This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," May 14, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I’m Chris Wallace.
Today, the Comey controversy: inside the president's decision to fire his FBI chief.
REPORTER: Why did you fire Director Comey?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-NY, MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, with all due respect, you're making a big mistake.
First question the administration has to answer is, why now?
WALLACE: We’ll drill down into James Comey's dismissal, how and why the president made the decision and what's next for the Russian investigation.
This hour, we are joined by two key senators. First, Mark Warner, a top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that’s investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
SEN. MARK WARNER, D-VIRGINIA: President Trump's actions this week cost us an opportunity to get at the truth, at least for today.
WALLACE: Then, Republican Senator Mike Lee, who has suggested a new director he thinks will get broad support from Democrats.
SEN. MIKE LEE, D-UTAH: One name that I think the White House really ought to consider is Merrick Garland. I think this would be an exciting pick.
WALLACE: Plus, President Trump tweets a warning to Comey -- their conversations may have been taped.
JEANINE PIRRO, "JUSTICE" HOST: What about the idea that, in a tweet, you said that there might be tape recordings?
TRUMP: Well, that I can't talk about. I won't talk about that.
WALLACE: We’ll ask our Sunday panel, including Bob Woodward, about Mr. Trump’s refusal to deny he's got a recording device in the Oval Office.
All, right now, on "Fox News Sunday".
WALLACE: Hello again and Happy Mother's Day from Fox News in Washington.
We want to begin by telling you who you are not going to hear from today: the White House.
Since the president fired James Comey on Tuesday, we've been asking for a guest to explain the president's reasoning and discuss the fallout.
Saturday morning, White House officials that they would not put anyone out to discuss that. But they did offer senior officials to talk about the president's foreign trip this week. When we said we were going to focus on Comey for at least the first half-hour of this program, they put those officials on other shows.
In a few minutes, we’ll talk with Senator Mark Warner, co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee into Russian and possible links to the Trump campaign. And Republican Senator Mike Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
But, first, let's bring in Fox News Correspondent Kevin Corke at the White House with the latest -- Kevin.
KEVIN CORKE, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the list of individuals being interviewed of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is both weighty and expensive, with many cases, individuals with enormous institutional and critical mission experience as well.
On Saturday, you heard a great deal about the ongoing interviews and there have been many of them. The vetting process obviously continues. We expect the president to make a determination by weeks end, just ahead of his first foreign trip.
One name drawing a great deal of interest, that of former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, endorsed by a group of former and current FBI agents, he is a former special agent.
Another, Bill Evanina, who’s not only a former FBI agent, he's also been a counterespionage chief at the CIA as well.
For his part, President Trump spent Saturday delivering his first commencement address before tens of thousands at Liberty University, encouraging students there to shake up conventional wisdom and embrace being outside the mainstream.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Embrace that label. Being an outsider is fine. Embrace the label, because if the outsiders who change the world and to make a real and lasting difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CORKE: That is obviously a sentiment that he has not only championed as a candidate but also as the commander in chief. And something he was asked about by FOX News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro in an interview, that as well as the alleged request by then-Director Comey for his loyalty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIRRO: Did you ask that question?
TRUMP: No, no, I didn’t. But I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important. You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, number one. Number two, I don't know how that got there, because I didn't ask that question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CORKE: Very interesting. Critics have suggested, Chris, that if he asked the question, it would have applied or at least implied pressure on Comey, who was conducting the investigation into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 campaign -- Chris.
WALLACE: Kevin Corke reporting for the White House -- Kevin, thanks for that.
Joining me now to discuss the fallout over the president's decision to fire James Comey, the top Democrat in the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner.
And, Senator, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
SEN. MARK WARNER, D-VA., RANKING MEMBER, INTEL COMMITTEE: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: President Trump says that he fired Comey because he was, quote, a showboat, and because the FBI is in turmoil, but then he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: So, what does that tell you about the president's motivation?
WARNER: Well, to me, that's very troubling, Chris. I mean, earlier in the week, the president has said he fired Comey because of the deputy attorney general’s memo that I -- the memo that frankly didn’t pass any smell test, that somehow implied that he was upset that they hadn't treated Hillary Clinton fairly last fall. I find it very disturbing that the president would fire the head of the FBI, who was leading an investigation into the president or his affiliates and associates having ties and connections with Russia during the campaign and afterwards. To me, it's absolutely unacceptable, the president's actions.
WALLACE: Well, I want to pick up on that because here is the statement that you made this week at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARNER: It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the president's decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation. And that’s -- that is truly unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator, I have a straight question for you. Do you believe the president fired Comey to interfere with the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election and a possible link to the Trump campaign?
WARNER: The president's actions and his statement lends to that appearance. Now, I don't know what was in the presence of mind but I do know this -- that this Senate Intelligence committee is going to pursue this investigation to wherever the intel and facts lead us, and I was reassured of a bit when I heard that Acting Director McCabe said not only does he have enough resources, but that he will also pursue the investigation wherever it leads.
WALLACE: You say it lends itself to that. Do you believe that he was trying to interfere? And do you believe there is the potential here for an obstruction of justice? And how do you square that with what Acting Director Andrew McCabe said at your hearing? And let's just play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARNER: That statement from Director McCabe reassures me and I also said, if you see any influence from the administration to try to squash your investigation, he committed to getting back to the committee. But again, the president and this administration, who said there’s no there there, continues through their actions to indicate that they are afraid of where this investigation I had.
Let's again step back for a brief moment. This week, we saw Sally Yates testify that --
WALLACE: The acting attorney general.
WARNER: The acting attorney general who was fired, that the administration did not appropriately react to her concerns about General Flynn. We saw the director of the FBI fired literally two days before he was supposed to testify before my committee. We then have the president changing his reasoning for why he fired him from saying this was a recommendation of the acting attorney general or deputy attorney general, to the fact that he was going to fire him anyway because of Comey's investigation into Russia.
And then we had this, again, outrageous potential claims that the president may be secretly taping his conversations, which again means we want to make sure those tapes, if they exist, are preserved and at some point, whether our committee or another committee needs to get on --
WALLACE: I’m going to get to the taping in the second. But you put a couple of things out there. Connect the dots, where does that lead you in terms of what the president's motivation is?
WARNER: The dots seem to be fairly obviously connected, that there's a lot more than smoke here. But I’m trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt until we finish this investigation and reach conclusions.
WALLACE: OK. On Friday, as you mentioned, after the president and Comey associates disagreed about what was and wasn't discussed at the dinner they held one week after the inauguration, Mr. Trump sent out this tweet: James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.
And that led to this exchange in the White House briefing room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF MASON, REUTERS: Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I assume you are referring to the tweet. And I’ve talked to the president and the president has nothing further to add on that.
MASON: Are there recording devices in the Oval Office?
SPICER: I say, Jeff, for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.
WALLACE: Well, let me ask you, what's your reaction to what clearly is a possibility -- certainly not denied by this White House -- that the president has installed recording devices in the White House?
WARNER: I am by no means a legal expert, but this sure seems to have reverberations of past history, when we've seen presidents who secretly tape, that usually does not end up being a good outcome for a president.
WALLACE: How does the Senate find out whether he's just trolling you? And if there are indeed tapes, how do you get them?
WARNER: Well, first of, listen to what you just said. How do we know find out if the president is simply trolling us? The whole notion that he can throw out these kinds of claims and not either confirm or deny them is outrageous in my mind.
If there is the existence of tapes I want to make sure, one, they are preserved are not mysteriously destroyed in the coming days, and then, two, one way or the other Congress will have to get a look at those tapes.
WALLACE: How do you make sure they are preserved?
WARNER: Well, I know -- I called for the preservation. The ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Feinstein, has called for those preservations. Members of the House have.
And to me, it's remarkable what the White House spokesman would not confirm or deny the accuracy of the president's tweet and statement on Friday morning.
WALLACE: Did Comey ever tell you as he apparently told Senators Grassley and Feinstein as they revealed it today in a public session that the president in fact is not target of the investigation?
WARNER: I’m not going to get into the specifics of what Director Comey has talked with me about. What he had said, and it was reinforced by Acting Director McCabe, that the FBI is taking this investigation very seriously. They think it is a priority. They’re going to put all the resources --
WALLACE: If I may interrupt, sir, we are talking about the president of the United States. We're talking about a cloud that is over his presidency. If you have been told that he is not a target of the investigation for the good of the country, shouldn't you tell us that?
WARNER: Chris, I believe for the good of the country it's also important I keep classified information classified. What I will say is that there are clearly ongoing investigations on a number of individuals, they are affiliated with the Trump campaign and Trump operations that this investigation is extraordinary serious, that we believe on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I said repeatedly, this is the most important thing I’ve ever taken on in my public life, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.
And what is disturbing to me is that you have an administration that it appears anyone affiliated with this administration and affiliated with the Russians, they don’t have a very good career path. Sally Yates, as we mentioned earlier, fired because she -- her indications along with General Flynn. General Flynn fired because of failing to disclose his ties to the Russian. Attorney General Sessions had to recuse himself because of his ties to the Russians. And now, you’ve got Director Comey, who even the president has acknowledged was being fired because of affiliations and investigations into the Russians.
For an administration that says there's no smoke there, boy oh boy, they are creating more of the smoke.
WALLACE: At various points, top officials, including former Director of National Intelligence Clapper have said that at that point, they had seen no evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and what I will call Trump-world. Have you seen any evidence of collusion?
WARNER: We are still relatively early in our investigation. But we are -- we've issued a subpoena to General Flynn because he’s unwilling to cooperate. We’ve got a series of individuals that were affiliated with the Trump campaign that very serious allegations have been made about. We’re going to follow that intelligence wherever it leads.
There are so many individuals that have had some level of contact with the Russians, and this is, again, an administration that earlier on said there were no contacts at all. Now, we had the national security advisor get fired. We had the attorney general recused himself. And we have got a cast of characters that we intend to interview, that it appears at least, on surface, that they've had many ties with the Russians.
WALLACE: The president says that the real story here that's not being talked enough is the unmasking of people -- American citizens, people involved with his campaign, associates, who was swept up in electronic surveillance and that those names were subsequently leaked to the media illegally.
One, are you investigating that aggressively? And have you discovered how those names became public?
WARNER: If there are individuals that were inappropriately unmasked, we will find that out as well. But the president’s earlier --
WALLACE: That's part of your investigation?
WARNER: The president's earlier claim that he was the subject of massive, in effect, wiretapping by the Obama administration has been totally dismissed by Director Comey.
WALLACE: But I’m talking about something else, which is unmasking of individuals -- we know Flynn's name was masked and leaked. Are you aggressively investigating that?
WARNER: Let me assure you: Chairman Burr and I, if there are inappropriate leakings and inappropriate unmaskings, we will get to the bottom of that as well.
WALLACE: In the time we have left, and it's only a couple of minutes, I want to do a lightning round -- quick questions, quick answers.
Comey turned an invitation this week to testify in private before your committee, but there are reports that he would be willing to testify in public. Will you invite them to do so?
WARNER: We would love to have him invite -- come in public. The American people need to hear his side of the story after he has been so sullied in his reputation, which is, I think, a great reputation, particularly amongst the FBI agents, has been so sullied by this president.
WALLACE: Is it true they have indicated he would testify in public?
WARNER: My expectation is that we will get a chance to hear from him in public.
WALLACE: How soon, sir?
WARNER: I don't know.
WALLACE: The White House released a letter this week from the president’s lawyers, saying that there has been minimal financial dealings with the Russians. Does that letter satisfy you?
WARNER: That letter strangely enough released this week dated in March, to me, seems full of legalese and basically begs more questions than it answers. We are not as interested in whether Trump invested in Russia. We’re interested and I’m at least interested how much Russians invested in Trump or his organization.
WALLACE: So, as far as you're concerned, the question of his financial connection to Russia is still open?
WARNER: In my mind, that is a very open question and one of the reasons why we've asked the Department of Treasury, they’re so-called FinCEN division, to give us and provide as all their documents as well.
WALLACE: A couple of final questions, I’ve got about a minute left. The attorney general had met yesterday with eight candidates for FBI director, including Senator Cornyn and Acting Director McCabe. Anyone on that list who you would like to see, anyone you would rule out? And just generally, what are you going to need to see so that you can vote for President Trump's nominee?
WARNER: Two quick points: one is I think it's inappropriate that the attorney general, who was supposed to recuse himself for anything dealing with the Russian investigation, and clearly the Russian investigation is tied into who the next FBI director is going to be because the president fired Comey because of his ties to the Russian investigation. That's very concerning to me. I would hope --
WALLACE: You don’t believe he could be part of this?
WARREN: I don't believe he should be part of this review process if he can have a true recusal. And as well, I think whoever the future FBI director ought to be, it should be a law enforcement professional. This position has never been politicized and I hope the president won’t choose a political nominee.
WALLACE: Finally, will this continuing cloud over the president, and it’s going to be there for some time. You say you’re just in the early stages of this investigation, will it hamper, will it slow down, will it stop the president's legislative agenda?
WARNER: Well, I -- my belief is the president and administration, if there is no there there, they actually ought to work with us and to try to come to a conclusion, rather than the kind of actions we saw this week where you actually saw the opposite, where you had the president fired the FBI director because -- who was actively leading an investigation into the president's Russia ties.
WALLACE: Senator Warner, thank you. Thanks for coming in. And we will, of course, be following your investigation, sir.
WARNER: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Up next, we’ll get reaction from Republican Senator Mike Lee and discuss his intriguing idea for who should replace James Comey as FBI director.
WALLACE: A look outside the beltway at Lynchburg Virginia, home to Liberty University, where President Trump delivered the commencement address this weekend.
Joining me now from Salt Lake City, Utah Senator Mike Lee, who has thrown at an intriguing name to replace Comey, President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland. He's also the author of the new book, "Written Out of History," which will be released to the end of this month.
Senator Lee, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
SEN. MIKE LEE, R-UTAH, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Let's start with the president's attitude toward the Russia investigation about possible interference in the 2016 election and possible links to the Trump world, as I will put it. Here's what the president said this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you this, if Russia or anybody else is trying to interfere with our elections, I think it's a horrible thing and I want to get to the bottom of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But the president has sent several tweets this week: The Russia-Trump collusion story is a hoax, he said in one, when will this taxpayer-funded charade end?
Senator, as a former federal prosecutor, does not raise questions in your mind about this president's interest in getting to the truth?
LEE: Well, I don't think it's necessarily inconsistent to say he doesn't think there's anything there and to be willing, on the other hand, to allow the investigation to move forward. As far as I’m aware, he is fully cooperating and he is willing and eager to see this investigation follow itself all the way through, to wherever the facts may lead. He himself sounds confident that it's not going to lead anywhere, that it would be incriminating toward the campaign or toward himself.
But I don't think that's inconsistent with allowing the investigation to do what is there to do.
WALLACE: Even though he has already prejudged the entire investigation as a hoax and a charade?
LEE: Look, that might not be the best approach to take in any given moment, but again it reflects the way he feels about the investigation. That said, it's important to remember that Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said under oath this week, there's been no effort to impede our investigation to date. I take him at his word. And I think that indicates that this investigation is moving forward.
WALLACE: Part of the problem it seems to me, Senator, with what's happened this week is that originally the president and his team, including the vice president, said that this was all following the recommendation of the attorney general and then he, the president undercut that until the very different story. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to ask for the termination, accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: You made the decision before they came in the room?
TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator, does that raise any questions, any doubts in your mind about what was really going on here?
LEE: Well, I always want to be very careful to point out that I can't speak for another person. I especially don't purport to speak for the president of the United States.
I think it's entirely possible that the president could have had an inclination to take that action beforehand and also have that recommendation given to them by the deputy attorney general, Rob Rosenstein. I think that's what happened here. I think that's exactly what happened. The president probably had the inclination and he had the recommendation that perhaps gave him added confidence in taking that action.
WALLACE: What do you think of the suggestion this week, the possibility that the president may have set up a recording system inside the White House, certainly not denied by the White House spokesman or by the president. And if that's true, do you think that the president, the White House, should turn over any relevant tapes to this investigation to the Congress?
LEE: I think is probably inevitable at this point. If, in fact, there are such recordings, I think those recordings will be subpoenaed and I think they will probably have to turn them over.
WALLACE: What do you think of the fact that he may have set up a taping system?
LEE: I don't know. You know, we know that there have been instances in the past in which other presidents have made recordings of conversations that have taken place at the White House. And as was made clear earlier in the show, it doesn't always turn out well. It's not necessarily the best idea.
WALLACE: As I discussed with Senator Warner, FBI -- the Justice Department Attorney General Sessions met with eight candidates for FBI director yesterday. Your reaction to that list, and I’d also like to ask you about your reaction to Senator Warner, who said he didn't think that given his recusal from investigation, Attorney General Sessions should be participating in those interviews?
LEE: Look, it looks like a good list. I agree that it needs to be someone who has a lot of credibility in law enforcement. It’s one of the reasons why I suggested Merrick Garland the other day. Merrick Garland, in addition to people who are on that list, are all good candidates. And I think the president ought to look for someone who can bring to the job a whole lot of credibility.
As for Senator Warner's statement about Jeff Sessions meeting with these candidates, I will completely disagree with the suggestion that he has to detach himself from the process of finding an FBI director. As attorney general, he’ll be working with the FBI director in a whole lot of cases involving a whole lot of matters that have nothing to do with anything as to which Attorney General Sessions has recused himself.
So, I completely disagree. I couldn't disagree more with that suggestion.
WALLACE: All right. Let's go back to the Garland suggestion. I mean, for folks who may not be following this as closely as we are, Judge Merrick Garland is a member of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was the man that Barack Obama last year, a little over a year ago nominated to be a Supreme Court justice, Republicans in the Senate blocked it, said they wanted to wait until the election.
Are you really serious about the idea that Donald Trump would appoint Merrick Garland to investigate, and what's the reaction you've gotten, if any, from the White House?
LEE: You know, first of all, yes, I think it's a great suggestion. I’m absolutely serious about it. This is a very different post and putting them on the Supreme Court of the United States. If President Trump were to nominate Merrick Garland as FBI director, I think his nomination would be welcomed by people on both sides of the aisle in the Senate.
The reason I say that is because this is a man who has a lot of prosecutorial experience, high-profile prosecutorial experience. He went after the Unabomber. He played a key role in the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. And he’s got a strong reputation within the FBI, within the law enforcement community in general. Generally, I think this is someone who would be confirmed to that post with a very high degree of bipartisan support.
WALLACE: Yes, I want to get to that, because it seems to me that the suggestion, while you like Garland, is also a statement perhaps that you really don't want to see whoever the replacement for Comey is to be confirmed in a straight party line vote, 52-48, that you really would like to see somebody that at least some Democrats can buy into.
Why do you think that's important?
LEE: Well, I think in this instance, it could be important because as we move forward, the outcome of investigations ought not carry any take or potential for take with respect to partisan affiliation. And I think in this instance, there are whole lot of options available. I think Merrick garland will be a particularly good option given that he could have so much support from both sides of the aisle.
WALLACE: Do -- did you get any reaction at all from the White House?
LEE: Every indication I received so far is they are considering it. I really don't know how far they are in the process or who they will end up choosing. Judge Garland certainly isn't the only one who they could look at. He certainly isn’t the only person who could be a good choice in this circumstance.
WALLACE: Finally, I want -- I want to turn to what your day job is, and that is legislation. The House just passed ObamaCare repeal and replace. You are one of the Senate working group that is going to try to tackle ObamaCare reform. The White House was talking about pushing out tax reform, pushing out infrastructure.
Question: whether it should or not, realistically, doesn't that furor over the Comey firing and the raised profile for the Russia investigation, doesn't that interfere with the president being able to push, realistically, his legislative agenda?
LEE: There were always distractions in any presidential administration. With respect to ObamaCare and our efforts to repeal it -- you know, unless you are a Spinal Tap, you can't turn up the volume on your opposition from 10 to 11. The Democrats are already opposing this effort as much as they possibly can. And that part of it is going to change.
What we are trying to do as Republicans is to try to bring about real health care reform, reform of the sort that will reintroduce federalism and free-market forces in a way that will bring down the cost of health care to America's middle class, who have suffered badly ever since ObamaCare took effect.
WALLACE: But that doesn’t this -- and I understand your point about it's not like you're getting cooperation from the Democrats at this point -- but doesn't it give Democrats something else they can focus on, they can talk about that sets up all the oxygen in Washington, instead of it being focused on the legislative agenda?
LEE: Sure. Anytime you have something else come along when you're debating legislation, while you’re trying to iron out something, it can -- it take some of the momentum away.
In this instance, I don't think it's going to make a difference because there's so much momentum behind the ObamaCare repeal effort. We’re going to get it done one way or another.
WALLACE: Senator Lee, thank you. Thanks for your time. It's always good to talk with you, sir.
LEE: Thank you.
WALLACE: Up next, we’ll bring in our Sunday group to discuss the Comey controversy and what happens next.
Plus, what would you like to ask the panel about President Trump's decision to fire James Comey? Just go to FaceBook or Twitter, @foxnewssunday, and we may use your question on the air.
WALLACE: Coming up, President Trump says James Comey told him he was not under investigation, then warns he may have recorded their conversations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be. And I’m sure he will be, I hope.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: We’ll ask our panel about the state of the Trump White House coming up on FOX NEWS SUNDAY.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation? He said, you are not under investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: President Trump talking but a surprising conversation where James Comey supposedly cleared him in the FBI investigation of possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
And it's time now for our Sunday group. GOP strategist Karl Rove, Bob Woodward from The Washington Post, Julie Pace who covers the White House for the Associated Press, and Josh Holmes, Mitch McConnell's former chief of staff and a GOP strategist.
Well, Bob, there's obviously been a lot of talk this week about parallels between this and Watergate. The president firing a man who was leading the investigation that could potentially take him down. Shifting stories. Now the suggestion about a possible taping system inside the White House. Obviously there’s – there are big differences and – and the biggest is that we knew early on of a crime having been committed in Watergate. We don't know that so far. But as someone who was on the front lines of Watergate, what are the similarities you see this week and what are the big differences?
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there are a lot of questions. I was fascinated with what Senator Warner had to say. I think he adopted this position of, we’re going to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But he then raised about ten questions, which I think need to be answered. But this is not yet Watergate. Not a clear crime on the Russian issue. Senator Warner and others have said there are – there are – you know, a thousand questions and they should be answered. But there’s no evidence that President Trump, at this point, was somehow involved in collusion here. That’s an important –
WALLACE: What about – what about his actions, though?
WOODWARD: Well, his – his actions are strange and unpredictable and impulsive as always. But in the case of Nixon, he had his former White House counsel, John Dean, for four days testifying that the president corruptly and illegally led the obstruction of justice and you have nothing comparable. Now, that doesn't mean, you know, we don't know where this is going to go. There is an immense amount of smoke.
The other problem here is Senator Warner was saying, if there are tapes, he would like to get the tapes, the Senate get the tapes. In the case of Nixon back in 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that a special prosecutor or a prosecutor can get tapes if there – if it's demonstrated that they’re admissible and relevant, but not a Senate committee. So they’re – we’re – you know, and – and the white House posture on this, we’re not answering. Did he tape? Trump has a history of this. I think one of the lessons of Watergate is, don't tape.
WALLACE: And – and also destroy them if somebody asks for them.
We asked you for questions for the panel and we got this from Joe Ranger on Facebook. "Given the poor optics and potential for further strife within the Republican Party, will President Trump regret how this was handled?"
Karl, as someone who worked very closely in the Oval Office for years, what do you make of President Trump's actions and statements this week?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Look, he had the authority to do what he did, and he had reason to buy what Comey had done in July and what Comey had done in October. And then the fact that he showed no sentiment in his testimony, and no regret about having done what he did last year. But having said that, this was done in done anyway – if you could figure out how to do something good and do it right and then figure out how to do it exactly the opposite, they chose exactly the opposite. They made him look petty.
He – he – he fires Comey while Comey is on the West Coast. They don't even know that Comey is in Los Angeles when they send the beefy ex-security chief to the – for the former – for the current president over to – with a manila folder containing the documents. They don't have a communications strategy. They don't have their act together with regard to what they're going to say. And – and then, after they finally start saying on Tuesday night late and on Wednesday, we did it because the deputy attorney general gave us a good explanation of why we should. On Thursday, the president undercuts his own spokesman by saying, well, it didn’t matter, I was going to fire him anyway, and – and virtually in the next sentence says, and it was because I’m upset about the Russia investigation.
And this is only going to provoke greater controversy. And it's only going to provoke people to question the president’s trustworthiness, his credibility and the reasons for his actions and it is going to guarantee that there’s going to be a very serious investigation by the FBI and that the next FBI director will only be approved after Congress grills them and pins them to the fire on, will you conduct an independent investigation that gets to the bottom of all these issues?
WALLACE: And then, as if that weren't enough, there was the astonishing suggestion on Friday, both by the president and then, in a non-denial by Sean Spicer that he may – the president may have set up a recording system in the White House. On Fox News, Judge Jeanine asked the president about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIRRO: What about the idea that – in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?
TRUMP: You know, that I can’t talk about. I won't talk about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Julie, I – I – I was – I have to say, I took my breath away when – when – when I heard that. What you make of that? Do you think the president is just trolling the media and his critics? Do you think there’s a real possibility that he has set up a taping system?
JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, I think it's important to note that with President Trump, when he was in business and when he was a candidate, people who work for him largely assumed that his – their conversations with him were being taped. In his New York offices, people generally worked under that assumption. So the idea that he would be taping conversations is not out of the realm of possibility. Of course it’s much different when you’re talking about conversations in the Oval Office, particularly if they’re being recorded secretly.
But the mere fact that we're having this conversation is really extraordinary. And you have to put it, again, in some context. This is a president who was extremely frustrated with the way that the rollout of Comey's firing was handled. He felt like he needed to step in there, he needed to be his own spokesperson. But in doing so, both in the interviews that he did and in his tweets, he only created more headaches and potentially legal headaches for his White House.
WALLACE: Yes. That's one of the astonishing things is it – it seemed to me, and we’re told, that he had no legal counsel before he went out and talked. And there are all kinds of potential issues, legal issues he raised.
I want to talk about the other central figure in all this, and that’s, James Comey. It's been reported that his testimony before Congress, the week before last, upset the president. Here's a taste of that testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.
I started at speak and conceal. Speak would be really bad. There’s an election in 11 days. Lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing, in my view, would be catastrophic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Josh, there are two competing narratives about James Comey. One is that he is an incorruptible straight shooter, the other, as the president said, is that he is a showboat and a grandstander. From your point of view, you’re a GOP strategist, did Comey overstepped his situation as FBI director, his role, and did he need to go?
JOSH HOLMES, FOUNDER, CAVALRY: Yes, I think there’s no question about it, Chris. I think that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in public office where there's more bipartisan consensus about whether or not they were the best person to lead the department. We've got everybody from Democrats across the board ideologically.
WALLACE: Yes. However, a lot of them pulled that back this week.
HOLMES: Sure. And that sort of gives you whiplash too. But I think that the important part is, was he the best person to lead the department? And I think there was broad bipartisan consensus that he was not. And so it – the decision in and of itself to have – to remove him as director of FBI, I don't think should be all that controversial. It’s the timing, of course, which gives people pause, but also the rollout. And I think what’s happened here is that the administration has created a lot more smoke for itself that is necessary.
The investigation that Director Comey and the FBI are taking goes on. The idea that in 2017 you could somehow bury an FBI investigation by firing the director is laughable at best. And there's two other separate congressional investigations that hare happening simultaneously. So, we’re going to get to the bottom of this regardless of whether Director Comey is at the FBI or not.
WALLACE: If you wonder what we talk about during the commercials, Josh Holmes is really very close to Mitch McConnell. He was his chief of staff. He was the person who helped get him re-elected this last time and you said you spoke to the senator this morning.
HOLMES: I did. He was – he was watching Mike Lee's interview and the suggestion that Merrick Garland be the next director of the FBI. And I think the Senate majority leader thinks that's a fantastic idea. It’s somebody who obviously Democrats have significant trust and respect for. They've articulated that over the last year. And someone who could do the job impartially. And I think he's going to be prepared to make that suggestion.
WALLACE: To the president?
WALLACE: So that's his choice – Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader's choice for the replacement is Judge Merrick Garland?
HOLMES: He certainly think that he would be qualified. He certainly thinks that he would be somebody that he could support.
WALLACE: That's the kind of thing that happens here during the commercials.
Panel, we have to take a break here, but when we come back, Mr. Trump's actions this week shook his White House. What does it say about the state of his presidency going forward?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I know everybody in this room, and probably most of the media around the world, would like to think that’s the FBI's sole responsibility, but that's a – probably one of the smallest things that they've got going on the plate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this a small investigation in relation to all – to all the other work that you're doing?
ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: Sir, we consider it to be a highly significant investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Acting FBI Director McCabe this week contradicting Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the investigation into Russian interference and possible links to the Trump campaign. And we’re back now with the panel.
Well, Julie, part of the story this week, beyond this investigation, was what it said about the Trump White House and the disarray there. You had the communications people, like Huckabee Sanders, like Spicer, sent out to defend the president with very little advanced notice, apparently about an hour. The cover story, that it was all as a result of the recommendation of the attorney general – deputy attorney general. It fell apart within 48 hours. And now there are these continuing stories that the president is considering a major shakeup in the White House.
Folks, I've got to tell you, there is a story this morning that the president is considering firing Priebus, Bannon, Spicer, everybody in the White House and basically turning things over Ivanka, Jared – I'm not kidding here – and their associates. Question, how bad is it over there right now?
PACE: They’re in a pretty untenable situation right now because you have a president who frankly does not trust people on his own staff. He is furious about all of the leaks that have come out since he took office. He is trying to keep information away from people on his staff. The fact that the communication staff didn't find out about this decision until an hour before it was announced, they were set up for failure in that situation by the president. If he can't trust people on his staff to implement his decisions, it's going to have ripple effects across his entire agenda, not just dealing with this Comey situation.
I will say, though, the president goes through these phases where he will start asking people, who do you think would be a better chief of staff, who do you think would be better at the podium. Often he gets – talks himself out of those decisions. So he might be in one of those moods right now where he’s ready to clean house. By Monday morning we could wake up and we could be talking about a completely different landscape.
WALLACE: I want to pick up on your comment about the president’s agenda, Josh, because I – as I discussed with the two senators, the president's agenda seemed to be finally gaining some momentum with House passage of repeal and replace. Senate working on that. Talk about tax reform, other issues. How much concern is there in Republican ranks that the continuing furor over this and – and, more importantly, the disarray inside the White House, the impact it may have on the president’s agenda, and is there concern in Republican ranks that he – about him possibly being a drag on the party and the 2018 midterms?
HOLMES: Well, look, I think in terms of his agenda, it’s the one piece that almost every Republican from – you know, in the Senate, from Susan Collins to Rand Paul, think we ought to be focused like a laser on. And as long as the – the president and his administration stays focused on it, it – all of the Republicans on Capitol Hill seem very content for that. The question is whether or not all this distraction actually weighs it down. And there's no question in my mind that it does. I mean we – every president hands members of its own party in congress a knapsack. The question is, how many rocks you put in it and how much they have to haul it around. And there’s been an awful lot of rocks in the first 120 days loaded into that knapsack. And so, you know, I think that they’re still making progress on health care reform, repeal and replace, and the tax reform proposals. And they obviously confirmed Justice Gorsuch, which for many Republicans is sort of the biggest thing you can accomplish in an administration. So the agenda, I – they’re still focused like a laser, but there's no question that the political distractions are a problem.
WALLACE: Bob, a big part of the story of Watergate, particularly as you reported it, was not political, it was psychological and what led President Nixon to do things that in the end only ended up hurting himself and that were totally self-inflicted and – and totally unnecessary. And I guess the question I have is, when you see what's happening now with reports that the president was furious about Comey's testimony on TV, that he's watching hearings and going through Tivo on them. Do you see any similarities?
WOODWARD: We don't know yet. I mean the – the great question in Washington, the country, and the world is, what's inside of Trump. What's driving him? As we look at that Comey firing, it was Karl Rove's declaration to me many years ago, you always have to look at consequence and outcome. And the consequence and outcome of the Comey firing, some people are saying, oh, it's part of the obstruction of justice. It actually may be the opposite, the acceleration of justice. Now people are not going to back off on this. So the inside of Trump is one of the mysteries that just doesn't go away and –
WALLACE: But how do you explain what seems to be this – his – his consuming emotions about the legitimacy of his presidency and whether it’s Comey, whether it's the Russia investigation, that anything that seems to question whether or not he’s the legitimate president, instead of being able to kind of brush that off, he is consumed by it?
WOODWARD: Well, look at the campaign. There were these emotional outbursts all the time. That's the way he operates. The – the question here really is, as we look back on this week from historical perspective, the big issue may not be the Comey firing, it may be the massive cyberattack worldwide that really jeopardizes every communication that anyone engages in. At the second issue, the North Korean missile firing, you see the trajectory on that? Landed 60 miles off the coast of Russia. Can you imagine in this country if a North Korean missile landed 60 miles away from Los Angeles? Those are giant issues. So, you know, taking the – the – doing the psychiatric examination of the president is something we are certainly I immensely unqualified to do.
WALLACE: We need Charles Krauthammer here.
Karl, but I – I – I am fascinated by it. You worked in – in the – the Bush White House. How much of a pressure cooker is it inside that Oval Office as things come at you and how important is it to be steady?
ROVE: There are so many things that come flying across and the transom and the pressure is enormous. And like any organization, the guy at the top, the gal at the top, sets the tone. And the guy at the top in this administration is displaying an absence of confidence. He's not confident in his own victory. He’s not confident in the fact that he's president. He’s not confident that the Russia investigation is going to turn up nothing. And it shows.
Really problematic in these articles is the sense that the president’s saying the system failed me, all of these people are not doing their jobs. He failed them. This is a moment of crisis. He needs to say, you know what, we’re all in the foxhole together. And I've made mistakes and I’m – I’m – we’re going to do better. He needs to set the tone, otherwise not only is he going to lose people, he's going to find it hard to recruit good people to replace them.
But think about every one of these things. It was his decision to fire. The right decision in my opinion, but the method of firing was his decision as well. The communications – well, absence of a communications strategy was the result of his decisions. His – his people went out and said thanks. I'm confident they went in and said, Mr. President, we’re going to say that the Rod Rosenstein memo was the reason you did this and he undercuts them two days later.
He's the guy who puts out this unnecessary controversy about the – about the – with the tweet about the tapes. Now, this is a huge issue because if I were them, I’d start cleaning this mess up by getting out there now and saying either there are tapes and will make them available, or the president was trolling and there are no tapes. Get this controversy behind us and step back for a minute and realize what damage the president has done to his own cause and the cause of his agenda by doing the things that he's done (INAUDIBLE).
WALLACE: I’ve got less than a minute left. I want to pick up on this one thing because if there was anybody whose election was questioned, it was George W. Bush's. We had the hanging chads. We had all of the recount. What was his attitude about that, you know, when people said we are not the legitimate president and how did it affect them in those first days in the White House?
ROVE: Well, look – look, he knew he was president. He – he – he won the Electoral College. He was – took the oath of office. He knew he was president. He also knew he had a special burden to unite the country. The people were worried about – about – that there were very strong emotions on both sides, that a lot of people thought he was illegitimate. To this day Paul Begala will not admit he’s the legitimate president of the United States. Dan Rather, who I saw you make your comment about earlier, I suspect he doesn't think he’s legitimate either. But Bush's attitude was, I am the president and I have to show I'm the president by working across party lines and drawing the country together when we can.
WALLACE: Thank you, panel. See you next time.
And we’ll be right back with a final thought (ph).
WALLACE: For the latest on the firing of James Comey and all the fallout, please stay tuned to the station and Fox News Channel.
And that's it for today. For all you moms, have a wonderful Mother's Day and a great week and we’ll see you next "Fox News Sunday."
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