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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; Russia Trolling America?; Trump Tapes?; Kremlin: U.S. "Emotional Obsession" With Us A "Pity". Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Trump recording conversations in his White House?
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump now seeming to threaten the man he just fired as FBI director, telling James Comey not to talk to the press and alluding to tapes of their conversations.
The former director of national intelligence today shutting down a Trump talking point -- what James Clapper said about the Trump team and possible evidence of collusion with Russia.
Plus, more Russian laughter. The day after the Kremlin trolled the White House with video of the foreign minister giggling about the Comey firing, a Putin spokesman says America is obsessed with Russia.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was today asked several times if President Trump records his conversations, and, several times, Sean Spitzer declined to answer the question.
The topic is relevant because any such conversations could theoretically be subpoenaed, and the subject was raised because President Trump tweeted this morning about the FBI director he fired on Tuesday, the one who you will recall had been heading the investigation into whether the Trump team colluded with Russia during their interference in the 2016 election.
President Trump tweeted -- quote -- "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
The concerns about Comey talking to the press came after more information about what we told you Wednesday, that a source close to Comey told us one of the reasons Comey was fired was because he refused to pledge personal loyalty to President Trump.
CNN and "The New York Times" have since learned more about that conversation, that same source close to Comey telling me that the president shortly after taking office invited Comey to dinner at the White House, at which the president asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him.
Comey explained that he would promise to always be honest with the president, but he could not pledge loyalty to him. FBI officials pledge loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, not to individuals.
The source close to Comey told me that the then FBI director was -- quote -- "taken aback" at President Trump's request. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today denied that President Trump asked for Comey's personal loyalty, but the White House has made any number of false statements about the Comey firing this week, with President Trump even acknowledging that in a tweet today, saying -- quote -- "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy."
The notion that President Trump would value loyalty over, say, integrity, it is not surprising. It's right there in black and white in his bestselling book "The Art of the Deal," where he assailed -- quote -- "all the hundreds of respectable guys who make careers out of boasting about their uncompromising integrity, but have absolutely no loyalty. They think only about what is best for them and don't think twice about stabbing a friend in the back if the friend becomes a problem" -- unquote.
The FBI director, to state the obvious, is supposed to only be loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law, but the president wanted the FBI probe into possible Russia collusion with his team to end.
So, with no pledge of loyalty from the FBI director and no end in sight for the investigation, he fired the guy leading the investigation, and this was foremost on his mind, despite the many White House claims otherwise.
That's not my theory. That's what President Trump told NBC News describing his decision to fire Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, 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 lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: President John Adams once wrote of a government of laws and not of men.
President Trump has now admitted that he fired the FBI director because he did not like the FBI probe into his campaign team. He wanted fealty to the man, not to the law.
Checks and balances in our system only work when the other branches of government agree to do their jobs. And the question for the legislative branch right now, the lawmakers on Capitol Hill, is, how would they respond if a Democratic president had asked the FBI director for a pledge of loyalty, was denied, and then, angry about an FBI probe into his campaign, fired the FBI director, stating in an interview that that's the reason why he did it?
Would lawmakers be as quiet in that scenario as they are being today? Did they not pledge allegiance to the same Constitution that Comey did?
Today, President Trump was considering a visit to the FBI, but officials say those plans were scrapped over fear that it could be pretty awkward. Just hours ago, President Trump did attend his first public event of the week on behalf of first lady Melania Trump.
There were no mentions of James Comey.
CNN White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.
Jeff, the White House today insisting that that tweet about conversations with Comey being on tape, that it wasn't a threat, but they wouldn't go into what it was then.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They wouldn't indeed, Jake.
I mean, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, under repeated questioning, says, look, it's not a threat at all. The president was simply stating a fact.
Well, if it was a fact that there are actually recordings in the White House, the Oval Office or anyplace else, they would not elaborate that. The president would not elaborate that in a new interview with FOX News.
But it's the latest example of how the president says something online on social media and watches it ripple across Washington.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump adding new fuel to the fire today in his escalating fight with the FBI, making a veiled threat on Twitter to James Comey, the president saying the fired FBI director "better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press" -- stunning words from the commander in chief directed at the nation's former top law enforcement official, the man who was leading an investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives before being fired Tuesday.
The White House refused to answer the question raised by the president himself: Is there a recording system in the Oval Office? Is Mr. Trump recording his conversations there or elsewhere?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that.
ZELENY: When asked again and again, Press Secretary Sean Spicer ended the daily White House briefing with question whether any tapes exist still hanging in the air.
Spicer disputed the suggestion the president's warning to Comey was a threat.
SPICER: That's not a threat. He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.
ZELENY: But it's unclear whether the president is moving on. He aimed another missive at Comey today after making his feelings clear in an NBC interview Thursday.
TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat, he's a grandstander.
ZELENY: At issue is a dinner the president invited Comey to seven days after taking office. It was there, CNN has learned, that the president asked his FBI director about loyalty.
TRUMP: We had a very nice dinner, and, at that time, he told me, you are not under investigation.
ZELENY: The president's obsession with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election is what led to Comey's firing.
Tonight, the credibility of the president and his advisers is in question, as the White House becomes increasingly consumed by chaos and a crisis of leadership.
ZELENY: Now, Jake, the president has been eager to point the blame elsewhere. He also told FOX News in a new interview this afternoon that he would not necessarily say if Sean Spicer would stay on as press secretary. He called him a nice guy.
But the president also raised the possibility of taking matters into his own hands and having more press conferences himself. We will see if any that have happens.
But, Jake, back to those recorded phone calls, there are consequences occasionally when the president says something, if it's true or not. The top Democrats on the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight Committee have sent a letter here to the White House calling on the White House to turn over any copies of recordings of this if they exist.
They said it is simply something that the president -- they would like to see evidence of this, of any recorded conversations with the FBI director.
So, Jake, we don't know at this hour if any recordings exist or not, but, again, the president raising it. Usually, when he's done something like this, he's talking about something, so this, again, a new storyline, if he's actually recording people's conversations here -- Jake.
TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny for us at the White House, thank you so much. With President Trump apparently threatening James Comey on Twitter,
can there really be an independent and impartial Russia investigation?
A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee will join us next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Well, back in keeping with the politics lead now, what has become a messy explanation of President Trump firing FBI Director James Comey.
Joining me is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's on the Senate Intelligence Committee and he's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
Thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: So, President Trump has said he was thinking of -- quote -- "this Russia thing" when he made the decision to fire Comey. What does that suggest to you?
WYDEN: Well, it's very troubling, I mean, if you're having somebody, in their words, literally in their own thoughts, saying that they want to end the investigation because there's nothing there.
I ran a legal aid program for the elderly. I'm not somebody who is an expert in obstruction of justice, but those are very troubling words.
TAPPER: At the dinner that Comey had with President Trump shortly after President Trump took office, a source close to Comey tells me that President Trump asked Comey for loyalty to be pledged to him.
Comey refused, said he would be honest with him, he would pledge honesty, but not loyalty.
How concerned are you that, knowing that President Trump asked for that, didn't get it, and fired the FBI director, in combination with the fact that he wanted to -- he was thinking of Russia when he made the decision to fire him?
How concerned are you that the next FBI director will be somebody who has pledged loyalty to President Trump, and who will end the FBI probe of this possible Russia collusion?
WYDEN: This relates to a very key question that we're going to have to deal with over the next couple of days.
Mr. Comey has been asked to come to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. I'm pushing very hard to make sure that at least part of this session is in the open, because I think it is critical that he tell the American people what the status of the investigation was at the time of his firing.
And, obviously, I want to know about some of these issues relating to various conversations that he may have had with the president. I mean, did the president order him to end the investigation? Did the president say he could keep his job if he ended the investigation?
And, certainly, over the next couple of days, it's going to be a fluid situation with respect to any appearance he might make on Tuesday.
TAPPER: He hasn't committed to come?
WYDEN: It's not clear. It's not clear whether he's committed to come. It's not clear what the arrangements are.
But I feel very strongly that he needs to come to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Tuesday, that at least part of that session should be in public, so that he can tell the American people what -- what happened.
[16:15:11] TAPPER: The -- is it obstruction of justice for a president to fire an FBI director because of a probe that the FBI director is leading into the president's own campaign?
WYDEN: When the president is using his own words to say in effect I'm just going to make this go away. There is nothing there, I find that very troubling.
TAPPER: But is it obstruction of justice?
WYDEN: That's a legal question. As I say --
TAPPER: You're a lawyer.
WYDEN: My wife kids me a lot. I ran a legal aid program for the elderly and sometimes she says, I married you because you're not a real lawyer. You're not a practicing lawyer.
But suffice it to say his using those words in that kind of context is very troubling.
TAPPER: In his tweet storm this morning, President Trump said, quote, James Comey better hope that there are no tapes, that's in quotes for some reason, of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.
The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today several times refused to say whether or not there was any type of recording device or system in the White House.
Do you know of any?
WYDEN: Those presidential tweets are just getting more and more farfetched. I mean, the one with respect that you just described really almost sounds unhinged. So I'm not aware of any taping system.
TAPPER: We all remember Howard Baker taking a gutsy stance against President Nixon. It's really quiet on the Republican side of the aisle today. I haven't heard anything despite these rather startling claims from President Trump himself in his own words and also from the source of Comey describing that dinner that they had.
You talked to Republicans. You work well with Republicans. Are any of them at least privately expressing concern about in?
WYDEN: Yes, and suffice it to say John McCain and Lindsey Graham in particular have consistently spoken out about how serious this is. I've made it clear to them and to others I'm going to stay at this until we get all the facts out. That's why I've focused on following the money, why we ought to be looking at money laundering and at shell corporations and property transfers.
Clint Watts, the FBI staffer, came and I asked him about following the money and he said, Senator, you're right, but you also have to follow the trail of the dead bodies. So, there's a lot of work to do here.
TAPPER: The Russians, all the dead Russians.
Thank you so much, Senator Ron Wyden.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
TAPPER: I really appreciate it.
They laughed at America one day, were accused of tricking the White House the next day, and now, a Kremlin spokesman says the United States has an emotional obsession with Russia. That's next.
Plus, a source says it's no longer a matter of if but when. The airline industry is preparing for what could be the biggest security change in years.
Stay with us.
[16:21:49] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Turning to our world lead now -- Russia is responding to the growing fallout from the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. A Kremlin spokesman saying today that America's, quote, emotional obsession with Russia is a, quote, pity, that eventually will fade.
CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now live from Moscow.
And, Matthew, what else does the Kremlin have to say today?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, first of all, it feels like wishful thinking, doesn't it, at this stage, to think that this obsession as they call it here in Moscow is going to fade soon. But nevertheless, that's what the Kremlin is hoping.
In the meantime, they are trying as hard as they possibly can to distance themselves from what's going on in Washington. We spoke to the Kremlin earlier today, the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said, look, we've got other issues that we're talking about and thinking about. We got other things in our agenda. We've got lots of problems in Russia that we're trying to tackle, as well as lots of problems overseas as well.
So, they are doing what they can to put some daylight between what's taking place in the United States and what their day-to-day agenda is.
Behind the scenes, though, you get a sense talking to Kremlin officials that they are increasingly frustrated, that this relationship with Donald Trump, with the White House that they thought was going to be transformational, they thought this would be change the nature of the relationship between Washington and Moscow, just doesn't seem to be able to move forward. Every time there's a step forward, for instance, when Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister goes to Washington and meets with Trump face to face, they are two steps backwards because the whole issue of Russia and collusion comes to the fore again in the American political arena.
So, you know, that's something that's deeply frustrating here (INAUDIBLE).
TAPPER: But, Matthew, to be fair to the Trump White House, they off the record or on background rather expressed -- they were furious that they were apparently tricked by the Russian photographer who also worked for TASS state media, took pictures of President Trump's meeting with Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. who has been a big part of this controversy. How is that playing in Moscow?
CHANCE: Well, I mean, it's not being taken seriously at all. I mean, for a start, the Russian photographer himself has put out statements saying, look, as far as I'm concerned, this was just a normal official shoot of the kind I've been doing for years.
It's also been ridiculed, the foreign ministry spokeswoman here, Maria Zakharova, from the Russian foreign ministry issued a scathing Facebook post saying, you know, what would have happened if we hadn't broadcast or put those images on the Internet? We would have been accused of having secret evidence of Trump colluding with the Russians, she joked.
And so, this is being joked about, but it also belies a sense which, again, the Russians are very concerned about what this means for them. They laugh at this unpredictability of the Trump administration but they don't like it.
TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Among President Trump's tweet storm, this one about the former director of national intelligence during the Obama years. Quote: When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone with knowledge of the witch hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end?, unquote.
[16:25:04] Well, first of all, fact check, false, but let's hear from James Clapper who is saying not so fast.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Let's continue with our politics lead. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has agreed to brief the full Senate next week. Rosenstein's memo to President Trump was originally cited as the reason why Comey was fired, although, of course, President Trump contradicted that. Meanwhile, President Trump continues to dismiss the entire Russia investigating, tweeting this morning, quote, "When James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence himself and virtually everyone with knowledge of the witch-hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end?
OK, first of all, fact check: false. Not everyone says that. Second of all, Clapper contradicted that himself, saying he does not know if there was collusion or not.