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EARLY START

Trumps Fires Comey; U.S. Jobs Openings Near Record High. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The bedrock of American democracy under siege. The FBI director investigating links between Russia and aides to the president is fired by the president. What's next for the FBI, for the Russia probe and why the timing has almost everyone crying foul?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, May 10th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Is this the mother of all miscalculations? That's if you want to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt. If you don't, this is Nixonian, as Senator Bob Casey and "New York Times" have suggested this morning. We'll try to get to the bottom of all of these questions throughout the next two hours.

But, first, it is hard to overstate the sheer magnitude, the far- reaching impact of President Trump's stunning decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. This morning, there's mounting criticism of that decision from both sides of the aisle and calls are growing louder from Democrats for a special prosecutor now that the president has fired the man leading the investigation into possible collusion between Trump aides and the Russians. Now, House Democrats asking for the preservation of all documents related to that probe and to Comey's firing.

ROMANS: The FBI director's unceremonious termination with eerie echoes of Watergate went down rapidly and under tight security. The president acting on advice from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who cited Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. That's certainly was not the focus of the letter Trump penned to Comey, firing him, which was more about Trump than Comey and talked about the Russian investigation not the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal.

BRIGGS: That's right, Christine. That abrupt letter never even made to it Comey before he learned of his own termination from TV monitors at the FBI office in Los Angeles.

Our coverage begins this morning with Jeff Zeleny at the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House will be waking up today to the bombshell that President Trump delivered by firing FBI Director James Comey late Tuesday night. It is something that the White House under estimated the fallout of. The White House top officials worked throughout the night trying to reshape the narrative here that frankly got away from them in the firing of the FBI director.

Now, the letter, the very brief letter that the president sent to the FBI director thanked Director Comey for his service but also had some very unusual language. Let's take a look at that.

It said this: While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I'm not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you're not able to effectively lead the bureau.

So, essentially in that one paragraph there, President Trump, all but confirmed that Russia was on his mind, that the Russia investigation that the FBI is leading was on his mind.

Now, going forward here, the president did not speak about this on Tuesday evening. White House officials tell me he has no plans to address it today at the White House. We'll see if that actually happens or not.

But the fallout on Capitol Hill and across this town is swift. Republicans joining Democrats in their criticism of this. Yes, many of them on both sides had deep questions about the FBI's handling of the election last year, particularly the e-mail server of the Clinton campaign of Hillary Clinton. But Republicans on Capitol Hill also have deep questions about the timing of this firing.

The White House acknowledging it did not do, you know, a good enough job explaining it, were caught flat footed a bit. So, today, here at the White House no doubt more questions about this as the firing of James Comey, the FBI director enters its second day here -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny with a very long night at the White House. The source with knowledge of the president's decision to fire Comey tells CNN the move was being considered for days. One final straw, we're told, errors in the FBI director's recent testimony to Congress, leading the president to believe he lost credibility. It should be noted that the FBI clarified Comey's testimony hours before he was fired.

BRIGGS: The White House facing an enormous backlash. CNN has learned senior administration officials did not think Comey's dismissal would trigger this explosive reaction since they officially terminated him for his unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton's e-mail handling.

Listen to CNN's Anderson Cooper questioning Trump's spokesman Kellyanne Conway about the timing of the firing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You don't think it looks odd at all that the president of the United States is firing the guy who is leading the investigation into the president's White House and the people around the president?

[04:05:00] KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Well, let me repeat that the president has been told by FBI director that he's not under investigation. That's right in the president's letter.

COOPER: Clearly, this White House is under investigation, the people around the president. The people around the president are under investigation. You would agree with that. Yes?

CONWAY: No, I don't. I know that you -- I know that some are obsessed --

COOPER: James Comey said there's an ongoing investigation.

CONWAY: The president is not under investigation. I'm around the president. I'm not under investigation. I can name many people in that same situation. But I know everybody wants to --

COOPER: You're saying there's no investigation by the FBI that's ongoing right now into the people around the United States?

CONWAY: I'm saying that -- well, I don't know that. But I'm saying that to the extent that any of that is true, the president himself -- excuse me -- is not subject to investigation. And most importantly, are you talking about the folks who are involved in the campaign?

COOPER: Yes.

CONWAY: You said the people around the president. People who were --

COOPER: Some of them may still be around the president. I don't know exactly who is being investigated. There was an ongoing investigation by the FBI.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: -- Donald Trump. But again, you want this to be about Russia when this is about, quote, restoring confidence and integrity at the FBI.

COOPER: You want this to be about restoring confidence in the FBI.

CONWAY: No, I'm just reading --

COOPER: Many people believe this doesn't restore confidence in the FBI. In fact, a lot of people are raising questions about it destroys people's confidence in the FBI, that whoever the president appoints will now be in charge of an investigation into people who have been close to the president during the campaign. Any potential collusion with Russia.

CONWAY: And today's actions had zero to do with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And again, the president himself in his letter three times mentioned that he's not under investigation. He himself brought up the investigation with Russia and thanked the director.

BRIGGS: But we don't know what those instances were. Sean Spicer was asked about that by the White House press corps that was in the room. Sean Spicer did not know when those instances were that James Comey told the president he was not under investigation.

ROMANS: All right. Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is now the acting director of the FBI. Interestingly, he's also under investigation. The Justice Department's inspector general is looking at whether McCabe should have recused himself, been recused from certain aspects of the Clinton email investigation.

BRIGGS: On Capitol Hill, Comey's firing was met with shock across the political spectrum. Republicans expressing a range of concerns, many of them focused on the timing of the dismissal months into Trump's term and nearly a year after Comey's news conference on the Clinton's e-mail. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, one of six senators critical of the timing said this the removal at this particular time will raise questions.

ROMANS: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona tweeting: I spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.

Fellow Arizona Republican John McCain said he's disappointed in the president's decision. That marks a rare break for McCain with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham -- Lindsey Graham who voiced support for the firing of Comey.

BRIGGS: On the other side of the aisle, Democrats largely unified and calls for a special prosecutor. Here with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

(BGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone that President Trump has appointed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: President Trump ready to fire right back on Twitter. Quote: Crying Chuck Schumer stated recently, I do not have confidence in him, James Comey, any longer. Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp.

With more reaction from Capitol Hill, let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Christine and Dave, two words that were uttered most by both Republicans and Democrats in the wake of that stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey was shock and surprise. With the exception of top congressional leaders, the vast majority of lawmakers on Capitol Hill simply weren't informed.

According to several Senate GOP aides I spoke to, they didn't know how to respond. They were calling office to office, trying to unify their statement. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? Was it necessary?

At least in the near term, they weren't totally sure. Now, when those statements started to roll out, these are a very constant theme from Democrats. This, more than anything else, underscores the need for either an independent prosecutor or an independent commission.

Now, Republicans, they're a little bit more varied. Some like Senator Lindsey Graham saying they supported the decision. It was necessary for FBI to move on, necessary for new leadership to come in to play.

But others not so aligned with the Trump White House, including one in particular, Senator Richard Burr. He's the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, put out a statement saying he's, quote, trouble by timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination. Now, he's overseeing the Senate investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and he's mostly stayed away from any types of political statements.

[04:10:03] Now, also, take a listen to what the vice chairman of that committee had to say, Democrat from Virginia, Mark Warner.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Shocked would be a gross understatement. I mean, this was -- didn't see this coming. It's obviously outrageous. What happened during the Nixon period, there were people of principle who stood up against some of then-President Nixon's actions.

I'm hoping in the coming days that we'll see either out of administration, and, frankly, from a lot of my colleagues, a willingness to rise above partisanship because this is so much more important than this president. It's really about the whole rule of law in our country.

MATTINGLY: Now, it's worth noting, guys, the House of Representatives isn't even in session. Some lawmakers back home on recess, about to walk in to town halls from this (INAUDIBLE). Others out of the country, staffers trying to scramble to brief their bosses, let alone get a statement from them.

What this all under scores is this happened quickly, this happened quietly. Capitol Hill, who certainly for the most part not in the loop on this really dramatic night, dramatic happening, dramatic occurrence. You can bet senators that are in town and House members when they come back next week, they'll have plenty to say about this development -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: You got that right. Soon after word of Comey's firing broke, CNN learned federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. They are seeking his business records from colleagues who worked with him on contracts after he was forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency back in 2014.

The subpoenas single a significant escalation of the activity and the FBI's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Investigators have been examining how Flynn handled disclosures about payments received including Russia and Turkey. Attorneys for Flynn declining to comment.

We're certainly far from done with the details on this story.

ROMANS: And the president has one public event today, or one event on schedule.

BRIGGS: One.

ROMANS: Not a public event, but it's a meeting with Sergey Lavrov.

BRIGGS: The foreign minister of Russia.

A group with some unique insight into the whole Russia mess, the Clinton campaign. They've got big concerns about the way this is all going down. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:16:19] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: James Comey was fired for being too mean to Hillary Clinton? Does anyone believe that? Could anyone believe that?

This is an investigator who is investigating the White House. And he was just fired by the White House. This doesn't happen in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: All right. More now with our breaking news. Our own Jeffrey Toobin there, just one example of the outrage, the reaction to the Comey firing. We're also hearing from Clinton campaign aides responding to the stunning news with suspicion not satisfaction.

Campaign manager Robby Mook tweeting this morning: Twilight zone. I was as disappointed and frustrated as anyone at how the e-mail investigation was handled, but this terrifies me.

ROMANS: And Clinton's former press secretary, Brian Fallon, weighing in on CNN last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN FALLON, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY (through telephone): The timing and nature of this firing that the Trump administration is announcing now belies any explanation that this has anything to do with the Clinton investigation. The only thing I think could have further deteriorated confidence and eroded faith in the institution of the FBI than Jim Comey remaining there was firing Jim Comey, and now, Donald Trump has gone and done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Then there's John Podesta who chaired Hillary Clinton's campaign, echoing the words Democrats who called Comey's firing Nixonian.

Podesta tweeting, @Trump, didn't you know you're supposed to wait until Saturday night to massacre people investigating you.

Ouch. Of course, that's a reference to President Nixon's Saturday massacre, when Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox which led to resignation of the attorney general and deputy attorney general.

And I'll tell you, Dave, it was not even seven or eight minutes after the news broke that Comey had been fired that already, you're seeing reference to Nixonian and Archibald Cox and Saturday night massacre.

BRIGGS: Yes, and both sides of the aisle again now. We played a lot of Democrats there, but Republicans very critical of the timing here and that's what is the focus.

This morning, a range of other former officials with insight, are pushing back against the Comey firing. Former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor in New York who was fired by the president after being told he was staying on tweeting: Everyone who cares about independence and rule of law in America should be troubled by the timing and the reasoning of Comey firing. Period.

ROMANS: Former Obama administration officials also firing up their Twitter feeds. Former Attorney General Eric Holder writing: To the career men and women at DOJ/FBI, you know what the job entails and how to do it. Be strong and unafraid. Duty, honor, country. .

BRIGGS: And this from Jen Psaki, the former White House communications director who is also now a CNN contributor: This should not be sugarcoated. Firing Comey is up there in terms of the scariest things Trump has done.

We'll share more thoughts and reactions throughout the morning.

ROMANS: All right. With Director Comey out, where does investigation into Russian meddling stand? Right now, all decisions about appointing independent counsel to investigate particularly cases now rests with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That's because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump campaign surrogate and adviser recused himself on matters related to Trump and Russia. Congress could pass a bill create a new office of independent counsel as it did in 1978. That law expired in 1999.

BRIGGS: In between the statute was used a dozen times, most famously to launch the Ken Starr probe of President Clinton. President Trump could veto such a bill, though, which would have to be overridden by two thirds of the House and Senate.

[04:20:00] Bill Clinton signed a re-authorization of the original law in 1994 with several alleged scandals brewing.

ROMANS: All right. We'll have plenty more on the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey. But next, U.S. job openings are at a record high -- a record high for U.S. job opening. Is this good news or something going wrong in the American economy?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

Against political turmoil in Washington, this is the backdrop -- the U.S. labor market is humming. Strong jobs growth, low unemployment, and now, 5.7 million job openings below a record high. That's according to Labor Department's March JOLTS report.

[04:25:02] JOLTS tracks the pace of hiring, firing, and quitting. Employers hiring proves a strong jobs market as does the report's high quit rate.

What does mean high quit rate? Well, workers are reluctant to leave their jobs during economic down times but they are happy to quit right now. There's a lot of people quitting, and that shows confidence in the labor market.

The March mean job report shows a slump 78,000 jobs added. This most recent jobs report was strong, along with a rebound in April could mean that month was just a fluke in March.

High number of job openings also confirms a lack of skilled workers. It's something you've been hearing from executives for months now. Wages are rising nearly double the average for jobs like carpenters and electricians, that's because employees in those fields are in short supply and skills gap is holding down overall wage group, a major reason why Americans feel left out of the recovery.

But bottom line from this Labor Department data: people are feeling more confident to quit their jobs, electricians and carpenters are having pay raises, very nice pay raises because there are not enough workers in that area and there's this real concern about we could fill those 5.7 million open jobs today if we had a match of the skills of people who don't have jobs right now.

BRIGGS: Retraining the workforce is something you don't hear enough about.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely. BRIGGS: All right. You'll hear enough about the firing of James Comey. The future of the Russia investigation on the minds of millions today. What's in store now that the president has fired the man leading the very probe?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)