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Trump Fires Comey; Potential FBI Director Replacements; Stone Pressuring Trump; Trump meets with Lavrov. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:30:00] JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Serious professional. And, Ali, on a closing note, I would love to see Rod Rosenstein sit there with you and Chris and answer questions.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. So would we.
Thank you very much, Jeffrey and Karen, for the debate. Nice to talk to you.
Let's get to Chris.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He was mentioned in Rod Rosenstein's letter about James Comey. Gonzales is currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law and the author of "True Faith and Allegiance: A Story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace."
Sir, always a pleasure to have you on NEW DAY.
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U .S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's always a pleasure to be with you.
CUOMO: Your baseline reaction?
GONZALES: I was surprised. Obviously there are serious questions about the timing and I think the White House owes the American public an explanation of really why now. And, quite frankly, if this firing was intended to intimidate or interfere in any way with the ongoing Russian investigation, I think that is terribly wrong and there needs to be - there needs to be a full accounting and a full explanation of the reasons why.
I know Rod Rosenstein. He was one of my U.S. attorneys. I have a great deal of faith in him. I have no issues with him coming out and speaking to the press and providing a fuller explanation of the reasons. But, again, the timing is so strange.
The other thing - I - I've heard other guests on your show talking about the way in which this was carried out with Jim Comey out on the West Coast. Very unprofessional. And I think that was very, very unfortunate in the way the White House handled this.
CUOMO: On the beautiful green behind you, you have all these law students. If they were presented with a hypothetical in class, if the attorney general has recused himself with any matter having to do with the Russian investigation and he then is seen as part of the process of removing the director of the FBI who was investigating Russian connections, is that a proper move? They would all answer, it's improper. How can Jeff Sessions be involved with the move to remove Comey, especially now?
GONZALES: Well, of course, the fact that Jeff Sessions recuses himself from a particular investigation doesn't mean that he removes himself from complete oversight of the rest of the department. And so his involvement - you know, I'd be very curious to know in fact how much was he involved in this discussion and in this decision. Typically what would happen here is the attorney general would check with ethics individuals within the Department of Justice and get guidance as to whether or not it would be appropriate to weigh in on a particular matter after a recusal has occurred. That may have happened here. That may not have happened here. So, again, a lot of unanswered questions about what may have occurred here.
But let me just say this.
GONZALES: Let me just say this. I think the American people should - should really believe this. And I - this is what I truly believe. We're going to find out what happened with respect to Russia. It's going to either be through the FBI, it's either going to be through the Congress and/or it's going to be through the media. This - this has elevated the stakes here. And so if the purpose of this firing was to stop an investigation, I think it's going to have just the opposite effect.
CUOMO: I want to show you this paragraph in the letter from the president. Can we put it up on the screen again? It's the second paragraph. "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." The idea that the director of the FBI would have those kinds of communications with a sitting president, have you ever heard of that before?
GONZALES: It would be inappropriate. And I found the inclusion of that language very, very strange. And, again, raising even more questions about the motivation about what happened here. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. It could be that the White House was simply incompetent in the way this was rolled out. So, again, we need to find out what happened here. What was the real motivation? Because obviously the timing has really raised some serious questions about what is really going on here.
CUOMO: Look, by their own reckoning, two weeks Rosenstein has been on. This is not about assailing or even assessing his credibility. Two weeks he's been on. And for some reason he decides that his first official act should be a review of James Comey, supposedly unsolicited.
Now, our reporting from White House sources is, it was solicited. He was asked to do this. Jeff Sessions was involved with this. The president was looking for reasons to get rid of James Comey and they were tasked with finding them. But to think he takes over this oversight position at the same time he knows the I.G. is looking at the exact same thing and in two weeks turns out a two page report and the president acts on it immediately when it took him 18 days to move on Michael Flynn despite the fact that the acting A.G., Sally Yates, came with dispositive proof of their concerns about potential blackmail? Does that make sense? Does it add up?
GONZALES: Well, listen, if the deputy attorney general is asked or directed by the attorney general or the White House to give an assessment of the performance of James Comey, you're going to do that irrespective of whether or not there is an I.G. investigation.
[08:35:07] CUOMO: Sure you would. Sure you would. But would you do that first if you weren't asked? Does it sound like a reasonable initial undertaking when you know the I.G. is looking at the same thing?
GONZALES: Well, now you're asking me to get into the head of the deputy attorney general. From my perspective, you know, early on, knowing that there is an ongoing investigation by the I.G., I might prefer to wait. But there may be other reasons that I'm unware of that - that would have motivated the deputy attorney general to take this review on his own. But, again, I just don't know all the facts - all the facts here.
CUOMO: And would you remove somebody like the director of the FBI without having somebody ready to replace them if you wanted this to be a decisive action?
GONZALES: Yes, I would. I don't believe that - if, in fact, you believe it's the right thing to do for the department, if that's the real motivation here, absolutely. If - because the department is structured like every other agency, to move forward and to continue its work on behalf of the American people without the top political head. So, absolutely, yes. If that's the right thing to do, if it's a necessary thing to do, yes, you should go ahead and do it.
CUOMO: Thank you very much for your perspective. Appreciate it. Alberto Gonzales, be well.
GONZALES: Thank you.
CUOMO: Breaking news, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meeting with Russia's top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, at the State Department right now. Let's listen in.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) -
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to - I want to welcome Foreign Minister Lavrov to the State Department and express my appreciation for him making the trip to Washington so that we could continue our dialogue and our exchange of views that began in Moscow, the dialogue he hosted on a very broad range of topics.
QUESTION: Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks, gentlemen?
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIA'S FOREIGN MINISTER: Was he fired?
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the U.S. (INAUDIBLE) -
LAVROV: You're kidding? You're kidding?
QUESTION: Yes, he was fired.
What about the (INAUDIBLE) -
QUESTION: What about the Russia investigation?
CAMEROTA: OK, a little - a little Russian humor there from Sergey Lavrov.
CUOMO: I don't know if that was a joke or what.
CAMEROTA: Not sure if it was a joke.
CUOMO: That's the foreign minister. He looked back at the reporters who were asking about the impact of James Comey's dismissal on this meeting, saying, "you're kidding, you're kidding."
CAMEROTA: Well, he pretend - he was feigning ignorance, I believe, about that, because then he sort of chortled at that. So Sergey Lavrov there, the foreign minister of Russia, said nothing virtually and then Rex Tillerson, as you know, has earned a reputation for never speaking at these photo ops, but he did sort of very briefly just acknowledge it.
CUOMO: But, again, the idea of the Russian foreign minister making jokes about the FBI director being gone, all related to this Russian interference that literally sent an election and now our democratic process into chaos, the irony should not be lost on any of you.
CAMEROTA: So Republicans are not all on the same page about Director Comey's firing. Senator Lindsey Graham backs the president's decision and he joins us next.
[08:41:58] CAMEROTA: The firing of FBI Director Comey is putting some Republicans at odds with each other. We are joined now by Senator Lindsey Graham. He is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, which is one of those investigating Russia's medaling in the election.
Good morning, senator. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: Do you support President Trump's firing of Director Comey and the way he did it?
GRAHAM: Yes. I mean it's his right to do so. I think Director Comey's a fine man, but Democrats called for his removal about two to three, four weeks ago and now he's gone and we get a chance to pick on a new director. Hopefully we all can agree on somebody that's above reproach and move on.
CAMEROTA: You know, look, you heard President Trump say during the campaign and beyond that he liked what Director Comey did with -
GRAHAM: Yes, I saw that, yes.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I'm sure you did. So does the timing of this give you any pause given that of course the FBI, we know, is investigating the Trump team's ties to Russia?
GRAHAM: Well, the one thing I can tell you without any hesitation is that the FBI's investigation of Russia is not tied to Comey's continuing service. That will go forward with professional investigators. The Senate will continue to do its job.
The Democrats have had their problems with Comey. The president praised him at times. Now he's let him go. Yesterday I spent a half a day talking about how Comey got it wrong between Huma Abedin and Weiner about the information that she supposedly passed to Anthony Weiner. Apparently it wasn't thousands of, you know, classified documents, which I was under the impression it was. So everybody has had a problem with Comey. Everybody said good things about him. He's being replaced and let's find a good replacement.
CAMEROTA: But why do you think it happened yesterday?
GRAHAM: I don't know. All I can say is that it's been building. You know, what he said about Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin was pretty unnerving. I didn't know there were thousands of classified documents passed to Anthony Weiner, which would have been problematic. Apparently that wasn't right.
The bottom line here is that we're going to move forward. The FBI will move forward. The subcommittee is going to move forward. The Intel Committee is going to move forward and we'll find out.
Here's what I know about Russia. They interfered in our elections. They need to be punished. I don't think they changed the outcome. I don't know if there's any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I haven't seen any evidence of that. And I don't know if there was any wholesale unmasking of American citizens inappropriately, but I've seen some concerns about that. We'll get to the bottom of all of it.
CAMEROTA: You're more confident than some of your colleagues are that you'll be able to get to the bottom of it. You know there are - we've heard from all sorts of lawmakers this morning who are calling for an independent counsel. Your dear friend and colleague, Senator John McCain, disagrees with your position on this. He says he's quite - he's disappointed in the president's decision to remove James Comey from office.
GRAHAM: Well, that's John's right. I love John. John's a great guy. The FBI investigation is not a criminal investigation. It's a counter intelligence investigation. And you don't have special prosecutor for counter intelligence investigations. However, if it does mature into a criminal investigation of the Trump campaign, then we'll talk about a special prosecutor. I joined John's call for a joint select committee where we have all relevant committees working together rather than separately. I think John's been right about that.
[08:45:12] CAMEROTA: Well, he's calling for a special congressional committee to investigate -
GRAHAM: That's the same thing. Same thing.
CAMEROTA: OK. So you're calling for - but, I mean, are - this is what is confusing. There are five committees already, congressional committees. What is it that they're not doing? Are you saying that Americans should not have faith that they will be able to get to the bottom of it?
CAMEROTA: Why is this extra body needed?
GRAHAM: Well, it's not an extra body. The Judiciary Committee had a hearing, and I thought it was a pretty good one. Sally Yates, I thought she did a really good job for the country by going to talk about Flynn being compromised. I think she was right about that. Was 18 days too long? We can debate about that.
But the intel community is looking at a part of this. The judiciary is looking at another part. What John and I are saying, what if you had a committee made up of the four or five committees, where it was joint, where we were looking at the same thing, rather than compartmentalized. That's what they did during Iran Contra. I think that's what we should do here is have the relevant committees working together, not separately. But I have a lot of faith in the intel community's - committee's investigation. Warner and Burr are doing a good job and I think (INAUDIBLE) Whitehouse are doing a good job, but I don't mind a joint select committee.
CAMEROTA: In terms of the motivation for why this happened and why it happened yesterday, do you believe that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was the impetus? Do you believe it was he who prompted President Trump, that he sent a memo to him in the morning and President Trump decided within, you know, hours that, yes, Comey had to go?
GRAHAM: Right. Well, everybody says that Rod's a good guy, so I don't know if somebody made him do it. I doubt that he would do something he didn't really want to do. Let me tell you about Director Comey. Great man. He's tried to do what
he thought was right at every stage. But let's look at it this way. The bottom line is, it's not a specific intent crime to mishandle classified information. So when he said Clinton did nothing wrong, that really is an attorney general's job to do, not the FBI director. And I can see why Democrats were upset with the letter in October about the investigation being reopened. I think it probably did hurt Clinton.
So everybody's had their concerns. And the Weiner/Abedin misstatement, it just had a cumulative effect. So I don't know what Rod did, but I know that he signed a letter and I don't think anybody made him. And the bottom line is, we're going to pick a new FBI director and the investigation will go forward.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about who that new investigator - new FBI director should be.
CAMEROTA: If it were to be some of the names bandied about, such as, say, Governor Chris Christie or former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, you know, real Donald Trump loyalists, how would you feel about that FBI investigation?
GRAHAM: Well, I think we should pick somebody that our Democrat colleagues can rally around within reason. Now, the bottom line -
CAMEROTA: Such as? I mean who would you say?
GRAHAM: You know, I don't know. Rather than me throwing out a name, let's throw out a concept. Somebody who is trained in the profession, somebody who's practiced the profession of either prosecuting or investigating, somebody who has a reputation among both parties as being a good man or a woman and see if we can get that person confirmed.
Here's what Harry Reid did. He made it possible for Republicans to pick somebody without any Democratic input. That's what happens when you change the rules. But here's my view of this. I'm not looking for somebody who can get just Republican votes. I'm looking for somebody that can get some Democratic support, too.
CAMEROTA: Senator, do you think it's possible that President Trump fired Director Comey because President Trump doesn't like the investigation into the ties between his team and Russia?
GRAHAM: I think this. Whether he likes it or not, it's going to continue. Firing Director Comey won't stop the investigation. I can tell you this. This is Wednesday, May whatever day it is, I have yet to find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I don't know about this unmaking, but I want to keep looking. I don't know of any improper business ties between the Trump world and Russia. But I am very curious about all things Russia, what they're doing in our elections today. The president's meeting with Lavrov today. It's OK to want to work with the Russians, but I hope, Mr. President, you know who you're dealing with. You're dealing with a man who represents a government that is brutal, that tried to undermine our elections. And be careful, these are not teddy bears you're dealing with.
CAMEROTA: Did you see that photo op that Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, just had with Sergey Lavrov?
CAMEROTA: Well, he - they were asked about this, and the reporters wanted to know what Sergey Lavrov's response to this. We're playing it on our screen right now. And let me see if you can - well, I don't know if will get to the audio.
GRAHAM: I can't. Describe it to me.
[08:50:00] CAMEROTA: OK. Basically he feigned ignorance. Sergey Lavrov pretended that he didn't know anything about it. Listen to this, senator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks, gentlemen?
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Was he fired?
QUESTION: Does the U.S. support -
LAVROV: You're kidding? You're kidding?
QUESTION: Yes, he was fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: He says, you're kidding.
GRAHAM: Can you translate for me? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear it.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, I will because he says "you're kidding, you're kidding," then he shakes his hand and he gives them a dismissive gesture. I mean is this all sort of a laughing stock? Is this to be - what do you think of Russia not taking this seriously?
GRAHAM: Taking what seriously, I'm sorry?
CAMEROTA: The fact that there is an investigation and that the director of the FBI who was -
GRAHAM: Oh, I gotcha.
CAMEROTA: Spearheading this investigation - GRAHAM: Yes.
CAMEROTA: Was unceremoniously fired yesterday.
GRAHAM: Well, you know, I don't really care what the Russians think about who we pick as the FBI director. I think the Russian government, at the highest level, authorized the hacking of the DNC and Podesta's e-mail. I think the Russian government tried to interfere in our election. They didn't change the outcome in my view, but they did try to help Clinton. I think they're doing this in France and they're headed to Germany. So when it comes to Russia, it's an autocratic dictatorship. They're complicit in my view in the chemical attack against the Syrian people. I find it impossible to believe the Russians did not know there were chemical weapons on the air bae they jointly occupied with the Syrians. I want to punish the hell out of Russia.
CAMEROTA: Senator Lindsey Graham, we appreciate you being on NEW DAY. Thank you very much.
GRAHAM: Thank you. Thank you.
CUOMO: You know, and even in that interview, there's just such a confusion of intent here. Senator Lindsey Graham saying, you know, I haven't seen any proof of collusion or any -
CAMEROTA: We hear that from others, too.
CUOMO: Yes, except he just asked to look into more of Donald Trump's business dealings and bank records. He just asked.
CAMEROTA: Maybe it's too soon to see collusion?
CUOMO: That's exactly right. And anybody who understands the FBI and its processes would say, six months may be a long time to you. It's not a long time to then. And the senators who are involved with these investigations and Congress people all say the same thing, we're just getting going. It takes a long time. Does that mean they're going to bear fruit? No. But it is premature to write off the lack of proof as dispositive on the overall situation.
All right, let's bring in the CNN political director David Chalian with "The Bottom Line."
Some new CNN reporting that may be a hint as to why we had this greatly accelerated situation with James Comey.
What do you know?
JAMES CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm not sure I know which reporting you're referring to, Chris.
CUOMO: Then I will tell you.
CHALIAN: Thank you.
CUOMO: CNN is reporting that Roger Stone was among those pressuring the president to do this to Comey now.
CHALIAN: Well, as you know, Roger Stone is one of the figures that is around this Russia investigation. And he was tweeting his glee about Comey's firing last night. So it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Roger Stone may have had an opinion about this and that he expressed it to folks in Trump's orbit.
CAMEROTA: But Roger Stone is that powerful in the administration that Roger Stone's opinion about what should be fired or not actually gets action?
CHALIAN: Well, I don't know - we don't know that Roger Stone's opinion is what caused the action, we just know that Roger Stone offered his opinion, right? So let's not suggest that that's the reason why Donald Trump took this action.
I do think, though, guys, that what has happened here all morning, as I've been watching the show and throughout the night last night, something that really isn't partisan has become partisan in many ways and that is the way of Washington. But I think we lose the larger point here that the president of the United States fired the FBI director who's overseeing an investigation into his campaign, full stop. Like that small "d" democratic problem is what the - what we're discussing here. And to see it immediately sort of fall into these partisan lines to serve partisan interests I think just clouds the enormity of what - of what it is we're talking about.
CUOMO: We've been saying this all morning, that this is not about left/right, it's about the rightful administration of justice and our democracy. And the explanation from the White House right now objectively is falling under its own weight. The idea that a man named Rod Rosenstein, who has a good reputation, nobody should be assailing that aspect right now, but that in two weeks they keep saying to the White House - he's only been there two weeks, he's only been there two weeks. That's right, he's only been there two weeks and he hands you a memo that is dated yesterday and on that with a man that you don't know you fire the director of the FBI. Does that make sense to you?
CHALIAN: Well, Chris, let's add to the timeline. Our reporting is that Donald Trump had been considering this for the better part of last week. So means that Rosenstein was only there for a week before Donald Trump started actively considering this, even though the final memo, as you noted, was dated yesterday and arrived yesterday. It sort of begs the question, was this part of Rosenstein's theory of accepting the job, that this would be number one item on his desk, to be looking at the FBI director.
[08:55:16] The other reason why I think the sort of justification that's been given doesn't really hold water is exactly to what Alberto Gonzales was saying to you guys a little earlier. He thinks this timing is so suspect and that the explanation so far is so insufficient, while at the same time as you know he's quoted in that letter because he had problems with the way that Comey conducted his work last year. Both things can be true. And I think that all those people, all those former attorneys general and deputy attorneys general that are listed in that Rosenstein letter, we're going to hear from all of them, no doubt, as they weigh in. And yet their words were used as the trust of the Trump administration argument for firing Comey and yet, as you just heard from Alberto Gonzales and some of our reporting has indicated that some other folks listed there, who were really concerned about the way Comey conducted himself, find this timing very suspect.
CAMEROTA: David, isn't it also just ironic that there are all of these congressional investigations going on, and the FBI investigation, all looking into what Russia's role was in the election. But you keep hearing from lawmakers, we need - we're going to need a special prosecutor, or we're going to need an independent council, or we're going to need a special commission. I mean it's starting to feel as though we - it might be hard for any of these current bodies to get to the bottom of it.
CHALIAN: Alisyn, I agree. I think we are now at a point, anything sort of some independent investigative commission looking at this is going to - anything short of that is just going to be undermined by the political wins of the moment. This has become so highly politicized that I do think that if you're a lawmaker and you think that the way it's going now is fine, I have a feeling that your constituents are going to have a different feeling about that when you go back home. I - the ratcheting up of the calls for an independent investigation is only just began. That is going to get quite loud in the days ahead.
CUOMO: I mean, look, it should have always been clear. Whenever you have a lot of something, you probably have an insufficient situation going on. Having four, five investigations proves that you just don't have the focus that you ever need. And now the president provided the punctuation. In his letter, in the second paragraph, he openly acknowledges that there was communication between the FBI director and a sitting president about whether or not he's involved in the investigation. It is wrong on any level and it is proof positive, David Chalian, that you cannot do this unless it is somehow removed from the influence of the president.
CHALIAN: Exactly. This goes back to my very first point about what it is we're talking about here. President Trump injected the Russia investigation into his "you're fired" letter to the FBI director who is overseeing it, runs the organization overseeing it. That just doesn't hold water and it doesn't square with the other justification that the White House, which somehow is completely surprised by this backlash, which makes no sense to me, is providing.
CAMEROTA: David, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, is scheduled and is heading to the White House now. I mean the optics of all of this happening simultaneously.
CHALIAN: Yes. And, you know, obviously, Lavrov thinking that this is some jovial matter at that joint photo op with Rex Tillerson, you know, you heard Senator Graham there on your show sort of issuing a warning to President Trump. I think we've seen clearly a shift in the way President Trump has been talking about Russia and dealing with Russia in - since he's taken office, no doubt. And I am sure that that will continue to be on display today in the Lavrov meeting. But today of all days to have that meeting, you are right to note those optics. It is certainly ironic at least.
CUOMO: The image, the metaphor of the foreign minister of Russia laughing, mocking the idea of what happened with James Comey as the U.S. secretary of state sits mum is powerful, as well as ironic.
The president watching us this morning, as always. We appreciate the viewership. He says, the Roger Stone report on CNN is false. He hasn't talked to Stone. Stone is not why he did this. So I also hope that the president knows that he should be the one to call for a special prosecutor. It is in his interest and the American people's interest for him to guarantee the administration of justice. Mr. President, you should say, we need a special prosecutor, endorse Congress passing that legislation, sign it and put everybody's fears to rest that this can be done without influence or contagion.
CAMEROTA: David Chalian, thank you very much for "The Bottom Line."
[09:00:00] Thanks to all of you for watching our special coverage on this. CNN's coverage of this breaking news continues right now on CNN with "Newsroom" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks so much, guys.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning.
BERMAN: A hugely consequential morning, so let's get right to it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN