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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Clapper: Comey "Uneasy" About Dinner with Trump. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: OK, first of all, fact check: false. Not everyone says that. Second of all, Clapper contradicted that himself, saying he does not know if there was collusion or not between the Trump campaign and Russia.

CNN's Jim Sciutto is here with me to give more understanding of what Clapper said.

So, what did Clapper say?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: In the simplest terms, the White House is not telling the truth. Clapper has never said he's seen no evidence. He's said he's seen no conclusive evidence. In fact, today, he went on to say in an interview that he has seen evidence but it didn't rise to the same level of confidence that they had with their assessment, for instance, that Russia hacked the U.S. political process.

But to be clear as well and I've spoken to the director about this a number of times, he's also said and made clear that he has not see and would not see all of the evidence. That's by law, because U.S. intelligence agencies cannot be involved in the investigations that involve U.S. persons, only U.S. law enforcement can, that is the FBI and the person in charge of that investigation, the person in charge of FBI, you might remember, no longer has his job.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the former director of national intelligence said that he has never ruled out evidence of collusion between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign, directly contradicting President Trump who tweeted just hours earlier when James Clapper himself and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch-hunt said there's no collusion. When does it end?

In fact, in an interview today with MSNBC, Clapper said he believes --

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There was no evidence that came -- that rose to that level at that time that found its way into the intelligence community assessment which we had pretty high confidence in. That's not to say there wasn't evidence, but not that met that threshold.

SCIUTTO: But during the White House press briefing Sean Spicer suggested it is James Clapper who is changing his story. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is interesting how the

story has changed and now, suddenly, he's saying, I wasn't sure about it. The burden seems to be on him, not us.

SCIUTTO: Today, Director Clapper also expressed doubts about Mr. Trump's version of a dinner with fired FBI Director James Comey in January. He says it was Trump who invited Comey.

CLAPPER: He had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president.

SCIUTTO: And that the former FBI chief was uncomfortable with the invitation.

CLAPPER: They are in a difficult position to refuse to go and I do know he was -- he was uneasy with it for -- just for the appearance of compromising the independence of the FBI.

SCIUTTO: The dinner came just one day after then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that then national security adviser Michael Flynn could be compromised by Russia.

That timing raising concerns about White House interference in the FBI's ongoing investigation, to whether Trump campaign associates colluded with the Russian government.

CNN has learned that Comey was, quote, taken aback when Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty during the dinner. A source close to Comey tells CNN the FBI chief refused and instead promised to always be honest with the president. In fact, FBI employees pledge to be loyal only to the U.S. Constitution, not to any individual, including the president.

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: All of us in the FBI, our focus, hyper focus, is on fealty to the mission, not fealty to a politician, not fealty to any person.

SCIUTTO: The president has claimed that Comey assured Mr. Trump that he was not under investigation related to the Russia probe and that Comey asked Trump to keep him on as FBI chief.

A source tells CNN this is a fabrication, that Comey did not ask to keep his job and that, in fact, just three days earlier, the president told Comey he would stay on as FBI director.

The source adds the former FBI chief is, quote, not worried about any recorded any conversations between him and the president after Trump issued a thinly veiled threat to Comey tweeting, quote, James Comey better hope that there were no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Now, Director Comey has turned down an invitation to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. A source with firsthand knowledge of Comey's thinking tells me that he just wants to lay low for a while and take some time off.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

Lots to talk about with our political panel and we have some fresh sound from President Trump doing an interview at his favorite outlet, FOX News. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Apparently, "The New York Times" is selling that you asked Comey whether or not you had his loyalty was possibly inappropriate. Could you see how they would think that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't think -- I read that article. I don't think it's inappropriate, number one.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ask that question?

TRUMP: No, no, I didn't, but I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, number one. Number two, I don't know how that got there because I didn't ask that question.

INTERVIEWER: What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?

TRUMP: That I can't talk about.

[16:35:01] I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be. And I'm sure he will be, I hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: All right. Let's talk about it all.

Margaret?

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Yes. It's obviously been an extraordinary week and President Trump turned everything with his interview with Lester Holt and there's now another new wave of upturnment. Unfortunately for all of us, Jim Comey, we now hear, he has declined to show up to testify at least for closed testimony next week. So, it may be a while before we hear what he is willing to say.

But this ups all of the sort of interest and pressure and attention on the congressional panel as kind of sorting out everyone's story is on actually happened and what actually didn't happen.

TAPPER: In terms of the dinner, Kristen, and let me just say this. I -- "The New York Times" broke the story and we matched it having originally been the ones to talk about this loyalty pledge. And the source close to Comey that I've spoken to has never told me anything that was not true. President Trump has. I believe the source close to Comey. And when you listen and parse the Trump answer, I don't sense that

that he's being fully transparent. He seems to want to say that he did ask it because it's a good question. There's nothing wrong with asking that question.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: What is astonishing about all of this that it's within the president's right to ask for the resignation of the FBI director, and yet this has been handled until such a way by the White House that the story changes about every 15 minutes that something new the president says contradicts something that come out of the White House communications shop, and it has allowed the story to mushroom in a way that takes something that the president have every right to do.

In fact, something he probably -- my assumption in all of this is that he thought he was going to get plaudits from both sides of the aisle because polls show that people from both parties had a very unfavorable view of Jim Comey. He's taking something that I'm sure he thought was going to be a home run and he's just mangled it at every step of the way.

TAPPER: Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: That's a good summation. I mean, I think, honestly, I didn't necessarily believe and I don't think many people believe that the initial -- that the real reason why Donald Trump fired James Comey was the Rod -- what was outlined in the Rod Rosenstein memo, that he acted inappropriately --

TAPPER: With Hillary, yes.

CILLIZZA: Because, I mean, if that was the case, then on January 21st, you could get rid of him, right? A few days after.

That said, had he stuck with that story, it's defensible. There are questions about the way in which Comey conducted that investigation. There were questions at the time. We all remember at the time why did he talk about how she had been extremely careless? Why did he not bring charges? So, there were legitimate criticisms coming from both sides at that time.

I think what happens with Donald Trump is he doesn't like not getting credit for things he believes has done. So, rather than say, OK, the Rosenstein, a little bit of a cover there for me wanting to fire him, but it will -- it's not a bad thing politically for me. He goes and demands that he'd be given credit -- well, I was going to fire him anyway.

TAPPER: It's almost as if you're saying that the White House communications staff came up with a perfectly good lie for him to use, but instead, he had to tell the truth, which was --

CILLIZZA: I know it was cover, but yes.

TAPPER: But instead, he decided to tell the truth which was that he did something which is remarkably unethical for him to admit to having done, firing an FBI director, because he was leading an investigation into something he didn't want him to investigate it.

CILLIZZA: But didn't he essentially acknowledge that in the Lester Holt interview?

TAPPER: Yes, exactly.

CILLIZZA: I was thinking about Russia, and it's a hoax. I mean, what he's saying there, if you parcel it out, sorry, Sean, he said we parse words but if you parse it out, what he's saying is, I think this is a hoax. Jim Comey refused to treat it as such, I fired Jim Comey. I mean, that's not a huge logical leap there.

TALEV: But, you know, I think it's worth nothing, as we sit around this table, we can all talk about the pendulum swinging from left to right, the story is changing. Why is he doing this? How is the White House managing this?

If you talk to the people inside the White House, privately, they will tell you, yes, it's not been a great week, this is a bad news cycle for us, but they don't see it as crisis that many people on the outside do see it as. They see it as something that's entirely manageable. They see it as, you know, President Trump has his own communication style, and they are going to move ahead. He's going to do a foreign trip. They are going to name an FBI nominee and this is going to get right back on track, that Americans don't care that much.

ANDERSON: And they might not be wrong. That's what's crazy about all of this, is it feels like, every week there's been some big monumental thing. Today, we had a whole story about tax returns and whether or not he got money from Russia and that's in the mix.

TALEV: A secondary story.

ANDERSON: And yet all of these things -- his job approval has been so stable through this first 100 plus days.

TAPPER: Abysmal but stable.

ANDERSON: Abysmal but stable.

And I think the big concern for Republicans, this is a story that I think Republican voters don't care about. They try not to think about it. The Democratic base gets really fired up about it. If there's a ton of enthusiasm on the Democratic side, if they are fired up about the story, that's a big problem for the GOP.

[16:40:02] TAPPER: Everyone, stay right here. We're going to do another panel with you guys. Lots more to talk about, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions telling federal prosecutors to throw the book at some criminals. What this new policy might mean, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

This just in: sources telling CNN that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein does not see a need for a special prosecutor for the Russia investigation, at least not at this point. One source saying that Rosenstein is not inclined to make a change unless the FBI investigation appears to be imperiled and at this point, FBI officials say they are confident that the investigation is moving ahead.

Let's bring the panel back.

And we were talking during the break about the silence from the Republican side of the aisle.

And, Kristen, I want to start with you because you're a Republican. What -- where are the Ben Sasses and Marco Rubios of the world, people who have been critical of President Trump in the past? This does seem to be a really shocking admission from the President, why he fired Comey, it was because of the Russian investigation.

ANDERSON: But believe in the last day or so you've seen a greater openness from folks like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, who have come out and said that they are a little more open to the idea of needing to -- I don't know if necessarily a special prosecutor but having concerns about the way that this is playing out, but I think, for the most part, republicans on Capitol Hill are just excited to have a President that will sign bills that they send their way. And I think if this is not directly pertinent to the legislative agenda they want to push in, I think, in their minds, they would rather try to stay away from it and avoid the -- avoid the blast area.

TAPPER: And Chris, we were talking -- you were talking about this and I made this point yesterday, too. The uproar and I have no issue with it, but uproar from republicans when President Clinton met with Loretta Lynch on the tarmac.

CILLIZZA: No, I mean -- and I would say rightly so.

TAPPER: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I mean, that was a dumb thing to do. I'm sure Bill Clinton regretted it. It certainly hurt the campaign, it's at bad moment, but we're talking about a dinner, if you believe James Clapper, which I have no reason not to, initiated by the White House that Comey felt uneasy about in Clapper's words in which somehow it came up that Donald Trump said, hey, just -- you know, as an aside, if you can tell me, you know, am I under investigation? I mean, that's a -- that's a bigger conflict of interest I would say than getting on a plane. Neither of them are good. I would say one thing to Kristen's point. One, the House benefits, Paul Ryan, those folks benefit because they're on recess so they are not around Washington, harder to ask them questions, not impossible but harder. But -- number two, I'm stunned by this because, look, John Kasich a couple weeks ago was doing this book tour. He was on -- you know, he was on and a lot of people talking about it, but even then he was not really vocally outwardly critical of Donald Trump. Which is remarkable given if you go back six months what many republican leaders, John Kasich at the front of that line, said about Donald Trump. This would seem to me primarying a president, there still 1,000 days, primarying a president ask you know, Ted Kennedy how that went, but this is something that is -- it seems to me like a win-win issue. This is not -- this is not something anyone could say, yes, I think it was great that the President was doing.

TAPPER: Yes. And Margaret, how do you explain it?

TALEV: I just think that the republicans seem to be taking a page from Donald Trump's campaign manual which is, don't apologize. Don't admit there's -- if you don't want there to be a problem, don't say there's a problem. Like their fate is completely tied to his fate in the in terms of the midterm elections. and it's not clear how that fate will go exactly. But their fate is certainly likely to be better if they are able to move forward and pass legislation. In order to do that, they've got to put the FBI controversy behind them. The only way they see that to be possible is if they don't pile on the President, just try to support him, hope that he picks someone who they can vote for in good conscience and move on and try to get back to tax reform.

TAPPER: But who's the one making the FBI controversy a controversy?

CILLIZZA: I mean --

TAPPER: The President.

CILLIZZA: In attacking the Former FBI Director personally.

TAPPER: Yes, President Trump.

CILLIZZA: And one thing I would say, circle on your calendar June 20th because Margaret is right, I think they're basically at this point being like, we're over here and Donald Trump is over here so were not -- nothing is happening. But on June 20th is the Georgia 6 Special Election. If the republicans lose, it's a sit they should win, if they lose that, I think you'll see the concern level go from this might not be good to full panic and I think, you'll try to -- you'll see more outspokenness certainly among some of the leadership who are concerned that this could cost them the House.

TAPPER: Do you agree, Kristen?

ANDERSON: I think so. I think right now a lot of these members are seeing these town hall meetings where being yelled at. And they're being yelled at if the issue of the day is health care they're getting yelled at about health care, if the issue of the day is about Comey, they're getting yelled at about Comey. And I think, they're trying to figure out, is this sort of generalized anger from a democratic base, it's not going to like me no matter what? Or there's specific issues that are really animating people in my district who might not have otherwise participated, who might have voted for me but now they're having second thoughts? Are there specific issues that I really do need to address before they get out of control?

TAPPER: We have 30 seconds, I just want to -- speaking animated, show you a clip from Manhattan earlier today buzzing with around the streets of New York. Sean Spicer, and -- there he is on his podium. I'm just joking, that's not Sean Spicer. That is Melissa McCarthy who will be hosting Saturday Night Live1 doing her famous vision of spicy, going down the streets, a little preview. Pretty smart marketing that became -- I guess we'll all going to be watching. Not me. I have "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday. But you guys will be watching.

CILLIZZA: Smart to put it literally outside the CNN building. You could walk outside and there it was.

TAPPER: Maybe they're making fun of the fact that he wasn't at the podium that much this week. Anyway, thanks one and all for being here. Appreciate it.

Any day now airlines could ban laptops as carry-ons aboard flights to the U.S. from Europe. But now, European officials are warning a ban could pose its own safety risk. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00]TAPPER: We're back with the "TECH LEAD." Airlines are in full preparation mode ahead of a likely ban coming on laptops on board flights from Europe to the United States. Instead, the devices would have to go into checked luggage. Apparently, the terrorist threat is that real. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly discussing the potential rollout of this order this morning on a conference call with European officials. The airline industry is pushing for an alternative because a laptop ban would affect a huge part of their business. More than 350 flights come to the U.S. from Europe every day. Many bringing business travelers, others bring parents who rely on laptops to keep fidgety little ones distracted. The Trump administration already instituted an electronics ban on flights from ten airports and mostly Muslim majority countries. Forcing laptops into checked luggage, however, raises another concern. The FAA has warned that the lithium ion batteries in those laptops could spark fires in a cargo holds. Although it is only researched large quantities of these batteries shipped on palettes, not individual ones separated out in bags. Turning to our "POP CULTURE LEAD" now, Anthony Bourdain has been discovering the world's best cuisines in unlikely places for nearly a decade now. In the fresh episode of the top-rated CNN original series, "PARTS UNKNOWN" the globetrotting chef is taking us to one of the most mysterious countries with a complicated history with the U.S., Laos. Once again Bourdain is exploring culinary treasures while challenging those with stomachs of steel to take things to the next level. Let me bring in the host of CNN's original series "PARTS UNKNOWN," one Mr. Anthony Bourdain. Good to see you again, Anthony.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN PARTS UNKNOWN HOST: Good to see you.

TAPPER: So this is now season nine, nearly a decade of traveling, exotic food-tasting. Now, you weren't to Laos for your show. Here's a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOURDAIN: Chicken feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Feet and buffalo tendon.

BOURDAIN: Oh nice. Good. No, I tried that. Squid?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dried squid.

BOURDAIN: Do you want squid? God, I love this. This is delicious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So I might say oh, chicken feet but I don't know I would then do what you did with it and eat it. Is it good?

BOURDAIN: Yes. It takes a little getting used to but enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Laos is not an exception to that.

TAPPER: Americans are obviously familiar with Vietnamese food. It's big in this country. But how is Laotian food different or similar given the geographical proximity and the cultural and historical connections?

BOURDAIN: It's delicious and, in fact, a lot of ethnic Laotian food makes an appearance in one form or another in the Thai food that we love and the Vietnamese food that we love. So some of it will be familiar to Americans.

TAPPER: So my brother -- my brother visited all over Asia, and he tells me there's a large ex-pat community there. Some people visit Laos and they end up staying there to live or open up a business. Here's a part of your conversation with a French national who lives there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They push a lot (INAUDIBLE). To learn how to disconnect the important things in life. That's why people drink a lot. They like to enjoy, to share. If you don't share, you are poor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So is that unique way of life what captures the hearts of so many westerners?

BOURDAIN: The people are indeed lovely, warm, generous, very kind. The country itself is unspeakably beautiful. Just a topography unlike any place else on earth, and all this with a really haunted terrible history that few Americans know about.

TAPPER: For anyone who wants to explore Laos, what would be the best way if they don't have an award-winning top-rated cable show in which they get to go to Laos, what would be the best way for them to experience the country?

BOURDAIN: If at all possible, I would rent a motorbike and get out in the countryside with a backpack, stay at crummy little hotels and leave yourself open without much of a plan. People will be nice to you. There will be delicious food everywhere and you'll see some of the best scenery on earth.

TAPPER: And as you do on your show, you just don't go to the fanciest restaurants in town. You sit down with everyday people for traditional home-cooked meals. You do that, again of course in Laos. Was this experience any different from what you've experienced in dozen of other countries you've visited for your show?

BOURDAIN: Well, again what sets this episode apart is that these meals were against the backdrop of a -- of a secret war that lasted from the late '50s until the mid-'70s, and an enormous number -- more bombs dropped on this neutral country of Laos than all of Japan and Germany throughout all of World War II combined and many of the unexploded bombs are still in the soil in Laos. So to be treated so warmly and generously everywhere against that backdrop and to hear their stories is particularly moving.

TAPPER: I'm looking forward to it. Anthony Bourdain, thanks so much.

BOURDAIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: And you can learn more about Laos, its food and its history in a brand new episode of "PARTS UNKNOWN" this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. only on CNN. Tune in this Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be former National Intelligence Director James Clapper and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. That's starts at 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Eastern. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on twitter @jaketapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend and Happy Mother's Day.

END