Return to Transcripts main page


Source: Comey Could Testify Publicly Next Week; Trump to Announce Climate Deal Decision Soon. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Comey to testify. Fired FBI director James Comey is ready to testify publicly to a Senate committee, and sources say that testimony could come next week. Will Comey confirm the reports that President Trump urged him to end his probe into Michael Flynn's investigation?

[17:00:19] Outside counsel. Just a day after refusing to say if the president had been meeting with lawyers on the Russia investigation, the White House is now referring all questions about the probe to his lawyer.

Climate changed. His White House and cabinet are divided on the issue, but senior officials say President Trump is expected to withdraw from the nearly 200-nation Paris climate agreement. The president says he'll make a decision very soon.

And all thumbs. After trading private cell phone numbers with at least one foreign leader and worrying intelligence veterans in the process, President Trump sends out a garbled incomprehensive [SIC] midnight tweet and leaves it up all night. Is it time to turn in his phone?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, fired FBI director James Comey plans to testify publicly as soon as next week. A source says Comey is prepared to go before a Senate committee to address the stunning accusations that President Trump urged him to end his investigation into Michael Flynn's ties to Russia.

Comey is said already to have already worked out the legal guidelines for his testimony with the new special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Comey's testimony would almost certainly throw an already beleaguered White House into further turmoil. President Trump today once again called the investigation into Russia's election meddling and contacts with his associates a witch-hunt, and press secretary Sean Spicer now tells reporters all future questions on the Russia investigation will need to be referred to the president's newly-hired outside counsel.

And in a move that would put the United States at odds with almost every other nation on earth, two senior U.S. officials tell CNN that President Trump is expected to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Nearly 200 countries are parties to the deal to curb global warming. The only exceptions are Syria and Nicaragua. The White House is deeply divided on the issue. President Trump says he's hearing from a lot of people both ways, and says he'll be making a decision very soon.

I'll talk to the former CIA director, Leon Panetta. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

As if the White House isn't facing enough turmoil, fired FBI director James Comey may be just days away from going public with revelations about his encounters with President Trump.

Let's begin with our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what are you learning?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: This means now that the American public will hear from fired FBI director James Comey. And this is something that he wants, to get his story out there about his interactions with President Trump while his office was investigating those around the president.

So sources tell CNN this could be as early as next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): James Comey, the FBI director fired earlier this month by President Trump, is about to break his silence and will do so, according to a CNN source, in a very public way, before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating contacts between Trump associates and Russia. This could happen as early as next week.

Comey is expected to detail his one-on-one meetings with Trump, including any possible pressure he felt from President Trump to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and Flynn's ties to Russia, which some say could amount to obstruction of justice.

According to Comey's own notes, sources say, Trump allegedly told Comey, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Congressional investigators now want to speak to or want records from at least nine Trump advisers and associates. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, now says in a statement, "I have not been subpoenaed to testify. If I am subpoenaed to testify, I will comply and gladly, as I have nothing to hide. There's no shred of evidence that implicates me."

And former campaign advisor and White House communications official Boris Epstein, who grew up in Moscow, has been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, which his lawyer says he's considering. SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: As accusations come

out, we've got to clear them up, both for the sake of the president and the presidency. We've got to be able to resolve this issue long- term and get the facts out.

KOSINSKI: One big question: why top Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to a source, discussed with Russia's ambassador setting up a secret channel for communications with the Trump transition team, and as reported by "The Washington Post," why such a channel would be housed in a Russian diplomatic facility.

[17:05:09] This as the Russian banker and former spy who Kushner allegedly met with...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you talk about sanctions? Excuse me.


KOSINSKI: And former campaign adviser Carter Page, also under scrutiny, from whom Trump distanced himself back in February...

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I've ever spoken to him. I don't think I've ever met him.

KOSINSKI: ... today was the subject of Trump's support in tweets after Page revealed he might not be asked to publicly testify: "So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their case against him and now wants to clear his name by showing the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan. Witch-hunt."


KOSINSKI: Also next week Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, who hasn't wanted to testify, at least not without immunity, is now agreeing to turn over documents, both business and personal documents, again to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wolf.

BLITZER: Major developments unfolding. Michelle, thanks very much.

Michelle Kosinski here in the THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also breaking, officials say President Trump is likely to make a stunning move that would leave the United States almost alone in the world by pulling out of the Paris climate deal aimed at curbing global warming.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. Sara, what's the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, obviously, this would be a hugely significant decision; and sources are telling us that President Trump is prepared to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, but it was interesting. Sean Spicer today at the podium, off camera, the White House press secretary, would not go so far to say whether the president has made a decision on Paris. He was asked repeatedly and just said over and over again that President Trump is the ultimate decider.



TRUMP: Very soon.

MURRAY: The president is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, sources tell CNN, as Trump teases a formal announcement coming soon.

TRUMP: I'm hearing from a lot of people, both ways.

MURRAY: The monumental move would fulfill one of Trump's core campaign promises.

TRUMP: We're going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop -- unbelievable. And stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.

MURRAY: But it would also isolate America from nearly every other nation on the globe after 195 nations pledged in 2015 to take action to curb global warming. Every nation signed on but two: war-torn Syria and Nicaragua, which insists the deal isn't tough enough.

The precise mechanism for withdrawal and how far the U.S. will go are still being determined, and White House officials caution the plan could change before Trump makes his announcement publicly.

The expected decision drew swift backlash from Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi slammed the move, saying, "President Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord is a stunning abdication of American leadership and a grave threat to our planet's future."

But some Republicans welcome the news.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: I'd hate to see us harm our own economy by agreeing to something that other people who we're agreeing with aren't going to follow.

MURRAY: Trump's decision also exposes a growing rift inside the nationalist and globalist views inside the West Wing. Chief strategist Steve Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt had lobbied for leaving the climate agreement, arguing it creates burdensome regulations and harms job creation.

But Ivanka Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who Trump met with today, have pressed the president to remain in the accord, warning that withdrawing could damage America's credibility and international negotiating power.

With major policy decisions looming and the president still irritated about his staffing situation in the West Wing, Trump has been turning to his usual outlet for stress relief. Overnight Trump appeared ready to aim at the media but instead fired off this perplexing missive: "Despite the constant negative press covfefe." That mysterious tweet a moment of levity that delighted the Internet, even if it was eventually deleted.

Today White House press secretary Sean Spicer shed little light on the president's true intent.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.


MURRAY: Now, what exactly was going on with that midnight tweet still remains a mystery. Sean Spicer did not elaborate on his comments there and did not say who that small group of people were who might have known exactly what was going on with the president in that moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We should point out that Sean Spicer briefing today was strictly audio. They did not allow cameras inside the briefing room for that briefing. Sara Murray at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Leon Panetta. He's worn just about every hat in Washington, including CIA director, defense secretary, Clinton White House chief of staff, U.S. congressman, budget -- Office of Budget and Management.

[17:10:05] Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nice resume, I must say.

Let's begin with your reaction to the news that the former FBI director, James Comey, has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee as early as next week, the first time since he was fired by President Trump. How significant is this upcoming testimony from Director Comey?

PANETTA: Well, I think it's very significant and very important to the entire investigation. He played a key role as FBI director in conducting, certainly, a preliminary investigation into this whole issue, and he certainly has, I think, the possibility in his testimony of opening the door to an obstruction of justice charge.

We're still a long way from proving that, but if he, in fact, testifies that the president tried to inhibit and restrain the investigation that he was conducting, certainly, it opens that question for consideration.

BLITZER: Because if he publicly confirms all the reporting that the president allegedly urged him to end that investigation into the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, you're suggesting that that alone could strengthen the argument that the president was engaging in an obstruction of justice? PANETTA: I think -- I think it certainly opens the door if he

testifies that the president urged him not to continue his investigation. Then I think what needs to be done at that point is to fully look at all of the other factors. Obviously, to hear from the president as to what his testimony would be, but clearly when the president urges the FBI director not to continue an investigation, there's no question that it smacks of obstruction.

BLITZER: Would you anticipate that he would bring his contemporaneous notes from those meetings with the president and read from those notes during the course of that public testimony?

PANETTA: I think that depends on what kind of arrangement he's worked out with Bob Mueller. I think Bob Mueller had hesitated in providing those notes to the Hill. Whether he's changed that position, we'll have to wait and see, but obviously if the director -- former director ISIS going to testify, I would assume he would also testify with regards to whatever notes he made following that conversation.

BLITZER: I know that Comey, he's spoken with the new special counsel, Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director, to outline the parameters of what he can or should reveal during the course of that public hearing. Are you at all concerned, Mr. Secretary, that Comey's public testimony might interfere with the ongoing counterintelligence and criminal probes?

PANETTA: Well, I have a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller's judgment, and I know that he is, first and foremost, probably one of the toughest prosecutors I've known, and he's not going to allow anything to take place that might inhibit a possible prosecution. So I'm sure that Bob Mueller and -- and Comey have at least talked this through to make sure that it doesn't inhibit further investigation into these issues.

BLITZER: As we know the president was busy on Twitter this morning. He also tweeted this, and I'll put it up on the screen, Mr. Secretary. Quote, "So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their case against him, and now wants to clear his name by showing," quote, "'the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan'," close quote. "Witch hunt!" exclamation point.

So he has basically in that tweet just accused both Comey and John Brennan, the former CIA director, men you know well, of a crime, falsely testifying, misleading or falsely testifying before Congress.

Is there any indication that their testimony was either false or misleading?

PANETTA: Well, you know, again, I just think that a president tweeting his inner thoughts on these issues is very dangerous when it comes to the legal case that is involved in this investigation.

I mean, if he's -- if he's going to establish lawyers who are going to be the ones to talk about this issue, he ought to let the lawyers do the talking and not him doing the tweeting, because the more he tweets, the more implications he raises with regards to the potential that there was, in fact, some kind of possible collusion here.

[17:15:08] I just think the president at this point, if he's going to get lawyers to deal with this investigation, let the lawyers handle any kind of discussion with regards to the issues.

BLITZER: Yes. He tweeted that just a few hours before the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said they're not going to take any more questions on this whole Russia investigation. They're going to refer all those questions to the outside counsel that has just been retained by the president, but the president presumably is going to go ahead and tweet.

But you know John Brennan. You know former Director Comey. Do you believe they would lie to Congress during sworn testimony?

PANETTA: Not at all. I've certainly worked with John Brennan at the time that he was in the White House and obviously talked with him when he was CIA director. And I have tremendous trust in his testimony and in what he says. He's a guy who doesn't pull any punches and tells the truth, and I suspect that Comey is pretty much the same kind of individual, that when it comes to testimony, he's going to tell the truth.

BLITZER: We'll see what he says next week. Secretary, we've got a lot more to discuss. I've got to take a quick break. We'll resume our conversation right after this.


[17:21:04] BLITZER: Breaking news. The House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas today for Michael Flynn and Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

We're back with former CIA director Leon Panetta.

Mr. Secretary, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as you well know, is under scrutiny right now for his attempts to set up some sort of secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the transition.

In your experience as a CIA director, how unusual would that request be?

PANETTA: Well, it's very unusual for a president-elect and someone associated with a president-elect to start setting up back channels to Moscow, because I think it's long been recognized that we only have one president at a time, and for him to have implied that they would set up some kind of secret channel for discussions before the president is even inaugurated president is highly unusual.

BLITZER: If that channel had been established -- and by all accounts it was not established, it was only discussed -- it would have presumably been done to evade the detection of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services, the argument being they didn't want the Obama administration to know about it. Is there, though, any other plausible, reasonable explanation? Would

that at all be plausible or reasonable to do that kind of secret channel, to prevent Obama administration officials from learning about it?

PANETTA: Well, at that stage of the game in the transition, if you're setting up a secret channel, I think there's only one reason to set up that secret channel, and it's to prevent our intelligence agencies from being able to track that conversation.

BLITZER: And that would be from your perspective, what, totally inappropriate?

PANETTA: Well, if you, as president-elect or as president, start by distrusting your intelligence agencies and those that are responsible for providing vital intelligence to the president and to the leadership in order to be able to determine what our enemies are up to. And somehow you -- you want to cut the intelligence agencies off from being able to find out what our enemies are saying and doing, that is dangerous. It's dangerous to our national security, and it's dangerous to the ability of a new president to be able to protect our country.

BLITZER: Let me shift gears while I have you, Mr. Secretary. President Trump, he's now weighing options in Afghanistan, including the possibility of sending thousands more U.S. troops to shore up what is clearly a deteriorating security situation there. If you were advising the president, what would you suggest he do?

PANETTA: Well, I think the most important thing, Wolf, is to understand that we cannot just allow Afghanistan to collapse and become another safe haven for al Qaeda or the Taliban or ISIS. We can't afford to let that happen.

At the same time, obviously, the situation there is increasingly dangerous with the Taliban, with this explosion that just took place in Kabul. It's pretty clear that, you know, that terrorists are beginning to really take control of Afghanistan.

If we are to deploy additional forces there, then I think it would have to be tied to what kind of strategy are we going to put in place in order to ensure that the Afghans are able to secure themselves? That's not happening right now, and that has to change before we add additional troops.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, the former secretary of defense. Thanks so much for joining us.

PANETTA: Nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump causes an international sensation by tweeting a bizarre word fragment overnight. His spokesman says, quote, "A small group of people know what it means," but it's only one instance of the president's cell phone use raising new and rather alarming security concerns.


[17:29:41] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A source telling CNN the former FBI director, James Comey, will testify publicly before a Senate committee as early as next week and will testify about the conversations he had with President Trump, supposedly urging him to drop the investigation of the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Let's bring in our correspondents and specialists. And Brianna Keilar, how potentially damaging to the White House could the Comey testimony be?

BRIANNA KEILAR: Pretty damaging. He -- obviously, he can't talk about what's going on in an ongoing investigation, so there's that. We know he's expected to stay in bounds there. He can't talk about classified information.

But it's not classified for Jim Comey to talk about conversations that he may have had with President Trump, and we've seen the reporting, that he wrote memos or wrote a memo on this, where he has alleged that Donald Trump asked him to lay off investigating Michael Flynn.

There are already critics of Donald Trump's, even in his own party, and for many critics this is just going to allow them, if we do hear this from Jim Comey, to say, "Look, that's a brick in the wall of a case for obstruction of justice."

BLITZER: At his off-camera briefing today, Sean Spicer, as you know, Dana, he met with reporters. He said all future questions to the White House about the Russia investigation should be referred to the president's new outside private counsel. The White House is not going to take any more reporters' questions.

Is that a sign -- is that a sign the White House is getting more nervous about all of this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. I think this is the silver lining, if there is one, for White House staff to a special counsel being appointed; and that is -- and you remember from your Bill Clinton days, from trying to ask the people at the podium questions, and the answer tended to be, "You know what? Go ask Lanny Davis," who was the president's personal attorney. And this gives White House staff a bit of breathing room and a buffer between themselves and this investigation.

When I say this, I mean not just the special counsel but, obviously, the fact that the president has hired an attorney to specifically deal with that.

BLITZER: But if the president keeps tweeting -- and he tweeted about it earlier this morning just before the White House announcement to refer all questions to the outside counsel -- don't White House reporters have the right to ask the White House staff, the press secretary about those tweets, about what the president is saying?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. No question about that, and, you know, the easy answer is that people think that Jim Comey would actually be vindictive because of the attacks that are on him. Everything that we know about Jim Comey in his work life, he's not that way. Phil knows him, you know, on a whole highly different level. The easy answer is that he's being vindictive. I don't think that's the easy answer.

What it shows us, though, I think, is that President Trump seems to be hiding something. I'm not saying he is hiding something, but he's going on the offensive so much on the front end that he's trying to stop something from coming out, and I think that is problematic for him.

BLITZER: He leveled a very serious charge against Comey and John Brennan, the former CIA director, in an early morning tweet today. Let me read it to you, Phil: "So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their case against him, and now wants to clear his name by showing," quote, "'the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan'," close quote. "Witch-hunt."

He's basically, in that quote, suggesting there was false or misleading testimony before Congress by the former FBI director and the former CIA director. If there were lies under oath, that's a felony. You go to jail for that, potentially.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It is. You tell me who wins this argument: a president who has consistently come out and alleged things like the former president of the United States, bugging Trump Tower. Remember, this FBI -- the former FBI director is the one that came out and said that's false. Or people who have decades of service.

I know John Brennan well. I grew up with him at the CIA. I know Jim Comey some; I know his reputation. I know Robert Mueller. The president is consistently, when he sees something he doesn't like, trying to double down against people who have greater credibility than he does.

This might last for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days. As the FBI investigation continues and as Congress continues, these folks are going to come out in public hearings; and I think Jim Comey's public hearings is going to be fireworks. And they're going to directly contradict the president. I don't think he can win this.

BLITZER: Yes. Must-watch TV...

MUDD: It is. That's right.

BLITZER: ... is what it's gearing up to be.

Hillary Clinton, Brianna, she spoke out once again today about the Russian election meddling. Listen to what she said this afternoon.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: So the Russians, in my opinion and based on the intel and counterintel people I've talked to, could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided. And here's...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guided by Americans?

CLINTON: Guided by Americans and guided by people who had, you know, polling and data.


CLINTON: We're getting more information about all of the contacts between Trump campaign officials and Trump associates with Russians before, during and after the election. So I hope that we'll get enough information to be able to answer that question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you're leaning Trump?



CLINTON: Yes, I'm leaning Trump. I think -- I think it's pretty hard not to.


BLITZER: All right. That's pretty -- a pretty strong charge against the president of the United States. She's suggesting she's getting very close to concluding that the president himself colluded with the Russians to interfere in the presidential election.

KEILAR: What -- I found what she said today pretty stunning, and what I took away from it was that here is Hillary Clinton basically saying -- not basically. She was saying that there was collusion between either Trump associates or the Trump campaign and Russians. Info wars she mentioned, as well. So this was very strong language from her.

Now, at this point in time, we do not have evidence that there was collusion; but she's saying it's very hard when you look at the timing. The "Access Hollywood" tape comes out, and then there's adverse information for Hillary Clinton, to Donald Trump's rescue. She's saying that doesn't just happen. She said that, you know, time and again, you look and there was something that came out just in time for Donald Trump; and she's saying that there really is fire where there's smoke.

BLITZER: Yes. She said it's pretty hard not to conclude that there was some sort of conclusion [SIC]. Very, very strong statement. Tough statement by the former presidential candidate.

Everyone stand by. There's a lot more going on. We'll resume all of this right after a quick break.


[17:40:51] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and specialists. And Mark Preston, so far President Trump hasn't been all that successful in getting a new legislative agenda through the House and the Senate, but he has been successful with his executive orders, trying to dismantle much of President Obama's agenda.

Now if he gets the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, that's another setback to what the former president tried to achieve.

PRESTON: Right. Another major setback in many ways, and we've all been talking here at this table about how President Trump would see successes using executive orders, which is basically bypassing Congress and being able to do legislating by fiat. He's now at the end of his rope, so to speak, so he can't do that.

But the Paris Climate Accord, though, a different situation right now. And you've got to wonder, though, when you have Rex Tillerson, his -- his secretary of state; when you have Rick Perry, a very conservative energy secretary, both saying that they don't want him to leave; you have just about every country in the globe saying that they should stay in, you would think that his ability to listen to Steve Bannon and the nationalist agenda doesn't seem to be a very smart political play.

BLITZER: You can see who wants -- wants the U.S. to stay, who wants the U.S. to leave, who's neutral. Neutral, we have Jared Kushner there. Ivanka Trump wants the U.S. to stay. What does all this say about this power play inside the West Wing of the White House?

BASH: I'm not so sure how much it is about power play and how much it goes back to the fact that, since the president has been in office, I've been told multiple times by multiple people, that he returns when he makes decisions to the people who brought him to the dance: his voters, his base. What do they want him to do? He wants to be true to them, which is not the kind of Republican that even his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill thought he was going to be.

They thought that he was going to be somebody who, because he's not sort of an ideologue at heart, that he would be a little bit more malleable, and he would be -- and he would change. In some ways, he has changed. He changed on the issue of strikes in Syria, but on this particular issue, he -- and I was talking to a Republican on Capitol Hill today who said he is shocked at how base-driven this president is.

Of course, you showed the pictures of people who are for and against, and I'm sure that those arguments were heard loud and clear. But my -- if he does, in fact, decide that he's pulling out, my gut tells me at the end of the day, it's because it goes back to that one thing, the people who voted for him, the people who showed up at those rallies. "What do they want me to do?"

BLITZER: He always said during those rallies, we're going to leave the Paris Climate Accord.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: And now perhaps he'll do exactly that. Is there a national security element involved here, because some

generals, some national security folks, are saying this would be a blunder?

MUDD: Well, people who say there isn't a national security implication are too quick to differentiate things like planes and tanks, and weather patterns. The two are very closely interlinked for one reason. People fight over scarce resources.

If you look at climate change, one of the issues you're going to have to look at is water. That's Middle East. That's Central Asia. There's food. That's famine. That's Africa.

If you think climate doesn't impact national security, then you have to explain to me why fights, wars over water and famine won't result when weather patterns change. They will, and I think that -- so I think the connection is direct.

BLITZER: You know, almost 200 countries are part of the Paris Climate Accords. If the U.S. decides to leave, it would join, what, Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries in the world who don't support it.

KEILAR: There's wide agreement that this is the U.S. ceding influence, right?

You have Mitt Romney who tweeted today, this isn't only about climate; it's about the U.S. remaining a global leader. Exxon is against leaving the Paris Climate Accord. So in a world where China is trying to be ascendant on the global stage, many people look at this, and they say, "This is like the U.S. saying, 'Hey, can I give you a boost?'"

BLITZER: It's a big issue. The president says within, what, the next few days, he's going to make his announcement.

BASH: That's right. I mean, he tweeted that he was going to do it this week, and certainly from our reporting, it sounds like he is -- at least right now, his decision is to leave. I would not be surprised if that changed. It doesn't look like it, but I don't think anybody would be surprised if, at the last minute, he changed course.

PRESTON: But there doesn't seem to be any sound reason why he wants to leave. I mean, the fact is that we're not going to go back to coal. I mean, we might, perhaps, in a very small amount. But, you know, he makes these promises to the Rust Belt that we're bringing coal back. You know, we're going heavy on coal. Well, guess what, automation and technology is pulling us away from coal. And that's why you have the Exxons of the world who are looking at natural gas and what have you. So the idea that, like, more jobs are going to be created here in the United States seems kind of silly.

BASH: Yes. But I'm not so sure that it's science-based that you're talking about or energy-based and more about maybe the nationalistic point of view, that he promised, not just this treaty that he would retreat from but, just more broadly, that the United States would stop getting entangled in these multilateral deals. I mean, this is the multi-lateral deal.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And he always got a big round of applause --

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: -- when he said it at all of those rallies. All of us remember that.

Guys, don't go too far away. Coming up, even though White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says a small group knows the meaning of the President's rather bizarre overnight tweet, there are other more serious security concerns about the President's cell phone use. We have details. That's coming up.


[17:50:37] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's announcing that all future questions on the Russian investigation will be referred to the President's outside lawyer. All this comes in new security concerns over the President's use of his cell phone, not just his tweeting but his phone calls as well.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us. What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information that President Trump has exchanged personal cell phone numbers with other world leaders. Former U.S. officials say it's a careless breech of protocol. Intelligence veterans say it's a reckless compromise of security. But the President's defenders say this is Mr. Trump's most effective way to communicate.


TODD (voice-over): President Trump earned many of his political and business chops by being a free wheeler, scoring deals on a quick handshake, back slap, or a phone call. He once infamously told a crowd to call rival Lindsey Graham's cell phone number.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Two-oh-two (inaudible). Well, I don't know. Maybe, you know, it's three, four years ago, so maybe it's an old number.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, security and intelligence veterans say the President is being too reckless with that style. A French official tells CNN President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron recently exchanged their personal cell phone numbers at Trump's suggestion.

The "Associated Press," citing current and former U.S. officials, reports the President also gave his cell phone number to the leaders of Mexico and Canada. A former CIA operative says those leaders very likely took the number and handed it right to their intelligence agencies and says enemies can exploit it too. LINDSAY MORAN, FORMER UNDERCOVER OPERATIVE, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

AGENCY: Cell phones can be hacked. The communications can be monitored or eavesdropped upon. At very least, you can determine who the person is calling or who they are in communication with. And cell phones can also be used to locate a person.

TODD (voice-over): But President Trump hasn't had the best of luck with secure calls. In just four months, his conversations with the President of the Philippines, the Australian Prime Minister, and the Mexican President have all been leaked to the press.

MORAN: It's concerning that he is more concerned about leaks than he is about potential vulnerabilities to foreign adversaries.

TODD (voice-over): Donald Trump's made fun of his own use of cell phones, once spoofing a Drake song on "Saturday Night Live."

TRUMP: You used to call me on the cell phone.


MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": I think Donald Trump very much believes in the power of his own personality. And he wants to be deal one-on-one with people whom he considers to be his equals. So in this case, handing out his telephone number to presidents and prime ministers makes perfect sense.

TODD (voice-over): But former U.S. officials say, as President, Trump's freelancing on his cell phone is a breach of protocol. They say prep work by his staff before any call is crucial, so another leader doesn't get the best of them. And it is essential to have a record, which likely wouldn't be generated on an informal cell phone call.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), FORMER SPOKESMAN, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE: You want that preserved. You want note takers. You want staffers that can listen in on the call so that there's great visibility about what was said, what was not said, so that if there was a dispute afterward, can you go to the record and prove your point.


TODD: A Trump administration official we spoke to says the President is being held to an unfair standard here. The official said if President Trump wants to call one of these other leaders on his cell phone, his staff will take the appropriate measures to make sure that call is secured if it needs to be. But the official said it is possible that not every call needs to be secured, like a quick exchange of congratulations. Wolf.

BLITZER: Can't a new president's personal cell phone, though, be completely secured, Brian?

TODD: That is up for some debate, Wolf. Some experts telling us mobile phones are typically secured when a new leader takes office with the old phones being equipped with new sim cards. But other say even those phones can be vulnerable to hacking or eavesdropping. They say those phones are secure, basically, until they are not secure.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting. Thank you.

Coming up, the breaking news. The fired FBI Director James Comey is ready to testify publicly to a Senate committee. Sources say he is ready to address the accusations that President Trump urged him to end his probe into Michael Flynn. The President has put a different spin on Comey's firing.


[17:54:52] TRUMP: In fact, 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.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Speaking out. CNN has learned that fired FBI Director James Comey is ready to testify in public about whether President Trump tried to interfere with the Russia investigation. Questions of possible obstruction of justice may be coming to a head just days from now.

The president's lawyer. The White House says it's now referring all questions about the Russia probe to Mr. Trump's outside attorney. How far will the administration go to dodge reporters and avoid giving answers?

[18:00:01] Deal or denial? President Trump says he'll make a decision very soon about the Paris climate agreement as sources say he's expected to withdraw from the accord.