Return to Transcripts main page


Report: Comey's Firing Draws Comparison to Nixon; Comey Learned of Firing from Live TV News; Trump Calls Democrats Hypocrites

Aired May 10, 2017 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: A number of rank and file agents within the FBI say they're not only shocked but their angry. They're angry at how the James Comey firing unfolded. One employee called it in a word unbelievable, and quote, unprofessional. Sources tell CNN Comey learned of his firing on TV

news, on TV, in the room when he was speaking. He was visiting a field office in Los Angeles. Reports are he tried to laugh it off. He initially thought it was a joke. John Philips is with me now. And John, so, you're on the radio, you're on your show and all of this is starting to brew yesterday afternoon. And you're taking calls and who called you?

JOHN PHILLIPS, RADIO HOST: Well, someone who was anonymous but someone who worked in the FBI office in Los Angeles. Now, the story broke maybe 20, 30 minutes before my partner and I went on the air. So, we were just learning the details pretty much as they developed on CNN and other sources. So, one of the additional reports is Comey may have been on the airplane when the news broke, so we reported it on the radio show. So, we get this call from a man who is anonymous he said no, no, no he wasn't on the plane when it happened.

[15:35:00] He was in the FBI office itself in Los Angeles. He was here in town for a diversity conference but he always makes sure to come a little early to talk to people in the office if he's got other business here. So, he's in the office to give a little pep talk to the employees there, and I guess behind them was a television screen that had a news channel on, I believe it was CNN, we had the banner Comey fired right behind him. And everyone was kind of looking like, hey, who's going to tell him to turn around. And he's finally told to turn around, sees it, thinks it a joke and kind of laughs it off and says I'm going to call Washington and see what's going on. He goes into the room, makes a phone call, comes out with a very different look on his face. He gives a little motivational speech about the FBI, how he enjoyed his time there and takes off for the airport.

BALDWIN: Gives them the pep talk. Just quickly before I let you go, this person who called you from L.A., how did this individual feel about the news?

PHILLIPS: In total shock. I mean the description was like a scene from "The Office," where first you don't know if it's a joke and then you find out for real and then it's all sinking in. It was definitely a curve ball. BALDWIN: John Philips, good to see you. A former Republican

congresswoman who worked with Comey. What Michelle Bachman thinks.


BALDWIN: All right, let's talk about the firing of James Comey here. This is a person who was in charge of investigating any potential ties between Trump campaign aides and Russia. Sending shock waves through both chambers of Congress. The FBI director James Comey is out. And just like that the suspicion of Russian collusion just got loud r. We bring in a former member of the house intelligence community. Congresswoman Bachmann, nice to have you on.


BALDWIN: I know you called him a decent guy. What is your reaction to his firing?

BACHMAN: Well, he is a decent guy. He's a very hardworking and career person in the FBI. But, clearly, President Trump has the constitutional authority and judgment to make the call on who he wants as his FBI director. And again, I think it's important to understand the context of all of this. This is a highly-politicized set of facts we're dealing with. We had the former President of the United States, President Obama, state publicly that Hillary Clinton was not guilty of the e-mail controversy where she took a private server and had government business on a private, unsecured server, including classified information. That was the context. And the President said unilaterally on his own she's not guilty. So, it's very clear that the justice department under Loretta Lynch would never indict Hillary Clinton.

BALDWIN: I just have to interject. I understand that was a piece it was back in July when they talked about this probe. That was when the President was initially doubting, I suppose, James Comey's ability to do his job. But yet it took him all these many months to follow through. Do you question that at all?

No, I don't question it. Because we know that the deputy attorney general had conducted a search and he put a letter forward and the President made his decision based upon that. And I think very clearly what we've seen is a highly politicized from the previous administration whereby a highly-politicized department of justice written Loretta Lynch actually sat on a tarmac in a private meeting with the former President Bill Clinton why his wife was running for the President of the United States while she was under investigation for the e-mail server.

BALDWIN: But candidate Trump was egregious and was the reason why he fired Comey but then President Trump praised. How do you square that?

BACHMAN: President Trump again has more information now than he did then and he made judgement call. I think the reason a lot of people's hair is on fire today is because there's been this nonstop rampage about alleged collusion between Hillary Clinton losing the election because of Russia. There is zero evidence, and so once again I think there's a string to try and make this look like this has something to do with Trump being afraid of the investigation. When in fact the investigation is continuing without skipping a beat. So that goes forward. But the fact is it was a highly-politicized nature, both the FBI and DOJ regarding secretary Clinton's unauthorized use of a private server were classified government information that was easily assessable by Russia, by China, by Iran, by North Korea.

[15:45:00] BALDWIN: If I may jump in, there's a tweet just now from the President. He tweeted as follow. "Democrats have been complaining for months and months about director Comey. Now he has been fired they pretend to be aggrieved, phony, hypocrites.

But Congresswoman, telling the truth if Hillary Clinton were to have won, if she were to have won the presidency and she just fired the FBI director investigating her campaign, how do you think Republicans would be acting?

BACHMAN: Well, it's a hypothetical. We'll never know how that will be. But as you said --

BALDWIN: Indulge me, Congress, woman. Indulge me.


BALDWIN: How do you think they would be reacting if she had up and fired James Comey?

BACHMAN: Well, I think the reality is both Republicans and Democrats in 2016, both parties wanted to see FBI director Comey fired last year because the appearance was of politicization on these judgment calls again, Hillary Clinton's unauthorized use and subjecting America to our classified information being discoverable by our enemies. This was a big issue. And again, that really should be the focus in all of this because this is unprecedented. We've never had a secretary of state who has ever subjected in real time for four years, our classified information to our enemies.

BALDWIN: Congresswoman, you keep going back to Hillary Clinton. Because this is about President Trump. President Trump fired Comey and this is the individual essentially in charge of the investigation. We're not talking about the private server. I understand --

BACHMAN: That's the basis of why he is being fired because of the mishandling of that situation.

BALDWIN: Do we know why he was fired?

BACHMAN: I think it was stated in the press conference we just had going back to the events regarding Clinton, and that's avoidable. Because the President inserted himself as did former Attorney General Loretta Lynch when he said he was not guilty. And if there ever should have been a recusal both President Obama and Attorney General Lynch should have recused themselves at that time.

BALDWIN: Final question, though I think my point is ultimately there are calls to investigate into tries with the Trump campaign and Russia. Sarah Huckabee said last night she feels the issue is put to bed. Put to bed, do you agree with that Congresswoman?

BACHMAN: Well, the investigation is ongoing. Like I said, that isn't skipping a beat.

BALDWIN: Do you think because of the firing it should be put bed or do you have questions as well?

BACHMAN: On collusion?

BALDWIN: On any sort of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia?

BACHMAN: Well, there are none. There's absolutely zero evidence exists. And so today, once again --

BALDWIN: How do you know that?

BACHMAN: How do I know that? Where's the evidence, Brooke. There is zero evidence put forward so far. Whether today, whether it's the media or Democrat party they're pouncing as another piece of evidence. There is no evidence.

BALDWIN: No one's pouncing. I'm neither a member of these committees that's looking through this information. I guess what I'm trying to ask, do you feel like then this investigation is moot?

[15:50:00] BACHMAN: No, the investigation will continue. There's no question it will continue until it reaches its climax as it should.

BALDWIN: OK. Congresswoman Bachman, thank you -- Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, thank you so much.

A lot of people are comparing the Comey firing to Nixon's infamous Saturday night massacre. The former director of the Nixon Library joins me to sort out fact from fiction.



JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The President's accused by Democrats of trying to circumvent the Russia investigation by firing Comey. He meets with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador to the United States. He's accused of being Nixonian and meets with Richard Nixon's secretary of state. The timing of all of this, is this the President poking a finger at his critic's eyes?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These are meetings that is have been on the books for a while. They didn't just happen this morning. There's not a strategy to go after the Democrats on this. I think frankly had the saddest thing is that the Democrats are trying to politicize and take away from something that the President should be doing. He should be meeting with the foreign minister. He should be meeting with people like Kissinger, and for them to try to attack him for doing his job, maybe they should spend a little more time doing their jobs and we wouldn't have all the problems that we do.


BALDWIN: A day after the firing of FBI director James Comey the optics of how this is playing out was obviously the crux of many of the questions today at the briefing. A lot of comparisons to President Nixon and his firing of the special prosecutor investigating him during the Watergate scandal. So, we've got Tim Naftali who is here, CNN Presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Good to see you. So, you have the likes of John Podesta who are treating real Donald Trump, didn't you know you're supposed to wait till Saturday night to massacre people investigating you? Alluding to back in '72 when Nixon firing Archibald Cox. Is the connection off a little bit?

TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, I mean, look, the most important issue here is whether the President is engaging in obstruction of justice. In 1973, October of '73, Richard Nixon had his underlings fire Archibald Cox because Cox wanted tapes which would incriminate the President.


NAFTALI: At that point, it was John Dean's word against the President's word and the President knew that he could be incriminated by the tapes, and he didn't want the special prosecutor to have them so it was an obstruction of justice. In this instance, we don't know enough about where the FBI investigation is leading to know if Trump in an awkward clumsy way is trying to obstruct justice.

One of the big differences here is that Cox was hired to investigate Watergate. James Comey was hired by President Obama to be a very good non-partisan FBI director. There is someone under Comey, I'm sure, who is running the Russia hacking investigation. What we have to watch for now is whether the white house interferes in any way. We know that Comey asked for more money for the investigation. Is the FBI going to get that money? Is somebody going to try to change what's going on by the probes at the FBI? That's what we have to watch for, and if that happens this is a direct parallel. Right now, what we see is terrible optics and a man, President Trump, who is acting Nixonian and acting as if he were guilty but there's no evidence that he's guilty of anything.

BALDWIN: In 1973, ultimately Cox was fired and then give me the tapes, give me the tapes and then the ag and deputy ag resigned and a new special prosecutor was brought on and ultimately, we note end.

NAFTALI: But this is a great story because Al Haig told us at the library. We did a lot of interviews for the library. Al Haig said they were trying to find a ringer, find somebody who would not investigate seriously and they said we'll get a southern Democrat. Southern Democrats were moving to Richard Nixon because --

BALDWIN: Because they thought it would be somebody who would go on. NAFTALI: And got a man named Leon Jaworski and turned out he put

country in front of President, and he was a really tough prosecutor and continued what cox had done so the white house by changing the characters didn't affect the investigation at all. We have to see whom the white house chooses to be the new FBI director. I anticipate a very tough confirmation hearing. A lot will have tough questions, not just from Democrats but Republicans, too.

BALDWIN: And even now just listening to Manu Raju interviewing the two, you know, Democratic senators, and they are saying they may, you know, slow things down. Things might creep to a halt. They want the special prosecutor but dana bash said, back on planet earth, please, we don't know if that will help in this case.

NAFTALI: We should be proud of what FBI professionals did in 1922 and '73 and '74. They pushed back against Richard Nixon's white house. They pushed back against an attack of an FBI director who was trying to slow their work and ultimately, they did the right thing and we have to hope and I have good reason to believe there are pros at the FBI who will do the right thing for their country. Congress also needs to play a role. That is very big moment for us. It's a stress test for our times.

BALDWIN: Tim Naftali, thank you, sir. Thank you for being with me.