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North Korea Tests Missile, Raises New Fears in Pacific; Contradicting Narratives on Comey's Firing; Trump Threatens Comey: Better Hope There Aren't Tapes. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired May 14, 2017 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:24] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The FBI director is fired, and the Trump White House spirals into a credibility crisis.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey. My decision.

KING: Angry, impulsive, even threats about White House recordings.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I assume you're referring to the tweet the president has nothing further to add on it that.

KING: The acting FBI chief assures Congress the Russia investigation is on track and says the president is dead wrong about Jim Comey's reputation.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reports, now.


KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thanks for sharing your Sunday and Happy Mother's Day.

The White House says it is in close contact with South Korea and Japan in the wake of the latest North Korean missile test and says this new provocation proves it cause for tougher global sanctions against the regime.

Here on the home front, President Trump again turned Washington on its head this past week. And in a commencement address yesterday, sounded quite pleased with himself.


TRUMP: The fact is, no one has ever achieved anything significant without a chorus of critics standing on the sidelines explaining why it can't be done. Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There are no shortage of Trump critics after the bizarre week just behind us.

Remember on Tuesday, the president fired the FBI director and then sent his staff and his vice president out to repeat a lie about how and why that happened.

On Thursday, the president gave an interview in which he shared the real reasons, including his frustration with the FBI investigation of Russia election meddling and possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump associates.


TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. He's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil, you know that. I know that, everybody knows that.


KING: Then on Friday, another presidential tweet storm, including one that threatened the now former FBI Director James Comey and raised the specter of a White House recording system.


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

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


KING: He hopes.

Again, the staff of an angry and impulsive president sent out to explain or in this case, to refuse to explain.


REPORTER: Are there recording devices in the oval office or in the residence?

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

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

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


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights this Sunday: Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast", Julie Hirschfield Davis of "The New York Times", CNN's Sara Murray, and CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

A lot to unpack in the hour ahead. I want to start with the president's mindset. When you see him there with Judge Jeanine last night on FOX saying I'm not going to talk about that. He tweets about the possibility of a specter of some White House taping system, I'm not going to talk about that.

We know that he's frustrated and he's blaming his staff again, saying maybe I think to shake things up. Maybe my staff isn't handling this right.

Where is his head right now? And does he understand that this past week, the mess of it was mostly of his making?

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think his head is in a very angry and frustrated place. I don't actually think that he understands that this past week's turmoil was all of his own making. I think he went out with a rationale that he thought was going to be -- he says or his people say, a political winner. Democrats were angry at Comey for the way he handled the Hillary Clinton emails investigation as well. Wouldn't they be happy he was being let go?

But what he did not do and what he doesn't seem to understand is that he didn't put in place sort of a conceptual case for why he was doing this now beyond his own peak, his own anger at the way the Russia investigation unfolded. And, in fact, in his own letter that came out the day Jim Comey was fired, the only thing that was mentioned was the fact that he himself was not under investigation and that tells you a lot. That tells you that a lot of this was about him protecting his own flank, him feeling aggrieved himself and wasn't about anything else.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: And he often -- at the same time, he didn't protect his own flank because he didn't -- there was no communication strategy that anyone has talked about. There was no one out there defending him, which is what made him angrier in the aftermath of this.

[08:05:01] So, what were they supposed to say? So, kind of let people scrambling and made this even worse. Let's imagine he didn't bother to tell Director Comey that he was fired, that he had to learn about it on the television.

KING: Right, the merits of firing Jim Comey is a fair debate.


KING: Whether this president should do it at this stage of an investigation led by that FBI director is a whole other question. But how they handled it and their conflicting explanations of why. But listen to the president yesterday in this commencement speech,

because we've seen this happened before. The travel ban got off to a bad start, other things off to a bad start in this administration and people say he's never been in government, a lot of his team has never been in government. They're going to figure this out, they're making mistakes and reset.

This does not sound like a president who needs to fix anything.


TRUMP: In my short time in Washington, I've seen firsthand how the system is broken. A small group of failed voices who think they know everything, and understand everyone, want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do, and how to think.

But you aren't going to let other people tell you what you believe, especially when you know that you're right.


KING: Now, by that, he means the establishment, and he means us in the news media. I don't think we messed up the firing of Jim Comey in explaining it. I don't think we messed up the travel ban rollout, but that's his mindset.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have to remember that Donald Trump is a 70-year-old man and he feels like he's been very successful doing things the way he's always done them. So, he's inclined to think that if something goes wrong, it's not necessarily his fault. It's the fault of all the haters and losers and staffers who couldn't keep him with him.

Interestingly, talking to people at the White House this week, they did feel like the president, at least some of them, was giving them a little bit of a lifeline by going out there and saying my staff can't always keep up with me because I make decisions quickly or saying maybe we'll cancel the press briefing, some people saw that as, you know, because you guys are being so mean to my people, I'll just be the one who comes out there and take it.

But what we do know about this president is he makes snap decisions and he does tend to blame his staff in the aftermath when things don't go well. He doesn't -- he's not really an introspective kind of guy looking there and saying, OK, you know, maybe I could have done this differently.

KING: All right. Before you jump in, Jeff, to your point about the press briefings, I want to play it because he was on Judge Jeanine last night on FOX, and part of being interviewed on FOX if you're president is, what they tend to do is repeat what you have said and then ask you if you believe it.

You mentioned this, the president tweeted he thought he'd cancel the press briefing. So, that's out there in the public. So, when you get a chance to be the president, of course, that's what you repeat. (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? Because --

TRUMP: We don't have press conferences and we do --

PIRRO: You don't mean that.

TRUMP: Well, just don't have them. Unless I have one every two weeks and I do it myself. We don't have them. I think it's a good idea.


KING: Does he think it's a good idea because he doesn't trust? We know this past week he was mad. After the firing, he sent Kellyanne Conway and others out on television because he thought, you know, somebody get out there and defend me. Does he think he's chief strategist, president, communications director, press secretary, advanced guy?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And the problem here is, you can blame the communications shop and you can blame Reince Priebus and you can blame everyone for everything. He is the one who did this. He bears the responsibility of this.

And that is the question that I don't think we know now. I think there were a lot of lessons learned inside the White House just week, a lot of sort of thinking back at what could we have done differently. I'm not sure that conversations with held in the Oval with the president himself. I think the reality here is what, at the end of the day, his stewing over the testimony of the last week at a hearing James Comey gave was so intense.

What the president managed to do is shine an even bigger spotlight on this entire Russia investigation. He managed to accelerate what was, sort of a slow burn, this was going to be sort of one of the sound tracks of his presidency.

But this was not a full bore thing. You know, health care was going forward. Tax reform was going forward.

What he managed to do this week alone is stop his agenda at least temporarily and put a sharper spotlight on the thing that drove him crazy the most. So, I don't see how he moves on from this. And as he finds -- had this been a plan, a grand plan, he would have addressed the -- we need new credibility, need new leadership with the FBI and my new director is here next to me, had a big ceremony, someone unassailable both sides got behind, that didn't happen because they weren't thinking more than just the anger right in front of him. That's his decision. KING: Yes, a veteran voice in Washington, Bob Gates, quoted in "The Washington Post," when you have to do these things and they're stuff to do in the administration, you have to fire somebody senior and you know there's going to be some blowback in public opinion, you have a plan, you have you rationale explained. You bring that person in, and they're using good government people who bite the bullet and leave and go, and you have the replacement ready.

Instead, the president, in the middle of all this, sends out a tweet that raises this Nixonian specter of a White House recording system.

[08:10:05] And it says, James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.

Now, your first reaction to that is, really? And if you know people who understand the Trump organization, I know people who have been in meetings in the old Trump administration, who were with a meeting with Jackie and they're having a conversation they think to Jackie, and then, suddenly, Donald Trump's would beam in. He was on sort of some speaker system listening from another room. Or you go in to a meeting with Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, and he would know everything that happened in the previous meeting.

And so, some people who have been around him don't think this is out of bounds.

KUCINICH: Well -- but then you had Comey's reaction via "The New York Times" I think, right?

DAVIS: It was actually not -- it was not my colleague who reported this, but, yes, he apparently said he hopes that Trump has tapes because that would be perfect. "The Times" did report this dinner that President Trump referred to in the interview was not as the president characterized it, but instead was Jim Comey being summoned to the White House by the president and being asked, do I have your loyalty, repeatedly, and refusing to say, yes, you have my loyalty. Instead, he said, you have my honesty.

And if you think about that, that's just a completely striking thing for a president to ask and for an FBI director to have to respond to. I think, you know, knowing that President Trump has in his past recorded people, he is again with this tweet sort of rushed out with a sort of rash comment that then they have to reverse engineer the response to. What are they going to say now?

KING: And he's empowered Democrats to say --


KING: Yes, tell us -- tell us if they exist or prove they don't exist. That will be called into question, which has this whole controversy in which I've talked to several people who are on the president's side, they want this president to succeed, who hear him, say, I'm going to fire my chief of staff, who hear him talking about his press secretary and the communications staff, that can handle -- who are now trying to get his friend from Los Angeles, Tom Barrack, to come from Los Angeles to Washington to be the grownup at the White House, because they think we're 115 days in, going on 120 days in and haven't gotten up to speed.

MURRAY: But is Tom Barrack going to be the guy who says, Mr. President, you're wrong, you can't do that. I don't necessarily know there is anyone who can have that conversation with the president. I think on certain occasions, Ivanka Trump has tried to do it. Jared Kushner has tried to do it.

KING: Disappeared again this week. Big thing happens, invisible.

MURRAY: Right. And they maybe have the best opportunity to at least make their case and be listened to, but I don't think -- and I think that this gap was, you know, sort of stunningly apparent in the past week. There's nobody who can go to the president and say this is not a good idea or this may be a good idea but we need another 48 hours to execute it. Even that conversation was not something that got through to him.

KING: Excellent point. Everybody, sit tight. We'll continue the conversation.

Up next, the credibility crisis. The president says he's so busy you can't blame his staff when they get it wrong. But maybe if he told them the truth, they would help.

And for the politicians who say the darndest things, the epic return, what timing, of "SNL" White House press secretary Spicey.


MELISSA MCCARTHY AS SEAN SPICER: That's right. Spicey's back. Sarah's out.


Let's do this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Were you surprised he fired Comey before he fired you?

MCCARTHY: Oh, God. Does that answer your question?



[08:17:49] KING: Welcome back.

Last Tuesday night, after firing Jim Comey, the president got angry at the TV coverage and ordered top aides to go out and defend his decision to fire the FBI director. Wednesday morning, it was the vice president, Mike Pence, who took up the baton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, the president's decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove an FBI director who had lost the confidence of the American people.


KING: That's disciplined, focused, and false.

On Thursday, after the president spelled out the real reasons for firing Comey, his spokeswoman tried to turn the briefing podium into a time machine and make you believe that Tuesday night and Wednesday never happened.


REPORTER: Was it a mistake for the White House to pin the decision to fire James Comey on Rod Rosenstein?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think there was ever an attempt to pin the decision on the deputy attorney general. Look, I think his recommendation again it was extremely clear. The president though makes the decision.


KING: We talked a little bit about this in the last block. I mean, it's amateur hour. I don't know another word for it. They're smart people. They're public servants whether you voted for this president or not, people who come into the arena they're tough jobs, but to send your counselor Kellyanne Conway out Tuesday night, among others, your vice president out to essentially take his credibility and whoosh after what he said and the president comes out and changes the explanation and Sarah Huckabee Sanders has to go out there and say, oh, we never did that.

ZELENY: It was unbelievable and Sara and I were at the White House during the hours. When it first started you knew it was not planned when Sean Spicer was standing in the doorway of the press office surrounded by reporters. Sara and I were standing there and he was reading out this statement but it was not -- you know, and that was supposed to be the final word, about 7:00 Tuesday night the White House is saying not going to say anything else.

Sixty or 90 minutes after, there was this flood of aides out to the north lawn to try and explain this decision. The more explaining, the worse it got. So, if you're explaining, you're losing and this week, they were losing.

[08:20:03] But the vice president -- I think this is the most essential thing. We talked to someone who's in his orbit. And he says, he's not rattled very often and he was a little rattled by this. He clearly -- he was said to be involved in the decision, first of all. I'm not sure that that's true, actually. I'm not sure he's involved in many of these decisions.

But he went out there -- this is the second time in the last couple months where he has defended and looked foolish. So, I think the question forward here is, he has to be concerned about his value and credibility and he lost it.

KING: Republicans in Congress, same thing. They want out. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan based somewhat on the first White House scenario how this happened, they went out and defended the president based on that, and had the rug pulled out from them.

I want you to listen here to what people are saying about the president, because he watches cable news.

Phil Mudd, who's one of our contributors here at CNN, but he's a former CIA official. He knows this process. He has relationships with the FBI. He saw the tweet about the recording system and threatening Comey. This was his take.


PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You can't take this seriously. You feel like you got to give the president of the United States a pacifier and a rattle and put him in the crib. If you think you're going to intimidate the former FBI director and the dozens of people in the workforce who are conducting this investigation with the Department of Justice, you got another thing coming.


KING: Now, it's provocative television but Phil is a guy who used to walk down the driveway of being on the White House and do the briefings of a president. He understands how the process works. And I'm assuming, A, people react like that to what the president did, but then the president see this is conversation and I think that's what starts this cycle.

KUCINICH: The bluster can only go so far, because it's not like James Comey can't go testify to Congress. He could very well do that, and he has a lot more leeway now than he did when he was the FBI director.

But the other effect this has is that these aides are loyal to him and talking about, you know, him going on undermining them, this hurts morale and this closes the circle around the president in addition to that.

DAVIS: And it also only undercuts their ability to do anything else. I mean, the credibility of this White House was already in question before this week and to see people repeatedly go to the podium and his vice president have a stake on it on Capitol Hill and say things that were completely untrue and the only question is whether they knew they were untrue or whether they were misinformed and kept in the dark -- neither of which is a good situation to be in for the White House.

ZELENY: You pick a fight with the FBI as well. I was talking to someone who works inside the building who is a Trump voter and was very sort of happy at the idea of changing Washington. He said the thing that was very dispiriting and frustrating was the fact of the loyalty pledge.

They take their jobs seriously. They do very hard work at not much pay, particularly by Washington standards, and the fact that the president is in there doing this. He's picked a fight probably with the wrong agency. He did it with the intelligence community earlier, now the FBI. They're going to outlast him regardless.

KING: And if you look at public opinion about the president's credibility and I want to get to something the president said to Lester Holt in the NBC interview that I think is quite telling, but, first, let's look at public opinion.

Quinnipiac University poll taken before the Comey firing, before the Comey firing, 66 percent of Americans say he's not level headed, 62 percent not strong, 61 percent not honest, 56 percent lacks leadership skills. They asked -- we also Quinnipiac asks, describe the president in one word, the number one answer was idiot, followed by incompetent, followed by liar, then leader, then unqualified, then president, strong, so a mix there.

But again, the first three responses are pretty damning. Your colleagues have a great piece about how a lot of these people around the president say stems from his continuing view that people in Washington won't praise his win, recognize the legitimacy of his victory, kept saying, oh, Hillary Clinton was a bad candidate or Russia meddled in the election.

Listen to the president, he's talking to Lester Holt. We are months into this administration about, did the Russians -- did the Russians meddle in the election? And listen to the word the president uses.


TRUMP: I want to get to the bottom. If Russia hacked, if Russia did anything, having to do with our election, I want to know about it.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS HOST: Well, there's already intelligence from virtually every intelligence agency that, yes, happened.

TRUMP: I'll tell you this. If Russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it's a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it.


KING: Three times in that answer he uses if Russia hacked. There was a hearing on Capitol Hill this week the top five guys in the intelligence community, including Mike Pompeo, a Trump appointee, Dan Coates, a Trump appointee, they were asked, is there any doubt or do you believe without a doubt? And they all said, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, down the line.

What does he still say if? KUCINICH: Because it's about legitimacy. It's about his legitimacy.

It's the same reason he passes out pictures of the electoral map to reporters who interview him in the White House.

This is always -- he's always seen this through the prism of whether he is the rightful president of the United States. That hasn't changed.

KING: He is. He is -- but these questions will continue including credibility.

Up next, the president promises a quick decision on a new FBI director.

[08:25:02] Some inside the FBI, as Jeff just noted, worry change and turmoil will bring calls to dial back their election meddling investigation.


KING: Welcome book.

Candidates to be the next FBI director are being interviewed at the Justice Department this weekend. Several interviewed yesterday. And the president told reporters while traveling Air Force, hoped it would be a quick search.


REPORTER: Do you think you might make a decision before you leave for Saturday?

TRUMP: We can make a fast decision.

These are outstanding people that are well-known, highest level, so we could make a fast decision.

REPORTER: Before the trip next week?


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Even that is possible, meaning in this next coming week before the president goes abroad. The ultimate pick will be in a very difficult spot given word, one reason the president soured on James Comey was it the former director refused to pledge his loyalty to the president. Plus, remember, the FBI has been a prime target of the president's months long attack against U.S. intelligence agencies. Not long ago he was equating them with Nazis because of leaks about the Russia election meddling investigation.

Adding this, "In its defense of firing Comey, the White House said he has lost confidence of the FBI rank and file," but the acting director one of the candidates to replace Comey says the president and his team wrong about that.


ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.


KING: Andrew McCabe there, who was Comey's number two, now is the number one interim at the FBI and is among the candidates to be the next director although I suspect that was noticed, I'm just going to guess based on the history of the last hundred plus days that that was noticed at the White House, when he essentially said the president's dead wrong. What the president's team is telling you is dead wrong. Independent, which we applaud, but I'm not sure he gets the job.

Let's show some of the candidates. It's a long list of candidates to get the job. Among them are senators, standing U.S. Senator, a member of the republican leadership John Cornyn of Texas, a former State Attorney General, Andrew McCabe, who we just know the acting director and then you see these lawyers in town, Alice Fisher, a couple of judges, Michael Garcia and Judge Henry Hudson, the Head of the Richmond FBI office, Adam Lee.

Fran Townsend who is Homeland Security Administrator -- Director, I mean in the Bush administration, a former CNN contributor here, and Mike Rogers a former congressman who has FBI agent experience, who is also a CNN contributor. When you look down this list does anybody jump out or just what are we talking -- what is the White House saying in terms of the who, the what they're looking for?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We know that president is going to personally interview at least the finalists perhaps a couple top finalists and that, I mean, what a fascinating interview. I mean, I would assume he wouldn't use the loyalty word but who knows. I mean, but I think the question here is the FBI Agents Association supports Mike Rogers? He's one of them. He was an agent. He's been on Capitol Hill. I think he would have an easy confirmation process or easier confirmation process.

KING: But also he worked in the Trump transition and that didn't end well.

ZELENY: It didn't end well. So that's the big question here. Why would you want your FBI director to be someone you do not want in a transition? But that was caught up in its own, sort of, set of politics. We might be beyond that. I'm not sure. I'm also told the president, you know, is -- again, this was not fully thought through so he doesn't know all of these resumes but he likes the people on that list he's seen on television as television analysts and other things.

But look, this is, I think, very difficult to get done before he leaves on Friday for his trip because they need to get someone who can be confirmed. John Cornyn, I find it very hard to get around the number two republican in the senate would be leading the FBI in this investigation. That seems pretty political.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: Who has also talked about that the Russia investigation is a valid investigation and a good line of inquiry, a valid point of inquiry. So that also could work against John Cornyn.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But they are hoping to try to get this done this week. They do feel, like, if they can put out a candidate who is a credible replacement this will help them, kind of, turn the corner on the James Comey news and, sort of, set them up to go abroad and then come back essentially starting to put this storyline behind him. It is a very heavy lift and I can imagine the democrats are going to put up a big fight even if we do see someone with pretty good credentials that they pick for this job.

KING: And when the attorney general calls and says we want to interview you, most people would take -- if you're a -- if you're a public servant you would say, "OK. Let's go and have the conversation. I owe that to my country, I owe that to my president, I owe to the government," and the question is if you want the job at this moment especially in the context of everything happening including this idea that from sources close to James Comey.

The president invited him to dinner, looked across the table, and said, "Will you pledge your loyalty to me?" Again, in the middle of the Russia investigation looking to the man leading the investigation and say, "Will you pledge your loyalty to me?" The president asked on Fox News if that happens.



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

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

TRUMP: You know, 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.


KING: So two very conflicting accounts, one guarantee about this is that members of congress at least the democrats will see how far the republicans who are angry about how all of this played out will go along but to play this out. They want to hear from Comey at least in private, democrats would prefer that be in public and a lot of people have said normally if you have a conversation with the president and you work in the government that's protected by executive privilege, but a lot of people said because the president is spilling out his side of the story, let's hear it out.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WASHINGTON BUREAU OF THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ENTERPRISE REPORTER: He has now referred to conversations that he had with Jim Comey about the Russia investigation in a letter in several interviews, in tweets, and so the idea that he could then come back the White House could then come back sometime down the road and say those conversations were privileged is I mean, I think if you ask legal scholars they will uniformly say that that is -- will not hold up.

The other thing that I think, you know, the White House is eager to have even though as Jeff rightly pointed out this would normally be a process where you have someone in place before you start the search, that you want an orderly dismissal from one person and here is my very-qualified and well-respected replacement. Trump prefers to have this, kind of, a spectacle, we saw this during the transition.

He likes this idea of, like, all these candidates, we're going to interview them all, who's going to come up -- come out on top and even though this is the most -- one of the most sensitive jobs and given the circumstances it's not really what you'd expect to see. I think the White House feels like they're on more solid footing having this be the focus of attention than the underlying issues that the Comey firing raised.

KING: But if -- except to the conversation we had earlier, that if you're about to fire the FBI director, one would think that they've gone through at least the early steps of this process before they fire the FBI director to be ready. You want to watch next hour on "State of the Union" because the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper is among Jake Tapper's guests and the President of the United States, Mr. Trump often says there is no collusion, look at what James Clapper told the congress some time ago but that is out of context, Director Clapper says because at the time he says he saw no evidence of collusion, he says he didn't know anything about the FBI investigation. Listen now.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't know if there was collusion or not. I don't know if there's evidence of collusion or not. There was no evidence that came, that rose to that level at that time, that found its way into the intelligence community assessment which we had pretty high confidence in. That's not to say there wasn't evidence.


KING: I'm dying to watch the conversation with Director Clapper with Jake, but one of the things that's happened, when the president keeps citing these people and saying things that they believe are factually incorrect or at least out of context, they keep coming back out. People who normally would not be talking about these things and that's not helpful to the president.

MURRAY: Well, this is why we've had so many questions. You know, we've had since the beginning of the administration but particularly this week about the credibility of this White House. They know that citing Clapper is disingenuous when you talk to them privately, they acknowledge that it is somewhat misleading and yet they continue to do it. We obviously saw earlier in the McCabe testimony that he completely disagrees with the administration's view that morale is low at the FBI.

And yet we saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders out there saying inexplicably and that she's heard from countless FBI agents this week who support that. I mean, I think that is what when you're sitting in the briefings, when you're going in day in and day out you, sort of, watch this and say, "OK. What can we believe that you guys are telling us?"

KING: And it's not just credibility with the news media. We'll discuss next. Lesson learned the hard way. As Speaker Paul Ryan about the president and James Comey and he'll answer with a plug for health care and tax reform.


KING: Welcome back. It wasn't just the vice president and the senior White House staff who were burned when the president ended up telling the true story of why he fired FBI Director James Comey. The senate majority leader and the speaker of the house used the initial White House account in their statements supporting the president's move. So one can't blame Speaker Ryan for ducking when asked late Friday about the president's tweet threatening James Comey and suggesting there might be tapes in their conversations.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm going to leave it to the president to talk about and defend his tweets. I'm focused on what is in my control and that is what is congress doing to solve people's problems. I'm working on health care reform, I'm working on tax reform. Those are the things that I got elected to do, those are the things that are within our purview in congress.


KING: Within control. Remember those words but selling that agenda is a heavy lift even as we wait to see if the Comey firing further, weakens the president's standing. Look at these (INAUDIBLE) pulled numbers released last week. Just 21 percent of Americans support the new republican health care plan, just 30 percent backs the -- back the tax cut plan outlined by the White House. So -- A smart speaker after being burned saying, "I'm going to talk about what I can control," but B, you're out there trying to sell this agenda.

It was already tough. They wanted the president last week, the republicans to talk about health care, to help them sell this health care plan when they were home. The whole week became about the Comey firing and the republicans are out there naked. KUCINICH: So I got a -- I got a call on Friday from a top GOP staffer on the senate side who was livid the fact that they're trying to hash through health care, they're trying to get through that, and they were stuck talking about James Comey. One of the things when you put the phone out here because they were just -- they're just -- they're so frustrated that they can't stick to their agenda because the president refuses to stick to his.

MURRAY: And Paul Ryan of course got a dose of that this week, he was in Ohio on Wednesday trying to do a speech about tax reform and he was just chased around by reporters who were saying what do you think about the firing of James Comey? This is a real issue if they want to move forward and the reality is when you have this White House which is so focused on the president's mood and so focused on what the president cares about the minute.

They were all -- they were all trying to get through this Comey stuff which means they are not thinking ahead to, OK, the White House is back next week. There are going to be ways and means hearings on tax reform. What does our tax plan look like? Things really do have the tendency to grind to a halt in the White House and be this, sort of, controversy.

KING: And they may have overplayed it with the Rose Garden ceremony but they had momentum. They did get a bill -- you know, we could -- only 21 percent of the American people support the bill so they have a problem with the substance of the bill but in terms of the process they at least had a train on the track that they were trying to get to the finish line and they -- as they were home they were desperate for the president to help them this week.

Before you jump in instead, the president was dealing with James Comey, dust-up here in Washington and the republican members who did have the courage to have town halls including a person who wrote one of the key amendments to get the health care amendment through, well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what you did to us, and this district you do not listen. And when 17 percent of the population said don't do it, you did it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My concern is what's go to happen to them when they are 17, 18, 20, 30, 40, 50, and they are denied health care?

KING: That's Tom MacArthur, one -- in a swing district in New Jersey, that's the most democratic part of the district. We'll see what happens. 2018 elections a long way off but members who cast tough votes, who did a tough thing need help from their president who has the bully pulpit instead that he didn't get it this week.

ZALENY: He doesn't have the bully pulpit at least this week and that is one of the reasons that, you know, the ratings for this are so low. He's not gone out to sell anything. Extraordinarily he did not leave the White House one time the entire week when he arrived back on Sunday evening until Friday evening, not one time. He was not out selling something like only a president can, talking about tax reform, talking about health care, and there are people who still believe in the idea of his agenda but boy, he wasn't talking about it last week and only the president can change this conversation but up until now he seems consumed by this.

DAVIS: And even before this Comey firing mess this past week he wasn't out there selling the health care plan, he wasn't out there the way republicans need him to be in their district, in democratic districts where he needs to have changed the minds in order to get a bill back through congress when that, if that should ever happen and they also know that the problem with the health care bill, the reason it collapsed the first few times was because they did not have presidential leadership.

They did not have any presidential cover to do this hard thing. They know that they have to have that on tax reform if that's going to get anywhere and looking at the situation now, it doesn't appear like they're focused on that at all.

KING: And the democrats have a lot of energy right now. Again, 2018 is a long way off. About they had energy about health care, now they think the president is on his heels about hiring. I just want to take it one more -- out to Iowa, Rod Blum at his district. He did several town halls again. Let's give our congress credit for doing that, but --




KING: You can understand why most of his colleagues won't have town halls. Again, I applaud the members who are going out there and take the heat, that's their job but in this climate they need a president and the president is worried about himself.

KUCINICH: Well, absolutely. I mean, that and -- therein lies a problem particularly in districts like Blum's in Iowa, but they're having to learn to fend for themselves at this point, which I think why you see a lot more retreating to the telephone town halls, things more controlled and safer for them.

KING: Right. And a lot of republicans coming to the conclusion that even though they keep asking, keep asking, keeping told that it will get better and get better but they can't expect this White House to give them the cover they want so that they're largely on their own. Stay with us, our reporters share from their notebooks next including the president's upcoming meeting with the pope and the debate at the White House about who should serve as the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.


KING: All right. Let's close as we always do, go down the table, ask our great reporters to share a little something from their notebooks, help get you out of head with the curve on some big development political news. Jackie Kucinich?

KUCINICH: Well, keep an eye on Rand Paul in the coming days. He is relaunching his push against mandatory minimum penalties for drug convictions, this comes after A.G. Sessions came out and said that prosecutors should go for the maximum penalties. This is a push that was a bipartisan push, it was a ray of light when -- where members weren't really coming together, they were coming together on this issue. Talked to his staff last week, they're not quite sure on the timing but that's coming up on and it will be a strong bipartisan coalition.

KING: And a boom against the White House. All right. Julie?

DAVIS: Well, there was an important development this past week in following the money in the Trump campaign-Russia investigation. In the middle the chaos it's -- it got, kind of, lost but the Senate Intelligence Committee asked since then which is the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the tracking agency of the U.S. Government for financial crimes and money laundering to turn over any documents they have with regard to Trump, his associates, his businesses, and Russia.

And we learned late last week that it looks like it is going to do that and that could provide some important new leads in this investigation since it has a trove of hundreds of millions of records of transactions, financial networks that are not really gettable or detectable through any other means and so that could actually speed up the process here of identifying some of these networks that may be relevant to the investigation.

KING: The progress would be nice after a lot. Sarah?

MURRAY: Well, the president is getting ready to embark on this foreign trip that would be an ambitious undertaking for any new president but he certainly doesn't have a ton of experience on the world stage. It is high risk, it is high reward. There are a lot of Washington republicans who are just flat out, respondent about how the past week has played out, and they are looking forward to this trip as an opportunity for the president to set the reset button for the zillionth time.

He could appear presidential, you know, he can, sort of, make America appear better than it does currently on the world stage but with that of course comes the risks factor when you talk to republicans in Washington, a number of them say, "He could create an international incident basically at any stop along the way, so they will be holding their breaths until he returns."

KING: Can't wait. Jeff?

ZELENY: And one of the stops along the way is at the Vatican, so interestingly of course last year during the campaign the president had some words exchanged oddly with the pope, all about building the wall. The pope said, you know, it's not, you know, a good thing to build a wall. It's not, sort of, a positive thing the president at the time candidate called him disgraceful. Anyway, all that is coming to a head May 24th, a week from Wednesday, they're meeting together. But before then the White House plans to announce the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and Callista Gingrich, I am told is in the final stages of confirmation, the ethics that people are going through all of this, but that could be announced as soon as this week likely before the Vatican thing. Of course she is, you know, a very -- a devout catholic, she's very prominent on the world stage, and with that that it means Newt Gingrich would also go abroad as well, so very interesting.

KING: Newt Gingrich who happens to be in the process of writing a Trump biography.

ZELENY: You know, he can write that from Vatican City.

KING: A little writing from my side -- beautiful writing studies there in the Vatican. All right. I'll add this to close. Add anger management now to the list of giant challenges facing the House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team. This past week was a boiling point for a number veteran house republicans. Most who were at home avoiding town halls because of constituent anger over health care and the general dysfunction here in Washington.

Then came the Comey firing and being asked yet again to comment on another presidential tantrum and tweet storm. The more republican retirements the better the democratic odds of retaking the house next year and those who closely track the GOP pulse say the talk of packing it in because of Trumphaustion is spiking. Keep an eye on that one. That's it for Inside Politics. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Hope you can catch us weekdays. We're here at noon eastern as well. Up next, "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper. Have a great Sunday.