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Sources: Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Probe. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[07:00:16] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. And we do begin with breaking news.
Another bombshell out of the White House. President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. This according to a memo written by James Comey before he was fired.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The White House denies the charge, but after the credibility problems, can you believe the denial?
If Trump tried to directly influence an investigation into links between his campaign and Russia, that could be obstruction of justice. Now, both sides of the political aisle are saying, at a minimum, they need to get to the bottom of the facts. Some Democrats are going further, saying this could be grounds for impeachment.
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the concern here is whether the president tried to influence an FBI investigation and then fire the man who was ultimately responsible for that investigation.
As you said, the White House denies this conversation ever happened. But if it did, this memo could be a big problem for President Trump.
JOHNS (voice-over): 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. Sources tell CNN the encounter happened after a briefing involving
Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who the president asked to leave the room so he could speak privately with Comey.
Comey was reportedly so appalled by the president's comments, he documented the exchange. Just one of a number of memos he wrote out of concern that the president was trying to stop the investigation. The White House flatly denying the explosive allegations, saying the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation.
This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.
In a tweet last week, President Trump threatened or at least warned Comey about potential tapes of their conversations, recordings Comey hopes exist in order to corroborate his account, according to sources.
The Oval Office meeting happened just one day after Flynn was fired and two weeks after the president summoned Comey to a dinner at the White House, reportedly asking him to pledge his loyalty. Comey refused. Less than three months later, Comey was fired. The president has openly said Russia was on his mind when he made that decision.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
JOHNS: On Capitol Hill, top congressional leaders stunned at the latest bombshell and largely silent.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I think they are shaken and shell-shocked by this news.
JOHNS: But one Republican, the chair of the House Oversight Committee. Jason Chaffetz, tweeting he is ready to issue a subpoena to obtain Comey's memo, if necessary, before sending the FBI a formal request to supply all notes and recordings detailing conversations between Comey and Mr. Trump by next Wednesday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan telling reporters he agreed with the move, adding, "We need to have all the facts."
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I saw that Speaker Ryan said some things tonight about getting to the bottom line. Frankly, I think he should -- he should be more aggressive. This is not a time for Republicans to hide.
JOHNS: Democrats on both the Oversight and Judiciary Committees demanding an immediate investigation as a growing number of lawmakers call for Comey to testify publicly as soon as possible. A move, sources say, the former FBI director supports.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. History is watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If these allegations, Senator, are true, are we getting closer and closer to the possibility of yet another impeachment process?
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense.
JOHNS: This crisis comes after the White House spent Tuesday trying to clean up the mess, essentially, after another shocking disclosure that the president revealed highly-classified information to top Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting.
CNN has been told that information was provided to the United States by Israeli intelligence. Now the president is planning to go on a long tour of several countries starting on Friday. And one of the countries he's expected to visit is Israel, setting up the possibility that there could be even more drama while the president is on the road -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Absolutely, Joe. It will be very interesting to see what happens there. Thank you for all that.
So leaders of both parties want to get their hands on the James Comey memo or memos. And some are asking why Comey took such copious notes.
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez is live in Washington with more.
Evan, what's your latest reporting on this?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the bad news for the Trump administration is there are a lot more memos to be revealed, according to people close to James Comey. The former FBI director is known to document big moments in his tenure. One associate close to Comey told Pamela Brown that the fired FBI director wrote memos and shared e-mails with those close to him for -- about major conversations with President Trump, particularly those that left him uneasy.
The conversation about Mike Flynn left Comey concerned that the president was trying to stop the investigation. Comey also wrote memos after other discussions with the president. Congress has already asked the FBI to turn over any memos and e-mails that Comey may have written.
What the White House now disputing how Comey described the conversation, it's going to be Comey's word versus the president's. One criticism already surfacing from critics of James Comey is why didn't he say something earlier, before he was fired? That his friends say that Comey didn't want to affect the ongoing Russia investigation. And he believed that he had the issue under control. And he also
insured that the president's comments did not get back to agents conducting that investigation -- Chris and Alisyn.
CUOMO: All right, Evan. Appreciate it.
Let's bring in the panel. CNN political analyst David Gregory. CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza.
So when you look at this situation, you've got a lot of law in the air. You've got politics in the air. What do you think the level of crisis is for the White House?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's grave, because I think that everything that the White House would like to be focused on, they have completely got knocked off topic because of the president's own self-destructive behavior, which undermines Democratic institutions for which he is showing contempt or at least reckless disregard of.
But I think the real thing to focus on here is, we're going to get the Comey memo at some point. I think Comey is going to be on Capitol Hill testifying. That is going to be Comey versus the president. That is the showdown we're going to see. And this is a time of reckoning for Republicans to try to get back on track here, to get to the bottom of what the president did, what it means, rein him in, what that means for the Russia investigation so that they can then get on to whatever may be left of an actual agenda that they want to govern on. That's the name of the game.
And I think they're taking incremental steps. I think there's a lot of circling the wagons. There's still fear of what Trump could mean to them politically. And I think everybody is kind of feeling dizzy by one revelation after another.
CAMEROTA: So Chris Cillizza, this is a time of reckoning for Republicans. It does feel as if something has shifted today. You know, there -- up until 24 -- 48 hours ago, there was more, I think, of a circling of the wagons. Do you sense a shift inside the Beltway where now you're hearing people publicly talk more?
CILLIZZA: Let me first caution that it's been 13 hours, Alisyn. So I'm hesitant to predict any massive shift.
CAMEROTA: Hold on a second. You're talking about the revelation of the Comey memo. But I'm also talking about the divulging of the classified info. All of this was like a one-two punch, which makes me here, Republicans speaking out.
CILLIZZA: Yes, I think you are right. I think we saw throughout the day yesterday Republicans speaking out more and even with Jason Chaffetz last night about the Comey memo.
I think we'll see more of them today. David's description of what I think the party feels like at the moment is sort of shell-shocked. They knew they were getting into something totally different and unpredictable with President Donald Trump.
I don't think they thought they were getting into this. What I -- maybe they did.
What I wonder about now going forward is what does -- what do the leadership of the party do? Mitch McConnell essentially said, "We don't need a special prosecutor." What do they do to offer up something that gets them in a place that they can defend?
Because even with the Russia leak, there was a defense I was on CNN last night and Jim Risch, the senator from Idaho was saying, "This is ridiculous." When the president talks about information, it -- he can declassify what he wants. He saw this as appropriate. H.R. McMaster described it as appropriate. So there was a defense.
[07:10:14] It's hard to imagine a defense right now that is a political place where the Republican Party can find solid ground. Is it an independent commissioner or some kind of special prosecutor? What is it?
Because right now, the only defense is James Comey is lying or grossly misunderstood or the memo doesn't exist. I think the memo doesn't exist is extremely unlikely. Because I know -- we know the reporters all involved, and it does exist.
James Comey misunderstood things? Possible. If you think that James Comey lied about the tenure and nature of this conversation, ask yourself why. This is February 14. Why would the FBI director, in a contemporaneous account, lie?
So they have to find a place, a safe harbor, the Republican Party does, in the very near term that they can get behind that shows they're doing something. My guess is that will probably be an independent commission or an independent prosecutor, though you know, who knows at this point?
CUOMO: Well, again, that would take a vote if you have an independent commission and the Republicans have the votes. Alisyn said this was a one-two. This is going to come down to credibility exercise. And I would argue it's a four, which is jab-jab-cross-hook-cross.
I think that he has layered. But it's a four. Double jabs will count as one in fighting. Anyway, facts aside...
CILLIZZA: Of course.
CUOMO: ... he has done so much to hurt his credibility that now that he is left with mitigation coming through credibility, that's probably the biggest challenge for the White House. Because as Cillizza is laying out, the idea of, "Well, this doesn't exist. This is all poppycock." Unless it's what the Trump campaign just suggested in a fundraising e-mail, they call it sabotage. They're saying he's been sabotaged. Unless you can show this is all fake, it comes down to credibility. Isn't that the biggest challenge for this president?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is. But also, yes. I mean, the credibility of what happened in this conversation between the two men after Sessions and Pence were excluded from the room.
But remember what the conversation was about. I mean, the conversation, as the Comey memo apparently says, was let go of the investigation. The president says to Comey. Let it go. Let Flynn go.
If that's true, that is the president telling the director of the FBI to drop an investigation of the Trump campaign. In 1974, Richard Nixon was forced from office in -- because the smoking gun tape of June 23, 1972, White House tape said, "We're going to stop this FBI investigation. We're going to use the CIA to stop an FBI investigation." It is precisely an analogous situation, I think. You know, telling the FBI to stop investigating the president. That's very perilous ground...
TOOBIN: ... for any president to be on.
CUOMO: Interesting from the White House, David Gregory, that they say the conversation didn't happen that way. It's very interesting than didn't happen. Never happened. Never said it. You know, it didn't happen that way is giving them some room. Different in posture to what they took in the second paragraph of that now-infamous letter about why they got rid of Comey, which is where "Three times he told me I wasn't being investigated." That also going to come back either to help or haunt them.
How important politically will this be as a credibility battle for these GOPers who are on the fence?
GREGORY: Yes, I think that's very important. And I think the question is to what extent they fear reprisals from the president, do they feel the politics or do they feel that he is so weakened that they can step out and be independent. Would you like to see some actual courage here?
CUOMO: But it will take courage. Is there any sign that he's been weakened? He's certainly getting beat up and not helped by how they're handling it. But the base numbers, every time they measure it, strong.
GREGORY: Well, they are strong for now, but they've been getting weaker. I'm certainly not going to predict the president's political future. We've all been -- been wrong about that.
But I also think we have to take things one step at a time. I mean, you know, within the media itself, you know, you've got FOX News out there savaging everybody, talking about the activism over journalism. Stop. Stop yourselves. OK. Let's just keep our eye -- Journalism matters. We have been reminded of that in the past few days. It's been great journalism that's come out under the Trump administration. Everybody's got to do their job. Journalists do their job. See where it takes you.
Congress has got to do its job. You've got a president who is both ill-informed and does not have experience and who thinks he can bully his way through our Democratic system. He's hanging out with Erdogan, who is a tyrant in Turkey. He's been cozying up with Putin in Russia. Because it never occurred to him that he could be manipulated, that America could be compromised by Russia?
[07:15:09] Look what Russia has achieved. Look at this -- this tumult that has been created because of their attempt to interfere. Because the president is only concerned about his sense of legitimacy. He won't do what's appropriate. That requires reigning in an oversight. That's what we should be focused on.
CUOMO: They have a meeting with the president and a foreign minister, unusual, with no U.S. media, with only Russian media. And a picture of him with the guy the ambassador who everybody is trying to make a bad guy politically.
CAMEROTA: And that's where the story of diversifying information.
CILLIZZA: And remember, by the way, that Trump's explanation of that was Putin and he had talked, and Putin asked as a favor if he would meet with Lavrov. So I mean, you know, there's a whole lot of stuff going on now.
One other point, by the way, with a Comey memo. We're rightly focused on Comey alleging that Trump told him to quit it on the Russia, or the Flynn investigation. What it's worth noting is that Brian Stelter has noted this. He also said he should look into prosecuting more journalists.
You know, David's point is right. There's a tendency here to assume that there's -- this is not journalists' fault. Journalists didn't set up the meeting between James Comey and Donald Trump on February 14.
Journalists didn't tell Donald Trump to ask Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence to leave. Journalists -- this is according to the Comey memo, journalists didn't say to Donald Trump, "Hey, you should maybe tell Comey to back off of Flynn, because he's a good guy."
Journalists are exposing this. We didn't create these facts. No matter -- speaking of sabotage, that's fine for the Republican base. There are people who will never believe anything that any of the three of us or the two of you guys say. But that is not what is at issue here. What is at issue here is the FBI director in a memo alleged that the president of the United States said to stop or urged him to stop investigating.
We just need to focus on that one thing, because that is of critical import. For all the other noise about the media and what we're doing or not doing, that is a -- either there is a fact that exists or it doesn't.
CAMEROTA: All right, Panel, thank you very much.
So, is support actually waning for President Trump on Capitol Hill? Some Republicans are demanding answers. One of those is a GOP Congressman. He's going to tell us exactly what he wants to know, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[07:21:35] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen. It's a centipede that the shoe continues to drop. And every couple of days, there's a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: That was Senator John McCain, using some of the strongest words yet from a GOP leader. Our next guest is one of several Republican lawmakers calling for the release of the Comey memo or for the fired FBI director to testify before Congress.
Joining us now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger from Illinois. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Good morning, Congressman.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Hey, good morning, thanks.
CAMEROTA: Do you agree with Senator McCain that it's reaching Watergate levels?
KINZINGER: Well, I mean, that's kind of hyperbole. I'll let him speak for himself. He's very intelligent, obviously. This is bringing a lot of questions to the front, which is, you know, what's been going on, what's been happening?
It seems like every day there's some new information to pop. You know, yesterday, it was this idea of speaking and giving intelligence information. Today, it's the idea of did, in fact -- was there a, quote unquote, cover up or an attempt to obstruct justice. This is very concerning, and we've got to get to the bottom of this.
We've got to get to the answers, because -- and it's not just about the politics of it. Everybody's going to focus on what do the politics mean? What it really is, when this is done -- the American people need to know that justice was served either way. Whether it's the administration being, you know, shown that they actually didn't do anything or whether there was something American people deserved the answer.
CAMEROTA: But do you think that if the president asked FBI the director of the FBI, James Comey, to let the investigation go of Michael Flynn that that is an obstruction of justice?
KINZINGER: So I'm not a legal expert, and it's really hard to jump to that conclusion when I don't know, haven't seen the memo. Don't know beyond what was in "The New York Times" story and what was confirmed in some areas.
But I will say if, in fact, what was in the memo is true, it's very concerning; and we need to get to the bottom of that. Have our legal experts find out what level does that rise to? The American people deserve the answers here. Whether you're Republican, Democrat, or independent. And our job in the legislative branch is to make sure that we get answers to questions like that.
CAMEROTA: So how are you going to get to the bottom of it?
KINZINGER: Well, there's pending investigations now. But I think it's time that we look at the idea of whether it's an independent commissioner and a special prosecutor. I'm not sure 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, either way, you know, either way it goes, has been served.
And I think we're getting to a point where this has become too political. People are making determinations on whether something did or didn't happen by their political stripes. Not by the rule of law. And so I think we're in the position now where it's time for an independent commission or a special prosecutor or whatever.
CAMEROTA: OK. Correct me if I'm wrong, we have not heard you say that before, that you're calling for a special prosecutor. And so are you saying that you have lost faith in the congressional committees' investigations into this?
KINZINGER: No, I haven't lost faith in their investigation. I think it ought to continue. I think they are doing really good work. But yesterday, you know, when we begin to see memos. And again, we need to see this. We know to need to see this memo.
[07:25:06] When we begin to hear things about the potential of asking the FBI director to stop an investigation, this has raised real red flags in the level of seriousness. And so we need honest, non- political answers. We need people that are going to quit coming in front of cameras and trying to make politics out of this. We need the answer to justice.
This is about America. It's not about our political parties or political future. And I think, whatever form that is, if it's a commission or something is where we need to go.
CAMEROTA: If it comes down to James Comey's word versus President Trump's word, who would you believe?
KINZINGER: There would be so many iterations of information to come out on that.
CAMEROTA: Would there -- sorry to interrupt, but would there? I mean, there were two men in the room. And so if -- at that time, Director Comey wrote a memo about what happened, and he presents it to you and President Trump says that never happened. That's not any recollection. Then what would you do and who would you believe? KINZINGER: Well, look, I think James Comey has a very good reputation
for the truth. I have a good buddy who's an FBI agent; had dinner with him last night, in fact. And he said, you know, James Comey has a great reputation within the FBI.
To go from saying I'm going to pick this guy over this person, and that leads to the next iteration. There are so many issues to come out right now. But I will say this raises major red flags, and we need answers to what they are. The American people deserve it.
But again, it's not about -- we have to stop standing in front of the camera and saying -- it's OK to talk about what does this mean for the midterms eventually, but that's not the question. The question is we need to have faith that the administration and justice is being served on all levels. No matter where that is.
CAMEROTA: But it is about the midterms also. I mean, let's face it. Right? That this -- there are some people in your party, obviously, who are looking at their districts and, if they're not in a solidly red district, they're starting to get concerned.
KINZINGER: Oh, sure. Well, yes, there's politics to it. There's -- we're political creatures out in D.C. That's what this place was built for. But it happens on both sides. Every news story that comes out about Donald Trump, someone on the left make this an 11 on a 10 scale and, you know, you hit max freak-out immediately.
And some on the right are unwilling to accept that there could be anything at all going on. All we need is answers. And whatever form that's going to take, however we get there, we have to do it. This goes beyond 2018 or 2020. This is about protecting at whatever level. Our system, our faith in our politicians and our institutions. We haven't had that for quite a while.
CAMEROTA: All right. Here is one offer for an answer for you. Reuters is just reporting at this moment that President Putin of Russia says that President Trump did not pass any secrets to Sergei Lavrov and that he can give a record of the Trump/Lavrov conversation to U.S. Congress members if you are interested. Will you ask Putin to give his account of what happened in that room?
KINZINGER: Well, I don't talk to murderous dictators like Vladimir Putin. And look, he says that he doesn't use GPS-guided bombs to bomb hospitals in Syria, and we know that to be untrue. So Putin's word to me really doesn't mean a whole lot. If they want to send some information, we'll be interested to look, but it will be interesting to me why there would be any kind of an account of what was discussed from the Russians in the White House.
CAMEROTA: Do you think we're going to hear more of your Republican colleagues speak out today about all this?
KINZINGER: I'll leave that to them. I think there is -- there is some interest and some concern. And we want to get to the bottom of whatever happened in any way we can.
CAMEROTA: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thank you very much...
KINZINGER: You bet.
CAMEROTA: ... for being here. We appreciate talking to you.
Joining us in our next hour will be Republican Senator Susan Collins. She will give us her take on these latest controversies -- Chris.
CUOMO: So another question here is will the former FBI director, James Comey, testify publicly again? If so, when? If so, before whom? The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee wants to hear from him. What would he ask? What does he want to know? Where does he believe any of this leads? Congressman Adam Schiff, gig player for the Democrats, next.