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Trump Threatens Former FBI Director Comey; Sources: Trump Sought Loyalty Pledge, Comey Declined; Clapper: There Could Be Evidence Of Trump-Russia Collusion; Democratic Lawmakers Request Trump-Comey Tapes; Trump Threatens Former FBI Director Comey; Source: Trump Sought Loyalty Pledge, Comey Declined. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Trump's threat. In a Twitter outburst, President Trump threatened the fired FBI director, saying, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations." Sources say Comey is not worried, but does the president need to worry about what Comey might reveal?

Tale of the tapes. The president and his aides refuse to confirm or deny whether there are recordings of his talks with Comey, but lawmakers are now asking the White House if such recordings exist and, if so, to turn them over.

Loyalty pledge. Sources say President Trump asked Comey to give him a personal loyalty pledge and that Comey was taken aback and refused. The White House says there was no request, so who's right and would such a request be wrong?

And not perfectly accurate. The president now says he moves so fast that his press team simply can't keep up, saying it's not possible for them to explain his moves, quote, "with perfect accuracy." He suggests ending the daily press briefings.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Once again, the White House now scrambling to respond to a Twitter outburst from President Trump. This morning president warned that fired FBI director James Comey, quote, "better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer later insisted this was not a threat. Spicer won't say if the president records White House conversations. Neither will the president. At issue, word from a source that the president asked Comey to pledge his loyalty at a White House dinner back in January. The source says Comey was taken aback by the request and declined. The White House says no pledge was requested.

The president today also tweeted about the probe into Russia's campaign meddling and contacts with his associates, once again calling it a witch-hunt. And as his surrogates trip over themselves, trying to keep up with his

twists and turns, the president now concedes he may be moving too quickly for them and suggests the answer to botched communications from the White House may be to cancel the daily press briefings.

I'll talk to Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

With talk of threats, secret recordings, loyalty tests, it's been another very busy day over at the White House. And we begin with our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, sum it all up for our viewers.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been a week of surprises and controversies from this White House, and today was certainly no different as the president fired off a thinly-veiled threat against his former FBI director; and administration officials, including the president himself, refused to say whether he's taking secret recordings of people over in the White House.


MURRAY: President Trump firing off an apparent threat to the ousted FBI director, Trump tweeting, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Trump's stark warning coming as the president is facing scrutiny for his private conversations with Comey before he was fired.

Today the president is refusing to explain what tapes he was referring to and whether he's secretly recording conversations in the White House.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I'm sure he will be, I hope.

MURRAY: As Comey was overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump says he asked Comey repeatedly for reassurances that he wasn't under investigation.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: 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."

MURRAY: Those conversations, which quickly raised ethical red flags, coming twice in phone calls and once over dinner when Trump says Comey was vying to keep his job.

TRUMP: That 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." MURRAY: But a source close to Comey disputes that account, saying

Comey did not request the dinner and had already been reassured by the president that he would keep his job.

During that dinner, a source says Comey was taken aback when Trump asked for a personal pledge of loyalty, which Comey refused to provide.

All of this as the administration struggles to get its story straight about why the president ultimately decided to fire Comey. After administration officials initially said it was at the prompting of Department of Justice officials, now Trump says it was his call and says he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made the decision.

[17:05:03] TRUMP: 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."

MURRAY: Trump took to Twitter to explain the discrepancy, saying, "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy."

Amid all of this, White House press secretary Sean Spicer returned to the podium today after spending part of the week at the Pentagon on Naval Reserve duty.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's good to be back with you. Apparently, I was a little missed.

MURRAY: As Spicer impersonator Melissa McCarthy sped through downtown Manhattan Friday, it's clear the press secretary was missed, at least by "Saturday Night Live."


MURRAY: Now Spicer's star turn may soon come to an end if it's up to the president. President Trump suggest maybe he would bring an end to these White House daily press briefings and just hold press conferences once in a while, instead.

BLITZER: Sara Murray over at the White House, thank you.

The Russia investigation continues to cast a shadow over the White House. Let's get the very latest from our justice correspondent Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today we are learning more about why former FBI director James Comey had dinner with President Trump while the Russia probe was ongoing.


TRUMP: Oh, and there's...

BROWN (voice-over): Tonight a source close to James Comey tells CNN the former FBI director was taken aback by President Trump's request for loyalty over dinner on January 27, three days after the president told Comey he would keep his job and the day after acting attorney general Sally Yates went to the White House with warnings about then national security adviser Michael Flynn. Today the president flatly denying there was any request for a loyalty oath.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask that question?

TRUMP: No, no, I didn't, but I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, No. 1. No. 2, I don't know how that got there, because I didn't ask that question.

BROWN: But the source close to Comey says Trump did ask for loyalty and, instead, Comey pledged honesty.

After details of the dinner surfaced, President Trump tweeted ominously, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

But according to a source familiar with the matter, Comey is not worried about any tapes that may exist.

Former director of national intelligence James Clapper offering some insight into Comey's decision to have dinner with the president during the ongoing FBI investigation into Trump's campaign ties to Russia.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: He had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president, and that he was uneasy with that because of even compromising -- even the optics, the appearance of independence, not only him but of the FBI.

BROWN: President Trump told NBC News Comey assured him he was not under investigation in the Russia probe.

As the investigation continues to dog the White House, Clapper says he cannot definitively say if there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know if there was collusion or not. I don't know if there's evidence of collusion or not.

BROWN: Just earlier in the week, Clapper testified that he hadn't seen any evidence of collusion, which the president seized on in a tweet today, saying, "When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch-hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end?"

But today Clapper clarified that if there was hard evidence of collusion, he wouldn't necessarily have known, because it would have been in the hands of the FBI. CLAPPER: There was no evidence that came -- that rose to that level

at that time that found its way into the intelligence community assessment, which we had pretty high confidence in. That's not to say there wasn't evidence, but not that met that threshold.


BROWN: And the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, he recommended James Comey's firing. Is expected to brief senators on the matter next week. Someone likely -- unlikely to be on the Hill next week, James Comey, who a source tells me is unlikely to testify, despite an invitation from senators in the Intelligence Committee to do so. It's clear, Wolf, that he wants to lay low, at least for the time being.

BLITZER: Yes, that's -- the apparent indications that we're getting. Thanks so much for that. Pamela Brown reporting.

We have more breaking news right now. Sources say the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who wrote the memo used in President Trump's ouster of James Comey, doesn't see a need at this point for a special prosecutor.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this point the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein doesn't see anything in this investigation that requires him to step aside, to recuse himself from his oversight of the investigation. It's being led by Dana Boente, who's the U.S. attorney general in Alexandria, Virginia. He's also serving as the leader of the national security division at Department of Justice headquarters. He's looking to see if there's any sign that the investigation is imperiled.

And there's no sign of that. In fact, the FBI has assured him that they're going to pursue this investigation where it leads. And he's going to -- he's assured members of Congress that he is going to make sure that there's -- nobody is going to interfere with it from the White House or from anywhere else.

BLITZER: And he will testify -- he'll appear with senators next week.

PEREZ: He's expected to testify next week to members of Congress. Correct.

BLITZER: That will be behind closed doors, I think. Right?

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much. Evan Perez reporting.

And joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York. She's a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, the president tweeted today that Comey, in his words, "better hope there are no tapes" of their conversations. Do you think this indicates that the president records conversations?

RICE: I think that he's duty-bound now to say whether he does or not. It wouldn't be unheard of.

What this is -- Wolf, what this is to me, it shows a president, in my mind, that is becoming increasingly more unhinged. To say something like that to someone in a threatening way, what is the point of that?

You know, during this whole week when this was all going on I was with a bipartisan group of my colleagues in Ukraine, and they know better than anyone what Russia meddling in their lives, what cost that comes at, right?

You look at Poland. You look at the recent elections in France. Everyone knows what Russia does to try to influence Democratic elections all across the world, and it was no different in November of 2016 here.

It seems that Donald Trump is the only person that doesn't want to admit that. And you have to wonder why he keeps attacking that one issue.

So I -- I don't understand why he's going after Comey. He fired him. That was well within his prerogative to do. I might have disagreed with that, but he was able to do that. But the -- what's upsetting is how many different reasons there are being given for why he was -- why he was fired. And now that Comey is getting his story out there, Trump is acting like a petulant child.

BLITZER: Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, as well as the Oversight Committee, they are now requesting copies of all recordings in possession of the White House regarding this matter. Do you expect this request will be granted by the White House?

RICE: It should be. When the president makes a statement like that and was in the White House. He has control over the White House. I think they're duty-bound to turn over whatever tapes might exist.

You know what I'd love to see, Wolf? What I'd love to see is -- this is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. This is an issue about the survival of this country. We're in a crisis right now, and it is one that has been completely created by the president, who has shown a complete inability to exercise any kind of discipline.

He surrounds himself with people who are loyal first to him, forget about the country, or the people in this country. It's loyalty to Donald Trump first and foremost. And when you're the CEO of a company, you have a right to do that, all right. But when you're the president of the United States, you're -- it's not appropriate for you to demand loyalty from people.

And what we see is an increasingly large circle of people around him who are kind of waving the white flag and saying, "OK, whatever you want us to say we'll say," and that's really, really disturbing. It really is the beginning stages of an executive who is acting in an increasingly autocratic manner.

BLITZER: Do you think your Republican colleagues in the House agree with you, feel the same way?

RICE: I know there are some that do, and my hope is that they will, at this time, put country before politics, because that's what we need right now. We need people on the Republican side saying, "Look, this is getting out of control." We need an independent investigation to look into Russia's meddling in the elections of 2016. If we don't do that, they're going to do it again. It's just -- there's no question about it.

BLITZER: The president cited the Russia investigation, this -- what he called "this Russia thing" when saying -- when explaining why he decided to fire James Comey.

He said the whole thing, the whole investigation, all the charges, collusion made up, in his word. You're a former district attorney, a foreigner U.S. assistant attorney [SIC]. Does all this rise so far to a level of obstruction of justice?

RICE: It could. I mean, look, we were -- when I served in the Department of Justice, we had one distinct rule. We never made public comments about ongoing investigations.

So for the president to say that he, on three occasions, asked the FBI chief, right, Jim Comey, who's running the FBI, "Can you just -- is it appropriate for you to give me a heads up as to whether or not I'm being investigated?" It's completely inappropriate.

[17:15:06] And Jim Comey's response, according to him and others that spoke to him immediately after, was totally appropriate. "It's not -- I can't comment on that. You don't want me to comment on that."

There's a reason why the period for the head of the FBI is a fixed ten-year period, and it was done at a time when they wanted to try to depoliticize that office, recognizing how important it is for the FBI to work without fear or favor on -- in any political way.

Now, of course, it's well within the president, whomever the president is, to dismiss an FBI chief if -- for cause, but in this instance it doesn't look like it was cause. It looks like Comey was getting more aggressive looking into Russia meddling into this campaign and possibly colluding with people on his -- on Trump's campaign.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, I want you to stand by. There's more information that's now coming in. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our interview right after this.


[17:20:23] BLITZER: Our breaking news. President Trump threatens ousted FBI director James Comey, saying, "He better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations." And a source close to Comey says he was asked by the president and declined to pledge his loyalty to the president. The president spoke about this today.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: People suggest that the question that apparently the "New York Times" is selling that you asked Comey whether or not you had his loyalty was possibly inappropriate. Could you see how they would think that?

TRUMP: I read that article. I don't think it's inappropriate. No. 1, it isn't...

PIRRO: Did you ask that question?

TRUMP: No, no, I didn't, but I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, No. 1. No. 2, I don't know how that got there, because I didn't ask that question.

PIRRO: What about the idea that, in a tweet, you said that there might be tape recordings?

TRUMP: Well, that I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I'm sure he will be, I hope.


BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. Congresswoman, react to this. The president saying he doesn't think a loyalty pledge would be inappropriate to ask of the FBI director.

RICE: It's completely inappropriate, and you know, it's interesting, because Jeanine Pirro was a D.A. just like me, and she should have hit him a little harder on that. Because she knows that when you hire people or they work for you in government, there's no loyalty to any one individual person. It's a loyalty to the mission.

And Comey's mission as the head of the FBI is to make sure that he does investigations without fear or favor and without any political -- allowing any political influence. And that's what he's done. Everyone who's ever had contact with Jim Comey has said he is a stand- up guy who is as ethical as they come. Has he maybe made some mistakes in the past? Yes. Can we debate whether or not they were -- they rose to the level of being sufficient to dismiss him? I'm sure we could debate that.

But I don't think there's any question that people believe that Trump asked that question. This is something that -- a characteristic of Donald Trump that we've known for all the years that he's been in the public eye for 30 years. He prizes loyalty to him over everything else. And as I said, you can do that as a CEO and hire and fire people at will. But when you're the president of the United States, you can't demand loyalty from people who have a mission to be loyal to the country.

BLITZER: Congressman, while I have you, I know you're on the House Homeland Security Committee. A security firm has recorded more than 45,000 attacks in 74 countries in the past 10 hours alone, hacks. Most of the attacks have targeted Russia, we're told. What do you know about this?

RICE: Yes. Well, we're all just trying to find out more information. I mean, this is happening as we speak. But we know is this is a lot of hacksters [SIC] do this kind of stuff where they hijack; they encrypt your material until you pay a ransom. And we'll see -- we have to get to the bottom of it.

But this is why these kind of investigations into any kind of hacking, whether it's state-sponsored, whether it's hack-tivists, no matter what it is. We have to figure out where these attacks are coming from and how we can support and harden our infrastructure to make sure that energy grids and medical information and things like that can't be attacked. And, you know, this could have huge consequences, as we'll see.

BLITZER: All right. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming, we'll have more on the breaking news, President Trump hinting there are tape recordings of his conversations with former FBI director James Comey. Why won't the White House clear things up?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there -- are there recording devices in the Oval Office or in the residence?

SPICER: As I said for the third time, there's nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he think it's appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?

SPICER: I don't think -- that's not a threat. He's simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.


[17:28:57] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Trump threatening the former FBI director, James Comey, writing in a tweet -- and I'm quoting the president now -- "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press." This raises lots of questions for our specialist Phil Mudd. Do you interpret that tweet as a threat?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I sure do. Just ask -- add two words to the end of it: "or else." You can almost hear a grade school teacher saying, "Philip, unless you do this or else."

I don't think that's the heart of the story, though, Wolf. I think the story is more fundamental, and it's about presidential credibility. I've been in The Situation Room with the president. I've been in the Oval Office, and I've been in the residence with the president of the United States. You feel a sense of power that's incredible.

When I heard this story this morning I was in the studio here at CNN, and I laughed.

The president is transitioning in fewer than four months from having tremendous credibility and power by a man who spoke directly to the American people and broke the Republican/Democratic standards of decades and said someone who's almost an independent can win the White House, to someone who's transitioning, believe it or not, to be a laughingstock.

[17:30:04] You think anybody in the White House took this seriously? Of course it's a threat. The question is whether the president has the credibility to back it up, and the answer is no. He doesn't.

BLITZER: Why do you say that? Why do you...

MUDD: Because people in the investigation are three, four levels below the Director of the FBI. These are agents and analysts who have decades in. They're watching CNN out of the corner of their eye, saying, "You're going to fire us? Are you going to eliminate the electronic records that showed 10 months of the investigation? Are you going to tell us when there's a new FBI director, what we're going to say to the Department of Justice across the street?" The answer is no. They will do what the facts tell him to do.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Donald Trump is used to threatening people. He's used to bullying people. This is the way he ran his business and everyone I've ever interviewed who's done business with him says the same thing. The problem for him is that you have to adjust. He's not running the Trump organization anymore. He's running the country, and you can't threaten either a former FBI director or people you work with because these things are actually taken really seriously.

BLITZER: If the President is going to see who used to be a lawyer over at the NSA, the National Security Agency, the president is having dinner one-on-one with James Comey in the White House, can the President legally record, tape that conversation?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Also -- but it's fact-dependent but the short answer is probably yes. Federal law allows for an individual who's a party to a conversation to record it. If Trump is the party to the conversation and he records it, then that's probably OK. There are also broad exemptions for sort of government activities so without knowing more, I think the best -- the safest answer is, yes, it's legal.

BLITZER: Because democrats right now, the Judiciary Committee, the Oversight Committee, they're already saying they want, "copies of all recordings in possession of the White House." If they exist, would these recordings be subject now to the Presidential Records Act? Would the congress be able to get those recordings?

HENNESSEY: Right. So, the Presidential Records Act certainly covers audio recordings, it's a 1978 law that was passed in response to Watergate. So, the fact that it's covered, interestingly, the President can destroy records related to his own presidency unless it has evidentiary value. The questions on whether or not the congress can actually subpoena these records are going to get into very complex questions of executive privilege. But it's not entirely clear that the President would be able to keep these a secret.

BLITZER: Nia, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today refused to deny or confirm the existence of a taping system. He simply said what the President said is what the President said. He'll let the tweet speak for itself. What did you make of that? Why are we even discussing tapes right now?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, we're discussing it because once again, the President has made this claim that everybody is wondering about whether or not there's actually a taping system in the White House, sort of echoes of Nixon, right, and you had the White House today with Sean Spicer getting this question three, four, five times, and essentially every time a punting, not really wanting to say, you know, definitively whether or not there is a taping system, and it's also, I think, drawing out James Comey, right? I mean, you have - you know, as Gloria said, Donald Trump is somebody who has bullied people; that is sort of his business style, and now, you have James Comey saying, "I'm not going to be bullied." If there are tapes out there, he doesn't seem to be too worried about them. He's essentially saying, "Put up or shut up, Donald Trump."

HENNESSEY: I mean, it's incredible that he sort of hasn't learned his lesson about doing these vague tweets and the follow up. We saw sort of the consequences of that, you know, Obama wiretapping at Trump Tower tweet. It's sort of amazing that we're back again in the cycle.

BORGER: You know, but this is the pattern we keep talking about; he tweets and he says some outrageous things, whether it's about the crowd size during the inauguration, whether it's about the President wiretapping him, whether it's about three million voters -- voter fraud, and all of that, and this. And then the White House staff has to go out there and try and figure out a way to rationalize this.


BORGER: And it's not -- it's not easy because Sean Spicer today didn't deny that there's a taping system. Now that the President let the cat out of the bag, I think we have to assume the President does tapes --

BLITZER: There's a - the tweets speaks for itself. Go ahead.


HENNESSEY: Right. And the problem here is that either answer is bad. Either Trump lied if he isn't recording these conversations or he is recording those conversations, which has its own sort of set of problems.

BORGER: And then Comey says, "According to Pam Brown sources, I'm not worried. I'm not worried."


HENDERSON: He's not worried.

BLITZER: Listen, he gave another interview to Fox News today. Listen to this exchange.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People suggest that the question that apparently the New York Times is selling that you asked Comey whether or not you had his loyalty was possibly inappropriate. Could you see how they would think that?

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: No, I don't think - I read - I read that article. I don't think it's inappropriate, number one, it isn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask that question?

TRUMP: No. No, I didn't, but I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important, you know. I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, number one. Number two, I don't know how that got there because I didn't ask that question.

[17:35:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?

TRUMP: That, I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be. And I'm sure he will be, I hope.


BLITZER: All right. Phil, what did you - what did you make of that?

MUDD: Well, look - I mean, first, he mentioned the tapes in the tweet and then he doesn't have the courage to talk about them when he's confronted with them? What, you can't answer a question? But when he's talking about loyalty, let's be clear here, let's play another tape. It's a notional tape of a dinner. You're the FBI director with the 10-year term, according to reports, here's some of the conversations at that dinner. Let's talk about your tenure as FBI director. In the midst of the highest profile investigation the FBI has had in years, higher profile than Clinton investigation. Let's talk about your tenure - then let's talk about whether you're loyal to the President. Hmm. In the midst of a conversation about whether you remain as FBI director. Then tell me, Mr. Director, am I under investigation? If you take these questions in isolation, you might simply say it's appropriate for me to ask one of my subordinates whether they're loyal. If you put them in combination, you've got to say this is another version of corruption. It's the President sending a signal that unless you do what I want in this investigation, you're out. And it turns out, that's what happened.

BLITZER: Well, what kind of question is that to ask the FBI director, "Are you loyal to the United States? Are you loyal to the country?"

MUDD: How do you know what's going on here?

BORGER: It's inappropriate. And I - Donald Trump was trying to say, "Well, it depends - it depends how you interpret what loyalty means." Remember what his co-author of "The Art of the Deal" said, Tony Schwartz, he had to invent a term for Donald Trump because he said, he kept lying all the time, so he called it "truthful hyperbole", remember that? And this is what we're hearing now, over and over again. Well, what do you mean by loyalty? What I meant - it's not a bad question, but I meant loyalty to the country. No, he didn't. Because he knew that Comey was loyal to the country.

HENNESSEY: And we're setting up a contrast with an individual, James Comey, who for all of his - all criticism against him is known as somebody who's a straight shooter, a person of sort of unimpeachable integrity and truth telling, and so, it's just a remarkable contrast.

BLITZER: So, what happens when the President starts tweeting at 7:51 a.m., then 7:53, then 7:59, then 8:07, 8:26, 8:50 - it was - he had a busy morning this morning tweeting and tweeting.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's probably watching T.V.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. Much more on the breaking news right after this.


[17:42:00] BLITZER: We're back with our specialists. Gloria, as you know, the president, other top White House aides, they keep citing statements made by the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as proof that there was no collusion between Trump associates during the campaign and the Russians. Clapper was on MSNBC today and he said this.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It's not surprising or out of an - or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, or even more importantly, the content of that investigation. So, I don't know if there was collusion or not, I don't know if there's evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you are not intending to clear -- to convict or to clear anyone of collusion. This was outside of your scope.

CLAPPER: That's correct.


BLITZER: Your reaction?

BORGER: It's outside of his scope, so the fact that the President was using Clapper to kind of say there's no there there, there's no story, this is all ridiculous, doesn't hold water. I mean, he didn't poke holes through it and he drove a Mack truck through that line of argument. And today, when Sean Spicer was asked about it, he said, "Well, you have to ask Clapper." Well, asked and answered, I think.

BLITZER: Because as an intelligence official, he's not supposed to know about law enforcement investigations, domestic investigations of U.S. citizens, and he said he didn't even know that the FBI had launched a criminal investigation as far back as July.

HENDERSON: That's right. It's an ongoing investigation, he hasn't been on the job since Donald Trump was inaugurated President. The White House is essentially cherry picking, right? They're cherry picking what Clapper had said at one point but not wanting to pay attention to what Clapper said today. And you could see that in the - in the press conference today with Sean Spicer, essentially saying that, "Oh, Clapper is being misleading. He's changing his story." But, in fact, it's the White House who is being misleading. And Donald Trump is hanging onto this testimony from Clapper earlier on, he's also hanging onto some comments made by Grassley. This is their big defense. They're hanging onto him, but again, it's - they're cherry picking and it's misleading in terms of what Clapper actually said, and what he would actually know.

BLITZER: What the White House officials are saying is, you know, he was the top law - top intelligence official in the United States and he says he didn't see any evidence. There's proof there was nothing wrong.

MUDD: (INAUDIBLE) they're either lying or lazy. This ain't that difficult. Intel 101. Let me take you into it. If you're at the CIA or in General Clapper's position, you're looking at the Russian intel, what are the Russians saying about their interactions with the Americans. At the FBI, you're interviewing witnesses, looking at their financial records, looking at your phone records, determining what they were doing that time. Clapper doesn't have insight into that. That's a Federal Bureau Investigation, it's not part of the intel process. The White House, if they asked, would know about that.

BORGER: You know, later on in the - in the interview with Andrea Mitchell, he talked about some evidence. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

BORGER: But he said - but he had there - it was not evidence that they had high confidence in. So, maybe he did see a little bit in his investigation but nothing with high confidence, nothing that he thought was evidence of collusion.


BORGER: Not hard evidence.

BLITZER: Susan, how do they clean this up right now? Let this investigation go forward with credibility?

HENNESSEY: Well, first, they're going to have to appoint an independent credible FBI director. This is going to be an incredibly difficult confirmation fight. He might have to appoint a democrat or somebody who's acceptable to both parties in order to get this passed. And the other element is that they're probably going to have to appoint a special prosecutor in order to ensure that there is -- this is a legitimate investigation with credibility. Notably, if they don't do that, it might actually harm President Trump because if nobody believes in the integrity of the investigation, no one is going to believe the integrity of the outcome. So, even if it clears him, if he doesn't take these steps to preserve that legitimacy, it might end up harming him in the long term.

BLITZER: But the Deputy Attorney General, at least for now, Rod Rosenstein, he says, he doesn't think there is a need for a special prosecutor.

HENNESSEY: Well, prior to this week, Rod Rosenstein had a very strong reputation, he served as U.S. attorney under both Obama and Bush. You know, the issue is now that he's sort of complicit in offering what was clearly a pre-textural reason for Comey's firing. Trump himself said that wasn't the reason and so it's hard to imagine how Rod Rosenstein's judgment can be seen as credible and independent moving forward.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. Much more, coming up on the breaking news, top democrats are already asking the White House to turn over any recordings or conversations over at the White House. Do such recordings exist? Other Presidents tried it, they ended up regretting t.


[17:51:01] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump's astonishing hint that he may have recorded his conversations with the FBI director James Comey. If such recordings exist, members of Congress already want them. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAD TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, there is significant pressure on the White House to back up what the President tweeted this morning. This letter we just obtained from top house democrats John Conyers and Elijah Cummings, ranking members of the Judiciary and Oversight Committees. This letter calls on the White House to hand over any recordings between President Trump and James Comey. The key questions tonight, do any tapes exist and is there capability at the White House to record those conversations?


TODD: President Trump's threat to his fired FBI director isn't subtle. Quote, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press," Mr. Trump tweeted. The White House denies it's a threat. But, were any of the President's conversations with Comey taped?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I've talked to the President, the President has nothing further to add on that.

TODD: President Trump says there were three conversations between him and his FBI director. Two phone calls and a one-on-one dinner they had at the White House on January 27th. Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn't answer when asked if there's capability at the White House to tape those conversations. Former White House staffers tell us, the technical capability exists for the president to tape phone conversations but that's different from a built-in taping system used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Among Nixon's legendary recordings, a 1972 Oval Office conversation on how to push back on the Watergate investigation.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Play it tough. That's the way they played it, and that's the way we're going to play it.

TODD: That White House taping system was shut down in the summer of 1973, at the height of the Watergate scandal.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, FORMER NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY DIRECTOR: The American people, the press, or the media, they didn't know anything about the taping systems until Alexander Butterfield, a White House aide, in July of 1973, told the Senate Watergate Committee, told the staff, that there was a taping system. At that point, Richard Nixon had the opportunity to destroy the tapes. He decided not to.

TODD: As for the one-on-one dinner between Trump and Comey at the White House, former staffers tell us they don't know of any built in systems in the dining rooms to tape conversations. They say the President could bring in a recording device or have an aide take notes on the conversation but it's unlikely he would. Could Comey have taped the phone conversations on his end? We got no comment from the FBI. Former top bureau officials tell us that would only be allowed if the President himself was under investigation, which Trump says he's not. And if the FBI chief got a warrant to tape him.

JAMES GAGLIANO, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: I cannot imagine that happening. The FBI director does not tape conversations with the President or members of the Hill or staff members. I cannot see that happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And again, as we just reported, if there are tapes between

Trump and Comey recorded at the White House, there is now significant pressure tonight on Mr. Trump and his team to produce those. This letter we obtained from top house democrats John Conyers and Elijah Cummings, two key Oversight Committee ranking members. They're calling on the White House to hand over copies of any recordings, documents, any communications between the President and Comey in this matter. So far tonight, Wolf, no comment from the White House on this letter.

BLITZER: Brian, if there are recordings, can the President -- can President Trump delete them?

TODD: It doesn't look like he can, Wolf. At least not without permission. The Presidential Records Act requires that any conversations at the White House be archived, any taped conversations be archived, unless the President gets special permission to not submit them to archives. If those tapes exist at the White House, real pressure on the President to save them and to turn them over.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you. Coming up, we'll have more on our top story. President Trump threatens the fired FBI director, saying James Comey, quote, "better hope there are no tapes of our conversations." Does the President have such recordings?


[17:55:06] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be taped recordings?

TRUMP: That, I can't talk about. I won't talk about that.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Threatening Comey. In an extraordinary tweet, President Trump makes a thinly-veiled threat against the FBI director he fired just days ago. But the White House insists there's no menace in the president's words, so what did he really mean?

Secret taping system? The President suggests there may be tapes of his conversations with Comey but later says he can't talk about it. Now, lawmakers are asking for copies of any recordings of Mr. Trump and Comey. Will the White House turn them over?

Demanding loyalty. CNN is learning details of a White House dinner in which President Trump --