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GOP Reconsidering Special Prosecutor For Russia Probe; Dem Sen. Warner Speaks Amid Comey Fallout; NYT: Trump Turning Against Mose Aides Even Kushner; Putin Offers to Share Trump-Lavrov Transcripts

Aired May 17, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:42] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. As we noted, everything is different in Washington today. A Republican leadership that was firmly opposed to the idea of a special prosecutor or independence commission is suddenly discussing whether it might need to reconsider. The House Government Oversight Committee and now the Senate Intelligence Committee demanding all records detailing conversations between the President and former FBI Director James Comey. Including White House tapes if there are any. The government committee on the House imposing a one week deadline.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: So I think we've seen this movie before. I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen. It's a centipede. The shoe continues to drop.

And every couple of days, there's a new aspect of this really unhappy situation. None of us, no matter what our political leanings are, no matter how we feel about Trump feel this is not good for America.


KING: Senator John McCain giving his perspective there. Before we continue the conversation, let's take a peek live on Capitol Hill. Senator Mark Warner, he's the Democrat and ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Let's listen for a minute.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We also -- we go back to what seems to be eons ago to last Friday. Six days ago, five days ago. We still got a very open question of are there -- has this president been secretly recording conversations. We still don't have any answer from the White House which I find outrageous to say whether those secret tapes exist or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the White House said if they would brief you on those discussion about the Russian (inaudible) the presidential elections last year?

WARNER: I am not -- Chairman Burr and I have talked about that. I don't believe we've had that offer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you sense that this controversy is different for your Republican colleagues than some of the other crises that have emanated from the White House?

WARNER: I think we're talking about something both now resulting in accumulation of miscues, missteps and open questions. And then in terms of last night, if the press reports are true, a whole other level of seriousness that I can't think of a single Republican colleague of mine that I've talked to at least privately that hasn't expressed real concern.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you their reluctance is?

WARNER: I think this is, you know, this is -- we first started hearing about secret tapes last Thursday or Friday. It's not even a week. And every day, there seems to be something else that comes out.

So, I understand, this has been a whirlwind for somebody like myself who's virtually 100 percent focused on this subject. And for folks who aren't as focused, this has been -- takes a lot to process all this. And I think we -- I think personally, you guys got a different job. I think personally, you know, I think we will hear more from my Republican colleagues, but I understand they need a little bit of time to process it.


[12:35:09] KING: Listening to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. He is the ranking Democrat, the number two on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Hard to hear some of that audio because of the conditions at the Capitol. But very significant what he said and we'll continue to listen forward at this continued news.

But number one, he said the White House has still not answered the committee's questions whether there are tapes of conversations at the White House. Remember the president warned, threatened the former FBI director James Comey in a tweet last week saying, he better hope there aren't tapes of this conversations. Opening the door to Congressional inquiries, is there a White House recording system.

He also said this went to a whole other level. Very important from Senator Warner there. Last night when the memo (inaudible) is suggesting that James Comey believed the president of the United States pulled him aside and tried to get him to shut down a key avenue of the Russia investigation. And that is what is significant as president, the president leaning on the FBI director, in the former director's view to shut down the investigation.

As we listened to this, it just reaffirms again the different nature of today. This is presidential conduct in question. Putting undue pressure in James Comey's view on the FBI director. Although James Comey told Congress essentially he hinted at this in testimony to Congress. But his position is seemed to be if you talked to associates that he could handle this. That if the president was just nudging him, he was going to deal with the president as long as nobody mess with the details of the investigation. Let's take this on two pieces.

Does the White House get how different the world is today? The president sounded defiant in his speech but that's -- he's a politician, he's out in the public sphere. Do they get how different this is? And now we'll turn to the question of how the Republican sees it differently.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that they understand that this is a crisis. They know that that was the sentiment last night in the White House. You know, they were there very late trying to figure out how you move forward on this and all of this is happening as there is a huge foreign trip looming.

I think part of the reason this is different is you didn't see them send a bunch of surrogates out there to immediately begin trying to talk about this, to immediately begin trying to spin this. We did not hear from the president earlier today on Twitter. We did not hear from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the way to this address.

I think a number of aides are kind of waiting to see what Comey does and sort of trying to keep the president in line on this. I think that they understand that this is a serious matter. And I think they are certainly hearing these calls from Capitol Hill the same way we are and just the level of concern, and how much that has shifted from yesterday afternoon into yesterday evening and today.

KING: And as Republicans get jitters on Capitol Hill and debate what to do, and we'll get to that in a second. The president, he has not addressed any of the specifics of this. Did you pull Director Comey aside? Did you more than once in Director Comey's views, we're told there are several memos in which the president was trying to say, come on, this isn't a big deal, come on, shut this down. Come on General Flynn is a good guy, shut this down.

We're going to find that out, the specifics as the testimony goes on. Again, we'll hear from Director Comey. We're likely to see his memos in the public domain pretty soon. The president understands in the political environment, he needs to keep his people which is why you hear things like this at the coast guard commencement speech.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No politician in history -- and i say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the nay sayers get in the way of your dreams.


KING: He went on to say, it was righteous, righteous what he was doing. Again, you know, we're not here to do battle with the president. But the issue in question is these documents being leaked to the media are about what the president did.

And so -- yes, at some times they have a legitimate case talking about leaks of sensitive information in the government's hands. There's a damn good conversation that should we had about that. But when the document in question says the president pulled the FBI director aside and tried to get him to shut down an investigation, that's pretty important.

MICHAEL SHEAR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And you have a White House, I think they are more subdued than they've been over the last 12 hours. Reports of kind of real kind of not sadness but sort of soberness and they understand the seriousness. But they're also gun shy because look what's happened this whole week. They -- you know, they've tried to kind of conduct themselves the way normal political operatives conduct themselves and like stick to a story line only to have the president of the United States undercut that story line.

And so, you know, you do have a sense of, if they were to come out, if that's a traditional people, with Sean Spicer, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- I mean, the regular folks would have come out, how long would it be before the narrative that they're pushing is undermined by the president himself.

KING: Right. And how confident are they what the president is telling them is true. But they still want definitely (inaudible). I want to come back to the White House team in a minute. I went to work on Capitol Hill for a second here.

I remember this, I did live this movie during -- I was covering the Clinton White House during the Monica Lewinsky which turned a special council investigation into a real state development on Western Arkansas became about Paula Jones, became about Monica Lewinsky. And so Republicans knowing that history have been very reluctant for good reason. For good reason actually.

They're doing oversight. If the committees in Congress are doing their job, if the FBI is doing its job, the argument has been, why do we need something else (inaudible). Something else that would have to start over again.

[12:40:03] Democrats are saying now that you have this memo, that the president the FBI director aside at least once and try to put pressure in him that that to them says, let's put this in the hand of something independent. Speaker Paul Ryan this morning saying, no, at least not yet. He says the government oversight committee is requesting these documents. Let's see how it goes.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House. I'm sure we're going to want to hear from Mr. Comey about why if this happens as he allegedly describes, why didn't take action at the time. Our job to be responsible is, sober, and focus only on gathering the facts. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: They're buying themselves some time here. Internally, there are some Republicans who say, I'm getting hammered back home. We need to separate ourselves from the president. Why don't we put this in independence hands so that, you know, so we can say it's now an independent agency. The politicians aren't involved, why don't we do something.

And what the speaker is saying there, let's hang on a second. Let's see. Does the White House give us the documents? Does the White House cooperate? And in part when you talk to Republicans privately, does this stop? Does it go from one day, he shared secret intelligence with the Russians he shouldn't have. To the next day, there's a memo from James Comey saying he tried to quash the investigation. There point is, just give it a day or two, see if it stops.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Well, and I think also there's something to be said for being calm and sober and looking at facts. The Comey memos I think are easily subpoenaed and we have not seen them yet. I would like to see those and see what's in it.

I think there's another element that's not just how the White House sees it. And I think it's good that they're subdued and it's good that they see this as serious and they thought actually sort of heartening. There's another element which is how the public sees it and we'll see what that looks like.

But I do think there's a danger politically when Paul Ryan mentions there are some want to harm the president. There are many who Trump's voters have read correctly as, will they just want to take him out for whatever reason they can find. Now, there are reasons also, that's another (inaudible). But I do think there's a part where you lose much of the American public in what right now is like a crisis of public trust in many ways. When you start taking more extraordinary measures or stepping beyond the remedies we have which are elections and impeachment and then the process by which that happens.

And so I do think there's a danger there both politically and just for the nation if you're sort of overstepping the information that you have. And it can be really problematic for those people. And that's why he framed it in the speech. He said Washington media versus the forgotten men and women. Those people still exist and what they feel about this matter.

KING: They do exist. And that's how the president is going to frame this. And I thought it was very significant for the speaker to say on the one hand -- everybody take a breath.

HAM: Right.

KING: Let's get the facts, let's see the memos, let's just not read about them in the newspaper or see them on television. Which if you're in a responsible leadership position, that's (inaudible) but that's also green lighting yet another committee in Congress to get involved here. Instead of saying lead us in the investigation that's ongoing or lead us over here. He's green lighting, go.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. In which is where they were before basically. Mitch McConnell, all of the leadership essentially saying, we got this, we can handle it. There are enough investigations going on including at the FBI.

So you are seeing a really subtle shift from Republicans. And they must be reading the polls too where the American public, there was a poll out that says something like 80 percent favor some sort of independent look at this. And it's --

KING: Maybe because that's because they don't trust anybody in Washington.

HENDERSON: They don't trust anybody, I think that's right. And this goes to show how important credibility is. I mean, this White House from day one talking about crowd size, defending that, talking about illegal votes, talking about Obama wiretapping his phones. I mean, just frittering away. I mean, he didn't come in with a lot of credibility and he didn't do any work when he was elected president to gain credibility.

KING: That is a key point you made there because the Republicans who been able to sort of just put that over here as Trump being Trump about crowd size, about three to five million people voting illegally, about, you know, (inaudible) accusing a president of wiretapping him. It's very different when the president of the United States allegedly asked the FBI director and that's why things are different today because that -- you could at least find a way politically to marginalize that other conduct. They're pushing over in Trump being Trump.

This is something -- it is about presidential conduct, potential obstruction of justice. They understand the gravity of that. The question is, where we go. Everybody sit tight.

Next, shutting that as a shake-up talk and worried presidential friends. To say Team Trump is in turmoil is an epic understatement.


[12:48:10] KING: Welcome back. A very good friend who's worried about his friend the president describes him this way, as angry and, quote, mad at just about everybody including his senior staff. A great "New York Times" account today captures dynamics. Quote, his mood according to top adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has become sour and dark, turning against most of his aides even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner and describing them in a fury as incompetent.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board generally sympathetic to Republican administrations suggest the president stop trashing his staff and instead look in the mirror. Quote, Mr. Trump is considering a White House shakeup, including cleaning out many of his top aides., but the White House always reflects his president's governing style. If Mr. Trump can't discipline himself, then no Jim Baker ex-machina will make much difference.

This is the conversation in Washington because when you talk to people inside the White House or the outside circle, the president phone sometimes usually late at night, they describe him as angry, frustrates, thinking he's getting a raw deal. And according to a friend I've spoken to several times sort of not open to the conversation that sure a lot of this is self-inflicted.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, every day is festivus for this president. He's always looking for somebody to blame. He's always agreed at some outside force, whether it's Obama, whether it's the deep state, whoever it is. But you know -- I mean, if you follow sports, right, and somebody is thinking of firing a coach, no one is sort of looking at the assistant coaches as the reason why the coach isn't being effective, right.

I mean, he is the focal point of the White House. He is the reason why this is a problem. And it very much contradicts how he came in, right.

I alone can fix it. I'm the best manager in the world. I hire the best people. All those stories have trickled out of the White House for months and months and months. Threats of a shakeup, he's mad at this person, now he's not mad at this person. I mean, he's the common denominator in all of this.

[12:50:03] KING: And this is the question. It's not about angry tweets anymore. It's about whether he did something grossly inappropriate or at least that can be interpreted as grossly inappropriate. The FBI director who internally is talking to the president right now to try to get this train back on the track.

MURRAY: There's nobody in this White House who can go to him and really level with him or get him to change his behavior or who would have been in a position for instance to say Mr. President, I'm actually going to sit in on this meeting with you and James Comey. I think it's important that I'm here for this. And I think that that is one of sort of the --

KING: Or the attorney general who said when he said I want the vice president and attorney general to leave the room, say no.

MURRAY: Right. And remember, there were moments when Jeff Sessions was the adult on the plane, when Chris Christie was the adult on the plane, when Steve Bannon had the president here. The reality is the president does view himself as his best communicator, as his best chief of staff, as the guy in charge who makes amazing decisions. And he has viewed, you know, his successes through that prism for decades now. And so to convince him that he is in fact the problem and that the solution is not to fire everyone around him is a very tough lift.

SHEAR: I think that's right but I also think and Sara probably remembers this more having been on the campaign. There were a couple of moments in the campaign where for brief stretches of time, usually after deep crises had erupted, the campaign would find a way to right itself and he would find a way to be restrained and not -- so you do wonder whether this isn't one of those moments. We'll see. I mean, there's no evidence of it yet but he's about to go on this foreign trip. It's a very different environment, is it possible that they sort of rally enough to kind of keep things sort of, you know, locked down for 10 days or two weeks or whatever?

MURRAY: I mean, obviously -- the foreign trip is going to be huge in trying to press a little bit of the reset button. I think their problem is that the things that have happened, the things that are causing them angst are not just going off on a crazy tear about Ben Carson and, you know, like mimicking him stabbing someone that you can make up for by behaving yourself on the campaign trail and giving speeches from a TelePrompTer for a week. You can't erase the conversation with James Comey, you can't erase the memos, and you can't erase an investigation that's now going across even more committees.

HAM: Yes. I think the shakeup that would change things is bringing a person who could tell this president you're wrong. And we haven't seen that person who can do that for a sustained period of time. I think there have been times where we've seen that work. But that's what would make the difference.

Then you have the added problem if you're going to do a staff shakeup then you have to hire other people. And the black list for this White House is very long to the point that they're not staffing a bunch of things that probably should have been staffed.


KING: That's the question. It's a tough thing to go into right now as you talked about. A several friends have suggested, you know, Tom Barrack, his friend in Los Angeles because they remember the convention period where Tom was around because he was the chairman of the convention and he is known -- in the Trump Camp they call him the Trump whisperer, you know, because he's up here, because he's in the base and he can go to Trump and, you know, keep him disciplines.

(Inaudible) come for a couple weeks, can you come and do this, can you do that. That's one of the things you hear but we'll see how this plays out in some of this. I want you to listen to Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who went to the White House and told them that she thought then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have been compromised by the Russians, was open to blackmail.

Listen to her talking to Anderson Cooper last night because she gives the impression, if you listen to this interview that, yes, there are a lot of questions about the president. But she raises some serious doubts about the competency of his White House counsel and others on the staff.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: When you call the White House counsel and say, you've got to meet with them that day about something you can't talk about on the phone and you tell them that their national security adviser may be able to be blackmailed by the Russians, and that you're giving them this information so they'll take action, I'm not sure how much more of a siren you have to sound.


KING: On this front, she's saying I went to them with a flashing red light and they kind of went, heh.

Yes, and we don't know what Don McGahn received, we don't know what he took to the White House. We don't know how closely -- or Donald Trump -- we don't know how closely Donald Trump was paying attention. We don't know why Donald Trump seems to not be able to quit Michael Flynn in the 18 days and then even subsequent 18 days. He has this attachment to Michael Flynn that is the subject of investigations.

KING: And I just want to sneak this in because of delicious irony, call it what you will. But as we've moved yesterday's story which was did the president go to a meeting with Russian diplomats and share top secret Israeli intelligence that the administration had been told don't share with anybody because it's so sensitive. Did that happen while trying to help the president now, Vladimir Putin.


PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN (through translator): Moreover, if the U.S. administration thinks it's possible, we are prepared to provide the transcript of the conversation between Trump and Lavrov to send it in Congress. Only if that is the U.S. administration wants it.


KING: In the with friends like these file --

SHEAR: Put a little grin on his face.


[12:50:00] KING: Puts a little grin on the face there as he tries to meddle in this. But, you know, we make a joke about that but it is -- now, to the point that even if the president mitigates his behavior, even if the president performs well on the global stage, while he's away, the lawyers are going to be looking in files because they want documents. Can you prove or disprove a taping system. This is a bad moment.


HENDERSON: It is a bad moment. And no amount of spin -- I mean, as you said, no communication staff is going to wipe that away. And that's what the White House is essentially trying to do, kind of hanging on Clapper and say Clapper says there's nothing to see here.

But the investigations are going to continue. And I guess it was McCain who told us that this is a centipede. Meaning there are many shoes that are yet to drop and that looks like to be the case.

KING: And the incoming from foreign ambassadors and diplomats in the last few days have been interesting because they're all asking us questions. And I remember going through this. One question is on investigation. Is he going to survive, how big of a deal of this? Will he be impeached? Because they're fascinating. Because there's just about to meet the president.

HAM: Yes. I mean, you don't wipe it away. But I think the question is whether you can sort of keep it afloat until midterm elections. And then that will be a huge deciding factor in I think how Donald Trump feels and probably how the management goes after that point.

KING: Well, that midterm elections is why you have the Republican nervous because right now they're trying to themselves a little time to see which way the ship is turning. This story is not going anywhere. Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics today. See you back here tomorrow. My colleague Jim Sciutto picks up our coverage after a quick break.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a moment in American history.