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White House Tries to Get Past Comey Firing. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 15, 2017 - 07:00   ET



JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The developments of the past week are very bothersome, very disturbing.

[07:00:07] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I want is for Comey to be honest. And I hope he will.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The tapes exist and not willingly provided, absolutely. I'd join in the subpoenas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president needs to back off here and let the investigation go forward.

TRUMP: There is no collusion. We have nothing to do with Russia. The best thing that Rosenstein can do for the country is appoint a special prosecutor.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Kim Jong-un is in a state of paranoia. We're going to continue to tighten the screws.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new kind of nuclear-capable ballistic missile. North Korea says it can hit the mainland U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The threat is getting bigger and getting more significant. It's getting urgent.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, the nation's former intelligence chief says American democracy is under assault by President Trump. This comes after the firing, of course, of FBI director James Comey, and that sent shock waves that are still kind of finding their level in Washington.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So now lawmakers in both parties are calling on the president to turn over any taped conversations the president may have with James Comey. President Trump is also preparing for a major test this week, the first foreign trip of his presidency.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns. He's live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.


With the firing of the FBI chief as an example, the former head of national intelligence is making an extraordinary assertion that the president of the United States himself is eroding the system of checks and balances at the very core of American government.


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?

CLAPPER: Exactly.

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.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: 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 lay out 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 very 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 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: Very busy week on tap for the president before he flies off on his first foreign trip ins office today. He will entertain a visit from the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. Tomorrow, an extremely important visit from Turkish President Erdogan.

[07:05:06] Chris and Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for all that.

Joining us now to discuss it, we have CNN host and political commentator Michael Smerconish; CNN political analyst and host of "The David Gregory Show" podcast David Gregory; and associate editor for Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard. Great to have all of you here.

David Gregory, when you hear James Clapper say our institutions are under assault externally and internally, how significant is it for him to make a public statement like that?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's incredibly significant. This is someone who ran our entire intelligence community of the federal government, which is meant to be independent, who is making a very serious indictment of this president for abusing his power by firing Comey with a false pretext; and now, we learn, demanding loyalty and recording him and threatening him over Twitter.

This is not how the system is supposed to work. This is not normal behavior. This is a crisis that the government, the public has to deal with. And it really exposes what's at the heart of this issue. You have a president who believes that aspects of his predecessor and the intelligence community are conspiring against him to deny him legitimacy as president. It's ridiculous. But it's leading to some really destructive behavior that has to be dealt with.

And whether anything comes of the Russia investigation, we know that our election was hacked. We need to have a president who starts thinking about the needs of the institution of the presidency and the dangers that the country faces.

CUOMO: But A.B., while all that can be true, none of this is going to find a home in any type of legal findings or, you know, major judicial action. This is going to come down to politics. And are you sensing that the GOP -- because remember they have the numbers -- they're in leadership. That they're going to do anything about any of this?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right now, no. They're trying to sort of wait this out. And I think that's why statements from, like, Senator Ben Sasse yesterday talking about losing faith in institutions -- excuse me.

CUOMO: It literally chokes you up, A.B. And we respect your patriotism.

STODDARD: It is more potent than something coming from James Clapper. Republicans are quick to write him off. He'll lie to Congress in 2013. They're going to say, "Who's he to talk about institutions and preserving the credibility of government?"

But someone like Senator Ben Sasse talking about this. Once you see Republicans stepping up more, saying this is really about preserving the credibility of our checks and balances and they're being tampered with in a dangerous way, I think that will start moving people.

In terms of an independent commission, or a special prosecutor, I don't see any of that coming from Republicans yet. But yet, this larger discussion with Lindsey Graham, who's been saying we can't move forward as a country until we punish Russia. This is the pressure that has to come to bear in the conversation on Republicans not so much that they should rush to take some kind of, you know, legal action or join with calls for prosecutors or impeachment or anything, which I think Democrats are overdoing.

But that they really need to start talking to the president and the public about what this is doing to our democracy. That what Russia did and why it's important that the president never seems to talk about that; and what this kind of back and forth about, you know, I can ask -- it's appropriate, the president said to Judge Jeanine.

It would have been fine if I asked for loyalty. I didn't, but I would have been fine. That these are the kinds of lines that can't be crossed. And Republicans need to start talking about that.

CAMEROTA: Well, you know, Michael Smerconish, it was interesting. Because "60 Minutes" did something. They found an old interview that they had done with James Comey from 2014 where once again, sort of a test of loyalty was brought up. This time to President Obama. And Scott Pelley asked Comey at that time, "Aren't you supposed to follow the president's instructions?" And here was James Comey at that time.


SCOTT PELLEY, "60 MINUTES": Wasn't it your responsibility to support the president?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: No. My responsibility, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

PELLEY: This was something the president wanted to go forward with. And you were standing in front of the president of the United States telling him he shouldn't do it and if he did, you'd quit? Do I have that right? CAMEROTA:

COMEY: I don't think I expressly threatened to quit at any point, but that was understood.


CUOMO: To save you some adjure, that was 2004 when he was working for Bush in the A.G.'s office, not Obama.

CAMEROTA: I thought it was 2014.

CUOMO: 2014 is when he did the interview, when he was the FBI director. But recounting this came this episode where the White House wanted to do some kind of surveillance. He thought it was wrong. Ashcroft was the A.G. He was very ill. So Andy Card went to the hospital to try to get Ashcroft to sign off. Comey got in the car, raced there, beat him to it. And then Ashcroft wound up rising up and actually fighting in favor of the White House policy but said, "That's the A.G. and pointed to Comey."

[07:10:10] CAMEROTA: The point of all this, Michael Smerconish, is that James Comey has long felt that he doesn't want to take a loyalty test to any pledge, loyalty to any president. And now we know that James Comey also wants to speak to the Senate Intel Committee in an open hearing, not a closed-door hearing. An open hearing. So that I assume the public can know what he's going to say.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, "SMERCONISH": Well, I think that would be a pretty stunning development if such a hearing were to take place and be televised on CNN. The question, Alisyn, that question that I'm asking is whether this an

issue that will finally move the needle with regard to Republicans pertaining to the Trump administration.

Because as we all know it's been a very tumultuous, a very controversial first four months. But the base has largely stood with the president. You know the data that says that 96 percent said they'd vote for him again.

More recently, Gallup found that 79 percent of Republicans agree with the firing of Comey. But this brand-new survey that's out today from "The Wall Street Journal" at NBC shows that the number is 58 percent among Republicans.

On a day-to-day basis, I answer telephones. I hear from people all across the country, most of whom, overwhelmingly, have been in opposition to the firing of Comey. But not all.

And a number of Republican Trump supporters have thus far, nevertheless, been standing with the president and saying, "Well, it's all about the leaks." I'm wondering if that's changing based on the brand-new data today.

CUOMO: If the Democrats are waiting for a political kill shot of Trump's own, I think they're going to be waiting a while. They ought to start thinking about just what they can do to forward their own agenda.

And to that point, David Gregory, this talk about Merrick Garland. Yes, we know you know Merrick Garland. But you don't know anything about his disposition on this.

McConnell's legislative aide, his former aide said, "The senator called me and said, 'I'm good with this.'" Do you think Merrick Garland has a shot? He was not invited in on this first round of the beauty pageant, the parade of people they put out there. And we don't have any indication if he would do it. What's your take?

GREGORY: Well, again, not knowing how he feels about it, I think it's a brilliant idea. I would be shocked if -- if Judge Garland would accept the job for a number of reasons, including that he's got lifetime tenure as the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is certainly an important post.

And because of the environment in which Trump has -- the environment that Trump has created. He knows whether the next FBI director doesn't show appropriate loyalty, whether that person gets fired, too. That's what Trump has undermined.

And I think what Smerk is talking about here is this underlying question whether you have rank and file Republicans, whether they work on Capitol Hill or in the public, who feel like, yes, you know, I get Trump. He's mad about the leaks. And he's got something there. And we don't like the news media. But you know, you can't behave this way. You can't be asking the FBI director for a loyalty test. Once you start plugging into some of the ways that he's abusing power

as president, and he's undermining our institutions, then I think over time you start to see things differently.

CAMEROTA: So, A.B., is there a sense on Capitol Hill that any Republicans other than, say, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, are getting ready or are -- have any sort of willingness to speak out more publicly against the president?

STODDARD: No. They're -- they're in a sort of wait-and-worry mode right now.

I -- I've asked them, you know, how long can -- it was one thing, right, on Thursday before we watched the Lester Holt interview, where he admitted it was pretty much about Russia; and the next morning was threatening James Comey about tapes in the Oval Office.

This is really hard stuff for Republicans to defend. And so what you saw in the last couple days, if you speak with them privately is, you know, their sort of panic has increased, because they don't really believe that they can move forward on health care or tax reform in this environment.

At the same time they need to get something done. The House is in play. And there's only 24 seats separating them from the minority. And they are very much worried about what the polling will look like in two weeks after the events of Thursday night and Friday. And they're really -- they're panicked, but that are not wanting to speak out yet. They just say that it will bring them more trouble than it's worth.

CAMEROTA: OK. Good to know. Panel, thank you very much for all of the insights.

We have some other news to cover right now, some other top stories. It is a busy first week. First work day, I should say, for France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, after his inauguration. Today, Macron will name his prime minister and travel to Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. At his swearing in, France's -- he is the 39-year-old Macron. Very young. He vowed to bring back confidence to France.

[07:15:09] CUOMO: The World Health Organization declaring an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The organization confirmed three Ebola elated deaths this weekend. Doctors say the number of suspected cases continues to rise while the scope of the outbreak is unknown. Health officials are not yet recommending any trade or travel restrictions.

CAMEROTA: Russian President Vladimir Putin putting on a surprise show in Beijing, playing the piano while he waited for talks with China's president. Here's a taste.



CAMEROTA: Russian state media reporting that Putin played two popular Soviet songs at this impromptu recital. He is in China for an economic forum which ends today.

CUOMO: The grade?

CAMEROTA: I was expecting something a little bit more -- with a little bit more flourish.

CUOMO: "Chopsticks?"

CAMEROTA: Well, I felt that was a little "Chopsticks"-like.

CUOMO: Imagine if he played "New York, New York." We'd be talking about it all day.

All right. So the president reportedly outraged following the fallout of his decision to axe James Comey. What he's saying about his political opponents' reactions and what it could mean for his future decisions.

CAMEROTA: Also coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't boys being boys.



CAMEROTA: OK. That is -- those are the parents of a teenager who was killed in a hazing ritual at Penn State. They are speaking out, and their message for the students who are now charged in their son's death. We'll bring you that.


[07:20:43] CUOMO: President Trump says he thought everybody was going to be happy when he fired James Comey. Democrats had criticized the former FBI director for months, to be sure. But days after the president took action, he says he's surprised by the backlash. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Look, I thought that this would be a very 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."


CUOMO: Actually because he terminated him by saying it was because he was unhappy with the Russia investigation, which makes it seem like a pronounced conflict of interest.

But let's discuss. We have CNN political commentators Jack Kingston, a former senior adviser at the Trump campaign; and Jennifer Psaki, who served as the White House communications director in the Obama administration.

Jack Kingston, before we get to the substance of the matter. I have a question. Always good to have you, brother. You know that. But why are your brothers and sisters in GOP leadership and the rank and file, ducking coming out like it was the plague to talk about this on TV?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I can call some of them for you, and we can get them out.

CUOMO: Please.

KINGSTON: We can get this done.

CUOMO: Free breakfast.


CUOMO: But what about the idea of leadership, Jack? And coming out, speaking about what this is, calling it for what it is. You know, as a matter of conscience, if you like it, say you liked it. If you didn't like it, say what you're going to do about it.

KINGSTON: I think it's always good for members of the public, elected officials, particularly to talk to the press. So I would encourage all of my brothers and sisters in the Republican Party to do it.

But I will say this, and I'm being very serious. I will work with you off camera. And we'll look at a list, and I'll make some personal phone calls and tell them, "Get your tail out there and talk about it." I think it's a good thing.

CUOMO: Jack, you're the best.

On the Democrat side, Jen Psaki, sitting and watching it burn, calling for a special prosecutor, wouldn't you know that's an animal of legislation. It's not going to happen. Is that enough for Democrats, or is it time for them to step up the positive aspects of trying to make change in this country, come up with their own plans on policy, try to work with the other side?

PSAKI: Well, Chris, I completely agree with you that the Democrats can't just be the party of opposition and resistance. Democrats have to be the party of standing for something and fighting for something.

And we really lost the thread on that in the last election. We were no longer perceived as the people that was going to try to start get health care and help people get a job. But at the same time, what we're dealing with right now is a question of character and leadership matters and honesty matters and truthfulness matters.

And people also don't like it when their leaders are living outside the law or living above the law. So that will matter. But I agree. Democrats need to have a forward-looking agenda that is not just about opposing Trump.

CUOMO: Jen Psaki, how big a deal is this? The word "crisis" keeps being used either, you know, in the main or as a point of hyperbole? Constitutional crisis, legal crisis, political crisis. What do you think it is, this situation surrounding Comey's dismissal?

PSAKI: Well, it's definitely a self-inflicted crisis. We know that. I think this is an incredibly significant decision that Donald Trump made. We probably won't see the consequences for some time. So there will be a slow burn in many ways. Because the person overseeing the FBI is overseeing law enforcement activities. They'll be the person who's overseeing the Russia investigation. That shouldn't be something that's a partisan issue. It should be something that Democrats, Republicans, all elected officials should want to get to the bottom of.

Because as you've been talking about this morning, this isn't just about putting Trump in office. This is about creating chaos and confusion in the United States.

So the person in that role is significant. But also firing somebody who's overseeing an investigation that your team is related to is significant as a crisis of confidence.

KINGSTON: But Chris, keep in mind that even McCabe, who you know, is the deputy of -- deputy ...

CUOMO: Under cross...

KINGSTON: ... under cross-examination with James Lankford last week said that it hasn't suffered one bit. And James Lankford didn't just say, "Is the investigation going on?" He asked it in a set of about six different questions from different angles to make sure that there wasn't anything that has changed.

For people like James Clapper, who by the way, we all remember 2013, said to Senator Ron Wyden that they were not spying on Americans. They were not collecting surveillance data, which was a total lie.

[07:25:09] But for him to be going out and saying this is a constitutional crisis. Absolutely. He should go back and look at that testimony. The FBI is saying, "No. You know what? We're bigger than one person."

And the president has a right to fire somebody if he wants to. Weeks ago and months ago, all the Democrats in town wanted to get rid of Comey. But now suddenly, he's the greatest thing in the world. But they were the ones with the "fire Comey" hash tags all summer long.

So to me, they're kind of having it both ways. They get rid of an enemy that they wanted to get rid of, and now they get to even -- they still get to complain about it. So you know, America is bigger than the personality of the people who are in office. America and our Constitution is extremely strong. And President Trump is not a politician. And he's not going to act like a politician. He's not going to do things in the smooth way that Washington sometimes has gotten used to.

But this is his right as president. And I would say this, if he was guilty of something, he would not be doing this. If he was guilty, he'd be all lawyered up, and the lawyers would be saying, "Oh, there are some things you better say and not say." That is not the way he's acting.

And so I would say the Democrats might want to even look at it from that angle, that if the president was hiding something, the last thing he would do is get rid of the FBI director.


PSAKI: Well, I think President Trump himself said that he fired him in part, large part because of his work on the Russia investigation. So we can take the president's own words in that regard. But I think it's important to look back at the unclassified version of the Russia report, which also included the fact that Russia is trying to create chaos and confusion here.

And that's exactly what they're doing in the United States. Of course, there are incredible men and women who are serving the FBI and have been for decades. But it's hard to believe that having three FBI directors over the course of a handful of months wouldn't have an impact on the pace of the investigation. So I think that's a valid concern for people to have.

CUOMO: Jack, let me ask you something here aside. A little bit side topic. The idea of the consequences of this. What happens. We'll have to see how it plays out in terms of his picking of a nominee for the FBI.

But Mike Allen over at Axios is going bigger. He's saying the president is so pissed off with all this he feels he's been let down by the people around him. They're not getting it done. He's not served well by his advisors. There's going to be a massive shakeup. Do you agree with that notion?

KINGSTON: You know, I was in the -- talking to some people over the weekend. I don't think that's the case. I think that the president at some of this is just reorganizing his own thoughts. And the way Washington works and so forth. But I don't see a big house cleaning. I've read some of those articles and don't see it.

But I think for the president to talk about what -- is there a better way for us to get our message besides this daily press briefing that has become, I think, somewhat antiquated. A 1960s, 1970s model. Far, you know, before we had text messages and everything else. Twitter, that are tools of the day. So I think for the president to rethink, well, what is a better way to get our message out? But also to be very transparent.

I was listening to an interview with -- I think his name is Scott Mason. He's head of the Washington press corps. And he said, you know, "We don't have a complaint about access. Not -- not with this administration."

CUOMO: Jack Kingston, Jen Psaki, thank you very much. Appreciate the perspectives, a always.

Hey, quick programming note for you. Tonight at 9, what are you doing? Why don't you come watch CNN. We've got the top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, for a live town hall, only on CNN. Of course, that means that the people will be driving the conversation. But these questions about leadership are going to be real for Pelosi, as well. What should the Democrats be doing right now, other than just sitting and watching it all burn?

CAMEROTA: Hosted by Chris Cuomo. I look forward to watching that.

CUOMO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: When I wake up.

CUOMO: I know.

CAMEROTA: The parents of a teenager who was killed in a fraternity hazing ritual at Penn State are breaking their silence.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They killed him. They fed him lethal doses of alcohol, and they killed him. And then they treated him like road kill. Like a rag doll.


CUOMO: Tough for the parents to say. We've been waiting to hear what they want from the school, what they want to say to the kids who were involved, what they want to say to you. The answers next.