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Interview With Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan; Interview With Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes; Trump Says Special Counsel Probe Hurts Country; Joe Lieberman Front-Runner for FBI Director; Deputy Attorney General Briefs Full Senate On Investigation; White House Denies Flynn Told Transition About Lobbying. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: cries of witch-hunt.

President Trump slams the appointment of a special counsel and flatly denies he tried to influence the FBI's Russia investigation. Tonight, Mr. Trump speaking out about a stunning week of crisis and scandal for his administration.

Firing timeline, new questions tonight about the Justice Department's role in James Comey's ouster as FBI chief, the deputy attorney general telling senators that he knew Comey would be fired before he wrote a memo recommending his dismissal.

New director? The president may be on the verge of choosing a former Democrat to take charge over at the FBI. Why has ex-Senator Joe Lieberman apparently became the front-runner?

And the Flynn connection. The fired national security adviser keeps stirring up trouble for the Trump administration amid new revelations about his actions before Inauguration Day. Why is the president still so loyal to Flynn and reportedly sending him messages of support?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the president's angry reaction to the appointment of a special counsel and the ramifications for the investigation into the Trump camp's ties to Russia.

In his first on-camera response just a little while ago, the president described the probe as a witch-hunt that's dividing the country. He again denied any collusion between his associates and Russia. He also denied reports that he asked former Director James Comey to end the FBI's investigation into the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Also breaking, the deputy attorney general reveals to senators that he knew Comey would be fired as FBI chief the day before he wrote a memo used by the White House to justify the decision, Rod Rosenstein sharing new details in a private all-Senate briefing.

The number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, says Rosenstein couldn't talk about why Mr. Trump fired Comey because it's part of a special counsel investigation.

Also tonight, President Trump says he's close to choosing a new FBI director and confirms that Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman is one of his top choices. Sources tell CNN the former senator, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee now appears to be the front-runner for the job.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including House Intelligence Committee member Jim Himes. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.

First, let's go to our CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray.

Sara, together with some other television news anchors, I had lunch with the president today. He told us the special counsel, in his words, hurts our country. He clearly is not happy about this decision.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf, he certainly is not pleased by this news.

And you can almost see the struggle that the president was having during this press conference today, where on the one hand he wanted to pivot, he wanted to talk about his agenda, he wanted to talk about the upcoming foreign trip, but on the other hand, he just can't move beyond questions about Russia and his anger, frankly at the fact that a special counsel has been named.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Believe me, there's no collusion. Russia is fine.

MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump seething today over the news that a special counsel will oversee the FBI's Russia investigation, carefully insisting that he did not personally collude with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

TRUMP: Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch-hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians. Zero.

MURRAY: Many in Washington cheered the news that former FBI Director Robert Mueller would serve as special counsel in the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. But the president stewed.

TRUMP: I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.

MURRAY: Trump also sharply denying that he ever asked ousted FBI Director James Comey to back off his investigation into retired General Michael Flynn.

QUESTION: 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...

TRUMP: No, no. Next question.

MURRAY: And the president dismissing the notion that any of his actions could warrant criminal charges or impeachment.

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

MURRAY: Trump's defiant tone on Thursday a far cry from the measured statement the president released as soon as the special counsel was announced. On Wednesday night, Trump simply wrote: "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know. There was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."

[18:05:10]

But even as he decried the Russia probe as a witch-hunt today, Trump appeared eager to turn the focus back to his agenda.

TRUMP: There was no collusion, and everybody, even my enemies, have said, there is no collusion. So we want to get back and keep on the track that we're on, because the track that we're on is record- setting.

MURRAY: The president using his appearance with the Colombian president to tout his upcoming foreign trip.

TRUMP: Tomorrow, as you know, I'm going to Saudi Arabia, going to Israel, going to Rome, and we have the G7. We have got a lot of great things going on.

MURRAY: And devoting part of his day to the hunt of his new FBI director, as former Senator Joe Lieberman emerges as an early front- runner for the job.

TRUMP: We're very close to an FBI director. Soon.

QUESTION: Is Senator Lieberman one of your top picks, sir?

TRUMP: He is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, we are beginning to see an acknowledgement that this president may need a bit more fire to help defend himself now that a special counsel has been named in this Russia investigation.

A close circle of Trump advisers met today in Washington to discuss hiring outside legal counsel for the president, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting for us from the White House, thank you.

And, today, we heard the President Trump once again defend his decision to fire James Comey as the FBI chief. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 -- 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.

Then he had the very poor performance on Wednesday. That was a poor, poor performance, so poor, in fact, that I believe -- and you would have to ask him, because I don't like to speak for other people -- but I believe that's why the deputy attorney general went out and wrote his very, very strong letter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president referencing a now infamous memo by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, this shortly after Rosenstein revealed new information about that memo and the timing of Comey's ouster.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, Rosenstein gave a private briefing because closed doors to members of the U.S. Senate today. What did he tell them about that controversial memo?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, questions over that memo that you referenced really seem to dominate much of the discussion in that private, behind-closed-door meeting today, according to many senators who left the meeting, Senator Durbin saying that Rosenstein said today that he could not talk specifically about why President Trump wanted Comey fired because -- and this is Rosenstein's explanation -- because it's part of Bob Mueller's investigation.

And senators said he wanted to give Mueller wide latitude here. And we are learning a little bit more about the timeline here. According to multiple Democratic senators leaving that briefing, they said that Rosenstein knew on May 8 that President Trump wanted to fire James Comey.

That is one day before James Comey was ultimately fired and, importantly, one day before Rosenstein wrote that memo basically recommending that Comey be fired. Of course, as you know, that memo was originally held up, Wolf, as explanation for why Comey was ultimately dismissed.

BLITZER: Sunlen, we also heard from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Tell us what he had to say about that briefing with Rosenstein.

SERFATY: Yes, Senator Graham not really mincing words at all leaving that briefing today. He said that he strongly believes that the congressional investigations that are going on up here on Capitol Hill have been severely limited.

In his mind, he believes that this will make it harder to potentially subpoena people that might be brought in to the congressional inquiries. And he says that he was left with the impression after listening to Rod Rosenstein that the Russian investigation should now be considered a criminal investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The takeaway I have is that everything he said was that you need to treat this investigation as if it may be a criminal investigation. So, I think the biggest legal change seems to be that Mr. Mueller is going to proceed forward with the idea of a criminal investigation vs. a counterintelligence investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And that briefing today lasting a little over two hours, and many senators leaving that briefing telling us that they have many, many more questions here, and now this goes over to the House. Tomorrow, Rod Rosenstein will brief the full House as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thanks very much.

Let's get some more of all of this.

[18:10:00]

Congressman Jim Himes is joining us. He's a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Hello, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the president told me and a few other reporters today he believes the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in his words, "hurts our country because it shows we're a divided, mixed- up, not unified country, and we have very important things to be doing right now."

Your reaction?

HIMES: Well, my reaction is that that's exactly wrong, right?

I mean, the entire country, I would think, would want to lift this cloud of suspicion. And, as we all know, there are lots of questions about what contacts may have been made between the president's people and Russia. There's lots of questions. I would've thought that anybody of either party would say, let's move

on. Let's get a good investigation with total scope to do what it needs to do, so that we can arrive at an answer to the question of whether there was collusion.

And this is one of the things that really puzzles me, Wolf, as an investigator. The president called this thing a witch-hunt. He said, even my enemies say that there was no collusion.

First of all, none of his enemies, in fact, none of his friends, I think, have with any basis made that statement. But what's intriguing to me is, there have been investigations forever. When you're innocent, when absolutely innocent, you say, I welcome this investigation. This investigation should happen as rapidly as possible because it will clear my name.

When you're less than innocent, you use words like witch-hunt. You obfuscate. Maybe you fire the people who are actually running the investigation.

None of that is proof, of course, that Trump is guilty, but I will tell you, there's nothing about his behavior that suggests that there's absolutely nothing to hide here.

BLITZER: He also told us it was simply an excuse for the Democrats -- you're a Democrat -- for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won. And that's the -- that's his explanation for the witch-hunt. Go ahead and react.

(LAUGHTER)

HIMES: You know, what can you say? That's -- the president -- and I have been watching him pretty closely for these last 120 days or so. There is no venue, whether it's the Coast Guard Academy yesterday or a meeting with the foreign leader, in which the election isn't the central motif in this man's mind -- 240 years of American history, most presidents have gotten elected have had a certain satisfaction with that and then have moved on to the questions of the day.

But, look, over here in the House, the investigation is being run by a terrific and very, very solid Republican, Mike Conaway. I don't think that the FBI decides to originate an investigation because they're angry about the presidential outcome. So, this is just one more example, sadly, of delusion on the part of our president.

BLITZER: Is there any concern on your part, Congressman, that your House and Senate investigations could actually wind up getting in the way of the federal effort or diminish it in any way, because that's the suggestion that Senator Lindsey Graham put forward today?

HIMES: Yes, I don't think they're going to diminish each other.

And, remember, we're looking at slightly different things. The Senate and the House investigations are really not primarily about -- you know, about finding criminal wrongdoing and prosecuting criminal wrongdoing. That is, of course, what the FBI and the DOJ do. Here in the Congress, the issue is, how did Russia intervene, what do

we do about it, was there collusion, what does that say about our political system and potentially about the president's campaign? So it's a slightly different focus.

Now, what we do need to be careful about -- and this is -- this is not a new problem -- but if DOJ, if the FBI is investigating an individual, they may come to us and ask us not to interview that individual in open forum, because that could compromise their ability to do what they need to do in investigating an individual.

So there's a long list of people obviously that I assume are of interest to the FBI because they're of interest to us, and I could imagine them saying, hey, guys, hold off on these people because we're investigating them and we don't want you in our way.

BLITZER: Senator Graham also said he believes the Russia investigation is now considered, in his words, a criminal investigation.

Director Comey, the fired FBI director, he said back in March, he said he was -- he described it as a counterintelligence investigation. This will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

Do you see a difference between those two statements, what Comey said and now what Lindsey Graham is saying?

HIMES: Yes, well, first of all, I think it's hard to know for sure because I assume that they're investigation is not close to being done. That's at least what Director Comey said a couple of weeks ago.

There is a difference. A counterintelligence investigation is when the FBI says, we think we may have a spy that's spying on the United States, and they do all the work that they do to determine if that is true.

Their objective there is twofold, one, to find out who that spy is talking to, how they're doing what they're doing, what other people might be involved. That's the counterintelligence part of it. It may turn out, if that spy is an American, that they would then choose to turn it into a criminal investigation by bringing charges of espionage against an individual.

[18:15:01]

So, you can sort of have both a counterintelligence and a criminal investigation under way at the same time. But I don't think we're going to get good clarity on that until well down the road with the FBI investigation.

BLITZER: Have you seen, Congressman, evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign, Trump associates and the Russians?

HIMES: Wolf, I want to be pretty careful about getting into specifics of the investigation, which is -- you know, much of this is happening behind closed doors with classified information.

What I will tell you -- and this is no different if you're on the inside, like I am, than if you're on the outside scratching your head over any number of behaviors from this president -- there are a lot of very, very serious unanswered questions that this investigation needs to get behind and answer.

But I don't want to right now characterize what at -- really at the early stages of the investigation where it's likely to end up.

BLITZER: Well, without providing any sensitive information or classified information, it's a simple yes or no. Have you seen evidence of collusion?

HIMES: Let me put it this way.

I have seen things that cause me to say this investigation needs to continue. I'm glad the FBI is doing what they're doing. I was very worried upon the firing of Jim Comey about the signal that was sent to the people in the FBI who are doing that investigation. Look, that's a pretty unambiguous signal, and the White House itself said this had to do with the Russia investigation.

If you're a member of the FBI or an employee of the FBI as special agent, you just got one heck of a signal. Bob Mueller, I think, assures that has been remedied.

But to answer your question, Wolf, there is plenty for us to continue to investigate here.

BLITZER: CNN just reported that your House Intelligence Committee has obtained access from data from the Treasury Department, so you can investigate possible connections between President Trump's businesses and Russia. Here's the question. How important is this access and what will you be looking for specifically?

HIMES: Well, Wolf, as you might imagine, I don't want to get into the kinds of information that we have received specifically, but I will tell you that it will not surprise you that any time you have got an investigation that involves the possibility of linkages or collusions or people working together, there is always the possibility that money changed hands, particularly if you're in the world of real estate.

Real estate, of course, I an area in which there is all kinds of money laundering that goes on and which there isn't necessarily transparency about who owns what property and what is happening to that property.

So without in any way prejudicing what the conclusions may be, you can safely assume that, as part of this investigation, we're going to want to see a lot of financial records that may involve a fairly large group of people, who they were getting money from, who they were paying money to.

And, again, I'm not saying that we know that there was anything untoward there, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we will be interested in seeing that information. BLITZER: Have you actually seen any of that information yet?

HIMES: I personally have not yet looked at that particular -- at any particular financial information.

We are in the process of looking at a lot of documents, but I personally have not actually spent a lot of time looking at anything that is related to financial records.

BLITZER: Your committee also has requested documents related to the former FBI Director Comey's dismissal, Director Comey's memos that he wrote. Have you received a response yet?

HIMES: Well, as you know, a lot of people on the Hill, a lot of committees on the Hill both want to -- have asked for and presumably will receive those memorandums.

At last count, there were three or four different committees that were showing some interest in that. And, of course, there's a bunch of committees that are interested in actually speaking with Director Comey.

Look, at a minimum, we have got to get behind the question of whether the president fired Jim Comey in order to stymie the investigation of his campaign. And we have got a really interesting moment here, right, because Trump told the media today, the president told the media that the conversation that the Jim Comey memo supposedly describes, he said it never took place.

So you have got Jim Comey, the director of the CIA -- sorry -- of the FBI, apparently -- and I haven't seen the memo yet -- recording a conversation in which the president asked him to let Michael Flynn go, and you have got the president of the United States saying that never happened.

I got to tell you, when you have got a very clear conflict like that, when somebody is lying at those levels, you want to know who.

BLITZER: Should Director Comey testify in open session either before your committee or another committee?

HIMES: Well, I always have a bias towards having people testify in open session.

And the reason for that is that you -- one of the critical objectives of this investigation, as I said earlier, is just to clear things up for the American people, to show, whatever the answer may be, to show the answer to the American people, so that we can move on.

And that, of course, will be facilitated if people are willing and able to testify in public. So, of course, my preference would be for public testimony, but equally, of course, if he needs to discuss classified information, that may need to happen behind closed doors.

[18:20:07]

BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to get Republican reaction to the special counsel, President Trump's remarks and a whole lot more. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, President Trump arguing that the appointment of a special counsel is hurting the country and claiming that it's an excuse for Democrats who lost the presidential election.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee as well.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You bet.

BLITZER: Do you support the appointment of the special counsel, Robert Mueller?

[18:25:01]

JORDAN: Yes, I will keep an open mind.

Mr. Mueller has got a distinguished career serving our country. But I will tell you the one interaction that I had with Mr. Mueller, I was deeply disappointed, because, early on -- it's about four years ago -- early on in the IRS investigation, it had been the number one story.

We had just learned -- it had been about four weeks into the discovery that the IRS was targeting people. I asked Mr. Mueller a series of questions in front of the Judiciary Committee. He couldn't answer any of them. He couldn't answer who the lead investigator was, who the attorney was, who was on the investigative team.

So, I was disappointed with that. But I will keep an open mind and we will see how this process plays out.

BLITZER: The president told a few of us reporters today he believes the appointment of a special counsel, in this case, Robert Mueller, in his words, hurts our country terribly. He tweeted, calling it a witch-hunt.

Do you consider this investigation a witch-hunt?

JORDAN: What I want is the facts, Wolf. We all want the facts.

I think the president wants the facts, so we can get out there and we can let the American people know what happened. So, let's get the full context. I want to see the entire memo. I want to know who he talked to when he put that memo together. But I think, more importantly, I want to know, did FBI Director Comey,

then FBI Director Comey, did he memorialize other conversations surrounding other big events? For example, the day after Loretta Lynch meets Bill Clinton on the tarmac last summer, and his discussions with senior Justice Department officials, did he memorialize those conversations?

How about the time when they decide who gives the Cheryl Mills the immunity deal, Heather Samuelson the immunity deal? Did he memorialize conversations with senior Justice Department officials surrounding those events and those decisions?

Or did he just do it surrounding events associated with President Trump? Those are important questions that provide context and show whether there was consistency how he dealt with big issues in front of the Justice Department.

(CROSSTALK)

JORDAN: We want to know.

BLITZER: We're told by his associates he used to write memoranda almost on everything, whenever he had a conversation.

JORDAN: Then let's see them.

BLITZER: He would put it down on paper. That just -- that was his style. That's what we're told.

JORDAN: Let's see them.

BLITZER:

JORDAN: How about when they made the decision not to prosecutor Lois Lerner, conversations surrounding that, or any conversations he had with the Obama White House? Where those memorialized?

And if so, I would like to see those, along with what may have took place here regarding President Trump.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Senator Lindsey Graham, your Republican colleague. He's over in the Senate. He said today he believes this Russia investigation, the overall investigation, there's a special counsel investigating, should now be considered a criminal investigation.

Do you believe this is already now a criminal investigation?

JORDAN: I believe I want the facts. I believe the American people want the facts. And I believe the American people want us also to focus on those things they elected us to do.

That's what I'm focused on doing, doing what I told them I was going to do and what they sent me here to do. So let's get the facts. I'm not here to say it's criminal or not criminal. We want the facts. We want the information. But we want it in context and we want to know if it was consistency throughout Mr. Comey's tenure as FBI director.

BLITZER: All of this is happening, Congressman, as President Trump is touting an agenda on taxes, infrastructure.

JORDAN: Right.

BLITZER: The Senate, as you know, working on the health care legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But you're a veteran lawmaker. Can Congress really get anything done right now amid all of this controversy?

JORDAN: Yes, yes, and we had better, because that's what the American people elected us to do. I say this all the time.

We make this job way too complicated. Our job is to do what they sent us here to do. They sent us here to reform the tax code and cut their taxes. They sent us here to replace Obamacare, repeal it and replace it. They sent us here to build the wall and secure the border.

Let's get about doing those things. Let's help the president accomplish what the voters elected him to do. That's what we're focused on doing. This investigation's going to happen, but it should happen in a way that we get all the information regarding all these important events that have happened over the last few years.

I want to see all that, because that provides context. That shows whether there was consistency. That's important for the American people to see.

BLITZER: Republican House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, he announced today he will resign at the end of June, give up his seat in Congress.

You have signaled you might be interested in becoming the chairman of that committee. Now that he's leaving, will you make the push to become the chairman of this very important committee?

JORDAN: Well, we will see, Wolf. Look, I have enjoyed the work on this committee. It's an important committee. I think I would have strong support amongst my colleagues on that committee.

We certainly did the last time that this -- there was an opening here. But, you know, you how this place works. The folks on the committee, the members on the committee don't make the selection. It's the steering committee. And that process doesn't always favor guys like me, who don't always go along with the establishment.

So we will see how it plays out, but right now we just wish Jason the best. And he's still the chairman and we're going to do -- work hard on the matters that are in front of the committee right now.

BLITZER: One final, question, Congressman, before I let you go. The chairman of the committee, Jason Chaffetz, he said he has subpoena pen ready for the memo that the FBI director, James Comey, wrote detailing President Trump's reported request to him to end that investigation of Michael Flynn, the president's fired national security adviser.

JORDAN: Yes.

BLITZER: If you become the chairman of this committee, would you push to continue to get those kinds of memos?

JORDAN: The American people want to see that. They don't -- they want to see not only the memo that's been given to us by unnamed sources. They want to see the memos, if there are such things, regarding some of these other events I talked about.

So sure, if, in fact, that would play out, I would pursue getting all that information, because I think the American people want to see it.

BLITZER: Sounds to me like you'd like to be the chairman of that committee, which is a very important committee. But I'll leave it at that, Congressman.

JORDAN: You bet. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead our specialists are standing by to talk more about the president's response to the new special counsel investigation and his multiple denials of wrongdoing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can only speak for myself and the Russians, zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:38] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight. President Trump speaking publicly for the first time since the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between, certainly, myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things, so I can tell you that we want to bring this great country of ours together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's dig deeper with our specialists and analysts. Gloria Borger, what did you think of the president's comments?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he was careful to say that he could only speak for himself or "I can always speak for myself," as he said, so as for collusion between himself and the Russians, he said absolutely not. Although he did also refer to his campaign, but it was a little vague there.

I think the interesting thing that also came out of this press conference is when he was asked whether he ever asked Comey to back down on his investigation into General Flynn's ties with the Russians, he said absolutely not with a flat no, and of course, we know that is part of the investigation now that the special counsel will be doing.

BLITZER: Yes, Rebecca Berg, what did you think?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I would disagree with the president that he has shown very much respect for this investigation to this point. Certainly, one could understand his frustration if he does, in fact, believe that he is innocent of some of the allegations that are out there, that he does not warrant this attention, certainly you could understand his frustration.

But as president of the United States, he should be above this. He should let the investigation proceed, go about his work as president. And to say that the country is divided because of this investigation, as he did in his remarks today, I think really misses the mark. It suggests that the president isn't aware of what he has been saying over the past few months and doing. He hasn't really been reaching out to those who do not support him; and his approval rating is very low, 40 percent, roughly, in polling that we've seen. Historically low among presidents at this point in their term.

BLITZER: So Phil Mudd, what did you think of the president's use of the phrase, "I can -- I always speak for myself," because the suggestion is maybe, you know, he's leaving some of his associates, potentially, culpable to collusion?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Of course he does. He's a narcissist. We saw this within 24 hours of his inauguration. He doesn't represent 330 million Americans; he represents one, and that's Donald Trump.

He went to my agency the day after his inauguration, stood in front of the wall of stars of dead officers and spoke about how many people showed up at his inauguration. Disgusting.

He goes to the Coast Guard Academy a few days ago. He should be offering a vision of the future. What does he talk about? The sissy in chief talks about how tough it is to be president, because the media comes after him.

What does he do today? "I don't really know what happened to my campaign, but I know I can speak for myself." We've seen it from day one. The man represents one person, and as the man responsible for my security, he ought to be thinking about 320 million, not himself.

BLITZER: Bianna Golodryga, what did you think?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, I thought when he said flatly "No" that he didn't try to persuade Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn it became a case of "he says versus he says," and it's a case of credibility. And unfortunately, the president does not have much credibility right now.

Of course, former FBI Director Comey has a lot of detractors, but nobody would call ham liar. Not too many people question his integrity. In fact, "The Washington Post" today has a report about Comey talking to friends and colleagues about this very specific incident, about this issue playing out and how he was concerned that the president didn't understand the special independent role that the FBI director plays and that, apparently, he rehearsed these type of scenarios with his colleagues, as well.

And the first thing he would do is get in the car and write down these memos, to explicitly lay out what happened. So it is a case of "he said versus he said," and we shall see where this ends.

BLITZER: Yes. Pamela Brown, our justice correspondent, had a similar report yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You know, Gloria, a few of us TV anchors, we had lunch with the president. He specifically said about this this -- the new special counsel, I believe, "hurts our country terribly, because it shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not unified country." He then also said, "It also happens to be an excuse for the Democrats having lost an election."

[18:40:16] He always gets back to that -- that's why this is going on: the Democrats still can't accept the fact that they lost this presidential election.

BORGER: You know, I think this president is obsessed with sort of the notion that some people in this country might believe he didn't really win the election fair and square. And he -- he just obsesses on that, whether it's the three million illegal votes, whether it's "Oh, my God, I won the Electoral College. Let's bring that big map into the White House and put it up on the wall here," you know, rather than focusing on the important question, which is the Russians hacked into an American election. This is a threat to our democracy.

This is something the president of the United States ought to be coming out and saying every day: we need to get to the bottom of this, instead of kind of personalizing this in a way saying, "It's all about me." You know, to Phil's point, it isn't all about him all the time; it is about the country.

BLITZER: Yes. The president has called it a hoax, a charade, now a witch hunt. Everybody stand by.

BORGER: But how about saying, "We need to figure out whether the Russians hacked into this election, and I want to get to the bottom of it"?

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: That's easy. BLITZER: We have more questions about the vice president, Mike Pence,

coming up. What did he know about the fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and when did he know it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:19] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sharing new deals of the Russia investigation in a private all Senate briefing.

Rebecca, that briefing behind closed doors. He told the senators according to these accounts that when he wrote that memo he had been already told, already advised that the president was going to fire Comey, so what was the purpose?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right. The president at least based on what we know asked for this memo or suggested that he would like in writing at least reasons why Comey had fallen short on his job.

And so, we don't know exactly whether Rosenstein suggested he was not pressured by the president to write that memo in this briefing with senators today and so it's not clear why what he was thinking at the time. If he thought he was being used as sort of a pawn in this situation or whether he just truly wanted to lay out this rational, if not for firing Comey for record of why maybe he had overstepped as FBI director maybe as guidance for the future. We don't know and I think notably he didn't really get into that with the briefing, with these senators today.

He actually declined to answer a lot of their questions, citing the special prosecutor, citing the investigation that he is going to conduct and Mueller is going to be asking a lot of these questions.

BLITZER: Bianna, the president did flatly deny that he ever try to convince the former FBI director to let go on the investigation of Michael Flynn, the fired national security advisor. This is going to come out in these memos, presumably, that the Comey wrote contemporaneously.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: And this all goes back to the question, what is it about this special tie independence that the president has with Michael Flynn in particular. My colleague, Michael Isikoff, wrote a piece today saying that his sources had told him that the president had been texting, exchanging texts with Michael Flynn as early as a few just a few weeks ago, saying, hang in there, stay strong.

So, that was a bit of a shocking news, too. So whether it's on a nefarious basis, whether they alone know what these ties are with the Russians or it's because he's so dependent and reliant upon him. There are reports that he doesn't trust or gel with his replacement, McMaster, the way that he did with Michael Flynn. There was that report that he called Michael Flynn in the middle of the night and asked him economic questions was a strong dollar good or bad for the economy to which Michael Flynn responded call an economist, I don't know.

So, I think a lot of it still lies in what was this relationship about and what was this dependency all about Michael Flynn.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, I'm curious. In addition to working at the CIA, you worked at the FBI, what do you think about these reports that Joe Lieberman is the top of possibility list?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, this is a bit of a head scratcher, but not for the reason you think. Let's be clear, it's not because of Joe Lieberman's capabilities. High integrity, smart, I testified in front of him. He was terrific.

But the question going into this environment is, people have to look at the FBI and say are they independent of political pressure? We have a president of the United States who just removed the FBI director for political reasons. Will the FBI remain independent of political pressure?

Joe Lieberman's a great guy, but you put a politician in as the FBI director, instead of a judge, instead of a career prosecutor, how do you square that with saying we want to put somebody in who insures the FBI remains independent of politics? It's a little odd, Wolf.

BLITZER: It would be a tough vote for a bunch Democrats.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is going to be a tough vote for Democrats. I think he's going to lose them.

I was told today in reporting this story by someone who's familiar with the process that when Lieberman met with the president, the president told advisories that he found Lieberman to be agreeable, whatever that means I'm not quite sure.

[18:50:13] Joe Lieberman is an awfully nice guy. I was also told that Lieberman did not go to the Justice Department, talk to people there as a lot of the other candidates had done, that this was clearly something that was pushed by Lindsey Graham, perhaps John McCain and that the president ended up liking him an awful lot and thought it was a great idea.

BLITZER: All right. Hold your thoughts. We're going to have much more on breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:03] BLITZER: Vice President Pence is denying he knew about the investigation of General Michael Flynn and his work for foreign governments before Flynn was hired as the president's national security advisor.

Our White House correspondent Athena Jones has more on all of this.

Athena, the vice president has kept a low profile during these past two tumultuous days. ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly has, Wolf.

A senior administration official says he's been working on several speeches he's set to give in the coming days. So, it's pretty clear he doesn't want to be up front in these back-to-back controversies, after all, the vice president has more than once found himself making statements on behalf of the administration that later turned out not to be true. And now, we're learning he wasn't aware of important facts about Michael Flynn that he should have been aware of as head of the transition team.

What's not clear is why this sort of thing keeps happening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Flynn.

JONES (voice-over): Tonight, the latest bombshell involving former national security adviser Michael Flynn is raising questions about what Vice President Mike Pence and when he knew it. "The New York Times" reporting Flynn told President Trump's transition team more than two weeks before the inauguration that he was under investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkish interests during the campaign.

Pence led the Trump transition effort, but said the first time he learned of Flynn's ties to Turkey was in March, when the retired general registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent, a move that seemed to surprise the vice president at the time.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, let me say, hearing that 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.

JONES: A Pence aide telling CNN today the vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn's ties to Turkey, and fully supports the president's decision to ask for General Flynn's resignation.

That, despite the vice president also receiving a warning about Flynn's foreign ties in a letter last November from Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I sent him a very lengthy letter warning him of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In November.

JONES: The letter detailed Flynn's lobbying work for a Turkish firm and the payment he received for a speech in Moscow that was, quote, highly critical of the United States.

During the height of the presidential campaign, Flynn's consulting firm was paid more than a half million dollars by a Turkish company.

Cummings says Pence later told him he had no recollection of receiving the document.

CUMMINGS: When I asked him about it later on, he said that, you know, he was just in a fog, and he doesn't remember getting it.

JONES: Adding of Flynn --

CUMMINGS: The thing that I do find interesting is how he had told the White House about he was being investigated. I mean, come on, now. At some point you say, duh?

JONES: Pence, who has often acted as a Trump translator, dating back to the campaign --

PENCE: Donald Trump is a good man.

JONES: -- is facing a growing credibility problem. Just last week when he was dispatched to Capitol Hill, after the sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, Pence repeated the White House line seven times, stating that the decision to fire Comey was based on a recommendation from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

PENCE: He provided strong leadership and to act upon the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.

JONES: -- only to be contradicted by the president hours later.

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

I was going to fire, regardless.

JONES: And after reports surfaced that Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia's ambassador during the transition, the vice president dismissed them.

PENCE: What I can confirm having spoken to him about it is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

JONES: A move that ultimately cost the national security advisor his job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: A senior White House official is now telling CNN, "The New York Times" report about Flynn telling Trump's transition team he was under investigation is not true. And when it comes to Pence, another senior administration official says the vice president will continue to be a loyal soldier because these are relentlessly positive guy, but said the last few days have worn on Pence. This person said the Pence team knew when he joined the Trump ticket that they needed to be prepared for the unconventional but, quote, not to this extent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's spending a lot of time on the Hill trying to get some of this legislation off the ground and wants to make sure the Senate follows the House's lead in repealing and replacing Obamacare.

JONES: He does. And he was on the Hill today, this time for a speech. And I can tell you, he dodged questions -- repeated questions from one of my colleagues about this Flynn situation. He clearly heard the questions and clearly didn't want to speak about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones, thanks for that report. Athena Jones reporting.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.