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Pence On Capitol Hill Amid Comey Firing Uproar; Pence: Comey's Firing Wasn't Due To Russia Probe; Senate Intel Chair: Comey Won't Testify As Scheduled; Representative Nadler: Comey Firing Is "Terrifying" Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- possibly cast tiebreaking votes, but will he take to the microphone? We will see as our coverage continues right now with Brianna Keilar.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. I do want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are watching live pictures there of the vice president on Capitol Hill. He is there to cast two tie- breaking votes.
However, we are going to see if we can get a question into him. Our reporter is not too far away from him and we'll see if he says anything about the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey, so we're keeping an eye on that right now.
As far as bombshells go in this young Trump administration, James Comey's dismissal from the FBI is the mother of all of them. The administrative MOAB, if you will, and the shock wave will probably reverberate for a very long time.
President Trump is defending his decision. He tweeted earlier today, "Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down they will be thanking me."
CNN learning this morning -- and I want to listen in as we hear the vice president coming towards the microphone.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday President Donald Trump provided strong and decisive leadership to restore the trust and confidence of the American people and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I am grateful for the action the president has taken, and I am confident as we go forward that the president will choose an individual who will be able to restore the confidence of our nation and our leading law enforcement agency.
President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general, to ask for the termination, to support the termination of the director of the FBI.
It was simply the right decision. Now we go forward. We go forward with confidence that the president as he's done so many times in this administration. He'll select that individual who will be able to lead that agency and all of the outstanding men and women to the FBI back to a place where that agency can enjoy the confidence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the president fire Director Comey to impede the Russia investigation?
PENCE: Well, as you know very clearly and has been stated repeatedly and the president has been told, he's not under investigation, and as former Director Clapper, the director of National Intelligence said, there is no evidence of collusion between our campaign and any Russian officials. That's not -- let me be clear.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).
PENCE: That is not what this is about.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).
PENCE: That's not what this is about. The president took strong and decisive leadership here to put the safety and the security of the American people first by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI.
The American people have to have confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and because of the actions that the deputy attorney general outlined to the president that were endorsed and agreed with by the attorney general, the president made the right decision at the right time.
And now we look forward to finding that individual who will be able to leave that agency and all of the outstanding men and women of the FBI back to a place where we move past the difficult politics of the last year that have swirled around Director Comey's leadership and we can move back to a place where every American can know that the FBI is able to do its job to enforce our laws and protect our nation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the president's dissatisfaction with the Russia probe? Did that put into this, sir, and --
PENCE: Let me be very clear that the president's decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI was based solely and exclusively on his commitment to the best interest of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people of this nation.
The president's leadership here I think represents the kind of strong leadership that the American people expect. The American people expect a president to act on the recommendations of those within the administration who are charged with oversight. In this case, the deputy attorney general provides the oversight to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. [11:05:02]While the deputy attorney general was confirmed just a few short weeks ago by the United States Senate, when he brought the recommendation to the president that the director of the FBI should be removed, President Trump provided a kind of strong and decisive leadership the American people have come to be accustom from him and he took the actions necessary to remove Director Comey.
And now already this morning, the president is in the process of evaluating individuals who will be able to fill that spot, lead the FBI and restore the confidence in the American people. That's why this was the right decision at the right time.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Given the bipartisan kind of concern we've seen over the last 24 hours and the administration's assertion that there was no wrongdoing, why not support an independent panel or an independent prosecutor?
PENCE: The evidence or the facts that are in public today are very clear. The former director of National Intelligence has said there is no evidence of collusion. The president and I remain confident that the committees in the House and the Senate that are looking into every aspect of issues that arise out of last year's election will be able to do their work and do it in an orderly way.
The president himself was informed several times by the former director of the FBI that he himself is not under investigation. The simple fact is Director Comey had lost the confidence of the American people.
The support that I heard from members of the Senate today when I was over by the Senate chamber, the support for the president's decision that's being expressed in this capital building and around the country I think is reflective of the fact it was time for a fresh start at the FBI, and I think the president did as he's done in so many other cases.
He took decisive action. He provided strong leadership and to act on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, and I think the American people welcome that and they know that as President Trump has done so many times before, the president is going to take the time necessary to find an individual of great experience and great integrity to lead the nation's law enforcement agency at the FBI, and I look forward to being a part of that process.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President, did the president ask the deputy attorney general to conduct a review of Director Comey?
PENCE: The new deputy attorney general who was just sworn in two weeks ago and confirmed by the FBI came to work. He is a man of extraordinary independence and integrity and a reputation in both political parties of great character, came to work, sat down and made the recommendation for the FBI to be able to do its job that it would need new leadership.
He brought that recommendation to the president, and the attorney general concurred with that recommendation, and I personally am grateful that we have a president who is willing to provide the kind of decisive and strong leadership to take the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove an FBI director who had lost the confidence of the American people.
That being said, let me be very clear, we have some great men and women who serve in the Federal Bureau of Investigation every day. They make enormous sacrifices for the people of this country and I am very confident that the president will go through a process and choose an individual who will lead the FBI.
Not only back to credibility to restore the trust and confidence of the American people and lead the FBI to even greater heights to ensure that it does its job in forcing our laws and protecting our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, when did you become aware that the deputy attorney general is conducting a review?
KEILAR: All right. Extraordinary timing there to see Vice President Mike Pence addressing the cameras there on Capitol Hill as this news has been breaking that the FBI Director James Comey has been fired by President Trump.
I want to bring in now as we break all of this down, we have retired FBI official, James Gagliano. He knows James Comey. We have CNN political director, David Chalian, CNN political analyst and national political reporter at "Real Clear Politics," Rebecca Berg, and CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
That last question was very interesting, David. He was asked, Mike Pence was, if the deputy attorney general was asked for this justification to fire the FBI director because you have White House officials who say, look, we're going along with that the DAG said.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. So, obviously, the vice president is the first big senior administration official to get out in front of the camera and really start trying to explain some of this beyond the justification in the letters that were released yesterday.
[11:10:07]Which is important except he sort of hung it, as you were saying so much on AG Sessions and Deputy AG Rosenstein that it sort of begs the question when will we hear from them to flush this out to get precise the timeline here.
When did it first come into Rod Rosenstein's mind that part of his job in this new role and maybe the answer is, I don't know, is part of his job was to look at the FBI director's tenure and his fitness for office.
Was that his own making or was that a request that came to him because we know that the president has been thinking about this for the better part of a week and that was a week into Rosenstein on the job.
So where did the idea of looking at Comey's tenure originate and then how did that then formulate into this memo from Rosenstein to Sessions and Sessions on to the White House yesterday which resulted in the firing of the FBI director?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think it wouldn't surprise people to know that Rod Rosenstein like many people in the Justice Department were very disturbed by James Comey's press conference last July in which he not only said that there were no charges coming as Hillary Clinton usurping the role of the attorney general and everybody else inside the Justice Department, but also then reciting all of the different things she did wrong.
It was a very unusual, very unprecedented decision that he made and there was a lot of criticism from everybody inside the Justice Department. Career people who believed that was not his role. So Rosenstein is one of those people who thought he had definitely gone beyond what he should have done.
That much we know. What we hear from people from the Justice Department officials now is that Rosenstein felt the last straw was watching Comey on Monday -- sorry, on Tuesday testify, last week, rather, testify that he stood by his decision that especially nothing that he did he would change.
KEILAR: He has no regrets and it was in the letter from the deputy AG, from Rosenstein. We just have some new information in and that is that we learned from the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman that James Comey is not going to be testifying tomorrow as we expected and instead it would be Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director right now, acting director.
And of course, ever since this happened yesterday evening, what does that say, Rebecca? That now James Comey is going away. He will not give more testimony and the likes of which we know President Trump certainly did not appreciate.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, he will become a private citizen now and he is a private citizen so this isn't necessarily the last we hear of James Comey. I think we should expect to hear from him at some point, but he won't be in a position as FBI director to be weighing in on this ongoing investigation.
He won't be receiving updates on a regular basis on how the investigation is progressing and he won't have any direct oversight or impact into where this investigation goes. It's worth noting that the FBI director is not involved in every investigation into the FBI, not by a long shot, but he was intimately involved in this one.
As we're asking the question of what happens now with the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Russia and their inquiries into Mike Flynn, et cetera. It's easy for Republicans to say and they have been saying that this will continue, this has no impact. The White House is saying this has no impact.
This does have an impact because Director Comey was -- had an intimate role in this investigation and where it was going was getting the regular updates so you can't say that this investigation is not going to change. KEILAR: I want to go to Capitol Hill. We have Phil Mattingly for us there. Phil, you were there throwing a question at Vice President Mike Pence and this was as David Chalian said the first time that we've seen a top administration official addressing this.
MATTINGLY: Yes, and this was a deliberate effort. That needs to be made clear up front. The administration knows that the vice president is a good voice, a strong voice to represent what they wanted to do and that's exactly why they had him not just stop and you know this quite well.
On Capitol Hill, if you want to get an administration official you can lob a question at them as they walk by. The vice president stopped and essentially did a two-person press conference for about 10 minutes there.
Really outlining why the decision was made, why he supported the decision, and kind of repeating what we've been reporting over the course of the last 15, 16 hours which is this was the deputy attorney general's decision. The deputy attorney general that was confirmed with bipartisan support.
The president acted off his recommendations that were given to the attorney general and forwarded on to the president and that this was necessary to kind of restore the good will, the faith within the institution of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Now, I asked the vice president specifically as he stated that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials, if they're comfortable with that and if there are all these bipartisan concerns up on Capitol Hill about the appearance of what's occurred over the last 24 hours and why not endorse or allow a special prosecutor or an independent panel.
[11:15:09]And the vice president made clear that's just something that they're not interested in right now and they believe the facts that have been laid out up to this point make that completely unnecessary.
So I think you saw a very deliberate effort by the administration to get one of their voices out to underscore what we've been reporting and hearing behind the scenes over the course of the last couple of hours.
And really try and address head-on the very real and very bipartisan concern we've been hearing all day up here on Capitol Hill about what transpired so dramatically.
KEILAR: Phil, I want to bring in some news that we're just getting in. Apparently, Senate Democrats are objecting to committee meetings today. They are protesting the firing of the FBI director and they're using Senate rules that require unanimous consent, an eye on the part of all of the senators for these committees to meet after the Senate has been in session for two hours.
So they were using a loophole in the rule to protest and stop these committee meetings, a number of which our producer on the Hill, Ted Barrett, points out are critical issues Russia, North Korea, China and cyber-security.
Let's get now to the White House and our correspondent there, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, we just heard from the vice president and we had not heard aside from Twitter and we heard a lot on Twitter from President Trump himself.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We've not, Brianna. I am told by a top White House official that we are not likely to hear from the president on this extraordinary decision that he made last evening to fire the FBI director.
I was talking to a top White House official just a few moments ago before the vice president began speaking and he said, look, the vice president has taken the lead on this at least for now. This could always of course evolve as the day goes on here, but the president is not expected to speak about this.
Now one of the issues here, the White House was caught flat footed, almost inexplicably last evening once this announcement happened. They are trying to regain control of this and as Phil Mattingly was reporting there, that's the whole reason the vice president was out there making a comment and also taking questions from reporters which is very unusual.
The vice president is on Capitol Hill a lot, several times a week. He seldom stops like that to actually answer reporters' questions here, but Brianna so many questions remain. And they of course will be opposed to the White House briefing this afternoon.
I think first and foremost, did the president actually ask his deputy attorney general as David Chalian was saying earlier to investigate or to sort of put this together here. So that is one of the things that is still unfolding.
But Brianna, we've seen so many controversies in the Trump administration that he is the only one who he believes can sufficiently explain things. We will see how long the president himself is able to go without sort of addressing this, explaining this.
Because last evening, I am told he was very upset at how this was unfolding that their side of the story was not getting out. That's simply because they were caught flat footed by this. Very few people in the White House knew this was happening, that speaks to the fact this happened without much planning -- Brianna.
KEILAR: They did not seem ready for the blowback at all. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you. I want to bring James Gagliano in here. He's a retired FBI chief of staff.
So, James, you obviously talked to a lot of people who are in the FBI. How are they responding to this and how are they responding to the timing of this and what do they think it's all about?
JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF, KNOWS JAMES COMEY: Brianna, all I can say is here it is 18 hours later and I'm still dealing with the emotions of stunned disbelief. Look, anybody with a basic high school civics background, understands that the FBI director is a political appointee and he serves at the pleasure of the director.
It wasn't the fact that he was fired or removed from the position. I think it was the indignities that he suffered on the way out the door and the treatment or the mistreatment by the Trump administration as well as the Department of Justice.
And look, Andy McCabe, I've known him a long time, the deputy director and the number two who is now the acting FBI director, he'll make certain that the bureau won't miss a beat. I know that he had a secure video teleconference last night with all of his special agents in charge.
And basically told him to keep the faith and keep doing the work that they're supposed to be doing so I have no doubt that the bureau is going to continue. If there's anything to any of these investigations, the career FBI agents and prosecutors at the Department of Justice will continue to ferret that out.
I'm disappointed, and I know that's just a personal reaction to it. I've spoken to a lot of FBI agents, rank and file as well as folks that are executive managers at headquarters, and they're blown away. The bureau is probably split quite evenly 50/50 on whether or not the director had made the right judgment.
But no one doubts his moral rectitude. No one doubts that he did what he thought was in the best interest of the United States, people as well as FBI as an institution.
[11:20:03]And I think it is a sad day that he's gone, but I understand that a leader has to be aligned with their boss and he wasn't.
KEILAR: James, everyone, thank you so much for that. We do appreciate it. We have much more ahead on this breaking news.
Also any moment now the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is going to speak live after his closed-door meeting with President Trump today. What did he and the president discuss? We'll have that coming up.
KEILAR: Now I want to bring in Congressman Jerry Nadler. He is a Democrat from New York. He also serves on the House Judiciary Committee and he calls FBI Director James Comey's firing, quote, "terrifying." Congressman, obviously, you have a lot of concerns here. You have voiced concern that this is Nixonian.
REPRESENTATIVE JERRY NADLER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This may be worse than Nixonian. The fact is that the -- there are very serious allegations and suspicions that the president's campaign colluded with the Russians in what we know is an attempt to buy them to subvert our election. That has to be investigated and the questions removed. We've got a Senate and a House investigation that I don't take terribly seriously because the Republican leadership has refused to give it any staff at all. They have no extra staff, and the Benghazi commission --
KEILAR: You don't take the Senate investigation seriously?
[11:25:10]NADLER: No, I don't. I think although Senator Burns and Senator Warner I think they're sincere, but they've been given the staff with which to do it. The Benghazi committee had millions and millions of dollars of staff, they do want, that tells me that if they reach any kind of a conclusion it will be a long way down the road. The president has now fired the one person in a position, who was apparently conducting an honest and thorough investigation. And you --
BOLDUAN: What do you make of the timing then? You think this was done in reaction to that, being in the middle of this investigation?
NADLER: Well, this comes in the context of his firing of the Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates after she informed them of former national security person, Flynn's contact with the Russians. This comes after Pete Barrara (ph) was fired because when he had jurisdiction over Trump Tower after he was told he would stay. There is a pattern of firing people who can investigate and who can look into this.
KEILAR: One of their arguments is, look, Democrats also did not think that Director Comey was doing a good job and had not done a good job in the past. That was an opinion that you shared.
NADLER: It certainly was.
KEILAR: I want to share with our audience something that you said just several days after the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: What Jim Comey did was so highly improper and wrong from the very beginning in July, he was putting his thumb on the scales right then and it's unforgivable for a police agency to opine, frankly, publicly about legal conduct. The president ought to fire Comey immediately and he ought to initiate an investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: You were upset at that time about --
NADLER: I was and I --
KEILAR: -- Director Comey and how he had been very public about the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of her private e-mail server while secretary of state --
NADLER: I thought -- KEILAR: -- just so that our audience is aware. And then that he had
said several days before the election raised this question of looking back into the investigation. So why -- you wanted him fired then.
NADLER: Yes, and he should have been fired then because President Obama would have appointed a new FBI chief who would not be beholden to the subject in the investigation. The context has changed. The problem with firing Comey now is that President Trump is -- who is subject of the investigation, we know as to the collusion of his campaign with the Russians to subvert the election, he is now firing the chief investigator.
You can't have the investigated firing the investigator and then have any credibility as to the ensuing investigation, and you put this also in the fact that the president has been systematically attacking the press and the judiciary and he's attacking every institution that we depend on to restrain the power of the presidency.
So this is very dangerous for the American democracy. Yes, I think what he did was very wrong, but that was last year. Now he's fired by the person he's investigating who will now appoint his investigator. That's intolerable.
KEILAR: I want you to listen to something that Vice President Mike Pence just said up on Capitol Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: President Trump made the right decision at the right time to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to ask for the termination to support the termination of the director of the FBI, it was simply the right decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: He said there first, though, the right decision at the right time. Was it the decision to you or was it the timing of the decision that's an issue?
NADLER: It's the context of the decision. Namely that Comey was directing the investigation of very serious allegations against the president's campaign or maybe the president himself, we don't know and he fires the investigator and that's what makes it wrong.
And anyone who believes the nonsense being put out by the administration that this firing was because Comey was too mean to Hillary Clinton or too nice to Donald Trump last year is ridiculous.
It is clear that this was fired -- that the firing was because the president didn't like the investigation or perhaps was afraid of where it was going and I, until today, I would have said that I had suspicions about the president's campaign's collusion with the Russians.
This firing leads me to conclude that there was collusion, that the president was involved in it because otherwise there is no reason the president would undertake this cover up and this is clearly part of a cover up.
KEILAR: Congressman Nadler, for the record you are saying that you believe because of this, the president himself colluded with Russians ahead of the election -- of course, no proof of that at this point unless there is something you have to show that. This is just your assumption based on this firing --