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Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; Trump Demanding Loyalty Pledges?; Did President Trump Threaten Former FBI Director?; Trump Threatens to End White House Press Briefings. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 asked FBI Director Comey to pledge his loyalty while Comey was overseeing the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. How did Comey respond?
And accuracy? Maybe. As the president's top aides struggle to keep up with the shifting narrative on the firing James Comey, Mr. Trump says he is so active, it is impossible for his surrogates to be perfectly accurate. Is the White House about to cancel all future press briefings?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump escalating his fight with the FBI director he fired just days ago, appearing in a tweet to threaten James Comey.
The president insinuated he has recordings of his conversations with Comey. And, when asked about it later, Mr. Trump said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "That, I can't talk about."
In the same tweetstorm, the president defended the conflicting accounts of Comey's firing given by the White House and his surrogates. Mr. Trump claimed it's impossible for them to be perfectly accurate because he's so active. He also raised the possibility of ending White House press briefings and replacing them with written questions and answers.
And there are also new contradictions tonight between President Trump and the former director of national intelligence. The president claimed in still another tweet that James Clapper had said there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Clapper responded in an interview today, saying there could be evidence of collusion. We're recovering all of that, much more this hour, with our guests,
including Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.
Let's begin with the remarkable developments over at White House.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us.
Jeff, the president's latest tweets and his latest remarks, they are only deepening the turmoil sparked by the firing of the FBI director, James Comey.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the turmoil is deepening, indeed, largely because of the president's own words himself.
Now, we end this extraordinary week here with so many more questions about why the FBI director was fired, but now tonight about whether the president was secretly recording him.
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 president refused to answer the question he raised himself in an interview tonight with FOX News.
QUESTION: What about the idea that in the tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also refused to answer whether there is a recording system in the Oval Office or whether the president is taping 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.
The president is isolated and agitated, associates tell CNN. He finished a full week barely seen at the White House, before making this brief afternoon appearance with the first lady.
TRUMP: Hi, everyone. What a friendly, beautiful group.
ZELENY: But his views have been heard in a roaring Twitterstorm. He acknowledged conflicting explanations in the timeline of Comey's spiralling, offering no apology, but bluntly conceding accuracy seems options.
"As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at the podium with perfect accuracy." He went on to say, "Maybe the best thing do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy."
Today, at least, that didn't happen.
SPICER: Wow. We got a full house today.
ZELENY: The White House press secretary was back at the podium under siege after a perilous week for the administration.
SPICER: Time and time again, in an attempt to parse every little word and make it more of a game of gotcha.
ZELENY: Looking to point blame elsewhere, the president is frustrated by his communications team, telling FOX News he might take matters into his own hands. TRUMP: Sean Spicer, he is a wonderful human being. He's a nice man.
QUESTION: Is he your press secretary today and tomorrow? Will he be tomorrow?
TRUMP: Yes. Well, he is doing a good job. But he gets beat up.
QUESTION: Will he be there tomorrow?
TRUMP: Yes. Well, he's been there from the beginning.
ZELENY: For now, Spicer remains in place, apparently just in time to be lampooned again on "Saturday Night Live," Melissa McCarthy, Spicer's impersonator, spotted today in Midtown Manhattan filming this week's episode.
ZELENY: So, Wolf, back here at the White House, Senate Democrats and House Democrats as well are calling on the White House, the White House Council's Office to release any recordings if they do exist of those conversations.
So, look for that to continue going forward here. Wolf, there is also a question here, was the president trying to simply throw up another shiny object here? Was he trying to get the story changed off of the firing of the FBI director and the Russia investigation specifically?
One top administration official here said that president did this intentionally, Wolf, because he knows the press likes to talk about themselves -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny reporting for us over at the White House, thank you.
Amid all of this, the president continues to insist that officials have said he's not under investigation and that there's no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia. But that's not necessarily the case.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working this part of the story.
Jim, the White House says the former director of intelligence confirmed there is no evidence of collusion between Trump advisers and Russia, but is there?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The White House story is at best misleading, at worst, just frankly inaccurate.
Let's be very clear about what the former director of intelligence has said. He has said he hasn't seen no conclusive evidence, but he's also made very clear that he would not in his role as the director of national intelligence see all the evidence. He gave leeway to law enforcement, to the FBI, and counterintelligence investigations because they are criminal investigations involving U.S. persons that U.S. intelligence agencies shouldn't be involved in.
That must be made very clear. The person who has the broadest, most comprehensive view of all the intelligence, all the evidence in this investigation is the head of FBI, who, of course, the most occupant of that seat no longer has his job.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the nation's former top spy says that he has never ruled out evidence of collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign, directly contradicting President Trump, who tweeted just hours earlier, "When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch-hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end?"
In an interview with MSNBC, the former director of national intelligence says he believes:
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: There is 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.
SCIUTTO: But during the White House press briefing, Sean Spicer insisted it is James Clapper who is changing his story.
SPICER: It is interesting how the story has changed. And now suddenly he's saying, I wasn't sure about it. That -- the burden seems to be on him, not us.
SCIUTTO: Today, Director Clapper also expressed doubts about Mr. Trump's version of a dinner with fired FBI Director James Comey in January.
TRUMP: He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House very early on.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: He asked for the dinner?
TRUMP: Dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.
SCIUTTO: But Clapper says it was Trump who invited Comey.
CLAPPER: He had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president.
SCIUTTO: And that the former FBI chief was uncomfortable with the invitation.
CLAPPER: You're in a difficult position to refuse to go, so -- but I do know he was uneasy with it, for -- just for the appearance of compromising the independence of the FBI.
SCIUTTO: The dinner came just one day after then acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be compromised by Russia, that timing raising concerns about White House interference in the FBI's ongoing investigation into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with the Russian government.
CNN has learned that Comey was -- quote -- "taken aback" when Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty during the dinner. A source close to Comey told CNN the FBI chief refused and instead promised to always be honest with the president.
In fact, FBI employees pledge to be loyal only to the U.S. Constitution, not to any individual, including the president.
JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: All of us in the FBI, our focus, hyper-focus, is on fealty to the mission, not fealty to a politician, not fealty to any person.
SCIUTTO: The president has claimed that Comey assured Mr. Trump that he was not under investigation related to the Russia probe and that Comey asked Trump to keep him on as FBI chief.
A source tells CNN this is a fabrication, that Comey did not ask to keep his job, and that in fact, just three days earlier, the president told Comey he would stay on as FBI director. The source adds the former FBI chief is -- quote -- "not worried" about any recorded conversations between him and the president after Trump issued a thinly veiled threat to Comey, tweeting -- quote -- "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
SCIUTTO: James Comey was invited by Senate Intelligence Committee to testify before them next Tuesday. We learned today that he turned down that invitation. A person, Wolf, with first-hand knowledge of his thinking said that he simply wants to take some time off and lay low for a while.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, good reporting.
Evan Perez, our justice correspondent, is with us as well.
You got more breaking news on the Justice Department and its probe into the Russia, on allegations of collusion.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
And the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is under pressure to step aside and appoint a special counsel, special prosecutor to take over this investigation. And we're told that at this point he is not inclined to do that. He feels from talking to the FBI, that you only take a move like that if you feel that the FBI investigation is in peril.
And at that point, he has been assured by FBI officials that the investigation is going to proceed exactly where it should. He has also told lawmakers in his meetings up on Capitol Hill that he's going to make sure that there's no interference from the White House or from anyone anywhere else.
Now, this is an investigation that is being led by Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. And he is also now in charge of national security prosecutions at Justice Department headquarters. And he is actually the one that is running the investigation day-to-day and he is in charge of it. He will remain doing that.
BLITZER: So the investigation continues.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, guys.
We're going to get some more on all of this.
Republican Congressman Ted Yoho is joining us, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me on, Wolf. Look forward to talking to you.
BLITZER: All right, as you know, the president tweeted that James Comey, in his words, better hope there are no tapes of their conversations.
Do you, Congressman, do you believe the president is taping these conversations over dinner or what have you? Do you think these tapes exist?
YOHO: I don't know. I think we will find that out down the road.
You know, I think each administration has a policy that they set in place, and we will find out down the road. As of right now, we have no evidence of that. And I think a lot of those presidents learned after Richard Nixon to be careful.
BLITZER: Do you think he should be taping these kinds of conversations?
YOHO: If I were the president, I would tape everything that is said around me and what I said, because we know how sometimes things get misconstrued.
Whether President Trump did or did not, that's up to him and his White House. So, that's a question they will have to answer.
BLITZER: Do you believe it was appropriate, this thinly veiled threat against the FBI director?
YOHO: Again, we have talked about President Trump's style. I don't know what his purpose was for that. It is not something I would have done. We will have to see how this works out.
Let the investigation go forward. And I think a lot of this information will come out and it will answer a lot of these questions. And that's what I look forward to doing.
BLITZER: If these tapes do exist, should he release them to members of Congress? As you know, there are already calls by some Democratic leaders in the House to get these tapes, if they exist.
YOHO: If they exist, I think if it warrants releasing tapes down the road, depending on what was said or where this investigation goes, I think, if there are tapes, there would be a FOIA request, and these tapes would be released.
But let's let the investigation come out, see where it leads, and then, you know, a lot of these things we're speculating, we're looking down the road if this happened, this should happen, and we should release these. We don't know what's happened. Do the investigation.
And then what I want to get people to understand is, we have got some serious problems in this country. I got that note that I have shared with you and other people in the news that we got a message that Social Security was going to be cut by 25 percent within 12 years.
We have got a growing debt. The interest on our debt is going to collapse this country. We need to focus on these things and let these committees--
BLITZER: You make a good point.
BLITZER: But why is the president waking up in the morning, and this morning starting to tweet about tapes of these conversations and issuing these thinly veiled threats to the now former FBI director?
You make a good point. There are a lot of important issues out there, but the president is focusing in on these issues.
YOHO: Sure there.
Well, again, you're asking me why he does that early in the morning. I cannot answer that. I don't know if it is his caffeine in the morning or what. I drink coffee in the morning, and it works well for me.
BLITZER: Well, coffee has caffeine usually as well.
But we are discussing it because the president is issuing these kinds of threats in his tweets. And he was doing it almost nonstop for about an hour this morning.
Let's talk about the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. YOHO: Sure.
BLITZER: He said today, although there was no evidence that rose to level at the time that he was the DNI, the director of national intelligence, he didn't necessarily say there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
He said he didn't even know the FBI had a criminal investigation under way going back to July. So, he is saying that there possibly could be some serious evidence as far as we know right now.
YOHO: Well, Wolf, when I heard that statement, what I heard him to say was there is no evidence of collusion, and then he went on to say--
BLITZER: No, what he said, he said he hasn't seen any. But he also said he wouldn't necessarily see that kind of evidence because this was an FBI investigation, a law enforcement investigation, and as a leader in the intelligence community, he's not involved in investigating U.S. citizens. The FBI does that.
YOHO: Well, and I think you brought up an important point there.
Number one is, he said that there was no evidence that he has seen. But that doesn't mean there isn't. So, that means there could be. It means there couldn't be.
YOHO: I don't know. So, let's let that investigation go out.
But go back to when the information was being leaked. I think that is something more serious that we all need to be concerned as Americans, that if highly classified information is being gathered by these intelligence services, you know, if they tapped into -- I don't want to say tapped -- if they surveilled General Flynn's telephone conversations, they can do that to you, me, any American out here.
BLITZER: But you know, Congressman, if they did that, they weren't necessarily targeting General Flynn. They were targeting, let's say, the Russian ambassador to the United States.
BLITZER: And he was having a conversation, and his conversation was picked up, not because General Flynn was targeted, because the Russian ambassador to the United States was targeted.
YOHO: And that's right. And look at how much power in that dragnet ability of the federal government to pick up this information and then slice and dice and find down to the one person that's talking on there.
And, again, if they can do that to him, they can do that to everybody. BLITZER: But aren't you glad that what he did was discovered, why the
president fired him, because he was lying to the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States?
YOHO: I think any time that somebody that works for the government lies, yes, they should be removed.
BLITZER: So, the system worked appropriately. So, what I hear you saying is, the system worked appropriately in the case of General Flynn.
YOHO: And, as you said, the system worked.
And I have faith in the system will work if we give it time to work. But if you analyze every play of a football game, how the center puts the ball down on the field and how he rotates it, if you analyze all that, you miss the game.
And so let's focus on these things. Let's let these investigative committees do what they are supposed to do, and let's focus on our debt, let's focus on national security. We just got health care off the floor of the House over to the Senate. Let's focus on tax reform for this country to get this tax economy growing more than it is now.
And let's look at those things. And let these committees do that and don't get bogged down in the minutia, which happens so much. It's great for TV, fodder. It keeps people in business. But it kind of distracts the nation on the problems that are really serious that are facing this nation that we are all going to contend with.
We are looking at a situation in this country where we could be the next Puerto Rico or the next Greece. I don't know anybody that wants that to happen. And the only way we are going to avert that is by focusing on those problems and taking those head on. Deal with the situation before the situation dictates us to, the American people, how it is going to happen.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of critically important issues out there right now.
BLITZER: And we are talking about the tape, if there are tapes, the firing of the FBI director. These are issues that the president this week himself raised, and that's why it has caused so much of a commotion.
Let me just press you on one issue. You say that any time someone in the government lies, that individual should be removed. As you know, the president has been accused of lying. Would that include the president, that standard you have set?
YOHO: Which president do you want to go to? You know, if we go back to the last administration, your insurance is
going down, you're not going to lose your doctor, we can go down and down and down. If it is national security issue, I think it needs to be looked at.
If you go back to what James Madison said, perfidy in the Constitution is grounds for impeachment. And I think if you get to the point where it crosses national security and puts our country at risk, I think these are serious crimes.
And that's why they wrote into the Constitution things that we can hold the executive branch accountable for.
BLITZER: All right, fair enough.
Let's talk about the president citing this Russia investigation when saying that was the reason he decided to fire the FBI director, James Comey. He said this investigation is all made up, designed by the Democrats to explain why they lost. He says it's simply a witch-hunt.
Do you believe this investigation of Russia's meddling in the U.S. presidential election is simply a witch-hunt?
YOHO: No, not at all.
I think any time another nation, whether it's Russia, China or any nation, meddles into our election process, our democratic process to preserve our constitutional republic, any time anybody hacks into that, that's concern for all of us.
So, let's -- I'm all for the investigation going forward. And we have got three different agencies. We've got the House and the Senate Intelligence Committee looking at this. We've got the FBI looking at this.
And even if Director Comey has been removed -- and, personally, I think he should have left a long time ago, with the mishandling of the Clinton information and releasing it right before the election. I think that was just unconscionable and it was not something I would have liked to see my FBI director do.
But he still can be a witness. He can be subpoenaed. He can come in. That investigation will go forward. So, let that process work. And let's get working on tax reform and getting our debt under control and these other things, national security.
And those are the things -- and don't forget about North Korea.
BLITZER: Well, we never forget about North Korea, obviously a critically important issue. We report extensively here in THE SITUATION ROOM on North Korea almost everyday.
As you heard, CNN is reporting that Comey was taken aback by Trump's request during the course of that one-on-one dinner for a personal assurance, a pledge of loyalty to the president.
Do you think it is appropriate for a president to ask an FBI director for such a pledge of loyalty?
YOHO: You know, again, I wasn't in the room. If somebody were to ask me to give you unbendable loyalty to you, I wouldn't do that. I give loyalty and I make a pledge to three people. It's my God, my family and my country, and our constituents. That's four. And our Constitution.
Those are things that we give loyalty to. I'm not going to give loyalty to a branch of government. My loyalty is to my country. And I take that very seriously. I serve a country, a nation, not a party, not a person.
And I think Director Comey was pretty succinct about that in his statement. And, again, I wasn't at that dinner. I don't know what was said. But that would be my response if somebody asked me.
BLITZER: And let me just press you on one point that you made. You just told us, Congressman, that president of the United States should record every conversation.
You have been in the Oval Office. Would you want all of your personal conversations to be recorded by the president and potentially released publicly?
YOHO: Wolf, I don't believe that's what I said. I said, if I were president, I would record everything.
Each administration is going to have their own policy. That was for me. If I was sitting in the White House, I would want everything recorded, so I can come back and I could rebut that. Here's the proof. What President Trump or any other president does, that's their policy.
BLITZER: But you think he should be recording all those conversations?
YOHO: I think I would be. You are going to have to ask the President Trump if he should be.
BLITZER: You think he is recording all those conversations?
YOHO: I have no idea.
BLITZER: He never told you he is, has he?
YOHO: Never did. And I would love to have what when I was in the Oval Office come out. It was a great conversation.
BLITZER: Congressman Ted Yoho, thanks so much for joining us.
YOHO: Thanks a lot. Have a great weekend.
BLITZER: You too. Democratic reaction next. Congressman Eric Swalwell, he's standing by
to join us. We will have more much on the breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, President Trump's stunning tweet making a thinly veiled threat against the former FBI director, James Comey, fired by the president just days ago.
Let's get some Democratic reaction.
Congressman Eric Swalwell is joining us. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, my pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, the president tweeted that Comey -- quote -- "better hope there are no tapes of their conversations."
As you know Democrats on the Judiciary and Oversight Committees, they are requesting copies of all recordings in possession of the White House regarding this matter.
Has there been, as far as you know, any response?
SWALWELL: Not yet, Wolf.
And tapes is a five-letter word that conjures up a five-letter prior president that I don't think we really want to compare President Trump to. But it looks like we're getting closer and closer to that, Wolf.
The president needs get out of the way of these investigations and get to work for the American people, who are counting on him to deliver jobs and opportunity.
So, I agree with my colleague and friend Ted Yoho. He should be more focused on that and let these investigations proceed.
BLITZER: Do you believe there are tapes?
SWALWELL: I don't know. I don't know what to believe with this president. This is the same president who said that President Obama was wiretapping Trump Tower.
So, a lot of times, he says things to deceive, distract, or disrupt.
BLITZER: So, tell us why you think he is getting closer to Nixon.
SWALWELL: Well, the way that he fired Director Comey -- you know, Wolf, Congress is home this week.
And I spent my time home going to five different Rotary Clubs. Rotary Club members have a good sense of what is important in our country. They're good community leaders. And what they told me about this firing is it stinks. You can't fire the guy who's investigating you. And that's a lot like what we saw from the Nixon administration.
BLITZER: The president cited the whole Russia investigation when saying that's the reason he decided to fire Comey, calling that investigation -- he said it was a made-up investigation. He said it was a hoax. Does all of this rise to the level of obstruction of justice?
SWALWELL: Well, what we need to do is to get to the bottom of who is the president talking to at the Department of Justice? What is the role of the attorney general? You know, he told Congress that he was recusing himself, because he had told the Senate that he had no contacts with Russia and had to go back and amend that statement. And so I want to know what the attorney general's role is now in the Russia investigation. Is the president limiting resources the FBI has to go forward?
So I'm not going to jump to conclusions just yet on that, Wolf. But right now, we need the FBI's investigations and the House and Senate investigations to be unimpeded by politics.
BLITZER: Why didn't the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recuse himself from the firing of Comey if he was fired because of the Russia investigation?
SWALWELL: He shouldn't have been anywhere near that firing. This was the chief investigator for the FBI, overseeing an investigation into the president's campaign. And if Jeff Sessions was sincere in recusing himself, he wouldn't have sent a letter to the president, recommending Director Comey's firing. I think he should come before the House Judiciary Committee and explain what was going on.
BLITZER: A few of your Democratic colleagues, not many but a few, have already said this could potentially lead to impeachment. Do you think there are grounds, potentially, that could lead to impeachment?
SWALWELL: Wolf, the "I" word that I think we should use right now is "investigation." And we have investigations in the House, the Senate and the FBI, but hurdles keep getting put up for those investigations. We need to clear those hurdles, get to the finish line, and tell the American people what Russia did, whether any U.S. persons were involved. Make sure, if so, they are held accountable.
But most importantly, Wolf, make reforms so that a hack like this, an interference campaign like this never happens again. I think that would be most reassuring for the American people.
BLITZER: Have you seen collusion?
SWALWELL: I want to make clear that evidence of collusion is different than being guilty of collusion. Because the FBI is investigating this, and because the House and Senate are looking at this. You know, we are reviewing documents, witness accounts, witness testimony and so that is evidence. But evidence has to be tested; it has to be developed. And so we are
a long way away from making any conclusions.
BLITZER: The now former FBI director, James Comey, has declined an invitation from Senate Intelligence Committee to testify, at least not now. Do you believe his testimony is, though, absolutely necessary for this ongoing investigation?
SWALWELL: Yes, I do. I'd be pretty upset if I was Director Comey, so I think taking a couple days to cool off, that would probably serve him well. But I do want his honest assessment of what happened, what was said at that dinner conversation, what other conversations he had with President Trump, whether he was requesting more resources for the FBI investigation and if that was approved or denied.
BLITZER: As you know, all senators will be brief behind closed doors next week by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Do you have any indication the House will also get a similar debriefing?
SWALWELL: I hopefully the House Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committees are briefed by the new acting director of the FBI but also by the deputy attorney general Rosenstein. So you know, hopefully, the House receives the same briefing as the Senate.
BLITZER: CNN is reporting that the deputy attorney general doesn't see a need at this point for a special prosecutor in the ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. React to this, because so far I don't think there are any Republicans who have formally publicly called for a special prosecutor.
SWALWELL: You know, respectfully, the appearance or perception of a conflict of interest is just as bad if there is a conflict. And so I think just to get rid of the appearance that is certainly out there, the country would be served by having a special prosecutor.
BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on the president's extraordinary tweet threatening the fired FBI director, James Comey. And another presidential threat. Will he do away with the daily White House press briefings?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: Are you moving so quickly that your communications department cannot keep up with you?
TRUMP: Yes, that's true.
PIRRO: So what do we do about that, because--?
TRUMP: We don't have press conferences and we do--
PIRRO: You don't mean that. TRUMP: Well, you just don't have them. Unless I have them every two
weeks, and I do it myself.
[17:39:53] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, a tweet from President Trump adding fuel to the fire ignited by his dismissal of the FBI director, James Comey.
Let's get some more from our specialists and our analysts. And David Axelrod, let's begin with this controversial tweet. I'll put it up on the screen again: "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
The White House insists this was not a threat. Your reaction?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I guess it could have been a caring executive offering helpful guidance to a departing employee. But I think it -- anybody who reads it reads it as a threat. It was meant as a threat.
And the irony is that I think there's probably nobody on the planet who would enjoy more the release of a tape of that particular dinner than Jim Comey. Because the president has made -- he has characterized it in his own way. We know from reporting that Comey has a much different recollection of it. And you know, president doesn't have a lot of chips in the credibility bank right now. And I suspect that Comey's version might hold up very well.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, the White House refuses to say whether or not these tapes actually exist. The press secretary, Sean Spicer, would only say, quote, "The president has nothing further to add on that." He said, "Let the tweet speak for itself."
What are the legal consequences of all of this?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is actually a very simple legal situation. If the -- a congressional committee or a grand jury could send a subpoena and say, "Provide any tapes of conversations with James Comey," and we would find out whether they existed or not.
What that requires is an independent investigation. Now, two Democratic congressmen sent a letter asking about tapes. But the core of this story is that the Republican Party remains aligned behind Donald Trump, and there is no indication that they are going to send any such subpoena.
And Donald Trump just fired the head of the FBI because he was investigating the Russia matter. So presumably, the FBI is now going to be cowed and refuse to investigate aggressively. So it could be done. The question is, will it be done?
BLITZER: You know, Rebecca Berg, the sources have told CNN -- we've been reporting this -- that the fired FBI director, James Comey, was uncomfortable during that one-on-one dinner at the White House with the president, because the president pressed him for what was described as some sort of loyalty pledge which he refused to offer.
The president denies ever asking for such a pledge. But he does tell FOX News in a new interview today that it wouldn't be inappropriate if he did. What do you make of that?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are really two components to this, Wolf. First of all, the idea, hypothetically, that the president would ever ask the director of the FBI for a loyalty pledge is just outrageous.
The FBI director, any FBI director, is not loyal to any president. He's loyal to the Constitution, to our laws. And any president should know that. But it's clear Donald Trump, based on what he said on this interview on FOX, does not recognize that or didn't say so in that interview. That's significant.
But then there's also this "he said-he said" component. Did James Comey ask for this loyal -- or did the president ask James Comey for his loyalty?
The president has a credibility problem right now. We're told as journalists to always consider the source. The president has fallen short of the truth in the past. Lied outright. And so if we're asked to choose between James Comey's version of events or the president's, the president has a credibility problem right now.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins is with us. Welcome, Kaitlan, to THE SITUATION ROOM.
KAITLAN COLLINS: Thank you.
BLITZER: You're the White House correspondent for "The Daily Caller." As a businessman, as you know, Kaitlan, the president always expected absolute loyalty to him from his employees. But the federal government doesn't necessarily work that way, does it?
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY CALLER": Exactly. No, it doesn't. And he prided himself on not being a politician. But you can't come into the White House and expect someone who's supposed to be above politics to pledge their loyalty to you.
But it's funny that Donald Trump requires loyalty from so many people who work for him, because he doesn't seem very loyal to them. In his -- same interview with FOX News, they kept asking if he would -- if Sean Spicer would still be his press secretary tomorrow and in the future. And he wouldn't give a straight answer. He would say that, sure, and Sean gets beat up a lot. But he never said, "Yes, I have confidence in him, and I think he does a good job." He undermined him. He threw him under the bus a little bit.
BLITZER: Yes, we're going to get to that in a little bit.
But David Axelrod, you worked for President Obama. Did he demand loyalty from all of the people who worked for him? Did he say, "I want you to be loyal. You've got to pledge your loyalty to me"? AXELROD: You know, I think that this would be so far from his mind to
suggest -- to bring in an FBI director and demand personal loyalty, particularly if there were an investigation going on touching some of his people.
[18:45:05] There was a lot -- the president had very strict ethical guidelines in the White House which is why you had no major scandal attaching itself to the White House during his years there.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, I'm going to play a little clip for you. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, the White House and the president keep citing stuff that he said to say there is no confirmation of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He was on MSNBC today with Andrea Mitchell.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLAPPER: It's not surprising or out of -- 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 it was collusion or not. I don't know if there is evidence of collusion or not. Nor should I have in this particular context.
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: And you were not intending to clear, to convict or to clear anyone of collusion. It just was outside of your scope?
CLAPPER: That's correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did he just poke some holes in the White House narrative?
TOOBIN: I would say he destroyed the White House narrative. I mean, this is not his job to follow an FBI investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That is an FBI investigation.
The FBI does not report to the director of national intelligence. He has access to lots of things but he does not have access to FBI 302s which are reports by FBI agents to grand jury testimony, to the Department of Justice prosecutors who were working on this. That is just a separate part of the government.
So, the fact that he is unaware of collusion does not tell you anything about whether -- or it doesn't conclude the question of whether there is any evidence of collusion that exists somewhere in a government investigation.
BLITZER: Yes, Clapper says that he didn't even know that the FBI launched the investigation as far back as July, only learned about that when Comey made that public in that statement.
Everybody, stand by. Up next, another threat by the president. Will he cancel all future
daily White House press briefings?
Stay with us.
[18:52:06] BLITZER: The White House clearly struggling to keep up with one of the biggest stories of the Trump presidency so far, but its accounts of the firing of the FBI Director James Comey keep changing.
Rebecca, the president seems to be blaming his own communications department for some of these problems. This is what he tweeted this morning: As a very active president, with lots of things happening and it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy. Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy.
BERG: I mean, in this case, this was not due to a fast-moving presidency that Donald Trump's press team did not know what was going on, and the reasoning behind his decision to fire James Comey. This was the president's fault for not keeping his team in the loop for telling them what happened and making sure they were prepared to go out and tell the American people what this all meant. So, he's making excuses but I think he's tweets speak volumes about what we might see from the press team moving forward. There are reports that Sean Spicer's job might be --
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Can I disagree with that respectfully?
The problem was not a communications problem. The problem was a substantive problem. He fired the person who was investigating him. You can't have a good communications strategy about that.
It's not a failure of the right person or the right message. The problem is the substance. When you blame the messenger, when you blame the fact that issue wasn't framed properly, that misses the point.
The problem is this was the most significant firing of a law enforcement official since Watergate. You can't spin that.
BLITZER: All right. Well, let me --
TOOBIN: That's the problem.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, you go to the White House daily press briefings every day. The president elaborated in this interview with Fox News with Jeanine Pirro and explained his thinking. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIRRO: Are you moving so quickly that your communications department cannot keep up with you?
TRUMP: Yes, that's true.
PIRRO: So what do we do about that?
TRUMP: We don't have press conferences. And we do --
PIRRO: You don't mean that.
TRUMP: Just don't have them, unless have them every two weeks and I do it myself. We don't have them. I think it's a good idea.
First of all, you have a level of hostility that's incredible. And it's very unfair. Sarah Huckabee is a lovely young woman. You know Sean Spicer. He is a wonderful human being. He's a nice man.
PIRRO: Is he your press secretary today and tomorrow?
TRUMP: Yes, he is.
PIRRO: Will he be tomorrow?
TRUMP: Yes, he's doing -- well, he's doing a good job but he gets beat up.
PIRRO: Will he be there tomorrow?
TRUMP: Yes. Well, he's been there from the beginning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Kaitlan, what did you think of the president's threat to end these daily press briefings?
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILY CALLER: Well, I think it's funny that he thinks the solution to the press briefings and ending them is to hand out a prewritten story to reporters, because that's exactly what they did Tuesday when they fired Comey. They handed out a pre-written statement to reporters, because they couldn't e-mail it out.
[18:55:03] And we see how that went. It was a catastrophe Tuesday night. They weren't on top of a message.
But Jeffrey is right. There is no message when you fire the FBI director suddenly 110 days into your presidency and it's because there's an investigation into your ties to Russia that is coming close.
BERG: But at the very least, they could have been consistent with their message. So, I mean, they could have maybe acted more appropriately and then they wouldn't have had to explain it away. But there have been inconsistencies in their messages that have made it that much more damaging for the White House. The vice president was on Capitol Hill this week, the day after Comey was fired, saying the president had just taken recommendation of the deputy attorney general. He was acting as the deputy attorney general recommended he act and then we come to find out from the president himself, that that wasn't the case, that he was going to fire James Comey no matter what.
AXELROD: Yes. See --
BERG: So, if you have these inconsistencies, it makes you look even worse.
COLLINS: Right. So, how can you be consistent when --
BLITZER: David, let her finish.
COLLINS: How can you be consistent when you're butting out this message and your boss, the president of the United States goes out and undermines you and throws the entire communications team under the bus.
BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, David.
AXELROD: He's sanctioned a phony cover story that didn't hold up and then he cut the legs out from his own vice president and his press people who carried that phony cover story. So, I mean, I think everybody hereby is being a little too kind. He knew what was being told to the American people about why he made the decision he made.
And then he decided to go out and on that, I think he was more honest. He finally acknowledged -- no, it wasn't about the recommendation. I just decided to fire him and the Russia thing had a lot to do with it.
BLITZER: You know, David, you have a very revealing interview coming up with the California Governor Jerry Brown on your show, "The Axe Files'. Let me play a little clip, your conversation with him on the Comey firing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: I do think that Comey's public statements about the e-mails and Hillary was a very bad -- and unprofessional, and he'd never acknowledged it. So, I think Comey has real serious problems.
AXELROD: What about the timing of it?
BROWN: No. But that's the other point that, he asked for resources to investigate the Russia-Trump connection. So, yes, that smells. No question.
AXELROD: And where do you think this all goes now? Is this going to hang over Trump?
BROWN: Well, it's hanging over Washington. That's all we can think about.
I would like to see the Senate restore some of its earlier luster, the great giants in the Senate in the past, and with truly bipartisan, Democrat and Republican, let them investigate. I think that -- maybe bring the House in, too.
But Watergate was a lot -- the investigation there was driven by the House of Representatives and by the committees. So, I think they're capable if they could get off this circus of partisanship and polarization which they seem addicted to, tragically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You share that assessment, David?
AXELROD: Well, you know, he goes back -- he was elected in the Watergate year in '74, so he has a big historical sweep. We saw Mitch McConnell take a very partisan position on the notion of an independent counsel or independent commission. So, at this juncture, while there are some outliers, yes, I think there's been a lot of partisanship in response to what should be treated as a national challenge.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?
TOOBIN: You know, I think it's not a pox on both your houses. The Republicans just don't want to investigate this. And that's what's stopping it. And, you know, it's convenient to say, you know, it's both parties, but it's not.
I mean, the Republicans do not want an independent investigation and the Republicans don't want to see this pursued and that's why it's not going to go anywhere.
BLITZER: Rebecca, before we go, take a look at this video that was shot today by Melissa McCarthy. She plays Sean Spicer on Saturday night live. She's I guess taping a skit that's going to be airing tomorrow night. A lot of people are going to want to watch it.
BERG: I likely will be watching that, Wolf. I'm a big fan of Melissa McCarthy's impression of Sean Spicer. But I think Sean Spicer has to worry about whether the president will be watching, if the president is already unhappy with his communications team, that skit might damage Sean Spicer's position even further.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, are you going to be watching?
COLLINS: Of course.
BLITZER: Everybody's going to be watching tomorrow night. We'll see what happens on "SNL".
A note, an important note to all of our viewers, be sure to tune in to 'THE AXE FILES WITH DAVID AXELROD" tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. You will learn in the process.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. And to all of the wonderful mothers out there, have a very, very happy Mother's Day. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.