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Trump Had Russia on His Mind When He Fired Comey; Interview with Rep. Scott Taylor. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey. My decision.

[07:00:11] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The initial explanation was untrue.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I know you'd love to report that we were misled.

TRUMP: We had a very nice dinner. He told me, "You are not under investigation."

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He demanded loyalty of the FBI director responsible for that probe.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Did you ask him to drop the investigation?

TRUMP: No.

SEN. MARK WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Our committee will get to the bottom of what happened during the 2016 presidential election.

TRUMP: This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

SANDERS: We want this to come to its conclusion.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: There has been no effort to impede our investigation.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: President Trump explaining why it took 18 days to fire Michael Flynn.

TRUMP: It would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and fire a general.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joins us. And boy, do we have a big day today. Let's begin with the White House in damage control. The president

clearly contradicting himself and the spin from so many White House officials, acknowledging this wasn't about what was offered up by the deputy A.G. This was about the Russia investigation. His displeasure with it and his desire to get rid of Director James Comey.

Now, the administration repeatedly said the FBI's investigation into his campaign had nothing to do with his decision, and that was flat- out untrue.

HARLOW: And for the first time the president is now detailing those three conversations that he claims he had with then-Director Comey about the investigation. The White House is struggling to keep up with this firestorm, changing its story again and again. And it is all stalling the president's agenda to work for you, the American people.

We have it all covered. Let's begin with Joe Johns, live at the White House this morning. Take us through it, Joe.

JOHNS: Good morning, Poppy. Inside the mind of Donald Trump. If this interview is anything, it's certainly a fascinating look at the way this president processes things. It's full of contradictions and also some admissions, including a lot of information about the president's motivation for firing the FBI director.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. My decision.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump changing the message again, saying now it was his decision to fire James Comey, not the recommendation of the top two Justice Department officials.

TRUMP: He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

JOHNS: Contradicting days of statements from the White House.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He provided strong leadership to act on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: The president took the advice of the deputy attorney general.

JOHNS: The president personally castigating Comey.

TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil.

JOHNS: And for the first time, admitting the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia was on his mind.

TRUMP: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."

JOHNS: A source close to Comey telling CNN he was fired over the accelerating Russia investigation and Comey's refusal to assure the president a personal loyalty.

The president was pressed about this paragraph in his letter firing Comey, where he claims that Comey assured him three times he was not personally under investigation. Trump explaining how it transpired.

TRUMP: That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, "I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens." So he said it once at dinner. And then he said it twice during phone calls.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case, I called him. In one case he called me.

HOLT: And did you ask, "Am I under investigation?"

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, "If it's possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?"

He said, "You are not under investigation."

JOHNS: That exchange raising eyebrows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't it inappropriate for the president of the United States to ask the FBI director directly if he's under investigation?

SANDERS: No, I don't believe it is.

JOHNS: Comey has not confirmed the president's account as the White House continues to change their explanation of why Comey was fired. Comey's interim replacement, Acting Director Andrew McCabe, contradicting this account from the White House.

SANDERS: The rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. I don't believe there is a crisis of confidence in the leadership of the FBI.

JOHNS: The Trump administration suggesting that firing Comey would help end the FBI's investigation into Russia's election meddling.

[07:05:06] SANDERS: We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity. And we think that we've actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.

JOHNS: Something the acting FBI director vowed not to let happen.

MCCABE: You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing. JOHNS: The president claiming he wants answers on Russia.

TRUMP: There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians. If Russia hacked, if Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about it.

JOHNS: Insisting he did not try to interfere with the FBI's investigation.

HOLT: Did you ask him to drop the investigation?

TRUMP: No. Never.

HOLT: Did anyone from the White House?

TRUMP: In fact, I want the investigation speeded up.

JOHNS: President Trump also explaining why it took 18 days to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn, even after acting attorney general Sally Yates met with the White House counsel to warn that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

TRUMP: My White House counsel, Tom McGahn, came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any sort. He didn't make a sound like it was. You know, and she actually didn't make it sound that way, either in the hearings the other day like it had to be done immediately. I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.

JOHNS: Trump defending Flynn, who lied to the vice president about his contacts with Russia, and for concealing payments from foreign governments.

TRUMP: This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's a -- in my opinion, a very good person.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: A little bit more about the timeline. It was "The New York Times" that reported the dinner the president had with James Comey occurred just one day after acting attorney general Sally Yates had informed the White House that the president's national security adviser Michael Flynn had been compromised by the Russians. The president had possibly on his schedule visiting the FBI today, but that expectation has now been nixed, given the continuing uproar over firing of the FBI director.

Poppy and Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: Interesting. The president says, "Why would I act on the word of someone I don't know." The acting A.G...

HARLOW: Acting A.G.

CUOMO: ... Sally Yates, who came with a senior official to back up the proof. But he wanted us to believe that he would act on the word of a guy who had been in the job two weeks that he'd never really met.

HARLOW: It's a great point. It's a great point.

CUOMO: Now it defies logic, and now it defies fact, because he's clearly contradicted what this was all about from the beginning.

Let's bring in our political panel: CNN Politics reporter, editor at large Chris Cillizza; associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard; and CNN political analyst Patrick Healy.

Cillizza, whether through faults of their own or otherwise, he made his people look like fools. His press secretary, his vice president were saying things that are demonstrably false. The president made it clear this was about Russia, his dislike of the investigation, his dislike of the man running it.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: That is a good summary, Chris. And I would just -- he said his press secretary. His vice president. Take a pause there.

Mike Pence was the governor of a state. He was a member of the leadership of the House of Representatives. This is not the press secretary who, look, is a staffer at the bottom and is really, you know, sort of a person who's supposed to represent the party line, though, to be honest about it. But Mike Pence is the vice president of the United States. He was on Capitol Hill two days ago saying that this is all because of Rod Rosenstein's memo. The president directly contradicts that in an incredibly high-profile way.

HARLOW: Yes. Hey, Chris, let's just take a moment and listen to that. OK? Because this is the second time that the vice president has been misled by -- seemingly by his own White House. First, it was Flynn. Now it seems to be the president himself. Let's listen.

CUOMO: The mendacity montage.

HARLOW: There you go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

HOLT: So there was really no...

TRUMP: He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That makes no sense.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He made a determination that the FBI director had lost his confidence. Made a recommendation to the attorney general. PENCE: The president took strong and decisive leadership here to put

the safety and security of the American people first by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.

SANDERS: The president accepted the recommendation of his deputy attorney general to remove James Comey from his position.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Cillizza.

CILLIZZA: I mean, it's pretty -- it's pretty clear there, right?

Look, what happened here? I think the White House did their best scrambling after they were surprised, many of them, surprised that Donald Trump made this decision to fire James Comey. They did their best to say, look, this is a long-time sort of respected guy, and Rod Rosenstein, he's new guy to the job but a respected guy. He had a memo. It's about the Clintons wide agreement that Comey may not have handled himself great in that situation, Democrats or Republicans. Let's go with that.

[07:10:13] Donald Trump doesn't like -- Donald Trump wants to be the guy in "The Apprentice." He wants to be the guy saying, "OK, everybody sit in front of me in the board room, and I -- I listen to what people say, and then I make the call."

He doesn't like it when that sort of "You're fired" moment is taken from him. He seized it back. I mean, again, not even 18 hours pass between that Mike Pence clip and Donald Trump sitting down with NBC and directly contradicting him. It's -- I mean, it's remarkable stuff.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To that point, that's the thing, the vice president, White House deputy press secretary, all these people can come out and say one thing. And Donald Trump has always operated on the view that, no matter what the people around him, his own lieutenants are saying, he can come out; and whatever he says is right. It doesn't matter if it contradicts what has come before. It doesn't matter if it feels like, you know, whiplash or what have you. As long as sort of what he comes out and what he views the situation is right. That's what, you know, the operating situation will be going forward.

CUOMO: A.B., do you like to play the role of big bucket of cold water this morning and say, "Crisis-smisis. He had a legal right to get rid of Comey. That's what he did." People don't like how Comey handled the Clinton scandal. Democrats included are at the top of that list. And this is just much ado about nothing, and we'll move on.

STODDARD: Let's start with the fact that this is vintage Donald Trump. Everyone is right. He likes to be his own spokesperson. He doesn't think anyone can sell the way that he can sell. He's willing to throw people under the bus.

But what Donald Trump does is takes things that are true, look at the fact that the Democrats look like hypocrites. Comey lost credibility. Comey breached protocol, and the Rosenstein memo is right about that.

Even a fourth thing, which is maybe the collusion story is -- will turn out to be unfounded. And then he throws a lie on top of it and makes the entire story about the White House trying to cover up for the president's mess. Who then just comes out and says to Lester Holt, "No, it's all about Russia, and I am willing to fire a guy who's running the FBI that's running an investigation into the possibility that my team, my campaign colluded with the Russians in this election."

And so the entire story now, instead of being about Comey where a really sane rollout where you had an FBI replacement in line that you could have talked about and people could have focused on. You could have offered Comey quietly a chance to resign. You could have paused. You could have done all this.

This becomes a firestorm about whether or not Donald Trump is tampering with an investigation and obstructing justice and risking impeachment. This all -- this is all a storm that no one can stop Donald Trump. Nobody can tell the president let's wait; pause 36 hours. Let's think about the consequences, sitting down with Lester Holt and running your mouth, or tweeting Rosie O'Donnell on the very same day.

No one can stop this, and no one can talk sense into him. Not Vice President Pence. Not chief of staff Reince Priebus, not chief strategist Reince -- Steve Bannon. Not the kids. Nobody.

HARLOW: All right. So we got critical details last night from the president, if they're true. About the three times that he says that Comey detailed to him that he was not under investigation. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He wanted to have dinner, because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner.

HOLT: He asked for dinner?

TRUMP: He asked for that. That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, "I'll, you know, consider it. We'll see what happens." But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me, "You are not under investigation."

So he said it once at dinner, and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case I called him and one case he called me.

HOLT: And did you ask, "Am I under investigation?"

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, "If it's possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?"

He said, "You are not under investigation."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Chris, an important point to add to that is the fact that Jake Tapper is reporting that one of the reasons that Comey was fired was a lack of willingness on the FBI director's part to pledge loyalty. "The New York Times" says at this dinner, the president asked for a loyalty pledge. And Comey demurred and said, "No, I will give you honesty. But I'm not going to pledge my loyalty to you."

CILLIZZA: Yes. Look, there's a lot of conflicting reporting on this. Donald Trump has shown a tendency to stretch the truth on lots of occasions. I'm not going to go through them all, because you know, the show is only three hours long. But I don't know that we should assume that this is accurate. Comey allies insist that he wouldn't do that. The assurance that he wasn't under investigation.

[07:15:11] James Comey is a guy who's been a lifetime member of sort of this organization. It seems odd that he would break protocol like that, even in a one-on-one conversation with the president.

And that puts aside the oddness of the president asking, "Am I under investigation?" You know, it's like going out on a first date and asking if the person is in love with you. You kind of put the person in a difficult spot, right? Like, what are you going to say? I mean, he's -- this is your boss. He's saying, "Hey, just, you know, if you can, tell me if, you know, I'm under investigation." Comey knows that's a breach protocol. My guess is Comey said, "Well, you know," he probably should have fumbled around.

But I would still. I mean, look, the missing piece here is James Comey's side of the story. You know, will he come out and say this did or this didn't happen. It happened this way or that way. Because right now, all we're getting are some background quotes from Comey allies. But we really -- we need to hear from him.

HARLOW: He's been invited to give that testimony. Closed-door classified but, you know, on Tuesday.

CUOMO: You have the bad/worse situation, right? I mean, if the president asked James Comey that, and Comey gave any kind of satisfaction to the idea that he wasn't under investigation, he had nothing to worry about, that's bad. That is an exercise of poor discretion by the FBI director.

And if that didn't happen and Comey were to come out and say, he never asked. "I didn't want to be at the dinner. I had to go. And it never happened and it never happened," then you have a situation where your ability to trust what comes out of the most powerful man in the world's mouth is very limited, Patrick.

HEALY: And this -- yes, exactly. And this may get to why James Comey may ultimately come forward and talk about this. He cares deeply about the FBI. He has great loyalty to the FBI. And the image of the FBI that is being presented by this White House

is essentially that the FBI director is willing to go to the White House and kind of beg the president to keep him on for his job, is willing to make these kind of statements that an FBI director normally would never make, in terms of saying, "Oh, no, you're not under investigation. You're not under investigation."

And then the deputy White House press secretary saying that countless FBI employees have told her that Comey was unpopular, that Comey -- that the bureau is in crisis. The bureau is in trouble.

At some point the image of the FBI that is coming out of this White House is so far different than what, certainly, I think, James Comey wants Americans to believe that there can be real confidence in the investigation on Russia.

HARLOW: Hey, A.B., what about the confidence the American people should have in who this president thinks is a good, reliable person? Because there was a stunning moment in this interview with Lester Holt where the president said right off the bat, "I fired Comey for a number of reasons. And he was a showboat."

And then about Michael Flynn, you know, the former national security adviser who is under multiple investigations. The Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed documents for. Calls him a very good person. Listen to it in the president's own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: Sally Yates recently testified that the White House was notified that he had been compromised; he was at risk of being blackmailed. It was 18 days later that he was finally fired. During that 18 days, he had access, I assume, to all the nation's top secrets. One day you meet on the issue of Comey, and you fire him in a humiliating way, while he's sitting in a room with his colleagues, and it's appearing on the TV.

TRUMP: Because my White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any -- didn't make it sound like he was, you know -- and she actually didn't make it sound that way either in the hearings the other day, like it had to be done immediately.

This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's, in my opinion, a very good person. I believed that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we even don't know and immediately run out and fire a general.

HOLT: She was the acting attorney general at the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Very important point. A.B., just a fact check there. Sally Yates in her testimony did say that she went there urgently and actually did say she had three conversations with the White House counsel about it. STODDARD: Well, Poppy, in terms of the American people's perception

of Donald Trump's sort of credibility and the way he weighs in on who is a person of stellar credentials, he -- whoever -- no matter who he chooses to replace James Comey, he will tell us that they're tremendous.

The fear on Capitol Hill, as you know, is that he will pick a friend, someone that will not earn bipartisan support, that will not be trusted by the other side. Republicans on the Hill are watching closely the new polling from Quinnipiac and other places that show Donald Trump's integrity and honesty and leadership numbers in the tank; show a very bad disadvantage for Republicans on the congressional generic ballot and shows the forecasts like Charlie Cook and others show the House is in play. They are worried, and there's going to be tremendous pressure on the president to pick someone to replace Comey who can win bipartisan support.

CUOMO: Well, it's a lot of time left to go. But one thing's for sure, A.B. Whatever they're doing on the GOP side, what they're not doing is speaking out about this.

STODDARD: No, they are not.

CUOMO: The silence is deafening.

Gentlemen, lady, thank you very much.

The timing of Comey's firing raising eyebrows even with some GOP members of Congress. We're going to talk with a Congressman who is not happy. What he wants the president to do, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: There is a meaningful silence coming from the GOP leadership about this clear deception from the White House as to why James Comey was fired.

[07:25:00] It does not get more obvious than this. The letter, the initial word from the White House, was that this firing was about the findings of a deputy A.G. and the Clinton e-mail scandal. Not Russia. Then the president said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat. He's a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, not all Republicans are staying quiet. We've got Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia. He's troubled by the timing presented here, and he wants to speak out.

It is good to have you, Congressman.

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Hi, Chris.

CUOMO: What do you make of this obvious disconnect between what we were told this was about and now what the president says it was really about?

TAYLOR: There certainly is a disconnect in messaging. But what I will say of the front end -- it is important to say this. But it is the prerogative of the president.

CUOMO: Yes.

TAYLOR: The director serves at his -- at his pleasure.

CUOMO: True.

TAYLOR: And he can remove him. That is his legal authority, for sure. Yes, the messaging is off; the timing is off. And you -- I know that folks will report things on all stations on either side. And Democrats will say things. Republicans will say things. But in the end it is his prerogative. He serves at his pleasure.

At the same time, my concern is with two things. One, yes,, the director has to have the confidence of the president. Any president. But, you know, people also have to have the confidence in the process. And with everything going on right now, I think it's important that, you know, when the president does appoint someone who is seen as -- as, you know, not partisan, is seen as an independent person which needs to happen in the FBI.

I don't like the framing of the FBI. They're a wonderful people who work at the FBI every day to keep us safe. So I don't want -- I don't want this to come out like they're being thrown under the bus by either side. Because the men and women there do a great job.

But I am concerned. I'm concerned about the -- again, the perception of the American people for the process to be good. But yes, at the same time, the president, any president, has to have confidence in his or her director.

CUOMO: Confidence, of course. But the loyalty is supposed to be to the Constitution. What does it mean to you that the president may have said to the director of the FBI, "Are you loyal to me?" and that the president, by his own admission, wanted to know about what his role was in the investigation?

TAYLOR: Well, I don't -- you know, obviously, one side is saying one thing. One side is saying the other. What I will say is I agree with the assessment given to Comey -- Comey in that the FBI director is not loyal to any politician in a political way. They're loyal to the Constitution first and foremost. And I think you can -- you can be loyal to the Constitution and still have the confidence of a president, of course. I don't know who said what. I don't want to get into that. What I

will say, yes, an FBI director has to have some independence. They have to be able to conduct investigations in accordance with the Constitution, as you said. So I don't know who said what. But clearly, an FBI director is not loyal to someone in a political way. They're loyal to the Constitution first and foremost.

CUOMO: If you now know that the president, by his admission, did try to interfere in the investigation. He wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to know where Comey's head was on it, and he was willing to fire Comey when he decided he had dissatisfaction about where Comey head was with the Russia investigation.

What does that tell you about the ability to have this investigation done and the potential need for it to be removed to a truly independent body?

TAYLOR: So with all due respect, I'm not sure that that was interfering with the investigation. If I had -- if I thought for a second I might be under investigation and I was having dinner with the FBI director, I might ask him, too. "Hey, am I..." He may not tell me, but I might ask him. So I don't -- I wouldn't say that that's interfering.

And as you saw my statement. I'm not saying that the independent investigation has to happen right now. That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is there's one step removed. And that is who gets appointed. If it's a partisan person, I don't know how you don't -- I think there may need to be an independent investigation.

If there's someone that is perceived by the Senate bipartisan-wise, who is independent, who can continue an investigation objectively for the American people to have confidence in the process, then let's move forward and let's believe there's something there.

CUOMO: Do you think your leadership is choosing party over country in this situation by staying quiet in the face of these clear contradictions that come from the president? It's not even good reporting that brought out contradictions. The president contradicted the message and the letter that was sent out by the White House. Nothing from GOP leadership of any meaning.

TAYLOR: You know, I'm not -- I'm not going to speak for anyone. I'll let them speak for themselves. I'm sure they'll come on your program and answer.