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Washington Post: Trump Asked Intel Chiefs to Dispute FBI on Russia Probe; Flynn to Plead the Fifth Over Trump-Russia Ties; Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; Document Shows Flynn Made False Statements to Investigators; Politically Correct Donald Trump Overseas; British Police Confirm Deaths After Incident at Arena. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 22, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This as other key figures are handing over documents. We have new information tonight on the Senate probe and the special counsel's criminal investigation.
Intelligence outburst. President Trump issues a strange denial that actually appears to confirm that he recently shared classified Israeli intelligence with Russian officials. How is that playing with the Israelis with Mr. Trump on their own turf?
Shifting U.S. policy. The president is using his historic Middle East trip to strengthen ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia and to move away from engagement with Iran. Is he contradicting himself along the way?
And provocative launch. Kim Jong-un taunts the world with the second missile firing in a week, the North Korean dictator now claiming he could produce -- mass-produce and deploy weapons capable of striking U.S. targets.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: The Senate Intelligence Committee is considering whether to hold Michael Flynn in contempt now that the fired national security adviser says he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying in the Russia investigation.
As Flynn refuses to cooperate, we're told two former Trump campaign figures, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, they have turned over documents.
Also breaking, we're learning that ousted FBI Director James Comey will likely deliver his highly anticipated Senate testimony the week of June 5. The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee says the panel is working with special counsel Robert Mueller on how to proceed, as Comey also is certain to be a key witness in Mueller's investigation.
Stand by for new information on Mueller's progress so far.
Also tonight, a surprising new comment by the president about reports he shared highly classified information from Israel with top Russian officials in the Oval Office. Speaking in Jerusalem, Mr. Trump denied mentioning Israel during the conversation, but in the process, he appeared to acknowledge that the classified information was, in fact, shared.
It was an off-message moment, as he tries to keep the focus on diplomacy during his first overseas trip as president.
We're also following Kim Jong-un's newest provocation, North Korea firing its second ballistic missile in a week, Kim reportedly ordering the new missiles to be quickly mass-produced and deployed with the potential to strike U.S. military bases in the region.
This hour, I will talk about all of this with a key Republican on both the House Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. Congressman Peter King is standing by live, along with our correspondents and specialists.
First, let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
Elise, Michael Flynn's decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment is a huge development, and there could be significant fallout.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, Mark Warner, tells CNN tonight senators are looking at next steps, including whether to hold Michael Flynn in contempt.
But Flynn's lawyers say he fears any documents he would provide would be used against him, pointing to what they see as a witch-hunt fueled by members of Congress leaking information and calling for his prosecution.
LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, citing an escalating public frenzy against him, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, refusing to comply with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee for records concerning his conversations with Russia's ambassador to Washington.
In a letter to the committee, Flynn's lawyers said he has -- quote -- "more than a reasonable apprehension that any testimony he provides could be used against him. Multiple members of Congress have demanded that he be investigated and even prosecuted," a move then candidate Trump said was evidence of guilt when used by Hillary Clinton's aides to avoid testifying over her use of a private e-mail server.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see, the mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?
LABOTT: A letter from the ranking Democrat of the House Oversight Committee said Flynn was not truthful to investigators about his ties to foreign governments and his trips to Russia. Sources tell CNN, Russian officials in conversations picked up by U.S. intelligence bragged they could use Flynn to influence Trump.
Newly appointed special counsel former FBI Director Robert Mueller now looking at whether President Trump sought to obstruct justice by trying to pressure then FBI Chief James Comey to drop the bureau's investigation into potential wrongdoing by Flynn, in February, cornering Comey alone in the Oval Office, telling him -- quote -- "I hope you can let this go," according to a Comey memo.
Trump denies he made the request.
TRUMP: No, no. Next question.
LABOTT: But has pointed to the Russia investigation as a reason for firing Comey.
TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse.
LABOTT: And according to "The New York Times," the president called Comey a -- quote -- "nutjob," and said his firing would ease pressure on him regarding the Russia investigation during a meeting with Russian officials.
The White House also said Comey's firing could help end the investigation sooner.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want this to come to its conclusion. We want it to come to a conclusion with integrity. And we think that we have actually -- by removing Director Comey -- taken steps to make that happen.
LABOTT: Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, acknowledging the potential implications against the president, but demanding more facts before drawing any conclusions.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If any president tries to impede an investigation, it would be, you know, obviously potential obstruction of justice that people have to make a decision on, any president.
That said, we don't know if that's what's happened here.
LABOTT: And sources tell CNN former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has turned over documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Former campaign adviser Roger Stone has also complied with the committee's request and answered their questions, according to his attorney. The probes continue to widen, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly does.
All right, stand by.
As James Comey prepares to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, we're learning more about the memos about his conversations with the president and how they figure into the special counsel's investigation.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has got new information for us.
You have been doing major reporting on this, you and the team. What are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have learned that the new special counsel, Robert Mueller, has been briefed on the contents of some of the memos that former FBI Director James Comey kept to document his conversations with President Trump, according to sources speaking to my state, as well as my colleague Shimon Prokupecz.
Now, he has already visited FBI headquarters, where he met with the counterintelligence agents who had been working on this case since last July, according to two people familiar with the matter. And as you will recall, in one memo, Comey wrote that Trump asked him to end the FBI probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to a source.
And one source added that part of Mueller's investigation is expected to focus on obstruction of justice. And in that case, Comey would be a witness, and Mueller would likely interview him as part of that probe, Wolf.
BLITZER: How will that affect Comey's expected testimony up on Capitol Hill?
BROWN: Well, that's a big question.
And a source I spoke with says that Comey likely will be limited with what we can say now that the Russia probe is in the hands of Mueller. As one source said, there's no way in the world Mueller wants his witness testifying. He wants to question him before anyone else does, but before that, he will have to go through tons of documents.
That means there will likely be a lot of negotiating happening in these early stages of this investigation, particularly when it comes to the congressional inquiries on the same material. The source says Mueller is likely going to want to talk to people involved in the House and Senate investigations to make sure that he has the lead on everything involving this investigation.
And, Wolf, today, Senator Warner said that he hopes that Mueller will talk with Comey before he testifies. And just moments ago, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, tweeted this.
He said: "Spoke with Comey. He wants to speak with special counsel prior to public testimony. Hearing Wednesday postponed.'
So, that is really to be expected.
BLITZER: Yes, excellent reporting. Pamela Brown, thanks very, very much.
Elise, excellent reporting on your part as well.
Tonight, the Russia investigation is dogging the president during his first overseas visit as president. He blurted out a surprising remark about reports that he shared classified information with top Russian officials.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, traveling with the president in Jerusalem tonight.
Jim, the president met today with a crucial ally, the Israeli prime minister, but he seemed to have veered off-script.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The White House is trying to change the narrative back home by showing off these alliances that the president is building here in the Middle East, but the president found a way to step on his message today. Earlier today, when he was trying to explain why he passed classified Israeli intelligence over to top-level Russian officials, he offered up an explanation that simply didn't add up.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump is discovering it's not so simple to bring the art of the deal to the Holy Land. After suggesting Middle East peace might be easy just weeks ago, the president acknowledged what his predecessors have known for decades. It's not.
TRUMP: I have heard it's one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we're going to get there eventually, I hope.
ACOSTA: Even as Mr. Trump continued this photo-op for his foreign trip by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit one of Judaism's holiest sites, the Western Wall, he's doing damage control with his Israeli hosts.
The president appeared to confirm that he had recently shared classified Israeli intelligence with top-level Russian officials with this misleading explanation.
TRUMP: I never mentioned the word or the name Israel, never mentioned it during that conversation. They were all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.
ACOSTA: The problem is, those news reports never stated the president mentioned Israel by name in that meeting with the Russians. While some in the administration insist there's no need for apologies...
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't know that there's anything to apologize for.
ACOSTA: ... others are conceding some reassurances may be helpful.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We're trying to reassure all of our counterparts that what they tell us is kept, trusted and valued, and we will return the favor.
ACOSTA: But the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both touting their strong ties with sharp criticism of the Iran nuclear deal that was crafted by the Obama administration.
TRUMP: I thought it was a terrible, terrible thing for the United States to enter that deal, and, believe me, Iran will never have a nuclear weapon. That, I can tell you.
ACOSTA: Still, the president has yet to follow through on his campaign promise to tear up the nuclear agreement.
TRUMP: I think that agreement is a disaster for this country, for Israel, for the Middle East.
ACOSTA: And that's not the only contradiction from this trip. Contrast the president's rhetoric on Islam from the campaign trail...
TRUMP: I think Islam hates us.
ACOSTA: ... with the softened language the president used in Saudi Arabia.
TRUMP: There's still much work to be done. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.
ACOSTA: The president slipped and said Islamic terror inside of Islamist terror, the White House said, because he's -- quote -- "exhausted."
But top administration officials who danced the night away with the Saudis are stepping around that comment.
TILLERSON: He's doing better than I am. And he's got a few years on me.
ACOSTA: And the president is likely to find the negotiations are going to get tougher when he meets with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem tomorrow.
While the president will have his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, by his side, he will be without two other senior White House officials. His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, they are already back at the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us from Jerusalem, thank you.
Let's get some more on all of this with a leading Republican on both the House Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees, Congressman Peter King of New York.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: How problematic is it, in your eyes, that General Flynn made false statements, apparently, to investigators about his foreign trips?
KING: Well, first of all, let me just say I'm not aware of any evidence at all involving any collusion with General Flynn and the Russians. That was the main investigation we have been talking about. I'm not aware of any, any allegations against General Flynn there.
As far as the statements, that's going to be up to General Flynn to prove. I know that he did talk to the defense people before he went to Russia. There have been some lobbying reports he filed, others he didn't. That's really between him and them.
As far as taking the Fifth Amendment, anyone who has been advised that there is a criminal investigation virtually has to take the Fifth Amendment. So, that to me should be no surprise to anyone who knows that there's an investigation going on, to be surprised that General Flynn is taking the Fifth Amendment.
But I'm going to emphasize, as far as I know, none of this involves the campaign or any allegation of Russian collusion.
BLITZER: But if he lied to those giving him the kind of clearance he would need to be the president's national security adviser about the source of the money he got from Russia, Russian television, and from Turkey, for example, half-a-million dollars, if he lied to Pentagon officials and others about that, isn't that a problem?
KING: Of course it is. I mean, that's going to be up to him if charges are brought against him. He will have to defend himself. And I don't know what happened in that situation. It's going to be up to General Flynn.
I do know that certain reports were filed. They may not have been the proper ones. Maybe additional ones had to be filed, but I want to emphasize, this as far as I know has nothing at all to do with the campaign, nothing at all to do with the investigation that is going on about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. And I'm not aware of any evidence at all about that involving the campaign.
BLITZER: But you know the special counsel, Bob Mueller, who's a former FBI director, he is now engaged in a criminal investigation, not simply a counterintelligence investigation.
I know you didn't want a special counsel to be appointed in the first place, but you have great confidence in Mueller, don't you?
KING: No, I do.
And, Wolf, I think there's a mistake here. Some senators came out and have said it's now a criminal investigation. What I was told at the House briefing by the deputy attorney general is that what this is doing is continuing what James Comey had said had been begun, and that was a counterintelligence and any matters involving crime.
So it was always -- it always involved a criminal investigation. So, to me, I don't understand the point that some of the senators were trying to make. As far as I'm concerned, this is the same investigation that was going on before.
Now it's being done by Bob Mueller. And I do have great respect for him. My opposition to a special counsel, it is philosophical. I go back, whether it's Lawrence Walsh, whether it's Fitzgerald. We have had a number of them also in New York.
I just think that the fact that a special prosecutor in effect ends up being responsible to almost no one, it's a very dangerous precedent. But if you are going to have a special counsel, you couldn't have a better one than Bob Mueller.
What Comey had testified earlier was, this was a -- he used the words it was a counterintelligence investigation that was actually launched last July.
BLITZER: And as any investigation -- I'm paraphrasing what he said -- if any crimes were committed, they would come up with that as well.
Now, apparently, they have moved from counterintelligence to criminal.
KING: Wolf, I disagree. I was at the briefing last week, and we were told that it's the same investigation now as it was then.
BLITZER: So, it's still a counterintelligence investigation, but they're investigating crimes. These are words, obviously.
KING: Yes. That's what I'm saying. To me, if there's any crime committed, the person will be prosecuted for it, absolutely.
BLITZER: Because Comey used the word crime, crimes, as well when he testified about it.
KING: That's right. Exactly. BLITZER: Let me just update you on what our congressional reporter
Manu Raju is just learning. Senator Burr, who's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he now says immunity is off the table for Michael Flynn.
Is that the case for the House Intelligence investigation as well?
KING: I can't speak for either the chairman or the ranking member, but I think it would be very unusual to give him immunity while a criminal investigation is going on.
And that's where I think a lot of direction will be taken from Bob Mueller. And, again, if there is a criminal investigation, I don't see how any of the Senate House committees would consider giving immunity under those conditions.
BLITZER: I want you to listen and watch what President Trump thought about Hillary Clinton's staff taking the Fifth, this when he was a candidate. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: She has people taking the Fifth Amendment, four people, plus the guy who illegally did the server. You know, he put in the illegal server. So they have five people taking the Fifth Amendment, like you see on the mob, right? You see, the mob takes the Fifth. In you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so to quote the president, if General Flynn is innocent, why is he taking the Fifth Amendment?
KING: Listen, I disagree with President Trump. I disagree with anyone who questions a person's right to take the Fifth Amendment.
If there's a criminal investigation going on against you. You have nothing to be gained by testifying without immunity or without asserting the Fifth Amendment. And that's just -- that has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. Any lawyer would tell a client that, not to testify under those conditions.
Now, again, I, as a lawyer, fully understand that. You have never heard me being critical of someone taking the Fifth Amendment, including during the last presidential campaign.
BLITZER: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, as you know, he was in charge of the Trump transition almost until Election Day. I want you to listen to what he said today about General Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think it's safe to say that General Flynn and I didn't see eye to eye, and that I didn't think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration. And I made that very clear to candidate Trump and I made that very
clear to president-elect Trump. That was my opinion, my view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so what does that tell you about President Trump's ignoring these warnings, including from Governor Chris Christie?
KING: Oh, again, that was Governor Christie's opinion. I don't know why he felt that way about General Flynn.
I saw General Flynn testify a number of times in Congress. He dealt with the House Intelligence Committee. And I found him to be always on target. He was right about ISIS. He warned us about ISIS at a time when President Obama was still saying that ISIS was the J.V. General Flynn laid out for us exactly what ISIS was going to do.
So, on those key issues, General Flynn was right. Now, listen, whatever happened since then is going to be decided, I assume, in court. But for, again, Governor Christie and General Flynn, I guess the two of them didn't hit it off.
But if Governor Christie had anything specific to tell President Trump or president-elect Trump at the time, he should have. Maybe the fact that he didn't get along with him to me is not enough reason to keep someone from getting a job.
BLITZER: Yes, let's not forget, before President Trump fired Michael Flynn, President Obama fired him as well as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
KING: Right. And I believe -- President Obama was entirely wrong, because General Flynn was right about ISIS. President Obama was wrong. And that was one of the most grievous mistakes we have made over the last five or six years, was President Obama underestimating is and allowing them to get such a head start.
And it was General Flynn who was warning us about that.
BLITZER: It wasn't just that. It was issues, according to his associates, temperament, management style. Those are the reasons that led to his firing at DIA.
KING: To me, on the key issue of ISIS, General Flynn was right, President Obama was wrong, terribly wrong. And we're still paying the price for it.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Congressman.
BLITZER: There's much more. There are new developments unfolding as we speak.
We will take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with House Intelligence Committee member Peter King, as we follow breaking news.
Congressman, our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, you heard her report that the new special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, has been briefed on the contents of at least some of the memos that the former FBI director, the fired FBI director, James Comey, kept to document all of his conversations with President Trump, this according to two sources.
Are you familiar with any of those memoranda?
KING: I don't think anyone is, except, I guess, people in the media and now Bob Mueller.
Wolf, all I would say about this is Bob Mueller is now running the investigation, but this investigation before was being run by career Justice Department prosecutors. If Director Comey had any memos that were relevant to the investigation, he should have turned them over back in February.
If he really felt there was any question of intimidation or interference or obstruction, then he had the -- I believe, the legal obligation to turn them over to those who were leading the investigation at that time.
But, again, that's going to be all up to Bob Mueller to look at and investigate and see what they mean.
BLITZER: How do you know, Congressman, he didn't hand over those memoranda to others within the FBI?
KING: Well, one reason I don't think he did is that when acting Director McCabe, who is the number two man in the FBI at the time, when he testified two weeks ago, he said that there was no -- he was not aware of any attempt to interfere with the investigation by anybody.
So, if that's the case, I would assume that Director Comey would have told his deputy director that he felt he was being interfered with. So I'm basing it on that. If Andy McCabe didn't know and he was now the acting director and had access to all the files, and before that had been the deputy director and was very close to Jim Comey, I would have thought that Comey had told him, and he would said that when he was testifying.
BLITZER: Yes, because, as you know, sometimes, they just make those kinds of memoranda available to the inspector general, as opposed to other officials as well. KING: But this was a criminal investigation. This was a criminal
investigation going on, Wolf. And if he thought any crime was committed, he had an obligation to turn it over to the attorneys handling the case.
BLITZER: Well, we don't know who he turned over those memo -- will you subpoena those memorandum? I assume you want to see them?
KING: Oh, sure. I think it's important we see them. And now they're out there, again, for us to get a full picture...
BLITZER: If those memoranda, which were written contemporaneously, make the allegations that we have all heard by now, that's a serious indictment of the president.
KING: No, not necessarily.
We don't know what the full conversation was. What were they talking about? Certainly, I doubt they were talking about the Russian investigation, because if he had any information on General Flynn, the president wouldn't even be talking to him about it.
Again, we don't know what it was about, if it was about the conversation he had with the Russian ambassador. There have been press accounts that those conversations were ambiguous. He may have said, listen, if it's ambiguous, it's not a crime.
But I don't know. I wasn't there. I'm just saying, if he was trying to interfere with an investigation, I work think Director Comey should have either immediately turned them over to the attorneys handling the case or even resigned and gone public. If you have a president interfering with such an important investigation, the director had an obligation to do something about it.
BLITZER: The former FBI Director Comey, as you know, he's going to be testifying publicly the week after Memorial Day, that following week. How far do you think that will go in setting the record straight?
KING: It will be difficult.
Listen, I have regard for Jim Comey. I never had problems with Jim Comey at all. As far as I know, we had a good relationship both at the Homeland Security Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.
I think he could be somewhat restricted by Bob Mueller as to what he can say in public. I know, often, when Director Comey has been in public hearings, certainly with the Intelligence Committees, there's many questions he just can't answer because they were part of an investigation.
So, in this case, Director Mueller -- or -- excuse me -- special counsel Mueller could well say that he does not want Jim Comey to testify about his conversations with the president if they are part of the investigation. BLITZER: Peter King, thanks so much for joining us.
KING: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it very much.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the breaking news coming up.
What are the implications of Michael Flynn's invoking the Fifth Amendment?
Plus, North Korea's second provocative missile launch in a week. How close is the country to a weapon that could strike the U.S.?
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russia investigation as the focus intensifies on the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
[18:33:46] Tonight a key House Democrat tells CNN that new documents show Flynn made false statements to investigators about who funded his overseas trips, including a 2015 paid speaking engagement in Moscow.
This as Flynn has told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he's now invoking his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid testifying. Let's bring in our teams of specialists.
And Laura Jarrett, break down the argument that Flynn's lawyers are making, why he's going to invoke this Fifth Amendment right.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So remember back in March, Flynn's lawyer came forward and said, "Look, Flynn has a story to tell here, but he's only going to do it in exchange for immunity from prosecution to protect himself."
Well, tonight he's saying, "Look, you're not going to get the documents," because by turning them over, it would show that he has them in his possession, that they're authentic, and that these things actually exist. So he's not going to turn them over, because that would implicate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
BLITZER: And as we're speaking, Gloria Borger, we're just getting another bombshell report in "The Washington Post." This story just posted, the headline "Trump Asked Intelligence Chiefs to Push Back Against FBI Collusion Probe after Comey Revealed Its Existence." Let me read the first couple sentences. This from the "Washington Post."
[18:35:02] "President Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials." The article continues, "Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election." According to the article, Gloria, "Coats and Rogers, they refused to
comply with the president's request, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity."
This is another bombshell report.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And you know, it's very much in line with what the president asked Comey to do, which was to end the investigation completely, according to Comey's memos.
So you have the president of the United States now going to three key people in his administration, assuming this report is accurate -- and I have no reason to believe it isn't, but let's assume it's accurate. That the president has gone to three top people in his administration saying, "Push back against it" or "Put an end to it."
Wolf, all of this is inappropriate at the very least, and I think this is the kind of thing that Mueller is looking at. As Pam Brown reported earlier, Mueller needs to look at these -- at these memos; and now he needs to talk to Rogers and to Coats and find out exactly what transpired there, because this looks very much like a president who's -- who's trying to get people to say things for him that may or may not be true.
BLITZER: WE -- in the article, the National Security Agency, and a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence declined to comment, but the White House did offer this statement. Let me read it to our viewers. "The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals. The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people."
Ron Brownstein, let me get your reaction to this latest report in "The Washington Post"?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as Gloria said, it is very much of a piece of what we have seen before. And I think it kind of underscores what has been a consistent pattern of this presidency, where President Trump does not recognize the boundaries by law or custom on the arbitrary extent of presidential power.
I mean, what he has asked, if this report is correct, and as she said, we have no reason to believe it isn't. If in fact, he had asked them to prejudge the results of the investigation beforehand, which was exactly what he was pressuring former Director Comey to do, it kind of underscores his unwillingness to accept the limits on a president's ability to interfere with or shade in any way an ongoing investigation.
And it is these boundaries, I think, and the failure to respect these boundaries that move this from a story that has threatened people around the president to one that increasingly poses direct threats to him, as well. BLITZER: Is his best defense, "I didn't know any better"? You know,
"Maybe I shouldn't have done this, but I didn't know any better"? I don't think that's a very good defense.
BLITZER: Laura, you're the lawyer here. You've done a lot -- a lot of reporting on obstruction of justice. You know there are going to be now additional assertions by the president's critics that this points to obstruction of justice.
JARRETT: But it's one of those things that's not black and white, and it's really -- I mean, the criminal standard is hard, and it all goes to intent.
Now obviously, a prosecutor could build a case using piece by piece, but the standard for Congress is different. The standard for Congress is anything that, you know, constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor. And certainly obstruction of justice, in the corruption sense, is within their purview.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The other thing that just -- it keeps popping in my head, he actually thought, by firing Comey that this would go away? That's what he told the Russians.
Knowing now what this "Washington Post" report says, it makes it even more curious that he thought this would all go away with James Comey's exit from the government.
BLITZER: And it also, David, it reaffirms what we've all known, especially those of us who have worked in Washington for a long time. You go over -- you go after the FBI, you go after the CIA, they're going to go after you.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're going to go after you. They have their own stake in this process. And regardless of the legal particulars, I think Laura's right. It's a gray area in terms of obstruction, even though you'll probably hear more calls on obstruction after this report by "The Post."
But regardless of the legal particulars, it sort of suggests that President Trump was looking at this situation as these senior figures in the government needing to be loyal to him. They serve at his pleasure, but their loyalty is to the people of the United States and the Constitution, not to the president.
[18:40:05] BLITZER: You know -- go ahead, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: To that point -- I was going to say, and to that point, you know, it is not only a question, I think, of people defending institutional turf or kind of pushing back on independence. They are defending the integrity of a process.
BROWNSTEIN: And there is a reason there is a limit on the direct contact, for example, between the president and the director of the FBI in an ongoing investigation.
And I think what you are seeing is a president who, as I said, does not accept the norms on the limits of presidential power established either by law or custom, and all of the different institutions, from the courts to the intelligence agencies to law enforcement, that are pushing back to try to defend those norms in a very turbulent environment.
BORGER: You know, I think what you see is the president wants to shut it down. I mean, this is -- this is an incredible story here that not only did he go to his FBI director, but he went to two other key people in his administration and said, "Do this." Not "This is wrong." He probably said there was no collusion.
But this is about Donald Trump. This isn't about getting to the truth. This isn't about an investigation. This is about a president going to top people in his administration and saying, "Make it go away." That is completely inappropriate. If it's not obstruction, I don't -- you know, and that's hard to prove, but this is a president. You can imagine his frustration here, because he's asking person after person after person to deal with this for him, and to a person, they are saying no.
BLITZER: You know, David Swerdlick, the White House in that statement that is in the article, not formally officially denying this report. But there's another line that really jumps out at me, which potential -- potentially could be very explosive for the president.
"Trump's conversation with Admiral Rogers," the head of the National Security Agency, "was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to officials."
If there's contemporaneous evidence of the president seeking that from Admiral Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, which he thought was inappropriate, which Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence thought was inappropriate, that could be very damning.
SWERDLICK: Yes, in a special counsel investigation, I think that contemporaneous writing would work similarly to whatever we find out from the Comey memos, if they're written contemporaneously. I think that when you look at what's gone on here, Wolf, what you -- what you see again is a situation where President Trump, like Gloria said, is trying to shut it down, but it's generating more -- more suspicion about all these little specific.
KUCINICH: If there is no collusion, at the end of the day, he has succeeded in making this just incrementally worse for himself and his administration by all of the things that he's spun up.
BORGER: You know, this isn't the Trump Organization.
BORGER: This is the United States of America. When he was running the Trump Organization, he could turn to his people and say, "Shut this down. I don't want this. I don't want that." He had no ability to realize that that's not the way the United States government works.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: And I think -- and I think the fact that, if this is correct, that Admiral Rogers as well as Director Comey felt the need to put down these contemporaneous notes of the conversations just underscores how far outside of the normal bounds they felt they were operating.
And I think it is just indicative, what we were talking about before, that all -- as Gloria said, I mean, these are institutions with their own independent responsibilities to the public, to the Constitution, to the rule of law. And they felt, I think, clearly in these cases that they were being kind of pushed beyond boundaries that they viewed as acceptable for a president to be directly meddling in an investigation, particularly one concerning his own associates.
BLITZER: And Laura, one -- another quote in this article from a former senior intelligence official said -- said this regarding the request to the DNI, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats: Quote, "The problem wasn't so much asking them to issue statements. It was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation." That's a big problem.
JARRETT: Obviously false statements are a problem in any context. I think we can all agree with that.
And certainly, we haven't seen, you know, the contemporaneous notes, but certainly, Coats will be in front of Mueller eventually, asking these very questions, Wolf. I mean, this bears on everything that the special counsel has been set up to do, and really part of the reason he's there is to get to the bottom of this.
BORGER: Well, who else did he have?
KUCINICH: It takes it away from a "he said, he said" with Comey and Trump, and now you have a President Trump says, "He said, he said, he said."
JARRETT: He said, they said.
KUCINICH: They said.
BLITZER: And you know, David, that this is only going to feed the appetite of the House committees investigating, the Senate committees. They're going to want to see the contemporaneous notes.
SWERDLICK: Right, putting more pressure on both Democrats and Republicans to get to the bottom of this, lest their credibility becomes, you know, called into question by the public.
[18:45:03] As you said, Wolf, what was -- the statement given to my colleague at "The Post" was not a denial of the existence of this conversation or the memos, just an emphasis on the leaks and a non- confirmation, but not a denial.
BLITZER: Let me read another line or two from the article. Quote: A senior intelligence official said that Trump's goal was to muddy the waters about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats were ramping up their calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, a step announced last week.
Ron, go ahead and respond to that.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. No, look, I think as we said earlier, I think what was very clear from the outset here is that the president wanted FBI Director Comey and now these other officials in effect to prejudge and to thus kind of defang the investigation before it had fully unfolded. In effect, asking people to say there is nothing here, even if you're not shutting down the investigation by pulling the plug.
In effect, you are prejudging the outcome and kind of shaping the way that it unfolds, and that seemed deeply inappropriate when applied just to the FBI director and certainly now magnified here. And as everyone else has said, it is not just the word of -- potentially now is not the word of one individual against the president but a series of officials arguing that in effect they faced the same kind -- almost exactly the same kind of pressure that Director Comey alleges in the memo that he faced.
BORGER: You know, this takes you back to the Comey story about being asked to pledge his loyalty to Donald Trump because what Donald Trump was also asking from these two senior officials was loyalty to him. Do this for me. And when they took the oath, they took an oath to be loyal to the United States, not to be loyal to Donald Trump.
As I said before, this is not his company. This is his country. And so, it is -- it is very different. And just as Comey wouldn't pledge loyalty and fealty to Donald Trump personally, I think in this story we're seeing there are public servants behaved as public servants.
Here's another line in the article. Laura, I want you to respond to this. Quote: Can we ask him to shut down the investigation? Are you able to assist in this matter? One official said of the line of questioning from the White House.
JARRETT: That's stunning. The idea of shutting down an investigation, the idea of previewing or getting out ahead of your own Justice Department on active matters, it's just stunning.
BORGER: How did he not have any sense that this was wrong?
SWERDLICK: Well, it goes back to your point, Gloria.
BORGER: That this was wrong.
SWERDLICK: Yes, no. I mean, he's -- President Trump has never served in government before. Like you said, this is not the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization wasn't even a large public company.
BORGER: But if you hadn't served in government before, would you do that? No.
SWERDLICK: I would not.
KUCINICH: It seems like he doesn't want to learn the rules.
BLITZER: I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Barbara, we have a military officer, Admiral Mike Rogers. He's the head of the National Security Agency. That's the top secret intelligence-gathering operation based outside of Washington, Fort Meade, Maryland. All of a sudden, you have a military officer being asked, according to this story in "The Washington Post," to dispute what's going on.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
Let me start by saying most reporters who cover the Pentagon have known Admiral Rogers for a number of years. This is a very ethical, by-the-book military officer as all four stars are. You don't get to be of a three or four star level without having some serious ethics, let's say.
So, where are we on this? For the first time tonight, this is the first indication that the president has reached into the military ranks.
While Admiral Rogers heads the NSA and he's one of the key intelligence chiefs, make no mistake, he wears a navy uniform. He is a serving senior officer in the United States Navy and a very critical job. He is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He is subject to the Code of Conduct for Military Personnel.
This is not a guy who's even going to think for a nanosecond about violating any of that, is not going to talk in public about classified information.
But, if this "Washington Post" story is precise in its facts, the president has now reached into the ranks of serving military officers, and you can bet every other four star out there tonight is looking at this and just wondering, common sense would dictate, wondering if the president some day will call them and ask them to do something that certainly would not be considered ethical a four-star would adhere to.
[18:50:04] No discussion of classified information. No discussion of investigations. And most importantly, the U.S. military is adamant about staying out of politics. They were very stressed at the highest levels during the presidential campaign because of what was occurring and all of the rhetoric and military language occurring during the campaign. They were absolutely adamant about staying out of politics. And now, if that story is accurate, this is a president who for the
first time is asking a senior military officer to get into the middle of a political fray. By all accounts, Admiral Rogers said no -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence said no, according to this report, as well.
And, Barbara, let me read to you and to our viewers another sentence from this article. Jeffrey Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA, a man you and I know. He's quoted as saying this: Trump's efforts to use the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA director, the National Security Agency director, to refute Comey's statement and to say there was no evidence of collusion echoes President Richard Nixon's, quote, unsuccessful efforts to use the CIA to shut down the FBI's investigation of the Watergate break-in on national security grounds. That's a pretty explosive statement.
STARR: Well, let me just, you know, make -- absolutely, Wolf, and let me make the common sense point here. What the president has potentially put at risk is decades, hundreds of years of public confidence in the United States military. That the U.S. military does not act and in this country for a political agenda, that the U.S. military exists solely and only for the defense of this country. Not for political agenda of politically elected officials, whether they're president of the United States or not.
If you have a president, any president, start reaching into the ranks and asking serving officers to make public statements on behalf of what is a political agenda, this is not about national security of the United States. This is not about defense of the country. That takes this into very substantially different ground, I think it is fair to say, than we have ever seen before, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and I'll read the White House statement that was released, Gloria, I want to get your reaction.
Once again, this is the statement the White House gave "The Washington Post": The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals. The president will continue to focus on his agenda that he was elected to pursue by the American people.
BORGER: Well, you know, I mean, it's a denial, not about the specifics of the story, talking about the illegal leaks. But there is another paragraph in this story that I find really striking because it kind of spreads it out, and the story says, in addition to the request to Coats and Rogers, senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of interviewing directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn.
BORGER: And that, I mean, the story is so chock-a-block full of great reporting, but that is another problematic sentence right there. BLITZER: Right. Let me get Ron Brownstein on that specific point.
Ron, go ahead.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. That is an escalation, even from where we started.
BROWNSTEIN: I mean, it is one thing to ask these intelligence officials to prejudge the result of the investigation, you know, move on, there's no problem here, it is a whole other level to say specifically that you are asking them to intervene with the FBI to encourage them to stop the investigation. And as Jeffrey Smith noted, that is exactly what was in the so-called smoking gun tape that led to Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974, when it was finally released. The idea that he would try to use the CIA to pressure the FBI into dropping the Watergate investigation.
Now, I'm not saying that we are, you know, there or that we have facts of that magnitude, but that is the scale that you're talking about. I mean, I think that is significantly more ominous or dangerous for the administration than even the original kind of conversation we were having about whether they were pressuring these officials to kind of give a vote of confidence and to prejudge the result of the investigation. Actually intervene as a whole other level entirely.
BLITZER: Ron, what do you make of the argument that some will make. You know what, look at this president. He had no government experience, no experience in the military, no experience in the intelligence community, no experience up on Capitol Hill. He was a businessman, very successful businessman, developed all sorts of huge real estate projects.
[18:55:05] But he was dealing with the director of national intelligence, head of the National Security Agency, the FBI director, for that matter, if you believe all of these reports, as he would with others, other associates. You know what, do me a favor, let's move on, forget about this.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, first, I think, you know, the history of President Trump in the private sector was that, you know, he basically pushed the boundaries until someone could stop him. I mean, that was his kind of view of the law. His mentor was Roy Cohn, who was as hard ball a lawyer as there ever was, and the top aide to Joe McCarthy back in the 1950s.
And, you see, I mean, that was the concern during the campaign, I think, for many of those who worried about his approach to the presidency, if he would accept any boundaries of the limits of presidential power or would approach it the same way he did in the private sector.
And yes, certainly as someone who has not been in government, he doesn't know all the details of perhaps, you know, every statute. But I think, pretty much anybody who has lived 70 years on this earth would understand that it is inappropriate to try to enter fear in an ongoing investigation that targets your own circle. I don't think you have to spend 40 years in Washington to kind of get that is not something that a president should be doing.
BORGER: And on the staff matter, Ron, you know, the -- don't forget, back in February, that the story that came out about Reince Priebus going to Comey and Andy McCabe, the deputy, to sort of say, can you just put the kibosh story on this, right? Remember, that created a lot of waves at the time, when he asked them to put -- to condemn the story publicly. Not to stop the investigation, but to push back against a "New York Times" story.
KUCINICH: And while he's testing the limits of power, he is also testing the patience of Congress. I'm going to be on the Hill tomorrow and it's going to be very interesting to see, how much did the relief from the special counsel that you saw a little bit of last week has completely dissipated with this report?
BLITZER: Yes, and legally, from the legal perspective, Laura, this is potentially an enormous new development.
JARRETT: Well, as I said, I think you have to look at it as, this is one piece of the puzzle. And if this were just the only story, that would be one thing, but I think we start with the story of the president asking James Comey whether he was under investigation, to hear him say it three times, and then we end with him in the Oval Office with two Russian officials, telling him that the pressure has now been eased off.
And a lot happened in those intervening weeks that I think builds into this story. So, it's not just one thing.
BLITZER: And the president is getting word of this bombshell report, David, in "The Washington Post" while he's in Jerusalem, presumably, it's late at night, he's sleeping -- I don't know if he is, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem right now. But his aides certainly earlier in the day, they got wind and put out that statement.
SWERDLICK: Yes, absolutely. I mean, as Laura is saying, this is one more big billow of smoke in this ongoing story. But if you zoom out a little bit, this is yet another situation where the agenda in this case, the trip overseas, is going to be overshadowed now, at least for the next day or so, by this news and taking the president further off what he was hoping was a reset on his foreign policy agenda.
BLITZER: Jackie, it's like one bombshell after another. You remember, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of last week and, what, it's only Monday.
KUCINICH: It's certainly -- it's hard to keep up. But because it keeps building and because that timeline keeps being filled in, it is becoming harder and harder to defend, harder and harder to isolate one individual that's the problem individual that maybe is going after the president.
BORGER: And you get this picture of a president who is feeling pushed up against the wall, completely preoccupied with this, obviously, with getting this off his plate, with getting this out of the way, asking his staff, according, you know, to "The Washington Post," asking top officials, asking the FBI director to pledge loyalty and shut it down, you get a sense of this president completely under siege, not trusting people who work for him and trying to get them, sometimes, to do his bidding. And it's -- it's a bad picture.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. We're also watching a story just now that's breaking over in Britain, where police are responding to what they call a serious incident at the Manchester arena. A concert was taking place at the arena tonight.
Here is what the Greater Manchester Police posted on Facebook, quote: Emergency services are currently responding to reports of an explosion at Manchester arena. There are a number of confirmed fatalities and others injured.
Videos posted on social media show the chaos, show the confusion as people leave the arena. Once again, Manchester police in Britain, they confirm that a number of confirmed fatalities and others injured in what may have been an explosion.
CNN will continue to follow this breaking story, as well as all the stories breaking involving the Russia investigation.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.