not supposed to talk about. It is way beyond that.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, it was Bill Clinton who boarded her plane, not the other way. But the point is that during --

BASH: Thank you. Right. They were together.

BLITZER: -- during the campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump bitterly attacked both of them for that meeting suggesting that it was totally inappropriate.

COATES: And legally speaking, though, I mean, we want to hear from Comey. You want to talk about bounce check. We want to know what he has to say. It's curious, will President Trump say executive privilege corresponds to those conversations, the two phones calls and the dinner. Now, executive privilege goes both ways for people. It's been successful for some presidents and a nightmare for others, very recently. And so, what will happen now is really the question.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. More on the breaking news coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:58] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists. Dana, I want to play the other clip. This is from the NBC News interview, Lester Holt speaking to the President. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that.

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

TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not -

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came in the room? TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There's no good time to do it, by the way. They were --

HOLT: Because in your letter, you said, "I accepted their recommendations." So, you had already made a decision?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, they don't know - oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That, you know, from the White House perspective, though, that completely undermines what White House officials have been saying over the past two days.

BASH: I want to start out on the positive. And the positive is that one of the reasons Donald Trump is so different from everybody else is something that we should applaud. He actually answers questions. And he answers them in the way that, you know, to the dismay of many of his staffers who are out there on a limb saying something completely opposite, seems to be true. I mean, what he said is the real deal. He was going to fire James Comey, he was going to do it. And it did leave his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who were forced to go on T.V. to clean up the bad communication strategy, which by the way, was not the communication shop's fault because they didn't even know about it. And the Vice President of the United States who all said, "Oh, no, no, no. It is because he got a recommendation from the new Deputy Attorney General, who said X, Y, and Z, is the reason why he should - he should be let go. That was never true. We know from the minute we got the letter sitting right here on this set two days ago that that was never the case. And now, the president admits that. And - but he really did throw his Vice President and his top aides under the bus.

BLITZER: Yes, I mean, the Vice President repeatedly said yesterday -

[17:45:02] CILLIZZA: Seven times, Wolf.

BLITZER: You counted. You actually counted.

CILLIZZA: Sadly, this is - this is what my life has come to, Wolf. This is the problem, is that Donald Trump - what I think is fascinating, psychologically, to play pop psychologist, is I think Donald Trump does not like when anyone gets credit for something that he believes he rightly deserves credit for. He wants the credit for firing Jim Comey. He believes -- if you listen to his people, this was a decisive action, they all say that. That's one of the message things they've been disciplined on, decisive action that he took. Same thing with the Comey thing, one of the things he didn't like, Comey saying that it made him mildly nauseous to be -- play a role in the election. Trump doesn't like that. Trump wants this was his historic victory, not anybody else's, not James Comey's.

BLITZER: Very quickly, remember when he slammed the intelligence community right to the CIA headquarters in Langley and had a speech there. And now, there's a lot of upset people over the FBI, should he go to the FBI and sort of deliver a speech there as well? MUDD: Oh, I hope he goes because this is going to be a comic strip. I could tell you, his perception of the reception he's going to get, if it accords with the reality I believe he's going to get, it is going to be an ugly scene there. It's not because everybody thought Jim Comey was perfect, he's a career practitioner who was well-liked versus a president who just in a political investigation, eliminated the Director of the FBI. I think he's going to get mocked if he goes at the FBI.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's more. And we're continuing to follow the breaking news. We're also seeing new reports from Russia, claiming Presidents Trump and Putin will be meeting in person this summer. We'll have details when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:00] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump saying it was his idea to fire James Comey, calling the former FBI director a showboat and a grandstander. We're also seeing new reports from Russia claiming the president will meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin face-to-face later this summer. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, administration officials we're speaking with are pushing back on the Russian's claim of a Trump-Putin meeting. Tonight, the president himself seems to be disgusted with all the controversy surrounding the Comey firing and the Russia investigations. The president tweeting just a short time ago, "Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart." There does now seem to be some crowing in Moscow over everything that's going on here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tonight, the dynamic between President Trump and his Russian counterpart seems to be a battle of optics. Russian-state media citing foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, reports the two leaders will meet in July at the G20 summit in Germany. But a Trump administration official tells CNN tonight that no meeting is confirmed, and the Russians are getting way ahead of this.

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER DIRECTOR OF KENNAN INSTITUTE: There's no doubt the Russians have been pushing harder than the U.S. has for a meeting.

TODD: It comes as these optics are making White House officials furious. President Trump photographed in the Oval Office with Lavrov and with a man some U.S. Intelligence Officials consider a spy, Russia's Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Moscow denies he's a spy. The photos taken a day after the president fired his FBI director, which sources tell CNN was partly a response to the Russia investigation. These photos were taken by Russian media and posted TASS. A White House official says Putin asked Trump for the meeting with Lavrov but says the Russians tricked the administration about the photos, which the White House didn't want published. Analysts say Putin must be enjoying all of this. ROJANSKY: What he loves is that Americans are spun up about the

Russia issue we have investigations ongoing, we have constant media coverage, we have public and political debate, we have outrage, and we have an administration which is increasingly hemmed in by all of that.

TODD: Putin skates through it all. He scores six goals and has never checked into the boards during an exhibition hockey game in Sochi. He tells CBS, James Comey firing is an issue with the Americans, not him.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have nothing to do with that. He's acting in accordance with his law and constitution.

TODD: Trump long promised a warmer relationship with Russia and Putin, which drew fire during the campaign.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He'd rather have a puppet as President of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet, no puppet.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear, it's -

TRUMP: You're the puppet.

TODD: But with the investigations probing his campaign's ties to the Russia and the fiasco over the Comey firing, analysts say President Trump now risks giving Putin the upper hand whenever they meet.

JAMES GOLDGEIER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE: Former KGB agent watching Trump's behavior. He's just salivating. Just thinking, "Oh, my gosh, like this guy throwing a temper tantrum, totally undisciplined, can't stay focused." Putin must be thinking, "You know, this guy is going to be incredibly easy to manipulate."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And on the idea of Putin having the upper hand on President Trump, a Trump administration official told me that's preposterous. One analyst says Putin himself will have a weak hand in a meeting with Trump, liabilities like the Russian interference in Ukraine and Syria. But this expert says Putin is good at playing a weak hand strongly. Wolf?

BLITZER: That's absolutely true. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, breaking news, President Trump calls ousted FBI Director James Comey a showboat, saying he would've fired him regardless of any Justice Department recommendation, but that directly contradicts repeated White House statements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice President Pence yesterday said the firing was based on the recommendation of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. We know now that that's not true. Was the Vice President misled again or did he mislead the American people?

SANDERS: I believe I've answered that question. Thank you.

[17:55:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have, I don't think I caught it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, grandstander. President Trump belittles the fired FBI Director James Comey, calling him a showboat and a grandstander. Trump now says he was going to fire Comey anyway regardless of the justice department recommendation. So, why is the President contradicting his own White House.

White hot anger. Sources are shedding new light on the president's decision to oust the FBI director. They say Mr. Trump held a deep grudge against Comey for not supporting his wiretapping claim and stewed for days over Comey's recent testimony about the election. So what is the real reason Trump dismissed him?

Breach of protocol. The president claims Comey told him three times that he's not under investigation.