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Deputy A.G. Briefs Senators On Trump's Firing Of Comey; W.H. Denies Report That Flynn Warned He Was Under Investigation; Aired 7-8p ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: Next, breaking news. President Trump fighting back, saying he didn't collude with the Russians but adding he's only speaking for himself. Plus Vice President Mike Pence is the week of bombshell's development, is it wearing on him? And is Trump about to lawyer up? Let's OutFront. And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, the breaking news, President Trump defiant, taking questions for the first time after a week of bombshell revelations that have shaken his presidency from sharing classified information with Russians, the damning memos with the director of the FBI that possibly obstructing justice to the appointment of a special counsel to take over the Russia investigation.

The president has taken no questions until late today and in a press conference, when asked about the special prosecutor, the president was terse and dismissive, saying he's the victim.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch hunt.


BURNETT: Witch hunt. And then when Trump was asked a specific question about another explosive development, what was the answer? Listen for yourself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn and also as you look back --

TRUMP: No. No. Next question.


BURNETT: But the one thing Trump did say today was perhaps stunning statement from the president of the United States. Listen carefully to this.


TRUMP: There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero.


BURNETT: Speak for myself. Is he opening the door to the possibility of his associates colluding with Russians? Words that must have been unsettling to an already rattled White House staff. Jeff Zeleny He is OutFront tonight at the White House. And Jeff, the president was retrained today in that press conference but clearly angry.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question it, Erin. Angry indeed that it all has come down to this. He was trying to though suggest intentionally that look, this is something that is happening, he's going to get back with his agenda here, trying to put it in, you know, a partisan frame. His White House is going to shift and try and blame democrats on this. But the reality here is he's about the only man standing, republican, at least, who think this isn't a good idea. Across the Capitol today, republican said they supported the special counsel. At the White House, he did not. President Trump fuming today over the appointment of a special counsel to lead the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

TRUMP: I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch hunt.

ZELENY: In his first press conference since the firing of FBI Director James Comey roiled Washington. The president denied asking his FBI Chief to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn's ties with Russia. As Comey wrote in a memo at the time.


ZELENY: The president clearly eager to move on, a prospect that is unlikely. And special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI Director assumes his role overseeing the Russian investigation. The president making a careful distinction saying he had not engage in collusion with Russian officials. Yet making clear he was speaking for himself, not anyone on his campaign.

TRUMP: There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can only speak for myself and the Russians. Zero.

ZELENY: Asked whether he had done anything wrong that would warrant impeachment as some democrats have called for, the president said this.

TRUMP: I think it's totally ridiculous. Everybody think so.

ZELENY: Trump's advisers including long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen meeting today to discuss hiring an outside legal team, CNN has learned. Everyone here knows he needs more firepower on this. One republican close to the White House said the president also defended his firing of Comey saying he believed it would be a bipartisan move.

TRUMP: But when I made that decision I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision because you look at all of the people on the democratic side, not only the republican side that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.

ZELENY: As the president express disdain for the special counsel, Speaker Paul Ryan and most republicans across Washington welcome the move.

PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The whole point is to have an independent investigation and follow the facts wherever they may lead.

ZELENY: Yet unlike republicans who have sharply criticized Russia for interfering in the election, the president did no such thing.

TRUMP: -- because believe me, there's no collusion. Russia is fine, but whether it's Russia or anybody else, my total priority, believe me, is the United States of America.

ZELENY: Now, inside the Trump inner circle, inside the west wing here they know how serious this is. A small group of advisors convened a meeting here to plot a strategy ahead, looking for an outside circle of legal advisors to advise the president going forward on his special counsel here. Every president who has faced this has hired outside lawyers. They're going to present the president with a plan that he will have to as well. Again, that republican source close to the White House saying they need more legal firepower on this.

So Erin, essentially, what's going to be happening, that will happen on one front. The White House trying to turn the page when he flies to Saudi Arabia beginning tomorrow for an eight-day trip. Of course, many of these troubles will likely follow him. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny. And OutFront now, Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for President Obama, former Senator Rick Santorum, republican presidential candidate in 2016 who then backed Donald Trump. Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist, Mark Preston, senior political analyst. Historian Tim Naftali, the director of the Nixon Presidential Library, former director and Paul Callan, former prosecutor. Mark, let me start with you as well here. Witch hunt?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In his eyes it is. It just amazes me right now that Donald Trump, if he is innocent as he says, in this country he is innocent until he is proven guilty of anything. But if he is innocent in his heart and in his mind, then he should just embrace this, he should embrace special counsel, he should open up the books, he should say, listen, come on, let's get - let's get this over with because right now, you know, I hate to say it, but he looks guilty by being so forceful against an investigation.

BURNETT: Right. And saying there's no need for a special prosecutor and all the witch hunt. I mean, Senator, look, the president has referred to this Russia investigation, which by the way at this time is very clearly bipartisan. I mean, you've got democrats and republicans all Bob Mueller. He has referred to the witch hunt consistently. Here he is in January in Twitter saying, fake news, a total political witch hunt. In March, Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt.

And just a couple of weeks ago when James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with the knowledge of the witch hunt says there is no collusion, when does it end? Do you think, Senator, that he should be using these words and just keep saying that it's a witch hunt again and again?

RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think he believes it's a witch hunt and if you look at the facts, I mean, there's nothing so far that's been alleged that there's any criminal activity or any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians and that's what he's basing this on and the investigation that Jim Comey was under was not a Russia investigation, it was a counterterrorism investigation and now it's turned into a criminal investigation.

BURNETT: Although now it is a criminal investigation. I mean, you heard that -


SANTORUM: And that's a big - that's a big problem. And look, I think every republican is doing what every republican does which is run for the hills when things get tough. And that's what they're doing, they're covering their own rear-ends, they want to look - they don't want to look like they're attached to a president who is making a lot of missteps and causing a lot of problems for them. And so, they see this as a welcome reprieve that they can now move on and it's now - we don't have to argue this question anymore.

So this is a good thing for them. Is it a good thing for the country? I don't think so. I think that having a special prosecutor by definition, they always try to find something. They have to justify their existence and a special prosecutor that comes back and says, hey, we don't find any problems here, name one, ever. And that's their problem.

BURNETT: All right.

SANTORUM: If that - if that's the truth, if that's the problem.

BURNETT: Tim, witch hunt?


TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: No. I mean, let's go back to what Senator Graham said today. He comes out of the briefing and says this is - this is gone from a counterintelligence to a criminal investigation. I'm sorry. But that means that there's probable cause of something. This is not a witch hunt. In fact, let's not - let's not forget something really important. Until the revelation , until the firing of Comey, but more importantly until the revelation of the Comey memos, the president was not at the center of these discussions. The issue was Carter Page, maybe Roger Stone.

BURNETT: General Flynn, Manafort. Yes.

NAFTALI: Manafort. The - it's the president by intervening directly in this. Who set - who set up the situation where the skepticism is now directed at him.

BURNETT: So, I want to play again -- I just pointed this out but I think it is very important. And, you know, the president speaks in Trump language, a language that we have all started to learn and understand a little bit. But sometimes, you know, there are questions. OK? And Jen, I want to play for you again what he specifically said about collusion between his campaign and Russia. Here he is.


TRUMP: There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can only speak for myself and the Russians. Zero.


BURNETT: Jen, what did you hear there? Is he admitting there may have been collusion between his campaign and Russia but he wasn't involved? What is he saying do you think?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I'm sure Bob Mueller is paying attention and his team that he's probably putting together at this point. What I heard was him trying to separate himself from any of the activities and anyone affiliated with his campaign. Now, we won't know if that is truthful until we see the outcome of Mueller's investigation. And what Trump has been consistent about is that he has constantly said there's nothing to see here.

There were no contacts, remember that was his claim at the beginning and time and again it's proven that he was lying. So, we'll see what comes out the investigation.

BURNETT: So, Paul, let me ask you on this. If someone on the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians, right? No evidence of that at this time but if that ends up being the verdict here and Trump did not know about it at the time, he's obviously been referring to this as a witch hunt. Would he be in trouble in any way?

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: No, he wouldn't. And he would have to have knowledge and he would have to participate in the collusion with the Russians to be actively involved. And if he knew nothing about it - I mean, we see this all the time in political campaigns. I mean, Governor Christie's --

BURNETT: But if he didn't know General Flynn was doing something and let's say General Flynn did do something and he - and he did asked Jim Comey to not look at General Flynn, even though Trump didn't know General Flynn for sure did something but he asked someone not to look into him. Isn't that a problem -- (CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: Well, General Flynn's a different situation. If he was aware that there was an active criminal investigation that might lead to the arrest and charging of Flynn and he actively tried to suppress that investigation by telling Comey, leave it alone, walk away from it with the implication, otherwise you'll be fired, that would be an obstruction of justice.

PRESTON: You know, let me just say, you know, about the idea, about having a special counsel, this is why it's so important to have a special counsel form the outside that comes in that is not part of congress, that is not part of the executive branch so to speak. It is so confusing what's going on right now. There's so many threads out there right now that need to be followed and at some point tied up. And I think the idea of what he said about General Flynn or supposedly said is a lot different than perhaps colluding with the Russians back in July or August, September, October.

BURNETT: Yes. So Kirsten, the other thing, you know, we were pointing out. The president, with these past 72 hours of news didn't take questions until today. The vice president has also been very quiet. And, you know, senior administration advisor is telling CNN that Mike Pence is going to continue to be a "loyal soldier" but he looks tired and that this is wearing on him and he hasn't been coming out there and defending this White House.

You know, as we all know, some of the other times he's done so whether it be with Rob Rosenstein or Sergei Kislyak, his words have proven to be false later on. How significant is the silence?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Well, I mean, I think what -- Mike Pence is known as somebody whether you agree with his politics or not, a man of integrity and I think a pretty straight shooter. And so, he's already once gotten caught up with, you know, the Trump administration of saying something that wasn't true. So maybe he's just holding back because he doesn't want to get in the middle of this because, you know, the story is already sort of changing, right?

It keeps changing in terms of what we first heard of why, you know, Comey was fired and then, you know, we learn today through the senators who heard from the deputy attorney general that in fact the memo was actually written, you know, after President Trump had made the decision to do the firing. And so, things are moving pretty quickly and information is changing. So, if I was Mike Pence I probably would just hang back out of an abundance of caution.

BURNETT: Abundance of caution, but of course in a sense, that's a very scary thing for this president. He's been a very important front person. All of you staying with me. Next, Rob Rosenstein did brief the entire senate today. He did it behind closed doors but we are finding out exactly what he said. And we now know when he knew that Jim Comey was going to be fired. Plus new questions for the vice president. Did he know that General Michael Flynn was under investigation before Flynn was named national security adviser. And Jeanne Moos on Washington's top leak, how the internet imagine some lawmakers taking a deep breath.


BURNETT: Breaking news. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein briefing senators behind closed doors just a short time ago. The topic of course, the firing of the Former FBI Director Jim Comey. We have learned about what happened behind those doors. Here's Senator Blumenthal.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: It was a counterintelligence investigation before now. It seems to me now to be considered a criminal investigation.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: There is mounting evidence of obstruction of justice. No conclusion yet that there was but that evidence needs to be pursued.


BURNETT: Of course, Senator Blumenthal and Senator Graham. Sunlen Serfaty is OutFront on Capitol Hill. And Sunlen, look, this is -- this is a significant development. As you heard Senator Santorum just say here, the deputy attorney general saying also that he knew Jim Comey was going to be fired before he wrote that controversial memo. I mean, that is also a significant development tonight.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is, Erin. And I can tell you from talking to many senators after that briefing today , that was something that was really notable, a big top line of the - of the briefing today, the fact that Rosenstein got so many questions about the detail of the memo and the impression that both democrats and republicans left was was that Rosenstein told them that he knew on May 8th that James Comey was going to be fired, that date is so important, because that's one day before James Comey was actually fired by President Trump.

And most importantly, that one day before he wrote that memo that was used originally by the White House as justification for why James Comey was ultimately dismissed. So that time line really important here.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Sunlen. And I want to go back to the panel. Senator Santorum, let me start with you though on this what we learn new about the investigation itself here. You just heard Senator Graham, it was a counterintelligence investigation, it seems to me now it is a criminal investigation and Senator Blumenthal on the democratic side there is mounting evidence of obstruction of justice.

Obviously, you said if this really is the case here that this has switched from a counterintelligence investigation to a criminal investigation, that could be very significant.

SANTORUNM: No question about it. Obstruction of justice, obviously, those words are very worrisome words if you're in the administration. And, you know, who was involved and what's going on. That's very troubling. But again, having been one of those senators that walks out of briefings, you hear sometimes what you want to hear and not necessarily what's being said. And so I -- you know, Lindsey didn't say it was a criminal investigation. He said sounds like it's a criminal investigation.

BURNETT: Seems to me, right.

SANTORUM: So, again, a lot of it is conjecture at this point. What we do know that when you have a special prosecutor, special prosecutors are usually focused on trying to prosecute somebody. And that - and that to me is very worrisome.

BURNETT: Jen, do you agree with that? Does the senator have a point? And now you have a special prosecutor, they want to to prosecute something or else they say, look, all the time and money is wasted?


PSAKI: Well, we wouldn't be at this point if Comey wasn't fired. And there wasn't enough to look at which democrats and republicans have both become increasingly concerned about the information that's been coming out. So, we're at this point because it's warranted and because there is concern in the public about what exactly happened here. Ultimately all of these people, senators, members of congress, all work for the public.

And so, this is -- this is a way to restore some confidence. But what's also interesting about this, Erin, to me is that there hasn't been a lot of discussion right now about the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The democrats in the senate have really been pushing to get an independent prosecutor. They got that for free, essentially, because Rosenstein had to do that. So, I think this could give them and the work of their committee and more leverage. They just requested financial information from treasury last week. And their work becomes even more important now.

BURNETT: So, from the legal perspective, how significant do you think it is?

CALLAN: To call it a criminal investigation?

BURNETT: To call it a criminal investigation. Obviously, by having a special prosecutor, they're looking into criminal going wrong, right? So you could say it's semantics, at the same time, it was a counterintelligence investigation now it's criminal.

CALLAN: Well, it depends on who -- it depends on who said it. If Rosenstein said this has been transformed into a count - from counterintelligence to a criminal investigation.

BURNETT: Which is what you get from Senator Graham, that's what happened.

(CROSSTALK) CALLAN: Well, you're getting from Graham is that - it's my impression - what do you say you have exact words.


BURNETT: It seems to me.

CALLAN: It seems to me.

BURNETT: Now that we consider it a criminal investigation.

CALLAN: He does not (INAUDIBLE) Rosenstein.

BURNETT: Well, but it's what he can't - he took away from you.

CALLAN: That's what he took away from me. But to me, the optics over this. The public -- if the public views it as a criminal investigation, it's a lot more serious than calling it merely a counterintelligence investigation. So the words are important. And the truth of the matter is any kind of an investigation by special counsel that leads to criminality all of a sudden becomes a criminal investigation, anyway. So there's no question he's investigating and if he finds a crime a crime's going to be charged and it's going to be handled criminally. So --

BURNETT: How worried should the president be?

NAFTALI: Well, he should be very worried because Bob Mueller is a very serious man. And that means if you have a very serious man overseeing an independent investigation. I wanted to add one thing. Words matter. A counterintelligence investigation means we're focused on the Russians. That means --

BURNETT: That is -

NAFTALI: Yes. When you --

BURNETT: What did the Russians do to the U.S. election?

NAFTALI: Yes. And how can we strengthen our defenses? If you start using the word criminal, it means Americans are involved. And it means that either it's - there's collusion of there's obstruction of justie but if it becomes a criminal investigation, it's about Americans and that changes it. A counterintelligence investigation is important, too. But politically a criminal one is more important --

BURNETT: Which is - and I think he just parsed the semantics perfectly there, Mark.

PRESTON: He did.


BURNETT: The difference between counterintelligence and criminal.

CALLAN: Yes. Except for one thing. Counterintelligence investigations can involve Americans --


BURNETT: Of course they can. The criminal investigations can't just be what happens.


PRESTON: One thing that I think is worth noting one. Bob Mueller has (INAUDIBLE) credentials right now and he's up looking to make a name for himself. Probably which (INAUDIBLE) is my guest. Second thing is that Lindsey Graham, Senator Lindsey Graham was a JAG officer, what does that mean? He's a lawyer in the military. So, he's pretty good in like listening and understanding some of these things. That's why that gives me more pause with Lindsey Graham -


CALLAN: Well, you're right about that. He is a very active private practitioner, too, Lindsey Graham. He's a well-known lawyer.


BURNETT: And Richard Blumenthal of course is attorney general saying the same thing. Kirsten, the other news today was President Trump, you know, as we know, had said that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein's memo, you know, he said again in the press conference it was a reason that he fired Comey. Now we know he's admitted, he was going to do it anyway. But he cited it again as a reason for firing Comey. Here he is.


TRUMP: Director Comey was very unpopular with most people. I actually thought when I made that decision and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein --


BURNETT: All right. So Kirsten, the way he says it is Comey was unpopular, I also got this memo from Rod Rosenstein. But Rosenstein today in - with the senators behind closed doors told them explicitly that he knew Comey was going to be fired before he even wrote the memo. Before he wrote the memo. So the memo had nothing to do with it, right?

POWERS: Right. Well, unless, the president had said to Lester Holt that the memo had nothing to do with it. So - and then he also -- he said something about the reason that he thinks, he was sort of speculating this memo was written was because, you know, apparently Rosenstein had been unimpressed with Comey's appearance in the hearing. Well, this -- I think this is the first time we've heard this.

I don't remember -- you know, the reporting that's been done on this is has been that some -- the impression at least is that somebody asked for this memo. We don't know exactly who it is. I think the presumption was that the president wanted it. We don't know if it was the White House general counsel who asked for it. And so, President Trump has put out this new piece of information that I, you know, it's just -- it's just interesting. I just would like to get more information about that because that's the first we've heard that.

BURNETT: It is the first we've heard that. And obviously very, very -- this timeline is going to become even more and more crucial. All right. Thanks so much to all. And next, did the White House know that General Flynn was under investigation? Before Trump named the national security adviser. It's a crucial question. And after a week of explosive developments, the president today bragging in the press conference about winning the election.


BURNETT: Breaking news. The Trump administration denying a New York Times story that General Michael Flynn warned the Trump transition team that he was under investigation. Obviously an incredibly crucial thing if true because they - Trump went ahead and named him national security advisor, anyway.

This is leading to new questions about what Vice President Pence knew also, because he led the transition team. Did he know?

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Trump team knew about the federal investigation of Michael Flynn far earlier than has previously been reported. This latest bombshell from "The New York Times" adds to evidence the president was repeatedly warned about problems with his pick for national security advisor yet gave him the job anyway.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Flynn is right over here. Put up your hand. What good guy.

FOREMAN: According to "The Times", the retired general's company was secretly paid more than a half million dollars to promote the interest of the Turkish government around the time of the U.S. election. We know in November, President Obama cautioned the president-elect against hiring Flynn. On January 6th, more than two weeks before he was sworn in, Flynn himself told the White House transition team he was under investigation.

This is the revelation from "The Times" which the Trump administration says is not true. And two days later, then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told the Trump team Flynn had been deceiving them about his conversations with Russia and he might be a target for blackmail.

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We were concerned about the underlying conduct in and of itself, even before there were misrepresentations about it. TRUMP: A truly great general right here. Mike, thank you.

FOREMAN: But through all of that, the president stood by Flynn, who was a strong supporter during the election.

MIKE FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: That's why I'm standing up here saying that Donald Trump should be the next president of the United States.

FOREMAN: He was finally fired 18 days after that lost warning amid a flurry of reports about his suspected Russian ties. But even then --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't believe that that was known.

FOREMAN: The administration up to and including the vice president expressed surprise over his foreign entanglements.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say hearing this story today was the first I heard of it and I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for General Flynn's resignation.


FOREMAN: Now, again, the Trump administration says this latest revelation is not true but none of this looks good for Mike Pence. He was the guy in charge of the transition. So, even if it's just all the other stuff, people will say either if you knew about it, why didn't you do something? And if you didn't know about it, why not? Erin?

BURNETT: Tom, thank you.

OUTFRONT now, Republican Congressman Will Hurt. He sits on both the House Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

And, Congressman, I appreciate your time tonight.

"The New York Times" reports that General Flynn warned the Trump transition team that he was under investigation. The White House, of course, as you know is denying this. But if it is true, is it OK that they would still have gone ahead and made General Flynn the national security advisor?

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, there's a whole lot of questions that need to be answered in this investigation, and I sit on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and this is one of the areas we're looking at. And for me, the question is how do we ensure that in a bipartisan and thorough manner we get through all those questions?

And these are the types of things that I'm sure we'll be uncovering and talking about as this investigation continues.

BURNETT: The fired FBI Director Jim Comey wrote in a note that President Trump told him to let go of the General Flynn investigation. The President Trump was asked about this today, Congressman, asked if he did this. And his response was very terse.


REPORTER: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back --



BURNETT: Congressman, it is going to come down perhaps to the word of the former FBI director and the word of the president of the United States. Between those two, who would you believe?

HURD: Well, my goal -- and I sit on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee as well. These memos, we have requested the contents of these so we can review them and to also have former FBI Director Comey testify in front of our committee next week.

So, this is, you know, this is important to understand, the context of the memo, what was said and understand what the contents. And so, I can't -- I'm not going to comment until we get all the facts, gather all the facts, and figure out where that leads us.

And that's -- it's so important that we don't just react to some press report here or there.

[19:35:03] But we have to be deliberate. We have to be thorough and we have to show restraint as we -- as we uncover the facts.

BURNETT: So, former FBI director going to heed your request and come and testify?

HURD: I'm pretty confident he is and that hearing may be as soon as the 24th of May, which is late next week.

BURNETT: So, the president of the United States responded to the special counsel, obviously, to Bob Mueller. And he did so first on Twitter, saying this is the greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history. He also in the press conference today said this is a witch hunt. He said the special counsel appointment in his word, quote, hurts our country.

Do you think that this is a witch hunt and that the special counsel, this situation hurts our country?

HURD: I think the special counsel is a move that's going to make sure that the American people can be satisfied with however this ends. We got to make sure that this is done the right way, that we don't react, that we show restraint, that we get to all the facts so that we can be proud of what happens in this investigation. BURNETT: But you are -- are you proud of the fact that there is a

special counsel, that it is Bob Mueller? You think that this is fair and nonpartisan?

HURD: I think Mueller has the respect of my colleagues, both in the House and the Senate from both sides of the aisle. He's distinguished himself in law enforcement and he has the right law enforcement and legal background to understand the gravity of this situation and to do it in a thorough way.

BURNETT: All right. Congressman Hurd, thank you for being with me tonight.

HURD: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. And OUTFRONT next, President Trump facing the test of his political life. So, why is he still talking about winning the election?

And the House majority leader caught on tape talking about Putin paying Trump. Was he joking?


[19:40:41] BURNETT: The president seizing an opportunity to tout his signatures campaign promise: building a border wall. So, today, there was a question about the wall. It actually was directed to the president of Colombia at the joint press conference. But after he answered the question, the president didn't think he did a good job, so he jumped in.


REPORTER: President Santos, to you heard President Trump say critical to stopping the flow of drugs into the United States will be the wall he wants to build on the Mexican border? Do you agree with him?

TRUMP: That was a long and very diplomatic answer to your question. I will say it a little bit shorter. Walls work. Just ask Israel. They work. Believe me, they work.


BURNETT: And you see the kind of little bemused smirk, smile on the face of the president of Colombia there.

OUTFRONT now, our senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, Chris Cillizza, our politics editor at large, and Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent, host of the number orn show, "RELIABLE SOURCES".

OK, Nia, you know, I want to start, first there, just quickly, with the wall. Look, the president of Colombia did give a long answer and he didn't answer the question. It's a little less than diplomatic for the president of the United States to go, you just did a horrible job there. Let me just jump in and say what I want to say. That is what he did, though. That's what he did. How effective was


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think it was effective for people who like Donald Trump, his sort of pugnacious way of interacting with people. He's kind of plain spoken, and he boiled it down, talking about Israel there and saying that walls work. I mean, obviously, he hasn't really done a great salesman's job in terms of the wall because most people actually don't believe a wall would work in the way he thinks it would. And that's why it's stalled in Congress.

It's interesting also to see Donald Trump still promising when he's been in office four months, right, and he's going back to the campaign promises.


HENDERSON: And he's made very little progress, not only on the wall but any number of promises that he made.

BURNETT: And, Chris, you know, look, he cares deeply about his base. The latest poll, this is from Monmouth, his approval ratings down four, his disapproval up seven. This is just from March. Does this president, by the way he jumps in on this, does he care more about the wall? That's the one thing he gets. Forget tax reform, forget health care, forget anything else.

Is the wall really the ultimate number one thing?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: You know, Erin, I'm hesitant to say there's a be all, end all number one thing for Donald Trump, because if he has shown anything in the campaign and in his presidency is that he has sort of a fungible sense of what his views are and what's a priority. I think he clearly knows that the immigration issue and the wall in particular are what vaulted him from basically an asterisk in the Republican primary to the top of the Republican primary field.

So, I think he does feel some level of commitment there. But, look, out of all the difficult slogs that he's going to have legislatively, health care, through one chamber but not through the Senate, tax reform, very difficult, I actually think funding to have wall is going to be very -- you're asking Congress to spend $15 billion potentially on a wall with the promise that he'll eventually get Mexico to pay it back. That's going to be a hard sell given his current political capital which is roughly zero.

BURNETT: OK. So, maybe the highlight of the whole press conference today, and, by the way, you know, he talked an a lot of different things here, but, you know, what he had to say about Comey, what he had to say about Flynn, Brian, there was though when he was talking about Comey, there was this moment when he was asked about why he fired Jim Comey. And I want to play so everyone can hear the answer and see how many people -- many people responded the way I did when I heard this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The FBI has not had that special reputation with what happened in the campaign, what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign and even you could say directly or indirectly with respect to the much more successful Trump campaign.


BURNETT: Much more successful Trump campaign.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: There it is. You know, this is the same man who was bragging about "Apprentice" ratings ten years after the ratings have slid. So, it is not the first time he's hold on to something.

I think the reality is, he will stop bragging about the election wins when he starts winning in other ways, when he has something he can brag about from Congress, from a legislation he has signed.

[19:45:09] Right now, he doesn't have much else to brag about.

Let me go to one other thing he said today to some of the television anchors of the White House. He continues to mislead people by saying, quote, This is purely an excuse, Russia, all the concerns, purely an excuse for the Democrats having lost the election.

That's not true. We know that's not true because the FBI opened the investigation in July of 2016 before election day. But he continues to repeat it over and over and over again and try to stick it into people's brain.

BURNETT: And, Chris, it's almost like he took a little pause and he said, and the much more successful Trump campaign. I mean, he had to say it. I think no matter what your politics are, you laugh at that a little bit.

I mean, obviously, it was a more successful campaign. He won.



CILLIZZA: Yes. You know, another thing from though White House anchor's interview Brian mentioned, is he in that -- he goes on and says like the electoral vote, well, even though the electoral vote --

STELTER: It's easier for a Democrat to win the electoral college.

CILLIZZA: Right. Even though it's easy for -- like why do you need to say that? I mean, look, he is someone who if he wins, he spends a lot of time reminding you that he wins. If he loses, he declares victory and goes on. So, it really is --

STELTER: It's not a marketing tactic. I'm surprised he didn't bring the electoral maps to the press conference today.


HENDERSON: Given a chance, he probably will at some point.

CILLIZZA: It's win-win for him. The problem is, Erin, you mentioned the polls. The problem for Donald Trump is, the base is, oh, he's going to be for him no matter what, those aren't enough people to get him reelected. It's just, the number does not add up.

BURNETT: Not enough to give him the power he needs to push through controversial legislation like tax reform.

All right. All staying with me because next, the House majority leader caught on tape saying Putin pays Trump.

And senators making fun of themselves over this picture, as Twitter asks, why is Chuck Schumer smoking a Doobie? Jeanne Moos has answers.


[19:50:56] BURNETT: So, it's slightly awkward meeting at the White House today. This photo is from a meeting of Jared Kushner's innovation initiative. To the right of President Trump, you see the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Why would this be awkward, you say? Well, because of this. "The Washington Post" reporting McCarthy was actually caught on tape telling other Republicans, quote, There's two people I think Putin pays, Representative Rohrabacher and Trump.

Hmm, a very awkward seating arrangement, now you understand. You wouldn't put them next to each other at a wedding. McCarthy now says that he was just joking.

Well, my panel is back with me.

Now, Nia, "The Washington Post" says there's a tape, they're not releasing it. We're not exactly sure why, but they say they actually heard this tape. So, they know that Kevin McCarthy said it. It was said about a year ago during the campaign.

Joke or not at the time, it's not a joke anymore.

HENDERSON: No, it's not a joke. And whatever sort of relationship Trump's campaign aides had with Russia, whatever sort of fascination that Donald Trump has exhibited towards Putin, you know, it's really become a nightmare at this point for this presidency, for this party. I mean, they thought they would be in a different position at this point, in terms of moving their agenda forward with Obamacare, with tax reform, with the wall, with any number of things, and now this cloud hangs over them.

I talked to some Senate aides today and they, you know, basically constituents are asking senators, right, about this probe, about Russia, about Trump, and they're not able to keep on topic in terms of what they want to talk about.

So, you know, it seemed like a joke then, it seemed sort of like lighthearted thing back then, but my goodness, Republicans so frustrated at this point that this could drag down the presidency.

BURNETT: Brian, here's a thing though -- it's not a joke you would make if you liked the guy, or if you though that there was right, I mean, you know, it's not -- that's just, you know, to be blunt about that. He may not have meant it when he said it. He may have been being facetious. But that's different than being a complete joke.

Here's a thing, it always comes back to tapes.

STELTER: And are there more tapes? I find myself wondering if Paul Ryan and McCarthy and others are worried that there are more tapes. Who was taping this private meeting last year? The same question we're asking about the Oval Office, are there tapes?

BURNETT: And, Chris, that's got to be something that now has some fear on Capitol Hill, because, obviously, "The Washington Post" now has this tape, what else?

CILLIZZA: Yes. And, look, Donald Trump has floated the idea that he's never knocked down and they refused to comment on that he may or may not have taped James Comey. Does that mean he has a taping system, they haven't commented on it?

I mean, look, my general attitude is, if the president doesn't have a taping system, if he floats it in a tweet the next day, you can say, no, he was speaking metaphorically like wiretapping.

BURNETT: Right, quotes.

CILLIZZA: I don't know why you wouldn't do that. But, yes, my basic point you should assume if you're a politician, everything you say and do is either on video or on audio because I feel like we see these stories more and more and more often.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all.

And next, several senators sharing a laugh while smoking up. Jeanne Moos lets us in on this joke.


[19:57:45] BURNETT: It's not everyday a senator makes a pot joke on Twitter. Today is that day. Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're the metaphorical Cheech and Chong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A quarter pounder, man.

MOOS: -- of the U.S. Senate, bipartisan Cheech and Chong. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who just finished a workout, and Democrat Chuck Schumer holding his fingers as if he were holding, let's let Senator Sasse describe it in a tweet: Holy moly, it looks like Senator Schumer and I are smoking reefer outside a wedding, to which Senator Schumer replied with a line from "Anchorman" --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They escalated quickly.

MOOS: Escalated into viral fame, as Senator Sasse told Glenn Beck.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Somebody (ph) did a photoshop version of it that has Schumer with a huge joint in his hand in the photo now.

MOOS: One conservative website started a caption contest, attracting entries like, bartenders I'll have a double.

Many seemed to think it was nice to have you guys providing a bipartisan laugh during these grim days.

While others couldn't get over Sasse's use of the word reefer, as in the 1936 cult classic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoking the soul-destroying reefer, they find a moment's pleasure, but at a terrible price.

MOOS: Sasse may have been using reefer ironically. He's savvy enough to do a Dave's not here imitation from Cheech and Chong.

SASSE: Open up, man, it's me, Dave.

MOOS: One constituent tweeted, maybe you all should try that. Might be amazed what you would get done, suggesting a little reefer madness might counteract the political madness in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marijuana, the burning weed with its roots in hell.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: Ben Sasse, somehow seems to fit his personality.

OK. Thanks so much to all of you for joining us. Don't forget you can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere on CNN Go.

"AC360" with Anderson Cooper begins right now.