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White House: North Korea Is A "Flagrant Menace"; Trump: "No Right Time" To Fire James Comey; Former Intel Director: U.S. Institutions "Under Assault" By Trump; Graham: Time For An FBI Agent To Lead The FBI; Schumer: Inspector General Should Investigate Sessions; Turkish Pres. Erdogan To Visit W.H. This Week; Trump Begins First Official Overseas Trip This Week. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired May 14, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The White House is issuing a sharp response and intensifying calls for stronger sanctions with many of the administration's resources are focused on the crucial top vacancy at the FBI. We have new details on at least eight candidates being interviewed this weekend.

And the president still standing by his decision to fire James Comey and downplaying claims that his actions were an abuse of power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, there's no right time. Let's say I did it on January 20th, the opening, right, then that would have been the big story as opposed to the inauguration and I was thinking about it then. I was thinking about it during this period of time. There's really no right time to do it. But -- I mean, I'm OK with it. As you know, I have a decision to make and I have to make the decision. He agrees that I have the absolute right to do it. Everybody agrees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We begin with a stern warning from the former director of national intelligence who says U.S. institutions are under assault because of President Trump's decision to fire the FBI director.

James Clapper made the stunning remarks during an interview, indebt interview on CNN's "State of the Union" this morning. And he discussed everything from the allegations of collusion between Russia and Trump aides to the possibility the president secretly recorded phone calls with the fired FBI director.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Trump right that Clapper has closed the book on this question? Well, we'll talk to the man himself, former Director of National Intelligence under the President Obama administration, James Clapper. Thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks, Jake, for having me.

TAPPER: So, first of all, the president says you said there was no collusion. Is that a fair depiction?

CLAPPER: Well, what I first need to explain, Jake, is the way in which I treated counter intelligence investigations during the six and a half years that I was DNI. I deferred to the FBI director both Director Mueller and then Director Comey as to whether, when, and what to tell me about any counter intelligence investigations that they might have under way. So, it was kind of standard practice.

So my statement was premised on, first, that the context of our intelligence community assessment on Russian interference with the election. We did not -- there was no reporting in that intelligence community assessment about political collusion. We did not -- I did not have any evidence. I did not know about the investigation.

TAPPER: You didn't even know that the FBI was conducting an investigation?

CLAPPER: I did not. And even more important, I did not know the content or the status of that investigation. And there's all kinds of reasons why that's so, but this -- these are sensitive. We try to keep them as compartment as possible and importantly, these invariably involved U.S. persons. And so we try to be very differential to that. So my statements should not be considered exculpatory to use a legal term.

TAPPER: So the president's obviously trying to use them. Let's go back to the original statement that you made on "Meet the Press" in March that the president is referring to that Lindsey Graham asked you about. Let's roll that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report and I say our, that's NSA, FBI, and CIA with my office, the director of national intelligence, that had anything that -- that we had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So you mentioned the FBI there, but at that point it was March 5th. You did not even know that there was an FBI investigation until Comey testified a few days later?

CLAPPER: I did not know -- that's right. And that was my first official knowledge of such investigation, particularly as it addressed potential political collusions. So the bottom line is I don't know if there was collusion, political collusion. And I don't know of any evidence to it. So I can't refute it and I can't confirm it.

TAPPER: When you say official knowledge, what does that mean? CLAPPER: Well, I took director Comey's announcement that he made at the House Permanent Select Committee for intelligence hearing on I think the 20th of March. I treated that as an announcement.

TAPPER: Right. That's not official knowledge because you weren't director of national intelligence anymore.

CLAPPER: Well, I treated what he said as official.

TAPPER: OK. Let's take a wider view of this for one second and then I want to get back to some of these more detailed questions. This week with the president firing the FBI director while this investigation is going on, and then saying that he was thinking about the Russia probe when he was making the decision. Have we crossed a line here?

CLAPPER: Well, I will just say that the developments of the past week are very bothersome, very disturbing to me. I think in many ways our institutions are under assault both externally and that's the big news here is the Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.

[15:05:08] TAPPER: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Because he's firing the checks and balances?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, the founding fathers in their genius created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances and I feel as though that's under assault and is eroding.

TAPPER: Are you surprised at how quiet Republicans on Capitol Hill have been?

CLAPPER: Well, I can't say. I think each senator or congressman has got to -- I hope will think in terms of their own conscience and I can't characterize it as being surprised. I just -- I hope they'll speak up.

TAPPER: General, on Friday you said that Director Comey told you he was uncomfortable about going to this private dinner that he went to with the president shortly after the inauguration. Did he talk to you at all about the content of their conversation? Now, the reason I ask is because a source close to Comey told me about the dinner, about President Trump asking Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty and Comey said no.

CLAPPER: No. My only knowledge of this was before the dinner. I was at the Hoover building on the 27th of January for another event and I spoke briefly with Director Comey.

He mentioned to me the invitation he had from the president for dinner and that he was -- my characterization, uneasy with it, both from the standpoint of the optic of compromising his independence and the independence of the FBI. But I don't know -- he's not debriefed me or spoken to me about what went on during the dinner.

TAPPER: Have you talked to him during this week?

CLAPPER: I have not spoken with him. I've exchanged e-mails with him.

TAPPER: And did he say anything that we should know?

CLAPPER: No. We didn't -- I mean, if he had, I probably wouldn't talk about it anyway.

TAPPER: OK. You are -- I imagine as an intelligence professional, even though you're retired, in touch with people in the intelligence community without getting into names or the like. What's been the impact in the intelligence community of the firing of James Comey?

CLAPPER: Well, I think at large there is concern about it. I do know that it would come as a great shock to -- it was very disturbing to FBI employees. I spoke to one last night at dinner that he was quite upset about it. And I think that reflects the feeling -- the widespread feeling in the FBI.

I'm fairly familiar with the bureau. I've worked with it for a long time and I have a relationship with the bureau through our domestic DNI reps and through the overseas legal attaches and I'm pretty very familiar with the bureau and its people. It's a national treasure and it's very disturbing to me that the negative morale impact this event has had.

I mean, people had issues I'm sure with Director Comey's -- some of his decisions. That's fine. People took issue with decisions I made. That's part of the deal. But I think as far as his stature as a leader and his integrity, people are very upset about the way he was treated.

TAPPER: Back in March, Clint Watts of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at G.W. testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election, which you say is the most important thing for us to focus on. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON WATTS, CENTER FOR CYBER AND HOMELAND SECURITY: Follow the trail of dead Russians. There's been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation who have assets in banks all over the world. They are dropping dead even in western countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Follow the trail of dead Russians. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

CLAPPER: Well, this obviously has been a curious pattern. We have had difficulty, though, in actually generating an evidentiary trail that could equate convincingly and compellingly in a court of law, a direct connection between certain figures that have been eliminated who apparently ran afoul of Putin. So it is -- it's an interesting pattern. I'll put it that way.

TAPPER: But nothing conclusive.

CLAPPER: No.

TAPPER: President Trump raised the prospect this week of secret White House recordings. When asked about it, Sean Spicer refused to comment. He was asked several times. Would the U.S. intelligence community be aware of any such recordings or any devices?

CLAPPER: I can't say. I would hope so, certainly from a security standpoint and nothing else.

[15:10:05] I don't believe there was one of that in the administration I served in. I certainly can't comment on this one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Straight ahead, Clapper answers this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A lot of Americans out there who are scared this week, Democrats, Republicans, independents, because of the behavior by the president. Are you among them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The answer, up next. Our panel weighs in when the "Newsroom" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Before the break, we heard from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper who said that when the president fired FBI Director James Comey it signaled the erosion of this government's checks and balances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There are a lot of Americans out there who are scared this week, Democrats, Republicans, independents, because of the behavior by the president. Are you among them?

[15:15:02] CLAPPER: I'm concerned, I will say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss this with CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer, a historian and professor and Princeton University. Also with us, former Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Norman Eisen, a CNN Contributor and former White House Ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama, and CNN's Global Affairs Analyst David Rohde. All right, good to see all of you, gentlemen.

All right, so, Julian, let me begin with you because you wrote in CNN.com that the president has become accustomed to doing what he wants because he can get away with it. You cited the 2016 in example at a rally where he said, "If I shoot anybody, then I still wouldn't lose any votes." So if you agree with Clapper now on this erosion of checks and balances, will the president find that this might be different? That he may get checked?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what we're looking to see is if this changes the perception of Republicans in Congress about what's tolerable and what's not. This president has depended on solid Republican support in the Senate and the House as a fire wall against almost anything that he's done. And so the question this Sunday is by firing Comey did he raise the kinds of fears that even partisanship will not be able to hold down anymore?

WHITFIELD: And, David, in many circles, is it being considered an abuse of power by the president the reason and the method in which he fired Comey?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it raises concern. And, you know, to be fair to the president, there is no proof, you know, at this point of collusion. But he seems to be, you know, so incapable of enduring scrutiny or criticism. You know, there's been all these accounts, you know, all week about him being enraged that the Russian investigation continues, that he sort of over reacting.

Again, if he's completely innocent, it's much better for him politically to just let this play out, but by firing Comey it raises all the suspicions. And I agree with Julian. The key player here is Republicans on the Hill and President Trump is putting them in a very awkward position.

WHITFIELD: And, Ambassador Eisen, you know, James Comey says the president asked for his loyalty at a private dinner after inauguration. Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. says there's nothing wrong with that. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: When you take the job, you automatically assume that you work for the president and you are part of the team and loyalty is a big thing. It's -- you know, as a former governor, I can tell you loyalty and trust is everything when you're a CEO. And so I can totally understand why he's looking for loyalty and trust because --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Loyalty to the constitution first, correct?

HALEY: Of course. I mean, loyalty -- you know, look, first we serve the people. I've always looked at that. You serve the people first. But having said that, you never forget who's in charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: And so Ambassador Eisen, you've said that, you know, demanding loyalty smack the (ph) obstruction, not necessarily we're talking about loyalty to country, but loyalty in terms of the commitment of that investigation in that White House. And you've also said that it's worse than actually breaking the law. What do you mean and what's your response to what Haley had to say?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Fred, thanks for having me. Happy mother's day. I have to disagree with Ambassador Haley in that context where the president was on notice when he had this loyalty demand dinner with Director Comey. He was on notice that Mr. Flynn had been dishonest, that the investigation was accelerating.

And in that context, one inference you can make is when he says loyalty, he's telling the director, "I don't want this investigation to come at me." And that's not right. That's not how we -- this is not the usual job, FBI director, under our longstanding American practices. The FBI director and law enforcement in general, needs to operate with independence.

So, what's worse than merely violating the law and there may have been more evidence is coming in. There may have been obstruction of justice here. We need to take a hard look at that.

The president is transgressing the values, the standards and the norms that underline the functioning of our democracy. That's very dangerous. That's what keeps the democracy alive.

WHITFIELD: And, Julian, this new NBC News poll saying just 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump firing James Comey. Lindsey Graham, you know, says the next director needs to be an FBI agent. So, does this White House demonstrate that it wants that kind of neutrality or even intelligence culture in the next director?

ZELIZER: Well, I think they have to if they want to survive the scrutiny, not only of the Democrats, but again, the Republicans. I think if he picks someone who's openly political, who openly has loyalty to the president rather than to the constitution and the law, I think you will see many cracks in that Republican building start to form.

So I think it's very important that he has someone who has support from both parties, but also from people in the FBI who see a legitimate leader, not a partisan leader taking over.

[21:20:11] WHITFIELD: And, David, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was weighing in on Comey's firing this morning in this matter. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That the firings of FBI Director Comey shake your concern about whether how much independence the president will give you?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Not at all, Chuck. I have a great relationship with the president. I understand what his objectives are. When I'm not clear with what his objectives are, we talk about it. But I am devoted to helping the president achieve his objectives, helping him be successful, and I understand I have to earn his confidence every day with how I go about those affairs and how I go about conducting the State Department's activities consistent with the direction he wants to take the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, David, he's saying, you know, State Department, he is not shaking. You heard from Clapper earlier who said he did talk to people within the FBI who are a bit rattled. Do you suppose that throughout the administration or at least within the White House that people are shaken to the core?

ROHDE: Sure. It's a signal that, you know, it's all about loyalty to President Trump. And, you know, with all respect -- all due respect to Ambassador Haley, this -- you know, we are a nation of laws. No one is above the law.

Everyone knows that, you know, the police chief in a city should investigate the mayor if the mayor is doing something illegal. That, you know, state troopers can investigate the governor or the sheriff can investigate a county commissioner. This is law enforcement. No one is immune to the law.

So -- and I know, you know, if they can continue making that argument, you know, the poll seems to show that many people aren't accepting it.

WHITFIELD: Ambassador Eisen, you co-wrote an op-ed for "USA Today" that reads, "It was a challenge to the very premise of our system of checks and balances precisely because it violated no mere letter of the law, but its essential spirit. No one, not even a president is above the law."

So you say this could be cause for impeachment. We heard from American University Professor Allan Lichtman earlier who said all the components are there. It just means the House has to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings. Do you believe we are at that juncture, potentially?

EISEN: No, we're not there yet. Here's what we need to do. We need to look at whether -- I didn't even think it was obstruction until I heard about the demand for loyalty. First, we need to look at whether the law was violated here and in other regards. The president is accepting, for example, foreign government cash and benefits. That's prohibited by the constitution. That's another part of this.

Here you have an apparent demand for loyalty. In other words, perhaps don't let the investigation touch me. Then an implicit threat if you're not loyal you'll be fired. Then you have the firing. That starts to smack of obstruction. Then you have a warning about tapes on Twitter. That sounds like witness intimidation, both of those are legal violations, so all this stuff starts to add up.

And what I'm saying is we need to have an independent look at it. It's got to be looked at in Congress. I think a 9/11 style commission is the way to go. We need a special counsel. DOJ at this point cannot be trusted to lead the investigation. And let's look at whether there was obstruction, whether there have been other legal violations. And then we'll make an assessment of where we go with that.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks to all of you, former Ambassador Norman Eisen, David Rohde, Julian Zelizer. Good to see you gentlemen.

ROHDE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, straight ahead, Senator Schumer says Senator Jeff Sessions should not be attorney general and is in violation in his recusal to interview candidates to fill the FBI director slot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: Attorney General Sessions has a much higher obligation. He didn't tell the truth about meeting with the Russians, so he recused himself. Now he seems to be violating that recusal. That would seem on its face to be part of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, that after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:27] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The filled of candidates for FBI director is widening with more names added to the list. The FBI agents association is endorsing only one of them thus far, Mike Rogers, former Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a CNN Analyst.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS O'CONNOR, PRESIDENT, FBI AGENTS ASSOCIATION: Mike Rogers is someone we've worked with for years. He is a former FBI agent. What we're looking for in our next director and we feel it's important for us to have a voice in this selection process and that's why I'm here today.

It's not normal for us to come out these publicly on things. But we feel it's important that we have that voice because the next director, we want to have that person have the principles of understanding the centrality of the FBI agent and understanding what FBI agents do on a daily basis and how their work is so important. And we feel that this gentleman, Mike Rogers, is someone who fits those principles that we've set forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And this morning on NBC's "Meet the Press," Senator Lindsey Graham insisted the next head of the FBI needs to be apolitical. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it's now time to pick somebody that comes from within the ranks or is such of reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one. You know, who does the FBI director work for? To me it's like appointing a judge. The president actually appoints a judge, but the judge is (inaudible) to the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And John Cornyn, he is another GOP favorite and a candidate who would likely get easy Senate confirmation. But as the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate chamber, his possible appointment would trigger political moves both there and in his home, State of Texas.

[15:30:13] Regardless, President Trump said this weekend on Air Force One a decision on a new FBI director will come fast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you might make a decision or announcement --

TRUMP: We can make a fast decision. These are outstanding people that are very well known highest level, so we could make a fast decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the trip next week, do you think it's possible?

TRUMP: Even that is possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All Right. Let's talk more about this with Brett Tolman. He is the former U.S. attorney for the District of Utah. Good to see you.

All right, so, the FBI director is supposed to be a nonpartisan figure, someone who is above reproach. How big of a problem will it be if the next FBI director does not fit that description?

BRETT TOLMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, UTAH: Well, it's an important question, because when you're in law enforcement, even though they may be political appointments, you start to really feel the essence of your job is to follow the law and enforce the law. And an individual who's uncomfortable doing that is not going to be able to perform at a level that needs to be done.

WHITFIELD: So there have been calls for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step down in the wake of James Comey's firing. He is apparently part of the interviewing process for the next FBI director. So listen to what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think about Sessions claim to recused himself? Do you think he should be investigated by the Senate and should it be investigated by the inspector general, a DOJ?

SCHUMER: Yes. I have asked the inspector general and the request I've made is not only to look into any interference to thwart the investigation, but whether Attorney General Sessions should have participated in the firing of Comey and should have participate in the FBI director.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So in your view, is Sessions in violation?

TOLMAN: Well, you know, that's -- it's an interesting concept to bring up the fact that the recusal issue may have some bearing on selecting the next director of the FBI. The reality is the FBI is a department of the Department of Justice. And so, whoever is in that role is going to have the attorney general of the United States responsible for overseeing that entire department. And so --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: But his recusal was largely because of the investigation being led by the FBI, the White House or, you know, Trump campaign associates and any ties to Russia. And so now you've got the attorney general who had recused himself from that extension of investigations, yet he may be participating in the selection of the next FBI director. Not a problem in your view?

TOLMAN: Well, this is the reality. Removing Comey is not going to deter the FBI from pursuing its investigation. You want somebody, you know, that's going to have an effective ability to lead that department.

The bureau, though, is a law enforcement agency filled with remarkable agents who want to investigate whether it's Russia, whether it's violent crime, whether it's drugs, terrorism. That's their role. So, whoever it is needs to, regardless of who is, you know, responsible for selecting who needs to be able to understand that independent and important role.

WHITFIELD: All right. Just so people understand the correlation to Jeff Sessions was an adviser during the Trump campaign. So, Jeff Sessions now is attorney general has directed federal prosecutors to charge suspects and this is unrelated now. This came at the end of the week, even after the firestorm of the Comey, you know, departure.

But, Sessions has now kind of upped the ante on stricter sentencing. President Trump, you know, ran as the law and order candidate. In your view, is this going to make an impact on bringing crime down in America?

TOLMAN: Well, we have decades of data in some of the most law and order conservative states who have shown that you can't incarcerate your way out of the drug problem.

I mean, there are folks on the left and on the right from U.S. Justice Action Network to NAACP who have understood and realized that you can't just heighten your penalties and prosecute your way out of this problem. And so we need to effectively rehabilitate and implement some of the policies that states likes Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and others have made.

WHITFIELD: Brett Tolman, thanks so much for being with us.

TOLMAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. North Korea, well, is at it again launching another ballistic missile test. This time, it lands in the sea near Russia.

[15:35:04] The growing tension, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The White House is blasting North Korea after its latest ballistic missile test. The missile launched early today from a city north of Pyongyang and landed in the Sea of Japan, which is also known as the East Sea near Russia.

In a statement released last night, the Trump administration speculated on Russia's response to the launch saying, this is from the White House, "With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil, in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan, the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased." And it goes on to, "North Korea has been a flagrant menace for far too long." That's from the White House.

Well, this comes less than two weeks after President Trump said he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances. Today, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had this advice for North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[15:40:03] HALEY: Having a missile test is not the way to sit down with the president, because he's absolutely not going to do it. And I can tell you, he can sit there and say all the conditions he wants. Until he meets our conditions, we're not sitting down with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in CNN Global Affairs Analyst David Rohde and CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer. All right, good to have you back.

So, David, you first. You know, what's your reaction to North Korea's launch taking place as China hosts a summit discussing ways to increase trade and infrastructure between China, other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe? Was this a direct message to China or was it to Russia? ROHDE: I think China, Russia and also the new South Korean president. You know, it's the return of liberals to power South Korea for the first time in many years and they favor negotiations with North Korea. So this shows just how aggressive North Korea will be.

They've done this in the past also. They think by doing these tests it might improve their negotiating position at the bargaining table. And, you know, Julian can comment on this as well, but I'm hearing again an unclear message from the Trump administration.

You know, they're very tough on North Korea then the president said he would sit down with the North Korean leader and now, you know, Ambassador Haley saying that's not going to happen. So, it's -- I'm not clear what the American approach is.

WHITFIELD: It was an unusual statement and you kind of have to read it many times to try to decipher it. And, in fact, you know, Julian, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii had some strong words in response to that White House statement.

And this is what Schatz said. He's tweeting this. "This is beyond weird. I would like my president to speak for my country, not to speculate on the view of another country." So, what is your -- what are your thoughts about the White House statement referring to this missile test?

ZELIZER: Well, I'm not clear there is a position of the White House. I think sometimes when you see that things are all over the place, that's exactly what's happening. And I think it will strike many senators and members of Congress as odd that the first thing to come out of his mouth was about Russia rather than the United States.

My guess is North Korea might also be testing our president, both because of all these different messages that the White House has been sending out to see how much room they have in the development of their weapons and also testing him in the middle of this political scandal that he's going through and to see just how strong he is, to move forward with his own agenda overseas.

WHITFIELD: And so, you know, David, for President of the United States, President Trump to be saying he wants this whole Russia, Russia, Russia things to go away. And, you know, just thinking about the pretty bunch of Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia.

I mean, the White House keeps bringing it up and now bringing it up in response to what North Korea's activity is. So, it's not going to go away, meaning, Russia or any investigation as long as the president keeps bringing it up.

ROHDE: Look, the president, you know, might see Russia as an ally. He might think Russia can also, you know, bring pressure on North Korea to stop this behavior. That doesn't mean he colluded with Russia, you know, during the election, you know, to be fair.

So, there's clearly a mentality where, you know, the president is very gentle on Vladimir Putin. You know, he doesn't criticize him and human rights violations in Russia. So, some question of the utility, could Russia really deliver that much for the U.S. around the world? But I think the president seems to believe that it could.

WHITFIELD: The Turkish President Erdogan is scheduled to visit with President Trump at the White House this week and one hot topic will surely be the administration to decision to arm the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria as part of the effort to fight ISIS. So, how likely David, might that go?

ROHDE: I think it's going to be a very difficult meeting. The president for the first time is sort on grappling with the complexity of Syria. The U.S. wants to arm this Kurdish group to eliminate ISIS.

They could help retake Raqqa. That would be a win to use the president's term. But Turkey sees armed Kurdish separate as group as a more serious threat to Turkey itself than ISIS. So, these are two very strong-willed leaders. This meeting could not go well.

WHITFIELD: On the foreign stage, on the world stage, a very busy week for the president. Julian, also next week, the president beginning his first international trip since taking office. He'll start in Saudi Arabia where the administration says, "I hope to endless help for the fight against terrorism."

And then over the course of the trip he'll actually visit holy sites of Jewish, Christian and Muslim states all together in this entire trip. What's the primary objective for -- of this White House in this coming on the heels of such, you know, tumult involving the FBI, Comey firing, et cetera?

ZELIZER: There's an element of the trip that is about his image. And he has been criticized repeatedly about his hostility to Islam, for example. And so, I think this is an effort to show this is someone who respects different faiths and understands how the world works.

[15:45:06] But it's also an effort to try to broker some kind of agreement in the Middle East, which he has been talking about for a long time between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And this is going to be incredibly challenging.

Historically, many presidents, other than Jimmy Carter, have fallen on this issue. And for someone without as much knowledge of the region and who has a habit of saying what's on his mind, this is a really difficult position that he is putting himself into. But that's clearly what he's interested, a breakthrough that other presidents have been unable to achieve.

WHITFIELD: Well, he has said, it should be one of the easiest things to do. So, we'll wait and see --

ZELIZER: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- what unfolds. Julian Zelizer, David Rohde, thanks so much. Good to see both of you.

ROHDE: Thank you. WHITFIELD: All right, meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin showing off his rather talented side, the softer side. While waiting talks with the president of China, Putin sitting down at a piano and then playing some passages from soviet era songs about Moscow, Saint Petersburg. Listen.

And far from the sound of things, some would say it appears, Putin made the right decision to pick a career in politics over music. Not my thoughts, but the thoughts of many. We'll be right back.

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[15:50:37] WHITFIELD: In tonight's episode of CNN's Original Series, "United Shades of America," W. Kamau Bell heads to the Dakotas and explores the lives of Native Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, CNN'S "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" (on camera): Don't let the context of Native Americans and, you know, America historically.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Historically, 1978 was the first time that in the United States they permitted us to do our ceremonies, you know, for a while then there is -- what he said with this reservation that was outlawed.

BELL (on camera): Really, on the reservations you weren't allowed to do your ceremonies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We couldn't do it. So this has been a real hard struggle that our people have had to learn that identity.

BELL (voice-over): Yup, you heard it right. Natives weren't protected under the First Amendment on their reservations until the disco era, which means man who walked on the moon and done the hustle before natives were able to pray on their own land.

(on camera): Dan (ph), are you leading me to believe that the government of this country and maybe even the white people who run this country were trying to make your race feel inferior to their race, because that sounds familiar to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we know who was talking about.

BELL (on camera): Right. That's right, brother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFEILD: All right, Kamau joining us now live. Good to see you Kamau. So in that clip you were talking with the Dakota pipeline protester about prayer restriction on reservations. And you alluded right there just some interesting parallels between the treatment of Native Americans and African-Americans. How did the rest of that information go? BELL: I mean, it was -- my eyes were really opened up because, you know, we don't have the conversation in this country about native people and what their experience is. Lot of this country's discussion of oppression is about black versus white or, you know, sometimes black and within race of Latinos. But, really, we don't really focus on the native people of this country. And so, this episode this week is an effort to try to do that for once.

WHITFIELD: You also wrote on an op-ed for CNN.com detailing your experiences in the Dakotas. And in it you write, "As a black person in this country, I am always frustrated by the lack of attention my people's issues get. But at least the news and politicians are talking about not talking about our issues. Native issues are basically ignored." And so were people taken aback, impressed? Were they happy that you showed an interest to hear about their experiences there?

BELL: I mean, you know, I was -- I felt pretty happy and lucky that they invited me at the Standing Rock and later we also went to the Pipeline reservation because, you know, they have no reason to trust me. You know, most of them had never heard of the show. So, I really tried to just stand back and let them talk.

But, this -- of all the episodes we've ever done, this is the one I'm probably the most nervous about because these issues are covered so little. I don't have a grasp of them either, so I'm just sort to try to hope -- make sure that I let them talk and really stay out of the way.

WHITFIELD: So it was enlightening to you, and then for the viewer it's going to be enlightening as well. You know, in tonight's episode you also had an opportunity to interview Hollywood actor, Adam Beach. And during the interview, you two seemed to find common ground in the phrase if they like us in the 1800s. Tell us a little bit more about that.

BELL: Yeah. I mean, he talked about as an actor who's, you know, he's a working actor, pretty successful. But, he -- why do we have to -- he had offered parts so he could play natives. Not even members of his tribe unlike back in the 1800s, back in cowboy movies.

And, you know, every black person in Hollywood has talked about being -- not wanting to play slave movies, or feeling that's always (inaudible) being cast in the past. So in that moment we start to look each like, yeah, I feel like he said they want to keep us in the 1800s. Yeah, they want to keep us back there, too. And the real thing I'm trying to do there is really build connection, like if we build connection we can better stand up for each other.

WHITFIELD: It's all very serious steps that you always find a way of injecting some humor in it, too, and that kind of helps break the ice. So -- and in this episode, they were going to see this evening. You show us how some Native Americans blend traditional ways of living with today's world, some of their modernities (ph), and to what extend. What's an example of that? BELL: Well, I mean, I think they're trying to keep these traditions alive and sort of bring them into the modern era. So, I think that a lot of times, like when you walk -- when I was at Standing Rock, you could see people like, you know, skateboarding while they're in full regale. You know, like they're trying to say its being hard in the past. These are as they are of as now.

And also trying to sort of claim those things for a lot of those symbols and pop culture are in sports teams, like the Cleveland sports team or Washington sports team. And (inaudible) those aren't yours, those are ours. And so -- then the hashtag called "Not Your Mascot." It sort of what remind people that we're not -- we're still in this country and we still live here and we still love this.

[15:55:04] WHITFIELD: There's a lot of embracing and trying to hold on to culture, right? Kamau, thank you so much. "United Shades of America" airing tonight, 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

All right, this week, she rolled past the CNN building in New York taping an SNL skit. You know who I'm talking about. And then last night, we got to see what Melissa McCarthy had in store for her spicy character. The biggest punch lines straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:00:01] WHITFIELD: Hello, everyone. Thanks again for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happy mother's day.

The pursuit of justice, can an administration being investigated by the FBI choose the bureaus new chief without bias?