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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump: "There was No Collusion," Even Enemies Say So. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The FBI has not had that special reputation with what happen in the campaign, what happen with respect to the Clinton campaign, and even you could say directly or indirectly with respect to the much more successful Trump campaign.

[16:30:08] We're going to have a director who is going to be outstanding. I will be announcing that director very soon, and I look forward to doing it. I think the people in the FBI will be very, very -- very, very thrill.

And just in concluding, we look forward to getting this whole situation behind us so that when we go for the jobs, when we go for the strong military, when we go for all of the things that we've been pushing so hard and so successfully, including health care -- because Obamacare is collapsing. It's dead. It is gone. There's nothing to compare anything to because we don't have health care in this country.

You just look at what's happening. Aetna just pulled out. Other insurance companies are pulling out. We don't have health care.

Obamacare is a fallacy. It's gone. We need health care.

We need to cut taxes. We are going to cut taxes. If I get what I want, it will be the biggest tax cut in the history of our nation and that's what I want.

It is going to bring back companies. It is going to bring back jobs. We lost so many jobs and companies to countries know so far to you, Mr. President. They're very close to you, actually, and to many other places throughout the world.

We're going to change that. We're going to have expansion. We already do. You look at what's happening with Ford and with General Motors in Michigan and Ohio. You look at the tremendous number of jobs being announced in so many different fields. That's what I'm proud of and that's what we want to focus our energy on.

The other is something I can only tell you, there was no collusion, and everybody -- even my enemies have said, there is no collusion.

So, we want to get back and keep on the track that we're on, because the track that we're on is record-setting and that's what we want to do, is we want to break very positive records. Thank you.

You could ask a question. SANTOS: Ricardo -- sorry. You have another question?

REPORTER: For you, yes, sir, Mr. President.

My question is as someone who led a nation that's really done a lot of rebuilding and had to rebound from an epidemic of crime and drugs over quite a many years, what do you make of Mr. Trump's America first policy? Further, you have had a tough time with conservative radio, sometimes being called a punching back and you said you have to persevere. I'm curious if you've given any advice to President Trump on how to do so?

SANTOS: I don't think I'm in position to give any advice to President Trump. He can take care of himself.

And what I -- what we did in Colombia, you quite rightly mentioned it, is persevere. We -- when you know your poor of this nation and you know that you're doing the correct thing, you simply have to persevere. That's what we've done in Colombia and that's why we were on the verge of being a failed state some years ago, and now, we're one of the stars of the region. And that's through hard work, perseverance and clarity of your objectives. And that's what we have done and we have to continue, because the trip is not over.

REPORTER (through translator): Mr. President, I would like to ask you about trade. You are about to start the renegotiation of NAFTA, and Colombia and like other countries in the hemisphere has a large trade deficit with the United States. Are you worried about the fact that that could contribute to increasing that trade deficit?

REPORTER: Decision on the peace process in Colombia.

TRUMP: Well, it's been a long process and it's been a great thing to watch in the sense that the president did a fantastic job. That's not easy after so many years of war. So I'm very, very proud to get to know you, and I really congratulate you. There's nothing tougher than peace, and we want to make peace all over the world, and you are really a great example of somebody that started it.

I mean FARC, that was a long, tough situation, as you know very welcoming from the country. But I think the president has done a magnificent job. Not easy, but he's done a magnificent job.

SANTOS (through translator): Clear and possible.

On the trade issue, our deficit with the United States is not so large. It is a moderate deficit which, of course, both countries will try to increase the volume of trade in both directions, and investments also in both directions.

[16:35:10] Colombia is becoming an important investor here in the United States, and this is something not many people know, but we have considerable investments in the United States. We have attempted to give dynamism to these flows of trade and investment, getting together those main players who are the investors in the private sector. I believe the foundations have been laid. We have the trade agreement

which is working well. The number of Colombian businesses that export into the United States has grown, and we both believe that we can take greater advantage of those agreements in order to increase flows in both directions for the benefit both of the Colombian and American peoples.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Trump meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who won a Noble Prize, Peace Prize last year. The president, each one of them took two questions from their home country press.

President Trump was asked about the decision made yesterday to appoint a special counsel to handle the Russia investigation. The president said he respects the move, but the entire thing is just a witch hunt. He said it divides the country. He said there is no collusion with Russia, although he did also say that he was speaking only for himself.

He was also, the president, asked about allegations made in a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey, according to a source close to Comey, in which Comey says that in February 14th in the Oval Office, President Trump asked him to layoff Michael Flynn when it comes to the Russia investigation, and President Trump was asked if that was true in any way and the president said: No, no. Next question.

He went on to say that the FBI director was very unpopular and he fired him for any number of reasons.

Let's go to Sara Murray who is in the East Room right now covering this press conference for us.

And, Sara, the president mincing no words. The reporter wasn't even done with his question when asked about the allegations that James Comey makes in this memo that we've been told about.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That makes it all the more interesting, right, to see if we actually finally do get to see the memos from James Comey. There's some speculation that they may be less likely to come out now that there's a special counsel.

But, look, I think what we saw was a very different tone from the president in person here today than we saw from the written statement the White House put out last night. And we have been hearing since then that the president is awfully peeved about the fact that there is a special counsel.

We've been hearing from the White House for weeks that they don't think it is necessary, and you saw how quickly the president shot back when he was asked about James Comey, but also when he was asked whether he felt like he had done anything wrong, that would warrant an investigation, whether he had done anything that might warrant impeachment, which we should note is a very, very far cry from ever happening, but certainly something that Democrats in Washington, a couple of them, have begun floating. And the president was very dismissive of that, suggesting that he did nothing wrong, and also saying that he wants to get back to sort of the work he set out here to do.

A number of the president's allies I talked to today have said they hope he will stop talking about the special counsel, that they hope he will stop talking about the Russia investigation and sort of use this upcoming foreign trip as a way to reset his agenda to focus on the promises he made to the American people on the campaign trail, to appear presidential and to really sort of return to the work that he came to Washington to do.

But, Jake, as you and I both know with this president, he finds it very hard to let things go when he feels slighted, and it is clear that's how he feels about the naming of a special counsel.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray at the White House for us.

Let's bring back our panel.

And, Jen Psaki, this was a very definitive no by President Trump when asked about the allegations that are said to be recorded in this contemporaneous memo written by the former FBI director. Let's play that if we can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn. And always as you look back --

TRUMP: No, no. Next question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Well --

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I mean, that is the answer that I'm sure his supporters would want him to give.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, of course it is. And when the other question was asked about whether he had done anything incriminating or that warranted impeachment, of course, you're going to say no.

[16:40:00] That was sort of a silly question.

But I would say the problem for Trump is that he has a credibility gap and there are countless times, we could probably play a reel here of times where he said something wasn't true and then it became true. You don't have a special prosecutor because there's nothing to see there. There's obviously something to see and something to explore. So, unfortunately at this point, I'm not sure we can take the

president's word for it.

TAPPER: One of the issues, David, is I had Congressman Lee Zeldin on the show yesterday. He's a Republican from New York. He's a veteran. He's a Trump supporter. And I asked him what he thought about James Comey.

Look, we haven't seen this memo. We have no idea what it says, but if it says what we're told it said, and I said to Lee Zeldin, do you believe him? He says, I have no reason not to believe James Comey.

James Comey might have made some very, very unpopular decisions, but I don't think he has a credibility problem.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think that's an open question, right? We saw here the president refer to Director Comey going back and correcting the record.

I will say that Director Comey is an honorable man, an individual who has done great service to the nation. But his handling of this entire situation, whether it is from the Secretary Clinton side or from the President Trump side has been nothing short of a debacle the entire time.

The Democrats have called for his resignation or his firing during the entire part when Secretary Clinton was under the microscope and he bungled it. Now, we have a special counsel here.

So, let's just let -- let's pull the thread, let's see where it goes. Let's put it aside and move on with business. The president is going on a big trip. We will find out in a few months.

There's going to be -- I think there's going to be a lot of smoke and no fire.

TAPPER: Gloria, David has a point. I mean, James Comey did mess up in that hearing a few Wednesdays ago.

BORGER: He did.

TAPPER: He said some things that he had to go back and correct the record, things that were not accurate about Huma Abedin and the Hillary Clinton investigation.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, the president said he was unpopular and he had poor performance on Wednesday. I think we ought to look at the chronology here, because you had senators coming out of that -- Rosenstein closed-door meeting today where the deputy attorney general said he knew on May 8th that the president was going to fire James Comey.

TAPPER: That's the day before he wrote the memo.

BORGER: The day before he wrote the memo. And today, the president said, I got a very strong recommendation from the deputy attorney general. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? We know the president watched the May 3rd hearing, thought it was awful, and was upset about it.

TAPPER: He was specifically upset about James Comey saying he was --

BORGER: Nauseous.

TAPPER: -- nauseous to think he had affected the presidential race.

BORGER: Right.

And so, we also know the president thought, as he said today, quite honestly this would be a popular decision. There were other people in the White House who thought this was going to be a popular decision, one source told me, because they believed that the Democrats would applaud it since Comey had been so unpopular during the campaign.

So, I think as we go through this looking at how this all occurred, this chronology is very important. Because the question to me is, was Rosenstein told, you have to write this memo because I'm going to fire this guy or was he told, look, I'm thinking of firing this guy, but I would like to have your input on whether or not he should be fired? And we really don't know the answer to that.

TAPPER: And let me bring in Jeffrey Toobin because, Jeffrey, one of this things we haven't talked about yet is whether or not there is any sort of recording device or recording system in the White House, a prospect that President Trump introduced into the conversation last week with his tweets to James Comey that he better not leak to the press, you know, he better hope there aren't any tapes of their conversations. The White House refuses to give any answer one way or the other as to whether or not there are recording devices or recordings of the president's conversations with James Comey.

Is that something that you think former FBI Director Mueller, who is now the special counsel heading this investigation, he will ask the White House about, get an answer, and if there are tapes, get copies of the tapes?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: A hundred percent certainty he will both ask and get an answer, and if there are tapes, he will get the tapes. I mean, there are ample precedents from Watergate that would certainly allow the Mueller investigation to get at the tapes.

Can I raise -- if there are any tapes. Can I just raise one point about what I thought the president said that I thought was interesting and perhaps a clue to how things may unfold in the future? He was asked about was there any collusion between him, his campaign and Russia. And he said very categorically, I did not. But then he said: Speaking for myself, I did not.

TAPPER: Yes, let me interrupt you one second, Jeff, because I heard that too and I asked them to cut that sound.

Let me let them play that right now.

TOOBIN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But the entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself, and the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that, and many other things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And there it is, Jeff, as you note, he said certainly myself and my campaign, but I can only speak for myself. So in a way, he just said there was no collusion but I can only speak for myself, I can't speak for my campaign.

TOOBIN: Right. If I were Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn or Carter Page or even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, all of whom had contacts between - with the Russians of one kind or another, I would be very - somewhat uncomfortable hearing that answer. And you know, it is certainly fertile ground for the Mueller investigation and for the Congressional investigations to determine, well, if he didn't, who did? And if they had these contacts, why did they have those contacts, and did they discuss those contacts with candidate Trump? I mean, you know, that's where these investigations start to get complicated, and that's why in part they take a long time. So, you know, this was a very categorical denial on his part regarding his behavior. But as for his campaign, it was a lot more cautious and less definitive.

TAPPER: David, go ahead.

DAVID URBAN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN FORMER STRATEGIST: Yes, I was going to say, look, feelings aren't facts, contacts aren't collusion.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: OK. So there's a long way to go between where we are now and when Director Mueller issues his report, there's going to be no leaking. Director Mueller is going to run a tight ship. This is going to be, again, tied up in a bow at some point in the not too distant future and looked at in a rear view mirror in history as something as attempts to be bought, mark my words on that.

TAPPER: But as someone who worked on the Trump campaign, you haven't been named as being suspected of anything, you were definitely colluding with people in Altoona, but that's a - that's a separate issue. But as somebody affiliated with the campaign, that was not an absolute denial that nobody in his campaign did anything. I suppose it is as honest and truthful as you can get because you can't really - you can't really promise that.

URBAN: The president can only speak for himself.

TAPPER: Yes. URBAN: He can only speak for himself. He can't speak for what Carter Page may or may not have done someone who the President said he hadn't even met at a certain point in time. You know, as you all are familiar, Jan and others and (INAUDIBLE) covered Presidential campaign. A lot of these folks on these are kind of honorary advisory committees, get put on there for wider range of reasons and I will assure you that Carter Page did not play any significant role in this campaign, if any role at all.

TAPPER: Stick around everybody, Dan, Jen, Gloria, and Jeffrey. We have a lot more to talk about from the President's press conference. The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to join us to weigh in next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in our "POLITICS LEAD". A senior White House official is telling CNN that The New York Times report that Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the Trump transition team he was under investigation during the transition in January is not accurate. Joining me now to talk about that and much, much more is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, he's the Ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Thanks for joining me. You were briefed today by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. What do the headlines from that briefing for you?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, Jake, first, it's good to be with you. I think the big news here is that we do have an independent Special Counsel that's been appointed, Mr. Mueller, that he has the jurisdiction he needs to pursue all of this investigation concerning Russia, any criminal involvements, including the most recent events and conversations with the President between Mr. Comey and the President. So I think we are assured that this investigation will go without any political involvement and we'll have the resources it needs in order to do a thorough investigation. I think it was well-received by both democrats and republicans.

TAPPER: Claire McCaskill, your democratic colleague from Missouri, said that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein knew that Comey was going to be fired on May 8th, and that's before he drafted the memo justifying the firing on May 9th. What did you make of that when he said that?

CARDIN: Well, I think they've released his exact words. I think what was clear is that Mr. Rosenstein understood that the President had come to a preliminary decision that he was going to fire the FBI Director before that memo was received. The President has acknowledged that in his tweets after this all came - became news. So, I mean, it is clear to me that Mr. Rosenstein's memo was not the reason for the firing of the Director. That was clear to me from the information I received before today.

TAPPER: President Trump noted just a few minutes ago that he thought that his firing of the FBI Director was going to be a popular decision because so many democrats had criticized Comey, a few had even called for his resignation. He does have a point. A lot of people who are saying very harsh things about the President relying on Director Comey's words were attacked by - they were attacking Comey just a few weeks ago.

CARDIN: Well, Jake, there's a reason why the FBI Director has a 10- year term. He's not supposed to be politically popular. Yes, I disagreed with some of the things Mr. Comey did, but I strongly disagree with any President firing the Head of an investigation being done involving his friends. that was - looked like he was trying to impede an investigation. So you don't go in and fire the Head of the FBI who is conducting an investigation involving the President's team. If he wanted to get rid of Mr. Comey, why didn't he do it in January? Why was the timing so clear towards this investigation? So I think all of these issues raise question as to the real motive of the President.

[16:55:18] TAPPER: Very quickly, if you could, Sir, did Rosenstein explain at all why he change his position on appointing a Special Prosecutor?

CARDIN: He claims he did not change his position. He claims he came to the decision in normal course that the circumstances are dictated the appointment of a Special Counsel and was important for the integrity of the Department of Justice. I agree with both of those determinations and I'm glad he had it done before the next person's nominated to be the FBI Director. That was an important decision to be made.

TAPPER: Senator Ben Cardin, always good to see you. Thank you so much. And thanks to my panel. We're going to have much more on the President's news conference and the latest on the Russia investigation next. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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