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Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey; White House Responds; Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It's seven million displaced people. I would suspect that this is about saying to the Russians, Assad has now used chemical weapons, are you really sure that you want to bank your reputation and your policy on Bashar al- Assad who has engaged in criminal acts of war. That's a very --
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN EARLY START CO-HOST: If they say yes essentially, then what do you do?
RICE: Well, I think Putin may be convincible at some point that a quagmire in Syria is not in Russia's interests. He went there to establish certain things. Russian influence in the region, that's done. Secure Russia's bases in the region, that is done. Make sure that Assad wouldn't be overthrown and they believed chaos would ensue, that's done. But now we are unfortunately going to need the Russians to get to a solution. And I think that's probably on the table. I hope one other thing is on the table.
The North Korea issue is really serious. We have a reckless perhaps slightly unhinged leader in North Korea with nuclear weapons and delivery capability that's getting closer to being able to reach the United States. No American president can stand for that. But I would also say that Sergey Lavrov and later to Vladimir Putin, you know, if he can reach Alaska, he can reach Vladivostok. Don't you want to talk about North Korea and what we can do together to deal with Kim Jong- Un.
CUOMO: What do you want people to take from the book? Democracy stories from the long road to freedom.
RICE: No. I started this book four years ago. I had no idea I was going to put it into the an environment like we've had the last year or the last --
RICE: In some ways. I would just say to people, democracies take time to build. It takes time for people to build confidence in institutions. It takes just a moment for it to bring down and for those institutions to be gone around or to be -- to lose their relevance. As Americans, let's not let that happen to ourselves and by the way, our institutions are robust and we're going to get through this. But also let's stand for those who don't have the benefits of the liberties that we enjoy. We were we were given a tremendous gift in these institutions. Everybody needs to respect them.
CUOMO: Madame Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.
RICE: Thank you.
CUOMO: Appreciate it.
RICE: Thank you very much.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN EARLY START CO-HOST: All right. So how does the White House explain Director Comey's firing? We will ask the president's counselor Kellyanne Conway next.
CUOMO: More on our breaking news. President Trump sounding off on his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. The president has been tweeting all morning, this the most recent. Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, republic and -- republican and democrat alike. When this calm down, they will be thanking me. Well, they're not thanking him right now, certainly not on the democrats side.
Let's get the word from the White House. We have Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump. One of the headlines of reaction to deal with first off, thank you for join us, Kellyanne. Is from former Bush 41 A.G. cited in the Rosenstein memo, Donald Ayer, he calls the reasoning in the memo that this is about how Comey handled the Clinton investigation a sham. What do you make of that?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That's his opinion. But the president took the advice of the deputy attorney general who oversees the director of the FBI, brought those concerns to the attorney general who brought them to the president. And they made a decision to remove him. The president has made very clear he's going to act like a leader, he's going to make decisive resolute actions when he is faced with evidence.
And in this case, Jim Comey had lost the confidence of the people on the FBI, people on both sides of the partisan aisles, Chris, as you know. You've had democrats on your on your program many times calling in to question the credibility of Jim Comey, you had Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi in November, Nancy Pelosi said on CNN, I don't think he's in the right job. Chuck Schumer said, I don't have a credit I don't have a complete faith and confidence in his credibility.
And yet now they want him to be a martyr. This is the action that a president takes when he is told by the deputy attorney general who's only been on the job for 14 days, so he took a new assessment, a new look at everything, and he has made very clear that there is low morale at the FBI. That the one thing I I mean, this is such a stark statement. Almost everyone agrees the director made serious mistakes, it's one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspective at the FBI. They call into question the fact that he had a press conference, that he's planning his own judgment, so that is the federal prosecutors and the Department of Justice itself. So there are any number of issues and events that brought the president to this decision.
CUOMO: Right. We will note and put to the side that nobody praised what James Comey did to Hillary Clinton during the campaign and after more than the president himself. He's likely to change his mind, that's his right. But in terms of the timing, so rushed, Kellyanne, Rosenstein on the job just two weeks. The memos, the letters from yesterday all dated yesterday. Reporting that the president put Jeff Sessions who should have nothing to do with anything related to the Russian investigations on the case to find reasons to fire Comey, all this happening just as the Russian investigation is heating up, it seems very connected. Your take.
CONWAY: There is so much conjecture there. Let me unpack them one at a time. First, you're talking about President Trump on the campaign with respect to Jim Comey. He's the president. And he is faced with new evidence about the way people at the FBI and people from both sides of the aisle and elsewhere feel about Director Comey. You have to have confidence in the impartiality and the non-politicization of the FBI, the bureau.
And Mr. Rosenstein apparently concluded that's not the case and forward his recommendations to the president. You had Hillary Clinton just last week attacking Jim Comey as the reason she lost the election. We all know she lost the election because of Hillary Clinton, but we'll really put that aside. This whole idea that especially on your network you always want to talk about Russia, Russia, Russia. The idea that the FBI has one thing going on and it's the Russian investigation and the idea that this is somehow Jim Comey attorney at law, one person in charge of it, is really irresponsible to not report to your viewers that many people are involved in all of these investigations. I'm told the acting FBI Director
CONWAY: -- ran for correct. Mr. McCain ran Hillary received this, he obviously is very familiar with the investigations that going on there. The bureau is a big place. Senator Susan Collins for me had it right last night when she said the director was fired, not the entire FBI. There are many capable men and women there. Mr. McCabe's wife ran for political office as a democrat. I mean, the idea that we don't have other respected men and women who are not seen as partisan or not seen or not seen as impartial excuse me, or not seen as partial and politicized is just wrong.
CUOMO: Right, right.
CONWAY: And there are many people who are involved in any number of investigations. And I can also point out as recently as yesterday, you had a prominent democrat saying, he sees no evidence of Russia -- of collusion. And where is that in the reporting?
CUOMO: Wait. Say that again. What happened yesterday?
CONWAY: You've got you've got democrats saying that they don't see any evidence of Russia collusion.
CUOMO: Kellyanne, look, I get -- I get the talking point on this but let's be very let's be let's be very clear.
CONWAY: It's not a talking point. It's a seven-month distraction. It's not a talking point.
CUOMO: That's what you want it to be. I get that.
CONWAY: No, you want to be real.
CUOMO: But anybody who's been around no. Look. What I want is the truth. That's all we should all want here. And the idea that you should now the fruit of the investigation, these many months in is naive and deceptive. People who have been around this investigations will take you tell you they take time. Those who were doing it on the senate --
CONWAY: So that are the --
CUOMO: -- and house side say they take time. You've been misrepresenting --
CONWAY: So that will go viral.
CUOMO: -- the White House what James Clapper said when he said he had seen no collusion proof, that's accurate. But he also said it's because he didn't know anything about the investigation. Comey had been quiet about it. He wasn't privy to the record. He doesn't know the facts. See, that's very different. You don't like that part because you want as the president says for this to be a hoax. I get it. And that's why Comey being ousted just when that is heating up, not back when he started his tenure, he didn't need anybody to tell him that Comey had been divisive within the agency.
CONWAY: -- you're giving all the answers.
CUOMO: Kellyanne, I've got to check what you're saying. I've got to provide the context for it.
CONWAY: No. You're using word --
CUOMO: Because you're creating an image that doesn't reveal itself in fact.
CONWAY: Let me know when I can answer.
CUOMO: Knock yourself out.
CONWAY: Well, I'm going to knock this out of the park by telling you that I'm sure it will go viral now that you used the words naive and deceptive, people think you use those words about me, although you were talking about a state of mind --
CUOMO: I'm talking about this narrative coming out of the White House.
CONWAY: I know that's the new thing that's the new thing to try to go viral. But here's -- those of us who do want the truth, OK? The idea that you think this was about with Russia and not about an FBI Director who just yesterday forced his bureau to correct sworn testimony to the senate judiciary committee where you said Huma Abedin had this practice (INAUDIBLE) hundreds of thousands of e-mails.
CUOMO: So President Trump was so upset that James Comey was unfair to Huma Abedin that he fired him?
CONWAY: No. President Trump is President Trump wants an FBI Director who is impartial, who is not politicized and who has the confidence and the trust of people in the bureau of republicans and democrats on Capitol Hill of the attorney general, of the deputy attorney general who oversees the FBI Director and of the president of the United States.
CUOMO: And why didn't he do it in January?
CONWAY: And he had lost that. His -- why is the timing up to you at CNN? Why you know
CONWAY: -- done it in January because he had a summit in January
CONWAY: -- you guys would you have run the same chiron for three months that he did it in January because he's got something to hide from FBI Director. How about the fact that --
CUOMO: No. That looks more likely now. Back then, it would have been on the heels of his dissatisfaction about the --
CONWAY: The media don't like surprises. They don't like being caught flat footed and yet, I don't know people are so surprised when Donald Trump who is not part of the swamp, who is a non-politician, who's need decisive --
CUOMO: Not part of the swamp.
CONWAY: Taken decisive actions his entire life (INAUDIBLE) entire life, when he comes to Washington, does the same and people express shock and awe.
CONWAY: Reality is
CUOMO: But it's context, Kellyanne. It took 18 days to get the rid of Flynn when you had Sally Yates that he could be compromised and the president knew but did nothing and let him go to lots of meetings and arguably you would want to sequester somebody from if those kinds of question are raised, unless he gets done, in under two weeks, everything dated yesterday and apparent graph in his letter where the president if it's true, admits that he asked the director of the FBI whether or not he was directly under investigation. And was told by --
CONWAY: It doesn't say that.
CUOMO: Oh, yes, it does. I was told by the director no you're not.
CONWAY: Well, I appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I'm not under investigation. Where are is it that the president asked him that?
CUOMO: How did he find out?
CONWAY: Chris, I'm not going to reveal to you conversations between the president of the United States and the director of the FBI.
CUOMO: It's so important because it's so wrong, Kellyanne, it is so wrong if that communication happened. I don't know that it's false. I don't know that the president didn't ask him.
CONWAY: Then you shouldn't have said it because you just stated it as a fact.
CONWAY: -- not an opinion journalist.
CUOMO: Somehow you communicated to the president, right? How was that how was that OK?
CONWAY: I'm sorry, where is this in the letter? Let me let your viewers look at.
CUOMO: Look at the second paragraph. Put up the second paragraph.
CONWAY: 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 no longer able to effectively lead the bureau. Where does this say that the president asked FBI Director Comey --
CUOMO: It does not say that he expressly asked him.
CUOMO: I'm asking how can it be possible that the president of the united states would allow communications between him and the FBI director about whether are or not he's under investigation, it is unethical, it is arguably illegal for that for that to have happened once let alone three times and a lot of people who know James Comey can't believe it would have ever happened. How do you explain it?
CONWAY: Right. Those same people who can't believe that he held a press conference last year and then two days later went --
CUOMO: But the president applauded.
CONWAY: That the president well, right, because of what he did. He went and he held he swore under oath, he said no, she didn't have one device, she had 13.
CONWAY: And you know, none of us want to
CUOMO: But now he has no confidence for the same exact reason and firing.
CONWAY: Talk about being be caught flat footed and surprised and embarrassed and getting result. Nobody there wanted. But you know, Chris, this is very simple. This whole thing is very simple. You're trying to make it very complex. This is a president who saw that the FBI Director had lost the public confidence, the confidence of republicans and democrats, I mean, pull out their tweets. Watch their interviews on CNN. They had big problems with Comey when it was expedient for them. Now they all express shock and disappointment.
CUOMO: You accuse -- you accuse the democrats of only having problems with Comey when it was expedient for them.
CONWAY: No, I didn't say that.
CUOMO: When the president has a clear record of applauding what he did with respect to Hillary Clinton and only now with his --
CONWAY: Are you going back to the campaign again?
CUOMO: With his Twitter feed.
CONWAY: Can you please explain when he did that? Are you going back --
CUOMO: This was a fact, he did it just -- he talked about it last week.
CONWAY: OK. Now, he's OK. Now he's not a candidate.
CUOMO: -- problem with the Russian investigation.
CONWAY: OK. This is very this is very CUOMO: -- The reporting is that he wants the investigation to be about
leaks. And it was pushed back from Comey that it's not about leaks and now he's out of a job.
CONWAY: No. You're connecting things that aren't provable and you're connecting things that have been reported in one or two places that haven't been verified because that's what you guys do. But look, this is very simple. Let's control it out.
CUOMO: You know that that's unfair. But please continue.
CONWAY: The FBI Director reports to the deputy attorney general. The deputy attorney general was confirmed 14 days ago, 94-6 by the United States senate.
CONWAY: I would say that's a pretty good indication that he's beyond --
CUOMO: That Rosenstein had respect and credibility.
CONWAY: Mr. Rosenstein served under President Obama as the U.S. attorney in Maryland. This man has been in this particular line of work for decades. Everybody respects him as far as I can see. He wrote on what I consider to be the most robust chockfull two pages in a very long time on this subject. He listed out line by line paragraph by paragraph the growing erosion of trust in this man as the director of FBI.
Since you're going book to the campaign which I'm happy to go down memory lane anytime, I thought it was remarkable and we try to tell you guys every day, no, Texas is not turning blue, we're going to win, nobody listen.
CONWAY: But I hope you listen to this. He's now the president and as president with a new attorney general and most importantly the new deputy attorney general who oversees the director of the FBI, he came to the conclusion that this man, had impaired the FBI's reputation and credibility. That he should not hold a press conference, that he was doing things that are textbook examples of what federal prosecutors should never do. It goes on and on. He laid out --
CUOMO: Who told Rosenstein to do the report?
CONWAY: Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general of the United States.
CUOMO: I know who he is. Who told him to do the report?
CONWAY: He oversees the FBI you can ask him. I assume that he put together the report on his own. (CROSSTALK)
CUOMO: He wasn't urged by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions to do the report?
CONWAY: Now you're insulting him, too. Now --
CUOMO: I'm not insulting. I'm asking you a question.
CUOMO: I'm not making it personal. I'm saying, who asked him do the report?
CONWAY: The president is very decisive (INAUDIBLE) person.
CUOMO: Who asked him to do the report?
CONWAY: You'd have to ask Rod Rosenstein that question.
CUOMO: You don't know?
CONWAY: But one presumes that he wrote the report on his own. He's fully capable of writing a report. Isn't he, Chris? This guy just who is just confirmed 94-6 by a full body of the United States senate, this man who served under President Obama, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, this man has been in this line in this line of work for decades.
CUOMO: I know. He's got he's got a good reputation. So he comes into office, he knows the inspector general.
CONWAY: By the way, do you know what the report is called?
CUOMO: He's reviewing the exact same thing. Yes. We have it here.
CONWAY: Do you know what the report is called?
CUOMO: We have it right here.
CONWAY: Restoring quote subject, restoring public confidence in the FBI. That's what the report is called.
CUOMO: That's a great title. It will probably be the same one that the inspector general is doing. Why wouldn't you wait to see what the inspector general said before moving? Why so quick? You say yourself the guy has only been on the job two weeks. Why so quick?
CONWAY: He's so capable of putting together a report. Now, you're impugning his credibility.
CUOMO: I'm asking questions. It is not an insult. It is an insight. Why would he do it so quickly?
CONWAY: No, it's not. It is an allegation. It is not an insight at all.
CUOMO: It's not an allegation? It took him two weeks, all right? Why move on it so quickly? Why do it now?
CONWAY: OK. Let me ask you the question. Why not? Is it too quick for people?
CUOMO: Because you're being investigated by the FBI and that is what is in the air. That's what's getting energy and you have let everybody know you think it is a hoax and that you don't like that it is happening. We don't know who is being looked at and who is not being looked at except for this one paragraph of this letter that has some of the most inappropriate contact between the director of the FBI and the sitting president that we have ever heard of.
That's the only indication we have that the president himself is somehow involved in the investigation. Which may yield nothing, by the way, down the road. It should be able to play out without interference. But we don't know.
CONWAY: Right. So --
CONWAY: All we know -- that's your answer your answer to why not
CONWAY: -- is because you're under investigation. That's why not.
CONWAY: No. I'm not under investigation.
CUOMO: Not you. The staff, the campaign is under investigation.
CONWAY: Who? Name them because your network keeps referring to them as national security adviser.
CUOMO: Comey has referred to the campaign, he tried to keep it quiet. We know obviously Flynn is in there. We know Carter Page is in there. We know that there has been the subject of different meetings with different administration officials.
CONWAY: You realize the FBI is a big place, right?
CONWAY: And the acting FBI Director, Mr. McCabe, one assumes would have dominion over this investigation now. This investigation has gone nowhere
CUOMO: We don't know.
CONWAY: -- as you know and
CUOMO: We do not know that it has gone nowhere. That's not what James Comey said on the hill last week. CONWAY: Right. Well, yesterday they had to correct his sworn
testimony. He gave a complete lie I supposed about Abedin's e-mail. Hundreds of thousands of them, many times classified information turns out there were two instances.
CUOMO: Yes. You got it wrong. You got it wrong.
CONWAY: OK. Well, then-- and that's the person that you wanted to continue to lead the FBI, right, Chris? Because the consent --
CUOMO: I'm not saying he should -- look, you can think that Comey wasn't doing the right job. It's still calls into question how this was done. You can believe both things at once, that hey, you know what, he wasn't getting things done. He had chosen politics over policy. You can level that criticism but it still raises questions about the timing.
CONWAY: I just need to show respect that's not being shown in most places today to the deputy attorney general, who is beyond reproach, is seen as a nonpartisan figure, who was confirmed 94-6 which is no small feet two short weeks ago. I'm going to show him the deference and respect. I convince people to not listen to a bunch of sound bites today to actually read the two-page report if they're interested in knowing what led the deputy attorney general to this conclusion to write a report called Restoring public confidence in the FBI. He handed that to his boss, the attorney general who referred it to the president of the United States who took action immediately and fired Director Comey.
CUOMO: And that's but why take the action immediately? You don't have anybody lined up to replace him, you haven't expected the general's report that is coming out .
CONWAY: You don't know that. You don't know that.
That's the reporting, is that you have McCabe in there right now. The president has met with him, but the reporting is that you don't know anybody.
CONWAY: Why wouldn't that make the critics happy? His wife ran for political office as a democrat.
CUOMO: I don't care what his wife does. You know that. Look, I'm telling you, when you make it personal, it does not strengthen your position.
CONWAY: It's not personal. It's showing that this man
CUOMO: When are you going to announce the new director if he have somebody lined up?
CONWAY: That's up to the president of the United States. CUOMO: But does he have somebody?
CONWAY: Chris, I'm not going to answer that question because the president of the United States confers with his team on any numbers of personal decisions and it is up to him to find the timing. You know, you want to question the timing of when he fires, when he hires. It's inappropriate. He'll do it when he wants to, just like he fired FBI Director Comey when he was faced with evidence of -- that was unignorable now. I mean, read this report. So, I cannot defend --
CUOMO: I've read it. It's two pages, Kellyanne.
CONWAY: I cannot defend
CUOMO: It doesn't take that long and it mostly says people in there didn't like him.
CONWAY: You don't want a quote from it. No. You don't want to quote from it. I don't even see the word Russia anywhere. I'm looking for it.
CUOMO: Oh, I'm sure it's not in there. I'm sure it isn't.
CONWAY: Now you're now you're criticizing Rod Rosenstein. Could it be that the reason that Rod Rosenstein wrote the report had nothing to do with that? It has to do with, I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's e-mails.
CUOMO: That is his conclusion, people can read it for himself and his name is Rosenstein by the way.
CONWAY: Well, that's great, Rosenstein. Well, I meant him no disrespect in mispronouncing his name. I think you meant him some disrespect in questioning his credibility.
CUOMO: No, I didn't. Look, these are questions, Kellyanne and they have to be asked, the consequences matter, the administration of justice matters.
CONWAY: The director of the FBI answers to the deputy attorney general. Deputy attorney general got in there, he did his own independent analysis. He came to these conclusions, he's written it for everyone to see. Gave his recommendations to the attorney general who gave the recommendation to the president of the United States who took decisive action. This one is an easy one.
CUOMO: OK. Kellyanne Conway, it is not always easy, but it is always a great benefit to have you on making the case from the White House perspective. Thank you for doing it.
CONWAY: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: All right. Let's get reaction to Kellyanne Conway and the White House's response with democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He serves on the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee. Good morning, Senator.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, SENIOR UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM CONNECTICUT: Good morning. Good to be with you.
CAMEROTA: What is your response to what you've heard, the president say this morning in tweets and Kellyanne Conway, you democrats should be thanking him. He says you didn't like how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton investigation. He had to go.
BLUMENTHAL: I disagree with James Comey in some of his decisions. But I never advocated that he'd be fired particularly before an inspector general within the Department of Justice was looking at those actions. Rod Rosenstein in effect preempted that ongoing internal investigation, fired him using a pretense that is laughable, the decisions on the Clinton e-mail some 10 months ago. And what we have now is really a looming constitutional crisis that is deadly serious because there is an investigation ongoing and CNN reported subpoenas issued from the eastern district of Virginia into Flynn associates.
And ultimately there may be subpoenas to the president of the United States just as occurred in 1973 precipitating United States versus Nixon and a similar firing of a special prosecutor. So what's needed now is, in fact, an independent counsel and special prosecutor.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that senator. Are you saying that you have lost faith in the FBI's ability to investigate this now?
BLUMENTHAL: No. Just the opposite. I have very strong confidence in the FBI. And I believe that the FBI needs a leader, not just a director of the FBI, but a prosecutor who will ultimately make decisions about whether to bring charges. Remember that the FBI doesn't bring charges. It is the prosecutor who does so. And what we need is an independent, impartial prosecutor. I have been urging for months now, since the beginning of February and that is the prosecutor that is provided for under existing regulations in the Department of Justice.
I voted against Rod Rosenstein. I was one of those six because he refused to commit to me that he would appoint a special prosecutor, his only course now, and you can hear the reasons why in this conversation that has just occurred with Kellyanne Conway that he needs to reaffirm and redeem the independence of the Department of Justice. I have confidence in the FBI, if it is given that kind of leader.
CAMEROTA: Look, I don't want to get too far in the legal leads here, but a special prosecutor post is over. It expired. What was what they came up with during Watergate has expired. And congress didn't renew it. So if you're calling for a special counselor that would be under the purview of Rod Rosenstein and the president. That person could still be fired by the president. So how does that help? BLUMENTHAL: It's a great question and there's no perfect solution
here. There are two possible avenues of really making sure that the prosecutor is independent. Number one, Rod Rosenstein can appoint someone and say in effect this person is going to run this investigation. I will delegate completely and solely. I will not interfere in any way. And I will make sure that the president of the United States cannot interfere or cover up because what's really happening here, even though he's called a decisive and strong leader, he may be just decisive and strong to protect himself.
The second way to proceed is for that law to be renewed. It did expire in 1999 and the law could be passed again and I will be introducing legislation to establish an independent counsel if the deputy attorney general fails to do the right thing and appoint a special prosecutor.
CAMEROTA: I mean, look, Senator, I don't have to tell you, there are five congressional investigations into this, whether or not the Trump team had ties to Russia. You sit on one of those committees. So what's the point? I mean, what's the point of having all of these congressional committees if you're basically saying they're toothless and that the only way to proceed here is by changing the law somehow and you'd have to have the president sign off on that.