Return to Transcripts main page


Donald Trumps Fires FBI Director Comey; U.S. Jobs Openings Near Record High. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And that breaking news the bedrock of our democracy under siege. The FBI director investigating links between Russia and aides to the president fired by the president.

[05:00:05] What's next for the FBI? The Russia probe? And why the timing? Why now as everyone asking questions.

Good morning, everybody, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, May 10th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We're so glad you're here this morning, because it is hard to overstate the magnitude and 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 all sides 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 are asking for the preservation of all documents related to that probe and to Comey's firing.

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

ROMANS: You know, that abrupt letter never made to it Comey. Before he learned of his own termination from TV monitors at the FBI office in L.A. that's where he learned about his own firing.

Our coverage begins this morning with our Jessica Schneider here with us in New York.

Jessica, let's start with the Trump letter on James Comey. Let's read it. While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

This, we're told by the White House is not about the Russian investigation in his letter.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the interesting thing. He disconnect in the explanations in these three separate letters. So, first of all, we have that memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It is a two and a half page letter. And it really goes into the details of how FBI Director Comey in the Justice Department's view mishandled this investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server.

Then, of course, there's the additional letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to President Trump talking about his recommendation that yes, in fact, FBI Director Comey should be terminated.

And then the president's letter -- the president's letter is very short. Directly to director Comey and it does, in fact, merely reference the fact that Donald Trump in his view was not under investigation, he said he was told that multiple times by Director Comey.

So, a bit of a disconnect in those letters. We know how it all unfolded yesterday beginning at 5:00 p.m. It was sort of under the darkness of night even though it was only the early evening. The director of Oval Office operations arrived at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. with that manila envelope that contained that letter from President Trump.

But it turns out, of course, FBI Director Comey was not at FBI headquarters. He was at the FBI field office in Los Angeles talking with some of the staff there. And he learned of his termination by actually watching and seeing it unfold on television.

We understand that once he began seeing that on television, he tried to make light of the situation. Joking around. And, then, of course, he abruptly left that meeting and we know that he was en route back to Washington, D.C., around 2:00 this morning.

But the way this went down because this has been unfolding over at least the past week. We know that President Trump has been talking about this, working with the Justice Department, and we do know perhaps as long ago as two weeks ago, which was when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein confirmed, assumed his position on April 26th, perhaps this was in the work.

But again, Christine and Dave, this disconnect between the letter that or the memo that Rod Rosenstein wrote talking about mishandling of the Hillary Clinton investigation and Trump really referencing the Russian investigation.

BRIGGS: So, between the letter from Trump, the Rod Rosenstein memo, what we heard from Sean Spicer briefly in the press room the why now seems to be the biggest question. When you read all of it, when you take that all into account what's your best guess as to why do this right now? What's their reasoning?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it really seems to be that President Trump wanted to fire director Comey, and this memo by Rod Rosenstein dated yesterday. So, really there didn't seem tube lot of lag time. This happened in rapid fire succession.

However, it's interesting given all the news events of the past few days, just yesterday when it came out that Director Comey misspoke when he said hundred and thousands of emails that Huma Abedin had manually forward her husband. So, again, we're going back to this Clinton e-mail investigation. It's really hard to decipher exactly what may have sparked this, led to this, so many things swirling, whether it's the Clinton e-mail investigation, the Russian probe.

[05:05:09] But we do know, however, that the White House and the Justice Department have been at odds with the FBI in recent weeks. The White House wants the FBI to focus more on the investigation of leaks into classified information to the media whereas the FBI had continued Russia probe.

So, really, a disconnect between the DOJ and the FBI and the White House.

ROMANS: All right. Jessica Schneider, great reporting. Thanks. Coming back soon, a lot to get to today.

BRIGGS: All right. CNN has learned senior officials did not think it would trigger such an explosive reaction since they officially terminated for his unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton.

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


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?

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?


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.


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.


BRIGGS: OK, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe the acting director of the FBI. He's also under investigation. The Justice Department's inspector general is looking at whether McCabe should have recused from certain aspects of the Clinton email investigation.

Just a little context here. There was broad bipartisan criticism of James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton emails. President Trump was not among that criticism, never once, not one critical word of his releasing, making that press conference. Jeff Sessions praised her actions on Fox Business Network.

So, those are the two people at the center of this never a single critical word.

ROMANS: So, that Comey firing met -- is just a remarkable morning. The firing met with harsh response from across the political spectrum. We'll have more on that and what's in store for the Russian investigation, oh, yes, and his meeting today between the president and the foreign minister of Russia. That happens today, next.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [05:12:52] 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.


ROMANS: Our very own Jeff Toobin, just one example of the one reaction the Comey firing.

For more on the response on Capitol Hill and the future of the Trump- Russia investigation, I want to bring in Zach Wolf, managing editor of CNN politics digital and CNN legal analyst, Areva Martin, she's a civil rights attorney in Los Angeles.

Areva, let me get your perspective this morning. Your reaction this morning to what has been pretty much, except for Lindsey Graham bipartisan blowback to this firing.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think like most of the pundits that we've seen for the last 12 hours on television is absolute shock that the sitting FBI director is removed by the president when there is the epic investigation going on of interference into the American election of 2016 and ties between Trump's associates and people in his campaign and their collusion, potential collusion with Russians, to have him removed the timing is clearly suspicious. The explanation is unbelievable and absurd, really to think that Comey is being removed because of the way he handled the Clinton e-mail investigation. Hard to support the explanations that we're hearing coming from the Trump team and his administration.

BRIGGS: That's in part because of -- let's play some of the way Donald Trump spoke about Comey and the way he handled the Hillary Clinton emails in the past. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I have to give the FBI credit. It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had when they were trying to protect her from criminal prosecution.

[05:15:01] Good job by the FBI.

I have respect that the FBI has given her a second chance.

I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. I'll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. A lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.


BRIGGS: Zach, even for the Trump administration, this is a stunning amount of hypocrisy. So, why now?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: It's pretty remarkable turn around when you listen to those things he said about Comey before the election. And honestly nothing has changed with regard to Hillary Clinton since then. So the idea that you would be using that investigation as an excuse to fire Comey is kind of the most remarkable part of this.

I think why now, there was the excuse of Comey misstating that, you know, the number of emails that were forwarded from Huma Abedin to Anthony Weiner, but I don't think anybody is talking about that. It doesn't make any sense as a reason to fire the FBI director especially when the consequences for it, the blow back for it is going to be so much more epically larger than any of that.

ROMANS: That's what's so crazy. Our Dana Bash reporting they didn't tape blow back which is another political miscalculation at this White House.

BRIGGS: They assumed Democrats would support this because they have been critical of Comey. Even Republicans, six Republican senators very critical of the timing here.

Susan Collins is one who supported it. She said inevitable conclusion how Comey handled the emails but also said patently absurd this will obstruct the Russian investigation. Is it patently absurd to suggest now the Russian investigation is compromised?

MARTIN: Well, I think that statement is absurd. Clearly, this investigation has been compromised. The pressure coming from this White House, the interference by this White House and the Department of Justice raises serious doubts about the independence of the Department of Justice.

Look, of course, the career prosecutors will come to work today. They will continue the job that has been given to them which is this investigation. But when the head person at the FBI has been removed from the White House while this investigation is clearly getting to some critical points is going to impact the morale of the FBI, going to impact southeast decision-making that happens by those career prosecutors.

We're at a critical juncture in this investigation and I believe now more than ever the need for this independent prosecutor has been established. Trump's actions suggest that this Department of Justice cannot act independently.

ROMANS: You know, you got the Senate intel chairman he issued a statement troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey's termination. What's interesting about that the Senate Intel Committee is in the midst of doing an awful --

BRIGGS: And he's a staunch Trump supporter as well.

ROMANS: We know that federal prosecutors have grand jury subpoenas, right, for associates of Michael Flynn to look into the timing of his financial activities around the time of taking those payments from Russia, Zach. I mean, there are investigations under way here. Does this have a chilling effect on any of that?

WOLF: Well, I think actually what's interesting to me is that Democrats have been calling for a special counsel or special commission or a committee, something independent for a long time. There was no way that was going to happen because Republicans control the Senate and they control the attorney general's office. This is the thing that actually, oddly enough, has had Republicans on Capitol Hill are talking more publicly or at least not sounding quite so cold about the idea of a special counsel. It could be the irony of this is this could be the thing that leads that.

BRIGGS: Areva, let me read to you the Trump letter on Comey. Quote, While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

As to that first part, three separate occasions informing me I'm not under investigation if that is, in fact, true is that improper?

MARTIN: Dave, that's a very bizarre statement and something we've been looking at as the story is unfolding. Why is the president referencing comments made by James Comey to him? Why is he attempting to exonerate himself in the letter where he's terminating James Comey? Again, it raised concerns whether this investigation is related to the handling of the emails by James Comey or if it's related really to this Russian investigation.

Was the FBI getting too close to information that would be damaging to Trump's administration that could have possibly led to criminal charges being filed against people in his orbit?

[05:20:11] All of that is suggested in that letter. So, at the same time, the president is saying, I'm firing you based on the recommendations of the Department of Justice that has to do with Clinton, he's making references to the Russian investigation.

ROMANS: All right. It is just all very bizarre and shocking. Areva Martin, Zach Wolf, come back in a few minutes and talk about this some more. Thank you.

We have plenty more on the dismissal of the FBI Director James Comey and the president's rationale for it. But next, U.S. job openings are at a record high, a record high for job option. I'll tell you what's going on in the labor market, next.


[05:25:08] ROMANS: All right. The labor market is humming, job growth, low unemployment, 5.7 million job openings. JOLTS tracks the pace of firing, hiring and quitting.

Here's what we know, employees are hiring briskly, while workers are quitting at a fastest rate since before the recession. Quitting, Dave, is a good thing. It shows workers are finding new, better jobs. However, experts say that many job openings, 5.7 million job openings also confirms a lack of skilled workers. That's a gap between the skills employers want and the skills job-seekers have. That gap is holding down overall wage growth a major reason why many Americans feel left out of the recovery.

I can tell you, if you are an electrician or carpenter, though, you're seeing the double of the average wage growth. Big demand for carpenters and electricians.

Are you qualified?

BRIGGS: Not at all. I wish I had some skill.

ROMANS: I will not give you a hammer and have you come to my house.

BRIGGS: Please don't.

All right. The future of the Russian investigation is now in the minds of millions today. What's in store now that the president has fired the man leading the probe?