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"Time" Meeting with Trump; White House Changes Story on Comey Firing; Photos of Trump Meeting Released; Acting FBI Director to Testify. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired May 11, 2017 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:30:30] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: A critical Senate hearing starting in just moments. The man now at the helm of the FBI will speak and you will hear it here live.
This as we now know reporters for "Time" magazine were with President Trump the night before he fired James Comey. Did they have any idea this was about to go down?
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. So joining us is the Washington bureau chief for "Time," Michael Scherer. He was with President Trump Monday night. Details of that meeting in this week's issue. You can see the cover right there. Also joining us, CNN political commentators Paul Begala and Doug Heye.
Mike, you know, this was 12, 24 hours before the president axed James Comey. Did you have any sign it was about to happen?
MICHAEL SCHERER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": No. You know, what - if there was a sign in retrospect - he never brought up James Comey and we never discussed James Comey. But if there was a sign in retrospect, there was a clear sense of grievance the president had with how the Russia investigation story was still being digested. He took us from the Oval Office into his private dining room there in the West Wing and Tivoed up parts of the Senate hearing from that day in which Sally Yates and Jim Clapper testified and basically gave his color commentary about the parts of the testimony he thought were most important, you know, implying that the witnesses were against him, trying to smear him and making the case once again that that tweet he put out, you know, a month and a half ago that the president wiretapped him was correct because there was testimony that, you know, names were unmasked in legal foreign surveillance not authorized by the White House that could have included members of his staff.
HARLOW: You know, Doug Heye, as a Republican, as a Republican strategist, as a former communications guy, I mean, you've got Sean Spicer in the bushes, or among the bushes - I like, by the way, how the paper had to correct their reporting. Apparently the White House didn't like the "in the bushes." He was among the bushes.
OK, aside from that and the fact he's not at the lectern and you've got Sarah Huckabee Sanders doing the briefing, the White - this White House has completely changed its story. I mean a complete reversal, a 180, on whether the president, it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey or whether the president had been thinking about it since day one. How does the White House get out from under this from a communications standpoint?
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, the good thing the White House has going for it is there will be a crisis or an outrage dujour tomorrow. We'll be talking about something else completely different tomorrow or the day after or the day after.
HARLOW: See, I think - I don't know about that. I think that this feels different, Doug. Is it not?
HEYE: Look, obviously this is a big deal and even people who supported firing James Comey disagree or question the timing of it. But one thing that we've seen consistently with Trump, whether it's as president or in the campaign, is something always comes around the corner. I don't see any reason that we would expect this to be any different, that in two days or in four days we'll talk about something different. Clearly this is a problem for the White House and they need a better explanation, they need to better set of answers and they need to be more consistent in how they address this. But I have no reason to think that we won't be talking about something different three days from now.
BERMAN: Yes, I'm - I listened to every word you said there, Doug, intently, but I'm still focused on something that Michael just told us, that he was in the White House with the president -
HARLOW: The Tivo.
BERMAN: You know, chalk talking the hearing earlier this week from James Clapper and Sally Yates. You know, Paul Begala, that's a strange image for me to think about. I mean you were - when you - you know, you were working with the Clinton administration, in and out of that White House with Bill Clinton, there was VHS back then, but would he have ever done anything like that?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. No. In fact, President Clinton didn't watch cable news coverage of - particularly of his second term. I don't know if it made the papers where you live, Berman, but he was accused of having an affair and so back then it passed for a scandal in America. Those were the days.
No, this is - this is a president who, I think, FBI Director Comey apparently described as, and I quote, "crazy." Now, I don't know if that's true. I'm not a doctor. I'm not a shrink. But what I do know is that he's covering up. This is a cover up. He's enormously sensitive about Russia. Enormously. Has been throughout. That's the one through line is that if you mention Russia to him, boom, he blows.
And the action of firing Jim Comey when Director Comey was trying to get more resources to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, that's pretty good proof that this is the cover up here. I think Mike - he had fantastic insights into what was leading up to that, his obsession with Russia and the hearing, and God forbid that the truth might come out. And so he took a step, a really damaging step, frankly, if you believe in the rule of law, by firing the FBI director just when he was trying to get closer to the truth.
[09:35:11] HARLOW: I should note that the Department of Justice refutes that claim. They say he did not ask for more resources. Just want to put that out there.
BEGALA: Yes. They're lying, I believe, but -
HARLOW: To you - OK. To you - that's your opinion.
To you, Michael. Here's one really important sentence of Comey's letter to his friends and colleagues that came out last night. "I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI director for any reason or for no reason at all. How did you read that?
SCHERER: Well, I don't think - I think he's being coy there. I think what he - the rest of that letter makes clear is that Comey believes in the FBI's mission, which is in some ways very independent of the White House, and in some ways not independent of the White House, and he urges them to continue that mission.
I think one of the tensions throughout this presidency so far is how the institutions of this country that are independent of the White House, the courts, the Congress, journalists, the intelligence community and the Justice Department have continued to, you know, cause conflict with President Trump. And, you know, our time spent with him Monday night, he repeatedly came back to, I said, grievances, feeling that he was not getting a fair shake.
And I think he is still coming to terms with the limits of the power of the presidency. He has enormous power in that office. You know, more than probably anybody else in the world. But he also is enormously limited in that office. And trying to keep both of those ideas in your head at the same time, you know, it's something that all presidents have to learn how to do.
BEGALA: May I parse that sentence though (ph) any reason. And Director Comey's a way better lawyer than I am, but he's wrong. It's not any reason. If the reason to fire the FBI director is to obstruct the FBI's investigation into your own campaign and its alleged ties to Russia hacking the election, then that's obstruction of justice. Now, that's a big leap, I'm not saying that, but if in fact the motive was to subvert the investigation, you know, that was article one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
BERMAN: All right, guys. Michael Scherer, Paul Begala, Doug Heye, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
HARLOW: This firestorm is heating up moment to moment. We are waiting for this live testimony on Capitol Hill. We will hear from the man now in charge of the FBI. For the first time, Andrew McCabe about to speak. You'll hear it all live here.
This as we get new reports that President Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this summer. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[09:41:45] HARLOW: All right, we are moments away from this Senate hearing getting underway where we will hear from the man now at the helm of the FBI. Acting FBI Director Andy McCabe will answer questions in the wake of President Trump's firing of James Comey.
Also news this morning that President Trump will meet for the first time face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two men will meet on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in July.
BERMAN: Yes, this as there was a new controversy concerning Russia, this time over photos inside the Oval Office. Look at this. This was a photo put out by the Russian news agency, the Russian state news, which was allowed to come in and take photos. This after, you know, the standard White House pool was not. So U.S. agencies did not get this photo. The Russians did. The White House says it did not believe that the Russian government would publish these photos. That is of the president of the United States with the Russian ambassador, Kislyak, who, of course, is in the middle of the whole mess with Michael Flynn for having the conversation there. The White House says it did not think the Russians would publish that photo. They are furious. One official told Jim Acosta, they tricked us. The problem with the Russians, someone told Jim Acosta, is that they lie.
Joining us now, CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson.
You know, Nic, first of all, it's very unusual that a U.S. agency would not be allowed in to take photos, that the pool wouldn't, that the Russians would. But this lap (ph) over the photos, I'm not sure I've seen anything like this.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, and I'm sure they must be feeling that way at Downing Street here in London. Of course there's no - absolutely no official comment on it and I don't think we'd expect to get it. But, hey, let's just think back here to ten days into the Trump presidency. Theresa May, British prime minister, meets with President Trump in the White House. What does she want to say on Russia? And she says this at the Republican retreat as well in Philadelphia the day before. She says, you know, if you're going to deal with Russia, know that they can be misleading. Don't automatically trust them. Understand that they can be difficult customers. That was the essence of it.
So in the - you know, right now in Downing Street they must be saying really? Really? You're complaining about this? So watch the whole narrative on the Comey firing, understanding that we've heard that President Trump, and they'll have heard as well there, that President Trump has been thinking for some time that FBI Director Comey was unfit for the duties and the sacking on the eve of the opportunity of a photograph which would have this potentially have this narrative against the background of all the political implications that go with the firing, if you knew - and this would be how the spin doctors in London would read this, if you knew you were going to let Comey go and that this was not so urgent because this has been something you've been thinking about for some time, then let this - let the Russia meeting play out. Let some of these things play out. Let him get back to Washington and do it there.
So I think there's a real feeling, this isn't just London. Angela Merkel had the same comments about not trusting Putin. I think there's a real feeling here that this is a White House duped from overseas that is still learning on the job. And there will be shock and surprise that there's a sense that they've been tricked by the Russians. The advice all along has been, don't trust them.
HARLOW: All right, Nic Robertson, thank you so, so much.
And there is a fascinating new interactive that you can see on cnn.com that points you to all of the connections, the many paths, from Trump to Russia.
[09:44:59] BERMAN: All right, minutes from now we have a very important moment, a critical moment on Capitol Hill. The Senate Intelligence Committee will hear from the new acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. These are his first public comments since his former boss, James Comey, was fired. What will he say about the ongoing Russia investigation? We'll bring it to you live coming up.
BERMAN: All right, a critical moment on Capitol Hill. You're looking at live pictures. Moments from now we'll hear from the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe. He testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Now, this was supposed to be James Comey who was going to be at this hearing. He was fired. So now we can expect Andrew McCabe to face really blunt questions about the future of the FBI investigations into Russian connections - alleged Russian connections to the Trump campaign.
[09:50:11] HARLOW: And this is right before the president is apparently going to go to the FBI this week to try to boost morale there.
And all of this is happening as we learn new details about him and how incensed he has been over the Russia investigation, the mood inside the West Wing right now. We're covering it all with our reporters. CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju, our chief political correspondent Dana Bash and our justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Nice to have you guys here.
Evan, let me begin with you.
So, I mean, there has been a lot of movement. The Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaing these documents around Michael Flynn. Are you sensing and hearing that this probe is really, really accelerating?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly the FBI investigation here into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, that has accelerated. We reported a couple of days ago that there were subpoenas that had been issued by the U.S. attorney in Alexandria related to people associated with Michael Flynn, seeking records, business records, for some of his businesses after he left the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was fired from there in 2014, if you remember.
We also know that the Senate is trying to speed up its investigation. Certainly they have sent a request to Michael Flynn and some of the other people who they've - they've been focused on, Trump associates, a couple weeks ago, and they gave a deadline. Michael Flynn's lawyer had responded saying that they were not going to cooperate with this inquiry. So now they've essentially sent a subpoena to compel him to comply with the request for information.
BERMAN: I think what you were seeing right there on our screen, just so you know, is our, you know, reporting guided missile, Manu Raju, hunting down a senator on the way to the hearing. We will get to Manu if he does, in fact, reach that senator he was chasing there.
In the meantime, Dana Bash, to you. You know your reporting - your great reporting over the last 24 hours paints a picture, you know, of chaos, of disarray inside the White House. You know it's 9:51 on the East Coast this morning. Where are they right now? What's the mood there right now? What are you hearing, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: My sense is that it hasn't changed much. They're still in damage control. And damage control to damage that they created, that the president created, let's be honest, by even beginning to suggest, even thinking that it would fly for one minute that the reason that he fired James Comey is because of a recommendation from Rod Rosenstein, who is the deputy attorney general now, who had been in the job for two weeks. And the notion that that was going to be acceptable and accepted was laughable. We said that from the get-go. And now we're learning more about what really happened, which is more plausible knowing Donald Trump. He was furious about the James Comey testimony last week, that he felt like, you know, he was - that Comey basically was throwing Trump under the bus by saying that he was mildly nauseous at the notion of affecting the election, which if you're Donald Trump you take that as making Donald Trump president.
And then, of course, this reporting, which the Justice Department denies, but of the FBI asking for more resources. That is so much more plausible, and we're still learning more and more about that. The question about the mood is, I'm guessing it's going to change. I think we're probably - you can make a good bet that it's going to change dramatically after this hearing we're about to see, especially given the remarkable color we got from "Time" magazine. I know you were talking to the reporter earlier in this hour about the way the president consumes these hearings, keeping it on Tivo or DVR and rewinding it and watching it over and over again.
Manu, to you, as you continue - and feel free to run away in the middle of your answer if you see an important senator that you need to talk to. But, you know, not only is this hearing critical, we're also going to - we've learned that Comey has been invited to testify as, you know, as a citizen now in a closed, classified hearing on Tuesday. But, you know, in the midst of all of this, do you get any sense that the Republican senators, outside of sort of harshly worded letters and statements and language, are actually going to do anything about this, right? Are they going to grind work in the Senate to a halt until, for example, an independent prosecutor's appointed, or are they not willing to go that far? Do they not think they need to go that far?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We're not hearing that from Republicans at all at this point. We are hearing some concerns about just the circumstances around Comey's firing and really only a handful of senators even back the notion of a special congressional committee to investigate what happened in Russia. I mean not - no one really even going as far as a special prosecutor. Some Republican senators seem open to that idea. They have not ruled it out, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona has not fully ruled it out. But no one's embracing that idea. Even John McCain, who was very critical of the firing and does support that special committee, I asked him specifically about whether he supports a special prosecutor. He is not there yet.
[09:55:05] Now, you mentioned that Comey hearing on Tuesday, a classified briefing, if Mr. Comey does agree to attend. The question is, will they allow any - will they have actually an open hearing where the public can view it? We don't know the answer to that question yet. I tried to ask Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee that on the way into this hearing just now. He didn't take any questions. He said he would talk after the hearing. So we'll see what he has to say then. But that's a big question going forward, will we ever hear from James Comey? Will senators get to question him or will the public be able to listen to what he has to say?
BERMAN: Look, if it isn't public, he can expect to get a prime place in the president's Tivo right there. I mean that will explode the Tivo, to be sure.
All right, Manu, Evan, Dana, stand by. We've got a lot going on.
You're seeing the live pictures right now from the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. The acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, he is about to get the photo treatment. Those flash bulbs are going to go off en masse very shortly. Our first chance to hear from him since the firing of his former boss, James Comey. So many questions. We'll be right back.