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Putin Offers Trump-Lavrov Recording; Epic Showdown: Trump Or Comey; Protest Outside Turkish Embassy In Washington. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:33:05] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is ready to provide the U.S. Congress a recording of President Trump's exchange with their foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and insists Trump did not pass any secrets to the Russians. Joining us now to discuss this breaking story, Congressman Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intel Committee. What do you make of this generous offer?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA, RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: Well, you know, after a very striking couple of days, yet another twist in the road. I think the last thing the president probably needs right now is for Vladimir Putin to be vouching for him. But if Putin is now saying that he has tapes, you know, that, of course, makes even more questions about why the Russians are recording conversations with the U.S. president.
All of this just gets more and more baffling every day but I don't think we should allow it to distract us from the very serious allegation that was contained in "The New York Times" article yesterday that the president, effectively, asked Comey to drop a serious investigation involving his first national security adviser, someone who was among his most prominent surrogates during the campaign. That is a very serious charge.
We need to get, I think, that memoranda and any other that Dir. Comey or the FBI may have that outline any conversations with the president about Russia or anything else that the director thought improper. And I do think we ought to have the director come back to Congress and testify in open session as soon as possible.
CUOMO: So if the sum and substance is what is suggested by the reporting, then what?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, then I think we still have a lot of investigating to do to determine just what the president was asking the FBI director and why. The standard in terms of whether he was actively trying to interfere or impede or obstruct the investigation really goes to the president's intent, and right now we have conflicting accounts from the president, from the White House, and from those around Dir. Comey as to what went on in that conversation.
[07:35:15] That memoranda may be among the best evidence. Probably the director is in a position to fill in some of the information that may not be in that memoranda but, of course, we may find that there are other documents as well -- other conversations that shed even further light on the president's motivations. So I don't think we should prejudge it, but --
SCHIFF: -- there's certainly enough that we need to get to the bottom of this.
CUOMO: Well look, Congressman, while you're providing a nimble legal analysis of this -- and I guess you could make a soft assumption that if Comey had memos pointing to real gross obstruction or interference you think that the would have shared them with the DOJ at some point -- but at the end of the day, this won't be a legal matter, right? I mean, the law on indicting a sitting president, you know, for any kind of criminal matter, it's pretty clear that it's not going to happen, certainly not until after an impeachment process and that's all about the GOP, sir, with all due respect. They have the numbers. That's a political process. It's about votes, not proof, so do you see anything coming of any of this?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, you're right on both points. First, I think one of the things that Dir. Comey would and should be asked when he comes to testify is not only about the conversations he had with the president but if he felt that they were of questionable, either, legality or ethics why weren't they reported to someone within the Justice Department? So that's an appropriate question to ask the director.
In terms of the repercussions, even if there were demonstrable evidence of obstruction, you're absolutely right. At the end of the day, it's a very practical question for the Congress to decide. And I think, ultimately, what's at stake is whether members of Congress and, indeed, the country as a whole believe that the president's conduct was corrupt enough, if indeed that's what we would find, that his removal wouldn't be simply the nullification of the election by other means. I think that really is the test.
Having prosecuted an impeachment case in the Senate involving a federal judge just a few years ago, I could tell you it's obviously a hugely consequential action, but when you talk about the President of the United States it's enormously disruptive of the entire country. That's not something to be lightly entertained. I think we follow the evidence, we obtain the evidence, we hear the testimony, and then we decide just what does this show about the president's conduct.
CUOMO: A few quick questions for you. One, do you believe what comes out of the White House?
SCHIFF: On the subject of Russia, I don't think we can believe it. Certainly, the president has sent so many conflicting messages just within the course of the week. Of course, he had his proxies, his surrogates go out there and lay out a pretextual explanation for why he fired Comey that proved to be completely false. And the very next day it was the president, himself, who acknowledged that it was false, so we really can't believe what the president says on this. And, you know, to have him now potentially in a dispute over what
happened between his version and Dir. Comey's, I think most of the country is probably not going to believe the president's account. But this is why any other evidence is so important, whether it's contemporaneous notes taken by the director or whether it's tapes, as the president suggested -- that he'd threatened he may have.
CUOMO: Do you think that your message to your fellow Democrats, at this point, should be to back off the impeachment word? That you're nowhere near that.
SCHIFF: You know, we're asked about this all the time so there's no avoiding having to answer the question. But I do think that all of us have to talk about just what a wrenching experience that would be for the country. That's not something that we should be rushing into or rushing to suggest. I think we need to get to the bottom of what took place, what was the president's intent in doing this. Was he trying to shut down a legitimate prosecution? Was he doing it because, ultimately, he was worried the trail might lead back to him? These are some profound questions I think we need to answer before we get too far down the path of what are the consequences if the proof turns out to be there.
CUOMO: Your GOP brothers and sisters are starting to talk a little bit more, given the weight of these things, the divulging of highly classified intel to the Russians, firing Comey. Now, the firing in light of these revelations about what his relationship with Comey may have been vis-a-vis the Russia investigation. You do have more of the GOPers talking about needing to understand what happened, but the idea of even an independent committee, that would take a vote. Do you think that there is any chance that even these hottest allegations of what Comey's memo may or may not say -- do you think there's any chance that the GOP leadership would allow an independent commission to look at it?
[07:40:03] SCHIFF: I do think there's a chance and I think the pressure just continues to mount on the speaker to allow that legislation to go forward. You have, I think just about every day now, additional Republicans adding their voice to the support of either independent commission or to an independent counsel or to both. And I think when we'll see the commission taken up -- the legislation taken up is when the speaker concludes that he is better off politically with a commission. He's better off being able to say OK, we gave it to an independent commission, we did what the public wanted -- and three-quarters of the public thinks this is necessary and important -- and now, can we please talk about tax cuts.
Until we get to that point, though, where the GOP leadership decides that their continued obstruction of an independent commission is a political impediment to their other agenda, we're still going to have to fight for this.
CUOMO: Congressman Schiff, thank you for the perspective, appreciate it -- important conversation.
SCHIFF: Thank you. CUOMO: Be well -- Alisyn.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Chris, a protest turning bloody outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington after that country's leader met with President Trump. That's next.
CAMEROTA: A protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington turning violent, injuring nine people. This demonstration was just hours after the Turkish President Erdogan met with President Trump. This got bloody when Erdogan supporters and opponents clashed. Police separated the groups and they say they made two arrests.
[07:45:08] CUOMO: The Army confirms Chelsea Manning will be released today from a military prison after serving about seven years of a 35- year sentence for leaking government secrets. In 2013, Manning, then known as Private Bradley Manning, was convicted of stealing 750,000 documents and giving them to WikiLeaks. In one of his last acts, then-President Barack Obama commuted the rest of Manning's sentence.
CAMEROTA: A relentless series of tornadoes ripping through five states, leaving at least two people dead. Emergency officials say one person was killed in a mobile home park in Barron County, Wisconsin. The other person killed in their car in Beckham County, Oklahoma. The tornadoes injured 25 other people and damaged or destroyed more than a dozen homes and businesses.
CUOMO: So what does the Comey revelation, if true -- if the memo says what these sources say it says -- what does that mean for the future of Trump's presidency? The options, next.
CAMEROTA: It is only Wednesday and already this week the Trump White House is dealing with two major bombshells. So is this part of another turbulent week or is something bigger happening here? Joining us now, former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden -- we have Ron Klain. Then-former political director to President George W. Bush and chairman of the American Conservative Union, Matt Schlapp. I'm suffering with a cold in case that hasn't been obvious to everybody. I apologize, guys, for my coughing but we're going to get through this.
[07:50:14] Ron, how are you and what do you make of what has happened this week? Let's just boil it down to the James Comey memo and whether or not you think if President Trump said to him you know what, can you just let the Michael Flynn investigation go, if that's an obstruction of justice?
RONALD KLAIN, GENERAL COUNSEL, REVOLUTION LLC, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN, SERVED IN CLINTON & OBAMA WHITE HOUSES: Well first, I hope you feel better.
CAMEROTA: Thank you. KLAIN: But look, I think -- I think what we're seeing this week is something different than the other controversies that have embroiled Donald Trump since the day he took the Oval Office. I think that this controversy about mishandling classified information is a serious one and, of course, as you mentioned, the combination of firing Comey after having requested that he not pursue the Flynn matter is a very, very serious charge. We need to know more facts. We need Congress to do its job and get the facts, but I think this is a very serious thing.
And I think that -- is it obstruction of justice? It might well be. I think the fact that Trump asked other people to leave the room so he could have this conversation is a very telling fact here.
CAMEROTA: Matt, do you think we're in new territory this week?
MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER POLITICAL DIRECTOR TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Yes, I think it's very serious. I think it's important to remember that the Trump White House has pushed back on the account in this memo. And whether or not this memo exists, although reporters are saying it does exist, you put Congressmen in a terrible position because they're like well, wait a minute, we need to see this memo if it exists, as well.
I'll tell you, Alisyn, as someone who, you know, has been in a White House, to think that James Comey was writing down these instances of potential wrongdoing by the president or maybe other administration officials and just kind of keeping it in kind of his side drawer for the right moment, that's awfully alarming to me. You know, that's kind of what J. Edgar Hoover used to do. He used to keep files on everybody so he could bring it up at an opportune time. I don't want to make that charge of Jim Comey but that's sure what this looks like. I want to hear from him, as well. I think we all do.
But it's like if this was wrongdoing -- if people are charging that this is obstruction of justice, which I don't know if it really is or not, why wouldn't the FBI director immediately take action on that? If anything, I think this actually makes Jim Comey look even worse after he's lurched left, lurched right, played this strange role in the presidential campaign --
SCHLAPP: It seems uneven to me.
CAMEROTA: But, Matt, I just want to be clear. You think that opportunism, I guess is what you're accusing him of, is worse than obstruction of justice? I mean, why are you zeroed in on what Comey did? I think that he's -- I think that the explanations are that he thought that he could handle President Trump.
CAMEROTA: He wasn't going to stop doing the investigation into --
SCHLAPP: That's right. CAMEROTA: -- Michael Flynn. So why are you zeroing in on that rather than the fact that people are saying there was obstruction of justice if the president asked a director of the FBI to do this?
SCHLAPP: Well, let's start from the very beginning which is I think we all -- in every one of these controversies of which there has been some manner of sloppiness from the White House. I think everybody from the very beginning of all this -- Russian collusion, the election, everything -- everybody has just simply wanted the facts. And I think what people have grown frustrated with, with the FBI, whether it's during, you know, the Clinton partisans during the campaign or Trump --
SCHLAPP: -- partisans today is that it seems to take Jim Comey's FBI a very long time to show the American people some very basic information. And what it seems like with him is that he talks loquaciously about some aspects of an investigation and says nothing --
SCHLAPP: -- about the very basic facts. For instance, was Donald Trump ever a target of that investigation? It took Donald Trump explaining that to people that Comey told him he wasn't a target for us all to know for sure that he wasn't a target.
SCHLAPP: This is frustrating for people and it means that Jim Comey lacks credibility with a whole bunch of people, including a lot of Democrats who aren't saying it now but --
SCHLAPP: -- a couple of months ago they were all asking for his firing.
CAMEROTA: Ron, what do you think about this? What do you think about how -- we've heard this from other Republicans -- this is what we should be focused on, not whether or not the president divulged classified information to the Russians in this meeting or tried to somehow obstruct James Comey?
KLAIN: Well, first of all, I think that Dir. Comey's no longer the director of the FBI so I think his record at the FBI is less important than what a sitting President of the United States did to potentially put our allies at risk and potentially put an Israeli spy at risk by carelessly handing over information to the Russians and to try to squelch an ongoing investigation. Look, I worked at the Justice Department as Attorney General Reno's chief of staff. Investigations, unfortunately, take a long time if they're done the right way, and I think the evidence her suggests the FBI was doing it the right way.
And as for what James Comey thought he was doing, I agree. He, clearly, was making notes of the progress of an investigation. Making notes of his conversations with the president, as he should have when they were troubling, but thought he could insulate the investigation from political influence. That all changed when, last week, the president fired Jim Comey and then went on Lester Holt and said he fired him because --
[07:55:05] CAMEROTA: Yes.
KLAIN: -- he was frustrated about the Russia investigation. That really is --
SCHLAPP: I agree -- I would agree with him.
KLAIN: -- a serious problem.
SCHLAPP: I agree with this, Alisyn. I think that what we're seeing here is Jim Comey is getting his revenge. He was fired. He feels like he was humiliated and he's striking back. He's now releasing information through friends to reporters about potential wrongdoing of the president and I think that's wholly inappropriate. He should have done it at the moment.
CAMEROTA: So you think this is about Jim Comey's humiliation, not about him wanting to get the information out that the president was trying to obstruct an investigation?
SCHLAPP: Let me be clear about this. He -- at the time that -- if he's going to say that the president was doing something illegal and he was simply going to write it down on a diary for history and he wasn't going to take action on that, does anybody else find that incredibly troubling?
KLAIN: But that's not what happened --
SCHLAPP: I think he actually --
KLAIN: -- here, Matt. That's not what happened here.
SCHLAPP: Yes. I think -- well, we don't know what happened but --
KLAIN: Well, we do.
SCHLAPP: -- what did happen is that he is now releasing -- he said that this memo exists --
SCHLAPP: -- through friends and associates.
SCHLAPP: He is now intimating what's inside that memo. You have journalists saying that they didn't know --
SCHLAPP: -- that the memo exists.
CAMEROTA: So, but Ron --
SCHLAPP: None of us have read it or seen it.
CAMEROTA: Right. So, Ron, how do you see it?
KLAIN: Well, how I see it is that, again, the conversation with the president was troubling. What made it potentially criminal is when the presidentthen fired the FBI director and acknowledged that it was for the purpose of obstructing the Russia investigation. That is, Jim Comey was proceeding with the investigation notwithstanding --
KLAIN: -- the comments of President Trump until the president took one additional step.
SCHLAPP: Let me counter that quickly. The only thing I would say back to that, Ron, is that you now have the person running the FBI who is saying that the White House has done nothing to impede any of these investigations.
KLAIN: That's not what he said.
SCHLAPP: It's on the record.
KLAIN: That isn't what he said.
SCHLAPP: It is. It's on the record in front of Congress. It is what he said.
CAMEROTA: You're talking about McCabe. I mean --
SCHLAPP: It is what he said.
CAMEROTA: Right, and he was -- he was answering a specific question, I believe, from Jason Chaffetz, so you have to look at it in context. He also may not have known about the Comey memos. But one thing that --
SCHLAPP: Yes, that doesn't matter. No, no, no, it doesn't --
CAMEROTA: Matt, hold on one second.
SCHLAPP: The whole thing is the FBI --
CAMEROTA: It does matter because --
SCHLAPP: The FBI -- no, but let me finish. The FBI did not -- it didn't impact any of the operations in the FBI with all these officers and these field agents who are doing a good job.
KLAIN: Yes, that's an odd defense. SCHLAPP: So they were not --
CAMEROTA: Well, it didn't work --
KLAIN: That's an odd -- yes --
CAMEROTA: -- but if the president tried to do it that is --
SCHLAPP: No. The president --
CAMEROTA: No, they're picking up on that.
SCHLAPP: -- said he didn't deny --
KLAIN: That's an odd -- that is an odd defense.
CAMEROTA: I just want to say -- Matt, I just want to say one thing.
CAMEROTA: Does it trouble you if the president divulged classified information to the Russians?
SCHLAPP: I'm with John Negroponte on this, who was on your show earlier. You know, there's nothing in this that I think that is beyond a sloppy process. I think they should have a better process. I think giving Israel a heads-up would be a good thing to do. Look, I think -- Ron and I were talking about this. I think the sloppiness of not knowing who was going to have a recording device or a smartphone --
SCHLAPP: -- in the Oval Office --
SCHLAPP: Having those photos come out. Now we have Vladimir Putin with a recording.
SCHLAPP: I think that's general sloppiness at the NSC and that needs to stop.
CAMEROTA: So, Matt, it's general sloppiness when the president divulges classified information but not when Hillary Clinton has three emails --
CAMEROTA: -- that she says that are mislabeled with a "c" and that she sends to her own staff?
SCHLAPP: No. The difference is there was nothing --
CAMEROTA: How is that possible?
SCHLAPP: Well, the difference is that the President of the United States has the legal ability to share this classified information. Yes, it's better politically and for relationships if there is a process. Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State. She lied --
CAMEROTA: Yes, so she --
SCHLAPP: She lied dozens of times about her mishandling of sensitive information.
SCHLAPP: And the fact is that the whole system, including the server, was never cleared, so they're completely apples and oranges.
CAMEROTA: Ron, last word.
KLAIN: Yes. So I think -- I think actually they are apples and oranges since what Trump did was much worse. There's no evidence that anything Sec. Clinton did ever led to the release of classified information to adversaries. Donald Trump handed --
SCHLAPP: That's not true.
CAMEROTA: Absolutely. This was to her staff.
KLAIN: Donald Trump handed Israeli intelligence to the patron of its archenemy, Iran, a Russian-client state. There could be nothing more damaging to Israeli security than giving Israeli intelligence --
KLAIN: -- to Iran's principal client.
CAMEROTA: OK, Ron. Oh, no, we've got to leave it there. Matt --
SCHLAPP: To defeat ISIS.
CAMEROTA: Matt, we heard your side. We heard your side.
CAMEROTA: Ron, thank you very much.
KLAIN: Thank you so much.
CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning, including one of the few Republicans speaking out today. Senator Susan Collins is going to join us this hour so let's get right to it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: All right. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, May 17th, 8:00 in the East now and we do have breaking news. The latest bombshell for the Trump White House comes from a memo written by former FBI director James Comey. In it, Comey says President Trump asked him to drop their investigation into Mike Flynn. The White House denies this account but the question remains, did the president obstruct justice?
CAMEROTA: And now, Russian President Putin wades into the other bombshell of the week, and that is that Putin says that President Trump did not share classified intelligence with Russian diplomats, and Putin says he can prove it. Will Congress believe Vladimir Putin? Will they call on him?