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White House's Changing Explanations for the Firing of FBI Director James Comey Examined; President Trump Tweets about Accuracy of White House Press Briefings. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said to myself, Trump and Russia is a made up story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.

TRUMP: If Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joining me, and thank you, because we need the help.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.

CUOMO: We've got a big news day. President Trump contradicting himself and White House officials. It turns out that the initial reason given for firing Director James Comey was fake. The president acknowledging that he had Russia on his mind when he got rid of Comey after repeated denials from so many in his administration, including the vice president, that it was the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton, not into his campaign, that drove this decision.

HARLOW: The president also for the first time detailing three conversations he says he had with Comey about the Russia investigation. The White House is now struggling to try to keep up with what has become growing chaos. It has all but stalled the president's agenda. And we have it all covered this morning. Let's begin with our Joe Johns at the White House. Joe, a lot to walk- through.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: That's absolutely right, Poppy. Plenty of contradictions and also some very important admissions eliminating almost any question about the motivations for the firing of the FBI director at the very least. This latest interview is quite a look inside the mind of Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

JOHNS: 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: He provided strong leadership to act on the recommendation by the deputy attorney general.

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

JOHNS: The president personally castigating Comey.

TRUMP: He's a showboat. He's a grand stander. The FBI has been in turmoil.

JOHNS: And for the first time admitting the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between his election 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 of 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: A dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner, and he wanted to stay on at the FBI head. And I said I'll consider it. 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 him, am I under investigation?

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said if it's possible, will 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 is under investigation? SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: 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.

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

ANDREW MCCABE, FBI ACTING 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 the Russia's election meddling.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We wanted 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: No. In fact I want the investigation speeded up.

[08:05:01] 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 came back to me. It did not sound like an emergency. He didn't make it sound like he was -- 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 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 as served for many years. He's a general. He's in my opinion a very good person.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Now, the time line on that dinner between the president and James Comey is very interesting. "The New York Times" reporting that it occurred just one day after the acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that Mike Flynn, the president's national security adviser, had been compromised by the Russians.

Meanwhile this morning, a little bit of news. We have a tweet from the president explaining the difference in information that's coming out between him, his staff and others. The president tweeting "There is a very active president with lots of things happening. It is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy." Poppy and Chris, back to you.

JOHNS: All right, Joe, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our panel, CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, CNN political analyst Abby Phillip and David Drucker. I them thinking as I'm speaking there. I'm trying to make sense of this tweet. I've got to read it again. "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy." Help me on this, Cillizza? What does that even mean?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: That the fact that they have had 15 different stories about why James Comey was fired is just the result of him being very active and busy. Look, I know I say this all the time. I feel like I say the word "remarkable" 500 times on this show. But it is a remarkable thing when the president of the United States essentially says, look, the official person who speaks for the White House on a daily basis, whether that's Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you can't expect them to be perfectly accurate in what they say, even though they are the voice for the United States, because I do a lot of stuff. I'm a pretty busy guy.

We are in different times, right? This is not something that normally ever happens. I mean, this is obviously the result of the fact he threw his staff under the bus with Lester Holt. There is no question about that. They had spent 48 hours arguing that the reason James Comey was fired was because of Rod Rosenstein's memo, right? He took it in, he contemplated it. He made a decision.

Donald Trump took all of that explaining, threw it right out the window because he wanted to take the credit for it. He wanted to say -- the most fascinating thing about that clip you guys played at the top is when he said it was me, my decision, because he wants credit for it. He does not -- there is a part of him that refuses to give up, even if it's in his own political interest, refuses to give up that I'm the guy. I'm the guy sitting across the board room saying you're fired, and that's what drives him.

HARLOW: David Drucker, tell me I am wrong. I think even after Chris cillizza's great, stunned explanation, we need more help. Am I wrong, or is this the president saying, yes, you can't really trust everything out of the White House.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly, Poppy, what the president is saying. And this gets to the fact that he's running the White House like his closely held family business where everybody had to do what he said and basically he was the business. And, so, at any given time when he wanted to act or talk to the media or make a decision, it was all about him and everything resolved around time.

HARLOW: OK, David, stand by because, sorry to interrupt, but we have to get to this, the tweet that just came to the president. "Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press releases and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy." That means they can't ask for clarification. That means reporters cannot say, actually, you're not answering my question.

CUOMO: It assumes that the problem is somehow quantitative, you know, that this is about having too much. This is about telling the truth. The White House spun a lie about why James Comey was fired to make it look like it wasn't about Russia. It was about Clinton and all the Democrats hated how Comey was with Clinton, so this will be fine.

[08:10:01] And then, for whatever reason, Abby Phillip, the president went on television and said that's not true. He contradicted every part of it. Rosenstein's memo, I didn't care. I was doing this anyway. And I thought to myself, Trump, what is going on with this Russia thing? It doesn't make any sense. He's got to do. That's what it was always about. And when the media said that's what it was about, they got shouted down by the White House, and the president made his people look like fools. Isn't it that simple?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. This is reflective of a casual attitude about the truth in this White House, that it is not as important to give the most accurate portrayal of the truth but just the version of the story that they want to give out at any given moment.

And what is so amazing about these tweets this morning is it actually contradicts what Sarah Sanders was saying on the podium yesterday when she and other White House officials were telling me and other reporters behind the scenes that there is no daylight between what she said and what Vice President Pence said and what the president said in that interview.

So in some ways, you have to give Trump a few points for honesty here, because he's not even trying to pretend that there was any congruence between the statements that were coming out from the podium and what he said yesterday. He's up front they were not the same, that Sarah Sanders and other aides, including the vice president, did not know or maybe did not speak accurately to the public.

But, you know, I think that the problem here actually is beyond Sarah Sanders. We have the highest levels of government, the vice president of the United States repeatedly being put out there, saying things that are not true.

CUOMO: He doesn't have a problem with it, apparently. That part matters, by the way. He doesn't have to go out there and say things that he knows not to be true, but he does, and he does it with an earnest countenance and a lot of people believe him.

PHILLIP: It's a huge problem.

CUOMO: Sarah Sanders is doing partly that. But she's doing something else as well. For her to say that up there yesterday, she's gotten a little bit of a pass for this, Cillizza, that, oh, yes, we think by getting rid of Comey, we will help speed up and get this investigation done. Yes, no kidding. That's why it was wrong for him to remove Comey because you're trying to expedite the investigation to your own advantage. And then she says, yes, I don't think it was inappropriate for him to ask the director of the FBI whether he was under investigation. So you have a mix of her being told to say things that are not true and her not knowing what she is talking about.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, LOOK, I think there is a tendency to feel some level of PITY for the communications staff because Donald Trump -- David made this point -- he just says and does what he wants. So he says and does stuff and then you have to scramble to try and fix it. Then he may say and do other things that contradict your attempt to try to fix it.

At the same time, I would remind people of this, if you signed on to join this White House, it is hard to imagine you didn't know what Donald Trump was like, right? I mean, it is not as if Donald Trump was a deeply discipline, message driven candidate. Donald Trump did this during the campaign. So these folks knew what they were getting into here. May they not have known the depth? Sure. But the same thing goes for Mike Pence. Mike Pence knew who Donald Trump was by July of 2016. Everyone did. So they knew what they were signing up for. So I'm not sure we should feel bad for them because they're getting in many ways what everyone expected would happen.

HARLOW: Well, and you know if you believe the president's latest tweet, perhaps they are going to have the afternoon off if he really does mean this. I hope not for democracy and I hope not for journalism. But the presidency seems to be threatening that, perhaps in jest. I interrupted you, David Drucker, before to get that latest tweet in. So finish your thought.

DRUCKER: Fair enough. Look, I think this is the president -- thanks, Poppy -- admitting that he didn't tell people what the heck he was doing and why he was doing it, which is the conclusion we have all obviously been able to come to here, and he is trying to clean up what has been an unnecessarily dysfunctional, messy firing of the FBI director when all they had to do, and people would disagreed, or agreed, or whatever, was make this a deliberative process over the period of like a week to 10 days. Start to drop names of unimpeachable, high credibility people that were going to replace Comey and they could have made this about policy and about fixing some problems at the FBI instead of making it all about Donald Trump. But this is the way he operates.

And the other thing I don't think we should leave on the table here is that in firing Comey the way he did, he has also been dragging Jim Comey through the mud unnecessarily, constantly referring to him as unfit. And it does not help his relationship with his national security community and the executive branch to do that, and I think even for people who might be happy that James Comey is gone, this is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way.

CUOMO: And as McCabe said yesterday, the acting director, he still shares a lot of support at the bureau. But this is why we've got to keep testing. We got to keep testing, we got to ask James Comey; come on, take the opportunity. You got to ask the president; come on, do more interviews, get tested on things, don't just use us (ph) for an echo, you got to be tested.

HARLOW: All right, guys (ph), thank you very much. Have a great weekend, we appreciate it all. We have brand new sound from President Trump's interview, what you have not heard before. His answer to questions about the legitimacy of his presidency, next.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

CUOMO: And believe it or not, there's more. We have new sound from President Trump, this time it's not Comey specific (ph), he was talking about other things in this interview; the future, what the U.S. is going to do in Afghanistan and the perspective on his legitimacy as president as well as life on the campaign trail. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LESTER HOLT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: What's going to happen in Afghanistan?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Afghanistan is always a difficult problem, it has been for many nations, there's no question about it.

HOLT: Will you be adding more troops into (ph) Afghanistan --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: We haven't made a decision, people would like me to -- some people would like me to, I have not made a decision.

HOLT: Do you feel like you're fighting for your legitimacy some times?

TRUMP: Well, we're fighting --

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: -- like your legitimacy's under attack?

TRUMP: Well, we have a very divided country. I mean, the Republicans are very, very much behind me, they love what we're doing on healthcare --

HOLT: Some say what's been proposed is not great healthcare, the (ph) replacement --

TRUMP: Well, some do. But now it's in the Senate and they're going to change it around a little bit and it's coming back to the House, we're going to end up with good healthcare.

But you have to understand, we don't have healthcare right now because Obamacare is dead. So there are so many important things happening, so many important things. And to be a part of it and to help people -- I'm helping people. I'm helping the people of this country.

We had a group in the other day with poll numbers that were so good -- it was actually yesterday, that were so good, so strong that if the election were held today I would win by a lot more than I did on November 8th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Wow, what a crowd, what a great -- look at this.

HOLT (Voice-over): Do you miss the campaign? You seemed (ph) to be in your element when you were at the rallies and the crowds are (ph) your oval office

TRUMP: So beautiful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLT: Do you miss that --

TRUMP: I liked it, but --

HOLT: -- on a daily basis?

TRUMP: -- I like this even more. I love governing, I love creating great healthcare. I love the process, I love the management of it, I love the governing of it and I think we're doing a great job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: In that same interview with NBC News the president also slammed his former FBI director, James Comey, after firing him. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat, he's a grandstander. I also want to have a really competent, capable director. He's not, he's a showboater. He's not my man or not my man, I didn't appoint him.

He was appointed long before me. But I want somebody who's going to do a great job. And I will tell you we're looking at candidates right now who could be spectacular, and that's what I want for the FBI.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Let's being in retired FBI chief of staff, James A. Gagliano and former CIA counterterrorism official and CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd. Nice to have you both here.

James, let me begin with you. The fact that in the span of the same like 15 seconds -- one minute of the interview he says that Comey is a showboater or grandstander and then he calls the man, Michael Flynn, who is under multiple investigations a very good person; as a former member of the FBI, what's your read on that?

JAMES A. GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF: I mean, Poppy, is the irony lost on anyone? I mean, you've got a man like James B. Comey who's probity (ph) has - is legion and you contrast that with the president, whose moral turpitude was on full display on the campaign as well as in the past.

And it just strikes me as just so detestable to hear that. Grandstanding, showboating; the FBI director's not worried about optics, politicians are. And in this instance I just think it just smacks of hypocrisy.

HARLOW: Yes.

CUOMO: So, Mudd, what's the balance? Because there was rightful criticism of Comey for breaching protocol, for apparently politicizing the Clinton investigation. It did hurt him with people in the agency.

There are (ph) people who wanted to go after Clinton within the agency that were disappointed in him. What do you think the true assessment is?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well a couple things. First, I completely agree with James. I mean, there's a difference between saying the director of the FBI made mistakes. I've said that and (ph) saying an honorable man was dishonored by the president of the United States.

If a seven year old goes to first grade, you have some lessons. Be courteous to your other students, don't mock other students. If you make a mistake, admit it. The president's 0 for 3 on these. Let me tell you -- this is not politics, Chris.

I got an e-mail a month ago from a dad, the dad said his 12 year old daughter, sevens or eighth grade, watches the show. She wants to talk. I said, is it okay if I call her? I called her and I'm still in e-mail contact with her this week.

She sent me a question a few weeks ago. She said; my mom disciplines me when I don't tell the truth. Why does the president get to this? This is not about politics, be courteous to a man who served his country on the way out, be polite to us and stop lying. I've had it.

HARLOW: Wow (ph). You know, it is such an important point what our children are watching play out. To build on what Phil just said, James, the president was reportedly going to -- considering going to the FBI as early as today.

He's now reportedly not going to go because the reception that he would (ph) receive. This is someone who equated our -- the men and women that serve in our intelligence community to Nazi Germany.

What does it mean for security of the nation and the trust the nation has in our intelligence community to have this rift between the president and them and his -- I mean, Comey was out. He didn't need to use those words about him, what does that do big picture? Why does it matter?

GAGLIANO: Well, Poppy, first of all I think what we need to do, you know, for your viewers is just say the institution of the FBI and the Department of Justice, nothing's going to change. The institution's made up of people, they're career investigators, career prosecutors, nothing is going to change.

The fact that his had (ph) been floated out there that the president was going to visit FBI employees at headquarters, I guess meet them in the rotunda, that was a photo op. If he truly wanted to work on the fractured relationship between his FBI director -- the acting FBI director, Andy McCabe, he does that privately behind closed doors and it's not a mechanism to go out there and work on optics.

CUOMO: Hey, James, how is (ph) it not an issue of (ph) who the director is in terms of the intensity and the integrity of the investigation going forward? That is not to malign the men and women who were working on it.

But you take your cues from the boss, right? And if (ph) a (ph) boss comes in and says; you know what? We don't need more resources -- and you know what, James? Start looking at these leaks parallel, let's find out where --

HARLOW: Yes.

CUOMO: -- this information is coming from. Put your energy there and forget about the collusion thing, unless you get something that's really big forget about that. Let's just focus on the interference. What would those men and women have to say? Yes, right?

GAGLIANO: Chris, I watched Acting Director McCabe testify yesterday before the Senate intelligence committee and two emotions went over me. The first was immense pride in the men and the women of the FBI that he represents.

The second was empathy, because he has to deal with a (ph) wild card that I don't think any FBI director in recent history's had to deal with. FBI Acting Director McCabe is the kind of guy -- and I've known him for 20 years, is the kind of guy that is not going to let anybody push him into a particular direction.

You saw that yesterday, he pushed back on some of the White House talking points.

HARLOW: Yes, but here's the thing -- Phil Mudd, just to wrap it up. McCabe's not going to be the guy doing this. They're interviewing interim directors. I mean, he's not going to be the one and this (ph) is going to be just (ph) a selection of, you know, the president, A.G. Sessions, et etcetera.

MUDD: Doesn't matter. Look, if this investigation were initiated today, you'd have an appropriate question; is it going to be initiated and carried (ph) through properly? We're at least 10 months into this.

If you think the dozens of people working on this are going to turn around and change their views or change the investigation and take it wherever it goes because a new director who happens to be the shill for the president of the United States walks in, that ain't going to happen.

HARLOW: All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your service, thank you for being here with us today.

How will James Comey's ouster (ph) impact the FBI and congressional investigations, Remember those; the House intel committee, the Senate intel committee into any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? We're going to ask Congressman Elijah Cummings, he's demanding emergency hearings about Comey's firing. That's next.