Return to Transcripts main page


Report: Trump Asked DNI to Intervene on Russia Probe; Sources: Sessions Offered to Resign and Tensions with Trump. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has made multiple attempts to make an investigation go away.

[05:57:26] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "The Washington Post" reporting President Trump asked Coats if he could urge the FBI director to back off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be the most-watched congressional television since the McCarthy hearings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What message do you have for the Jim Comey ahead of his testimony?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: James Comey is going to dispute President Trump when President Trump said he was assured that he was not under investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via phone): The attorney general told the president he needed to do his job, and he couldn't have that, then perhaps he shouldn't be there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have confidence in his attorney general?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have said I have not had a discussion with him on the question.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Comey and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, June 7, 6 a.m. here in New York.

We have several major developments on the Trump White House in crisis. Here's your starting line. "The Washington Post" reporting that the nation's top intelligence official, Dan Coats, told associates that President Trump asked him, too. The request: could he intervene in James Comey's FBI probe of a top Trump adviser.

Now, in just hours, Coats will testify on Capitol Hill along with other intel officials. That testimony, a prelude to the blockbuster congressional testimony from fired FBI director Comey tomorrow. He's expected to refute President Trump's claim that Comey told him three times he was not under investigation.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: This as we learn that Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign after a series of heated exchanges with President Trump. The White House still will not say whether the president has confidence in Sessions.

And a CNN exclusive for you. U.S. officials believe that Russian hackers planted fake news that led to the escalating crisis between Qatar and other nations in the Persian Gulf.

So we have all of this news covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider. She is live in Washington. Bring us the latest, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, the Senate Intelligence Committee is gearing up for two days of what is likely to be riveting testimony from top intelligence officials and, of course, fired FBI director James Comey, all about the Russia probe.

Now, today's hearing is scheduled to actually focus on the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA. But CNN has learned that senators plan to use this hearing to dig deeper into President Trump's controversies and the Russia investigation.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): America's top intelligence official Dan Coats set to testify today amid Washington Post reporting that President Trump asked Coats to intervene and get the FBI to back off its probe of national security advisor Michael Flynn just two days after then- FBI Director Comey confirmed the bureau's investigation into potential collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

This after CNN reported last month that President Trump asked Coats to publicly deny the existence of evidence supporting the probe. A conversation Coats declined to comment about last month.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.

SCHNEIDER: Coats is one of four top intelligence officials set to face a grilling today over their encounters with President Trump, including deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who will answer questions publicly for the first time about the circumstances surrounding the letter he wrote recommending Comey's firing.

The administration originally pinned the president's decision to oust Comey on Rosenstein's letter before Trump conceded that he'd been contemplating the move for weeks, in part because of the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: He made a recommendation. But regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what message do you have for Jim Comey ahead of his testimony?

TRUMP: I wish him well.


SCHNEIDER: Well, in "New York Times" reporting that Comey actually did not reveal to Sessions that the president pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation. And that's because, according to "The New York Times," Comey just didn't know who he could trust inside the Justice Department -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Good catch there, Jessica. We'll get the rest of the piece together, and we'll show it to everybody. Thank you for the reporting.

Now to escalating tensions between President Trump and his attorney general. A source close to Jeff Sessions says the two men have had several heated exchanges in recent weeks, with the attorney general even offering to resign. This as the White House will not say if the president has confidence in one of his oldest supporters.

CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with more. Do you remember the heat that Jeff Sessions took coming out for Trump in the campaign?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It was tremendous heat at the very beginning. He was right there.

Now, on the eve, Chris, of Jim Comey's testimony, the picture that is emerging is of a president who remained furious after losing control of the Russia investigation. And it happened when one of his most fervent supporters, the attorney general, his hand-picked attorney general, removed himself from the process, setting off a chain reaction that led to the appointment of the special prosecutor.


JOHNS (voice-over): Amid a series of heated exchanges in recent weeks between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sources tell CNN that the president's long-time ally threatened to resign if the president no longer wanted him in the position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the attorney general?

JOHNS: White House press secretary Sean Spicer declining to answer when asked on Tuesday.

SPICER: I have not had a discussion with him about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that there was development.

SPICER: I'm answering a question, which is I have not had that discussion with him. JOHNS: The White House still has not clarified the president's

position. One official telling CNN they wanted to avoid giving a definitive answer.

The president has frequently contradicted his aides in the past. A Justice Department spokeswoman telling CNN Sessions is not stepping down.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.

JOHNS: Tensions between the two men have been brewing since Sessions announced he would step aside from any Russia investigation in March. After failing to disclose two meetings with the Russian ambassador.

SESSION: I didn't have -- not have communications with the Russians.

JOHNS: Trump was reportedly furious with the recusal, believing it triggered a chain of events that ultimately intensified the Russia probe, leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last month. The president's anger on display this week when he slammed his Justice Department publicly for watering down his original travel ban. Something the president had to approve.


JOHNS: Sources say Trump would not accept a resignation from Jeff Sessions. There could be difficulties finding replacement and a potential backlash, of course.

In the short term, if Sessions were to leave, he'd be replaced by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who by the way, is the person who appointed the special counsel.

Chris and Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it is complicated. Thank you, Joe, for explaining all of that.

We say this many mornings, but we have a lot to discuss. So let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analysts Maggie Haberman and Jon Avlon; and CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. Dan Coats is going to testify in front of the committee. All of you, it's a very busy day.

Jon Avlon, OK, so DNI Director Dan Coats is going to be testifying in front of the Senate Intel Committee. "The Washington Post" reports that he, too, was asked by the president to intervene somehow in the Michael Flynn investigation. He was asked to have then-Director Comey also back off. What if he says this today in his public hearing?

JON AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this reporting does corroborate Comey. And it takes the whole "he said-he said" of the Trump-Comey fight and puts it even in further relief. Dan Coats has served in the Senate for a long time. He's got credibility with that community, as does James Comey. And the problem the White House has is that they just don't have a

credibility gap; it's looking more like the Grand Canyon. And the problem is, the president's credibility. So if Dan Coats corroborates Comey, that's further problems for the White House.

CUOMO: All right, Maggie. So Coats comes in, somewhat of a prelude to Comey tomorrow. How do you see this in terms of balancing the political fallout versus legal fallout?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in terms of -- in terms of Coats, I'm less clear in how he's going to handle this, and I think that there's going to be that is theoretically under the guise of surveillance hearing.

In terms of Comey, I think that Comey is, you know, pretty clear about where the guardrails are. I think there are going to be things he can't talk about related to Russia specifically. Things that might overlap with what the special counsel Bob Mueller is looking at.

But I think that Comey as I understand it -- and, again, we have to wait and see what he says, but if the reports are correct, he's going to go out and say, No. 1, that you know, he did not tell the president three times that the president was not under investigation. I'm very curious to hear what he says about that. Because the president has hung his hat on that repeatedly.

And he's going to say, you know, that he felt some, you know, level of discomfort with this president as related to whether to continue this investigation. And I think that that is completely consistent.

I think Jon's point is exactly right. When you have someone like Dan Coats in particular, who does have credibility with this group of people, who is seen as an honest broker. I mean, the White House is big on saying, "Fake news. This one is not telling the truth. This one has this motive. These are Democrats," et cetera, et cetera. Everybody is not part of a conspiracy. And so I think that how this goes is going to be pretty important.

CAMEROTA: So Chris, so people at home can follow along, let's put on the screen what we have cobbled together from all of the different reporting in terms of what may happen tomorrow with Comey and what he is expected to say and not say. So let's put it up for everybody.

As Maggie just said, he will dispute President Trump's interpretation that he was told three times he was not the target of any sort of investigation. So there are nuances to that conversation that perhaps James Comey can expound on.

He will not conclude whether Trump obstructed justice. He's just going to be sort of a fact witness, as we've called. He's not drawing conclusions. He won't be constrained in discussing Trump, whatever that means. He's expected to restrain from discussing the Russia probe. Unknown whether he will read from his memos or hand them over. Can you imagine, Chris Cillizza, a dramatic reading of his memos that he wrote? CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE;

Normally I would say that's -- that's the stuff of fiction, Alisyn. But I've witnessed the last 20 months of presidential politics. So I don't say that.

But look, I actually think the most important thing there is that the memos, we know the memos exist. Comey has them. They are contemporaneous accounts, and Bob Mueller is going to see them. So the public hearing is in some ways theater.

The most important thing to Donald Trump's presidency is that special counsel. That Mueller investigation. Comey obviously plays a large role in that. But those memos, I think, are difficult and you add Coats. A guy who's been in the Senate two times. A guy whom Donald Trump picked. Right? This is not a Democrat. This is not Chuck Schumer. This is not haters. I think it's very problematic.

Look, just at the most basic level, if Jim Comey says tomorrow, "I never told the president of the United States that he was not under investigation," we have three options at that point. Donald Trump lied. Donald Trump badly misunderstood something or Jim Comey is lying. Two of those three are really not very good for Trump. The third, Comey lying, seems while there is a group of people who support Donald Trump who will believe that, seems a little bit implausible.

CUOMO: Now, while a lot of this will be a function of spin coming out of this hearing tomorrow. There is a fourth option. And here's what it is, Jon. Yes, it's kind of what we think is going to happen, but it is not a strong enough declaration of wrongdoing to really change the equation for the main investigation. That is, did I tell him he wasn't under investigation? No. It was more nuanced than that, as Gloria Borger and Jake Tapper here at CNN are reporting that sources are indicating.

He may have taken that, but that's not how I intended it. OK, there goes that issue. That's not enough to really run down the president on any level. And the other one where it can happen.

[06:10:04] "So he told you to back off?"

"Yes, he told me to back off."

"Made you uncomfortable."

"Yes, it made me uncomfortable."

"How uncomfortable?"

"So uncomfortable I put it in a memo."



"That uncomfortable?"

"So much so that I asked not to be left alone with him."

"Ooh." The Democrat says, "I have no more questions."

And the Republican gets up and says, "So you were uncomfortable?"

"Yes, I was kind of uncomfortable."

"So much that you told somebody?"

"No, I told nobody."

"So much that you wrote it in your little diary and never told anyone?"

"That's right."

"And did you do anything about it?"

"No, I never did anything."

"When you were here before us, did you mention it?"

"I didn't mention it."

"And we asked if you anybody impeded it, did you say...?"


"Did you feel that you were under pressure?"

"No, not really."

And where does it leave you?

JON AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, a tony for on-air performance.

CUOMO: I've thinking about this a lot, Jon.

AVLON: That was a very strong one-act play. That was excellent.

CILLIZZA: Did you order the code red?

CUOMO: Damn right I did.

AVLON: To your larger point, obviously, there's going to be spin on both sides. But tomorrow, I think, transcends theater because there is a degree of transparency that comes with a public hearing. Obviously, Comey is going to be very aware of what he can say that won't go into compromising an investigation.

But because it's going to be live in public, that becomes an indelible marker that the public can hang their hat on. So no matter -- the spin aside, you're going to have his statements and more accumulation of evidence. Whether or not he offers a smoking gun, whether or not he feels constrained in a way that could -- you know, being careful not to jump the guardrails on this.

And the White House's ability to start to spin as they reflexively do and say this is haters, this is Democrats, this is a hoax. At some point, you've got to conclude this isn't a conspiracy; this is a conspiracy of truth. And that's what they're confronting.

CAMEROTA: So Maggie, I mean, tomorrow's hearing is appointment viewing and today's also. We all said.

HABERMAN: What Chris -- what Chris just did was also appointment viewing. Don't want to leave that out.

CAMEROTA: Indeed. That is award-winning.

CILLIZZA: That's what I do at 6:10 a.m.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate that. It's hard to recreate that. But feel free to take a page from that.

But I mean, tomorrow is Comey. Today, Rod Rosenstein, Dan Coats, et cetera. The top intel chiefs of our country. What are you watching?

HABERMAN: Look, I mean, in terms of Coats, I'm watching for exactly what he says. He will face pressure about what happened and feelings were about the president and what transpire transpired. You will see something similar with Rod Rosenstein. We have a purpose of the hearing. It will probably go in a bit of an off-ramp in terms of the current events.

In terms of Rosenstein, I think it is more complicated. Rosenstein is going to get pressed further about previous answers that he has given about what happened with the firing of James Comey, I anticipate. I think he's going to get pushed about Jeff Sessions and what he is aware of in terms of turmoil at the department and a sense of frustration that Jeff Sessions has had that we've reported on, as well, with the president.

And then, you know, that all leads to tomorrow. I think John is exactly right, though, that what we have had till this point is a president who, if we are being clear here, this president has a history of saying something isn't true when it is. And he has repeatedly said all of this isn't true. And then we have had sourced accounts in news reports of what Comey has supposedly said.

I think there will be a lot of power in his words. And again, I don't know that it will impact the investigation. I don't know that any of this is going to substantially impact the investigation. But right now, in terms of what is playing out is a credibility issue nationally. I think it will have impact.

CUOMO: Something that will be under the radar today, but it will be interesting to hear in a FISA hearing, right? This is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This is the Oversight Committee. That's who gives those warrants. They have a judge. You're going to hear discussion today where that wiretapping claim is going to come back up on the Republican side and the Democrat side. And you're going to hear the top intel chiefs say just how high the bar is to get a warrant under FISA. Because it's been run down in politics right now. So that will be out there.

But Cillizza, does the game change after tomorrow?

CILLIZZA: So I think the answer is yes at one level. Which is I do think Jim Comey -- I take your points, Chris, that we may not get the smoking gun. We may not get the -- you know, it was Mr. Blue in the green room or whatever. You know? But I do think...

CAMEROTA: With the candlestick.

CILLIZZA: Right. I do think Maggie and John make the point. When -- there's a difference in the American public's mind. We know -- I know when Maggie Haberman reports something that it's sourced at three Trump officials. I know she's right. The average person is much more skeptical.

When you have Jim Comey say, "Yes, I was in a one-on-one meeting with Donald Trump. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. No, I did not, in fact, tell him he was not under investigation."

"Why did Donald Trump think that?"

"I don't know."

I think that stuff matters. And this is the former FBI director. So yes.

Also, though, remember, what you're seeing play out publicly is the tip of the iceberg here. It matters, but largely only in terms of public opinion. The Mueller investigation and less so, but still true, the Senate and House investigations. That's where the rubber meets the road in a meaningful way for the Trump presidency. And that I'm not sure how much is impacted by tomorrow, because my guess is Mueller already knows everything that Comey is going to say tomorrow.

CAMEROTA: OK. Panel, thank you very much for previewing all of this with us.

CUOMO: All Maggie has to do is give me the look, and I know that she's right. There it is, the look.

CILLIZZA: I know that look.

CUOMO: That's all you need. We've got to change the rundown. Maggie just gave me the look.

HABERMAN: Six fifteen. It's an exclusive 6:15 look. That's really the time when...

CUOMO: I'll take it.

You all look great. Thank you for being with us.

Tomorrow's testimony, any way you look at it, is going to be must-see TV. So NEW DAY is getting in here early for you, 5 a.m. Eastern. We'll start with the best reporters in the business, teeing up what to look for. The special coverage will begin at 9, an hour before Comey breaks his silence, 10 a.m. Eastern.

CAMEROTA: OK. Meanwhile, heated exchanges reported between President Trump and Jeff Sessions. Does the president still have confidence in his attorney general? That would seem to be an easy question to answer, but not so much for the White House. We'll discuss.


CUOMO: Growing tensions between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This would have been completely unbelievable only months ago, but a source close to Sessions says at one point the attorney general actually offered to resign because of this series of heated exchanges with the president.

And then, Sean Spicer is asked the direct question, "Does the president have confidence in Sessions?" What does he say? "I haven't had that conversation yet."

Let's bring back our panel: Maggie Haberman, John Avlon, Chris Cillizza. Maggie Haberman, that's become kind of code for Spicer, the "haven't talked to him about it." Doesn't ring true to our ears, but it is highly indicative of a message from the White House. And that is?

HABERMAN: I mean, look, well, I think it's two messages. I think one is that we're going to have to assume that a claiming that there's no knowledge of the conversation is now what passes for an answer from the briefing room podium which, I think, is a different -- a different point.

But look, I mean, Peter Baker, my colleague and I reported on Monday night that the president has grown very frustrated with Jeff Sessions. He's been complaining about him privately. It all dates back -- again, there are a couple of issues here, one of which is the travel ban that wasn't a ban and that was a ban again but that has been blocked in the courts.

And the president, despite the fact that that was an executive order that he signed, has been blaming the Department of Justice in terms of how this has played out and the defense of it.

Really, this goes back to when Jeff Sessions recused himself from Russia-related probes coming on the heels of a report in "The Washington Post" that Jeff Sessions had not revealed during his conversation hearing to become attorney general that he had had at least one meeting and might have been multiple with the ambassador from Russia.

And so that was -- you know, Sessions did what any legal expert, including attorney Chris Cuomo, who we saw in the previous block, I suspect would say was wise, which was just recuse yourself. You might become a witness. There's this issue about you. The president felt blind-sided. He learned about it from a reporter,

I believe, while he was at an event. He hates feeling as if he is not in control, as we know. And it has led to this series of sort of chain-reactive self-destructive behavior by the president, starting with that wiretap tweet and then moving on to a lot of what we've seen since.

CAMEROTA: So John, why would Jeff Sessions blind-side the president. The president doesn't like surprises. And people can fall out of favor, basically, with the president. I mean, this has always been the case, even before he was president.

AVLON: But this sort of hyperactive court intrigue is not remotely normal. I mean, here we are, just months into an administration. And it is stunning to hear the press secretary basically no comment whether the president has confidence in his attorney general. Especially when that attorney general the president's earliest and strongest supporter. I mean, that's very much publicly having your legs cut out from under you. And whatever context that he's upset by, I understand that, you know, recusing yourself may not give, you know, President Trump a great deal of comfort, but it was designed to give the American people comfort. Because Jeff Sessions didn't tell the truth about contacts with Russians during a Senate hearing.

So this is all snowballing in a very -- in real-time. And you see the president's petulant tweets and anger, lashing out at the Justice Department. But if his core allies are feeling unnerved about his support, that I think speaks volumes to the toxic atmosphere inside the White House and inside the administration.

CUOMO: Chris Cillizza, do you see tension with Sessions as different than typical President Trump being at odds with dot, dot, dot?

CILLIZZA: Not really. I mean, I think it's all born of the same thing. He is tremendously mercurial and someone who doesn't take blame on himself. So when things go wrong, he looks for people to blame. It is who he has been much of his life. I don't want to speak for Donald Trump at 25, but at 70, Donald Trump is not changing.

The other thing I'll note as it relates to Sessions. Look, Sessions, I think, committed the one unforgivable sin in Donald Trump's eyes, which is he admitted he had done something wrong. Right? He conceded -- in recusing himself, he conceded that he had not done everything right; and Trump doesn't believe in that. Trump believes you don't ever concede anything. You never apologize. You always claim victory and move on.

So Trump, as Maggie points out, Trump believes some of this is, frankly, sort of revisionist history. But Trump believes everything that gets you to Bob Mueller sprung from Jeff Sessions' initial willingness to concede. And that if Jeff Sessions had never been willing to say, "You know what? I should have disclosed those meetings. I'm going to step out of this investigation," you never get Bob Mueller.

So it's -- you know, in Donald Trump's mind, there's a straight line between those things. And if you follow it backwards, it leads to Jeff Sessions.

[06:25:05] AVLON: The advice that Donald Trump holds so close. Right? Never apologize. Always attack. Let's not forget comes directly from the wise counsel of Roy Cohn. So I mean, you know, if Jeff Sessions is trying to be decent on an issue and have a degree of decorum, which is what we expect from people at the highest levels of government, and he violates Roy Cohn rules, that's the heart of a real problem we've got to confront directly here, people.

HABERMAN: That's -- but that's the thing. I don't mean to cut you off, but that is the thing. I think that John just hit on what I think is a really key thing that explains a good 53 percent of what we see out of this White House on a daily basis, which is that we understand where the president is coming from in the sense that we know that he follows these Roy Cohn rules. Especially those of us like John and me and Chris who, you know, followed Trump in New York for a long time.

And then you know, you have the government, which people expect to run very differently. And there has been a huge problem in this White House. Not uniformly. Not everybody. There are a lot of really good people working there who try very hard, who end up getting swept in under a giant rug. There are people who don't -- they all act as if, you know, well, but there is one person. And just because they're there, you know, they don't speak for the administration or, well, you can ignore another person. Well, this is just how the president is.

And at a certain point, you just can't say that over and over again. The world doesn't necessarily care. And I think that is what Donald Trump is running into.

CAMEROTA: Chris, there is another cardinal sin that you neglected to mention with the president, and that is someone being more famous than he is.


CAMEROTA: And Jared Kushner seems to be butting up against that.

CILLIZZA: I'm glad you mentioned it. Yes. I saw it yesterday. I just think it's such a fascinating window.

CUOMO: Wait, let's watch it. Let's watch the sound. Because they've got the parallel over time with what he said about Comey. So here it is.


TRUMP: Jared -- Jared actually has become much more famous than me. I'm a little bit upset about that.

Oh, there's James. He's become more famous than me.


CAMEROTA: The kiss of death. CUOMO: Botchula tupi botch (ph).

CILLIZZA: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. No one's really laughing. Like, that laugh is so forced. It's like, "Ah-ha-ha. Oh, no."

Look, Alisyn, so I was so fascinated by this. And amid all of the news from CNN and Maggie and "The Times" and "The Post" last night, it slipped my mind. But I think that that clip with Jared is so telling as it relates to Comey and how Donald Trump thinks. Which is everything is graded on -- he has a running list in his head of fame and notoriety. And that is how he grades everything. Everything is who's up? Who's down? Who's doing well? Who's getting buzz? Who's not? Who's causing me problems? Who's not.

It's not really a merit-based system. It's sort of a fame/notoriety- based world. That is how he sees things.

I think the political reporters who made their chops in New York were always tremendously valued. They're more valued now, because they understand that that's who Donald Trump has always been his whole life.

CAMEROTA: OK. Panel, thank you very much for all of those fascinating insights.

But up next, we have a CNN exclusive for you. Russian hackers suspected of planting fake news that is now fueling the crisis in the Middle East among America's closest allies. The FBI is on the case. We have a live report from Qatar next.