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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Justice Department Names Special Counsel In Russia Investigation, Former FBI Chief Named Special Counsel In Russia Probe; Awaiting WH Statement On Special Counsel In Russia Probe; WH Issues Statement On Special Counsel In Russia Probe; Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. We are following the breaking news at this hour. The justice department tonight naming the former FBI Director Robert Mueller special counsel to take over the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. It is a major development, raising the stakes for President Trump.
And it comes just a day after the revelation of a memo written by former FBI Director Jim Comey in which he wrote that Trump asked him to end the investigation into former national security adviser General Michael Flynn. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is the person who made the decision. He's the one who came out and said, we're going to name a special counsel and he issued a statement with his reasoning which reads in part, my decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination.
What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command. Robert Mueller is a decorated marine corp vet head of the FBI, starting one week before the September 11th attacks all the way to 2013. His term extended for two years by President Obama. Pamela Brown is OutFront with this breaking news. Pamela, the White House itself barely getting any notice on this. What are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. In fact, we found out that just a minute ago that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein and his team didn't notify the White House or the Attorney General Sessions about this order that basically puts Bob Mueller, former FBI Director, a head of -- in charge of the Russia probe until after that order was signed. So very little notice given to both the attorney general as well as the White House.
And this is a significant step for the deputy attorney general to take himself and the Department of Justice out of the equation, Erin, and hand the reigns to outside special counsel. This is very rare. This hasn't happened in the last several years. In fact, the last time outside special counsel was brought in was 2003, but reading the statement from Rod Rosenstein, it is clear he made this decision because he thought it was in the best interest of the public, particularly when you look at the last week and all of the developments, the latest one, of course, Erin, s this revelation that former FBI Director Comey wrote in his memo that President Trump asked him in February to end the Michael Flynn probe.
So it appears that that factored into the decision. We can tell you through talking to our sources, my colleague, Evan Perez and I, Rod Rosenstein had been considering appointing outside special counsel ever since just after the firing of James Comey last Tuesday. In fact, Bob Mueller, he was now taking over the investigation, was set to meet with Rosenstein last Wednesday. The day after the firing. So this had been in the works for a while.
But as of late Friday, Rosenstein was still telling people that he didn't think it was necessary to appoint special counsel. So it does appear, Erin, that this latest revelation could have been a tipping point but certainly a significant development from the Department of Justice. Erin?
BURNETT: Right. Obviously the big question is what was it, was it the revelations of these memos or not? Pamela, thank you very much. And let's go to Evan Perez now also in Washington. And Evan, look, I think everyone, you know, hears these words thrown around, special prosecutor, special counsel. The bottom line question though is what does it mean? It is a big deal. But what does it mean when you look at all the investigations that are currently going on?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that means, Erin, is that this is an investigation that is now just plainly independent and that's good news for the people at the FBI who've been very concerned about since the firing of James Comey that perhaps this might affect the investigation or the independence of the investigation or at least the appearance of that independence which his very, very important to what they end up finding. But with the appointment here of Mueller, look, he's empowered now to do whatever he wants. He can bring in staff.
He can use the current staff that's handling the investigation. He's going to work with the FBI agents who have already been doing this investigation, but more importantly, you know, it definitely reassures the agents of the FBI and the people of the justice department who have been just very concerned that the firing of Comey would at least damage the appearance of their independence. But this is bad news if you're at the White House because now you have no idea where this is going. And one of the --
PEREZ: -- first things -- one of the first things Mueller is going to have to do, Erin --
PEREZ: -- is to decide whether or not to turn over these memos that James Comey said he used to memorialize his conversations with Donald Trump. Now the members of congress have already written letters to the FBI asking for those to be turned I think as soon as next Wednesday. Mueller is now in charge of making the decision whether that is going to be part of his investigation. And that's going to tell us something. That means if we find out that he says you can't have those, that means he's investigation whether or not there was any interference with this investigation.
BURNETT: Right. And that's a crucial question. Now, just, Evan, a follow-up here as we all try to understand exactly what this does mean.
BURNETT: You see that Mueller was appointed by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who of course was appointed by the president of the United States. When you say independent, is it truly and fully independent or would they have the ability to fire him or, you know, could you just put a little color around that?
PEREZ: Well, this is a -- this is a part of a special law that was passed after the expiration of the - of the independent counsel law in 1999, so really this means that he is truly independent. And that's why there's so much reluctance usually by the justice department to bring in a special counsel, because you don't know where this is going to end up and certainly for the White House, this is - this is the last thing they wanted to see.
BURNETT: So, he answers to no one, which is - which is obviously the crucial - the crucial point. All right.
BURNETT: Evan Perez, thank you. Evan, is obviously in the midst of breaking news. As we get more, we're going to get back from him. Jeff Zeleny is OutFront at the White House. And Jeff, you know, you heard what Evan just said. Not good news for the White House because they really won't have any idea what's going on. We're hearing that they got less than one hour notice. And they weren't told until the document was signed. We have signed it. It is done. What's the reaction there?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, just to set the scene inside the west wing, the president at this very moment the it was signed was interviewing candidates for the FBI Director. He was going through the process of doing that. He's still had control over this. And I was talking to a senior administration official. They are still sort of getting their hands around this, Erin. But you did - you are right. They had less than an hour to deal with this.
But one official told me it's still sinking in but we were told about it, not asked about it. And they said the president specifically was described as sort of shocked by this but also is seeing yet again for one more time the limits of his presidential authority, presidential power here in the executive branch. We cannot point out enough, Erin, this is the third straight consecutive evening of blows to this White House. Now, this of course would seem to be the most far reaching of all, because it does as Evan and Pamela were reporting, it takes control away from the White House.
Any White House in the administration certainly in a time of uncertainty and crisis like this, they like to control things as much as possible. This takes that control away here. So, you know, Sean Spicer, only two days ago at the White House press briefing, he said this about the idea of a special counsel. He said there's frankly no need for a special prosecutor. We've discussed this before. We have two senate committees, the FBI investigation, there's no need for it. That was the view of this White House, it was not needed.
Well, tonight, Erin, they were told that it was happening. The question of it was with needed or not is a moot point. At this point, the White House scrambling -- they were having some briefings to talk about the next thing up on the president's agenda. His foreign trip. He's leaving on Friday for Saudi Arabia, four other countries. Some of those briefings have been put on hold. The west wing is trying to figure out how to respond to this. We're not sure if we're going to hear from the president this evening or not. But it's a stunned White House once again, Erin.
BURNETT: Stunned White House again. And thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny. And I just want everyone to know, we just got a statement from Bob Mueller immediately resigning from his job as a lawyer today to take this responsibility. And his statement, "I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability." Bob Mueller, just to remind everyone here, FBI Director from 2001 right before September 11th to 2013 under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the second longest serving FBI Director in American history.
Widely respected and applauded by members of both parties. Joining me now, Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, Chris Swecker, former assistant FBI Director who served under Mueller. Eric Lichtblau, CNN Assistant managing editor for investigative projects, Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst, David Gergen who advised four presidents and John Avlon, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast. Jeffrey, he says I accept this responsibility. We'll discharge it to -- this responsibility, we'll discharge it to the best of my ability. How big of a development is this? And as Evan said, it is truly independent.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It is a major development because of the nomination of any special counsel but the fact that it's Bob Mueller makes it even more significant, because - and I don't think this is an exaggeration. This is the single most respected figure in American law enforcement. No, it's not just the 12 years at the FBI. All of which went by without a scandal or a hint of personnel's controversy involving Mueller himself.
Head of the criminal division of the justice department, U.S. attorney in San Francisco, U.S. attorney in Boston. I mean, this is someone who really embodies the best of the American Criminal Justice System and the chips are going to - the chips are going to fall where they may. I mean, I think people who think there is -- a crime was committed, they'll get - they're learn whether it was and if a crime wasn't committed, we'll learn that, too. BURNETT: So, let me ask you Chris Swecker because you know Bob
Mueller. What do you think the first thing he's going to do here is?
CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION: Well, the winners today are the American people because Robert Mueller will hand pick his team. I mean, he's a thorough professional, he's a good attorney. He won't be in the press. He'll very quietly hand pick a team. They'll be in a separate space away from FBI headquarters and he will methodically, professionally, quietly get to the bottom of this.
And this is the best news we've heard. I think it addresses the whole perception out there that someone outside the FBI had control of this investigation, which I dispute. I don't think that anybody outside of the FBI had any control of the investigation other than the Department of Justice. But putting Robert Mueller in there is - I think -- I think everybody is a winner today.
BURNETT: So, let me ask you, Jeff just on -- so we could understand what this means.
BURNETT: OK? So, we know the house and senate investigations will continue.
BURNETT: All right? So, in a sense there's this weird competing for testimony and all this strangeness that's still going on. But do we know fully what's a part of this? For example, as Jim Comey's firing, parto f this, Jim Comey's memos or is that all yet to be determined? Trump's sharing of classified information to the Russians. Do we know the border line?
TOOBIN: We don't know the border line but we do know this. The person who decides what the border line is is going to be Bob Mueller. And I don't envision any scenario where those subjects you just mentioned would not be included within his jurisdiction. I mean, it's all related. It all relates to the possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and the attempts to cover that up, if there were any such attempts. It's all the same story and Mueller's going to have to deal with it all.
BURNETT: So, let me ask you, Eric because know you know Jim Comey. Look, there's a story here from 2013 from Washingtonian, forged under fire, Bob Mueller and Jim Comey's unusual friendship. When Comey replaced Mueller as the FBI because he was the person who came in. According to Washington Post, Mueller said of Comey, he was a good friend, an excellent choice and a superb prosecutor. You now have the former director of the FBI Jim Comey saying the president said something. The president says Jim Comey is lying. Is Mueller's relationship with Comey an issue here, Eric?
ERIC LICHTBLAU, CNN ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS: I think that's an excellent point. I would not disregard the strength of their bonds and the impact that could have the way this investigation goes. They were - they worked side by side for years after 9/11, really through the fire together. They were involved in the famous scenes over the Bush eavesdropping program together, side by side again.
Tremendous mutual respect and friendship. And so when you have Jim Comey fired after writing the memo that he did, I would have to think that Bob Mueller is going to put a lot of weight into that.
BURNETT: And let me ask you, David Gergen about the significance of that, right? I mean, Bob Mueller, a man one is besmirching his reputation or his integrity but obviously a friendship this deep and long when you have one person saying something and the other person saying it's a lie, it could be deeply significant.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, it could be significant. Let's go back to the beginning of this. I want to join the coarse and saying this is very good news for the country. It's the most reassuring stuff that the Trump administration has taken since this whole controversy began. It will begin to restore trust in the process and in the outcome. In that sense, I do think that a lot of credit goes to Mr. Rosenstein, you know, who was so vilified because he got dragged in by the president and Jeff Sessions writing that statement when Comey was fired.
This was a good move by him. And I assume, Erin, he knew of the friendship, he had the way that of making the appointment.
GERGEN: He nonetheless turned to Mueller because he must have assumed as Jeffrey have said, as others have said, you know, Bob Mueller is so highly respected that I think he did not feel that this would impede of influence the color of the outcome.
BURNETT: So, John, what do you think happened? Because as Pamela pointed out. Rob Rosenstein has said a special prosecutor was not necessary, right? He said so as recently as last Friday, as we understand, telling people he didn't see any. Obviously since then we've learned of Trump telling classified information in the White House and we've learned of Comey's memos. Those are the two big pieces of news we all know happened between now and Friday. Is that what - is the determining fact here that Rod Rosenstein said, OK?
JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I mean, those are massive bombshells in this accelerating news cycle but I think particularly the presence of the Comey memo forces the hand. The calculus - political calculus has changed on Capitol Hill. And I do think that while this is a great reminder that we are a nation of laws, not men, that clearly Rod Rosenstein felt and actually needed to be taken not in conjunction of coordination with the Trump White House.
The Trump White House did not send the stabilizing signal. The justice department did. The number two because attorney general has had to recuse himself. The selection of Mueller is stabilizing. It will give republicans some breathing room to (INAUDIBLE) this. This is significant step and it comes from the heart of the justice department, not the Trump White House.
BURNETT: And Gloria, the Trump White House here, this, you know, we're barely 90 minutes in here to knowing this. They got a little bit more warning than that but we don't yet have a formal response, which is a very significant thing, right? They have not decided what to say.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And we're waiting for that. I mean, as Jeff Zeleny pointed out earlier, Sean Spicer has been saying there's no need for any a special counsel.
BURNETT: As recently as Monday. Yes.
BORGHER: Right. There's need for a special counsel. So look, this isn't going to be welcome news at the White House. This means this investigation is going to be long and deep and it's not going to be over quickly. And I think you can only look at Donald Trump for that because I agree with John Avalon that that something happened with that Comey memo that probably made Rod Rosenstein change his mind.
BORGER: And on Capitol Hill now, I would - I would also add that this does give everybody a little bit of breathing room here. That the democrats obviously applaud this and the republicans who didn't -- weren't much interested in a special counsel can now say, well, this is being investigated by a special counsel. I just heard from a top senate democratic aide who said to me, it's amazing to watch republicans go from we don't need one to he's awesome. And that is - and that is exactly what's happening on the hill right now. So republicans are going to - are going to applaud this as well.
BURNETT: All right. So many more questions. I want to -- just as we get more breaking news here. Go to our justice reporter Laura Jarrett who was actually in the briefing at the justice department made when they made this announcement. And Laura, you're learning a little bit more about this crucial question, right? The timing of the decision and when Rod Rosenstein informed the White House.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN REPORTER: Yes. That's exactly right, Erin. I'm learning that the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein informed the president after the order was signed, the order was signed today and then the White House counsel's office was informed by the deputy attorney general's office. I'm also informed that attorney general Jeff Sessions was informed after Rod Rosenstein signed the order. So, a little bit of interesting timing there.
The deputy attorney general really did all of this before any heads-up was given to the White House or the attorney general. So an interesting development there on the timing. We're also learning more about the scope of Bob Mueller's investigation. As you know, this has to do with the Russia connection as outlined in the announcement we received from Department of Justice today but he has wide latitude to decide what's in that scope, Erin, which is an important development. BURNETT: Very important. All right. Laura, thank you very much.
And I think among the many little new tidbits there, I think was Laura's reporting that Jeff Sessions himself did not know until after his deputy had signed this order naming the special counsel. I want to go to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. And Manu, across the board reaction here, democrats had actually been threatening, right? They're saying they're going to block a new FBI Director until they got a special prosecutor. OK. They got it. What now?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, less likely that the new FBI Director will be blocked by senate democrats for one reason, because there is a special prosecutor. They had been demanding that as a condition of move forward. Now I'm hearing from democratic sources including senator that they're less inclined to do that. Now, we have to wait to see who that nominee is. And if it's someone who could pulverizing, they still could try to - could try to block a nominee and that of course require republicans also to defect.
But right now -- and this is good news for Donald Trump in getting his own FBI Director eventually confirmed. Now, Erin, this also helped Rod Rosenstein tomorrow when he comes before the senate and briefs all 100 senators because democrats have planned to pepper Rosenstein with questions tomorrow about naming a special prosecutor. I'm told by senators who were at the a private meeting today at Chuck Schumer's office, they came up with a strategy to really pressure Rosenstein on the issue of a special prosecutor.
And now that he's named, it will take the heat off him tomorrow and that he questions, so democrats are feeling a little better. Republicans, too, even the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr feeling good about moving the investigation forward now that this question seem to have been resolved for now, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Manu. And Eric, let me just ask you, what does all this mean? Right? So, now you have a special counsel, special prosecutor. So, you have the house and senate investigations continuing. Is Bob Mueller starting from scratch? Is he being handed an investigation in progress? I mean, is there just a better way to understand exactly what just changed here in terms of the timing of when the American people are going to know what did or did not happen between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
LICHTBLAUE: Sure. I would expect that the first thing Mueller would is to spend or probably several weeks at the FBI getting up just the - and exactly what's been done since the investigation opened last July being briefed by Andrew McCabe and the top national security officials there. Then though, he's going to want to build his own team to take that investigation in progress and make it his own. He's going to want to bring in his own - his own lawyers, bring over FBI agents that he trust, and his team trust and nap out a strategy and as Jeff Toobin and others said, that can take years.
You know, the - in the 1990s during the Clinton administration when you had more than half a dozen specially appointed outside counsels, you know, those investigations
could go on three, four, five years with unlimited budgets. So if that's the guide, the law has changed since then, but if that is the guide it really can go almost anywhere that Mueller wants it to go.
BURNETT: And -
TOOBIN: And Erin - can I just - can I just elaborate on that point?
TOOBIN: He's going to start from absolute scratch. He's going to rent a facility that is suitable for security which means it might have to be retrofitted. He's going to hire a staff. All of whom are going to have to get security clearances which takes a lot of time. This is all stuff before he even examines the first witness. And then, he's, you know, may have to panel a grand jury and then he's going to have to get the FBI agency who wants to work with. I mean, even if he's full of energy and full of determination, you're talking --
BURNETT: --we got a lot more time.
TOOBIN: -- many months.
BURNETT: And I just want everyone to know we are awaiting the White House statement on special counsel. So, we are going to get that response any moment. Gloria, so you have this process taking a long time but he's going to have the resources that he needs, he's going to have the independence. But what does that mean for the house of the senate? Meantime, they're having people come in and testify. I mean, do you all of a sudden have conclusions coming out of there that conflict? I mean, explain here.
BORGER: Well, Jeffrey can talk about this because he remembers Iran contrast sine he worked for the special prosecutor in Iran country where you had separate investigations in the congress and then you had, you know, an outside counsel. And they did very different things, you know, the congress didn't give immunity. I mean, they did give immunity to (INAUDIBLE) and the special counsel did not. So you can go in different directions.
TOOBIN: Well, and that immunity question is so central and it's already come up with the issue of General Flynn. And think about - I mean, the congress -- I'm sorry. Do you need to go to a break?
BURNETT: I just want to jump in -- no. I don't need to go - we're not taking a break.
BURNETT: just want to get the White House statement because we're getting it right now. Jeff Zeleny, what are they saying?
ZELENY: Well, he says this, I'll read it with you. I have -- as I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, that there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. The president goes on to say this. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country. It ends with that. So Erin, it is two - or three sentences, excuse me, from the president himself directly, who again only learned of this as he was interviewing FBI Directors, potential directors this afternoon. And he was told this.
He was not asked about it, not asked for his input. He was told this. So of course he again is saying he looks forward to this matter ending quickly. But Erin, that is very much hopeful and wishful thinking. The reality here as it settles into this White House that this will be the soundtrack of the summer, perhaps much longer than that into the fall, it has now overtaken the legislative agenda and everything else. But that is the first words coming from the president. Erin?
BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny. And John, let me give you a chance to response to that. Very short, very terse. Thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, that there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. That is from the president of the United States.
AVLON: That is from the president of the United States and also from his press shop. It is a very controlled statement, it doesn't sound much like Donald Trump but I think that speaks to the severity of this moment and how much they were taken aback. But I think it's particularly difficult as what he says, you know, a thorough investigation will vindicate as he has long said. This is not the administration which has that welcoming accountability in any form.
And the fact that it came through this route, Rod Rosenstein, who been, you know, a lot of questions raised about that memo he wrote that led to the firing of Director Comey, this declaration of independence by him outside communication with the White House and the attorney general is really striking and it has completely changed the game in Washington and will for months.
BURNETT: David Gergen, the big question though is can the president be controlled by those around him and his response? OK. They've done that with this statement. But that doesn't mean he's not going to come out on Twitter or say something that would be inappropriate.
GERGEN: Well, it would be entirely out of character, wouldn't it, for him or to be remain silent over this and not at some point lash out. He, you know, the statement itself says he want to stand as quickly, he looks forward to it quickly. As we've heard, that's not going to end quickly. And one other point. Why presidents don't like these kinds of special prosecutors is that once they start, they can find something that has nothing to do with the original reason for the inquiry, that some other angle that they want to pursue and it - and presidents feel like they go on a hunting expedition. Let's remember back when Bill Clinton, you know, he was investigated on Whitewater and it ended up, you know, way over with Monica Lewinsky. You know, that --
GERGEN: We would not have heard about Monica Lewinsky -
GERGEN: So there is this kind of - presidents in White Houses really, really don't want to go here but they have to now learn to live with it.
BURNETT: So let me ask you, Jeffrey, can -- of all the things out there, we know, for example, when you look over at the house and the senate, right? Rather what Trump said in the oval office to the Russians, there's some talk that that may not be within their scope, right? He can put it right within a scope of his investigation if he chooses to do so. Does he have the ability, let's say, to get Trump's tax returns?
TOOBIN: Absolutely, absolutely. He could subpoena them. I mean --
BURNETT: And the president can't say no like he has --
TOOBIN: Well, I think he could go to court and try to stop it, but certainly, you can't stop the Mueller investigation from seeking them out. I mean, you know, many times, I mean, this certainly came up in the Starr investigation of Bill Clinton, they tried to get secret service records. Bill Clinton's White House went to court to the try to stop it. There were many fights over what evidence the independent counsel, as Ken Starr was called, special prosecutor, special counsel, why - what access -- information he had access to. Those court fights took a lot of time. That was one of the many reasons why the Starr investigation went on so long because there were these legal fights over what evidence he could get access to.
BURNETT: And Eric, of course, we know that the president will fight tooth and nail on these tax returns. But obviously when you're -- when you're thinking about where could this go in a completely different direction, that is something of course none of us to this point have seen and this is the first time in this investigation that you're talking about someone who actually would have the potential to get them.
LICHTBLAUE: Absolutely, I mean, you got to figure that the financial connections are one of the first things that Mueller will explore, you know, are there, in fact, financial investments, tax records would be one way of cleaning that. Absolutely.
BURNETT: So, Chris, what do you think Mueller right now, right?? He has accepted this responsibility. How quickly do you think it's up and running when Jeffrey's talking about, OK, you got to get - you got hire your staff, you've got to get them security clearances, you've got to spend all this time reading up and understanding exactly where things are. How quickly is this rolling?
SWECKER: I think it's going to go much more quickly than what we're hearing. Look, Robert Mueller has been a homicide prosecutor, he's been a U.S. attorney, he was the head of the FBI for 12 years, he knows how to move an investigation along and core investigative team is going to stay the same. And that's what's most important. Yes. They worked at FBI headquarters for a while. Yes, they have to rent new space but in -- this is like changing the tires on a car as it's moving down the road.
But he's going to - he's going to move things along. He learned a lot in those 12 years. He knows the people that are conducting the investigation. Many of the former special prosecutors never darken the door of a courtroom. He's been in a courtroom. He's been in the investigative environment, I think this -- I think we'll get to the bottom of this in less than a year. I really think he's the guy to do that.
AVLON: I think that's critical -- that's a critical point with his - obviously deep familiarity with the FBI investigation. But I think there's something else. You know, in the Clinton years (INAUDIBLE) that was tainted by a deep partisanship. And here you have an appointee who was appointed by a republican, who has deep credibility on both sides of the aisle and that's going to help I think elevate the debate, whatever controversy will really swirl around, this special counsel is going to be really undercut in a way that will be positive for national unity, something we are very little of, saying that was not present during the Clinton investigation.
BURNETT: Gloria, you're trying to jump in.
BORGER: Erin, you know, what this - what this also means is that the president of the United States now has to have counsel, if he doesn't already and that maybe the reason that we don't see a lot of tweeting about this because if you're his lawyer, I'm not a lawyer but Jeff, you tell me, you're going to tell him to stop tweeting. We haven't seen him tweet on this. And I think that, you know, we may start witnessing a little bit of a change in the president's behavior if he understands the stakes in all of this. I mean, that --
AVLON: Oh, my goodness. It's the famous pivot. The pivot is going to happen.
BORGER: Well, no, not a pivot. But under, you know, if you got a lawyer -
BORGER: If (INAUDIBLE) advice of counsel, if you got a lawyer sitting at your side saying you're going to hurt yourself here, you better stop it, you better be quiet, we'll see.
BORGER: I mean, I wouldn't ever predict that Donald Trump would pivot but I'm going to tell you, we haven't seen tweets on this and I think that that - that that's meaningful.
My other thought is I do believe there should be and is a sense of urgency about all of this. You know, we have a sitting president here and we have a country that's preoccupied with all of this. We have an election that was hacked. We have an election coming up in 2018, and I do think that there are answers that the American people are going to want and that Mueller understands that, that this can't be open- ended for ten years or five years, even.
You know, I do think that there is urgency and Congress understands that. And I would hope that he would, too.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let me just get to Sunlen here, Sunlen Serfaty. She's on Capitol Hill.
And, Sunlen, I know you have some news here, the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell weighing in on the naming of a special prosecutor. Obviously, a crucial voice here. What's he saying?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. And this is the first time we've heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the choosing of the special prosecutor. And notable in his statement he says that the Senate Intelligence Committee work, with their work on the investigation, will, of course, go on in tandem, of course, to Bob Mueller's new marching orders.
His statement, notably, was devoid of any of the praise that we've seen from his colleagues, on both the Republican side and the Democratic sides, specifically about Mueller, really bipartisan praise we're getting on Capitol Hill tonight. Many saying, of course, he's a known commodity, someone who's well-respected, has the stature to lead this investigation.
And we know up here on Capitol Hill, although many people in leadership were not given a heads-up about this choice. We know that Andy McCabe, acting FBI director, and Rod Rosenstein, were here just moments ago briefing congressional leaders. And, of course, Rosenstein will be up here on Capitol Hill tomorrow afternoon, briefing the full Senate. That, of course, was previously scheduled and certainly this decision to move forward with a special counsel takes a little heat off him on Capitol Hill tomorrow.
BURNETT: All right. Sunlen, thank you.
And OUTFRONT now, the Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
I appreciate your time tonight, sir. First, your reaction reaction.
REP. JOE CROWLEY (D-NY), DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIR: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: You've been calling for independent investigation, independent commission. Are you satisfied with this counsel?
CROWLEY: Well, I'm pleased that the Justice Department has taken a step, the number two Rod Rosenstein has moved forward with this. I think it's good for the country that we get to the bottom of this. I do think that both committees still need to do their work as well as I think eventually -- I think down the road, we still need to have an independent commission established.
But as of right now, I think -- you know, pleased is not the proper word. I don't know exactly how to describe it. I think the American people want and deserve answers and in that sense I'm pleased that maybe we can get back to doing what we need to do here in Congress in terms of an agenda to move forward on behalf of the American people.
BURNETT: I'm trying to understand how bipartisan this is in the sense of, you know, your Republican colleague, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who's chair of the Oversight Committee, has come out and said, quote, Mueller is a great selection, impeccable credentials, should be widely accepted.
I mean, would you concur with everything that he said?
CROWLEY: Well, I don't normally concur with Jason Chaffetz about much of anything, but I do think in the interest of moving the country forward, I think he recognizes that something needed to be done. And therefore, in a very independent way, I think the credibility of our government is on the line. You know, the behavior of the president in terms of what happens in the Oval Office, his behavior outside the Oval Office is certainly about -- an issue of question as well.
And really getting to the bottom of the intrusion, the invasion of Russia into our body politics. Not only our own politics but the world politics as well. It's incredibly serious and I think it's been very damaging to our republic so far. We need to get to the bottom of this and make sure it doesn't happen again.
BURNETT: Obviously, Director Comey is going to have an important role in this investigation, in terms of someone they're looking at, right? Why was he fired? The memos? We don't yet know, of course, if those will be a part of what Bob Mueller chooses to look into, though. Of course, that is the broad assumption.
So, I just want to ask you. Obviously, Bob Mueller and Jim Comey know each other very well, as we pointed out. They are friends. Comey succeeded Mueller, and at that time, Mueller said of him, he was a good friend, an excellent choice and a superb prosecutor.
Does that friendship in any way concern you given that obviously Jim Comey and the president of the United States are both saying the other one is essentially lying right now?
CROWLEY: Well, I do think that former Director Mueller comes with great bipartisan credentials in the sense that he's highly regarded on both sides of the aisle. I know Leader Pelosi has issued a statement, really expressing her confidence in Mr. Mueller.
[19:35:04] I have that same type of confidence as I do in Mr. Comey.
I've said before, I may not have agreed with the decisions that Mr. Comey has made, but I've never questioned his integrity. And I don't think anyone questions the integrity of Mr. Mueller, either.
BURNETT: And so, broadly, tonight, some of your colleagues, some of your Democratic colleagues are using the word impeachment. Some say very irresponsibly at this point. Others, of course, think it's very fair.
Al Green, congressman, went today and went to the House floor to make his case for impeachment. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. AL GREEN (D), TEXAS: This is what I believe and this is where I stand. I will not be moved. The president must be impeached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Do you agree with him or do you think that that is not only premature but perhaps irresponsible at this time?
CROWLEY: I think every member of Congress has the right to express themselves on the floor. And Al Green has taken that opportunity to express himself. He says he's speaking for himself.
Well, I believe that the leadership of the Democratic caucus believes, is that we need to find the facts. We need to get to the bottom of this and let the facts lead where they may. And that's --
BURNETT: So, you're clearly not comfortable using that word right now?
CROWLEY: I think it's putting the cart before the horse. I think what we need to do is get to the facts, get to the base here and find out what happened, the timeline, understanding everything. What was the intent? And let the facts lead where they may. I think that's what the American people expect. That's justice. That's just the American way.
BURNETT: All right. Congressman Crowley, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
CROWLEY: Thank you.
BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now with me, the former director of the Nixon presidential library, our presidential historian, Tim Naftali, and Nick Akerman, former assistant U.S. attorney, former assistant special Watergate prosecutor.
So, Nick, let me start with you. You know, part of what I'm trying to understand tonight. I think all of our viewers are. A lot of people were calling for this. Sometimes people call for something and it may or may not matter, OK?
So we now have this special counsel. What does it mean? You've been there. How significant is this? What is he going to do?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASST. SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I think this is extremely significant.
BURNETT: Yes. AKERMAN: It means there's going to be a person in charge of this investigation who is independent, who's not beholden to the attorney general, who's not beholden to the administration, who has an excellent reputation --
BURNETT: Even though obviously Rod Rosenstein was a Trump appointee appointed him, there is still a very clear independence.
AKERMAN: Yes. And it's set up like he was an U.S. attorney. That is if he makes the final decisions on what's going to happen, and Rosenstein could come in and reverse the decisions but it's very unlikely. I think that he's going to have complete independence here.
This is very similar to what was done with Cox, not quite as independent. But if you look at the release was tonight, it's clear that he's not only going to be able to investigate what went on with the Russian collusion and whether there was any collusion with Russia, but he's also going to be able to investigate all crimes arising from that. So, that means that any issues about obstruction of justice by the president are also going to come within his purview, which is very significant.
BURNETT: Right, because we don't yet know, Tim, where the borders are. It could include anything on this list or something that no one's even thought of or is aware of at the time.
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Sure. We saw that with Whitewater, didn't we, in the 1990s.
BURNETT: Right. That's what Jeffrey is just pointing out, you start there and you ended up with Monica Lewinsky.
NATFALI: We've just entered a new chapter of this story. Mr. Mueller understands the law. Mr. Mueller ran the FBI so well that a Democratic president asked him to stay longer than his 10-year term.
BURNETT: Right, two years under Barack Obama, exactly.
NAFTALI: So, this is a man of great probity, as a man who's greatly respected. He now has subpoena power. He -- there was always a question as to whether the House or the Senate would use their Senate power to investigate the Russia hacking and collusion scandal.
Now, we have someone with a great deal of professional ethics who has subpoena power. This is a very different investigation now. This is a serious investigation and he can take it wherever he feels it ought to go. So, the whole game has changed and now, it's a serious matter.
And I'll say this: until the Comey memos came out, this wasn't really about President Trump. President Trump now is at the center of this particular inquiry. In large measure, it's because of the way he handled Comey. And Robert Mueller, a man who loves the FBI and is committed to its reputation is the best person to find out why Mr. Comey kept those records and what those records really mean.
BURNETT: Right. Because we know that Mr. Comey says he kept them because he was appalled or concerned with what the president was saying.
BURNETT: I will say, frankly, we have not yet gotten to the leaks, because he hasn't yet chosen to come out and speak. We have not gotten to an answer as to why he didn't share that information with anyone until after he was fired.
AKERMAN: Correct. That's the big question and also, what do these memos actually look like?
[19:40:02] I mean, no one has seen the memos.
AKERMAN: We haven't read them. We haven't heard his testimony. We haven't heard his explanations.
So, yes, there's more to uncover here. But I think the most important point is that the person uncovering it is going to be somebody that people have confidence in, that this is not going to be slid under the rug, that this is not going to be a cover-up, and that this will be investigated and we'll get to the bottom of what happened.
BURNETT: And we don't know, though, Tim, we're not going to be getting updates. I mean, I think one of the interesting things here, when you look at the fact that you have the House and Senate continuing, at least as you of now they're going to continue with their investigations, we hear things that are happening in those investigations. Are we going to hear things coming from Bob Mueller's investigation or is it really going to be leak-free and silent until, all of a sudden, here is your revelation of nothing or something completely new, or whatever it might be.
NAFTALI: Well, if you accept the proposition that it's going to be a serious investigation. Then, we don't need to know about it as it goes along, because you know something?
BURNETT: Because there's no fear of political partisanship within the --
NAFTALI: No. Here's my answer.
NAFTALI: One of the ways that the Nixon administration got ahead of the cover-up, got ahead of the investigation, was that they figured out where it was going because they had sources in the Justice Department. If there are culpable people here, they shouldn't know what direction the investigation is going in. And that's one reason why we don't necessarily need leaks. If you accept the proposition that Mueller will run a professional investigation, and I do.
BURNETT: So, let me ask you, because, obviously, Mueller is going to have the ability here to go ahead with criminal charges. We've got all these powers, OK? But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Let's just take obstruction of justice, which you know, it's not explicitly part of this, but could become.
That is not something easy to prove. It is incredibly difficult to prove.
AKERMAN: Well, Mr. Trump has made it a lot easier to prove than one could imagine. First of all, people have been focusing on the memo that Comey created. But the fact of the matter is, if you look at the circumstances surrounding this, the fact that he didn't fire his national security director until 18 days after he was warned, the fact that the next day he meets with Comey and has this conversation with him about not going after Flynn and then firing Comey and coming up with this protectable memo.
I mean, all of these circumstances will certainly provide probable cause of obstruction of justice. I mean, again, it is a crime of intent. And so, that has to be proven. Right now there is probable cause that there was obstruction.
BURNETT: Tim, to this question, though, the friendship between Mueller and Comey. Is it relevant in that context of the fact that when it comes to these memos, you may end up in a situation, at least you are right now unless there's some kind of recording which the president has indicated maybe there is, but it seems to be a big bluff. You're going to have Jim Comey's word versus that of the president of the United States.
NAFTALI: Yes, that's what I'm going to say.
BURNETT: So, then you're going to have Bob Mueller to say, well, who does he believe more, right? I mean, is it possible -- I mean, obviously, there's a lot of avenues of inquiry. But in that specific one, it's going to come down to a judgment call, perhaps who you know better or who you --
AKERMAN: Well, but I think any good investigation is going to ferret that out in terms of what corroborates Comey, what else is there. There's plenty other FBI agents that Comey spoke to after he met with the president. I mean, the reason --
BURNETT: See what they have to say.
AKERMAN: Yes, I mean, there's a lot --
BURNETT: You do a lot of research, yes.
NAFTALI: It's more than determining whether the Comey memos are enough for obstruction of justice.
NAFTALI: He's going to be looking at relationships between -- if there were any -- between the Trump campaign and the Russians. He's going to be looking at that whole complex of issues. The Comey memos are just a piece of the puzzle. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.
I want to go back to Pamela Brown.
Because this major development of the special counsel, special prosecutor coming just 24 hours after we learned about these memos and we snow that there are now multiple memos, thanks in part by your reporting, Pamela. Obviously, this is crucial. What role these memos will play?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is the big question. Who has seen the memos? Who will look at the memos?
We know there's more than the ones yesterday from that February meeting where President Trump allegedly told then-FBI Director James Comey that he wanted him to stop the Michael Flynn probe. In fact, I'm told through my sources that even after two phone conversations former Director Comey had with the president, he also wrote memos from those conversations. And I'm told that there's some interesting information in those memos that, of course, as we know has yet to come out.
In terms of the in-person meetings that then Director Comey had with the president, what I'm told is he would immediately write down exactly what happened, everything that happened in the conversation, as soon as he got in his car after the meeting, right away, even before he took off, because he wanted to make sure that what he wrote was captured and that it was accurate.
[19:45:03] And, in fact, sometimes before these meetings, I'm told through sources, he would actually talk with his staff and in a sense rehearse and go over potential questions the president could ask him because there was a level of discomfort coming from James Comey meeting with the president one-on-one, on at least two occasions we know of, given the ongoing Russia probe.
So, he would talk with his staff about it and try to come up with answers to possible questions that were not confrontational. And also, it was different for James Comey. In President Obama's era, Erin, I'm told through a source familiar that President Obama would not meet with James Comey one on one after he became the FBI director, because he was trying to keep the two separate, the White House and the FBI and keep that independence there and he was worried about the optics of it, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Pamela.
And, you know, today, President Trump is speaking out for the first time since we learned about the former FBI directors' memo. Now, obviously, he's come out with a statement tonight in which he -- on the special counsel in which he says a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know, there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity.
That though was right after he found about the special counsel. This afternoon, he was at a graduation speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and he used his opportunity to speak to these graduates to complain about how he's being treated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is back with me.
And, Jeff, obviously, the president facing mounting questions tonight from the press, but not giving many answers.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's not, indeed, Erin. And that gives you a sense of his frame of mind, a window into what he was thinking around noon or so. But, boy, everything entirely has changed with his appointment of a special prosecutor. Imagine what he's thinking now, if that was his mindset. You know, instead of giving an encouraging speech as he gave in a commencement address over the weekend, this was filled with grievances as we just heard there.
But as Pamela was just reporting, these memos so important that a former FBI director was recording in real time exactly what was happening in these meetings. Now, the White House is still pushing back on those, saying the president absolutely did not have those conversations.
This is what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing as they flew back from the commencement exercise.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been clear that the account as published is not an accurate description of how the event occurred. We've made it very clear. The president's very clear that this is not an accurate representation.
I think we put out a statement very clearly about the president, does not believe that's an accurate representation. The secretary of state, the national security adviser and deputy national security adviser have been very clear with their recollection of that meeting.
We put out a statement last night. Very year our position was.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ZELENY: Well, the words "very clear" is certainly something that Sean Spicer wanted to convey there. But, Erin, I can tell you, it is anything but clear where this is going tonight at the White House. The White House did not want a special prosecutor. We know that because Sean Spicer was asked just 48 hours ago in a briefing, he said frankly, there is no reason for that. So, tonight, the administration still scrambling here. They were
planning on preparing for the next chapter to turn the page here. But Erin, this is the third straight night of bad news for this White House, but again, this development has the most far reaching effect of all the others so far.
BURNETT: Absolutely. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
And David Sanger is with me, New York Times" national security correspondent, Salena Zito with "The Washington Examiner" and John Avlon, editor in chief of "The Daily Beast".
We have some new breaking news I want to share. This is from our Dana Bash. Two big things here.
One, when it comes to whether Jim Comey is going to testify, a senior GOP source telling Dana that now, there is a special prosecutor, it is unlikely that James Comey will testimony about the memo. So, obviously, he had been leaning in the direction that we were expecting that testimony he wanted to speak publicly. They now say this shuts the whole thing down. That's the GOP source to Dana that he will not want to testify in front of Congress.
So, obviously, that is crucial.
And then this source -- I think this is very interesting. I want to get your reaction to this, John, who has been in regular contact with Rod Rosenstein telling Dana that Rosenstein was reluctant to engage publicly with Congress because he was so angry and exasperated with the Trump White House. The source believes Rosenstein is throwing Trump, quote, overboard with a special counsel. He was already so upset last week, he was talking about packing his bags and quitting, according to this senior GOP source. And now, the deputy attorney general believes by this move for a special prosecutor, he can separate and insulate himself from the White House on all of this.
John Avlon, obviously very significant. This is coming from our Dana Bash, it is a senior GOP source.
JOHN AVLON, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes.
BURNETT: This is one person's rendition but it is a pretty stark statement about the state of mind of the deputy attorney general.
[19:50:06] AVLON: It is very stark and it is overloaded is obviously completely loaded, because this should be about a search for truth. It's got to be a process that is outside politics, which is why, you know, I think the fact that former FBI director has been picked is such a check mate on a lot of the politics and the power plays in Washington.
But the inside that Rod Rosenstein is so frustrated by his treatment by the White House, by his scapegoating being used in the Comey firing, that if that affected his thinking as well, in advance of the meeting with senators tomorrow, he said, look, I'm just going to do what I think is right, I'm going to pick somebody who is beyond reproach and let the chips fall where they may. It's a statement of declaration of independence from the deputy attorney general.
BURNETT: And, David Sanger, what's the reaction of the president of the United States when he hears how his deputy attorney general feels. Again, this GOP source saying Rod Rosenstein was so upset last week, at the president of the United States. He was talking about packing his bags and quitting. And this source believes Rosenstein is throwing Trump overboard with this special counsel.
DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRSPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know, when you think about this, Erin, the president made a series of unforced errors that led him right to this point. And as you said before in your conversation with Jeff Zeleny, this is not where he wanted to be. They have a House and Senate investigation right now that really is beyond their control.
And now with the special counsel, not quite the same powers that the special prosecutor has, but certainly Bob Mueller is considered to be a very serious player, they've got an element there they condition control.
And then, of course, the third element is what all the press is doing. It's not as if CNN and "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are going to stop investigating this story. And all of these feed on each other. The revelation of the Comey memo yesterday in "The Times" by my colleague Mike Schmidt I think really forced the hand of the Justice Department to go for the special counsel.
BURNETT: Salena, what is the president going to do, right? We have this statement that clearly was produced by those around him which says that there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign, right? It's obviously his sentiment, but it's not his tone and it's not the way he talks.
Is he going to be able to hold back and let that speak for this? I mean, they're going to be getting all kinds of questions about this, he's going to be speaking to the press many times in the next few days as he travels overseas. Can he hold back?
SALENA ZITO, STAFF REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I mean, that's the big question, right?
BURNETT: Go ahead, Salena.
ZITO: Here's what I think. I think the smartest thing he could do is sort of what President Bill Clinton did when he was facing the impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky issues. He went out every day, sort of he had a special press person with him, he showed that he was doing the work of the American people, you know, he would go to community events, he would go to food co-ops, he would just be everywhere.
And I think that that's something that Trump needs to do. He just needs to show that he's doing the work of the American people and let the chips fall where they may. Because like you said, everything is beyond his control, there's really nothing he can do. The worst message that he can send is that I'm holed up and I'm angry.
The best message he can send is I'm just going to do my job and let the chips fall where they may.
BURNETT: But David Sanger here's the thing. You know, we don't yet know where Bob Mueller is going to go with this, but it would be, I think, a betting person's bet that he will say, let's say ask for tax returns, if it goes in that direction, then the president fights that.
How much time does this end up consuming for this White House and this president as he fights disclosing what Bob Mueller warms?
SANGER: Well, there's time, which is a big issue. But what there really is influence, political influence at home with Congress, and influence with his foreign counterparts.
If he is viewed as weakened, if he is viewed as insular, foreign leaders are going to pick up on that, and they're going to toy with him. You know, it's going to be a much harder issue. And it might prompt him to go off into some kind of foreign venture, we don't know for a fact that it would, to sort of do the distraction. That's what Bill Clinton was charged with, I don't think accurately, when he did a bombing in Kosovo and so forth during his administration.
AVLON: Yes, God for bid that the national security is politicized in a context like this and I mean that seriously.
But we also have to recognize the reality, which is we have a president without a poker face. He is -- part of the reason we're in this mess, this self-inflicted wounds, this series of self-inflicted wounds is that this president can't help but say what's on his mind in decidedly unpresidential ways and tones, whether it's by Twitter or with live mikes.
[19:55:05] That's not going to stop, and to expect otherwise would be the triumph of hope over experience. This is going to be get much worse before it gets better.
BURNETT: And, Salena, we're already finding out in terms of how fast this is going to move, which we spend a lot of time talking about this hour. You know, some said that this could take two or three years. Chris Swecker, who's worked with Mueller extensively, said he thought he would rush to do this, not to skip corners, but as quickly as he could, to be efficient, to get it done in the next year. We already know tonight now, two partners likely from the law firm where Bob Mueller is coming from are quitting to go join him.
How quickly do you think he's going to have his team together? I mean, that's pretty quick. You've already got two people joining tonight.
ZITO: Yes, yes. I think it's going to be a very swift process. And I think what's interesting, you know, in anticipation of coming on and talking about this, I reached out to a lot of those voters that voted for Obama and then voted for them and said hey, do you think about this? They actually welcome this, because they feel as though this will --
either he'll get this out of the way and he'll be proven to be not, you know, have any problems or that he will have problems and it's time to move on. And there was sort of that same sense of relief that you're talking about that you're hearing on Capitol Hill. I thought that was pretty fascinating.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much.
I want to go now for more reaction here from Capitol Hill. Republican Congressman Leonard Lance from New Jersey.
Congressman, what do you say? Are you joining the chorus of so many who say, Bob Mueller is an excellent choice, or do you have reservations?
REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I have no reservations at all, Erin, and I think the deputy attorney general made a fine decision today and I support him in his decision.
BURNETT: Now, we know the White House, as you know, Congressman, has come out with a very brief statement from the president, saying he says this will exonerate him. But, obviously, the White House here has been hit day after day, late in the day, in past few days, right, with the classified information that the president shared, with the Comey memos, now with this. One official telling us they're letting the news still sink in.
What does the White House need to do next? Are you -- are you sitting there afraid that the president's going to lash out on Twitter?
LANCE: No, I am not, and I thought that the statement from the White House was very reasoned and I hope that the White House will cooperate fully, not only with the investigation by the special counsel, but also, Erin, with the investigations that are occurring here on Capitol Hill, in both of the intelligence committees, and I think they're working in a bipartisan capacity, as well as the decision that's now been made by the deputy attorney general.
BURNETT: When it comes to the memo, which appears to be -- given the timing, given that on Friday, Rod Rosenstein was telling people close to him he didn't think there needed to be a special prosecutor. Now, here we are on Wednesday, 24 hours after we found out about these memos. And we have a special prosecutor.
Who do you believe, Jim Comey says that the president asked him to end the investigation into General Michael Flynn, the president says it's categorically untrue? As of now, all we know is that there is a memo from Jim Comey, attesting to his version of that conversation.
Who do you believe?
LANCE: I want to get to the bottom of this situation, and I think that's why it's important that Mr. Comey be involved and I hope he testifies before Capitol Hill and I hope that the Justice Department can get to the bottom of it now through the special counsel. BURNETT: And, Congressman, do you support whatever it is that Bob
Mueller may choose to do, because this could take him wherever it takes him, right? Would you support if he says, I want Donald Trump's tax returns? That's just an example, would you full heartedly support that?
LANCE: I support the independence of the special counsel. As your colleague correspondent Jeff Toobin points out, this will take some time because it's a matter traditionally that takes several few years. So, I don't think that this will be resolved particularly quickly. I'm sure that Mr. Mueller will be thorough in his investigation.
BURNETT: And we shall see. Of course, I know you're saying it takes longer, others are saying it could happen much more quickly than that. It's in Bob Mueller's hands now.
Thank you very much, Congressman Lance. I appreciate your time.
LANCE: Thank you.
BURNETT: And, John Avlon, I think what we're hearing tonight obviously is something very rare on any of us, which is an incredible bipartisan course of support for Bob Mueller.
BURNETT: Does that last?
AVLON: Well, it's going to see how quickly the investigation escalates, how much it makes Republicans uncomfortable. And the fact that just a few days ago, Republicans outside the administration were saying there's no need for special counsel, and now there's palpable relief, the decision has been made and the person in charge is somebody who's above political reproach.
But now, the process has been set in motion, and what comes out with subpoena powers and other investigatory powers, this is going to get big. This is going to answer a lot of unanswered questions. These are going to be fascinating days in our republic.
BURNETT: Fascinating days in our republic. And we all hope that while it goes to every detail. It does happen quickly.
We do have more elections coming up, much more broadly than the Trump part of this investigation -- the investigation into Russia's interference in our elections.
Anderson Cooper is next.