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Former Intel Director: U.S. Institutions "Under Assault by Trump"; Trump Thought Firing FBI Director Would be Very Popular; Trump: "No Right Time" for Comey Firing; DOJ Interviewing Fleet of Candidates for FBI Director; Tillerson: Lavrov Didn't Discuss Election Meddling; Aired 2-3pp ET

Aired May 14, 2017 - 14:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello everyone. Thanks so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happy mother's day.

We begin with the predicament playing the FBI. Can an administration being investigated by the agency choose the bureau's new chief without bias? We have new details on at least eight candidates being interviewed this weekend. And the president still standing by his decision to fire James Comey and downplaying claims that his actions were an abuse of power.


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


WHITFIELD: But the former director of National Intelligence is calling the president's behavior disturbing and issuing this ominous warning today.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think in many ways our institutions are under assault both externally and that's the big news here is the Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.


WHITFIELD: This as North Korea once again fires a ballistic missile test overnight. We'll discuss the sharp response from the White House.

But first, the president blaming much of the controversy surrounding the firing of James Comey to a vendetta by democrats. But a new NBC, "Wall Street Journal" poll shows just 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump's decision to fire Comey. CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones is following this story and joins me now live.

So, Athena, the president so very much rather surprised by the criticism.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. That's right. And it's remarkable to hear the president talking about why he was surprised. Let's go ahead and play that clip from that same Fox interview he gave to Judge Jeanine Pirro towards the end of last week.


TRUMP: I thought that this would be a very popular thing that I did when I terminated Comey because all of the democrats couldn't stand him, but because I terminated him they said oh, we get some political points, we'll go against Trump. So I assumed it would be very popular and they got together and said, again, we're talking obstruction. This is total obstruction.


JONES: So there you hear the president expressing his surprise at the way democrats responded to this. And it's interesting this backs up our reporting from earlier in the week that suggests that the reason that the White House was so surprised by the response was that not enough seasoned political hands were involved in making this decision. We know that the president likes to get the opinions of a lot of people on a number of issues when he's considering making a big decision. He didn't do that with this one. This was something that was very closely held to the vest. Even the communications team, the people who would be tasked with explaining the reasoning for this decision to the press and to the American people by extension, even they were kept out of the loop on this until practically the last minute. They had about an hour to begin to put together a cogent explanation. That is why you saw the story line change so much.

Even the vice president apparently was kept out of the loop at least on the reasoning. Because he, too, repeated this line on Capitol Hill that the president was acting on the recommendations of the justice department. It wasn't until later in the week that we heard from the president himself that he was going to fire Comey all along. So it shows that the White House team wasn't prepared for this. And didn't I guess think it through very much on the front end.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones at the White House. Thanks so much. We'll check back with you. So as democrats and republicans spar over who should be the next person to lead the FBI, the guy who used to have the job James Comey is staying above the fray. He has declined an invitation to testify before congress this week but did manage to take in a musical yesterday posing for this photo with the cast of Fun Home.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is following the search for a new FBI director and he's joining me now.

So, Shimon, President Trump says there could be a quick -- a pick as early as this week.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. A pick by midweek would mean that we would need to meet with -- that he would need to meet with the finalist soon. Yesterday, he said he had hoped to have someone by the end of next week before he departs on his foreign trip. That's highly optimistic by him. And this has sort of become like a reality TV show with the parade of candidates. Yesterday and now, we have to see what happens next. He claims Trump, the president says that he's going to meet with the finalists.

And so again, perhaps we'll see more people parade before him at the White House. One of the things the president must -- has stressed is picking someone who will restore the morale of the FBI. But sources I've talked to at the FBI don't believe this has anything to do with morale and just pure politics.

What's hurting the staff and agents at the FBI is how president Trump went about firing Director Comey. This morning Senator Lindsey Graham said it well on me to press this morning. This cannot be about politics and, you know, all of this sort of animosity that Trump seems to have towards the director needs to be set aside as he gets ready to pick the next director of the FBI. Take a listen to what Lindsey Graham had to say.


LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR: I think it's time for an FBI agent to lead the FBI. When you talk about a new person to lead the FBI, how about an FBI agent who is above reproach?


PROKUPECZ: Well, that's right. So it seems that Lindsey Graham would want someone who has a history with the FBI, someone who perhaps some history within the department of justice, in law enforcement. These are considerably be important keys for members of the FBI, for the staff at the FBI but not entirely important. I think the most important thing for the FBI, the agents and the staff that work there is to have the pick not be seen as a political one. That is the key thing here. Especially with the Russia investigation. This person needs to show no bias and can allow the investigation to proceed.

WHITFIELD: And that seems like that's likely to be the most difficult challenge. All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.

So as the president continues to deny that his campaign had any political ties to the Russian government, Trump consistently cites one man to prove that there is no evidence. Last week, the president tweeted. "When James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch-hunt says there was no collusion, when does it end? Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, spoke with CNN's Jake Tapper to clarify the comments.


CLAPPER: I deferred to the FBI director both Director Muller and then Director Comey as to whether, when, and what to tell me about any counter intelligence investigations that they might have under way. So it was kind of standard practice. So my statement was premised on first the context of our intelligence community assessment on Russian interference with the election. We did not -- there was no reporting in that intelligence community assessment about political collusion. We did not -- I did not have any evidence. I did not know about the investigation.

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

CLAPPER: I did not. And even more importantly, I didn't know the content or the status of that investigation. And there's all kinds of reasons why that's so, but this -- these are sensitive. We try to keep them as compartment as possible and importantly these are involved U.S. persons. And so I try to be very differential to that.

TAPPER: This week with the president firing the FBI director while this investigation is going on, and then saying that he was thinking about the Russia probe when he was making the decision, have we crossed a line here?

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

TAPPER: Internally from the president?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

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

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

TAPPER: General, on Friday you said that Director Comey told you he was uncomfortable about going to this private dinner that he went to with the president shortly after the inauguration. Did he talk to you at all about the content of their conversation? The reason I ask this is because a source close to Comey told me about the dinner, about President Trump asking Comey for a pledge of personal loyalty and Comey said no. CLAPPER: No. My only knowledge of this was before the dinner. I was at the Hoover building on the 27th of January for another event and I spoke briefly with Director Comey. He mentioned to me the invitation he had from the present for dinner and that he was -- my characterization uneasy with it, both from a standpoint of the optic of compromising his independence and the independence of the FBI. But I don't know -- he's not debriefed me or spoken to me about what went on during the dinner.

TAPPER: What's been the impact in the intelligence community of the firing of James Comey?

CLAPPER: Well, I think at large there is concern about it. I do know that it came as a great shock to -- and was very disturbing to FBI employees. I spoke to one last night at a dinner that was quite upset about it. And I think that reflects the feeling, widespread feeling in the FBI. I'm fairly familiar with the bureau. I've worked with it for a long time. I have a relationship with the bureau through our domestic DNI reps and through the overseas legal attaches and I'm pretty familiar with the bureau and its people. It's a national treasure and it's very disturbing to me that the negative morale impact this event has had. People had issues I'm sure with Director Comey's, some of his decisions. That's fine. People took issue with decisions I made. That's part of the deal.

But I think as far as his stature as a leader and his integrity, people are very upset about the way he was treated.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's get a wider view now of those comments with my panel now. Jay Newton-Small, he's a contributor for Time Magazine. Presidential historian Allen Lichtman is a distinguished history professor at American University. And CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer is a former CIA operative. Good to see all of you this Sunday.

All right. So, Bob, you first. You heard Clapper there who said he's very worried about the climate. It's very troublesome. Not because of Comey's reputation necessarily but mostly because of the way in which he was fired. So during the selection process now, is it your view that Trump still has a real big credibility problem within the intelligence community? You hear it from Clapper and you've heard it from a few others. Is it going to be tougher to get a good candidate who says yes, I'm up for the job as opposed to it being difficult for them to find a good candidate?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Fred, I think it's the way he was fired was a humiliation for the FBI. The FBI has been under attack basically for the last couple years. There were a lot of ways that he could have fired Comey. He simply could have called him to the oval office and said we've got to part ways. He could have prepared Comey for it. All sorts of ways. It looks like the White House of course was complete dysfunction there.

And General Clapper is right. There is an assault on American institutions. And President Trump is just adding to that perception. I think it would be very difficult to get an FBI director who's not had that in mind that I could be the next one to go if I displease him. And I agree with Lindsey Graham. What we need is an FBI agent of good standing, independent to head that agency. And to put a politician as head of the FBI, that's going to be an added disaster.

WHIFIELD: So you worry that a candidate will consider the way in which James Comey was fired and maybe less apt to take the job because of either the perception that it may be political or the potential treatment of not being a neutral force but instead a political decision?

BAER: Oh, absolutely. I think the FBI has become politicized with this firing of Comey. Anybody coming in heading the Russian investigation has got to wonder, am I going to be the next one fired? If I state what I believe are the facts? A lot of times in bureaucracies, I spent 21 years in the CIA, worked closely with the FBI, government officials prefer to stay out of the limelight and they do not want to be in a political maelstrom in Washington and they'll just simply take other jobs and I think that's unfortunate.

WHITFIELD: And, Jay, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had recused himself. We know he had recused himself from all things investigation as it relates to Russia but now here he is a part of the panel interviewing candidates. This is a big problem, isn't it?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Absolutely, Fred. It's when you treat people like this, with abruptly firing them, sort of ridicules them on national television, not just for the FBI Director Comey but also for your own staff. His spokes people have gone out over the past week, presented all kinds -- essentially false information and the reasons behind the firing first saying it had to do with Comey's treatment of Hillary Clinton during the campaign and then the president start saying, well, actually, no, they'd nothing to do with it.

Word is on the hill that they've been trying to recruit more communication staff and nobody wants to go work for the president because that's such a tough job because they're treated so terribly and they're left out to dry and they're left out to hang out there. So the question -- they haven't filled enormous amounts of positions in terms of political appointees. Now it's going becoming increasingly challenging for them to fill this position as nobody really wants to work for this president.

WHITFIELD: So Allan, a new NBC News poll says just 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump's firing of James Comey. Lindsey Graham as we've made reference to him says the next director needs to be an FBI agent. There need not be politics that will impact the decision of who is selected.

Is any of them possible particularly based on the pattern of behavior of this White House and that Trump himself and everyone around him has talked about the importance of loyalty?

ALLAN LICHTMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, it's not possible. And the real headline from that Clapper interview was his fear that the president of United States is undermining our democratic institutions to serve his own political purposes. As I point out in my book, "The Case for Impeachment," the founding fathers, and they were fathers in those days -- happy mother's day to everyone, did put in for the constitution checks and balances. But they fully recognized that a rogue president could smash through those checks and balances. That's why they also put in impeachment as an orderly, constitutional and peaceful process for safeguarding our democracy.

So what we need now is not a special prosecutor. That person would serve at the pleasure of Trump. We need an impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives judiciary committee. That's what happened after the Saturday Night Massacre when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox.

WHITFIELD: Do you think all the components are in place right now for the house to be able to initiate that process?

LICHTMAN: Absolutely. Remember, in the Watergate case, they had 44 lawyers working. They had 100 staffers. So the committee could really staff up and do a completely thorough investigation in a matter of months. Special prosecutors take years.

And here's what I have to say to Donald Trump. Mr. President, if what you say is true, that there was absolutely no involvement between you and your team with the Russians, why not totally clear the air? Welcome an investigation. Encourage every one of your team members to testify under oath, release all documents, release the tapes if they exist. So far you've been engaged in a Nixon style cover-up. Not just the firing of Comey but for example what seems to be White House collusion with Representative Nunes to derail the house investigation or demanding personal loyalty from Mr. Comey or your attorney general lying about his contacts with the Russians. Get off the cover-up, if there's nothing to hide. Prove it to us. The only way to do it is through an impeachment investigation. That is the proper constitutional venue and our framers understood that.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Well, speaking on the issue of the Russian investigation was the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this morning. Take a listen.


CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST: Your counterpart, the Russian foreign minister Mr. Lavrov said that you guys didn't even talk about this issue of Russian interference in our election because as he put it, President Trump himself says it's fake news so it's not an issue. Why haven't you brought it up with them?

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Chuck, I think we have such a broad range of important issues that have to be addressed in the U.S./Russia relationship. Obviously the interference in the election is one of those. I think it's been well documented. It's pretty well understood. The nature of that interference here and elsewhere. These are not new tactics on the part of the Russian government. Directed not only to us but at others. Again, I think we have to look at this relationship in its broadest contours and there are many, many important areas which require our attention if we are to bring it back to a relationship that we believe is necessary for the security of the U.S.


WHITFIELD: so, Allan, do you buy that? How could it not be discussed?

LICHTMAN: To quote a great republican Ronald Reagan, there you go again. An absolute Nixon style deflection. If you listen to that, he never really answered the question. He deflected to other things. Let me put this to Mr. Tillerson and President Trump and all his supporters. What could be more important than a foreign hostile power, Russia, meddling in our democracy to undermine our democratic institutions and the integrity of our elections? And if we don't get to the bottom of this, they're going to do it again and they're going to do it all over the world and our democracy will never be the same again. Shame on you, Mr. Tillerson. Answer the question.

WHITFIELD: And real quick, Bob, you're shaking your head. You have a point you want to make on that real quick?

BAER: I agree with everything Allan said it's time to move to impeachment. We have to get to the bottom of this Russian meddling in our election. Otherwise, we don't have a democracy. We have to hold this country, Department of Justice, the White House, to standards we've lived by since our independence. There is no choice. And if it's impeachment, let's go there.

WIHTFIELD: And real quick. Jay, can that happen without republicans being more outspoken?

NEWTON-SMALL: It absolutely cannot happen without republicans being more outspoken, Fred. The house is controlled by republicans. The senate is controlled by republicans. Thus far, republicans have actually supported Donald Trump in this firing of Comey and in everything he's done so far.

WHITFIELD: All right. We're going to have to leave

LICHTMAN: One final word. I call upon every republican to do what so many did in the Watergate investigation. Put patriotism above party.

WHIFIELD: All right. Thanks so much. Appreciate it. Jay Newton- Small, Allan Lichtman, Bob Baer, appreciate it.

All right. After the break, North Korea fires a ballistic missile marking the first test since a new president took office in South Korea. How the White House and U.S. allies are responding, next.


WHITFIELD: The biggest cyber-attack the world has ever seen is far from over. Experts say the ransomware which locks you out of your computer until you pay a ransom to the hackers could create more havoc tomorrow as people return to work. The U.K. cyber security authority just released a statement saying that other infected computers may not have been detected and that new cases of ransom wear possibly at a significant scale are likely to be reported at the start of the week.

And the White House is blasting North Korea after its latest ballistic missile test in a statement released last night, the administration said North Korea has been a flagrant menace for far too long but also speculated on Russia's take on the launch saying with the missile impacting so close to Russian soil, in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan, the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.

CNN's Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne is joining me right now. Ryan, was that indeed Russia's response?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Fred, we're hearing several responses from Moscow today. A spokesman for the kremlin said that Vladimir Putin was concerned about the recent missile test as well as other developments on the peninsula and another Russian official said its air defense systems were put on high alert. That being said, the Russian defense ministry just issued a statement saying that the missile test posed no threat to Russia and that they were tracking it all along kind of downplaying the risk.

So we're hearing a bit of a different message, but Vladimir Putin through a spokesman saying that he was concerned about the missile test.

WHITFIELD: This comes just weeks after Trump said he would be honored to meet with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addressed that possibility this morning in fact. What did she say?

BROWNE: Well, Ambassador Haley made it very clear that North Korea and Pyongyang would have to stop these kind of missile tests, if any such meeting were to ever take place. Let's listen.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Having a missile test is not the way to sit down with the president. Because he's absolutely not going to do it. I can tell you he can sit there and say all the conditions he wants. Until he meets our conditions, we're not sitting down with him.


BROWNE: So very clear there that any such meeting or summit between the two leaders would be contingent upon North Korea stopping these missile tests which have become fairly frequent. This one being one of the first in a while to not explode during launch and actually land in the Sea of Japan. So again, we're not seeing any ramping down of North Korea missile tests in recent weeks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Brown, thanks so much. All right. Up next, the Trump effect on the GOP. How republicans are trying to tow the line between supporting the president and preserving their own futures, next.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new fall out from the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. A new NBC-"Wall Street Journal" poll reveals only 29 percent of Americans approve of the president's decision.

And now top Democratic leaders are criticizing some Republicans for their silence on the president's chaotic week and for ignores his controversial tweets and statements.

This morning on CNN "STATE OF THE UNION," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the GOP to set aside party loyalty and to speak out against the president when the moment calls for it.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: There's a crisis of credibility with the president. I mean, so many things, you know, there's so much factual fabrication and then backsliding and contradiction. We need our Republican colleagues, not every day but on the occasions when it's necessary, such as for a special prosecutor, such as what's happened in the last week, to speak out, because this is country. This is an issue of country, not party.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in our panel discuss this. Kayleigh McEnany is a CNN political commentator and a contributor for "The Hill," Shermichael Singleton is a CNN political commentator and a Republican strategist. Good to see both of you.

All right, Shermichael, let me begin with you. Because as a Republican who was fired from HUD after criticizing Trump, you have a clear understanding or perhaps more clear understanding of the expected backlash sometimes when criticizing the president.

Is it your feeling that some GOP members are worried about the potential backlash when you hear some Democrats using words like, you know, describing Republicans as being cowardly by not speaking out, hearing from Senator Chuck Schumer who says they need to show more devotion to patriotism as opposed to party?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, Fredricka, I'm not certain if Republicans are concerned or if they're not. I think they should be. I think there's an air of expectation that we hold for any individual that wants to be president of the United States of America.

And that person, male or female, has to do everything they can to live up to that expectation. And for my fellow Republicans for quite some time we have suspended our criticisms, our concerns about the veracity of President Trump's claims.

[14:35:06]And at some point as a party we have to say to the president enough is enough. You have to live up to those expectations. You have to show good judgment. You have to show restraint.

And the continuous tweets that we have seen, some of the statements that the president have made that are obviously inconsistent, via the interviews he's given over the course of the past couple of days now has to come to an end.

Like many Republicans, like many Americans, I want nothing more than to see the president do a great job because the president of the free world. It impacts all of us.

WHITFIELD: And if more Republicans were outspoken or more critical of some of the things tweeted or, you know, word choice of the president, is it your feeling it would be influential of President Trump?

SINGLETON: You know, Fredricka, I'm not certain if it would be or if it's not going to be, but I think that we as a party have to try. Presidents come to go. As a party, we have been here through good presidents and through bad presidents. I think history would not be a good judge of the Republican Party if we sit idly by and allow democracy to get shot down in flames because of the president's inability to be disciplined.

WHITFIELD: And so Kayleigh, how deeply is the party being hurt by collectively remaining so silent, particularly at this juncture?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, it's not being hurt at all and I find it ironic to hear about democracy being hurt. Because any credible legal scholar will tell you that President Trump had a legal right to fire the FBI director.

SINGLETON: No one is disagreeing with that.

WHITFIELD: I think it's the method. That's the criticism that we've heard from some, right? It's about the method in which it happened.

MCENANY: Sure. And Michael, to say it's a threat to democracy, you know, where were Democrats? It's ironic to hear Chuck Schumer all of a sudden concerned about democracy? Where were they when courts were striking down President Obama's executive order, which overturned part of the immigration nationality act or the time when the IRS was bullying Tea Party groups? Democrats were definitely silent. That is a threat to democracy.

WHITFIELD: But this is an issue of the FBI leading an investigation that involves this is White House. And so what many people find peculiar, those who have been critical of the president, is that the president is firing the person who is leading that investigation and that's the real conflict here.

SINGLETON: If I could just jump in, look, Kayleigh, I don't -- MCENANY: But the investigation -- hold on. Shermichael, the

investigation is continuing. McCabe, who is no fan of the president or Republicans, McCabe, acting FBI director, said they have everything they want. This investigation is continuing. It's not being stopped.

That poll I would point out more than 60 percent of Americans either approved of the decision or had no opinion at all. So it's really just this small group of 30 percent that really disapprove of what the president has done.

WHITFIELD: So one Republican who has been consider critical of the president is Senator Ben Sasse. Here's what he has to say about the impact of the president firing Comey is having.


SENATOR BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: I'm not sure how this president makes lots of decision, so I honestly don't know. But I do know that we are in the midst of a civilization warping crisis of public trust and we need to talk honestly about our institutions that need to be restored and need to have the ability for people in five and eight and ten years to trust these institutions.


WHITFIELD: All right, Ben Sasse there. So Shermichael, what's your response on that?

SINGLETON: If I could just respond to what Kayleigh said, I don't think anyone is debating whether or not the president had the right or the authority to remove former FBI Director Comey. Nor do I agree with the tactics of the Democrats when they were in power.

But now the Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House. Two wrongs don't make a right. People are looking to people in Washington for leadership and for direction.

President Trump was elected by and large because a lot of people across the country felt that the country was headed in the wrong direction. Now that he is there, he has the obligation and the expectation to live up to everything people entrusted in him by electing him as president. It is in my opinion that he's not doing a very good job of doing so.

WHITFIELD: So Kayleigh, the president has said the FBI was in turmoil, but you're hearing words like constitutional crisis as it pertains to his decision making, the method in which he decided to fire Comey and the search for the new FBI director. So how does this White House either get back on track in terms of trying to win some more credibility in this department?

MCENANY: Look, Fred, you know, it is entirely fair if folks want to criticize maybe the manner in which the FBI director was fired, finding out about it on the news, or if they want to criticize the fact that the communications department wasn't on the same page with their explanation. Fair points. But when you have the night of the firing, you had 107 comparisons according to media research of Trump to Nixon. That is beyond the pale. For people to ask as if Trump had done something that he didn't have a right to do, to act as if he's Richard Nixon in the flex. To act --

[14:40:10]WHITFIELD: Well, it's because of the investigation. Those were the parallels that many were making. Different circumstances -- investigation.

MCENANY: Sure. But we have no proof that he did this because of the Russian investigation. We also have no way --

WHITFIELD: He did say in that interview that -- he did say the Russia investigation is what compelled him to move toward the firing of Comey.

MCENANY: Even ABC's White House correspondent came back at that point and said, no, I think what he was saying is I realized --

WHITFIELD: But it's the president who is explaining himself.

MCENANY: -- because of the investigation. He wasn't saying that is his motive as we go back and watch it.

SINGLETON: If I could just jump in really quickly.

WHITFIELD: Real quick.

SINGLETON: Look history does matter, Kayleigh. When President Obama was in office, oftentimes in our party, even I myself compared some of his positions to Jimmy Carter. We've done this with other presidents. History does matter. We're not holding President Trump to a different standard.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it right there. Kayleigh McEnany, Shermichael Singleton, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

SINGLETON: Thanks, Fredricka. Happy Mother's Day.

WHITFIELD: Thank you very much.

All right, still ahead, Melissa McCarthy takes her Sean Spicer act on the road in last night's "Saturday Night Live." We've got the highlights later on this hour.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm filling in for Sean today. As you know Sean is fulfilling his duty as an officer in the naval reserve and that is why he cannot be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm pretty sure I can see him hiding in those bushes.



WHITFIELD: This morning, Emmanuel Macron was sworn in as the president of France. He is now the youngest person to hold the presidency in France's history. During the swearing-in ceremony Macron called for unity and insisted France is headed for a whole new era.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, FRANCE (through translator): The world and Europe need France more than ever. They need a strong France. Sure of its destiny. A France which holds high the voice of freedom and solidarity.


WHITFIELD: Macron is expected to name a prime minister tomorrow.

The battle to defeat ISIS in Iraq and reclaim Mosul could be in its final stages after vicious fighting. The terror group now only controls 10 percent of the city. But Iraqi officials say the lives of civilians still trapped there may get more difficult.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is in Mosul covering this final offensive. I want to warn you the images in this report may be disturbing to some viewers, but we feel it is important to show you the realities on the ground.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From a roof top, soldiers fire towards ISIS positions. The struggle to liberate the city from ISIS is now well into its seventh grueling month of street by street, house by house fighting.

The end is near, but not near enough. Iraqi soldiers drag two dead ISIS fighters over the hood of their Humvees like hunting trophies taking selfies to mark the occasion. This is what has become of their so-called caliphate. The one they swore was here to stay and destined to expand.

Locally made bazookas litter the streets. ISIS ran dozens of workshops in residential areas to manufacture these and other weapons. It's a complete factory making anti-tank and anti-personnel rockets this officer tells me. Only 10 percent of Mosul remains under ISIS control, but taking the last 10 percent won't be easy.

(on camera): Where that black smoke is rising is the 17th of July neighborhood. It's that neighborhood that ISIS entered first in June of 2014. They renamed the neighborhood Fata to commemorate the early conquest of the Islamic empire. Commanders here say the battle for (inaudible) is going to be the hardest one. (voice-over): Lieutenant Colonel Abu Fatima (ph) has been speaking by phone with residents inside the neighborhood. Tragic is how he describes their plight. They have no food, no water, and no medical care. They're just waiting for our forces to free them.

Some couldn't wait no longer. Risking death to escape. We left early this morning after taking cover for days in the bathroom she says. Our men folk told us go, go. We said we can't because of the shelling. Then we put our faith in God and we left.

Abu Said (ph) never fled the adjacent district, hiding with his family under a stairwell, waiting for Iraqi forces to move in. Now he's leading them from one abandoned ISIS house to another.

I gathered information for the past three years, he says. I watched them. I wrote down their names. I kept an eye on what they were doing and now I'm sharing everything with the officers.

Senior commanders inspecting weapons seized from ISIS are confident victory will be achieved before the end of May. God willing says Iraqi chief of staff, we will triumph before Ramadan and declare the liberation of Mosul and its people from the filthy scum of ISIS.

Those filthy scum as he calls them haven't given up yet, however, as this incoming sniper round inches from our camera shows. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Western Mosul.


[14:50:02]WHITFIELD: We have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. Stay with us.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Given the week that was in Washington it's no surprise "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE took aim at the White House. Alec Baldwin making a return appearance as President Trump and host, Melissa McCarthy, reprising her a role as Sean Spicer. Then we saw a new face at the press briefing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm filling in for Sean today. As you know Sean is fulfilling his duty as an officer in the naval reserve and that is why he cannot be here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm pretty sure I can see him hiding in those bushes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that's a naval exercise. He's trying to blend in with his surroundings. Are there any more questions?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I have a question. Can you just do this full-time instead of him?

[14:55:00]UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'd also like to ask that question, because you are clearly articulate and charming whereas Sean is bullish --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hate to put your pants out because you're both just lying. Pants lying.


WHITFIELD: All right, we've got so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. Stay with us.


WHITFIELD: You're watching the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happy Mother's Day.

After North Korea fired another ballistic missile test overnight, the White House is issuing a sharp response and intensifying calls for stronger sanctions.