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Report: Comey Makes Public a Seven Page Statement; Comey Says Trump Said of Flynn, I Hope You Can Let This Go; Comey Writes Trump Said, I Need Loyalty, I Expect Loyalty
Aired June 7, 2017 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: "I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I 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. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what he had just happened with Flynn's departure, the controversy around the account of his phone calls.
Regardless, it was very concerning. Given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency. The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the President's request, which we did not intend to abide. We also concluded that, given that it was a one-on-one conversation, there was nothing available to corroborate my account. We concluded it made little sense to report it Attorney General Jeff Sessions who would likely recuse himself in Russia-related investigations. He did so two weeks later.
The deputy attorney general's role is then filled in an acting capacity by United States attorney who had also not belong in the role. After discussing the matter, we decided to keep it closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed. The investigation moved ahead at full speed with none of the investigative team members or the Department of Justice lawyers supporting him, aware of the president's request.
He ends by saying this. Shortly afterwards, I spoke with the Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President's concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the attorney general to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me. I told the A.G. that what had just happened, him being asked to leave while the FBI director who reports to the A.G. remain behind was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply. For the reasons discussed above, I did not mention that the President broach the FBI's potential investigation of General Flynn."
And that is just one example of what we'll hear tomorrow morning with Jim Comey. Page Pate, legal analyst, your interpretation, Page, does this sound like obstruction of justice to you?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Brooke, I think it absolutely does sound like obstruction of justice. It's important as to which investigation he was trying to obstruct. The only issue is did the resident have the intent to put his thumb on the scale to try to influence the FBI director at that time to do something that the investigation did not call for? To take it in one direction or the other or to let it go. I think it is very clear not just from the words that were said but from the tone of the meeting, the circumstances of the meeting and all of the follow-up discussions that he had with Mr. Comey that President Trump's intent was to obstruct the investigation into Michael Flynn.
BALDWIN: Steve, same question.
STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Yes. Brooke, I'm a little more agnostic, at least with regard to General Flynn, I do think that Comey's testimony, not just the portion you read but really taken on its whole raises very serious concerns about obstruction vis-a-vis the Russia investigation at large. I wonder if it's going to be an easier target and lower hanging fruit than actually trying to piece together which piece of the Flynn investigation the president was trying to interfere with. Brooke, let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here.
This looks really bad for the president. Jim Comey better hope there's not tapes. But here's his contemporaneous memorialization of the conversation, but also Attorney General Sessions whose job is at least in theory to protect the independence of the FBI from the president. The legal analysis I think you're going to hear reasonable folks agreeing, there's no scenario where this goes to vindicate the president's version of events.
[15:35:00] BALDWIN: You're nodding. Why?
AMY POPE, ADVISED NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL UNDER OBAMA: I'm nodding because there are a couple factors that are relevant. It's typical practice for an FBI agent to make contemporaneous notes after they've met with a witness. You use those records when you're going to trial. It's not a tape but a pretty good accounting of what happened. The fact that he felt that he needed to make that accounting of what happened to me indicates that he recognized that this was much bigger than what that conversation was just at that time, that if you take it in the context of what was going on, if you take it in the context of what were very serious allegations of Russian interference into the U.S. election, that the implications would be important.
And so, I think we need to sort of step back from what just happened in that room at that one moment in time. And look at what was going on in the months before and how that fits into a story of what the president was or was not doing to protect the United States versus his own --
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: To that very point, here in this party he talks about how when he was speaking with President Obama it was only really on two occasions and one had to do with law enforcement policy, one was a good-bye in 2016. He said he did not memorialize those discussions but he had nine one-on-one conversations with Donald Trump in four months. So, you see the disparity here between what would be taken as more usual behavior with his predecessor and then what had been a lot of communication and not about things like criminal justice reform, which he could have discussed because Jeff Sessions rolled out a whole new plan on that. There are reasons for him to speak to Comey. But not these ones.
BALDWIN: So, what happens, Jeff Toobin, legally speaking, so Comey goes, this is a foreshadowing of what he's going to say.
JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right.
BALDWIN: So, then what?
TOOBIN: Well, two things. Director Mueller continues his investigation as special counsel. That's a criminal investigation that is ongoing and we'll see. I don't know where he's going to go if and when he will indict anybody but that is the focus of that investigation. At the same time, Congress is going to continue its investigations. You have house judiciary committee, Senate judiciary committee where the testimony takes place tomorrow. One big question, obviously, is whether any Congressional committee that would be the house judiciary committee starts to look into impeachment. That's if there is an impeachment investigation, it would have to be a resolution, I believe, in the House of Representatives, Speaker Ryan, the Republican majority there would have to I agree to begin that sort of investigation. It seems extremely unlikely to me.
But that is what would happen.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But there's another question, also, whether or not Robert Mueller is going to incorporate what James Comey is going to testify meaning what happens in many special counsel investigations. It starts out as one thing and expands because other things happen. Could he then potentially look into whether the president obstructed justice as part of his investigation?
TOOBIN: I think he clearly already is. And it's been clear, I think Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was asked this question of whether obstruction of justice was within the purview of the special counsel investigation and Rosenstein very clearly said yes and, you know, it's --
BALDWIN: We're getting reaction now. We've been sitting with this statement for an hour and 37 minutes now. We're now getting reaction from the White House. Quick break. We'll have that for you on the other side.
[00:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: Welcome back to the breaking news. I'm Brooke Baldwin here in Washington, D.C., where this massive seven-page statement from the now fired FBI Director Jim Comey just dropped about an hour and a half ago. We're getting a glimpse as far as what the members of the Senate intel committee will be hearing tomorrow morning regarding multiple conversations that the then FBI director and the President of the United States had. Now the reaction coming in. Not just from members -- Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill but from the White House. So, let's go to Sara Murray. She's live in Cincinnati where the president just spoke at an infrastructure event. Sara Murray, what are they saying?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, on the plane ride back to Washington, D.C., Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke to reporters and essentially said that they are reviewing this testimony. They didn't have a comment on it yet. It came out basically as President Trump was leaving the stage here in Cincinnati to head back to the White House. Sarah Huckabee did remark on the interesting timing. She didn't elaborate exactly what she meant but pointed it came out right after we saw Dan Coats and Mike Rogers testifying on Capitol Hill today.
One thing that is interesting about watching the White House navigate this, they have put out documents and rapid response stuff this afternoon seizing on the parts of the testimony that Comey told President Trump he was not personally under investigation in those private conversations. The reason, the Republican national committee is handling so much of this is usually you'd see it come from the White House.
[15:45:00] But this investigation really gets to the heart of what is going in the White House, they felt like they could not helm that effort from inside the west wing. A lot of it is getting kicked over to President Trump's allies. We'll see how he feels about that. We know in private conversations he's expressed frustration that not enough people were out there defending him.
BALDWIN: Sarah Huckabee was asked if the White House disputes it and she said we will review it.
Quickly to you David Chalian before I want to speak to Michael Smerconish in a second. We need to be hearing from some of the other players mentioned in this opening statement.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. You are reading the whole February 14th account of Jim Comey's account of what happened when he was asked to let the Flynn investigation go. He said Attorney General Sessions was lingering near his chair. Well, why was he lingering? Was he lingering because he thought maybe it would be inappropriate for the FBI director to be talking to the president right then. And then Reince Priebus was just outside of the oval office and leaned in at one point and Trump told him to shut the door and go away. Was Priebus concerned that it was wrong for FBI director and Trump to have a one-on-one conversation?
I think people need to start explaining their thinking in these scenarios. The other question I have, Comey mentioned Attorney General Sessions said that he expected -- he and his team -- Comey said that he expected Attorney General Sessions to recuse himself from the entire Russia investigation. Why did Director Comey have that expectation? Why did he expect Sessions to recuse himself if you go back and look at the recusal statement on the same day that it was cited, he said he just decided it that week. BALDWIN: Sara Murray mentioned the rapid response from the RNC. Let
me throw this quick tweet up to show their response as well in addition to the White House. So, they are making light of it and trying to find something of substance in Comey's opening statement like a guy looking through a telescope. Michael Smerconish, host of "Smerconish," first things first. I'm also channeling -- we had Matt Schlapp on saying this is just one account. You know, unless somebody corroborating Comey's account, he wasn't buying it.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST OF "SMERCONISH": I disagree with that. The devil is in the details. You're right, as a trial lawyer, if I had two conflicting points of view on a factual matter, the devil is in the details, he or she who provides the most comprehensive account was the one that would usually carry the day. The grandfather clock in the Comey statement, I find that significant. That speaks to his level of recollection and detail with which he wanted to record this information and something else needs to be said. That Comey statement is a confirmation of what some have regarded as fake news because you think, Brooke, about all of the reporting from CNN, from "The Washington Post," from "The New York Times" that we've been discussing in the last several weeks and months but they've been based on anonymous accounts within the White House.
This is confirmation. This is Comey saying that every one of those details, as they related to his interaction with the President, are accurate. And I take away from the RNC statement perhaps the fact that the Republicans on the Senate intel committee tomorrow are not prepared to do the dirty work of the White House and they need to go outside the apparatus and rely on the politics of the RNC.
My hunch is that if past is prologue, completely ignoring the substance of the leaks. And what a contrast between the testimony that we heard on CNN today from Coats and from Rogers and their unwillingness, without asserting any privilege, to discuss the facts of the interactions that they had with the President, which I found appalling. If they weren't in uniform, if it weren't for a member of the U.S. Senate, I think you would have heard someone on that committee say, you know, we need to hold you in contempt. We're performing a fact-finding mission and if you won't answer our questions, we need to do something about it.
[15:50:00] BALDWIN: Let me follow up with you in just a second on that point. But let me bring back page pate. Page Pate, legal voice here as well. You make the point that no matter what the legal result is, it comes down to Congress?
PATE: Right. Brooke, that's the big concern here. I'm afraid we're going to have a crime without a prosecution. It is very unclear in the constitution that a sitting President can even be charged with a crime or indicted. So, if Congress does not make a step forward to do something about impeachment, we may have a situation where we have a president who is engaged in unlawful conduct but is not being held responsible for it. So that's why I was very concerned and disappointed to see this initial response from the Republicans basically trying to push it back on Comey saying he's not being detailed enough. Everything that Jim Comey said about that conversation in those
meetings is inconsistent so far with what the president has told us. Even down to who requested the dinner meeting. If you'll remember, Trump said it was Comey. Clearly it was not. So, I don't know that it matters if we go through and find each misstatement made by the president, if we find evidence of obstruction, if no one is going to do anything about it.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO EX-FBI DIRECTOR MUELLER: Could I answer the --
BALDWIN: Go ahead.
ZELDIN: Firstly, the 28 CFR 600 that governs Mueller's behavior requires him to report to the Justice Department. If he issues a report that says that the president committed obstruction of justice, I would indict him but for the fact that he's president, I think it's very difficult for the house Republican I think it's politically untenable but legally inappropriate. If he said that the president committed obstruction of justice, I would indict him but for the fact that he's president, I think it's very difficult for the house Republican I think it's politically untenable but legally inappropriate.
Secondly is what I think comes through all of this is there are DOJ guidelines that specifically limit the White House's conduct when it comes to investigations. They are not allowed to talk to the FBI when there's an ongoing criminal investigation. It's pretty clear. It's DOJ guidelines, and what you see in Comey's statement is the President keeps calling him. On the march 30th phone call it says the President called me. He's concerned about a cloud on the presidency. He wants to know what we can do to lift this cloud. These are conversations that not only speak as Jeffrey and I were talking about before about the specific mindset and specific intent to commit obstruction of justice but a violation of protocol that's unacceptable.
TOOBIN: Not just protocol. These are regulations. They are -- they are rules and policies. They have not laws and it's not a crime to violate the policies of interactions between the justice department and the White House, but these are rules that were scrupulously followed by the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration. I believe by the Clinton administration as well and the George Herbert Walker Bush administration. I mean, these rules -- these rules have existed for a long time, and they are in effect to prohibit precisely the kind of conduct that took place here.
TOOBIN: That's why these rules exist so the president who is the superior of the FBI director cannot put pressure on him to influence individual investigations, much less ones that involve him personally.
ZELDIN: Which is what it makes -- why it makes it so much more dangerous legally when he asks other people to leave the room so he's with this guy alone. MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I also think it's
important, too, as we're looking forward, let's look at it politically, right. There's the legal angle which seems to be, you know, a little bit of gray area of whether he could be prosecuted or not. Politically I was talking to a political consultant on the phone during the rogers/coats testimony, someone who has done a lot of Presidential campaigns and represents a lot of Republicans, including Republican businesses. I said tell me the mood. What's going on? Everyone wants to stay out of it. Everybody is keeping low and nobody wants to get involved. Right now, the President is spinning his tires in the mud. Nobody wants to get the mud stain on them, although I do think that it was very telling today during the hearing that you didn't see an incredible amount of pushback from intelligence Republicans.
In fact, you saw the likes of Marco Rubio get a little aggressive on that panel. The reason why we're not seeing more outcry from Republicans on Capitol Hill, I think we all know this but was reinforced today in the phone conversation, they are afraid of primary challenges. If you're a house Republican because Trump is still in the 80s in approval rating, afraid of a primary challenger and some of those several Republican senators are still looking at running for president. They don't want to anger the base needlessly. That could hurt him in the future.
[15:55:00] BALDWIN: Michael Smerconish, let me just bring you back in, there has also been reporting ahead of the big testimony tomorrow. Will he or won't he, live tweet, react? We heard quick commentary from Sarah Huckabee Sanders curious about the timing. There's been reporting about how the president will definitely punch back. Do you think he will? Should he?
SMERCONISH: I -- I think that he's incapable of restraint and the dynamic that most interests me is I wish we had a camera in the ancillary office to the oval office where he's installed, according to "The Washington Post" a 60-inch flat screen. Who has the ability within the White House to stand up to him and say don't send that tweet. I'm unaware of who that individual might be, and I don't know that to the extent that there is such a person that he would listen to that individual, so I fully expect that it's going to be a split screen of sorts tomorrow where former director Comey is testifying.
And we're all watching the twitter feed of the President of the United States in real time for his response. I'll just say this if I may to David Chalian's point earlier. I wholeheartedly agree. It's time for others identified in the sequence now to be called on the carpet. For example, that Valentine's day meeting, if in fact the vice president and the Attorney General Sessions and Pence were asked to leave the room so that he could converse with Jim Comey, I want to know what they say about it, and what is the possible -- I want to be fair to the president. What is the possible benign explanation as to why he would ask them to low of. Why would he say to Jared Kushner that he wants him to step out so that he can have a private word with the FBI director? If there's nothing nefarious about what he was about to convey, they all could have stayed in the room.
BALDWIN: I have 60 seconds remaining.
TOOBIN: He could start tweeting today given this news, so stay tuned.
BALDWIN: Twitter fingers. You, sir, final thought, Phil Mudd.
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: The tragedy of this is 99 percent of this document is focused on what happened. There's one sentence on page 1 that refers the FBI saying we can give you the president defensive briefing. If you're an intel guy you're saying the whole conversation we should have is how do we protect the government from being hacked by the Russians and how do we protect the next election? That's none of the conversation we're having now. We're going to get hacked again.
BALDWIN: With that I just want to thank all of you on that note, Phil Mudd.
Thank you so much for being with us here. Do not go very far at all. Jake Tapper is going to pick up special coverage live here in Washington on this breaking news. We'll be right back.