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North Korea Launches Ballistic Missile; No Further Comments from White House About Alleged Tapes; At Least Eight Candidates Being Interviewed for New FBI Director; Interview with Representative Charlie Crist; Trump's Actions Trigger Concerns Overseas; Trump Behavior Draws Comparisons to Clinton and Nixon; China Welcomes World Leaders to International Summit. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired May 13, 2017 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:00] ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All to be consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile. That said they are still trying to determine exactly what kind of missile the North Koreans did launch. Again it flew 700 miles before it landed in the Sea of Japan.

Another provocative move from North Korea. It comes on the heels of nearly countless missile launches that you've seen within the last year and a half or so. There have been seven different days on which the North Koreans have tested missiles since President Donald Trump came into office but this one is timed, it seems, within just days actually of the election of the new South Korean president. President Moon Jae-in was elected earlier this week and now the North Koreans this morning in the early morning hours out here in the region testing another ballistic missile.

It will be interesting to see now how the president of South Korea will react. Certainly there isn't a lot of space for a different kind of reaction. It would seem at this point what is routine in these cases and there is a routine because this does happen so frequently is that the National Security Council is convened.

We understand that that meeting has been happening this morning and that the president is in on the meeting. This is particularly interesting, though, for people closely watching what is happening on the peninsula because we know that President Moon during his campaign had spoken about a different kind of policy towards North Korea, a policy of more engagement.

His election marks a shift in party rule here in South Korea. He is a Democratic Party president that marks a change after 10 years of Conservative Party rule. He was previously the chief of staff for the last Democratic Party president of the last -- the Democratic president of South Korea. It was, of course, that president who had the sunshine policy towards North Korea, which was a policy of more engagement with North Korea, something that President Moon has highly argued for and supported.

It stands in stark contrast to the conservative party platform which is a tougher line against North Korea. So typically what we see as a result of these National Security Council meetings is a statement of condemnation. As of yet we have not seen a statement to be released from the meeting that was going on this morning.

Japanese officials also meeting to assess the security situation in the region and already condemning this provocative action yet again from Pyongyang -- Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Alexandra Field in Seoul on the latest from the North Korean latest missile launch. We appreciate it.

We're also following the latest here in Washington where President Trump is eagerly trying to move on from the bombshell firing of FBI Director James Comey. This weekend the president officially starting his search for a replacement.

We know these eight people are being considered. All day they've been trotted in and out of the Justice Department, paraded before cameras, almost reminiscent of a reality show. And while there's an element of theater involved the decision before the president could not be more serious. The person he chooses will run the investigation into his campaign and its possible collusion with Russia.

All this is happening as those closest to Trump describe feeling dejected by the events this week. Sources say morale inside the West Wing has plummeted. They even describe the vice president as being rattled.

CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones is live now at the White House and CNN crime and justice producer Shimon Prokupecz is with me here in New York.

Athena, first to you, I understand you have brand-new information about the president's suggestion that there are tapes of his conversations with Comey.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. Well, we haven't heard the president expanding on that issue. He would not answer that question directly. I'm not certain what brand-new information you're referring to about coming from the president but so far White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the president declined to give further clarification about that tweet, that unusual tweet from the president suggesting that he may have -- that there might be tapes of conversations with James Comey.

We do know according to my colleague Jim Acosta who's reached out to the Obama -- former Obama folks who said that the former president certainly did not tape conversations in the Oval Office so if, and it's a big if, if the current president is recording conversations, he's not using a system that was set up by his predecessor. But that was an unusual comment that kind of roiled things at the end of an already difficult week.

Remember this is a week when the president's communications team because they were left out of the loop on his decision to fire Director Comey was left scrambling. They learned about that decision about an hour before it happened and was left scrambling to come up with a good way to explain the president's move to the press and more broadly to the American people. And we got a lot of muddled stories, changing storylines, we even

heard the vice president go up to Capitol Hill and say seven times that the president was acting on the recommendations of the Justice Department, specifically the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and of course we learned later by the president's own words that he was planning to fire Comey all along.

And so Vice President Pence, according to sources, was feeling rattled because remember this is not the first time the vice president has found himself speaking to reporters and delivering an inaccurate story -- Ana.

[20:05:05] CABRERA: All right. Athena Jones, thank you.

Shimon, let's talk about these eight people we now know who have been on the list of the president's potential picks for the next FBI director. What stands out to you?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: So I think Mike Rogers, while not a surprise, was a late add today. Some feel this is because the FBI Association came out today endorsing him. So the Department of Justice, as sort of a last-minute add, threw him in. We knew that they had been considering him. He had been considered for other positions in the administration.

So that seems to be sort of a late add in this kind of running reality show outside the Department of Justice, that seems to have come to an end for the day. People have gone home there. We don't anticipate any more interviews, any more arrivals today. We'll see tomorrow. There were some talk about more interviews tomorrow.

You know, a couple of the other people -- I think Judge Henry was sort of a surprise just because of his conservative views. I mean, he is a judge in the eastern district of Virginia. So that was sort of a surprise. The other folks I would say most of the people that I have talked to today are not surprised by some of the people being considered.

CABRERA: You've been having these people inside the agency of the FBI.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. And so far people in the FBI are supportive of this. There are some concerns particularly individuals like Senator John Cornyn could politicize the position. So that may be a little bit controversial if he was to be selected but, you know, Andrew McCabe, who's the current acting director, Judge Garcia, even Fran Townsend, these are not names that are surprising anyone at the FBI.

CABRERA: All right. Good to know. Thanks for having some more time with us.

PROKUPECZ: Sure. Of course.

CABRERA: Since I know you've been a busy man today.

PROKUPECZ: Anytime. CABRERA: We appreciate it, Shimon. And our thanks to Athena as well.

I want to talk more about this with Florida Congressman Charlie Crist, former Republican governor, and state attorney general who joined the Democratic Party in 2012 from the state of Florida.

Congressman, I want to take -- get your take on these eight candidates for FBI director. Who stands out positively or negatively to you as we put them all up on the screen?

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D), FLORIDA: Well, I don't want to pass judgment on any of them at this time. I think what we need to look for are the kind of character traits that you would want in a director for the FBI. And I think what you're looking for, number one, is somebody who has great integrity. That's got to be the most important trait of whoever is chosen as the next director.

I also think that it's obvious they need to have a significant law enforcement background. Obviously being an attorney is important. There could be a former judge or a federal prosecutor at the United States district level, for example. But I think that what's really important here is to also understand that with the Comey situation, you actually had a situation where the investigated decided to fire the investigator.

Now what we're talking about with these eight or others if it's expanded is you have the investigated, the president, selecting the person who will be investigating him. And so you have to wonder about how objective can that whole scenario be which I think begs for the point that we ought to have a special prosecutor for this situation to look into the Russian connection, if you will, and to find out exactly what was going on if things were going on, and they look like they were, between the administration -- rather, its campaign, and the Russian government. You know, this is a disturbing scenario. We are talking about a foreign --

CABRERA: So are you saying -- are you saying that no FBI pick will get the job done, no FBI director? To you, it's like you put that aside altogether? It doesn't matter who they pick, you don't think they can be trusted in order to lead an investigation into which there would not be questions about influence by the current administration?

CRIST: I would not paint that broad a brush, no, Ana. I don't think that's a fair statement to say. I think that somebody could be selected who would be fair-minded, who does have integrity, who has a good law enforcement background. That is possible.

All I'm saying is when you have the investigated picking the investigator, it's a little unusual. Being kind, frankly. And that's why I think a special prosecutor is important here. I think that you have to have an independent inquiry. You have to have independence if you're going to be able to have confidence in it. He can pick somebody that's a perfectly fine person, has great integrity and all the rest, but the cloud over it when it's such an, you know, inside baseball selection process, if you will, as I said, where the investigated picks the investigator himself. That's highly unusual to say the least.

Listen, as a former attorney general of the third largest state in the country, Florida, I understand investigations and I understand fundamental fairness and you have to have complete integrity and complete confidence in those people that are conducting an investigation especially at this level where you're talking about the presidency of the United States and protecting our system of electing the president.

CABRERA: OK.

[20:10:07] CRIST: Our democracy is at stake with something like that.

CABRERA: OK. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia after failing to disclose his two pre-election meetings with the Russian ambassador during the Senate confirmation hearings, of course.

Now, Congressman, did Sessions violate his recusal when he wrote this letter this past week urging the president to fire Comey?

CRIST: It certainly looks like it. I mean, you know, here -- the person being fired is the investigator. And the attorney general said he was going to stay out of this process. And yet then he signs this letter that recommends the firing of the investigator. So does it violate being involved in it? Well, of course it does. I mean, common sense would tell you that.

CABRERA: Does it make sense that he's involved in the selection process for Comey's replacement?

CRIST: I think it does not make sense. You're talking about somebody who arguably is going to, we hope, continue to investigate, and I think along with we ought to have a special prosecutor do that. But the notion that the AG is involved in selecting when he said he wasn't going to be involved, it defies what he said.

(CROSSTALK)

CRIST: I don't know any other way to look at it.

CABRERA: Why haven't they been able to convince their Republican colleagues about this special prosecutor idea?

CRIST: Say that again, please?

CABRERA: When you and other Democrats have talked about a special prosecutor being the answer to removing questions regarding how this investigation proceeds, why don't you think your Republican colleagues are onboard with that?

CRIST: Well, I think they're concerned about, you know, politics. I mean, let's be candid about this.

CABRERA: Would it slow down the investigation? CRIST: I don't know if it would or not. I think what we need to

focus on is not speed but the accuracy of the investigation, the integrity of the investigation, the competence of the investigation.

This is not a race to the finish line. This is a race to have justice done. And to make sure that we have a competent, effective investigation, and I would recommend by a special prosecutor who, in fact, would be independent. And I think that's important. I think that's what the American people deserve. They need to be able to have confidence in how this is done, they need to be able to have confidence in our elective system. They need to be able to have confidence in our democracy and how we elect the president of the United States of America.

That is somewhat in question now to say the least. And it occurs to me that if we're going to be able to have confidence in that process it has to be independent. It has to be transparent. It has to be fundamentally fair. Those are the tenets that you have to stick to whenever you're going to have an investigation that people can have confidence in and can trust. It's about trust.

CABRERA: A lot of people -- a lot of people lost confidence in Comey during the election. Remember President Obama hired Comey after everything that happened, though, during the election that infuriated Democrats and Republicans as well specifically Comey's very public role in the Hillary Clinton investigation. Should President Obama have fired Comey before he left the White House?

CRIST: Well, I don't know. I don't want to pass judgment because, you know, when you're president of the United States you have access to information, Ana, that you and I don't have. And so it's kind of difficult to be a Monday morning quarterback in dealing with a situation like that.

I will tell you this, I have great confidence and great respect in the integrity and the judgment of President Obama. I don't know if I've met a person that has that level of integrity in public service besides him. He's an extraordinary man. So I think he -- I think I'm sure he did the right thing and I have confidence in him.

CABRERA: All right. Congressman Charlie Crist, our thanks for coming on tonight. We appreciate it.

CRIST: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Coming up, I sat down with former senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod, to ask his advice for the Trump White House in the wake of Comey's firing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If I were Sean Spicer I would have -- I know he's in the Naval reserves. I would have put in for one of those cruisers heading to North Korea right around now, probably the waters would be less choppy than the ones that he faces in the White House. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: His reaction to the week that was, ahead. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:18:21] CABRERA: 394 fallen law enforcement officers are being remembered in the nation's capital tonight. I want to take you to some live pictures right now from the 29th Annual Candlelight Vigil which just got under way.

We understand Attorney Generals Jeff Sessions and Acting Director Russell Washington are there. This event usually draws about 30,000 people. And they're reading the names of some of those who have fallen.

The names being added to the Walls of the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial this year include 143 people who made the ultimate sacrifice during 2016. Another 251 officers whose sacrificed had not been previously documented will be added. The new names will now bring the total number of officers honored on this memorial to 21,183.

Before attending this memorial, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spent his day interviewing candidates to replace fired FBI director James Comey. We know at least these eight people are being considered. A White House official says the attorney general will make his top picks and the finalists will go on to meet with President Trump.

Let's talk with our panel. With me CNN political commentator and assistant editor at the "Washington Post" David Swerdlick, and Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun-Times" Lynn Sweet.

David, out of those candidates any that you think would make the obvious choice to confirm?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think it's a logical list. We talked in the last hour. I'm a little baffled by Senator Cornyn, but other than that, I think it's a very logical list. But what's more important now in my mind is that a message has been sent by the president and the administration that the president may, as he indicated to Lester Holt the other night, make a decision on the performance of an FBI director based on how he feels a particular investigation is going, in this case the Russia investigation.

[20:20:17] That was, I think, strongly implied. And so I think a thumb is on the scale in this situation. You just had Congressman Crist on talking about the fact that the investigated will be appointing the investigator. There's nothing -- you know, there's nothing -- it's all out in the open and yet I think it will cause some people to lose confidence.

CABRERA: And that being said, Lynn, is there a way to get around having a special prosecutor?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, the way to get around is to -- there is no way to get around it if you want an easy Senate confirmation, let me put it that way. If you want to not have a special prosecutor I don't see what the Trump administration could put on the table except maybe find a person in America who will be somebody who the Trump administration may have to fear.

People have their own reputations to worry about here, Ana. At this point why would you give that up just to take disappointment of the FBI where you may end up being fired anyway? You know, I know it's a 10-year appointment. That did Comey no good at all. So you still essentially could be fired. Since your reputation is going to be at issue, the Trump administration one might think has boxed themselves in now because who would take the job to ruin their reputation by ending this investigation or doing just a phony or less than true investigation or they would suggest get me an independent inquiry so I could say we put that in over there. I'll do this. They'll do that.

CABRERA: I mean, ultimately we're going to need an FBI director, right?

SWEET: Yes.

CABRERA: I mean, that position is so important for the U.S.

David, what do you think about how this is all playing out so publicly, this parade of candidates in front of the media, coming and going, this sense of mystery, who is it going to be? I mean, we know that the president was criticized by the rank and file inside the FBI for how he dismissed Comey in a letter. How do you think they feel about the way the process is now taking place for the next director of the FBI, almost like it's a reality show?

SWERDLICK: Yes, Ana, you've got a lot of people at the FBI and in law enforcement and at the Department of Justice who take their jobs very seriously, career people, appointees, people who have earnestly, you know, plugged away at law enforcement and the administration of justice for years and years, and now it's being treated, at least in the case of what we're seeing today as sort of this "Apprentice" style, you know, show, with at the end a big reveal.

President Trump is all about the big reveal but I don't think it's going to help him turn the tables on what has been a bad week of optics and, you know, a bad storyline for his administration. I think Lynn made a really good point a minute ago that if you're one of these people being considered you really have to think hard about what position you're going to be in and know yourself and know how you're going to be tested.

Look at the case of Rod Rosenstein. By all accounts an honest, earnest and completely aboveboard guy, the highest integrity. But in my view he got played by the White House when he did that memo as sort of this fig leaf for the firing of Director Comey and now, you know, at some point we'll hear from him. I think he's got to sort of reprove himself to the public.

CABRERA: And sources tell CNN he was not happy about how that unfolded. SWERDLICK: Right.

CABRERA: Lynn, we are also learning that after this the West Wing feels dejected. We're told one aide asked the president during a meeting, quote, "Do you think we're liars? What impact could an atmosphere like that have moving forward?

SWEET: Well, it is not productive. Even if we take aside the personal morale challenges that are being part of this turmoil at work it shows that there's no plan, no strategy, no concept of how to even decently fire an FBI director or let someone resign.

Just think for a moment how at peril the president -- President Trump put himself having not given notice to Director Comey that he was being fired. He could have just walked out of this Los Angeles event he was at, and given a press conference. You usually want to manage your risk much better than that. Lucky for the Trump White House that he does very kindly and professionally gotten a plane and came back to Washington.

Usually you don't want to take that risk. So I would think that people inside the White House who are working there, a lot of them know better, how do you work and make plans when the boss doesn't want to work that way?

[20:25:02] This is why this unfolding story isn't just of a White House in chaos, it's about a management style like we've never seen. So maybe the show isn't "The Apprentice." Maybe it's "Survivor."

CABRERA: All right. Lynn Sweet, David Swerdlick, thank you both.

SWEET: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, is all this turbulence inside the White House happening in a bubble or is the world watching? You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: President Trump is preparing for his first trip abroad since taking office, and he'll carry with him a message of unity, at least that's according to his National Security adviser H.R. McMaster. But the political fallout over the firing of James Comey as FBI director has prompted concerns from some political leaders abroad.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[20:30:06] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice- over): Trump, Comey, and that Russia meeting, it's enough to worry America's closest allies.

JEREMY CORBYN, LABOUR PARTY LEADER: Britain deserves better than simply outsourcing our country's security and prosperity to the whims of the Trump White House. ROBERTSON: Britain's election campaign heating up. Trump, an issue,

the U.K.'s flailing opposition leader looking to lay hits on the PM bringing up that hand holding again.

CORBYN: A Labour government will want a strong and friendly relationship with the United States, but we will not be afraid to speak our mind.

ROBERTSON: Even the Philippines' outspoken leader shaken at the prospect of Trump in the driving seat of North Korea.

RODRIGO DUTERTE, PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT: The first victim would be Asia and Southeast, the whole of the ASEAN countries and the rest. Because if those are really nuclear warheads, then it means the end of the world. Two nations are playing with their dangerous toys.

ROBERTSON: At least one American diplomat at a loss tweeting this, "Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news at home knowing I will spend the rest of the day explaining our democracy and institutions."

In London those worries resonate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump has the idea of -- he has ability to sack and hire as he pleases, which is a real shame because he plays games with democracy as it is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got quite a strange impression of him over here I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sort of gives Trump of a bit dictator feel.

ROBERTSON: Mostly, though, the world is busy getting on with its own stuff like elections. In France relieved the Trump-style candidate lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will work not have a French Donald Trump.

ROBERTSON: More than 100 days of this now the world is watching, wary of what comes next.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Dan Rather made his name as a reporter after the assassination of President Kennedy. Even after reporting on that tragedy Rather says he's never seen a week like the one we just had. Why he says that and why he is blasting President Trump. That's ahead.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:36:39] CABRERA: President Donald Trump has re-joined Bill Clinton as one of only two presidents now to ever fire an FBI director. But Trump's action overall this week are actually drawing more comparisons to a different president, Richard Nixon. And who better to discuss this, all the historical comparisons, than a presidential historian?

That's why we have Douglas Brinkley joining us now.

So, Douglas, President Trump has gotten a lot of political blowback after this firing. In fact, you look at this new Gallup poll that just came out and the majority or more Americans disapprove of this firing than approve it. Do we have the poll, guys? I just want to show everybody. It's 46 percent who oppose compared to 39 percent who approve. Now in contrast more Americans approved than disapproved of President Clinton's firing of the FBI Director Sessions at that time.

Why do you think they're different?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: They're very different. William Sessions in 1993 had ethical lapses meaning Bill Clinton -- and Bill Clinton called him twice the day he was fired. Donald Trump didn't even --

CABRERA: Ahead of time.

BRINKLEY: Ahead of time. Didn't even have the courtesy of telling Comey. But he had done some ethical lapses, travel, having his wife get little perks, you know, that kind of thing. So nobody really complained that Bill Clinton did that. We have to remember --

CABRERA: Because it was a crime essentially.

BRINKLEY: A crime. Yes. And it was sort of -- you know, but it was a crime they had to get rid of him. So Bill Clinton did the right thing. In Comey's case he's leaving as a Boy Scout. I mean, he hasn't done anything ethically wrong. He was getting canned because apparently Donald Trump didn't think he was loyal enough and perhaps was going to gin up this Russia-gate investigation even more.

CABRERA: And so now there are these comparisons to Nixon. And the president did in fact no favors when he tweeted this earlier also this week. He says, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press." That of course immediately sparked comparisons to a president that nobody would want to be compared to. Are those comparisons or parallels fair?

BRINKLEY: I think they're very fair and, in fact, I would argue that Donald Trump likes and admires Richard Nixon. I say that because I talked to him about it.

CABRERA: Really?

BRINKLEY: Yes. I was down at Mar-a-Lago and I asked him about different presidents that he knew at one point and I asked him about Nixon, and he told me a story that he was on the Phil Donahue TV show and Pat Nixon saw him on it and told Richard Nixon that young man -- this is in like the early '80s. That man is going to be president some day. He's so good on TV.

CABRERA: Nixon said that about Trump?

BRINKLEY: Yes, he did. And Nixon -- and Nixon wrote a letter to Donald Trump which President Trump told me he still has. And after that, Richard Nixon was now living in New Jersey. And Donald Trump was a hot real estate guy in New York and they started going out and had dinners together.

CABRERA: How interesting.

BRINKLEY: Yes.

CABRERA: Do they have similar personalities because I've heard that mentioned here with our other historian Tim Naftali.

BRINKLEY: Well, look, both were anti-elite. They could not stand the establishment. They both carried a chip on their shoulders about these, you know, Ivy League guys. Even -- you look for many times Donald Trump had said, I went to Wharton. I'm one too but he was never really accepted in New York society, Donald Trump. He was seen as a boroughs guy, not in with the establishment. So that's a big, big similarity they have. The difference is Donald Trump is -- Nixon was politically incorrect on tapes.

[20:40:08] But in the public he acted like almost stiff and didn't want any statement. Donald Trump has taken political correctness and turned it upside down. He loves being politically incorrect.

CABRERA: He does take pride in saying things.

BRINKLEY: Pride in it. Tweets are about political incorrectness and he's read that pulse in America that people were tired of the political correctness.

CABRERA: I want to read you what Dan Rather wrote on his Facebook post and we'll put this up as well. He writes, "I have lived through nearly 4500 weeks in my life and I've never seen a week like the one we just had. I have seen weeks of far greater darkness, of war and death and economic despair. I've seen weeks of more confusion and uncertainty. But I've never seen a week where a president has behaved with such a cavalier disregard for the norms and institutions of our democracy."

Do you agree with Rather's assessment?

BRINKLEY: I think it's -- there's a great argument to make that. I mean, we can say there were times when we did secret wars that Nixon's bombing Cambodia and Laos and killing people. It's more of a long- term historical stain on Nixon's record than Donald Trump's firing of Comey perhaps. But it's just the behavior of Donald Trump, he seems to dislike the EPA and the FBI and the State Department. He has no respect for career bureaucrats. Some of the finest people I know are federal employees, people that work in Washington and Virginia, and try to keep our country going, and he likes to just stick a knife and twist all these people all the time.

And I think it comes from Trump has no historical sense. He doesn't really understand the "Federalist Papers' or the "Bill of Rights" or the civil war or Andrew Jackson.

CABRERA: Should people be worried about our democracy as a result?

BRINKLEY: I am and I think he's a product of our obsession with reality TV, television, the dumbing down of America, reading news in McNuggets. He's figured out that people have a casino mentality, bells ringing, poll wood thing, I'm going to get rich quick. A lot of razzmatazz but government is careful work. And words matter tremendously. And Donald Trump is reckless I think with language and it creates a lot of problems for him. But it doesn't hurt him with his base so we're still in that Nixon cultural war of the 1960s and '70s, you know, where there's right-left.

CABRERA: Right.

BRINKLEY: The divide is still there.

CABRERA: And how history always comes back around.

Douglas Brinkley, thank you.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: Good to have you on.

A summit taking place in China this weekend unlike any other. Beijing is playing host to some of the world's most powerful and notorious leaders. But all that could be upstaged by China's unruly next-door neighbor. We'll discuss next live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[20:47:03] CABRERA: Breaking news out of Washington tonight. President Trump has now been briefed on North Korea's missile launch today. A senior White House official confirms National Security adviser H.R. McMaster briefed the president on the phone.

The missile launch is causing tensions to rise in the Asia-Pacific region as Chinese President Xi Jinping is welcoming world leaders to Beijing for his Bell and Broad forum -- Belt and Road Forum, I should say, of international cooperation. Some 28 leaders from Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America are scheduled to attend this two-day summit.

International correspondent David McKenzie is joining me now from the summit in Beijing.

David, do you think North Korea's latest missile launch will be discussed now at the summit?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it might be discussed privately and it's certainly a slap in the face, Ana, to Chinese President Xi Jinping right on the day of his coming out party, as it were, for this huge trade initiative and right when China was trying to push North Korea not to go ahead with its missile program. So very embarrassing for the Chinese leader. He will try to steer that conversation away from the missile test and towards their big trade initiative.

CABRERA: Some of the leaders attending the summit are known for their strongman tactics in their home countries. We have President Putin, Duterte, Erdogan. What does China hope to accomplish by gathering these controversial world leaders?

MCKENZIE: Well, they come here, frankly, Ana, because Money talks and China has about a trillion dollars that it's planning to push towards this initiative where it hopes to wrap the world with a trade and infrastructure initiative. China is really taking a leadership position when it comes to global commerce and this plan the Chinese say will include a great deal of countries including of those countries you mentioned, those controversial leaders who are here in Beijing today.

And now there's still much work to be done to make this plan into a reality but it is really counter to the America first kind of proposals you're seeing from President Donald Trump. China appears, according to economists, to be taking that gap and trying to push its agenda on world trade -- Ana.

CABRERA: Interesting, David McKenzie, thank you for the update and monitoring that for us.

Coming up, a former insider at the Obama White House says the Comey firing was a brazen act. David Axelrod weighs in on the firing and the aftermath, next.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[20:53:46] CABRERA: New Yorkers have seen a lot of strange things here on the streets of the big apple, but White House press secretary Sean Spicer driving down the streets of midtown Manhattan with his podium yesterday? Too good to be true? Indeed.

Take a closer look, this is actually "Saturday Night Live" taping a segment right in front of CNN's New York offices. Sean Spicer was actually comedian actress Melissa McCarthy and who can forget how she's portrayed the press secretary previously.

She's going to be hosting "Saturday Night Live" tonight. You can bet we're going to see a lot of Spicy.

CNN senior political commentator, former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod, is back on CNN tonight with his latest episode of the "AXE FILES." And I had a chance to talk with him earlier about the latest developments in the firing of FBI director James Comey.

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CABRERA: My colleague Jake Tapper reports that a source close to Comey says President Trump asked Comey for a loyalty pledge at a private dinner back in January, and Comey was apparently taken aback, refused to give him that pledge. The White House denies that this conversation took place.

What's your reaction to the president allegedly requesting loyalty from the director of the FBI?

AXELROD: Well, one question is, is he going to ask the next director for a pledge of loyalty and is that going to be a prerequisite for the hiring of the new FBI director?

[20:55:08] The FBI director has to be independent enough to follow these cases wherever they lead, even if they lead to the doorstep of the Oval Office. And if by loyalty the president meant exemption from that kind of scrutiny, that's obviously -- that's more than disturbing. It could be illegal. And I'm sure that -- I can't believe I should say that the White House counsel would have advised him to engage in that conversation with Director Comey, but it just -- it goes back to that point that Donald Trump just doesn't seem to have an appreciation for the role of these institutions in our democracy and in our government, system of government, and he's -- you know, he's expressed periodically admiration for autocrats around the world, Erdogan and Duterte in the Philippines, obviously Putin.

CABRERA: Even Putin. Right.

AXELROD: And sometimes you wonder whether -- sometimes you wonder whether he admires the simplicity of a system where the head man gets to call all the shots and there's no checks and balances or rule of law. But there is here and he is subject to that and the sooner he recognizes that, the better.

CABRERA: Let me ask you about this tweet from President Trump on Friday when he writes, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

David, given your unique position having been in administration, is it so unthinkable that their conversation could have been record?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, there are laws proscribing such taping. Secondly, I would suspect it was the president more than -- more than Mr. Comey who would have concerns about what was said. He already acknowledged that he asked a question that he probably shouldn't have asked. So my guess is that this was just a bluff on the part of the president. If it wasn't, I expect the Congress is going to request to hear these tapes.

CABRERA: Yes. I --

AXELROD: But it was a peculiar thing.

CABRERA: And don't we all want to hear these tapes to find out what the truth is? AXELROD: Yes.

CABRERA: I want to ask you about the possibility, though, further because there is kind of an interesting report that we're digging into, journalist Mark Bowden in his book that he wrote, he had an interesting passage in which he writes, "As I stood up to say good-bye to the president," he's talking about a conversation he had with president Obama in the Oval Office. He says, "I looked down and my tape recorder had died. That thing had always worked like a charm but there it was just as dead as a nut on a table. So I said my goodbyes and as I was walking out of the Oval Office with Ben Rhodes, I said, Ben, you're not going to believe this but my recorder died in the middle of that somewhere. And he says, ah, don't worry about it, we record everything in here, we'll get you a transcript before you leave." And he did.

AXELROD: Yes. Well -- yes, I'm sure that's right because if a journalist came in and had an interview with a president or an author came in and had an interview with a president, those would routinely be recorded.

CABRERA: OK.

AXELROD: That is not the same as surreptitious recording of other government officials in conversation with the president.

CABRERA: Would you be surprised to hear that James Comey told Trump he wasn't under investigation?

AXELROD: Yes. I'd be really surprised by that because I'm sure Director Comey doesn't know where the investigation will lead and he wouldn't until the investigation was closed. So I would be shocked.

Look, Jim Comey mishandled the -- the public comments around the Clinton e-mail case. And I think there's broad agreement on that. He may not agree, but many people agree on that. But I think most people around the FBI, around Justice had worked with him, watched him, people of both parties would agree that he's someone who took -- who takes the law seriously, who takes the rules of the road seriously. That would be a highly improper thing for him to do and it would be surprising for -- to hear him say that.

And, you know, he'll -- at some point I expect that he will speak on this, associates of his have already knocked that story down. And the president isn't exactly -- he doesn't exactly have flowing funds in the credibility bank right now to make those kind of allegations.

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CABRERA: "THE AXE FILES" returns next with an exclusive interview with California Governor Jerry Brown. He'll take you inside the state's fight against President Trump.

I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. So great to have you with us. The "AXE FILES" starts now."