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James Comey Releases Opening Statement of Senate Testimony. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 7, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And let's give the president the benefit of the doubt. Like, to your point about, you know, if there's this cloud swirling, and if you're -- you're the guy in the Oval Office...
MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: And you know you're not a target and you know they're not investigating you.
BALDWIN: Well, but he keeps asking, right? And no one said anyone was investigating him.
SCHLAPP: Because he wants it to be said publicly.
BALDWIN: Let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish.
BALDWIN: No one is saying he was being investigated personally, but he keeps asking and he keeps asking.
But let's give him, to your point, the benefit of the doubt. Then why with Comey, in this recollection of this Mike Flynn conversation in which he talks to the president and the -- "I replied only that he's a good guy." He goes on, "And I did not say that I would let this go."
The questions of the president saying to Comey, let this go on the probe into Mike Flynn.
SCHLAPP: Right. I think that this came out in an interview weeks ago, the president talking about...
BALDWIN: Do you not take Comey at his word that this did not happen?
SCHLAPP: Let me be very clear about this. I do not take Jim Comey at his word.
There's a lot of Democrat friends of mine who don't take Jim Comey at his word. Most of my Democratic friends in the green room off the camera were saying he should be fired for what he did to Hillary Clinton.
This is not a Republican thing. Jim Comey tends to be very political in how he handles these justice jobs and what he did at the FBI. So, no, he lacks credibility.
Does that mean everything he says is untrue? Of course not. But for me, I take it as a grain of salt. And I want to see what other people are saying. And I want to get corroborating information about whether this could be true or not.
All I know is there's nothing in this testimony, because it's typical Jim Comey, there's nothing in this testimony that makes Jim Comey look bad. Did Jim Comey ever ask for this job? Did Jim Comey ever leverage the situation in order to stay at the FBI?
Did Jim Comey ever have any conversations with anybody in the Obama administration about the lawbreaking from the Hillary Clinton Foundation?
SCHLAPP: I want to know about that stuff as well. Don't roll your eyes at that. This is the same man.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have a question.
SCHLAPP: Who's rolling their eyes?
SCHLAPP: Those two.
BASH: I have a question for you. He made mistakes, obviously, big mistakes, consequential.
BALDWIN: Comey, he?
And you have worked with him. Have you known him to flat-out lie? Because you would be saying that he's lying here.
BALDWIN: That's what I was trying to get at.
BASH: Really, do you think that he has...
SCHLAPP: I'm not going to use Jim Comey language.
I'm going to tell you that when Jim Comey speaks, that I take it with a grain of salt, because I don't understand...
BALDWIN: So, you don't think he's telling the truth? SCHLAPP: Let me go back. Let me go back.
BALDWIN: Do you think he's telling the truth when he says that the president told him to let it go?
SCHLAPP: I only believe Jim Comey when somebody else who I think is verifiable corroborates it. If there other people...
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Wait a second. You really believe President Trump when he says it, but do you need somebody next to President Trump to verify what he says?
SCHLAPP: Mark, I -- all I can tell you is that the Democrats I know who suffered through Hillary Clinton's loss...
PRESTON: You're deferring to...
SCHLAPP: Guys, I'm one voice here. Can I just speak? You have got eight against one, OK?
So, when I talked to the Hillary Clinton people who were disappointed with the way he acted, when I talked to the Bush people that dealt with him in the terms of the George W. Bush administration, most of that -- most of them came to the conclusion that he tends to spin things in dramatic public settings in a way that make him look really good.
Dana, does that mean he lies every time? Of course not.
SCHLAPP: Does that mean that he spins situations to make himself look good?
SCHLAPP: I think if he was a more honest person, there would be good and bad in this record, and you never get that from Jim Comey.
BASH: That is a very fair point. And I think the fact that you are the lone person here who is...
BALDWIN: We're not against you at all.
BASH: We're not. We're just over here...
SCHLAPP: I was told to come on so that I could actually talk about this and not be one of eight voices.
BALDWIN: You're a valued voice.
BASH: This is not what we do for a living.
SCHLAPP: But I'm honest. Dana, I will call the balls and strikes.
BASH: Oh, I know. I have known you for a long time. I know that's true.
But I think that the point is that you said about Comey and kind of his M.O., I mean, you go back to -- and, again, I'm not talking about the voracity of what he said, but his style is -- obviously is very dramatic. That testimony that he gave back during the Bush administration talking about the hospital bed moment and how he threatened to resign when he was deputy...
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Deputy attorney general.
BASH: And so did Robert Mueller, who was then the FBI director. He has a flare for the dramatic, and then some.
SCHLAPP: That's right.
BALDWIN: Hang on. Hang on. Hang on, because I don't want you to go too far.
BALDWIN: I'm just thinking of the people watching. I'm thinking of the people watching. I'm just thinking of the people watching who have tuned in. And they're like, what is going on in Washington?
BALDWIN: What is going on. Let me just -- let me fill you in.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. We're in Washington. We're continuing with some massive breaking news coverage today of this explosive testimony expected tomorrow from fired FBI Director James Comey about his conversations and phone calls, meetings in the White House with President Trump.
So this early release of Comey's opening statements, which he will read tomorrow in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and we have been going through so much of this over the last hour.
Jim Comey candidly details what the president asked of him behind closed doors and during these private phone conversations. So, back January 27 at this private dinner, this is part of this opening statement.
Quote: "The president said: 'I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.' I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House."
He goes on, February 14, a meeting in the Oval Office -- quote -- "He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians. He then said, '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.'"
A March 30 phone call, Jim Comey says, describing the Russian investigation, this is the president describing it as a cloud that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. "He asked what he could do, he being the president, do to lift the crowd."
So, let me go to CNN crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz.
First, as we're going through all of these statements from Jim Comey, the detail, the meticulousness, you know, your interpretation, sir?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
So, first, I think it's important to note that Comey wanted this out there before tomorrow. It seems that he wanted to do this, so that the senators would be prepared to ask questions. And it's really so detailed and so specific, it's going to give them a lot of room, a lot of studying perhaps to do.
They are going to be able to be more prepared to ask the right questions, and really not spend the day like perhaps maybe today, at today's hearing, where certain questions, maybe bad questions are asked.
And so this is really interesting that he went ahead and did this. He had requested this and they went ahead and released it today. I think this sort of seven-page, really detailed testimony that he's going to give tomorrow is fascinating. It's interesting. It's really Comey- esque in sort of his attention to detail from the time when he was at the Oval Office, who served him.
It's very specific to some of the conversations and specifically as they had to do with General Flynn and Trump's asking him to sort of let it go, give him a break. And it also really shows that Trump just didn't know the proper channels of how to communicate to the department, to the FBI, and Trump -- was trying to educate him, trying to say, you know, go through the Department of Justice.
And the other thing that I want to point out is the dossier. We here at CNN were the first to report on the dossier. And I was speaking to Evan Perez before. And it was really our inquiries to the FBI and Department of Justice, to the intelligence community that sort of started this chain of events early in January, which forced the FBI and the intelligence community to brief him about the dossier, to tell him that these salacious existed.
We went ahead eventually and reported on the dossier. We didn't talk about the contents of it. Other news agencies later released the full dossier. But I think why that's important, the dossier, is that it sort of started this chain of events and this cloud that he refers to sort of, that Trump refers to in the memos, sort of in his conversations with the director, this cloud over this head, this Russia investigation, it really started with the dossier.
And in the memo that Comey eventually prepared, you know, he said he needed to brief Trump about the dossier because the media was getting ready to report it. That stuff is really, really important, Brooke.
BALDWIN: It's the dossier, it's the cloud, it's the Mike Flynn quote let it go.
Shimon, thank you so much.
We're just getting the microphone on Michael Zeldin, is who I want to go to, actually, if I may.
Good to see you, sir. Thank you for joining everyone here, as we're going through this opening statement.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Hi.
BALDWIN: But I just want to go through this, as we did last hour, just going through each section. And I think specifically on the Mike Flynn let this go bit, this conversation that Comey says he had with the president, is that obstruction of justice, flat out?
ZELDIN: No, not in it of itself.
But you put together an obstruction of justice case by putting mosaic tiles together. This is one of the bigger pieces in that mosaic.
What troubles me a bit about the Flynn thing, besides the flat-out asking to let this go, which could be obstruction, if one wanted to call it that.
BALDWIN: You would say that's the most damning piece of this entire statement?
ZELDIN: Well, yes.
But I think there are other things that are important. First is, this is a specific intent crime. It depends on what is the state of the person asking for the activity. The fact that he asks Comey essentially to be alone with him to me is problematic and indicates the state of mind, because it is reported in the paper...
BALDWIN: Why is that problematic, for people who don't understand? Why is that a big -- why is that a problem?
ZELDIN: Why would you ask the attorney general to leave the room when you're talking to the director of the FBI, who reports up through the Justice Department?
What would be the rationale for that? There isn't one that makes sense. There's no goodness business sense behind it. It seems to me that it implies some ulterior motive.
And the same thing is repeated with Coats. If the "Washington Post" story is true, he asks again others to leave the room to have this conversation in private without witnesses to ask for something that's inappropriate to ask for.
ZELDIN: So when you take that Coats story, if true, the Flynn story, as reported in the Mueller -- in the Comey statement, the chief of staff, Priebus, asks Comey the same thing, you have to presume that that's at the direction of the president.
When you have all of these things together, then, as a prosecutor, you can say, well, this is getting closer and closer to an indictable case. Jeffrey's right that it's not that you indict the president, but that when you think about it in terms of do you have enough probable cause to believe an indictment could be issued against a normal person, you get closer to it by all of this.
BALDWIN: But he also made the point earlier that you can obstruct justice and be successful or you can attempt to obstruct justice, but, bottom line, you're trying to obstruct justice.
BALDWIN: You may not be successful.
ZELDIN: That's right. The statute is quite clear. It's an endeavoring-to crime. You can actually do it or endeavor to do it.
In the testimony that we heard this morning, when they said nobody asked me to do anything illegal, that's not really important. It's, did they ask you to do anything which, when taken in combination with all the other facts, amounts to obstruction of justice? And just as it doesn't matter whatsoever whether Rogers or Coats felt pressure, what they feel is not relevant to a determination of whether or not the person trying to obstruct knew that there was an ongoing investigation and endeavored to do it, as ham-handed or improperly as he may have.
Phil Mudd, welcome.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Just a -- thank you.
Just a quick comment on this. Note what Coats said this morning. It's critical. He said he did not feel pressured. Believe it or not, as a former senior guy in the government, this to me in some ways, in some respects, does not look like pressure, which I can explain later on. That seems odd.
MUDD: He didn't say he never had a conversation. I'm talking about Coats this morning in the statement before...
BALDWIN: Never denied it.
MUDD: He didn't say, I never had a conversation with this president, very critical point here.
The question should have been, did you ever talk to the president about this case? If I'm Robert Mueller -- and I worked for him -- then I have to go forward and say, if you did, what did that conversation include? What were the facts of that conversation?
I'm not interested in your judgment about whether you felt pressured or not. I want to know if you had a conversation.
And the statement by the intel guys this morning -- and I used to be one of them -- don't say they didn't have a conversation. It says, in my judgment, I wasn't pressured. That is really important.
BALDWIN: But what about all of this, the Comey statement, Phil?
MUDD: Let me give you two perspectives. One, I agree the Flynn piece is the most critical piece. As a nonlawyer, I will play one on TV -- actually, I won't play one on TV.
BALDWIN: Play your former CIA...
MUDD: That's right. That said, the reason I would say in some ways this doesn't look like
pressure, to me, it is so far outside the bounds of what you would consider a responsible, acceptable conversation.
Somebody says to me, why don't you drop the investigation? I couldn't have done it at the bureau, but, if I could, you would have said, that's the craziest thing I have ever heard. The prospect you would ever even act on that or even be pressured to act on the , what are you going to do, go back to the FBI and say, on further consideration, I just met in the Oval and I think we're actually not going to pursue this anymore.
That's not going to happen.
TOOBIN: That's his defense?
MUDD: No, but...
TOOBIN: That this idea, it was so insane, that -- so ridiculous, that no one could take it seriously?
MUDD: No, I'm not saying that is his defense.
I'm saying, if I heard this, I would say, that is so absurd, you can't really expect me to take this as an indication that I should go back to the FBI. I mean, this is crazy. This is horrible judgment.
TOOBIN: OK. Yes, it is.
TOOBIN: OK, fair enough.
ZELDIN: But when there are more than -- when there is more than one tile that goes to the exact same point, as I said, there was Oval Office meeting, there was the intervention by Coats, there was the January loyalty dinner.
When you start adding all those things up, then it starts looking more like pressure.
TOOBIN: Michael, respectfully, you left out the most important one.
TOOBIN: Which is that he fired Comey at the end of the day...
ZELDIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. You're absolutely right.
TOOBIN: ... when he didn't drop the investigation. I'm sorry. I don't mean to interrupt.
AMY POPE, FORMER DEPUTY HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: The first conversation was, do you still like your job? Do you still want the job?
I think that's the piece that you need to connect here, because that's a very unusual conversation. After he had been assured that he wanted the job, that conversation happens in a closed-door setting. And that is piece number one to the next piece, will you drop the investigation, right?
That's how you look at this. That's how I would look at it.
ZELDIN: That's right. And then, to Jeffrey's point, point three is, when you don't, you lose your job.
TOOBIN: The 10-year term to insulate you from precisely this amount of political pressure.
As a former fed, if you're watching this, if he came back to us when I was at the executive level of the FBI, and said the president asked me if I liked my job, we'd be sitting here saying, you have got a 10-year term, dude. Why is he asking you if you like -- is that a suggestion he's going to fire you if you don't go on the right -- that's more interesting than it looks on the surface.
POPE: Do you feel like that is threatening?
MUDD: Yes. Yes.
MUDD: We said in unison.
PRESTON: We are not looking at this, this meeting, this testimony tomorrow in a vacuum. It's not a one-off. OK?
Let us go to the Oval Office meeting with the Russian officials where he described Jim Comey, according to notes taken by someone other than Jim Comey, because he had been fired at that point, where he described Comey as crazy, a real nutjob, and goes on to say, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off. I'm not under investigation."
These notes were not taken by Jim Comey. These notes were taken by another official who happened to be in that meeting.
So we're not looking at this in a vacuum. As to what Michael was saying and what Jeffrey was saying and Dana was saying, there's all pieces. These are all different pieces that have to be put together.
BALDWIN: Put these -- that's what I want to ask you, sir. All these different -- the meetings, the phone calls, the dinners, put them in perspective for us and also just historically speaking.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I don't know -- I don't know that the Norm Eisen comparison that these are the Watergate tapes, that doesn't seem...
BALDWIN: Taking it a tick too far?
CHALIAN: That for me is a tick too far, if you want to put this into a historical comparison, because they're not, because tapes are taken out of the realm of he said/he said, and you actually hear the words.
CHALIAN: This is still in the realm of he said/he said, but with contemporaneous memos.
CHALIAN: So, to me, it's actually not the same thing.
That's why those tapes were so damaging. That's first of all in terms of your historical context. But the larger pattern here and what we were discussing a bit ago, Dana gets into the psychology of the way Donald Trump operated his businesses.
He made no adjustment to operating now within the bounds of the Constitution as the chief executive officer of the nation. There was no adjustment that it was a different game with a different set of rules.
BALDWIN: Actually, let me -- forgive me. I'm going to cut you off.
CHALIAN: Sure. No problem.
BALDWIN: We're now getting live reaction up on Capitol Hill to this opening statement from James Comey.
Manu Raju is standing by with someone.
Manu, who do you have?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just caught up with a number of different senators about the release of this testimony, really a lot of senators grappling with this.
You mentioned earlier John McCain, who I spoke with, said that he's disturbed by these remarks by James Comey saying that the president tried to pressure him, tried to urge him to drop that probe. I asked him, do you think -- I asked McCain, do you think this is
obstruction of justice? He would not go there. But he said he did not know. He said this is something that investigation needs to come to a conclusion on. And he also said that we should trust James Comey's word, even as the White House starts to tarnish, go after the credibility of James Comey.
And I just also caught up with the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley. He -- actually, his committee is not going to be hearing from James Comey, but it wants to hear from James Comey. And he even is threatening the idea of actually issuing subpoenas to hear from James Comey if he does not agree to come after tomorrow's hearing before the Intelligence Committee.
This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Comey said that this would be his only testimony tomorrow. Are you prepared to either issue a subpoena or try to get him before the Senate Judiciary Committee?
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Under our laws -- no, I shouldn't say our laws. Under our rules of our committee, if Senator Feinstein would agree to subpoena, I would.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So, what he means by that is that the ranking Democrat on the committee is Dianne Feinstein.
And if she agrees to subpoena James Comey, he will issue a subpoena for James Comey's testimony.
Now, I actually had talked to Feinstein about this very topic yesterday. She said she's open to that idea, but she wants to hear from James Comey tomorrow in that -- the Intelligence Committee, on which she also serves , hear what he has to say, but also she wants to hear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
So, even as, Brooke, James Comey is preparing for probably his only public statement, some senators want him to come up before them again. This may not be the last time we hear from James Comey, even if it is riveting tomorrow, when he does testify, a lot of questions on Capitol Hill that a lot of members want him to answer -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Manu, thank you so much with some of that reaction.
Brianna Keilar, I haven't heard from you yet.
Hello, my friend.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello.
BALDWIN: What do you think? KEILAR: I would want to revisit a point that Phil made, which was
about it's so ridiculous that this would -- it's so far over the line, you said you wouldn't have felt that it was pressure.
Yet, at the same time, we learned from " the Washington Post" report -- and this is because it appears that DNI Coats spoke to a number of associates -- that he actually had gone back with this request from Donald Trump and had discussed whether it was appropriate or not to go ahead and fulfill this request.
Ultimately, they determined it was not appropriate. But just even the idea that this was entertained, you can see how this can percolate into something that perhaps in certain circumstances this could be entertained.
And to Dana's point of just the psychology, the mind-set of what you're seeing here, what you're seeing is a president who has a concept of more expansive powers of the presidency that I'm not sure when we have last seen this. It's certainly been decades.
But he has this mind-set that he has powers far beyond what he is granted by the U.S. Constitution, and either he doesn't know the rules or he doesn't care to know the rules, or he thinks the rules do not apply to him.
BALDWIN: Dana had made the point so eloquently, I thought, before about working in business, working in real estate deals is entirely different with working in government and all these different players and telling them what they can and can't do.
And the irony here is that he was sent to Congress -- to Congress -- he was sent to Washington to tell Congress and everyone else there's a new sheriff in town and to be the disrupter.
I think he's taken that disrupter thing, at least according to the narrative that Jim Comey put in here, a little bit too far. The political disrupter? OK. To be politically incorrect? OK. To shake things up here? Sure.
But to not follow the basic rules of what is OK and not OK in terms of protocol, and to apparently breach that protocol, to the point where you're walking right up to a legal line, maybe even potentially crossing it, I don't know, we will see, is not the disrupter kind of thing, in fact, I think that even maybe many of his supporters had in mind.
CHALIAN: Well, exactly, because he was sent to be the disrupter to benefit the American people.
BASH: Exactly. Exactly.
CHALIAN: He was sent here to bust up Washington, so it become effective as a government for the people it represents, not to cover his own behind and get himself cleared of an investigation or stomp down on a friend's investigation. That's not the disruption was -- what his voters were hoping for.
We're going to take our first break. I want to thank all of you for being here. Don't go too far. We have been going through -- we have seven pages' worth.
This is the statement on the eve here of this massive testimony from the fired FBI Director James Comey.
Much more on this, and we're also waiting to see pictures of the president himself stepping off of Air Force One coming home from Cincinnati, where he was talking infrastructure, not what the rest of the nation is talking about right now.
Quick break. More on the breaking news after this.
BALDWIN: Welcome back.
Breaking news here in Washington, D.C., pictures of the president, as he is now home from his stop in Cincinnati talking jobs and infrastructure.
But the nation is talking about what we're about to all hear tomorrow morning here in Washington, where the now fired FBI Director Jim Comey will be testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And we have seven pages' worth of this opening statement that was dropped ahead of time. And so we're going through it.
I'm going to give you just a preview, I will read this for you, of what we will be hearing tomorrow morning.
This is from James Comey's account of the February 14 Oval Office meeting. So, here goes.
"The president signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the attorney general lingered by my chair, but the president thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me.
"The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The president then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.
"When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the president began by saying, 'I want to talk about Mike Flynn.' Flynn had resigned the previous day. The president began by saying Flynn hadn't done
anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the vice president. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.
"The president then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information -- a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock, and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The president waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.
"The president then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, 'He is a good guy and has been through a lot. ' He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the vice president. He then said, '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.'
"I replied only that, 'He is a good guy.' In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI. I did not say I would 'let this go.'
"The president returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice president. I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership.
"I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the president to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.