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White House in Crisis: President Trump and his Campaign Team Hiring Personal Lawyer for Russia Investigation; Former CIA Director John Brennan Testified. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired May 23, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:13] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: This is a CNN SPECIAL REPORT: WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS. Tonight, explosive high level testimony about the Trump camp's contacts with Russia. As the President appears ready to hire a personal lawyer in this rapidly expanding investigation.
I'm Jim Sciutto.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And I'm Pamela Brown.
We are fallowing all of the breaking news in the Russian probe. And the central question tonight, was there collusion or obstruction of justice? Former CIA director John Brennan revealing for the first time that he was concerned about contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign last year. And he told lawmakers today that he feared the Russians have often tried to lure people down a quote "treasonous path" to act on Moscow's behalf either willingly or without even knowing it.
Now, the White House is putting its spin on this hearing claiming it shows there's no evidence of collusion, even though Brennan pointedly refused to say that. Now, as this investigation intensifies, CNN has confirmed that Mr. Trump is expected to take a significant new step in hire a personal lawyer, turning to a powerful attorney that he has relied on before by the name of Marc Kasowitz.
Also tonight, the Senate intelligence committee is keeping alive the threat that it will hold fired national security adviser Michael Flynn in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena. But first, the panel said that issuing new subpoenas for Flynn's businesses because businesses can't invoke Fifth Amendment rights as Flynn is promising to do.
So Jim, potentially damaging testimony today from the former CIA director.
SCIUTTO: Directly contradicting really the story we have been hearing from the White House from some months now. The former CIA director making clear today that some of the most troubling aspects of Russian interference in the U.S. election remain very much under investigation. First, Brennan confirmed repeated contacts between Trump advisers and Russians during the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign. That's I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals. And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Now, the White House seized on his comments and somehow confirming that the FBI has found no proof of such cooperation, saying quote "despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion," end quote. But in fact, that is not what Brennan said. In fact, he said the question of collusion remains quote "unresolved."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: And I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. And so therefore, by the time I left office on January 20th, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: We are joined now by CNN's team of reporters. We have been follow thing story for a number of weeks now.
Gloria, you look at these moments here. First of all, the White House denied and even called out its CIA director and others to challenge that there were repeated contacts of this when "The New York Times" reported some months ago. But on this question of collusion again today, as the President repeated saying they have said there is no evidence of collusion. That's not what the CIA director said.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it's not what he said. He said that there was a five alarm fire going on, and he didn't know how to put it out. I mean, we learned today that the CIA director alerted the FBI. Not only did he alert the FBI, but he went to his counterpart in Moscow and said you guys better cut this out. Not only did he do that, but he held a classified briefing with senior leadership in the Congress. And then after that, he went to the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and said this is something we have to be concerned about.
So when we have been reporting all along about these conversations, whether it was with Russians or Russia to Russia as we reported last week, we now are getting a fuller picture of just how concerned the Obama White House was about this before the Trump team took over.
SCIUTTO: And to be clear, they were concerned and intelligence officials were concerned, Evan, not just about that Russia was interfering in the election, but that they were picking up conversations between Trump advisers and Russians during the election.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. The big concern at this point, this is really important testimony today, because it's the first time we heard from one of these officials publicly saying exactly what was going on behind the scenes, including the fact that the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA basically got together a task force to take a look at this. And you know, he described how his big concern was that maybe someone was already turned inside the Trump campaign, and was doing the work of Russian intelligence. That's incredible words.
[23:05:16] SCIUTTO: A remarkable question to raise.
BROWN: Right. It's the strongest language we heard yet from a former official in this case. And you know, as you will recall, we reported some time ago that there was concern among law enforcement and intelligence that Russians were trying to use Carter Page, who was considered by some Trump adviser, Trump campaign adviser, trying to have him infiltrate the campaign. And so, as they are watching these communications play out, the concern from the Trump side is the Russia, what are they trying to do to these people to get in the campaign and be spies?
BORGER: Well, and that's when he said it was wittingly or unwittingly.
BORGER: So, you know, he was sort of making the point, I don't know whether he had Carter Page in mind, but whether you know it by the -- they were trying to turn you. You may not have been aware of it.
SCIUTTO: The infiltration of a U.S. Presidential campaign, again, they haven't established this is as being successful and raised that back here today, but he also has not eliminated that.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hasn't eliminated it. But the way that he told this story, which was really out of a Jim Clancy novel, except that it was real, was remarkable, and it was riveting to hear his testimony. And I just want to underscore something that you all have noted, but I think it bears repeating. That what this man said, who was the director of the CIA of real time, underscored and confirmed what everybody at this table has been reporting, and then some, about all of the concerns inside the intelligence community, inside the law enforcement community, about what Russia was trying to do vis-a-vis the Trump campaign.
And I think to your point, Jim, what he did not say was they weren't successful. What he did not say -- he said, we don't know yet. And it is still very much an open question.
SCIUTTO: And that's a consistent point from whether it's Brennan today, Clapper earlier. Often their comments are misinterpreted.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: The White House does that intentionally. The President says when James Clapper has seen no evidence that mean there is no collusion. But in fact, when James Clapper testified himself before the congressional committees, he said that he didn't know, because the FBI was investigating this issue. He actually had a firewall of sorts between himself as director of National Intelligence and the FBI. Similarly here, even though John Brennan says he is not seen any evidence but that does not mean that there is no evidence. It just means that he had concerns and he passed this along to the FBI.
PEREZ: One quick point I want to make here, and just to step back at this, we have all been facing the criticism from the Trump administration, the White House, and some of his supporters that, you know, we won't drop this story. And the reason for this is that all throughout the campaign, and even through the transition, we heard from them repeatedly, that there was no such contacts. There was none of these communications. We are hearing this now straight from the mouth of the former CIA director, that there were. And now he is saying it publicly. And so, this is why when they say these things, people don't believe them anymore. And that's why we have to wait and see how these investigations turn out.
BASH: And I just want to say the director I know is Tom Clancy, not Jim Clancy. I just want to state that for the record.
SCIUTTO: There was another word today that many of us, and others took note of, going one step further in his testimony. Bringing aboard no other senior U.S. official involved in this investigation has uttered so far. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: Frequently, individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they are along that path until it's too late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Again, certainly, I should be clear here, not confirming treasonous activity took place, but raising a question, a very serious one, one of many unresolved questions here. And I asked people close to Brennan today, did he intentionally raise that question? And yes, he did.
BORGER: Of course.
BROWN: That's a strong word right there.
SCIUTTO: This unwitting versus, you know, the kind of useful idiot scenario where you go down a path that perhaps you didn't intend to go down.
SCIUTTO: That's a remarkable word --. BROWN: And people watching at home, how do you not know that you are
going down a treasonous path? How do you not know? And the way it's been explained to me is that the Russians, this is a long game for them. It happens over years, where they just -- it's a slow roll and they just befriend you, and get you on their side, do a favor. And so you can -- before you know it, you are doing favors for them but not realizing sort of what the situation is.
PEREZ: And keep in mind, this is actually a really important point in the FBI investigation because one of the things the FBI has been struggling with in this investigation is trying to discern what our business contacts, a lot of these people were doing business. At the same time they are trying to pretend that they had some kind of juice inside the Trump campaign. So they were doing -- mixing business and politics. And the Russians were only too glad to do this because they like to do this, as well.
And so, you know, a lot of the people who perhaps some of these people were dealing with are business people. But when they go back to Moscow or back to Russia, they are reporting back to the FSB.
[23:10:24] BORGER: That's on top of Sally Yates' testimony where there is another person who ran to the White House with her hair on fire. And she talked about General Flynn potentially being subject to blackmail. And you talk about how you turn somebody, well, if you have enough communication, if you are paid substantially by a government or for a speech, you know, there is a way to cultivate. And then at some point, which was Sally Yates' point, you have to start worrying if this person is in the government, they can be subject --.
BROWN: And in the reporting we had Friday about bragging among Russian officials of their ability to cultivate --
SCIUTTO: This issue was specific to perjury, had he lied about his communications. The other question of influence is money, right. An investment, which that has been raised about the President himself, never substantiated, but is one of the reasons why investigators, at least on the democratic side, have wanted to have records, financial records so that they can establish if there's any undue influence.
BASH: It's always follow the money. I mean, that is just the bottom line in any investigation. But I think you guys have all laid out the why and the how. But I just want to go back to the term, treasonous. You know, it is a show stopper today when he said that word. And the fact that you were told that that was not unintentional, which given what we know about Brennan is probably not surprising, he uses his words carefully. It's pretty remarkable, especially given the fact that one of the questions as we hear more and more about this is, OK, things were maybe untoward, unethical, didn't really feel right, but was it illegal? Treason is illegal.
RAJU: And it's going to be interesting to see when James Comey does testifies before the Senate intelligence committee. You know one of the senators, of course, they are going to have to ask him, do you agree with John Brennan's sworn testimony that there could have been treasonous act here? And James Comey is a private citizen now, we will see what he says.
SCIUTTO: Is concern setting in on the Republican side? I ask you that question almost every three days, but I think it is a fair question because every three days or every day we have new information.
RAJU: Yes. And I think that the Republicans are allowing this investigation to go forward, not knowing where it's going to lead. I asked senate majority leader Mitch McConnell this exact question today, does he have concerns, particularly of the President's actions and appearing to have maybe interfered with some of these investigations? He didn't say if he had concerns. He refused to say. He said I'm going to let the investigations play out. That is the -- what they are saying publicly. But privately, they are very nervous.
SCIUTTO: We are going to have a lot more time to dig deeper on this going forward.
BROWN: Yes. A lot of news tonight.
And coming up, the case against the White House multiple incidents where the President is accused of trying to influence the Russian investigation.
SCIUTTO: We will look at that and get new details on how far Mr. Trump will go to defend himself. We are back in a minute with much more on our Special Report.
[23:17:07] BROWN: Well, breaking tonight. With a White House in crisis mode over the Russia investigation, President Trump now is looking to strengthen his personal legal defense. Mr. Trump is in Rome tonight as he continues his overseas tour.
CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is traveling with him. And the President now expected to hire an outside attorney. Is that right, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Pam. We should point out we are in Rome. We are at the Vatican. Just outside of Vatican, where later today the President will meet with Pope Francis. So perhaps he is feeling that he has to appeal to a higher authority than the FBI director James Comey, looking for some divine intervention in this investigation.
But yes, you are right. If that doesn't work out, he is going the legal route. He has hired an outside attorney in the form of Marc Kasowitz. You just mentioned in the few moments ago. He will be the outside legal mind that will help the President through this morass that he will be facing out this Russia investigation. We don't think that Marc Kasowitz will be the sole lawyer on this team. We think he will be a part of a larger legal team.
And in the meantime, the President and his team, they are looking for some sort of crisis communications team to handle what will undoubtedly be a very difficult PR problem for the President. And we are picking up from our sources that perhaps the former campaign manager for Donald Trump, Corey Lewandowski may be part of that. Of course, that is going to be a tough challenge for some people inside the White House, namely the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who was very instrumental and forcing Corey Lewandowski out of the campaign during that election cycle. So we will have to see if that exactly pans out.
In the meantime, we should point out that the White House was really pushing back on the notion that the President has been distracted by this Russian investigation during this foreign trip. They said to reporters earlier today that they are focused on the objectives of this trip. And they released a statement saying basically that over the course of a year of an investigation that there's been no evidence found of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
But we should point out there are a couple of problems with that statement. One is, this investigation has not been going on for a year. And at the same time, we should also point out while there may not be evidence of collusion so far, Pam, there certainly is evidence, and there has been some reporting out there that the President obviously has been trying to influence this investigation. And so that is obviously something that will be playing out in the days and weeks and months to come.
But in the meantime, a big development for the President and his staff over at the White House. The President hiring an outside counsel to deal with this Russian investigation, Pam.
BROWN: All right. Jim Acosta bring us the latest there from Rome. Thanks so much, Jim.
Back with our panel now.
You know, Dana, it strikes me that all of the sudden, you have the White House building this war room. You have the President hiring outside attorney. The Russia probe has been going on since last July. Former FBI director Comey announced it last March. Why now? What do you think the impetus was? Why now?
[23:20:09] BASH: Two words, special prosecutor. I mean, they know enough about history -- recent history, and not so recent history to know that could lead anywhere. They have officially lost control, not that they had it, but even some semblance or notion that clearly the President thinks he had given the conversations that he had, inappropriate ones, with people who are leading the investigation. But that they realized that this could go anywhere. And they need to lawyer up, and that starts with the President.
In addition to that, people who I have talked to who worked in the Clinton administration who had this experience, say that it is actually a good thing for the White House staff for the President to have a lawyer or a team of lawyers, so that when they sit in front of the press and they get bombarded with questions as they are going to, and as they have, their answer can be, I don't know. Ask the President's lawyer, John Doe. Or you know, in the Clinton administration it was Lanny Davis. So it is actually helpful for the White House staff if they want to try to focus on what the President campaigned on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governing.
BROWN: Governing, right.
And what's interesting too is it's not just the President lawyering up, we are told, but that White House staffers, White House officials are doing the same. Clearly, there is a sense of concern of potential panic.
When you look at Marc Kasowitz, who was hired by President Trump. We have told through a source, he is someone who doesn't have a lot of experience in counterintelligence investigations though he does have a close relationship with Donald Trump. He has worked with him before. There's a familiarity there. What do you think about this pick, Gloria, first to you, and Jim I would like to hear what you says, especially when you look at some of his clients in the Russian realm?
BORGER: Well, he does have clients in the Russia realm. I think the most interesting thing to me is his relationship with Donald Trump. Donald Trump went for somebody he is comfortable with. He has represent him for 15 years. Donald Trump is not going to pick a new guy that he doesn't know. He is going with somebody that he does know. And let me give you some examples.
This is the attorney who sued the Trump biographer Timothy O'Brien because he understated Trump's net-worth.
SCIUTTO: Real problems.
BORGER: That was a real problem. That got thrown out of court. He threatened to sue "The New York Times" recently during the campaign if it didn't retract a story about women who were accusing Trump of acting inappropriately. He threatened "The New York Times" with legal action over the publication of that one page of Trump's tax return. So he has been doing Trump's bidding, but he doesn't have Washington experience.
BROWN: And the optics of it - I mean, the optics of someone he has represented big Russian banks. He is representing, as we speak, a Russian oligarch, what do you think about the optics?
RAJU: And also, a potential culprit would possible FBI director Joe Lieberman having worked in the same law firm as Lieberman. If Lieberman does get the nod, it will raise questions about here's one attorney who is representing the President against a probe with the FBI director hailing from the same place, even though his bureau, someone will be assisting with the special counsel's prosecution -- investigation. The question is, does the White House care about the conflicts of interest? Do Republicans care about?
SCIUTTO: Well, you get a sense of why he is building a team as opposed to having one lawyer. You are right. Because you have particularly - certainly a personal relationship, has represented Trump in every kind of case from women to finances, et cetera. Not you would imagine the perfect resume for a special counsel in a state actor kind of investigation. But you have other names coming up like Ted Olson, former solicitor general. You know, you get a sense that they are going to have a few folks around the table with a few different kinds of rules in this defense.
PEREZ: What is emerging here, though, the picture here of the Trump administration actually trying to learn from the playbook of the Clinton administration, which was able to fend off and survive, you know, the entire -- the impeachment proceedings and all that. And also looking at Iran contra, seeing how the Reagan administration was able to survive all of that.
And look, part of the trick here is for the President to actually embrace this investigation. That is how he will be able to survive this. If he doesn't do that and if he keeps sending tweets out where he, you know, attacks Bob Mueller --
SCIUTTO: You said which didn't embrace the Russia investigation.
BASH: It is funny because I interviewed John McCain this morning. And he said exactly that. He said his experience in Washington with an administration that did it the right way, his words, was Iran contra. And it was because the President came clean. He said he made a mistake. He said, you know, it was a problem. And --.
PEREZ: He didn't call it a witch hunt.
BASH: We don't know if that's even --
[23:25:02] SCIUTTO: He is showing no evidence of that.
BORGER: He embraced it and said we will get to the bottom of it. When they got to the bottom of it, he did admit that there was a mistake had been made, Reagan. And he didn't go to people in his administration and say shut it down.
And I was talking to a friend of Donald Trump's today who said you have to understand his mindset here. He believes these people work for him, so he can go to the FBI director and say, shut it down, because he works for him, fix it. And that's not the way the government works.
SCIUTTO: You make a good point. We are not set up the stage of embracing but rather challenging and trying to kill it.
RAJU: Right. Trying to kill the investigation.
BORGER: Exactly. SCIUTTO: Just ahead, the former CIA director testifies on Capitol
Hill, telling lawmakers for the first time about his alarming realization that Russia was meddling in the election and his growing concern about Russia's ability to lead Americans down what he calls a treasonous path.
BROWN: And here to talk about it, a congressman on the intelligence committee who calls the Watergate -- calls this the Watergate with a foreign partner.
[23:30:01] SCIUTTO: We are back our Special Report, White House in crisis. Breaking tonight, CNN confirms that President Trump is expected to hire a personal lawyer outside of his White House legal team to represent him in the Russia investigation.
BROWN: This on a day of bombshell testimony by former CIA director John Brennan.
And join us now to discuss all of this, a member of the House intelligence committee, Democratic congressman Mike Quigley.
Congressman, thank you so much for coming on the show. So much to discuss. And really some big revelations coming from John Brennan's testimony today. Of course, the former CIA director, really expressing his concern about the contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates during the campaign. And then, of course, you had the closed door session with him after. What was the big takeaway for you?
MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: The fact that he reinforced what had happened, what director Comey said. There is an investigation. The Russians did successfully hack into our democratic process. And there were connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Reinforcing that to the American public.
BROWN: But he stopped short of saying that he knew of collusion. He stopped short of that. He said it was unresolved. What did you make of that?
QUIGLEY: I think that's why the investigation continues. It's easy to forget. We are in the infancy of this investigation and we are already at the point that he talked about today. We haven't brought forth any one of those witnesses in this list that we talked about. We have many more hearings to go and more documents to read.
SCIUTTO: You heard the White House reaction today. And they said, as the President has said many times before and the White House said before that, saying, you heard director Brennan today. He said there's no evidence of conclusion -- collusion rather. In fact, he didn't say there's no evidence. He said that it just say it's not a resolved question. You're hearing from him in public and private sessions, where of course, you get in classified materials you can't discuss. But just to be clear to our viewers, did he eliminate the possibility of collusion? Did he say to you that there is no evidence of collusion?
QUIGLEY: I think when the director says that his radar went up, that they pulled this, and they wanted to find out exactly what took place, he said that in open session. And that expressed a lot of concerns. And he said very specifically, this is why the investigation needs to go forth. What I have said is if he had read what I have read and heard what I heard, the American public would want this investigation to go forward full throttle. I think that's what the director said again today.
BROWN: And after this closed session, were you more alarmed after the session than perhaps before?
QUIGLEY: No. I think what the director was reinforcing is the information that we have been collecting all along. I think it's another major player in the intel community reinforcing where this investigation is at this time, and the fact that it has to go forward.
SCIUTTO: Were you surprised to hear the former director of the CIA utter the word treasonous in public session regarding Russian interference?
QUIGLEY: Yes. I have heard various choices now in terms of what kind of offenses we could conceivably be talking about. Acting as an agent of a foreign power, today treason. You know, at some point in time, what I tell folks is, even if there was no crime, the fact that agents of a major political party were cooperating potentially cooperating with the Russians, our enemy for all of our lifetimes, is as big of thunder volt of news as they would have gotten since Watergate.
BROWN: You said cooperating. You said potentially cooperating. But what do you mean specifically? What can you tell us in terms of what you have seen about cooperating?
QUIGLEY: Yes. In open session, director Comey said upon my questioning, he doesn't think collusion is a legal term of art. So he used the word cooperation.
BROWN: But have you seen anything indicating cooperation?
QUIGLEY: What I said is, not enough evidence to take it to a jury, but enough evidence to take it to a grand jury, right. There's enough probable cause to believe that there was cooperation. Clearly enough evidence to go forward and find out more. Again, we still haven't interviewed any of our witnesses, and we are already at this point.
BROWN: And the cooperation of what, the timing of the release of information, the stolen emails during the election, what do you mean when you say cooperation?
QUIGLEY: At this point, all I can say is cooperation in general, we will leave it at that.
SCIUTTO: I want to get to the administration's response, as well. Because the FBI director said he called his Russian counterpart with the FSB, called a Russian spy chief in effect in the midst of this I believe in June last year. So that's several months before the Obama administration fingered Russia publicly in October, a month before the election. So he already knew that this was happening then. Why so long for the Obama administration to react? In retrospect, do you believe the administration should have acted more quickly and strongly to this interference?
QUIGLEY: Yes. I think what you might take from that is the Obama administration didn't want to tilt the campaign or give the appearance that they were releasing information to effect the campaign. Looking back, knowing what we know now, I wish they had called press conferences and told us what they know.
[23:35:19] SCIUTTO: I should say the phone call was in August, but still two months before the phone call at the FSB. Two months before they publicly fingered Russia with that famous statement before the election.
BROWN: Right. All right. Thank you so much, congressman Quigley.
SCIUTTO: We appreciate it. We look forward to staying in touch.
And coming up, new subpoenas for Michael Flynn. Senators don't want to let pivotal figure in the Russia probe get away with pleading a fifth. N
SCIUTTO: And a new sighting of former FBI chief James Comey as he gets ready for his big testimony on the hill next week. We will have more. Stay with us.
[23:39:47] BROWN: Well tonight, leaders of the Senate intelligence committee are going to new lengths to get answers from fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. And they are continuing to dangle the threat of holding Flynn in contempt of Congress.
I want to bring in Manu Raju.
It is clear, Manu, that senators are really digging in their heels to this plea from pleading the fifth.
[23:40:07] RAJU: Yes. And they are trying to provide new ways to get him to comply with the senate intelligence police request for records. Now, this of course, comes after him saying, his attorney saying that he would plead the fifth for any records relating to his contacts with Russian officials that occurred in the last couple of years.
But this new tactic to issued two subpoenas towards his businesses, the belief being from the Republican chairman of the committee that the businesses cannot plead the fifth, so presumably they can get records that way. Also, they are trying to get Flynn's attorney to explain exactly why he can plead the fifth on the issue of record production well then coming in before the committee and saying I will not testify under oath. The question is, what happens next when presumably they do not comply with this and whether or not they try to hold him in contempt of Congress for not doing it. That is a threat on the table. As a threat that will take some time to enforce. But it's something that they want to do, not just to send a message to Flynn but to other potential witnesses who may want to stonewall the committee.
SCIUTTO: Is that a severe penalty if he is found in contempt of Congress?
RAJU: It could be. But it could take -well, it could take a long time to go through the legal proceedings and it may not result with what the committee wants, but it's something that he would have to -- he should take pretty seriously.
BASH: And also, just to -- you were there today, but to see on the television screen, the image of the Republican chairman and the top Democrat of the intelligence committee working hand in hand, talking about subpoenaing and potentially holding in contempt of Congress a Republican President's former national security adviser is rather remarkable. And it's certainly, you know, sort of roast very, very cold water on the notion that this is a political witch hunt.
BROWN: And this is a Republican ranking member who initially was sort of reluctant to issue the subpoena. They did and now --.
RAJU: And the question is, how hard does he go? He may even decide to haul Flynn before the committee and just have him just stand up there and plead the fifth which would be cause him very embarrassing to Michael Flynn. We will see if he does that.
BORGER: But you know, here is somebody who has asked for immunity, don't forget. So there's a little hardball going on here. Because I don't want to give him immunity. He wants immunity. He says he has got a great story to tell. And they are saying, well, we are going to get your story any way. And we are not going to give you one (ph).
SCIUTTO: Any time you bring up General Flynn, you have to remember, you have to acknowledge, this is a decorated general. He served alongside general McChrystal in Afghanistan and Iraq. That pairing credited with successfully snuffing out Al-Qaeda in Iraq, right. He has this long history. We just had Richard Levine on the air who wrote his - he wrote a memoir with him and speaking of him in the highest terms. I speak to people who served with him and they repeat that. And I think we just have to be conscience of that. It doesn't take away of what he is accused to have done during the campaign. But in the whole picture, it's remarkable fall for a man with a remarkable history.
PEREZ: But you know, I have got to tell you. You know, having spent time with Michael Flynn and talking to him about his views on Islam and on a lot of the issues down here in the Middle East where he served. A lot of people will tell you that they don't recognize the guy who is part of this.
SCIUTTO: From the battlefield, yes. PEREZ: They don't recognize the guy that they knew and the guy today.
And so I have got to tell you the same thing. I mean, I don't know who this person is.
BROWN: And now that guy is being targeted by the ranking Republican talking about contempt of Congress. Let's take a listen to Senator Burr saying that today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: At the end of that option is a contempt charge. And I have said that everything is on the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And of course, that is the chairman of the committee.
I want to bring in Richard Painter who was the ethics lawyer during the Bush administration and sort of break it down and put it in context.
First of all, as we know, Richard, Michael Flynn is pleading the fifth and he will not turn over documents in response to the subpoena. Can you withhold business documents under the fifth?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Generally, no. You can withhold testimony and you can only withhold documents in a situation where your act of producing the documents in itself is incriminating where you were admitting custody of documents or these are documents that the government didn't even know existed. So you are admitting they exist and therefore incriminating yourself. So there are a few situations where documents could be withheld under the Fifth Amendment. But of course, they can always give a limited use immunity and get around the problem that way. In other words, say well, you produce the documents and the fact that you produced them wouldn't itself be introduced to a jury for a person trying to criminally convict you.
So there are lots of ways to get around this, but documents generally have to be produced one way or another. And I think the committee will get them.
[23:45:12] BROWN: So do you buy this at all or do you think this is just a game of hardball, as my colleague Gloria said because Michael Flynn wants immunity. So his lawyer, his team is trying to get leverage here.
PAINTER: Yes, obviously. He is in deep trouble. It's quite clear that he lied about his contacts with the Russians, and that in and of itself is a criminal offense. He has asked for immunity from prosecution in return for telling his story. In fact, turning states evidence. They think they can get the story out of him without the immunity. And so, this going back and forth. He obviously wants to cut as good a deal as he can for himself. He is definitely in very hot water. This is a very serious investigation. We have heard the word
"treason" mentioned. Whoever was collaborating with the Russians is certainly as guilty of something like treason. And so this is going to be investigated. We will find out what's going on. But he is just trying to cut as good a deal as he can for himself. And right now he is going withhold the documents and we will see where it goes from here.
SCIUTTO: Richard, based on what you know, will Flynn likely be charged by Congress with contempt?
PAINTER: Well, if he doesn't produce the documents, I think that would be the next step, to once again, demand the documents. If they don't, refer this for criminal prosecution for contempt. That could take a while. The other option is to give some sort of immunity from prosecution with respect to the documents themselves that are produced. Some limited immunity. They could look into that. So it's going to be a negotiation. I think it's going to be critical they get the documents, and they may have to give him something in return, they may not.
BROWN: OK. Richard Painter, thank you so much for your insight and knowledge on this subject.
And coming up, is James Comey getting ready for his close-up when he testifies before Congress in the days ahead?
SCIUTTO: We will show you what the fired FBI director has been up to, right after this break.
[23:51:09] SCIUTTO: Tonight, the White House is clashing with a top government watch dog and Senate Democrats are vowing to use all tools available to force the Trump administration to handover any ethics waivers that may have granted to executive branch officials.
Our Gloria Borger has been following the breaking news.
Gloria, the key here is basically the Trump administration, allowing folks in effect to break ethics rules and then, they are not revealing that that took place.
BORGER: Right. And the Obama administration did that when they gave somebody a waiver, it became public. And you understood why. So you would understand why they would go in the administration.
In this case, I talked with Walter Schabb who is the head of the office of government ethics and he thinks, as he put it, this is extraordinary, adding to me that there has never been anything like this. He is not going to back down. I think the question that he and others want the answer to is how many waivers are there in the White House, for example. Who is getting those waivers, why don't we know about it, what conflicts of interest are there, and how many waivers are there throughout the entire government.
SCIUTTO: And usually about folks who lobbied the government being allowed in.
BORGER: Right. And you know, this was an administration that ran on draining the swamp. Remember that? So, you, the issues of conflicts are very, very important. And we don't know how many people are getting waivers and that's what Schabb is trying to find out.
SCIUTTO: Richard Painter, you obviously dealt with this issue often in the Bush administration. Is this a major issue? And is this something that need to be revealed to the public as well?
PAINTER: Well, it is a major issue, if the White House is going to refuse to turn basic information about ethics waivers over to the office of government ethics. If the Bush White House had taken that position and said that I should not turn over to the office of government ethics, basic information like this, I would have quit. There is no way you can do that. The office of government I think has a statutory mandate to implement the ethic prose gram throughout the executive branch. And there is no reason to withhold this information.
SCIUTTO: Richard Painter, thanks very much.
We got Comey testifying next week. Where is he, Pamela Brown?
BROWN: Well, that is the big question. It seems as though members of Congress had a hard time tracking him down. Of course, as we look ahead to tomorrow, he had been asked to turn over documents related to the investigation. I have been told that as of today, he has not talked to Robert Mueller who is overseeing the special probe and doesn't want to hand over anything until he speaks to him formally which apparently hasn't happened yet. But he has sort of been hard to track down.
PEREZ: Yes, he has been hard to track down. Members of Congress have been trying to reach him to get him to talk to them about whether or not he is going to come testify and turn over these documents. I have had to resort to some extraordinary means including sending letters to his PO Box which is at a mailboxes et cetera store near his home in northern Virginia. That is the lengths.
BROWN: So basically, someone in a barber shop has an easier time finding him than members of Congress, right. There we go.
PEREZ: Exactly. There he is.
BASH: A man has got to get his haircut, Pamela.
BROWN: But it is really remarkable to me that members of Congress had sort to scramble to find the former FBI director.
BASH: They are scrambling to find him. And it also begs a question, the intelligence committee on the Senate side, announced that he is going to publicly testify after Memorial Day recess. But I talked to Mark Warner, top Democrat, and you know, he said he thinks that he is going to be able to tell the whole story. He hopes that Comey is going to be able to fully explain what went on in his conversations with the President, but he is not entirely sure. And to your point about, he is waiting to hear from Bob Mueller, the special prosecutor about turning over documents. He also clearly wants to talk to his old friend and now, now the guy running the investigation, about what he will or will not say. So it is an open question.
[23:55:01] PEREZ: And several committees want the memos too. That's deadline tomorrow. The Senate Judiciary Committee, also the House oversight committee want those memos. And, I talked to, the top democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein and chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley. Both of them are upset that Comey first of all is testifying before the intelligence committee and not their committee, though they have oversight over the FBI. But they are not ruling out the idea of issuing subpoenas for those memos if they don't get a good reason not to, if they don't, if Comey decides not to turn them over.
BORGER: And we talked to friends of Comey who have told us what he was thinking at the time that he thought perhaps it was an obstruction that could teach the President, how to behave properly and talking to the FBI director, about an ongoing investigation. But these are his friends. We haven't heard from him and he needs to explain why if he didn't think it was obstruction of justice, what was he thinking about what it was?
BROWN: And he is someone who likes to protect his reputation. And I think he does wanted to --
PEREZ: One little part of the story I think that is getting lost is the idea that even though, there is a good job to try to, to try to rescue his reputation, the FBI reputation is getting hurt.
BROWN: All right.
SCIUTTO: That's it for us. Thank you for watching us tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto.
BROWN: And I'm Pamela Brown. AC 360 is next.