Trump remains defiant amid special prosecutor appointment

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," May 18, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there's no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can only speak for myself and the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.

I hate to see anything that divides. I'm fine with whatever people want to do, but we have to get back to running this country really, really well. Believe me, there's no collusion. Russia is fine. Whether it's Russia or anybody else, my total priority, believe me, is the United States of America.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Trump in a news conference at the White House, the first reaction after the special counsel was named, Robert Mueller, in the investigation, the Russia investigation. He was also asked about his interactions with former FBI director James Comey.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you at any time urge former FBI director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close her back down the investigation of Michael Flynn? And also --

TRUMP: No, no. Next question.


BAIER: OK. And here's the latest poll out today, Monmouth poll, the approval rating, you can see Monmouth has it at 39 percent for President Trump, and there you see the March numbers. This question is interesting. Concerned that President Trump may be too friendly with Russia -- concerned a lot, 39 percent, not concerned, 45 percent. That is at the heart of all the allegations obviously about Russia.

Let's bring in our panel: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review; Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for The Washington Post; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Jonah, your thoughts on the comments today?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: I thought -- let me put it this way. I thought the comments there, I think they were syntactically challenged. But I think what comes across to me is that the appointment of Mueller is actually good news at least in the short term and medium term. Assuming he's not actually guilty of any of these charges of collusion -- we'll leave out subordinates for another time -- this takes it out of the hands of Democrats. It takes it out of the hands of the press to a certain extent, and lets him actually focus on this trip in the short term, lets him focus back on his agenda. If anybody calls for impeachment, which I think is ridiculous at this point, the White House gets to say and the Republicans get to say we have to wait for Mueller to come back with his findings. And until then, there's really nothing for us to do. It slows down, as Lindsay Graham said today, it even slows down the congressional hearings. This is all good news for him. It gives him some breathing space.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: It gives him permission to focus on that. But the question is whether the president has the discipline to focus on that. Last night the White House put out the line that the president had been stoic when he received the news, that he said to his staff now let's all go to our agenda. But this morning, he was back tweeting about how it was a witch hunt and he was a victim.

I think he can use a little bit more about quality that Bill Clinton had in a time like this. It was called compartmentalization. Clinton had the ability to sort of stay focused on his agenda, and that is one of the reasons that the very week he was impeached, his popularity in the Gallup poll, his job approval had the highest level of his presidency.

BAIER: This is Donald Trump. This is the Donald Trump we saw in the campaign. This is the President Trump we saw at the beginning of the presidency. He hasn't changed, Mollie.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: No, but it also is true that people like him in part because he steps back and looks at the bigger picture. He is right that there was no special counsel appointed to investigated Eric Holder when he was running guns in Mexico. There was no special counsel appointed when the IRS was targeting and harassing American citizens for their political views. There was no special counsel appointed to investigate Hillary Clinton's mishandling of classified information even when that implicated people in the Justice Department. You look at these things and you do wonder why there is this hysteria on something like this that wasn't evenly applied elsewhere.

BAIER: By the way, the last thing you mentioned, Senator Lindsey Graham talked about that today, about where this investigation could go.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: I have reason to believe that there are emails between Clinton campaign officials, Democratic operatives to the Department of Justice regarding the Clinton email investigation. I want to know, did the Department of Justice receive communications from the Clinton campaign or Democratic officials about the Clinton email investigation? I have reason to believe those emails exist, and they should be shared. Everything is on the table in terms of finding out what the Trump campaign did with the Russians if anything. And I think it should be both ways.


BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think he's right. The idea that there's only one possible scandal here I think is a mistake, and obviously it is prejudiced. But it doesn't help the president. It doesn't help to say, yes, but how about the others. He is the president. This is now his problem.

And I think Jonah is right. This, ironically, I think the appointment of a special counsel is what the president needs and helps him in the short run because then all inquiries can be dumped onto the special counsel. You deflect questions by saying there is an investigation. We will find out.

But the problem is in the long run. And the long run is he has now lost control. You could in theory have him fired, but you really can't in reality. There's only so much firing you can do. And the reason we are in dangerous territory for Trump is once you've done the big one, once you've shot the big adversary, meaning you got rid of the director of the FBI, which is pretty unusual step, then you really don't have a lot of bullets left. That's why I think the vulnerability is that Mueller can take this anywhere he wants for as long as he wants, and no one is in control except Mueller.

BAIER: Every day we have been dealing with some story or another. The latest has "The New York Times" and deals with the timeline of when the transition knew about Michael Flynn, the former NSA, the former national security advisor, his connections and conflicts. "Mr. Flynn's disclosure on January 4th was first made to the transition team's chief lawyer, Don McGahn, who is now the White House counsel. That conversation and another one two days later between Mr. Flynn's lawyer and transition lawyers shows that the Trump team knew about the investigation of Mr. Flynn far earlier than has been previously reported."

March 9th when the story came out, I asked the vice president about it.


BAIER: The story today that former national security advisor Michael Flynn has filed with the Department of Justice has a foreign agent for making more than $500,000 as a lobbyist essentially for Turkey, your reaction to that considering that, doesn't that mean, Mr. Vice president, that even if he didn't lie to you about the Russian investors said or didn't say, that would have had to fire him anyway.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, let me say, hearing the story today was the first I heard of it.

BAIER: You are disappointed by the story?

PENCE: It's the first I heard of it, and I think it is an affirmation of the president's decision to ask General Flynn to resign.


BAIER: Karen, the vice president's office says he sticks by that answer March 9th.

TUMULTY: Information in The New York Times is coming from somewhere. And I obviously don't know who their sources are, but I can only assume their sources are General Flynn's team, that General Flynn is now in a situation where he is in potential legal jeopardy. And I think that this sounds like they're not going to go quietly.

BAIER: We should point out that General Flynn's attorneys have yet to indicate that they are going to respond to the subpoena for documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: I think, again, I want to push back against something Charles said earlier, which is that it's irrelevant that there was this difference in how previous scandals were handled. I think that again we need to take a step back and take a look at this larger picture. All these leaks, all this information that's coming out, it speaks to the issue, the underlying issue that affects everything here, which is people elected Donald Trump because they feel there is this problem and Washington, D.C. They have rejected elite control of how things are handled, and now the establishment is once again pushing back through a leak campaign, using the media, using never-Trumpers, using all the people who have the power in D.C. And so this is the real subtext of everything here that --

BAIER: I understand those points, but also on the substance of the allegations, which is they are told this. They are told this. He's the head of the transition. The vice president says that's the first he heard of it, and they stick by that. That is substance. I understand the leak argument.

GOLDBERG: I guess I am with you on that that. What has two thumbs and thinks the mainstream media has double standards -- this guy. But the reason why Donald Trump is in as much trouble as he is in over all of this isn't simply because of double standards. It is because he constantly stokes these stories by tweets, through accusations, by calling it a witch hunt, by not getting his messaging straight on why they fired the FBI director, on what the story is about Michael Flynn. You can go down a long list of things.

And when you constantly act like you are covering something up, which I actually think there probably is no there there in terms of Russian collusion, but if you consistently act like it is and admit that you fired the FBI director because you didn't like the way he was handling an investigation into your campaign's handling of Russia and WikiLeaks, it is begging the press to go nuts about it. And that is a huge part of the problem. There's a lot of a substance to how they're handling these things that fuels why there is such a media frenzy.

BAIER: Karen, the sense in the administration is they have fired up the base by the reaction of the press and the establishment to all of this. And they believe, and anecdotally you go to the country and you hear folks say, what is the big deal here, all this process? They think that is insulating them.

TUMULTY: It is insulating them at least in the short and maybe the midterm. But the fact is that to get his agenda achieved, the president is going to need more than his base. He is going to need to be able to reach out to bring people to him. And that I think is really what's being jeopardized here.

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