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White House Changes Story Again on Comey Firing; Is Sean Spicer's Being Sidelined?. Aired 6:30-7a ET
Aired May 11, 2017 - 06:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[06:33:01] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: New concerns about President Trump's motives behind firing FBI Director James Comey and who will replace him.
Senior editor of "The Atlantic", David Frum, asks in a new article: Will the law answer to the president, or the president to the law?
David Frum joins us now, along with CNN political contributor Jeffrey Lord.
Mr. Frum, let's just start, Mr. Frum, you do not believe that the Rod Rosenstein memo was either independent or dispositive on the basis of why Comey was fired. You believe this was about Russia.
DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC: Well, when lying, even one bad story is better than four good stories. The administration doesn't have a good story, but they have a number of stories.
It's just not possible the massive flood of leaks from inside the administration, and the FBI, I think, just gives the lie. At this point I don't know that there's anyone who believes the Trump administration story. Some people are paid to pretend to believe it, but nobody believes it.
Russia is the most plausible explanation. There is maybe not a crime, but certainly one of the biggest scandals in American history at the core of this White House. The FBI was drawing close to it and Donald Trump impulsively lashed out.
I don't think he will succeed in silencing the questions, but he may succeed in shutting down the FBI.
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, with all due respect to David, and I am not kidding there, I really do respect him a lot, but I just truly think that this is the political elites of Washington, D.C. who loathe Donald Trump who are looking for anything and everything. Let's talk about these leaks for a moment.
We've got two names: Mike Flynn and Carter Page. Where are all the rest of the leaks? All the leakers have gone silent? Why is that? Probably because there's not much more to leak.
I mean, this is just ridiculous. This is an attempt to overthrow the duly elected president of the United States. That's what this is about.
Elites in Washington both in media and certainly in the political class detest the president. And they want to get him. It's not much harder to figure out than that. They've got no proof.
[06:35:05] CUOMO: Go ahead, David. Please?
FRUM: I think Jeffrey is absolutely right about that. Political, national security, and media elites in Washington who follow these things closely are trying to warn the country about this gigantic scandal at the center of the administration. Washington finds out things first, and then what happens through the democratic process is we use media like this to tell the country what has happened.
The president of the United States just, for example, excluded American photographers from the Oval Office and let Russian state photographers in, in a day when he received the Russian ambassador, which presidents don't normally do. This is an administration that has and as Jeffrey says correctly, we don't know exactly the nature of what happened between the Trump campaign and Russia, but it was -- it may not have been a crime, but it was certainly unethical.
It was probably worse than that. I shouldn't say probably. It was possibly worse than that. We need to know, and the Trump administration is desperate that we not know. That makes it even more interesting.
CUOMO: Jeffrey, do you really believe that James Comey was fired because of how he conducted the Clinton e-mail investigation and not because of what's going on with Russia right now?
LORD: Yes. Look, I read the Rod Rosenstein memo, which was very detailed. This was a special -- I mean, this was a career prosecutor, an Obama appointee to be U.S. attorney in Maryland. He got confirmed, what, 94-6, with a thorough reputation, and only a handful of Democratic senators voted against him.
And he is the guy who produced this at length. I mean, that would have been his obvious first task as deputy A.G. And he quite specifically says the guy, meaning Director Comey, usurped the powers of others in the Justice Department, the attorney general and the deputy attorney general.
We talked a lot about Sally Yates here. Well, when Director Comey says he was put off by Attorney General Lynch's meeting with President Clinton on the tarmac, well, as the "Wall Street Journal" points out today, where was Sally Yates? She was deputy A.G. She should have been the one doing it. He overstepped.
CUOMO: David? FRUM: And now, Rod Rosenstein is telling "The Washington Post" I want to quit the job because the administration is making me the fall guy. He should quit.
But that letter even on its face didn't call for firing James Comey. It was a little bit -- that letter was a little bit like what James Comey did to Hillary Clinton in the summer of 2016, which is lay out various infractions he committed, which he indisputably -- I shouldn't say -- which is generally agreed to have committed. He made important mistakes inside of the FBI. That is largely agreed.
That's not why Donald Trump fired him, and the two -- I mean, you have never seen. We have stories now with sources to 30 officials. Who has ever seen that? That's like a whole soccer field full of players and then a bench as well.
CUOMO: Jeffrey, there's something you guys will have to explain, and I don't know where you are going to go with it. But if this wasn't about Russia, it sure was odd for the president to include in that letter that second paragraph where he made a suggestion that he was or it was communicated to him three different times that he wasn't a subject or he wasn't being investigated.
We can't find anyone in the FBI, not only to validate that notion, but to even support it theoretically. Nobody who knows James Comey says that he would ever tell anybody that they weren't the subject of the investigation or they had nothing to worry about.
So, why do you think it was in a letter if it had nothing to do with Russia? What does it mean that the president lied about that?
LORD: Chris, I don't think the president lied about this. Are you kidding me? Chris, this is one of the reasons why I think we should have a 9/11 style commission. Not a special prosecutor. I mean, that's just a bunch of hokum. They get out of control.
I mean, we learned the hard way. These are not a good place to be. But a 9/11 style commission. Get it out.
I mean, I want to see -- you know, what's the answer to that? Is it why isn't Susan Rice testifying? Why isn't President Obama? Let's find out about these leaks and get everything out there on the table. Get it all out.
CUOMO: David Frum, last word.
FRUM: A commission is a good idea because what the Trump campaign probably did in 2016 may not -- probably wasn't a crime. It was just a betrayal of the democratic process and interest of the country. So, we need to know fully more about what happened there.
But yes, it may well be that there are no recommendations to prosecute. There's just a political challenge for the country. What do you do if a political party cooperates with the foreign power in order to manipulate an election? CUOMO: And that would be within Congress's ambit of authority to
convene such a commission. So, gentlemen, thank you very much. Let's see if there is the political courage in Washington to do exactly that. Thank you.
LORD: Thank you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Chris, it was a rough reception for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Watch this.
[06:40:00] OK. That was new college grads booing and turning their backs on the secretary at their graduation. We'll show you what happened next.
CAMEROTA: Homeland Security officials will meet with the airline industry today to consider expanding the ban on laptops and other large devices on all flights entering the U.S. from Europe. The ban stems from terror concerns. Currently the carry-on laptop ban is in place in ten airports in North Africa and the Middle East.
CUOMO: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with immediate resistance after being invited last minute to give the commencement address at a historically black college in Florida. Here's the scene.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
CUOMO: Boos and heckling of the secretary throughout. Graduates at Bethune-Cookman University turned their backs. The school president had to step in and pause the ceremony. One student was kicked out.
CAMEROTA: Well, also, a town hall got heated as voters vent their frustration about the House GOP health care plan.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
[06:45:04] CAMEROTA: OK, that was Republican Tom MacArthur there trying to answer some questions in a Democratic district in New Jersey last night. He, of course, helped craft the amendment that ended up getting the measure approved in the House. Some there objecting to the possible changes to preexisting conditions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going to happen to them when they are 17, 18, 20, 30, 40, 50, and they are denied health care?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: all right. Some of the crowd suggesting that repealing Obamacare will cost MacArthur his seat in the midterms.
CUOMO: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is back behind the podium today at the White House press briefing. Has Sean Spicer been sidelined? What's going on with this? What's going on with the messaging coming out of the White House? Why can't they get it the first time?
CAMEROTA: All right. You have got to hear the back story about how reporters got word about FBI Director James Comey's firing. Here was just one moment of the chaos. It is Press Secretary Sean Spicer struggling to answer questions at a briefing in the dark on Monday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[06:50:00] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: OK, hold on. Just turn the lights off.
SPICER: We'll take care of this. If we can do this, we'll talk to you for a little bit, and then we can do, like, one-on-ones with the cameras. I don't want to have 18. Let's do this.
Hold on. Let's talk for a minute, and then we'll do a little thing with NBC, and then -- who else?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ABC.
SPICER: OK. A little thing with ABC and NBC. I just don't want -- can you --
REPORTER: No cameras at the moment, but you'll do some one-on-one's.
SPICER: Let's just relax, enjoy the night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Joining us now the two White House reporters who were at that bizarre outdoor briefing. We have Jeff Mason from "Reuters", and Jenna Johnson from "The Washington Post."
Great to have you both here to walk us through this because, Jenna, when I read your reporting about the hours after James Comey's firing and what ensued at the White House, it read like a French farce, basically.
You describe Sean Spicer huddled behind hedges, doors slamming, meetings in the bushes or around the bushes in the dark. Just explain what happened at about 5:40 when the news started to break that Sean Spicer had something important to tell all of you and then what happened?
JENNA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. It was a very memorable day at the White House. I just happened to be in the briefing room, and, all of a sudden, Spicer was in the doorway between the press offices and the briefing room telling us to check our e- mail. So, we're hitting refresh, we're hitting refresh, we're hitting refresh.
The e-mail wasn't going through as quickly as the White House wanted it to, and they wanted to get this news out there.
CAMEROTA: Why didn't he just talk to you? Why did you have to check your e-mail? Why did he open the door and say, check your e-mail? Why couldn't he come out and announce it?
JOHNSON: Well, they wanted these documents to speak for themselves. They want the president's letter to speak for itself, for the memo to speak for itself. But they couldn't get it out there quickly enough, and so they ended up having to verbally tell us what was going on, and we kept asking him again and again to repeat himself just to make sure that we heard this right because it was such bombshell news.
CAMEROTA: OK, then, Jeff, was there a moment where after he announced the news, he then shut the door and locked it and you couldn't get any more information?
JASON MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Well, in fairness, not everyone sits in that White House press briefing room waiting for somebody to come out and give us news. I think that's why they were trying to get it out electronically. The "Reuters" booth or little office is behind that press room, and that's where I was sitting with my colleague, and they eventually then brought out that paperwork, which is kind of old school really in terms of how the White House used to work with the press room.
They would drop off pool reports or other information via paper decades ago. That's how it worked this time because the e-mail wasn't working. Then, yeah, instead of leaving those doors open for people to rush back and start asking questions, they locked the doors or at least they prohibited people from going back up, which is what led to people sort of looking then later in the evening once it was dark for Sean and other White House officials going outside.
CAMEROTA: Right. And finding him around the bushes outside, and so, Jenna, was it your sense -- we just saw a little piece there of the gaggle as we call it. Was it your sense that he was ill-equipped to answer the questions, that he didn't know the answers to why Comey had been fired that day?
JOHNSON: Yes. I mean, many of the answers that we got were I don't know, ask the Department of Justice, I don't know, I don't know.
About 8:30 that night suddenly several aides were rushed out on to the White House lawn to do interviews with CNN, with FOX News, with Fox Business. This seemed to happen very quickly. A lot of the reporters who work for those networks didn't even know that these White House aides were going to be on the networks talking.
And so, when that was happening, we rushed out and waited to talk to people. It was at that moment that Sean Spicer finished doing his interview with Fox Business. He then huddled with people on his staff back in those very dark areas with a lot of bushes in it on a pathway that had these huge shrubs on either side, and finally agreed to answer some of our questions.
And, you know, as we saw, did not want to do this on camera, did not want bright lights. All of a sudden, we're standing in the dark with him shouting questions.
CAMEROTA: Literally and figuratively. So, Jeff, where does that leave Sean Spicer and the future of the press secretary role? You know, there is a feeling that the president wasn't happy with how all of that unfolded and there are some whispers that maybe Sean Spicer is being sidelined and maybe Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who we've seen have a more prominent role, is going to take his place. What are your thoughts?
MASON: Well, I don't really have any information about that. I think that night, the fact that Sean took questions was good, and in fairness, he was out doing television interviews when we came out to find him.
[06:55:03] Now, could that have been a little bit more efficient if he had just come out into the briefing room and taken some questions? Sure. But we did all gather there and stop him and he was willing to take questions. He wasn't running away from us.
It was just kind of unusual to do it in the darkness of night, but he answered the questions, and that was -- what was key.
CAMEROTA: OK, good to know.
Jeff, Jenna, thank you very much for sharing all the reporting with us.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. So, the issue with getting rid of the FBI director isn't about the ability. The president can remove a director. The question is, why he did it and when he did it? And there's a lot of new details.
There's also a new wide-ranging interview from President Trump on what it is like to be president. There is some interesting insight in it. We will bring it to you next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump made the right decision at the right time.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: There is little reason to think that Mr. Rosenstein's letter is true reason that President Trump fired Director Comey.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Director Comey has shown a lot of missteps and mistakes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jason Chaffetz wants the inspector general to look into circumstances behind the Comey firing.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Comey evidently just last week asked for more resources, saying he wants to push this investigation forward.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is entirely within the president's role and authority to relieve him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Flynn now subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: The investigation is barely beginning.