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Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey; Interview with Senator Angus King of Maine. Aired 6:30-7a ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 06:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- attorney general Alberto Gonzalez.
[06:30:02]What do they think about what has happened this morning.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So, the firing of James Comey. Is this just clear proof of dirty politics or a move to clean it up? Why some Trump supporters say getting rid of Comey was the right move. We'll debate.
CAMEROTA: OK. So, the timing of James Comey's firing as FBI director, of course, raising a lot of questions today. The White House says he was fired because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, but Democrats do not buy that.
Democratic Senator Bob Casey saying this in a statement, quote, this is Nixonian. Was Comey's firing justified?
CUOMO: And just -- no matter what your politics are, just look at something objectively for a moment. Why now. OK? If this was about Hillary Clinton, why did not it happen earlier? Why didn't they wait until they had someone lined up to take the job? Why didn't they wait until the inspector general's report came out that supposedly are going to review the same things they had Rosenstein review?
[06:35:02] And why would the president put in a letter to the director of the FBI told him three different times he wasn't under investigation? That is just wrong if it even happened. And we don't know that it did. So, there are real questions that have nothing do with partisan politics.
Let's discuss, CNN political commentators Brian Fallon and Jason Miller. Brian was the press secretary for Hillary Clinton's campaign and Jason is a former communications adviser to Donald Trump's campaign.
Gentlemen, good morning.
Jason, you are not held responsible for these decisions, you weren't there, but obviously this does not look good. How do you justify this move right now? JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Chris, I think one of
the things as we're watching coverage last night and even morning that I think there is bipartisan agreement that folks did not believe that Director Comey was able to effectively do his job be anymore.
CUOMO: What folks?
MILLER: Well, clearly, Senator Schumer didn't have confidence.
CUOMO: He says it was a wrong move.
MILLER: Well, he made it clear on the record last fall that he didn't have confidence if his ability. Nancy Pelosi --
CUOMO: And the president kissed the man on the face, called him a star, said he did the right thing in the Clinton administration.
MILLER: And he also criticized him heavily last year, as well. Senator Schumer criticized Director Comey, Nancy Pelosi, Valerie Jarrett said he should be fired, Congressman Nadler said he should be fired. There was criticism across the board.
Harry Reid said what Director Comey did with his handling of the Clinton email fiasco was possibly a violation of the Hatch Act. Chris, those are pretty darn strong words that they have there.
And so, the fact that the - director of the FBI was not able to effectively do his job and also that we're hearing that the rank and file of the FBI were not in support of Director Comey and didn't have the confidence in the ability to lead them, I think the president made the right move here.
CAMEROTA: OK. Brian, you heard the talking points that are coming out of the White House. I'm not saying Jason doesn't think those, but that is it. That Democrats called for this. We're just doing what Democrats wanted all along finally.
BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Democrats can rightly say that Jim Comey's actions in the Clinton e-mail investigation were inappropriate, but also say that this current president who is currently the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation himself is not empowered to fire the man investigating him.
And so, I don't personally care a wit about James Comey personally. I'm sure he will land comfortably on some corporate boards and probably have a lot of speaking engagements for which he will be highly compensated. I do care however about the independence of the ongoing Russia probe, and you can't deny the bottom line that this investigation forward is going to be less independent without Jim Comey at the helm just by virtue of the fact that it will should not be led by the next FBI director who will be hand pick the by Donald Trump.
And this morning, we're learning that one of the candidates to replace Jim Comey is Rudy Giuliani. Well, Rudy Giuliani is actually somebody that went on television days before Jim Comey sent his infamous letter in late October, and he predicted that there was one more ace in the hole that might tip the election. That has led many to speculate that he might have had inside information from leaks within the FBI.
CUOMO: But, Brian, let's deal with --
FALLON: Well, Chris, just one last point.
CUOMO: Go ahead.
FALLON: Just last week at the hearing, Jim Comey was asked whether he was investigating Rudy Giuliani specifically and he said yes. I guarantee you if Rudy Giuliani gets into the FBI, he will shut that down.
CUOMO: All right. So, let's deal with the p hypocrisy on your side of the line that Jason pointed out. You know, they had been very hard, the Democrats on James Comey. They felt what he did with Hillary Clinton was wrong and was abuse of his power and he had to go. Those quotes are accurate.
Are they trying to have it both ways now by saying he shouldn't have been fired?
FALLON: No, because two things can be true. Democrats can say as many career officials within the Justice Department have said that Jim Comey overstepped his bounds at how he handling the Clinton investigation. So if for instance Comey had decided he could no longer serve, I doubt many would have shed a tear over that. Or after this IG investigation that is currently being conducted inside the Justice Department had come out with some damning findings with respect to Jim Comey, I think in that instance the Trump administration would be on much firmer ground. But the timing stinks to high heavens.
CAMERTA: Wait. Before we hear what you want to say, I just want to hear you address what Brian just said. How can you assure everyone that this investigation will go on unimpeded if say Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie or a different Trump loyalist is then at the head of the FBI?
MILLER: Well, the fact of the matter is we don't yet know who is going to come in and replace Director Comey. But this investigation will continue. This has nothing to do with interfering with the an investigation. That's going to keep going and it's not as though, Director Comey was the one was personally leading on a day to day basic.
But I do think --
CAMEROTA: The director of the FBI does lead the direction of the investigation.
MILLER: I do think by removing Director Comey, that they're going to take the politics out of the FBI, law enforcement shouldn't be dictated and driven by politics.
[06:40:02] And I think the final --
CUOMO: Jason, hold on.
MILLER: Nobody is saying that director Comey was doing an effective job be and he should remain because he was doing such a great job.
CUOMO: The president said on numerous occasions in the month.
MILLER: He's also criticized him.
CUOMO: You don't get to have it both ways.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Why are you so sure that this investigation is going to proceed regardless of who is the head of the FBI? I mean, we've learned if nothing else that the FBI director can have a big influence on these high profile investigations. Certainly Comey had a very big influence on the Hillary Clinton investigation.
Why do you think it is somehow irrelevant who is the head of the FBI and the investigation of the Russia connections is going to continue no matter what?
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Jason.
MILLER: Jeffrey, how can you turn around and say that it will stop? There has been no indication from the administration that this is some effort to shut down an investigation. That will keep going. That will run its course. But the --
CAMEROTA: Hold on. The president also said that this is a hoax, this is fake news. There is nothing there there.
So, we do know how he's inclined to see the investigation.
MILLER: And the fact of the matter is feel do not think Director Comey was effective at doing his job. That report came from Rod Rosenstein and went up to Jeff Sessions and the president made the final decision. And if you look at the comments from Democrats from this fall, they would agree, too.
CAMEROTA: Yes, very quickly, Brian, last word, we have ten seconds.
FALLON: Well, there have been reports that confirm that this was all about getting ahead of the Russian investigation. There is a report in "Politico" citing who White House advisors saying in recent days the president has increasingly been asking aides how can we shut down this Russia investigation.
"The Times" reported that last week Jeff Sessions was given instructions to find a pretext to fire Jim Comey. So, the reporting is seeping out even as Jason come on and give the company line here. There's been plenty of --
MILLER: That is a highly questionable article, Brian, with no sources. I think that's highly questionable.
CAMEROTA: We understand that you both come at this from different perspectives. Thank you very much for the debate.
CUOMO: All right. So, one of the questions that is open now is what does James Comey's firing mean for all of the congressional investigations that are going on with Russia and the Trump campaign? Comey was supposed to testify Thursday, tomorrow, in front of the Senate Intel Committee. Is that still going to happen? Unlikely.
We're going to talk with Senator Angus King about what our leaders are going to do to ensure the administration of justice in this democracy, next.
[06:46:41] CUOMO: President Trump fired James Comey and it has sent shockwaves through Congress. Comey has been testifying before various congressional committees investigating whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election. So what will happen with the investigations?
We're going to keep talking about this this morning and bring in lawmakers, but I have Jeffrey Toobin here right now, our senior legal correspondent.
And this idea of Jim Comey being taken out for Hillary Clinton seems to defy logic. Doesn't defy politics. People were upset how Comey handled it. Certainly, Democrats were upset.
Notably, President Trump was not upset. He has applauded what Jim Comey said. He has said other things as well, really very few, but he has said Comey did her a big favor. But he has been overall applauding him. And that makes you feel that it can't be about Hillary Clinton.
TOOBIN: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, it wasn't just once. It was throughout the fall where candidate Trump saluted Comey about Hillary Clinton's behavior.
CUOMO: He kissed Comey, or at least tried to.
TOOBIN: And that was after he became president.
CUOMO: That's right.
TOOBIN: That was in the Oval Office.
So, the idea -- and also just I think our viewers, I think people are sophisticated, does anyone really believe that Donald Trump was upset and angry that Jim Comey was too mean to Hillary Clinton?
CUOMO: And Huma Abedin. Last night people were spinning -- and this is true, by the way. It's not getting a lot of attention, but for an Abedin's sake, it should be out there.
Jim Comey grossly overstated what kind of emails, and how many she had passed along to her husband, Anthony Weiner, and for what the purpose. But the idea that the Trump administration cared about that and that is motivating this now when president's Twitter thread is filled with his desire to oppose the Russian investigation strains credulity.
But let's talk with somebody who will be charged with doing something about this.
Joining us now, Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, serves on the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thank you for being with us. What do you make of this move?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, there are a whole lot of pieces of it that are very strange. Number one, what is Jeff sessions doing involved in this. I'm sure you have on tape somewhere when he recused himself, he said he will have nothing do with the Russia investigation in any way shape or form, directly or indirectly, and yet he is involved in firing the guy who is leading the investigation for the FBI.
Number two, the timing as you pointed out just doesn't make sense. They supposedly fired him for stuff he did last summer or last fall. And suddenly now they say oh, well, he's got to go. They could have fired him on January 21st if that was something that really bothered them. And there is another little sub-thing about the timing.
All the memos yesterday that came out justifying this were dated yesterday. In other words, it all came together in a matter of hours, compared with what we learned a couple of days ago, it took the White House 18 days to decide to fire Mike Flynn after they learned that he was a blackmail threat.
[06:50:08] So, all of that is -- the timing just doesn't pass the straight face test in terms of what is the real motivation for this. The other piece is the complaints about Comey were political, that he -- he once testified that he has a political tin ear. He's not very good at politics.
But he is a man of real integrity, an experienced prosecutor and investigator. And, you know, so that's a problem.
The final piece is you asked, Chris, what do we do? We've got to have a special prosecutor. There is no public confidence in this process now on the FBI side.
Remember, there is a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, that is a separate issue. We'll talk about that in a minute. But there has to be a special prosecutor or special counsel in order to restore some confidence in this. This -- I just don't understand this decision. Instead of settling anything, it absolutely raises suspicions in virtually everybody's minds.
CUOMO: Well, right, and if you understand it through that lens, this is something he wanted to do, the timing is obviously just you one indication of how obvious the move was. But we'll see what happens next.
You just put up an alternative there that requires some discussion -- special prosecutor, special counsel. The audience will be getting its feet up on all of this. Those are two very different things. Special counsel would be someone, as you know, Senator, who is appointed by the DOJ and has some degree of independence.
But they ain't no special prosecutor. That was designed by statute. It expired in 1999. It was obviously born during the Watergate era to deal with some of the confusions that we have right now once again.
But that person would be picked by a three judge panel and completely insulated from any kind of political tampering. I know Nixon still fired Archibald Cox, but they were forced to replace another special prosecutor. It's not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than a special counsel. Do you think there is any chance you could get legislation from Republicans to effectively police the president?
KING: Well, I think it's going to be tough because some people are defending this decision. But I believe it's something we got to do. Bottom line here, Chris, is public confidence. And if the administration doesn't have anything to hide, they ought to be cooperating and helping with this because otherwise this issue will dog them for years and it will just keep being a dark cloud over whatever they do. They ought to be cooperating.
So I'm going to urge my Republican colleagues to join some kind of effort to create a special prosecutor position because as I say, otherwise it just keeps going on. Now, I had a fun idea in the middle of the night, Chris. I think our on committee, the intelligence committee, should hire James Comey to direct our investigation, already got his clearances, knows the subject, man of integrity. I'm going to float that today and see what kind of reaction I get.
CUOMO: Would that be allowed?
KING: I don't know why not. He's a free man as of today. He doesn't have a job.
CUOMO: And he was supposed to come before the hearing tomorrow. We don't know what's going to happen with that yet.
Jeffrey Toobin is here with us. What is your take?
TOOBIN: Senator, I wanted to explore one thing. You say we should have a special counsel. There is no independent down counsel law at the moment.
TOOBIN: But do you think within the Justice Department tomorrow, Rod Rosenstein and say, we want that person in charge and that person will have independence?
KING: He could legally. As you know, under the law, but I don't know if it rises to the level of restoring public confidence in about this process particularly since he has his fingerprints on this deal. He wrote the memo that was used by the attorney general and the president to justify the firing.
So I would much prefer some kind of special prosecutor. But that requires an act of Congress which is pretty difficult thing to do around here. But I think as people absorb this and the implications of it, we may be able to move something, but some limited -- and then of course that raises the question the president has to sign an act of Congress.
But, you know, this is -- this is very dangerous stuff. This is -- this is the kind of thing that undermines people's confidence in our rule of law and the democracy of this country. And we have to get to the bottom of it and we've got to find some alternative that we can have somebody that has the credibility to pursue the investigation without fear or favor, and get to the facts wherever they lead.
CUOMO: Senator, appreciate it. Obviously, we'll keep checking in with you. And I'll tell you what, you just raised a little bit of a daunting important at the end -- even if the Republicans and Democrats come together and pass legislation to have a special prosecutor, the president would have the ability to veto and you would have to overcome that. These are hard times.
Senator, appreciate you being with us.
KING: Thanks, Chris.
[06:55:01] CUOMO: Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: Chris, there are so many questions today facing the White House after the firing of James Comey. Why now? What does this mean for the Russia investigation?
So, we have our panel of experts standing by all morning. They're going to help us break down the huge story.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to your NEW DAY. We have breaking news this morning.
The president firing FBI Director James Comey. The timing and reason behind President Trump's decision is under intense scrutiny this morning.
The bureau is actively investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. CUOMO: Even some Republicans are joining calls for an independent
probe. Now, what would that mean? One of the problems here, we are not sure how to guarantee independence in the administration of justice. What is the answer?
Well, for Democrats, they are saying that calling on Comey to be fired is Nixonian. But remember, they are compromised, too. Nobody was more outspoken critic of Comey than the Democrats. So, all of this as CNN exclusively learns that federal prosecutors had issued subpoenas to associates of former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.