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Trump Leaves For Coast Guard Academy Speech; Putin Offers Trump-Lavrov Transcript To Congress; Dems Call For Immediate Investigation On Comey Memo. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- you can actually see them struggling to come up with something funny to say about all of this.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, if they can't find material right now, they should get a new job. Thanks for being with us. There are big headlines and there's new information, so let's get to CNN NEWSROOM with John Berman. John?
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Poppy is on assignment this morning.
The breaking news, James Comey has memos, Vladimir Putin has transcripts, and Republicans have agita.
The White House has a full-scale crisis on its hands, maybe an existential crisis. At this moment, we're waiting for the President to depart the White House for a commencement address. He has still not commented on Twitter or out loud about the ground shaking report that he asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation on Michael Flynn.
Now, is it unusual that we haven't heard from the President? Abso- freaking-lutely. This is the longest he's gone in a month without tweeting. Likely not a coincidence.
Also, we're waiting to hear from the man who holds the President's fate in his hands, House Speaker Paul Ryan. More and more Republicans this morning are calling for a special prosecutor. Will the Speaker defend the President? Will he address the members of Congress who are starting to invoke the "I" word either directly or through imagery like this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think we've seen this movie before. I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So that was Senator John McCain comparing this to Watergate, which did not end well for the President at that time.
Also, this morning, where is former FBI Director James Comey, now topping the list of guys you don't want to mess with? Where are his memos? When will we hear from him?
So much happening this morning it's going to take us 10 minutes to get to the fact that Vladimir Putin just said he will release the Oval Office transcripts of conversations where the President shared intelligence.
A lot going on. CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez has been working his sources. He joins us now from Washington.
Evan, the former FBI Director, he likes to make memos.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, he sure does, John. Comey is well known to religiously document controversial issues, going back to the Bush administration. The bad news for the Trump White House is that there are many, many more memos to be revealed according to people close to James Comey.
The FBI Director wrote memos and shared e-mails with those close to him about his conversations with President Trump, particularly those that left him uneasy. One conversation in February apparently stood out because Comey claims in a memo that the President asked him to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn. That's the fired national security adviser.
According to a friend who has a copy of the memo, Comey said that the President told him, quote, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey left concerned that the President was trying to stop the investigation. And Congressman Jason Chaffetz, last night, wrote a letter to the FBI asking for any memos and e-mails and records that were left by Comey.
Now, the White House and the President are disputing how Comey described the conversation. It's going to be Comey's word versus the President's. One criticism that's already surfing from Comey's critics is this, why didn't he say something earlier before he got fired?
His friends say Comey didn't want to affect the ongoing investigation into Russia, and he believed that he had the issue under control. And he also ensured that the President's comments, John, did not get back to the agents doing this investigation.
BERMAN: All right. These memos, everyone wants them and fast. Evan Perez, thank you so much. I want to get straight to the White House. CNN's Joe Johns is there.
Joe, we have not heard from the President himself. He has not been on Twitter, but we might see him within minutes.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. The President is getting ready to fly off to Connecticut because he is going to be delivering the commencement address to the Coast Guard up there. And his speech is expected to come very late morning, so there is an opportunity, at least, to hear from the President. Not clear at all if he's going to answer questions. And, look, the big question that the White House is trying to address
right now is essentially whether the President of the United States tried to interfere in a federal investigation, and then when he didn't get what he wanted, he fired the guy who wouldn't give him what he wanted. That would be James Comey.
The White House has declared that, as far as they're concerned, the conversation that the President had has been misconstrued. Comey's account is incorrect or otherwise. Here's what the White House has said.
"While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey."
[09:05:09] Now, CNN hasn't seen that memo, the story first reported by "The New York Times," but the details of the meeting that occurred with Mr. Comey where the President is alleged to have said these things occurred, apparently, after a briefing attended by the Vice President as well as the Attorney General.
According to the account we have received, the President asked the others to leave the room so he could speak privately with Mr. Comey. And that is the time when these things, apparently, were said. So hoping to hear more from the White House, and they've got another difficult situation to try to clean up. John, back to you.
BERMAN: Yes, indeed we do. And again, the key moments, we'll see the President again on the helicopter. We'll see him get on Air Force One. We may get a briefing from the White House Press Secretary on the flight to Connecticut. These are all things you're going to want to watch over the next couple hours. Joe Johns, thank you very, very much.
In some respects, the future of this presidency now rests with Congress, especially Republicans in Congress. And new this morning, we are starting to hear more and more calls from some Republicans for a special prosecutor.
CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill. Ryan, what are you hearing?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, I wouldn't quite describe it as a tidal wave of movement by Republicans up here on Capitol Hill, but there is somewhat of a shift now. You're hearing a different tone and tenor from many of these members, both in the House and the Senate, about the conduct of the White House.
And for the first time, we are starting to hear Republican members of Congress call for a special prosecutor. Among them, Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Listen to what he said this morning on "NEW DAY."
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REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think we're at a position now where it's time for an independent commission or a special prosecutor. I'm not sure of the best venue, but I think it's time that we do whatever is necessary that, when this is over, we give the American people the confidence that justice, you know, either way it goes, has been served.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: He's not the only one. Also, Congressman Steve knight. He is a Republican from California. He put out this statement.
"It's time for an investigation of Russia's intervention into the U.S. election. There is too much at stake, home and abroad, to not take this step. I continue to support any efforts done by the House Intelligence Committee and join many of my colleagues in supporting the assignment of a special prosecutor to take over the ongoing FBI investigation."
But we should point out, John, that most Republicans are still being very careful to take that step of calling for a special prosecutor.
I actually just caught up with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He told me he wants all the facts to be put out on the table. He's not rejecting the press reports. He suggests that they could, in fact, be true, but he wants to hear both sides of the story. At this point, he feels he's only getting one side of the story, John.
BERMAN: Yes. I've been talking to Republicans overnight, Ryan. They don't know what the heck is going to happen. They are waiting as long as they can before they draw a firm line. Ryan Nobles, thanks so much.
Joining us now, CNN Senior Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin; CNN Legal Analyst and Senior Trial Counsel for Callan Legal Paul Callan; and former FBI Special Agent Mike German. He is also a current fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice.
Gentlemen, I warn you. I'm going to lead the witnesses here, but I think there's some important points that we want to make very, very clear for the audience.
Jeffrey Toobin, you said this comes down to three words, obstruction of justice. From just a legal standpoint --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL STANDPOINT: Right.
BERMAN: Just legal, not political.
TOOBIN: OK, just legal.
BERMAN: What do you need to prove for obstruction of justice?
TOOBIN: You need to prove a corrupt effort to interfere or attempt to interfere with the due administration of justice. That's what the statute says. But in a roiling political context, that definition will be up to the members of Congress if it comes before them.
BERMAN: Because, Paul Callan, no one is putting the President before a trial judge here. You know, the decision will ultimately be made by the Congress of the United States. The ultimate lever they can use here is impeachment.
You'll hear Democrats bringing that up. People are now discussing it out loud. While they have been, I'm not talking about it specifically, but that's the power Congress has here. They don't have to go by the code that Jeffrey is talking about here. They can go by some different measurement of what they think obstructs justice.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's really a political judgement that's made by the Congress to vote articles of impeachment. And I think, though, the best comparison is to look back to Nixon when he was impeached to say, what was he charged with? What was so serious that caused them to vote impeachment there?
And I was looking at those articles last night. He was charged with subornation of perjury for having subordinates commit a burglary, bribing witnesses, using the FBI, the CIA, and the IRS to go after U.S. citizens. It went on and on. There were probably 20 things that he did that were alleged.
Here, we're talking right now about one conversation with Comey in the Oval Office. I don't see the comparison. I don't think there is enough for a Republican Congress to vote articles of impeachment on a Republican President on this record.
[09:10:06] BERMAN: You'll hear Democrats then say, well, then he fired the FBI Director. He's also tweeting that the investigation is a hoax. They'll point to a pattern there. But I do take your point.
Matt German, the memo. The FBI Director wrote a memo, is our reporting, contemporaneously to these conversations. Why do FBI agents, investigators, write memos like this?
MATT GERMAN, FORMER SPECIAL AGENT, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: This is Investigations 101. If it's not on paper, it didn't happen. So part of an FBI agent's training is to document every meeting.
And so this is just a normal course of business to make sure that you can recreate whatever happened by documenting contemporaneously through the investigation. That way, it's easy to go back. And if somebody asked you, why did you make this decision? You just fold back your notebook and say, well, here is what was happening.
BERMAN: And, Jeffrey Toobin, what do they matter, memos like this, as legal documents?
TOOBIN: Well, they're enormously important because they are contemporaneous or nearly contemporaneous. You know, if you're talking about a conversation that was in February 14th of 2017 or even further in the past, you know, most of us mortals have a hard time remembering. If you have someone who has written down immediately afterwards what happened, that tends to have a great deal of credibility with fact finders, whether they'd be a jury, a judge, or the broader public.
BERMAN: And, Paul Callan, this is now turning into a case of he said/he said. The White House is now saying publicly, their only response -- so we haven't seen any from the White House. I'm refreshing Twitter right now. I still see nothing from him. But the White House's response is this conversation didn't happen like it's being reported right now.
CALLAN: Well, you know, it's interesting, John. I was listening carefully to that statement. They said that it wasn't an accurate portrayal of the conversation. That was the statement from the White House. That gives them a lot of hedge room to say, well, those words may be accurate but the context hasn't been properly presented.
And I wanted to add one other thing to what Jeff was saying, how important it is, a contemporaneous record of a conversation. In this world of electronic metadata, if Comey went back to his computer and typed up this memo, they'll be metadata on his computer indicating exactly when that entry was made. So the FBI will be able to establish when the record was made.
BERMAN: I just got one bit of breaking news, guys. The President is now on the helicopter, Marine One, to fly to Andrews Air Force Base, to fly up here to a commencement address.
He did not take questions on his way to Marine One. We weren't expecting it, but, again, the President has not commented directly on this, has not gone to twitter. That is highly, highly unusual.
Matt German, James Comey has been criticized by some. One of the Republican talking points out there is that, well, look, if he thought the President was obstructing justice or he thought this conversation was so unusual, why did he only write a memo? Why didn't he come clean to Congress at the time if he was so concerned? Is there a defense against that?
GERMAN: There is. I mean, this was a very unusual situation. You have an Attorney General who's just sworn in. You have the Deputy Attorney General fired weeks before and a new Acting Deputy Attorney General in. So the chain of command is a little odd, especially with the ultimate recusal by the Attorney General from the Russian matter.
So I can understand that there was some confusion on who to report this to, but the memo should have gone to someone, whether it was the Acting Deputy Attorney General who was there, because this is really bigger than just a meeting with the FBI Director, right?
The other thing an FBI agent learns is that --
TOOBIN: Can I just add one point?
BERMAN: Go ahead.
TOOBIN: President Trump in a tweet very recently suggested there were tapes of White House conversations.
TOOBIN: Now, of course, the issue of whether there is some sort of tape of the Comey/Trump conversation becomes very important. And Congress and whoever is investigating this will certainly ask right away, is there a tape?
BERMAN: And we have 30 seconds left, Jeffrey. You can put a button on this whole thing. Pandora's Box has been opened here. There are memos that have been reported, multiple. This ends how? With giant congressional hearings with James Comey testifying, is there any other end here?
TOOBIN: Certainly, I don't know if that's where it ends.
BERMAN: Well --
TOOBIN: That's going to be part of the story, that Comey is going to have to testify, the memos will have to become public, and then we'll see where we are.
BERMAN: These memos exist. We will know what is on them, potentially even soon. All right, Paul Callan, Jeffrey Toobin, Matt German. Thank you very much for this conversation, trying to understand exactly what is at stake here.
There are also new developments on what was the previous giant scandal of the week at the White House. This was the President apparently revealing classified information in a closed-door meeting with the Russians. This morning, Vladimir Putin says, you know what, I'll release the transcript of those conversations if you want to see them.
[09:14:54] And the Republican agenda right now. Where does it stand? Well, more importantly, what will the House Speaker Paul Ryan say about the breathtaking developments overnight that the President asked to stop the investigation of Michael Flynn? We're going to hear from the House Speaker in just a few minutes, his first comments out loud since this all happened.
Plus, President Trump not only apparently asked the FBI director to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn. He also suggested or asked why can't reporters be thrown in jail? So we have that going for us, which is nice.
BERMAN: All right, breaking news, you are looking at live pictures of Marine One. The president of the United States, Donald Trump, is arriving at Joint Base Andrews.
He will get off that helicopter and walk over to Air Force One, where he is flying up to Connecticut for a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy set to be delivered in just a couple of hours.
Now, we have not heard from the president since this earthquake of a report that he asked James Comey, the then FBI director to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. We haven't heard from the president out loud or on Twitter.
And again that is notable because it has been more than a month since the president has gone this long without tweeting anything. The president did not say anything on his way to the helicopter. We do not know if he will speak on his way to Air Force One.
[09:20:03]We do expect to get some kind of briefing during the flight from Press Secretary Sean Spicer. A lot of questions for the press secretary on that subject.
I'm joined here in New York by CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, you know, the president of the United States not going to Twitter for the last 16 hours or so, not commenting on this. Why now would he want to be extra careful about what he says?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let me just elaborate on that a little bit. Not only have we failed to hear from the president on Twitter. There have been no White House spokes people out talking and responding to this report.
No Kellyanne Conway, no Sean Spicer. Nobody saying this report is wrong. The president didn't do anything wrong. The only thing we had is that one written statement which doesn't even have a name attached to it.
It is just from the White House generically. It's very unusual for this White House to let a damaging report go unanswered for so long. I mean, it just suggests the gravity of the situation that they're facing.
BERMAN: Jeffrey, standby one moment because there is another story as we're watching the president right now. There is another story making a lot of news. It has to do with the Russian President Vladimir Putin who is offering to give Congress a transcript of that controversial conversation between President Trump and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
This after reports that the president shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador. CNN's Matthew Chance live in Moscow with us. Matthew, is this top scale trolling by the Russian president on Donald Trump right now?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, or on the critics of Donald Trump at least because there has been scathing words from President Putin towards the critics of Donald Trump. He said this, they don't understand that they're harming their country which makes them just dumb or they understand fully which makes them dangerous and dirty.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president had been responding to a question about whether any secret information had been communicated to his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, during that now infamous meeting in the oval office between Trump and Lavrov.
He made a joke about that as well saying we need to have to think about a punishment for Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, because he didn't tell us about any of the secrets that were communicated to him.
So everybody was laughing on the platform, on the stage where he made that comment. So, you're right, he is making a joke out of this. Russians haven't known whether to laugh or cry at the political chaos unfolding in the United States right now and has been for the past several weeks, but they are choosing to laugh today. That might change in the days ahead.
BERMAN: All right, Matthew Chance for us in Moscow, thanks so much. Again, we are looking at live pictures at Marine One at Joint Base Andrews. The president getting on Air Force One shortly to fly to Connecticut to deliver a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy. We are waiting to hear if we get any words from the president himself on this or the press secretary as well.
In the meantime, as we watch this, I want to bring in a Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He is part of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee, which is especially important today because one of 33 Democratic members of Judiciary and Oversight that has asked for a joint investigation now into the matter at hand.
Congressman, thanks so much for being with us as we watch the president get off this helicopter. Overnight you wrote if this is true, the reports that the president asked the FBI director to halt the investigation into James Comey -- into Michael Flynn, pardon me, you wrote, "If this is true it is obstruction of justice," period, full stop, sir.
REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES: Yes. Thanks for having me. This is obviously a very, very serious circumstance and I think we really all need to understand the gravity of it. This is a story, which if true, demonstrates that the president attempted to stop an investigation. Classic prima fascia obstruction of justice.
This really is an incredibly serious allegation. We have a responsibility to find out whether or not this is true. It obviously has been reported now from a number of news outlets. It is important for the Judiciary and Oversight Committees to get to the bottom of, to do a full review of this.
It also makes another important point here that we need to have an independent prosecutor appointed, an independent commission to study the broader issues at stake here. This is very serious.
This is the president of the United States telling the FBI director to stop an investigation that potentially includes criminal activity. We should be reminded this is what Richard Nixon was impeached for and finally resigned, the attempt to cover up and stop an investigation.
This is very serious and we have to be really I think understand the gravity of it and approach it with a kind of sober mind that it requires.
[09:25:05]BERMAN: So President Trump is now on Air Force One. He did not comment, which wasn't unexpected on his way on board nor did he even wave to the cameras as he got on board. He's there. He's on his way to Connecticut very shortly.
Congressman, Jonathan Turley, you know, a law professor wrote that in order to prove obstruction of justice from a legal standpoint, he writes that you need to prove that the person did it with the intent to secure an unlawful benefit for oneself or one another.
Encouraging leniency or advocating for an associate is improper, but not necessarily seeking an unlawful benefit for him. He's saying, you know what, you know what, if the president said was, hey, could you go light on my friend, Michael Flynn, that's not necessarily obstruction of justice.
It is what lawyers do all the time. It is what people connected to cases occasionally do. Is that in and of itself obstruction?
CICILLINE: Well, I think there's no question. If you believe the reports that have been detailed in the media, it was more than that. It was a president saying that he would appreciate it or he would like the investigation dropped. Michael Flynn had been fired. Leave it alone or words to that effect.
That's quite different. That's just advocating leniency. That's not advocating for a lighter sentence. That's telling the person responsible for an investigation, the criminal investigation at issue don't do it. I'd appreciate it.
This is the president of the United States, the boss of that person. So it is quite different. I think if those facts are demonstrated to be true, you have obstruction of justice unequivocally. And the important point is we need to know what the facts are. That is certainly the reporting. If it's true --
BERMAN: Congressman, do you need to hear from James Comey in front of your committee in public soon?
CICILLINE: Absolutely. We have been pressing the chairman to bring Director Comey into the Judiciary Committee for quite a while now. This is another reason that we need to hear from Director Comey. He needs to explain exactly what happened. I think the American people deserve to hear this from him.
And whatever the consequences are there, but look, nobody is above the law in this country, including our president. That's what makes our democracy so strong. The American people want to know what's happened here.
We have a responsibility to demand this be fully investigated and the facts be uncovered and whatever the consequences are, they are. But we cannot allow this to go uninvestigated. We can't allow this to just sit there. The president needs to be held accountable. If he in fact did this, there would be consequences.
BERMAN: What consequences? CICILLINE: I think, you know, the president engaged in obstruction of justice. He has demonstrated his inability to remain as our president. So I think this is very, very serious.
BERMAN: OK. Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, thank you very, very much. again, the congressman is a Democrat. We know where the Democrats stand on this. They want James Comey to testify in public and soon. Some are saying impeachment.
The important question, what will Republicans do about this? And we are waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. I think we have a picture of the room where he will be speaking very, very shortly. What will he say? Will he defend the president?
He has been more or less silent on this since last night. We did one statement from his office saying he's not going to be silent anymore after this morning when he has to speak.
What do the markets think about this? Global markets are watching this closely. They do not like chaos or uncertainty. We'll check in with what they think now. We are live at the exchange in a moment.
And then it has to do, a lot of investors are concerned with what this means for the president's agenda. Does it still have a chance given everything that's going on?