Return to Transcripts main page


Clapper: Watergate "Pales" Compared To Russia Probe; CNN: Sessions Offered To Quit Amid Tensions With Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:26] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're coming to you live from Washington this morning. There is a little bit going on in Washington right now.

Consider it the mother of all pre-games, the warm-up back to the most anticipated congressional testimony in decades. But all of a sudden, the set up this morning could be every bit as big and as important as the main event.

In one hour from now, top intelligence officials step into the hot seat to kick off what is expected to be two days of blockbuster testimony. In just 24 hours, former FBI Director James Comey is expected to dispute President Trump's claims that he was told that he was not under investigation, did not tell him that even once, let alone three times.

"I wish him luck," those words from President Trump to the man he fired and the man widely expected to lay bare details of his private conversations with the President. It could be the most consequential congressional testimony since Watergate. And we know now it will be the only time that Comey will testify publicly about this.

BERMAN: Yes. But before we get there, we are here. These men testify in just minutes. Among them, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who is in the middle of a brand-new controversy.

This morning, "The Washington Post" reports that the President asked Coats to get the FBI to back off its probe of national security adviser Michael Flynn. A revelation that comes at the same time as new reports of just how far James Comey went to separate himself from the President.

And in the midst of all this, and likely no coincidence at all, by the way, breaking news from the President who announced his pick for a new FBI Director.

As we said, a lot going on here. We're covering all the angles. Let's begin with CNN's Senior Congressional Reporter Manu Raju on Capitol Hill with today's hearings. Dan Coats, new questions to face the Director of National Intelligence, Manu. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, no question, John.

In fact, Dan Coats was already expected to get a lot of questions in light of revelations from last month that he was asked by the President to publicly rebut these reports about collusion that may have occurred between the Trump officials and Russian officials.

And remember, when he testified last month, he did not reveal anything before a separate committee. But today, at today's hearing, the top Democrat on the Committee, Mark Warner, believes that he may actually reveal more about those interactions.

Now, this also changed since last night's revelation from "The Washington Post" that, actually, the President asked Dan Coats to intervene with James Comey and asked him to back off the investigation into his ex-national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Now, those questions are bound to come up at the beginning of the hearing today when Mark Warner, who is the top Democrat, asks questions after Richard Burr, the Chairman of the Committee.

Now, already, though, this morning, the Director of National Intelligence's top spokesman pushing back on these reports, saying this in a statement, that "Director Coats does not discuss his private conversations with the President. However, he has never felt pressured by the President or anyone else in the administration to influence any intelligence matters or ongoing investigations."

Not denying the reports, but also saying that he did not feel pressured. We'll see if Dan Coats goes any further today. But he is not the only one who is going to testify in this high-profile hearing before the Comey hearing tomorrow. Rod Rosenstein, who is the Deputy Attorney General, who has not answered questions publicly since the firing of James Comey, expected to get questions about that as well.

As well as these, also, new revelations that James Comey did not feel comfortable in a private room with the President of the United States after the President allegedly asked him to drop the Michael Flynn investigations. Expect Rod Rosenstein to be asked if he knows anything about that in today's hearing as well.

But, guys, all just a prelude to tomorrow's hearing where James Comey is expected to testify. And also, well, we now know that he is probably going to rebut President Trump's assertion that Comey told him that he was not under investigation, among other things. A lot to look forward to today and tomorrow, guys.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. We'll check back in with you in just minutes. Every bit of news this morning followed by a, "but wait, there is more."


BERMAN: But wait, there is more. New details about the tension between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russia investigation. HARLOW: A senior administration official tells CNN Sessions actually

offered his resignation to the President. The President didn't take him up on that. This as the White House refuses to say, over and over again, whether the President still has confidence in Sessions.

Let's get straight to our Senior Washington Correspondent Joe Johns at the White House. Have they answered your question about that yet, Joe?

[09:05:00] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Not so far. I mean, listen to that, heated words, offers of resignation. It really paints a picture, doesn't it, of a President who is simply furious about losing control of the Russia investigation? And the fact of the matter is, it happened after one of his closest allies, his faithful political senator until he became the President's Attorney General, removes himself from the Russia investigation and all things related to it. So it's a problem, certainly, for the President.

But we hear from the Justice Department officially that Jeff Sessions isn't going anywhere. We have heard from the White House on background that, the fact of the matter is, the President is not going to accept a resignation from Jeff Sessions. The optics would be bad. It would be difficult finding a replacement. There would be uproar on Capitol Hill.

Just the same, the White House Press Secretary really doesn't have an answer when you ask where the President is on his man at the Justice Department. Listen.


MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How would you describe the President's level of confidence in the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I had not had a discussion with him about that.

GARRETT: But last time you said, there was a development.

SPICER: I'm just --

GARRETT: The last you wouldn't --

SPICER: I'm answering your question, which is, I have not had that discussion with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say if --

GARRETT: So you can't say he has confidence in his Attorney General?

SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. If I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.


JOHNS: So there will be more attempts here to either change the subject or get back on message, depending on how you view it. The President flying off to Cincinnati, Ohio, today, for an infrastructure event. Infrastructure was supposed to be the focus this week, John and Poppy.

BERMAN: OK. Any time you have to say you are not resigning, that's a tough morning from any job. All right. Joe Johns at the White House, thanks so much.

All right. In the midst of all this, breaking news from the President. He says who he is going to pick to be the new FBI Director. CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez has the latest on that.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Christopher Wray, who is a lawyer at King & Spalding. He splits his time between Atlanta and here in Washington. Last year, he was representing Chris Christie in the Bridgegate scandal and helped Chris Christie escape any charges in that case by the Justice Department.

He also has a history at the Justice Department. Back in the 2000s, he was part of the Bush administration, ran the criminal division, including leading the prosecution of the Enron case.

Look, one of the things that Chris Wray brings is the fact that he is well known inside the Justice Department, inside the FBI. We're hearing already, you know, some people seem to be reassured that, after a month long search by the President, he settled on somebody who is a serious person, someone who is going to get some support from Democrats even, probably.

He worked with Sally Yates, the former Deputy Attorney General, former Acting Attorney General, who, of course, has been at the center of some of this confrontation with the Trump White House. So he knows a lot of people here in Washington who, I think, will be able to vouch for him.

One small episode from the past that I think is going to come back up is, back in 2004, if you remember the hospital incident where James Comey had a show down with members of the Bush White House over a surveillance program? Well, Chris Wray was one of the people who threatened to resign, along with Comey, and with Bob Mueller, who is now the Special Counsel. Back then, he was the FBI Director in that show down with the White House.

So I think what you'll hear from Democrats is that they'll see that he is not exactly a push over for this White House. Again, a guy with a solid conservative credentials that, I think, Republicans are going to like and Democrats are probably going to support as well.

HARLOW: Interesting timing, the news breaking this morning.

PEREZ: Exactly.

HARLOW: Evan Perez, thank you. Joining us now, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's senior political reporter; Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst; Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst; and Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security correspondent. You all have chief or senior in front of your names.



HARLOW: You are very important people to discuss very important things this morning.

TOOBIN: Right.

HARLOW: Jeffrey, to you.

TOOBIN: Yes, ma'am.

HARLOW: So "Washington Post" comes out with this story last night, saying that the President asked Coats on March 22nd, two days after the Comey testimony, if he could intervene in the Flynn investigation.

If Coats testifies to that today, add on to that our previous reporting that the President asked Comey himself if he could just walk away from the Flynn investigation, is there a pattern here, a pattern that could show obstruction of justice? Maybe not one thing, but add it altogether and you get?

TOOBIN: Well, that's the question. I mean, that's what this hearing is about. That's what this whole investigation is about, at least the Comey part of it, which is, did the President take improper steps to stop an FBI investigation of his friend, Michael Flynn, and of his associates who are all involved in the campaign?

[09:09:53] And certainly this is another piece in the puzzle, if he approached the Director of National Intelligence and said, help me shut this down. You know, that, in and of itself, is not an obstruction of justice, but it's another fact. And, of course, it all reaches this tremendous crescendo when he fires the FBI Director who was investigating him.

BERMAN: Coats is saying, through a spokesman, that he didn't feel pressured by the President. Does it matter what Coats felt or does it matter what the President intended?

TOOBIN: Well, I think, you know, it does matter somewhat. I mean, you know, the intensity, the level of interest, what exactly the President said to Coats, if we find that out.

If it was simply, you know, is there anything I can do? That's one thing. If it's, please help me shut this down, that's another. I mean, you know, the details matter.

So, you know, that's why, you know, as much as I enjoy and participate and try to get leaks about testimony, it's better to hear the actual testimony.

BERMAN: One hour from now.


HARLOW: So here is how DNI Coats testified on May 23rd when asked about this. Listen.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do believe that the information in discussions that I've had with the President are something that should not be disclosed. On the other hand, if I'm called before an investigative committee, I certainly will provide them with what I know and what I don't know.


HARLOW: Well, guess what, Jim Sciutto? He's called in front of the investigative committee today.


HARLOW: So I'm just wondering, is he going to politically tap dance? This is a seasoned politician. Or is he going to actually say a lot more than he said then?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He'd better have an answer prepared, right, because a tap dance won't work, I think. I mean, there will be greater demands. He'll certainly get hard questions from the Democrats present there.

And the truth is, we already know, right, a great deal. I mean, this is a pattern. We know that the President, in private, has asked senior officials. And we expect to hear it tomorrow but we know based on, a large part, on your own reporting, Gloria, that Comey has told friends privately that, in private, Trump asked him to quash the investigation. We've heard that from others.

And we know that, in public, the President asked officials to knock down reporting, right? Knock down a whole host of stories, which most of them have refused. In fact, the former DNI, James Clapper, was speaking in Australia today, so Coats' predecessor, and he was saying that the President asked him to publicly knock down the dossier.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Which he refused to do. What's interesting, I find, is that, in most of these cases, most of these officials are saying no, right? Now, you might expect that from the previous administration, but even from the current administration, appointees of this President have mostly said no. Now --

BERMAN: And you reported that with Dan Coats, along with --

SCIUTTO: And we reported that with Dan Coats, for instance, just a couple of weeks ago. What we don't know is who said yes, at least in the private conversations.

In terms of the public calls trying to knock down stories, for instance, we know some folks who took part in that. I mean, I got a call myself during the whole Devin Nunes fiasco from a Republican senator who was pushing, in effect, the administration line on this.


SCIUTTO: So we know that some have answered the call, which we know came from the White House. But, by and large, what's interesting is that many of the President's own appointees are refusing to do this.

BERMAN: And we could see more light shed on that today when Dan Coats testifies. Again, we're less than an hour away from really what is, all of a sudden, very big testimony. Tomorrow was supposed to be the huge day, Gloria. And in your reporting --



BERMAN: And it will be big.


BERMAN: And you have reporting, specifically the parameters where James Comey feels comfortable talking.

BORGER: Well, I think, first of all Comey, we have been told, is not going to come out and say the President obstructed justice. I believe the President obstructed justice. What Comey is going to appear as, we've been told, is a fact witness.

He's going to go through his notes. Now, we don't know whether he is going to have his notes right there or whether we -- he certainly hasn't shared them with the Committee, at least not so far. And he is going to say, this is what occurred in my conversations with the President. And he wants to leave the legal analysis and the political analysis up to everyone else and just appear, just the facts, ma'am. That's what he's going to do.

In terms of whether he told the President three times that he wasn't under investigation, it gets a little squishy here because I think what sources close to him are intimating, that perhaps the President may have misinterpreted exactly what Comey has said, that these are complex issues, legal issues, as Jeffrey knows, and there is a lot of nuance to them.

If he were to say you're not under investigation, does that mean you're not the target of an FBI counter intelligence investigation at this point? Does it mean you're not the subject? Does it mean we're not there yet? I mean, there are lots of gradations.


[09:15:00] TOOBIN: Can I elaborate on that?


TOOBIN: Because I do think there is a possibility for confusion there. Justice Department policy organizes individuals who are dealing with the FBI into three categories.

You are either a witness, which means you are just someone who can provide information or a subject who is someone whose conduct is under investigation or a target who is likely to be indicted. That -- those terms of art are not really known to the public very well.

And Donald Trump is not a lawyer. He is not a member -- he's not someone who has been involved in this world. It does seem possible that he could have been told you're not a target, but he might have been a subject. And he might have interpreted the way he wanted to interpret it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Can I pause for a skeptical point of view on that? The president's statement in his letter dismissing James Comey was definitive. You told me three times I was not the subject of this investigation. I just -- I just wonder, it's clear what he wanted there and it's clear what he expressed in the letter.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That may be part of the analysis that Comey wants to leave for other people than himself.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He did make it sound very clear-cut. The president in his interview with Lester Holt. Nia, thank you for your patience. Let me get you in here. Another nugget, juicy indeed but also relevant if our reporting is correct, according to "New York Times," Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions don't leave me alone in a room with the president.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And sessions at least according to that article said, well, he didn't necessarily have control over that. He couldn't guarantee that James Comey wouldn't be left alone with the president.

HARLOW: And now you have been offering his resignation.

HENDERSON: Exactly. And all of the reporting that's coming out about Sessions and Donald Trump being upset with him that he recused himself from the Russia investigation. We'll see what happens with that. I think one of the interesting things we'll see tomorrow from Comey is how Donald Trump responds.

I mean, we have seen that testimony from James Comey has set this president off and it set into motion all the things we are seeing now from "The Washington Post" poll. It said 25 percent of Americans don't trust what James Comey has to say on this and about 40 percent don't trust what the president has to say, almost 50 percent.

So there are trust issues for both of these folks in this he said-he said conversation. And we'll see how the president responds today. He's obviously trying to say there is nothing to see here. He's trying to make it infrastructure week. It's not going well.

HARLOW: I think more people are definitely going to tweet about infrastructure today.

BERMAN: Only if he's talking about a super fund site.

HARLOW: All right. We will see you guys in just a few minutes. Stay with us. We have a lot ahead.

Still to come, a CNN exclusive, sources say Russian hackers planted a fake news report, a bombshell that fueled the Qatar crisis.

BERMAN: State media reports a gunman stormed the parliament building and a suicide bomber target a shrine. There's a major development. We'll have the very latest.

The former director of National Intelligence says that the Russia scandal is worse than Watergate. What's he mean? We're less than one hour away from the current director of National Intelligence testifying. He has a lot to answer for this morning. We're following all the latest developments. Stay with us.



BERMAN: All right, new this morning, a pretty stunning statement from the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. If you thought Watergate was bad, he says, the Russia scandal is worst. Listen.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: You know, compare the two that Watergate pales really in my view compared to what we are confronting now.


HARLOW: Joining us now, Jack Kingston, CNN political commentator, former Republican congressman, and Brian Fallon, CNN political commentator and former press secretary for Hillary Clinton. Congressman, to you, Watergate pales in comparison.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I almost think Clapper is losing it.

HARLOW: He's losing it.

KINGSTON: I think he is. He's on the media every day. If this guy is supposed to be the gold standard of national intelligence, first of all, he shouldn't be a media but he's on the air all the time. When he is, he's a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right if we want to call it that.

I don't think politically, but he does a chance where he says something from one respect that, hey, there is no collusion and then maybe possible there is. But in Watergate, there was a crime, a break-in. There has not been a crime committed that we know of.

BERMAN: You don't prove a crime until after an investigation.

KINGSTON: But you investigate once there is a crime. There has not been a crime. We don't know of a crime.

HARLOW: They're investigating if there is.

BERMAN: They say they're investigating whether or not there was collusion, which they wouldn't do unless they had reason to believe that there might be. I'm just arguing with the timeline here.

KINGSTON: Let's say this, Clapper had to watch the whole lime, actually. They knew that Russia has been trying to interfere with American elections for years and years, and election after election. This was all under his watch and particularly since July of last year he was in charge or involved with this investigation.

He has shown no evidence of collusion and now he comes out with what should be a bombshell statement. It's coming from him and he says all kinds of things that are borderline irresponsible. So it's just -- it's silly almost.

BERMAN: To his first point, Brian, though. James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence. Look, he's a politically charged guy at this point, whether or not he wants to be. Is this a prudent thing for him to say?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, it is remarkable to see Republicans like Jack that a couple months ago were happy to cite Jim Clapper when had made that appearance with Chuck Todd and suggested that he wasn't aware of any evidence at that point that would have indicated collusion.

Now they don't like what they are hearing from Jim Clapper. I disagree with the congressman on this point. There is an underlying criminality here. The Russians broke into the DNC and also hacked John Podesta's e-mails.

So we very well may at the end of this see indictment issued against state-sponsored actors in Russia. So we know there is an underlying crime involving Russian nationals at the very least.

I think what former Director Clapper is saying is because this involves a foreign government intervening in our elections, that's what enhances the severity here.

[09:25:07]And the potential that our own government or at least the Trump campaign or associates thereof might have been involved in any way is what makes this really haunting.

HARLOW: Take your partisan hats off for a moment if you can. We want your expertise formerly with the Justice Department and your expertise as well, Congressman, as someone who has worked in Washington. The fact that Jeff Sessions and the president have had such heated contentious confrontations that it was so bad that our reporting is Sessions offered to resign and the president is infuriated because he stepped aside from the Russia investigation, does that concern you about what's going on inside the White House right now?

KINGSTON: I think it's part of what happens in the White House when there is just a lot of tension --

HARLOW: Do you think it's normal?

KINGSTON: I think there is some normal -- yes, I think there is tension in the White House and it is not unusual. But I would like to believe that this is probably overblown in the media. It is something that the two of them can get passed.

I think there has been some frustrations that perhaps Jeff Sessions recused himself a little bit too early. But beyond that, I think that you got a special prosecutor now or special investigator with Mueller. You got a new head of the FBI with Chris Barrett coming on board.

So to me I think this -- there probably is some tention right now, but I think they will get passed that. I don't think it is going to be damaging.

BERMAN: Well, the fact he offered to resign is confirmed by senior administration officials to every news outlet on earth right now. I think that is not in dispute. Whether or not it is normal, Brian Fallon, you worked in the Justice Department, any of the attorney generals you worked for ever threaten to resign?

FALLON: It didn't come to that during my tenure there. This report makes me feel bad for Jeff Sessions. What is the nature of President Trump's beef with his attorney general? That he did the prudent thing and recused himself in the matter he is at least a witness or subject of this ongoing investigation.

It's absolutely untenable once it came to light that he had these meetings with the Russian ambassador for Sessions to stay at the helm of this investigation. So Trump's criticism of him is largely that he didn't stick around in order to shut down this investigation prematurely.

That is a complete -- that type of complaint that he has or that Sessions suggests it is just another piece of puzzle here of a potential obstruction case.

HARLOW: Or maybe he did something wrong.

BERMAN: The White House has been asked repeatedly whether or not the president has confidence in Jeff Sessions. That is not a trick question.

HARLOW: And they won't answer.

KINGSTON: I'll ask Brian really without my partisan hat on but Eric Holder did resign. There had to be discussions about that and now the president --

FALLON: Holder stepped down after six and a half years.

KINGSTON: But he was accused of contempt in Congress.

FALLON: That was a partisan vote undertaken by --

KINGSTON: Well, still it was Congress. I don't think it was a partisan vote.


KINGSTON: Fast and furious. Don't act like --

BERMAN: All right. Your point, Congressman?

KINGSTON: Let me say this. In terms of White Houses in governing, people do come and go in cabinets in key positions and this discussion is unfortunately public, but there are public discussions that have happened with other administrations and other White Houses. That's my only point.

FALLON: I think one of the questions that is going to come up today is because Jeff Sessions is recused, now Rod Rosenstein is still at the helm of this investigation, he is also going to be a witness potentially and Bob Mueller's look at potential obstruction because he was involved in the firing of Jim Comey.

And so I think a lot of the Democratic senators are going to ask Rod Rosenstein why do you think it is appropriate for you to still be overseeing Bob Mueller's investigation when you may have to give an interview about your conversations with the president?

There is an option here with Rosenstein could have empowered Bob Mueller to have all the powers of the attorney general and not have to report to him. Even when Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by Comey back during the Bush administration to investigate the Valerie Plame incident, he was given sort of a superstructure where he was above the attorney general.

HARLOW: We have to leave it there, guys. Thank you very much. Stay with us. We have a lot ahead.

BERMAN: All right. The nation's intelligence chiefs are set to testify on Capitol Hill in less than an hour. Dan Coats, the "Washington Post" reports that he was asked by the president to back off the Michael Flynn investigation. He will face questions about that. We'll bring it to you live when it happens.

HARLOW: Plus, twin attacks hit Tehran at the same time. ISIS is now claiming that it is responsible for the first major attack by ISIS on Iran. Stay with us.