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Trump Or Comey: Who Will America Believe?; Can Trump Recover?; Jailing Journalists? Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:00] JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI CHIEF OF STAFF:-- known in his professional life to take copious notes and to file those away.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So, Michael, what's the process whereby we get to see these notes?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: Well, as you said, you know, they could be subpoenaed ultimately if we had a special prosecutor. Those things can become evidence in a case. I have some question of whether or not the FBI -- and our other guest might could tell us whether or not they would claim some privilege initially on those because of a pending investigation, but my guess is if they put it in an envelope and consider it evidence in the case that they could be subject to a subpoena.

You know, this is an interesting case because the question is do we ever actually get to a criminal obstruction charge or is this something that's more likely to take the path of impeachment in the House, which is a different standard and a different investigation, and such as that. Hopefully, those decisions are made the House representatives.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Michael, it has to be, right? I mean, almost all the judicial reckoning on this. The civil side's different. We've got the Paula Jones case --

MOORE: Right.

CUOMO: -- that the Supreme Court decided but, usually, impeachment would be seen as the first step and then if there's any penalties they would come after.

MOORE: That's right.

CUOMO: So, to your point, all of this would be done in a political context which would make it a lot softer in terms of what the FBI has to offer up. You know, who's asking them. They'd probably be politicians, right?

MOORE: Right, and I think it's remote that there would be any kind of criminal charge against a sitting president. I think you have a few people who want to argue that that could still happen but the chances are slim to none that's going to happen. So you're really talking about whether or not a case is moved forward by the House of Representatives and whether or not they pursue articles of impeachment. If they do that then, ultimately, they make the decisions, you know. They make the decisions on intent. They make the decisions on corrupt influence, and all those things, they define them in a political context.

CAMEROTA: James, we now know that James Comey was known for doing this. That he liked taking notes particularly when there was something out of the ordinary. Sources say that when something struck him as a momentous occasion or possibly veering out of the bounds of, you know, legality or certainly appropriateness, he went back and took notes, good and bad, of everything that he could remember in the moment. What was the feeling in the Bureau? Did people know this about him?

Alisyn, it almost appears to me as if he was being an FBI agent. He was basically building a case. Do I believe that -- and again, we have to stipulate that this "memo" or electronic communication actually exists. "The New York Times" says it does -- let's presume that it does. I have to think that at this juncture he was just basically laying out the framework that if things went sideways here's what happened. I recorded these within five days because FBI agents are required once there's an interaction -- a meeting and interview -- to go down on paper with that within five days.

CUOMO: Which is a nod, again, to how powerful a contemporaneous recording is. You know, there's something about being in the moment that seems to make people less conniving, absent evidence. But boy, what a case of power of the pen, you know. Gagliano's pen there is a long-range slug, right, and -- you can't see it, Mike, but he's got a bullet for a pen and what a metaphor that is.

All right. Now, let me ask you a quick legal question. Let's say Comey did this exactly the way Gagliano suggests.

MOORE: Right.

CUOMO: It was by the book. Should he have shown those memos? I -- there is some reporting out there that this happened, by the way, but we don't know for sure -- that he should've shown it to the DOJ. Shouldn't he have gone to the DOJ if he had any kind of legit concern that anybody, let alone the president, was trying to obstruct a case?

MOORE: You know, I think probably he handled it the right way. There can be an argument whether or not he should've gone, maybe, to the deputy attorney general or somebody at that time but, really, what he did was protect the investigation and he handled it in a way where he documented the interaction. He was able to make contemporaneous writing, as you say. It's really given more credibility and reliability because it was made at the time, and he -- and he made that part of the file. And, you know, the FBI is a great investigative agency and they are accustomed to papering their files ad nauseam, making sure that every interaction is documented and such as that, so I think he probably did it the right way.

CAMEROTA: James, Michael, thank you very much for all of the insight and information. Great to have you here.

GAGLIANO: Good to be here.

MOORE: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, so one self-inflicted wound after another weighing down President Trump. Can his administration recover from this damage? We dig deeper on what's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:38:15] CUOMO: All right. The Trump White House dealing with another self-inflicted crisis. There's an editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" -- you've got to read it. It's not mincing any words. Here's part of it. "Weeks of pointless melodrama and undisciplined comments have depleted public and Capitol Hill attention from health care and tax reform. An exhaustion is setting in. America holds elections every two years and Mr. Trump's policy allies in Congress are going to drift away if he looks like a liability."

Joining us for some perspective is CNN presidential historian and co- author of "JFK: A Vision for America," Douglas Brinkley. Not only do we need your perspective on how this does harken back to the Nixon administration when obstruction of justice was a foundation of the political argument there for impeachment, but also the idea of crisis' influence on an agenda and the ability to govern. What are you seeing here and what does it remind of?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, this is a White House that's unraveling. Donald Trump has gotten himself in so many difficult situations over the last few days I don't know how he's really going to be able to work his way out of it. And, of course, it's been -- you know, Nixon's been being talked about for days now but for good reasons. It does seem that Donald Trump obstructed justice in the firing of Comey and then, particularly, as the memcom (ph) states that he was trying to get the FBI not to look into Flynn anymore and let him off the hook because he's a good guy.

The drumbeats of impeachment are here. That's doesn't mean he's going to be impeached but you're going to be hearing that word -- the "i" word that any president dreads -- regularly from commentators and pundits that come on CNN because the atmospherics of what's going on now look just awful for Donald Trump. He has to come up with a defense, yet he's seemed very remiss from wanting to produce any documentary evidence such as the tape he mentioned that he had the other day, which most people don't think exists, of this conversation with Comey.

[05:40:27] CAMEROTA: Right.

BRINKLEY: So we'll have to see how much the president's willing to cooperate.

CAMEROTA: And now, James Comey, it's been reported, even wants to see that tape or hear that tape. Last night, David Gergen was on CNN and he talked about the impeachment word and he is more than just a pundit. Obviously, he was an adviser in various White Houses. So here's his perspective. CUOMO: Nixon and Clinton.

CAMEROTA: Yes, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I was in the Nixon administration, as you know, and I thought after watching the Clinton impeachment I thought I'd never see another one, but I think we're in impeachment territory now --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?

GERGEN: -- for the first time. Well, I think that the obstruction of justice was the number one charge against Nixon that brought him down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: So, Doug, I mean, give us your historical perspective on how you think -- where you think we are today and how it compares.

BRINKLEY: Well, we always have to remember Richard Nixon had run a full term, you know. He had successes on the famous trip to China with Mao Zedong and (INAUDIBLE) in '72. He was president when Neil Armstrong went on the moon, he created the Environmental Protection Agency, so Nixon had a legacy. And, of course, in '72 he won the biggest landslide in American history and then boom, Watergate fell upon him.

In this case, we have Donald Trump, almost from day one of his administration, being besieged by this massive "Russiagate" problem for -- since there's no other word because we keep wanting to say if there is collusion with Russia -- but it's terrible. He just doesn't seem to know how to get away from it. He's made so many errors in tweets, statements. He now is really seeming like somebody who is being bought and sold out of Moscow and if that's not the case he's got to kind of prove to the American people that he had nothing to do with colluding with Russia during the 2016 election.

I just don't think he took all this as seriously as he needed to and try to talk his way out, and now it is a Watergate-like situation and impeachment is in the air. And just like Gerald Ford, kind of a mild- mannered, Midwesterner from Michigan, replaced Richard Nixon, you may have Governor -- former Governor Mike Pence, the vice president, coming in and becoming president within the year.

CUOMO: But, Douglas, do you think --

BRINKLEY: It's not going to happen --

CUOMO: Yes. Do you think they're anywhere near that?

BRINKLEY: We're not near there --

CUOMO: I mean, even Watergate started with an underlying felony, right? I mean, you had the break-in. BRINKLEY: Exactly.

CUOMO: So here, we're talking about obstruction of justice which, by the way, is not helped by his firing of Comey, you know. If he hadn't fired Comey I don't think he'd have much of even a political argument about it, absent Comey saying I was so scared by what he said, because if he was that scared he should have told somebody.

CAMEROTA: We wouldn't know about these memos had he not fired Comey.

CUOMO: Well, probably not, right? I mean, so -- but in terms of historical perspective and where he is right now, what do you think the relative level of jeopardy is?

BRINKLEY: A long ways to go. This is like, really, a big opening act right now. You know, Watergate, we used to say, was the drip, drip, drip --

CUOMO: Right.

BRINKLEY: -- of Watergate. However, this is like a slap, slap, slap every week. I don't think you could have any more -- much more hemorrhaging out of the Trump White House, you know. He doesn't have a trusted close adviser. He sort of operates in a freewheeling fashion. He changes his mind on a regular basis. Morale is in the basement at the White House now. So when he's getting ready to go to Saudi Arabia, and to Israel, and to the Vatican, he doesn't have much wind on his sail. He's like a traveling can of -- a traveling can of worms. Wherever he goes people are going to be raising questions about what his involvement with Russia and why he fired the FBI chief.

CUOMO: Then again, not a bad time to get out of town.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Douglas, thank you very much for this historical perspective.

CUOMO: All right. So speaking of perspective, first, he wanted Hillary Clinton locked up. You all remember the chants. Then the president, reportedly, tried to convince James Comey to lock up journalists who publish leaked information. You remember James Comey kind of saying out of nowhere during his hearing testimony "journalists will not be considered for any criminal proceedings." People were like where's that coming from. Maybe now we know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:48:55] CAMEROTA: There is more to the James Comey memos that we need to tell you about. "The New York Times" is reporting that those Comey memos also say that the president told James Comey to consider locking up reporters for publishing leaked information. Joining us to talk about this is CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter, and CNN media analyst Bill Carter.

Brian, we have talked a lot about how the president doesn't like any critical stories of him, but the idea that he would go to the director of the FBI and say can reporters be jailed for publishing some of these stories? I mean, that's obviously beyond the pale. It's just a whole new territory.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's had a running war with the media but this, if this were to actually happen, would be a very dark new chapter in this story. I don't think it's a chapter that will be written. There are constraints, thankfully, on this sort of a presidential fantasy about something like this. But even last night there was a report in the "Daily Beast" that the Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, is going to be focused on at least pursuing leakers, if not the reporters who publish the information -- at least the leakers.

[05:50:03] CAMEROTA: That's different, though.

STELTER: We will see.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's -- the leakers are coming from the White House or wherever -- whatever institution -- but journalists can publish that information. It's not illegal.

STELTER: Right. We have not seen in the past prosecutions of journalists directly for publishing information.

CUOMO: Right. But, you know, look, it always got a little dicey because this isn't like bedrock. It was always allowance over time.

STELTER: Right.

CUOMO: And, even Comey -- remember when Comey was testifying a couple of weeks ago -- it seems like forever ago now -- where he just kind of like came out of nowhere in response to a question, or maybe directly, and said journalists will not be viewed for prosecution in any criminal proceedings based on -- and I remember him saying that and being like yes, why would he mention that? Maybe now we know why.

BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Now we know why. I don't think we should be terribly surprised. This is a guy who described the press as the enemy of the people. I think he feels like they're his enemy. Why can't we do something about it? And, you know, Trump is not a guy who thinks in terms of legalities, we know that. So in this case or really what the constitution says -- I'm not sure he thinks the first amendment really would protect journalists so I think he probably thinks this is something the FBI could and should do.

STELTER: It's revealing about his mindset, about his anger, the fury that he feels --

CARTER: Yes.

STELTER: -- about these leaks. Leaks of classified information, also leaks about the infighting and incompetence of his administration. This president is stewing, you know, furious about these leaks. I think the fact that the "Times" has the details, the White House has not refuted it. The White House has not denied this.

CARTER: But you also have to say there's a -- sort of a failure of his leadership. I mean, this White House has leaked like none other that I can ever remember.

CAMEROTA: Well, there you go. I mean, essentially, with the discord --

CARTER: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: -- inside the White House, let's jail journalists.

CARTER: Exactly. Fix your own house before you go after the journalists --

CUOMO: And also --

CARTER: -- reporting on the mess in your own house.

CUOMO: Also, the hypocrisy. This was a man who celebrated leaks. Do you remember during the --

CARTER: Right.

CUOMO: When we'd have the Clinton people on here and I'd say so what do you make of these emails, and Neera Tanden and these people would say we're not going to talk about these hacked documents, and Trump couldn't talk about them enough --

CARTER: No.

CUOMO: -- saying who cares where they came from. Either it's true or it's false and now the shoe's on the other foot.

STELTER: All leaks are not created equally. Some of these leaks could be agenda-driven from --

CUOMO: Sure.

STELTER: -- former Obama officials.

CARTER: Yes.

STELTER: Others are whistleblowers. People blowing the whistle, trying to sound the alarms. And some of these leaks are from Trump supporters like --

CARTER: They are.

STELTER: Erick Erickson wrote -- a conservative commentator wrote a great piece about this yesterday, saying hey, I know one of the sources for one of the Russia stories. He is a Trump supporter who's trying to --

CARTER: He or she.

STELTER: -- sound the alarm --

CARTER: Yes.

STELTER: That's right -- about -- for President Trump. Some of these people are trying to alert the public --

CARTER: Yes.

STELTER: -- and I think they're going to look back and think about the courage some of these leakers felt.

CAMEROTA: But just to be clear, there is not a history of journalists having to go to jail --

CARTER: No.

CAMEROTA: -- for publishing --

CARTER: There have been threats against journalists. There have been journalists that go to jail with not revealing sources.

CUOMO: Right.

CARTER: You know, that has happened.

CUOMO: It happens.

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes, that's for not revealing sources. But I'm saying for publishing --

CARTER: No.

CAMEROTA: -- leaked information.

CARTER: No.

CUOMO: No, but it's --

CARTER: The Obama administration threatened this pretty seriously and then Eric Holder formally came out and said we will never jail a journalist. They actually made that announcement.

CUOMO: But it's a slippery slope because if you say well, I need to know who told you this, it's for national security reasons, you get into one bucket. But now, if they say well, I need you tell me who leaked to you because this was really important, it really hurt the president, that's a slippery slope. And if you just don't like the information that comes out and you want to punish the people who put it out, that's dangerous and it's a big part of our democracy. You wouldn't have known about the Michael Flynn stuff if "The Washington Post"

CARTER: Of course.

CUOMO: -- hadn't put out that report. We wouldn't know about these memos if somebody hadn't leaked about them -- remember that.

CAMEROTA: History is riffed with what you need journalists for. Bill, Brian, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Especially now. CAMEROTA: It's the memo that could rewrite American history. Former FBI director James Comey detailing how Donald Trump tried to pressure him into dropping the Michael Flynn investigation. What happens next? We have more of our breaking news coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:58:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, May 17th, 6:00 here in New York, and we do start with breaking news. A memo written by former FBI directorJames Comey says that President Trump pressed him to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Now, Democrats are saying if true, this may raise the specter of impeachment.

CAMEROTA: The White House denies any wrongdoing but already questions are starting about obstruction of justice. Congress is ready to subpoena the FBI for any of those memos of conversations between James Comey and the president. The big question, of course, who will Americans believe, the president or James Comey? We have it all covered for you so let's go first to CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House. What's the latest there, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, sources tell CNN the President of the United States asked the former FBI director to end his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denies it but if this is true it marks a very dark moment in the investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Another bombshell in 24 hours. The besieged Trump White House now facing accusations of obstruction of justice that could lead to impeachment, at least in theory. A memo drafted by now-fired FBI director James Comey details President Trump asking him to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation during a February meeting in the Oval Office, saying, "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." CNN has not seen the memo. The story was first reported by "The New York Times."

The president told Comey that Flynn did nothing wrong despite the fact that he was fired for lying to the vice president about his conversations with a Russian ambassador.