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Comey Memo on Flynn Probe; FBI Memo Implications; Trump's Overseas Trip; Calls for Independent Investigation. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:33:21] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: If the president told FBI Director James Comey to let the Michael Flynn investigation go, did he obstruct justice? And what does this mean for his presidency?
Let's bring in David Frum, former speech writer for George W. Bush and senior editor of "The Atlantic," and Mack McLarty, former chief of staff for President Clinton and chairman of McLarty Associates.
Gentleman, it's great to have both of you here.
MACK MCLARTY, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: David Frum, I want to start with you for context. It's been quite a 48 hours --
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Oh, my.
CAMEROTA: Between the story of the divulging of classified information to Russians and now this James Comey memo. Where do you think we are?
FRUM: Well, I am troubled by the tendency of the American political system to convert political questions into legal questions. We're going to spend a lot of time debating the exact meaning of obstruction of justice. We ought to be talking about fitness for office. I've urged again and again that there not be a special prosecutor. Those tend to disappear down rabbit holes. I mean obviously it's important that Paul Manafort make all his disclosures properly, but if that -- if this case turns into an argument about that, it's -- you wasted everybody's time at a time when we are urgently pondering the integrity of American democracy. We need to know, how did Russia contaminate the 2016 election? What exactly happened, whether it was legal or illegal? Was there talk back from the Trump campaign, even if that broke no law? What do they owe Russia and why were they so anxious to shut down this inquiry, even if everything that happened was carefully lawyered to make sure that no one triggered any legal alarms.
CAMEROTA: Let's get there, Mack, on exactly what the James Comey memos say. I have not seen them. However, a source who has seen them and read them has shared this with CNN.
MCLARTY: Right. CAMEROTA: So let me be clear. They say that the president said to Director Comey, "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." What does that sound like to you?
[08:35:14] MCLARTY: Well, it sounds like it was not a carefully or thoughtful commentary to the FBI director, if indeed it took place. The White House, as you know, has pushed back vigorously, denying that there was any kind of conversation of that sort. This was a memo to file. We haven't seen it. The acting FBI director has said that the investigation had not been impeded in any way. So you've got to be balanced here.
But I think David gets to the point, we just must get to the bottom of both this issue, as well as the meeting with the Russians. That's what needs to happen here. We've got to move through this process and the president needs to get back to his agenda working with the American people.
CAMEROTA: But if this -- but, Mack, just one more thing. If it does -- if it did play out the way he said it did and he wrote the notes to himself at that time and he says that he even shared it with colleagues, that's the story, is that obstruction of justice?
MCLARTY: Well, I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to opine on whether it's obstruction of justice. If indeed you had some conjecture there, you've led a bit there in your questioning, if indeed that's what the documents suggest and that's the conclusion, it's a very serious issue. And any time you're talking to the FBI director or any relationship that -- in that vein, you've got to be very careful and thoughtful and appropriate. Words matter.
CAMEROTA: So, David, what now?
FRUM: Well, I want to dissent a little from what the eminent Mr. McLarty said. I don't think we are facing a binary choice where we examine these words. And if the words are arranged in such a way that they count as obstruction of the justice, then the president is in a lot of trouble. If they don't, then he goes back to his agenda. I think we're in murkier territory. We've got -- it certainly smells like this president owes things to Russia that no American president should smell.
The way that that was accumulated may not have violated any law. Believe it or not, it is actually not illegal for an American citizen, who's not a government employee, to plot with a foreign government to pollute an American election. That probably -- I wrote a long article about this for "The Atlantic." That probably doesn't break any laws. It's just un-ethical, anti-democratic, un-American and disloyal.
So the question we ought to be asking is not, did the president trigger an alarm? If not, he stays and completes his agenda. The question we should be asking is, is this president compromised in any way that is relevant to national security? Is his inability to keep secrets consistent with his oath of office? Can he continue in office safely for the American people? It's not about him and his rights, it's about Americans and their safety.
CAMEROTA: What's the answer? Is he compromised?
MCLARTY: Well, David makes a fair point. I still think I'm more in the Senator Collins camp, that we need to work through this. I think a process is in place certainly in the Senate. Perhaps there needs to be an independent commission. But I just want to see more facts before I quite go down the road that David suggested.
CAMEROTA: OK. Look, you were in the Clinton White House. You were the chief of staff. So you understand a little bit of chaos at the beginning --
MCLARTY: (INAUDIBLE) --
MCLARTY: Getting an administration in place is a challenge.
CAMEROTA: There you go. So if somehow the president can emerge from this and move on his agenda, what do you do in the White House today to stop the downward spiral?
MCLARTY: Well, I think, again, I think David makes the point, we've got to move through this process. If I were advising the president, I would suggest, let's let the process work in a serious, expedited, credible manner and get all the facts out and then make the determination. And then if there are issues that need to be reviewed, that's fine. But you've got to get passed this. At the same time, you've got to get back to governing.
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, David Frum.
FRUM: That won't work. If the president -- let's just suppose for a minute that Donald Trump is indeed a completely innocent actor, what he needs to do is he needs to bring in a team of independent and respected people and throw open to them the books of the Trump organization and go back, holding nothing back, over the past 20 years and demonstrate to them that there is proper business entanglement between him and Russia. This doesn't necessarily have to be private. I recognize this is invasive. But these should be people, not his pet lawyers, people who command public trust.
The question that he needs to answer is, is he a security risk? That's the question he needs to answer. Not, did he commit some form of words infraction of a statue. And his blurting in the Oval Office makes all of this a life and death matter. Someone may have lost his life because of the president's compulsive indiscretion, if compulsive indiscretion is what it was that caused him to reveal such an important secret to America's adversary, Russia.
CAMEROTA: You mean somebody may lose their life?
FRUM: Someone may have already done so.
CAMEROTA: We don't know that detail yet, but we certainly know that these are life and death consequences. David Frum, Mack McLarty, thank you very much.
FRUM: Thank you.
[08:39:59] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Protests between supporters and critics of Turkey's president turn ugly and violent. Just down the street from guess where? We'll tell you right after the break.
CUOMO: A violent scene outside the Turkish embassy in Washington. Nine people injured. I mean take a look at your screen. This is America. This is down the street from the White House. And it was going on because the Turkish president, Erdogan, was here meeting with President Trump. The protests got bloody between supporters and critics. Police had to make two arrests.
CAMEROTA: A series of devastating tornadoes carving a path through five states. Emergency officials say at least two people were killed, one in a mobile home park in Wisconsin, the other killed in their car in Oklahoma. The tornadoes injured 25 people and, as you can see, damaged or destroyed more than a dozen homes and businesses.
CUOMO: Authorities say a disruptive passenger on an Air Canada flight intended to crash the plane by opening the rear cabin door. A criminal complaint alleges the passenger became aggressive after takeoff from Jamaica, attacked the crew with pots of coffee and tried to rush the cabin door. Crew members and other passengers restrained him as the flight made an emergency landing in Orlando.
[08:45:12] CAMEROTA: OK, so two White House bombshells this week. It's only Wednesday. What is next for the Trump administration? We have "The Bottom Line," next
CUOMO: All right, the big news of the day is this memo supposedly written by fired FBI Director James Comey that accuses President Trump of asking him to put an end to the agency's investigation into Michael Flynn. What will it mean? Well, that's going to come down to politics. With "The Bottom Line" is CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod.
How do you see it, my friend?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think that you saw -- you heard Susan Collins on your air this morning. You know, Republicans are beginning to stake out much more independent positions on this because obviously it took a quantum leap in terms of the problems for the White House with this Comey memo. And one of the things that whoever leaked that probably understood is that it would necessitate Congress subpoenaing his -- all of his memos and calling him to testify, which is going to be the most explosive appearance that we've seen in -- maybe since the Watergate era. So I think the pressure is going to build here. But there's another issue, Chris, which is just the behavior of the president. If this memo is true, you know, and you put that together with the other story that was breaking even as this memo emerged, and that is the meeting with the Russians and what he divulged there, and you get the picture of a president who has no control, who is reckless, who has no sense of where the boundaries are and it's consistent with a guy who spent his life flouting rules, flouting norms, pushing the law to the limit. We hoped that that would change when he became president, that the office would discipline him, but so far that's not the case. And the question is, will his behavior change -- whatever happens on this issue, would his behavior change in the future?
[08:50:42] CAMEROTA: David, we've seen, obviously, this shoot from the hip, you know, somewhat chaotic style of the president since he took office, but does something feel to you as though it's shifted in the past 48 hours because of those two stories?
AXELROD: Well, I mean, you read the stories about what's going on in the White House and, you know, there's -- it's obviously (INAUDIBLE). You know, he's going overseas today. Usually people go to other countries to seek asylum. It's like he's fleeing an asylum because the White House is completely out of control. So you do have a feeling that these things have now accumulated to a point of critical mass where you have a crisis of leadership here.
CUOMO: Well, we'll see what happens. I mean this is all coming down to politics, even the discussion about obstruction of justice. It's being done though legal analysis. But as you know, Axe, I mean this is going to be decided in the House, if anywhere, at any point, although, you know, you heard Collins, she and Schiff both said, no, can't take the White House at face value when it comes to Russia. We'll have to have Comey come in.
CUOMO: I mean that alone, when have you ever heard that before, where a Republican senator, what, a Democratic congressman who's leading the inquiry says, no, can't trust Trump. Not on this.
AXELROD: Yes. Well, I mean, I think that you're going to see a growing chorus in the Congress around this. He'll have his defenders within the party. You've seen some of them speak out this morning. But there are -- there are several others, John McCain was very outspoken. There are several others now. And, remember, in the Senate, you know, for example, for the Senate to move for some sort of independent investigation, you -- you know, you only need three Republicans to break away. So I think there is significant problems here for the White House and I'm not sure they know how to deal with it right now.
CAMEROTA: Well, what is the answer? I mean, honestly, how do they -- how do they move forward given the cloud of -- I mean these two huge stories between the Comey memo and the possible divulging of classified information to the Russians, this is just not going away.
CUOMO: Collins was saying it should stay in the Senate Intel Committee. That she thinks they can handle all of it.
CAMEROTA: Right, but then we heard from Kinzinger who said that it's time for a special prosecutor. He's joined that chorus of voices. So what do you see happening next?
AXELROD: Yes. Well, look, if -- from the White House standpoint, there are only two options. One is to be completely open because you feel that nothing's been done that's improper and sort of let the sunlight in. That seems like an unlikely path given what's happened so far. And the other is a much more aggressive push in the Congress for some sort of independent investigation.
But this can't be ignored. If the president of the United States said to the FBI director, drop this investigation of my pal Flynn and then ended up firing the FBI director who didn't drop the investigation, you have a real constitutional crisis here.
AXELROD: And, so they have to move forward, I think.
CUOMO: Well, I mean, you know, you'd have few more steps down the road of what that would mean. But here's my question for you, Axe. If it was the extreme that it is being painted as, why didn't Comey say something about it? Why didn't he go to the DOJ, if he did not go? We don't know all the facts. But, you know what I mean, if it was serious enough where he felt like, wow, I better record this, that is bad.
AXELROD: No, I mean I think that -- that is -- you know that when he gets called, he's going to have to answer that question. And it's a very fair question, you know, what his supporters have said was he didn't want to make -- to make this widely known because he thought it would chill the investigation. He also might not have had confidence in the Justice Department. I don't know the answer to that. He's going to have to answer that. But now we're going to get the answer because he's clearly going to be called.
I'll tell you one thing, though, guys, the person who probably won't be called to testify is Vladimir Putin, and this was an absurd development today when he offered up his --
CAMEROTA: Transcript (ph)?
AXELROD: His support -- supporting evidence for the president. I said to someone earlier, this is -- this is like a bank robber -- this is like someone calling a bank robber to testify as a character witness for the guy who was accused of driving the get-away car. Not a very good situation here.
CAMEROTA: Fascinating analogy. David Axelrod, thank you very much.
[08:55:00] CUOMO: The Russians just keep on laughing. They're always laughing.
All right, speaking of that, late night comics taking on Donald Trump. You want some laughs? We've got them. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: All right, comedians are having a field day. They are tearing into President Trump with one controversy after another. Here are your late night laughs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE LATE SHOW": To paraphrase himself, Trump better hope there are tapes of their conversation. Or really anything he needs to change the conversation to something, shall we say, less indicting. Maybe now is the time to release your tax returns, sir. Or, let's see, that would be fun. Or, oh, oh, oh, what would be less damaging? Got any more tapes of you and Billy Bush?
JIMMY FALLON, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump revealed classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office last week. Yes. And there's talk that Congress might investigate him for it. Trump says he has nothing to hide and that he'll fire whoever's investigating him anyway, so it doesn't matter.
TREVOR NOAH, "THE DAILY SHOW": I will say this, I hope the Republicans' new health care system is good because I'm getting whiplash from all of these scandals. You know what -- he did what? Wait? What? What? Again? Who said what? Ah!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Better watch his neck. He could hurt himself.
CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. So I -- you can actually see them struggling to come up with something funny to say about all of this.
[09:00:04] CUOMO: 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 is new information, so let's get to CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman.