Return to Transcripts main page
Former National Security Chief: Democracy 'Under Assault' by Trump Administration. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired May 15, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought that this would be a very popular thing that I did when I terminated Comey.
[05:58:37] JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: A built-in system of checks and balances, that's under assault, and it's eroding.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The president is the CEO of the country. He can hire and fire whomever he wants.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans should be stepping up to the plate and joining us in asking for a special prosecutor.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's not a threat. He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself.
TRUMP: We have a lot of choice. Everybody wants the position. We're going to have somebody fantastic.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I would strongly urge the administration to pick someone who's completely apolitical.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Monday, May 15, 6 a.m. here in New York.
The Trump White House looking to put a political firestorm behind them. So we begin the week with several stories on the starting line. First, the nation's former intel chief says American democracy is, quote, "under assault" by President Trump after the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats calling on the president to turn over any conversations that he may have taped with Comey.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And some potential game changers. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is going to testify this week before the Senate on the controversial firing. Will he be asked about a special counsel? What will he say?
And President Trump is embarking on his first overseas trip of his presidency. It will begin in Saudi Arabia. This as North Korea escalates tensions. Another launch, another missile. Longer this time.
We have it all covered.
Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
First foreign trip by President Trump occurring in an atmosphere of chaos both here in the United States and abroad. But we do begin with that remarkable assertion by the former national security chief that the American system of government is essentially under assault by the president of the United States.
JOHNS (voice-over): The fallout over President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey isn't going away.
CLAPPER: I think, in many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally -- and that's -- that's the big news here, is Russian interference in our election system. And I think, as well, our institutions are under assault internally.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Internally from the president?
JOHNS: The nation's former intelligence chief James Clapper suggesting President Trump is undermining America's democratic system.
CLAPPER: The Founding Fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and -- and a built-in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that's -- that's under assault and is eroding.
JOHNS: Clapper also rejecting the president's repeated use of his Senate testimony to dismiss the Russia investigation.
CLAPPER: Well, the bottom line is I don't know if there was collusion, political collusion. And I don't know of any evidence to it, so I can't -- I can't refute it, and I can't confirm it.
JOHNS: United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley coming to the president's defense, while White House aides avoided the Sunday shows.
HALEY: The president is the CEO of the country. He can hire or fire whoever he wants.
JOHNS: Lawmakers from both parties condemning the president's action and demanding an explanation of the president's threatening tweet, suggesting that recordings may exist of his conversations with Comey. The White House denies the tweet was a threat.
GRAHAM: It was inappropriate. I would advise the president not to tweet or comment about the investigation.
SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If, in fact, there are such recordings, I think those recordings will be subpoenaed.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We want to make sure those tapes are preserved, because we're going to want to take a look at them in Congress.
JOHNS: The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee asserting that Comey should have the opportunity to address the president's allegations in public.
WARNER: I think Jim Comey deserves his chance to layout to the American public his side of the facts, because how he was treated was pretty awful by this president.
JOHNS: Some Democrats are now saying they will refuse to confirm a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is appointed.
TRUMP: I thought that this would be a popular thing that I did when I terminated Comey, because all of the Democrats couldn't stand him. But because I terminated him, they said, "Ah, we get some political points. We'll go against Trump."
JOHNS: President Trump insisting that an independent investigation is not necessary.
TRUMP: There is no collusion. We have nothing to do with Russia and everything else.
JOHNS: The backlash is coming as the president scrambles to replace Comey.
TRUMP: I think the process is going to go quickly.
JOHNS: A decision could come this week, after eight candidates were interviewed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy over the weekend. Lawmakers from both parties urging the president to look beyond Washington when selecting a new director.
SCHIFF: I would strongly urge the administration to pick someone who's completely apolitical.
GRAHAM: The president has a chance to clean up the mess that he mostly created.
JOHNS: Today, the president will entertain a visit from the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. And tomorrow, an extremely important visit by another foreign head of state. Turkish President Erdogan with visit the White House -- Alisyn and Chris.
CUOMO: All right, Joe. Appreciate it.
Joining us now CNN political analysts David Gregory and David Drucker. And associate editor for Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard. David Gregory, what was the biggest surprise of the weekend for you to start us off this week?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think as we look forward, we have a president who still doesn't get it, you know, who is playing this kind of petty politics game around, "Wait, I thought everybody didn't like Comey. I thought this would be celebrated." And not realizing the act of how he fired Comey with this pretext reason with contradictory answers. Is this abuse of power that Clapper is talking about? And I think that's so significant.
And whatever your feelings about the future of the investigation and whether an FBI director will be the right thing for the country, the fact that you had a president fire the guy investigating him. And now we know through reporting, secretly recording him, demanding a loyalty oath. I mean, this is an attack on our democratic system. And it has nothing to do with whether there's anything to these charges of the collusion.
It's about a president who is so insecure and is so feeling that his legitimacy is always questioned. He's not looking after the presidency or the checks and balances in our country.
[06:05:08] CAMEROTA: So David Drucker, when Clapper says that he thinks that U.S. institutions are under assault externally and internally, is he being alarmist?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he sounds alarmist, and it sounds alarmist coming from a former intelligence official. And even though he's no longer in government, these are the kinds of statements that you don't usually hear from people who have served at that level. You know, then it makes you think.
Like, is there something to be concerned about, or is this a part of the opposition and pushback to Donald Trump, because he does things that are so abnormal for a president.
Look, I think -- and David Gregory got to this. The president is still running the country like a brand instead of a team. And it's a transition that he has not made from his time in business through the campaign to the White House. Even though he had every legal authority to fire the FBI director, he hasn't really bothered to explain it. And he's made it all very personal. Not really about the country. And I think that, if he wants to enjoy broader support for making radical moves or unusually bold moves, he's going to have to learn.
And this goes for pieces of legislation. It goes for his agenda. He's going to have to learn how to talk to the country and explain what he's doing, because the people that he hires and fires may serve at the pleasure of the president. He actually doesn't have full control. A lot of people get Senate confirmation. The democratic process gets to put its imprint on his administration.
CUOMO: So we got two good reminders this weekend, A.B., Clapper, who reminded reminded people not to use him as the case as an indication of the strength of the case of any potential collusion. He didn't know about the case, so he doesn't know what has been investigated. He doesn't know what they have or do not have. And he has been used as a real red herring for people about collusion.
The other one was about James Comey and the interview he gave with Scott Pelley over at CBS in 2014. His first as the newly-appointed one year in FBI director. Here's a critical piece of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I believe Americans should be deeply skeptical of government power. You cannot trust people in power. The founders knew that. That's why they divided power among three branches to set interests against interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: You know, he said in the interview, he recounted this famous moment for James Comey ten years earlier when he was acting as deputy A.G. there and he had to race to the hospital. Ashcroft was sick, and there was a fight with the White House over surveillance. And he was willing to go to the mat, and he said, "You know, I remember that moment. Boy, feeling a little queasy." And it was oddly reminiscent of him saying he felt a little nauseated about interrupting the election. But it was interesting contrast, A.B., that a man who was so worried about power and keeping things separate wound up getting caught up in the election the way he did.
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right. Well, we know that James Comey, because of the way he acted both in July and then October before the election in November, really sullied his reputation. Because he was really kind of above everybody in D.C. because of that exact anecdote you described. That he stuck his neck out and he wasn't going to be influenced by politics. And he was a man of integrity and took this risk all those many years ago in the hospital room.
And it turned out that he actually was protecting himself politically, because he didn't want to recommend prosecution for Hillary Clinton, but then he indicted her politically in a press conference on the 5th of July.
And then in October, you know, reopened an investigation, didn't want to -- gave it to Congress knowing it would be leaked. And then it was all really -- and he admitted this in testimony -- to protect himself politically, because he didn't want Hillary to win and for people to leak out later, potentially, from the FBI in New York. That's the branch he was the most worried about where the leaks were coming from that he knew there was something that needed to be reopened right -- right 11 days beforehand before November 8, and he didn't tell us.
So he's protected himself politically, and he's felt the impact of politics all along. And it really is -- it's a lesson for whoever becomes the next FBI director. That not only is there pressure on them not to, you know, be politically influenced by the president who is interested in politically influencing anyone who works underneath him, and that includes the FBI director.
But any kind of other outside politics, you know, concern -- concerning their own reputation. So James Comey is really an interesting figure. Because as much as this whole mess has kind of made him look like a victim here, you know, he breached protocol, and he made a mess of things last year. And that's a big part of this story.
CAMEROTA: So David Gregory, that leads us to today. And President Trump saying that James Comey better hope there are no tapes of the conversations that they had. So now lawmakers on both sides are saying, "Are there types? And if there are tapes, Mr. President, you should release them."
But I mean, give us some context here. Don't -- don't we know that presidents in the past, not just Nixon. Other presidents did tape Oval Office conversations? Why should we assume there are not tapes that Donald Trump has?
GREGORY: Right. I mean, I think we know about Donald Trump, that he taped people at Trump Tower and Washington, one-party states. You don't need, you know, the party that you are taping to agree to it. LBJ certainly had tapes that have proven over the years to be both fascinating and embarrassing to him.
So yes, we should assume that there are tapes. Apparently, according to reporting over the weekend, Comey would be happy to have those tapes come to light. And Comey's taken the step, too, saying, "I'll testify, but I'll testify out in the open."
So the president has picked a fight with a guy who's got some things to say in response, which I think will be a further embarrassment to this White House. And yes, you've heard, I think, from across the board over the weekend that, if the tapes are there, they'll be subpoenaed. They'll be part of it.
And all of this is just so irresponsible on the part of the president and the people who work for him who have sacrificed their integrity to say things that, whether they knew or didn't know were untrue about all of this. So when Nikki Haley, our ambassador to the U.N., comes out and says it's his right to fire the president [SIC].
Thank you for the obvious. We knew that. It has nothing to do with whether it was the appropriate action to take. And it has nothing to do with whether it was done inappropriately to undermine an ongoing investigation and to undermine the independence of the FBI director. I mean, here's where we need to get back to. An FBI director gets a ten-year term. Why? So they can take the political heat. They're independent of politics. Jim Comey was celebrated in 2004 for having that independence and somehow lost his nerve last year.
CUOMO: Nikki Haley saying, you know, he's the CEO of the country. And he -- she bought into a little bit of the party line. She has to remember, she was regarded highly because of her independence.
All right. So we'll take a break right now. We have a lot more to talk about with you guys.
CAMEROTA: So stand by, please. Some Republican leadership shying away from defending President Trump's decision to fire James Comey. Is it time for the GOP to stand up? Are they choosing party over country? We discuss all of that next.
[06:16:16] CAMEROTA: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling out Republicans for staying silent about Russia meddling in the U.S. election and the need for a special prosecutor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUMER: The silence of my Republican colleagues is choosing parties over country at a time when we can ill afford it. It is one of the things the Founding Fathers most, most warned about. So our Republicans should be stepping up to the plate and joining us in asking for a special prosecutor. Where is the Howard Baker of 2017?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Senator Schumer there referring, of course, to the Republican senator who famously asked during the Watergate scandal, "What did the president know and when did he know it?"
CUOMO: All right. Let's bring back our panel. We've got David Gregory, A.B. Stoddard and David Drucker.
And look, it's worthy of note, we try to get Schumer on the show a lot also, but on the Republican side, we invited all of the Republican leadership. You hear me? All of it. We tried to get dozens of different Republican lawmakers to come on the show. And often, we are chock full but not right now. We went over this weekend.
All right. So let's discuss. David Gregory, yes, it is a pickle that the president has put his party in here. But that's what leadership is about, right? And if you choose to ignore, you are, in effect, empowering whatever you ignore.
GREGORY: Well, and particularly in this case. Because I've said before, I think it's demeaning to reduce this conversation and this controversy to partisan politics and allowing a conversation to unfold that, "Oh, well, the Democrats are being hypocrites, because they wanted Comey out all along." Come on. I mean, let's focus on what was done here.
They made up a reason to get rid of Comey. The idea that they cared about the treatment of Hillary Clinton, nobody believes. And they did it in the middle of this Russia investigation. And now we learn that there was a -- he tried to get him to pledge loyalty. And then ultimately, Trump felt he was looking bad. You know Trump was thinking, "Oh, this guy, Comey, he's going to feel about about how he handled Clinton. And now he's going to go after this Russia thing even harder."
And he was mad about the leaks and all the rest. Because Trump walks around the White House thinking that guys like Clapper and the whole intelligence community of the United States is conspiring against him to deny his legitimacy while he's holding his electoral map with all the red on it, showing that he really should be president. That is -- that is what is driving President Trump, and that part is really sad.
So I think Republican leaders are missing something. They don't go to him and say you are endangering everything that you said you cared about it and we cared about it.
Health care legislation? I mean, I've talked to people who are in meetings with the president, who has shown no understanding of or care for the health care legislation. Or there could actually be some real compromise.
Big sweeping tax reform? Hard to see if they can't get a budget passed. And you've got Democrats really happy to stay on the sidelines. So the failure of leadership is not only to speak up for the right thing, but it's the failure to confront Trump and say, look, you're not going to get the big things that everybody expect because you cannot get out of your own way.
CAMEROTA: So David Drucker, explain this. If he -- if President Trump is putting some of the Republicans in jeopardy of their political careers or their agenda, then what's their calculus in terms of hiding out? Why not speak out?
DRUCKER: Why are you asking me to explain the unexplainable?
CAMEROTA: It's Monday morning. Why? I'm confused.
DRUCKER: This is why you have me here. Look, I think what Republicans are trying to do is sort of weather the Trump storm. And they've always been in this strange position with President Trump, who you'll remember, is not really of their party and is not really conservative by any stretch, to try and navigate the sort of hold that he has on a good segment of the party.
And look, if you look at the polling, and some of it over the weekend was problematic. You still have a broad community of Republican voters. Not just Trump's base. That is not soured on Donald Trump.
[06:20:11] CAMEROTA: So there you go. They're afraid of losing their base. Even though at town halls people sound angry, the base isn't.
CUOMO: He is a vocal critic of those who oppose him. You could have the president of the United States coming at you in your own district, which wouldn't just cut off funding but would put you in a tight spot.
DRUCKER: That is so correct, Chris. And not only that, if you've already made your deal with the devil, so to speak, you're thinking to yourself, "If I let this devolve into a food fight, I get nothing. I don't get health care reform. I don't get tax reform." Who knows what he starts to do on judges if he ever thinks that that's not serving him properly.
And so I think they're trying to weather this. Now one thing I will say, when you talk to Republican members of Congress on Capitol Hill, they will tell you on the record, they don't like how the Comey firing was handled. They're concerned about a lot of the facts concerning Comey. And this comes from Republicans in safely red states that like Donald Trump. So they're not completely silent.
But I think what they're trying to do is communicate through back channels to senior members of the staff. Can you guys try and reel this guy in? I don't know why they bother, because you cannot reel him in.
DRUCKER: But this is how they're trying to handle.
CUOMO: So the best proof of any kind of what we hear about what may happen going forward. A.B., what do you hear about anybody wanting to step up on the Republican side for any type of special anything when it comes to investigating Russia? And what are you hearing about pushing this Merrick Garland idea or some other kind of outside the box choice for FBI?
STODDARD: I think on the FBI director replacement, the Merrick Garland idea sounds like it's the new Republican idea. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, loves it and Senator Mike Lee has been pushing it. Senator Orrin Hatch apparently was the first to bring it to the attention of the White House. So it sounds like someone who can get bipartisan support.
I do think Senator Graham is correct. But if you -- if you elevate someone from within the ranks, that is going to actually end up being a pick who gets more support. Because this really looks like an agency that needs to be run by someone who understands its challenges right now and sort of turmoil, you know, during Comey and post-Comey.
And so I think that promoting someone from within is probably going to be more popular than Merrick Garland. But that's not to say he wouldn't get some Democratic support. So we'll see what -- how that plays out.
In terms of the other thing, Republicans I spoke to this weekend are really, really unhappy. They feel that they're in a real catch-22. Without Trump, if they just throw their hands in the air, they don't get anything done before the mid-term elections. And they just tell the voters, you know, "Sorry. We made all these promises. It is all for naught. This is, you know, just mayhem." That's what they think it is. They think in this environment, they can't even really imagine getting tax reform done. It is such a challenge. It's such a heavy lift.
They see a White House in chaos, a president that will not learn and will not change. That the job has not changed him. It has not centered him, the gravity of it. Although he has somewhat absorbed it, but hasn't changed the way that he acts emotionally on anger and impulse. And the way that he threw Mike Pence, the vice president, under the bus last week really worries them in terms of any kind of staff shakeup.
You know, they think who would go in to there, into the -- you know, the shark's waters at this point. So they're very, very unhappy. Not ready to really heave-ho him publicly. Sort of -- as David said, hoping they can weather it. But that -- they don't really know, even, what that means. They're just preparing for the next explosion.
And in terms of calling for an independent commissioner or special counsel, they're not -- the prosecutor, they're not ready to do that. But I think that this is a turning point, where they really have just sort of almost universally decided privately that this is not going to get better.
GREGORY: Quick point about...
GREGORY: ... the inside Washington, you know, talk about who would succeed Comey.
So take Merrick Garland. I said here before I'm very close to him personally. I have no knowledge of anything in particular with regard to him.
But think about this. If you're Merrick Garland, would you go work for a President Trump who just fired the FBI director? How do you know you'd be able to serve your term? And in his case he'd leave as chief of the D.C. circuit court of appeals to go and do into a job that he could lose. And that's what the real problem of what Trump has done here.
CAMEROTA: OK. Panel, thank you very much for all of those insights.
So, North Korea. Blowing past the latest warning from the White House and testing another one of its missiles. How is the world responding?
CUOMO: And what did you do Saturday night? Did you watch SNL? Guess what they did? They went after the White House again, specifically the press secretary. The takedown ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[06:25:07] MIKEY DAY, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": You are clearly articulate and charming, whereas Sean is bullish.
CAMEROTA: North Korea taking its nuclear threat to a new level. State media reporting that the missile used in its latest test is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, making the U.S. within range. CNN's Will Ripley is live in Tokyo with more -- Will.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alisyn. I told you I was in North Korea last month, during two failed missile launches, that those failures would not deter North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un. And clearly, this launch shows they have not. And this successful launch is very troubling to a lot of North Korea watchers. In fact, 38 North think tank says that this shows higher capability for a North Korean missile than they've ever seen before.