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White House Remains On Defensive After Week Of Controversy

May 19, 2017
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Happy to say that it is finally Friday. Can we say that again?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It is finally Friday.

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GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, America - White House in crisis...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The White House scrambles to explain what happened in the Oval Office meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: When you thought it couldn't get any stranger, it does. We begin tonight with a question of intelligence - new bombshells concerning the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: It is a major development, raising the stakes for President Trump.

CORNISH: Almost every day this week, there were new revelations that put President Trump and the White House on the defensive.

SHAPIRO: So we're going to spend a few minutes now just taking stock of all that has happened. It began Monday with news that President Trump shared highly classified intelligence with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. This was during a meeting at the Oval Office.

CORNISH: The Washington Post's Greg Miller helped break the story. He described Trump boasting to the Russians.

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GREG MILLER: We quote him in the story saying, I get the best intel; I get great intelligence.

SHAPIRO: Trump's disclosure dealt with an ISIS plot.

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MILLER: This concern that the Islamic State is repairing or trying - attempting to use a laptop bomb on an aircraft. And he goes into details about that plot and how - and the - what - how the Islamic State is pursuing it and what the U.S. is doing to try to suppress it.

SHAPIRO: The White House sent out National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to handle the story.

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H R MCMASTER: At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed.

CORNISH: The next morning, Tuesday, the president tweeted he had the absolute right to share information with Russia. Lawmakers expressed concern - among them, Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker...

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BOB CORKER: Obviously, they're, you know, in a downward spiral right now, and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening.

CORNISH: ...And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: The American people will rightly doubt if their president can handle our nation's most closely kept secrets.

SHAPIRO: Hours later, a new scandal erupts. Now, remember; at this point, it is still only Tuesday. That evening, The New York Times is the first to report on a memo written by fired FBI Director James Comey - an account of an Oval Office meeting during which the president reportedly asked Comey to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

CORNISH: So on Wednesday...

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PATRICK LEAHY: If somebody really meant that, I'd tell them, they face the possibility of being charged of obstruction of justice.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: If Mr. Comey is alleging the president did something inappropriate, I don't want to read a memo. I want to hear from him.

CORNISH: South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham there and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. So Wednesday night, pressure is building. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.

SHAPIRO: Democrats and Republicans support the move and the man chosen to lead the investigation, former FBI Director Robert Mueller. On Thursday, the president responded on Twitter and in a news conference where he answered the following question.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, no - next question.

SHAPIRO: And he also weighed in on the appointment of the special counsel.

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TRUMP: Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians - zero.

SHAPIRO: Around the same time, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was briefing a rare closed-door session of the full Senate. He told senators that before making his recommendation to dismiss James Comey, the decision had already been made.

CORNISH: Today, The Times reports that President Trump told the two Russian officials that firing Comey relieved, quote, "great pressure." And that came out shortly after Trump boarded Air Force One for Saudi Arabia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.