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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar; Russia Mocks U.S.; Firing Firestorm. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Nixon Library tweeted a protest, saying that President Trump's actions are not Nixonian, because Nixon never fired an FBI director. That really happened.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Jaws dropping all over Washington after the president of the United States fires the guy in charge of investigating his campaign. I talked to a source close to FBI Director James Comey today. How does the world look today from the Comey family porch?

Moscow mockery. Today, Vladimir Putin's foreign minister chuckling at the U.S., as we find out that one of the last things Comey did at the bureau was and out subpoenas tied to Michael Flynn and Russia.

Plus, the White House apparently caught off-guard by its own decision. Who could replace James Comey, and will that person be able to investigate the president without fear or favor?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

A source close to former FBI Director James Comey tells me that there are two reasons why President Trump fired Comey, one, Comey's refusal to provide the president with any sort of assurance of personal loyalty, and, two, the fact that the FBI's investigation into possible Trump team collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, that that's still not only an active investigation; it's actually accelerating.

As CNN just reported, federal prosecutors recently issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Now, the White House officially disagrees with this theory of what happened, but mounting evidence suggests that Comey was fired because of the president's irritation with the FBI's Russia investigation.

Now, the White House officially points to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, fresh on the job, writing a memo expressing concern about the way Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation last year.

Rosenstein faulted Comey for being unfair to Clinton for, among other things, holding a press conference in which Comey -- quote -- "released derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The president took the advice of the deputy attorney general, who oversees the director of the FBI, brought those concerns to the attorney general, who brought them to the president, and they made a decision to remove him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, that's the official White House version.

The evidence to the contrary, however, is that we know from the president's public statements that he does not share any of Rosenstein's concerns that Comey was unfair to Clinton.

In fact, the president has faulted Comey only for not going further, for not criminally charging Clinton. But, in addition to that fact, Rosenstein's memo expressing his concerns, that was dated May 9, yesterday.

But White House officials tell CNN that the president had been considering firing Comey since the election, most intensely last week, we're told. Hmm.

If only there was some way for us to see what was on the president's mind in real time last week. Oh, right. There's Twitter.

Let's take a look at the president's late-night tweetstorm of May 2.

"FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds. The phony Trump-Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign."

White House officials tell us that the president last week was very frustrated about the Russia investigation. And let's take a look at the letter that President Trump wrote to Comey yesterday, firing him. Number of references to his concerns about the Clinton investigation, zero.

But the second paragraph in the letter, that's all about Russia, with Trump claiming that Comey told him three times that he was not personally under investigation.

Now, the White House apparently does not like any questions about any of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONWAY: You want to question the timing of when he fires and when he hires. It's inappropriate. He will do what he wants to, just like he fired FBI Director Comey when he was faced with evidence that was unignorable now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Except, of course, that evidence about how Comey had treated the Clinton investigation that happened last year was quite ignorable for the president, until apparently he need a justification for firing Comey.

And, by the way, reporters questioning the White House and the timing and all that, that's quite appropriate. And we're going to continue to do it.

Photos now coming of the now former FBI Director Comey arriving at his home in McLean, Virginia, we're going to show those to you in a second.

But the question right now, Director Comey is fired, but not silent. We could still hear from him next week, as we learned today that the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee has invited Comey to testify on Tuesday.

CNN's Athena Jones is live for us at the White House.

Athena, the White House going on offense today attacking Comey to defend his firing.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. That's right.

We're now hearing from the White House that the president had been losing confidence in FBI Director Comey over some time and even that he had considered letting him go starting ever since the day he was elected.

[16:05:08]

That is the White House argument today in a pretty intense briefing that we saw earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): In the wake of an enormous backlash over his sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, President Trump is defending himself before reporters.

QUESTION: Why did you fire Director Comey? Why did you fire Director Comey?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He wasn't doing a good job.

JONES: And on Twitter, promising to replace Comey with someone better and predicting that, when things calm down, everyone in Washington -- quote -- "will be thanking me."

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Country over party!

JONES: But as protesters gathered outside the White House today, critics slammed the move, questioning the administration's rationale for dismissing the director.

Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein pointing to Comey's mishandling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Secretary Clinton's use of personal e-mail.

JONES: Even though then candidate Trump applauded Comey's moves during the campaign.

TRUMP: I have to give the FBI credit.

JONES: And as recently as last month said he had confidence in the director.

TRUMP: I have confidence in him. We will see what happens.

JONES: But today at the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president's displeasure with Comey's job performance had been growing for some time and suggested his testimony before Congress last week was the last straw.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He had lost confidence in Director Comey and frankly he had been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected.

JONES: At one point, Sanders accused Comey of using his position to commit atrocities at the Justice Department, later adding:

SANDERS: He had, essentially, taken a stick of dynamite and thrown it into the Department of Justice by going around the chain of command when he decided to take steps without talking to the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.

JONES: Now members of both parties on Capitol Hill are raising serious concerns about the timing of the dismissal. And White House officials, many caught off-guard by the move and the blowback, are scrambling to explain it, insisting it had nothing to do with the fact that Comey was leading the investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

CONWAY: This had nothing to do with Russia, as much as somebody must be getting $50 every time the word is said.

JONES: Vice President Mike Pence on a trip to the Capitol also defending his boss.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people have to have confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The president made the right decision at the right time.

JONES: Those explanations not sitting well with some members.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Why did it happen last night? Were those investigations getting too close to home? SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When you fire probably arguably the most respected person in America, you better have a very good explanation. And so far, I haven't seen it.

JONES: The attorney general and his deputy were set to interview potential interim replacements for Comey today.

The president, meanwhile, spent most of the day behind closed doors meeting first with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador and later with Henry Kissinger, who served as secretary of state during the Nixon administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And we haven't seen much of the president today. But he has been tweeting.

His latest tweet just in the last hour slamming Democrats, he said: "Dems have been complaining for months and months about Director Comey. Now that he's been fired, they pretend to be aggrieved. Phony hypocrites" -- Jake.

TAPPER: Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Some Democrats are now calling for an independent prosecutor to lead the Russia investigation, but who at the Department of Justice should appoint that person? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:45]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to stick with politics now, sources telling CNN that James Comey asked for more resources from the Justice Department just days before he was fired as FBI director. The Justice Department disputes that account.

Joining me now is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Well, thank you. It's great to be on, Jake.

TAPPER: So, listen to what the president had to say this morning about his firing of Director Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Why did you fire Director Comey?

TRUMP: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He wasn't doing a good job.

QUESTION: Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today?

TRUMP: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today?

TRUMP: Not at all.

QUESTION: Will the new FBI director be in charge of the Russia investigation?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, the president saying that he wasn't doing a good job.

Do you agree that Comey wasn't doing a good job? And do you think that that is why the president fired him?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I think a lot of agents in law enforcement that work with him would disagree in a big way, because he did a lot of other things, besides these investigations, leading the department for three years.

I know Jim Comey from way back in law school. We were in the same class. He had a lot of respect from our fellow classmates then. And he has that same respect with law enforcement.

Now, I vehemently disagreed with how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation this year, but that is different than saying he should be fired. And I was most surprised today to find out that it wasn't just this letter that allegedly caused the president to fire Jim Comey, but that he had been thinking about it for a long, long time.

TAPPER: According to the White House. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, admitted that -- right.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. So, that makes this letter even more of just a -- basically a fig leaf, as Senator Leahy called it.

TAPPER: So, you don't believe that Rosenstein's letter was the reason he fired him.

So, why do you think the president fired him?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, that's what we want to find out.

That's why we need to have a special prosecutor to look into all of these ties.

That is why we have to figure out what has happened here. And I believe we should also have an independent commission that can be appointed by members of Congress, like the 9/11 Commission, because, remember, this is, yes, about getting to the bottom of this, but also making sure our democracy is protected in the future, when you look at what just happened in France. And I was pleased today that some of my Republican colleagues, from John McCain saying he was disappointed, to Richard Burr, the head of the Intelligence Committee that has all of the classified information that is available to anyone in Congress, saying that he was troubled and that the timing -- he didn't use the word bizarre but basically the implication of his. He said it was a confusing time. And Jeff Flake, he said that he had thought for hours and couldn't think of a rationale for the timing.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: So let me -- I want to get your reaction to this. Something that Sarah Huckabee Sanders Deputy Press Secretary at the White House said today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: If Hillary Clinton had won, the election which thank God she didn't, but if she had, and she had been in the same position, she would have fired Comey immediately and the very democrats that are criticizing the President today would be dancing in the streets celebrating. So it's just a -- I think the purest form of hypocrisy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's true that a lot of Democrats did not approve of what Comey did with Hillary Clinton investigation but you're response to that.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I never heard that Hillary Clinton had asked him to resign. I'm sure there's people of both parties from time to time who have said oh, he shouldn't be there, not me. I have not said that. And I think what we're dealing with now is a President who basically has fired an FBI Director only two days after some very damaging testimony came out from the former Acting Attorney General who basically said she'd notify his White House not once, not twice but three times in a formal notification that his National Security Adviser was compromised. Then you know that Comey's going to testify on Thursday before the Intelligence Committee and then sandwiched in the middle, they just decide to send someone out to L.A. to fire him. The FBI Directors have tenure terms for a reason. And that is s that they're insulated from political influence. And the one thing I do know is that the President cannot fire the members of the United States Senate. So the fact that we have some of our republican colleagues voicing concern, talking to us behind closed doors about at least who the next FBI Director should be and some of them I hope will see the light and call for a special prosecutor as well.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, great to see you. Thank you so much being here.

KLOBUCHAR: It's great to be on, thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

What does Comey's firing means for the investigation into the Russian meddling in the elections? Stick around. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. We stick in with our "POLITICS LEAD". Could we possibly now hear from now private citizen James Comey in the days to come. A top democratic senator is telling CNN that the former FBI Director has been invited to a Senate Intelligence Hearing set for Tuesday. This as CNN is learning there were signs that the FBI's investigation into Russia was picking up speed and the days leading up to Comey's firing. Let's bring in CNN Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown. And Pamela, is there any word on whether Comey will indeed show up to the Tuesday hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, James Comey, Jake has stayed (INAUDIBLE) ever since his surprise firing from his post as FBI Director yesterday. But a lawmaker told CNN that if he does testify, it would be classified session. This as we learned new details about how the Russia investigation was ramping up in just the last couple of weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Tonight, the ranking democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee officially inviting former FBI Director James Comey to testify before the Committee next week. On the hills of President Trump's bombshell move to fire him, democrats have concerns of their own. And our doubling down on their demands for a special prosecutor to take over the federal investigation into Russia's meddling in the election.

SEN. CHUCH SCHUMER (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We know Director Comey was leading an investigation in whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Serious offense. Were those investigations too close to home for the President?

BROWN: Now, more than ever, democrats are questioning the independence of the Russia investigation as Trump has now fired three key people related to it including Comey, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and U.S. Attorney in New York, Preet Bharara.

SCHUMER: The dismissal of Director Comey establishes a very troubling pattern.

BROWN: But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is ignoring calls for a special prosecutor arguing it would only slow down the investigation being done by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

SEN MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Partisan calls should not delay the considerable work of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner. Too much is at stake.

BROWN: And the administration maintains there is no need for an independent investigation because it says the President is not under investigation.

MIKE PENCE, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: The former Director of National Intelligence has said there is no evidence of collusion. The President himself was informed several times by the former Director of the FBI that he himself is not under investigation.

BROWN: CNN has learned that two ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee met with Comey on Monday urging him to speed up the Russia investigation. And sources tell CNN that just days before his firing, Comey asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for more resources to help the FBI's investigation. But the Justice Department is denying Comey made this request calling those reports 100 percent false. Comey's firing came just hours after CNN learned that federal prosecutors in Virginia had issued Grand Juries Subpoena related to Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn seeking business records of associates who worked with Flynn on business contracts after he was forced out as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: To have this happen, and happen now is beyond surprising

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And today the White House said that Andy McCabe is meeting with President Trump to discuss (INAUDIBLE) the FBI. Of course, McCabe is now the Acting Director of the FBI. I can tell you, Jake, I've spoken to several agents including the former Head of the National Security Branch recently retire. He said this claim from the White House that (INAUDIBLE) under Comey is inaccurate, that he was man with integrity and a respected leader across the board among the ranking file. So I want to push back from agents in the FBI and former agents who recently left.

[16:25:00] TAPPER: And we're going to talk to a former official at the FBI later on the show. Pamela Brown, thank you so much. President Trump says there's no evidence of collusion between Russia and his campaign but now some Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee are saying, not so fast they're not done investigating. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're sticking with politics. President Trump insists that no one in his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the election and that the ongoing investigation is nothing more than a quote, "taxpayer-funded charade". In fact, take a listen to White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This thing going on for nearly a year, frankly, it's kind of getting absurd. There's nothing there. We heard that time and time again, we heard it in the testimonies earlier this week, we heard it for the last 11 months. There is no there there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: There is no there there. CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Scuitto joins me now.