Return to Transcripts main page

CNN'S AMANPOUR

Comey Memo Bombshell Rocks Trump White House; Undercover in the Heart of Venezuela's Crisis; Choosing Romance Over Royalty. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, the bottom line. If President Trump asked the FBI director to end his Russia investigation, is

that the straw that breaks the camel's back?

Robin Wright from "The New Yorker" and Susan Hennessey from the Brookings Institute join me live.

Also ahead, undercover in Venezuela. A state in free fall. Our cameras capture women picking through trash from morsels of meat to feed their

children.

And later in the program, we imagine a world where a Japanese princess gives up her title for love.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

Another day, another bombshell. An explosive report claims that fired FBI Director James Comey documented, quote, "Everything he could about his

conversations with President Trump," including this request according to "The New York Times," about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Quote, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Now, uncharacteristically, the president has not tweeted today. He only made this oblique reference while speaking to American Coast Guard

graduates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Now, for the first time, reliable Republican support is going a bit wobbly. Both Houses of Congress have called for all the relevant

documents and for Comey to testify before the Senate. While in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin has weighed in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): If the U.S. administration thinks its possible, we are prepared to provide the

transcript of the conversation between Trump and Lavrov to Senate and Congress, only if the U.S. administration wants it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So this latest crisis comes at the worst possible moment for President Trump's foreign policy. Just before his departure for his first

overseas trip. It's a high stakes tour of the Middle East and Europe.

Joining me now is Robin Wright, journalist and foreign affairs specialist, and Susan Hennessy, a fellow at the Brookings Institute and managing editor

of a blog called "Lawfare."

Welcome to you both.

First, can I ask you, Susan, do you think this account is absolutely true? If it is, did the president obstruct justice?

SUSAN HENNESSY, FORMER NSA LAWYER: Right. So we only have sort of an initial snippet of what the Comey memo alleges, and so certainly we don't

know -- we don't have the full story yet nor do we have sort of that additional corroborating evidence.

That said, typically, an FBI officer or FBI agent's contemporaneous notes are considered quite credible.

And to the question of whether or not it qualifies as obstruction of justice, there are two questions here. One is whether or not you could

prove it in a court of law. That might be rather difficult. It really goes to questions of motive and intent. But then there's a much larger

political question that ultimately goes to whether or not Congress thinks it has enough evidence to impeach him.

AMANPOUR: So, you know, that leads to all the political stories that we've been discussing. You're talking about, you know, could Congress do it? Is

there motive, et cetera?

Paul Ryan, while he said, you know, we have to have all these documents and get all the evidence, he basically also raised questions, and he said,

well, if this is absolutely true, why didn't the former FBI director raise it earlier?

What do you read into that?

HENNESSY: Well, I mean, that's sort of the specific argument reads a little bit like deflection. And Comey was kind of keeping records of

something that he suspected that might amount to obstruction. But that's not quite the same as saying he formed a conclusion. Of course it will

depend a great deal on what Comey actually has to say about the matter himself. He's expected to testify in Congress.

You know, the Republicans sort of initial muted reaction to the firing of the FBI director in the first instance a little bit understates the

significance of that. FBI director served ten-year terms. They aren't political appointees that are supposed to change with the coming of the

administration. And so they really -- the Republicans have stood by Trump to an astonishing degree. We'll see if that can hold any further.

There's starting to be some indications that Republicans both in the House and Senate are not willing to stand by him much longer.

AMANPOUR: So let's move on, Robin, then to this coming exactly now when it does, right ahead of President Trump's major first foreign trip.

[14:05:00] How is that going to affect the trip? And affect, you know, all the leaders he's going to be meeting?

ROBIN WRIGHT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPECIALIST: Well, the president is going out with a very ambitious agenda. He's going to the birthplace of Islam. He's

going to the Jewish homeland. He's going to the birthplace of Jesus and then onto the Vatican.

And the idea was to build this new coalition in the Middle East that would bring together conservative Sunni regimes, possibly building and including

Israel at some point down the road with the goal of promoting a new peace process, confronting ISIS and al Qaeda and other extremist movements,

building a campaign against Iran and, you know, changing the real -- the political alignment in the region. Ambitious, and of course, he needs the

leverage, the standing of a new president going out with a new agenda. And he comes to this visit at a time of unbelievable crisis at home.

And it's very reminiscent of Richard Nixon's trip in 1974 when he, too, went to Saudi Arabia and Israel, when, too, was facing the escalating

crisis at home with Watergate and of course it didn't help him because two months after his trip, Richard Nixon was forced to resign.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask both of you to listen to what Leon Panetta, former CIA director, former secretary of defense, told me yesterday about what he

hoped would be the case during all of President Trump's meetings with these foreign leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think it's very important that this president is going to conduct his first overseas trip that he ought to be

very carefully briefed and there ought to be others in the room to make sure that the president adheres to the talking points that were provided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: I mean, Robin, first to you, with regard to these, you know, foreign leaders and countries that you know and have reported on so well.

You know, is there a risk that something, you know, could go awry?

WRIGHT: It is astonishing that there is concern about the president of the United States not knowing enough about the world, not being trusted enough

to speak with foreign leaders, especially with enormous goals.

And being a loose cannon when it comes to sharing intelligence, because he doesn't even know often the sources of intelligence, the revelations of the

past week have been very alarming about the sheer ineptitude in the White House and the dangers of what he might do. He's making important speeches

about Islam in Saudi Arabia, at Mossad in Israel. And, you know, he's had confrontations with some of these leaders.

When you consider what he was saying about Saudi Arabia during the campaign, when you consider the Twitter war that he was having with the

Pope over the wall and the immigration ban, it's really unnerving that he's going into this extraordinary trip with his standing at home at the lowest

ever.

AMANPOUR: Not to mention, you know, a leader who he really enjoys and likes, Benjamin Netanyahu, he may have compromised, if it's true, that that

was the third party intelligence. He may have compromise that.

I want to ask you, Susan, what you -- you know, you see as the potential, you know, trouble with all this sort of secret intelligence and whether

that -- you know, there may be any fallout from that?

HENNESSY: Right. So I think we are certain to see additional fallout. There's sort of two possible types. One is the immediate consequence to

Israel, and whether or not the source and method is going to be available moving forward.

And recall that this is the way in which the United States got information about a threat to U.S. aviation, that they took seriously enough to

actually ban laptops on certain flights. And so this is something very, very important. This is a critical intelligence source by all indication.

So there's sort of the immediate concern there. And there's so much broader long-term question about whether or not Israel will want to share

in the future, whether or not our other foreign partners on whom we rely a great deal, particularly sort of the coalition fight against ISIS, whether

they're going to say that they don't feel that the United States is trustworthy with their most sensitive secrets any longer.

AMANPOUR: And, again, you know, Robin put this in context that, you know, this time 45 years ago, President Nixon went abroad and, you know, made the

same trip just about, and came back and several weeks later or months later he had to resign.

I want to play what Senator John McCain has said about this latest bombshell. He said this last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's reaching a point where it's of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have

seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: You know, to hear that word coming out of a senior Republican senator's mouth is pretty alarming, isn't it?

[14:10:00] HENNESSY: Oh, yes, I think Watergate has become sort of a code word really for whether or not it's time to start considering removing a

president from office.

AMANPOUR: Robin?

WRIGHT: Yes, and you know remember, we have not had a foreign crisis yet during the Trump presidency. And what's very worrying is if there should

be some major event, some major challenge, what allies are willing to give us everything they've got for fear that the president might expose their

sources and methods?

There's a lot at stake in this revelation about sharing with the Russians. And I think there is a deep skepticism about how much -- by other

countries, how much they can trust Donald Trump.

AMANPOUR: But, Robin, just one last one to you about the leaders who are going to meet.

What kind of credibility does President Trump have when his own senior party members are using the word "Watergate." Do they look at him as if he

has a short timer? I mean, seriously, this is a big question right now.

WRIGHT: Absolutely. And, of course, the president is meeting not only in Saudi Arabia with the king, but also with a wide assortment of leaders from

across the region.

And, you know, how much will they be able to or will be willing to invest in his presidency at this point? He may come out with some being fed a

nice dinner, encouraging words but, again, it's what happens behind the scenes that is so critical to the success of his mission. And, you know, I

think any foreign leader, even those who need the United States more than the United States needs them, is going to be very cautious about how much

they put stock in Donald Trump and what specifically they give him in return until they see how this is going to play out.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. Robin Wright, Susan Hennessy, obviously everybody is waiting to see those memos and to hear from Jim Comey himself. Thank you

very much indeed for joining us.

Now as American journalists dig into this investigation, in Mexico, journalists are under attack and they are protesting the murder of their

colleague Javier Valdez, who reported on the drug wars there, and who is the sixth to be killed, the sixth journalist killed since March.

When we come back, deadly protests in Venezuela. And our special report on a once rich capital reduced to scavenging for scraps to eat. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Venezuela, once the richest and most powerful country in Latin America, is on the verge of a total breakdown. At least 40 people have now been killed

in nationwide protest that started six weeks ago.

A massive constitutional crisis has led to massive shortages of everything. Millions of people cannot even afford to feed themselves. The government

is cracking down and intimidating journalists, even taking CNN's sister network, CNN Espanol, off the air.

So our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has travelled to Caracas and he is reporting undercover to avoid arrest. This is what he

found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Venezuela's dark lurch into poverty and chaos is on display as you drive

into the capital. This food truck breaking down for mere seconds before it was looted. Basic food is scarce. No shortage of bleach, but long lines

for bread.

The crisis all created by the mad policies of a government that now wants to hide the collapse, cracking down and intimidating journalists. We had

to go undercover and much of our filming was done covertly to avoid arrest.

[14:15:00] For some nearing starvation, the people demand change in violent clashes. Tens of lives lost as desperation meet tear gas and police bird

shot.

"You've heard of a Molotov cocktail, well, that would be too simple for a once suave gas-rich state."

"So this is (INAUDIBLE) bomb mixed with gas and ammonia," he says, "prepared directly for the police that throw tear gas bombs at us worth $60

each. My country doesn't have food. We can't even protest peacefully."

(on-camera): This is the daily stand-off. The crowd sometimes attacks by pro-government thugs on motorcycles who open fire indiscriminately.

(voice-over): Gunfire takes at least one life this day, that of 27-year- old Miguel Castillo. But it doesn't stop the daily battle to eat. Virginia has been doing this for 18 months to feed her five kids. She

can't find work since she had this little one, but here sometimes finds what she calls meat.

"Sometimes I find stuffed bread," she says. Rice, meat, beans, pasta, some people conscientious and putting it in clean bags, leaving it out. So how

has oil-rich Venezuela got so bad?"

(on-camera): For the most countries, it's the market that says (INAUDIBLE) but here in Venezuela, the government decides how much it could pay for

most food stamp, but also what many people wages actually as if the oil crisis crash globally. They had not been to keep one after the other.

They basically crash out the money.

And now for lives like this, they need to find (INAUDIBLE) and that's about a month's minimum wage.

(voice-over): Wherever you look, repression and hunger haunt this once proud city.

(INAUDIBLE) is a juggler, a magician for kid's parties, beaten heavily he says in the day before the protest now begging for food when we find him.

"I spent two days on the streets, he says," "and two days at home." "And when I go home, it's because I have food. Before I get calls to do magic

at birthday parties, but now, with the country the way it is, magic doesn't help."

They mourn the dead, the anger quiet, indignant, not belligerent. South America is looking to see if Venezuela can fix its self-made crisis without

major bloodshed. But they are falling so far and so fast and the ground is getting nearer.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Caracas, Venezuela.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And we'll have Nick's next report on the program tomorrow.

Now Venezuelan women head nearly half of the country's households, and so they are most affected by the country's crisis.

Women like Lilian and Antonieta Lopez, wife and mother of the jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, they have both just met with Canada's

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and in February, Lillian took their campaign for his release to the White House, meeting President Trump in February.

Antonieta joins me now from Washington, where she's still there trying to keep up the pressure on the Maduro regime.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Mrs. Lopez.

ANTONIETA LOPEZ, MOTHER OF LEOPOLDO LOPEZ: Hello, Christiane. Thank you very much forgiving us the opportunity to denounce the plight of

Venezuelans for Freedom and Democracy.

AMANPOUR: OK.

LOPEZ: You already said CNN is banned from Venezuela.

AMANPOUR: Well, it is, and we see all the repression and we see it ourselves, and we can see especially what's going on with your country

people, and your own son, who has been committed to 14 years in jail.

First, what did Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump, how have they said that they can help?

LOPEZ: Well, yesterday, we had the meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau. And he was -- he really engaged, he was very emphatic with us, listening to

all the Venezuelan crisis. We talked about the violation of the human rights, about the terrible repression, the brutal repression of the

dictatorship.

And we talked to him about the call for action. What we need from Canada. We need Canada that has been one of the main countries that fight for the

human rights to call for free and -- free elections, fair elections. The freedom of all the political prisoners. The respect for the national

assembly and open for the humanitarian channel to solve our humanitarian crisis. He was very involved with this last issue.

[14:20:16] AMANPOUR: Yes. Now it's one thing for them to support you. But what real hope do you have that anybody from the outside is going to

change the president's mind?

LOPEZ: Christiane, the first thing that I can answer the question is that the international community, what we really want is that they listen, they

listen to the Venezuelans, hear their voices, because we have been silenced. But the mechanisms are there.

It's not only a moral fight. A democratic fight. It's a legal fight. We have the institutions. We have the OIS. They have a meeting next week,

the foreign ministers, to talk about the Venezuela situation.

Today, the U.N. Security Council is meeting to revise the humanitarian crisis and the violation of human rights. And it's illegal, we have the

democratic charter. It has to be invoked in the next general assembly. We really hope that the international community responds to that.

AMANPOUR: You know, obviously, we've seen in the reporting, we've seen in the pictures, the military is arrayed against the people. At what point do

you try to, you know, the symbolic flowers in the barrel of the guns. I mean, at what point does the military, if ever, turn against the regime and

work on the side of the people? Do you think that will ever come? Are you trying to do that?

LOPEZ: I think so, Christiane. And maybe I can -- I can share with you a conversation I had with Leopoldo last Sunday. Leopoldo has been in a

military prison for almost 3 years and a half. And he was telling me, mom, I live with the military, I live with the soldiers. And I can tell you,

they're Venezuelans. They cry for Venezuelans, and there's fractures, and they're against the dictatorship. And that's what we see.

Every time we go to the prison, we feel the eye contact they have with us, that they are following our fight. And there are fractures in the

government. The attorney general, the son -- he's a young Venezuelan, that's being protested in the street. He could be killed, as the

youngsters that have been killed. More than half of the people that have been killed are under 23 years old.

AMANPOUR: I guess the question also is, how long can this keep up, these protests? I mean, people are hungry, people don't have, you know, health

care, they can't get the medicines they need or the care that they need. 40 people have been killed. Are the people ready to stay in the streets?

LOPEZ: The Venezuelan people have the courage, and they have lost so much that they even lost fear. Venezuelan people are going to be on the

streets, Christiane, day after day, until we regain the freedom and democracy. I'm sure that's going to happen.

AMANPOUR: Antonieta Lopez, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Washington today. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: So we have always asked and we will continue to ask the government of Venezuela and its representatives to come on this program to

talk about these issues. They have so far declined.

When we come back, we turn to something completely different. Imagine a princess giving up her royal title for romance. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:25:00] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where young love conquers all. But an age-old inequality still reigns supreme.

In Japan, Princess Mako has announced her engagement to a commoner who she met in college five years ago. The princess must give up her royal title

to follow her heart, sparking a debate in conservative Japan, because it is a sacrifice she would not be making if she were a man.

Japan's crown prince and reigning emperor are married to commoners themselves. Women are also unable to ascend the chrysanthemum throne. The

price for keeping these ancient traditions is high. Japan's shirking imperial family will dwindle even more with the wedding of Princess Mako.

But love reigns royally.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always listen to our podcast, see us online @Amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END