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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
James Comey Tells Congress President Trump Cannot Be Trusted; Comey: Trump Admin Lied About Me & FBI. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news today in the politics lead.
The former FBI director told the world today that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, cannot be trusted, in his opinion. He cannot be trusted to tell the truth. He cannot be trusted to uphold the rule of law, and, in Mr. Comey's view, he clearly cannot be trusted to allow a DOJ investigation into the Russian attack of the U.S. election last year.
It was a stunning and shocking day on Capitol Hill, James Comey, under oath, in front of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, saying President Trump and the Trump administration told lies to try and defame him and to try and defame the FBI, that Comey knew he had to document his meetings with President Trump, even though he had not done the same with either President Obama or President Bush, because he worried this president, Mr. Trump, might lie about the nature of their conversations.
Mr. Comey said that he took the president's express desire that he would let go of the Michael Flynn investigation as a directive from President Trump.
He maintained that the president fired him, in his view, to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. And he described that as a very big deal.
There is no other way to walk away from Comey's testimony today without thinking that the former director of the FBI thinks the president of the United States is a liar whom he could not trust and who took actions that he thought were an attempt to undermine the integrity of the American justice system itself.
The White House is responding to these charges, and we will get to their response in a moment.
But, first, CNN's chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, joins me.
And, Jim, some of the president's men have suggested that Comey today, in detailing in three times that he did indeed tell President Trump that the president was not personally under investigation, that that has vindicated the president.
But that same testimony, it needs to be said, made some very strong charges about the president's character and ability to tell the truth.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's right.
I think the key is to distinguish between what he vindicated the president on and what he did not.
Yes -- and this is important he made clear that the president personally was not under investigation when Comey was fired in May. However, Comey accused the president of lying about why he fired him, among other lies, and of inappropriately directing him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.
And the FBI director indicated that order was of investigative interest before he was fired and is now likely under investigation by the special counsel as a possible obstruction of justice.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Former FBI Director James Comey was barely two- and-a-half minutes into his opening remarks when he first accused the president lying specifically about Mr. Trump's reasons for firing him.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
SCIUTTO: And it would not be the last time he called Mr. Trump a liar. In fact, he said the reason he took notes immediately after his nine meetings and phone conversations with the president, a step he never took after interactions with Presidents Bush or Obama, is because he feared the president might lie about them.
COMEY: I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function.
I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
SCIUTTO: Comey made clear once and for all that President Trump was not personally under any open FBI investigation by the time he was fired in May.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Was the president under investigation at the time of your dismissal on May 9?
COMEY: No. SCIUTTO: However, he accused the president of what he called -- quote
-- "very disturbing, very concerning interference" in the ongoing Russia investigation he was leading. He said definitively that he believes his firing was base directly on his handling of the Russia probe.
COMEY: There is no doubt that it's a fair judgment, it's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
SCIUTTO: And he said that, when the president told him he hoped he would let the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn go, Comey believed the president was ordering him to end the probe.
COMEY: I took it as a direction.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Right.
COMEY: I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying, "I hope this." I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it. SCIUTTO: How was he so certain?
He explained to senators that's in part because the president made sure he was the only person in the room.
COMEY: A really significant fact to me is, so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the president, the chief of staff out to talk to me if it was about something else? And so that, to me, as an investigator, is a very significant fact.
SCIUTTO: Senators of both parties pressed Comey on why he never told the president that his comments and requests were inappropriate.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: You're big. You're strong. I know the Oval office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn't you stop and say, Mr. President, this is wrong, I cannot discuss this with you?
COMEY: It's a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have.
I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took in.
SCIUTTO: Once fired, the former FBI director made a remarkable effort to shape the investigation, asking a friend to leak the contents of the memos documenting his meetings with the president to spark the appointment of a special counsel.
COMEY: I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
SCIUTTO: An end result that Comey got with the appointment of Robert Mueller.
SCIUTTO: Now, Comey also made several important revelations about the ongoing Russia investigations.
One, he said that the so-called dossier, which CNN was first to report that intel chiefs had briefed both President Trump and Obama in January is still under investigation, including whether Russia holds compromising information on the president.
Two, he said the FBI is still investigating whether Trump aides colluded with Russia.
On the question of whether the president himself colluded, Comey said, somewhat cryptically, he could not answer that question in open session -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.
Just moments ago, President Trump ignoring questions shouted at him by reporters about Comey's testimony. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, any reaction to Comey's testimony? Any reaction at all? Do you think he told the truth to the Senate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Today, under oath, Mr. Comey detailed the many times he says he heard the president and his team lie about him and he admitted he kept contemporaneous notes about his meetings with President Trump because he suspected the president might tell other lies about the contents of their conversations.
Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now.
And, Jim, the president's personal lawyer spoke just a few minutes ago. He took some of what he liked from the Comey testimony and then accused Comey of lying about some other stuff.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.
The president's outside counsel seized on James Comey's admission that he orchestrated the release of his memos, accusing the former FBI director of leaking damaging information about Mr. Trump.
The president's aides and allies are confident that there was no damaging testimony today from, but Comey's comments are breathing new life into some uncomfortable questions, such as whether there is a taping system here at the White House and whether the president is a liar.
Today, the White House said, no, he's not.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump largely stayed out of view of the cameras, besides delivering a speech to Christian conservatives, where he sounded as if he was talking about himself and not religious voters.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, we are under siege. You understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: The president is allowing his aides and lawyers to respond to former FBI Director Comey.
COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
ACOSTA: On Comey's concern that the president might lie about their encounters, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders was asked point blank whether Mr. Trump is a liar.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I can definitively say the president is not a liar. And I think it's frankly insulting that that question would be asked.
ACOSTA: Asked for Comey's comments on the prospect of a recording system at the White House, a possibility first raised in a tweet from the president:
COMEY: I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
ACOSTA: There was this White House nonanswer.
(on camera): Can you say definitively whether there's a taping system that allows the president to record his conversations here at the White House?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I have no idea.
I will try to look under the couches.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Down the street from the White House, the president's outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, emerged to deliver the legal talking points.
[16:10:00] MARC KASOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Mr. Comey has now finally
confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told President Trump privately, that is that the president was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference.
ACOSTA: But Kasowitz also rejected the claim that the president demanded a loyalty pledge from Comey.
KASOWITZ: The president also never told Mr. Comey -- quote -- "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty" -- close quote. He never said it in form and never said it in substance.
ACOSTA: The White House did clear up one question, whether the president has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, something aides could not answer for nearly two days.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has confidence in all of his Cabinet, and, if he didn't, they would not be here.
ACOSTA: Sanders defended herself in response to this statement from Comey that accused the White House of smearing the FBI.
COMEY: The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
ACOSTA: That was a reference in part to a statement from Sanders justifying the president's firing of Comey.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And, most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.
ACOSTA: Asked about that today?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I stand by the statements I made at the podium.
ACOSTA: Top Republicans are still standing by the president, with House Speaker Paul Ryan offering a new explanation for why Mr. Trump was leaning on Comey behind closed doors.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He's new at government and so, therefore, I think that he's learning as he goes.
ACOSTA: President Trump demonstrated some un-Trump-like message discipline today, staying away from his Twitter account during the Comey testimony.
While the president was not tweeting, his son Donald Trump Jr. was. Trump Jr. was pushing back on the notion that Comey felt any kind of directive from the president to shut down the Russia investigation, tweeting that when his father issues an order, you will know it. But, Jake, I don't remember the last time the president showed this kind of message discipline. We just haven't seen it in many, many months -- Jake.
TAPPER: It is still early.
ACOSTA: Still early.
TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thanks so much.
ACOSTA: You bet.
TAPPER: James Comey said today that, of the three presidents he has worked with, there was only one he felt he could not trust.
That's next. Stay with us.
[16:16:43] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're continuing our coverage of fired FBI Director James Comey's testimony earlier today. Joining me now to discuss is my political panel. We have lots to talk about. Let's dive right in.
David Urban, I want to talk with you and the five different times that the FBI director suggested that President Trump lied or he disputed things that the president had said. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Those were lies, plain and simple. I am concerned that he may lie about the nature of our meeting and so, I thought it really is important to document.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: In his interview on Lester Holt, the president said, I had dinner with him, he wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. Is this an accurate statement?
COMEY: No, sir.
KING: Did you in any way initiated that dinner?
KING: And in his press conference on May 18th, the president was asked whether he had urge you to shut down the investigation on Michael Flynn. The president responded, quote, no, no. Next question.
Is that an accurate statement?
COMEY: I don't believe it is.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: At the culmination of all these events, you're summarily fired without any explanation or anything else.
COMEY: Well, there was an explanation, I just don't buy it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: David Urban, pretty strong charges from an FBI director.
DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Well, he was fired, Jake, number one. So, let's get that, right? So, he was fired. Look, there were only two people who knew what took place in that room, right, the president and Comey.
As I said earlier today and continue to say, Director Comey had an opportunity to go to the Hill to tell other people about his concern about this president and his conduct. And yet, his only answer to three senators when asked was, I don't know, I don't know why they didn't go to the Congress. I don't know why they didn't tell anybody else. I don't know why they did not open the investigation. And so, I think that's the bigger news here than anything else today.
TAPPER: I want to get to that in one second. But, first, Anne, was asked about the timing which he detailed the president telling him, I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. And here is what Comey said how he interpreted that hope.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: I took it as a direction. It is the president of the United States with me alone saying, I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It is interesting, Anne, because Comey said he would not -- he would lead the legal analysis to others. He wouldn't say whether or not it's obstruction of justice, that's up to Robert Mueller. But saying that he felt that the president was giving him a direction is -- that's a pretty strong interpretation.
ANNE GEARAN, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is, and it is the very thing on which the question of obstruction of justice will probably end upturning, do the words "I hope" translate to what may otherwise be a pretty clear directive from the commander in chief to someone who does after all work for him, that transforms it into something far less sinister and with far fewer legal ramifications, and then that's where Comey stepped aside today.
I mean, he obviously is a trained lawyer, prosecutor, and law man his whole life. He no doubt has a legal opinion about that, but he chose not to share it today.
TAPPER: Van Jones, let me bring you into response to what David Urban was talking about a second ago. And, in fact, let's run some tapes.
Senator Feinstein asked why didn't Comey stop to say to the president this is wrong, take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Why didn't you stop and say Mr. President, this is wrong, I cannot discuss this with you?
COMEY: It's a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took it in, and the only thing I can think to say because I was playing in my mind and I remember every word he said, it was playing in my mind, what should my response be? And that's why I very carefully chose the words. Look, I have seen a tweet about tapes, lordy, I hope there are tapes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Van, he repeated that a number of times. But assuming that there are not tapes of the conversation, this is going to be a major line of attack from defenders of the president. If he thought this was such a big deal, why didn't he do anything about it at the time?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think all of us have been on those situations where, you know, something really bizarre happens and you almost just kind of freeze. We also have had relations with people where it's creepy, it's sketchy, it's weird, and it gets weirder and weirder. And you're in a catch-22. You just don't know, should I say something or should I not, maybe this will end?
And I think for us to be sitting here to think what we would have done or what anybody would have done in that situation, it's very, very tough. I'm talking, I'm talking --
URBAN: Go on.
JONES: I'm talking.
And so, I just think it is very important that we actually realize this is -- if nothing else what we're learning, government is a very human place with very human people. And when you are sitting across from the United States and the president of the United States is going above and beyond what's normal, your behavior of what you do in that moment may surprise you.
URBAN: So, Jake, let me just --
TAPPER: Go ahead.
URBAN: Awe shucks Comey moment where he looks at Feinstein and says, awe shucks, it was a tough situation, I was taken by surprise. In May 2007, Comey was riding home in his car when he was alerted to the fact that Attorney General Gonzalez and Andy Card were going to the bedside of Attorney General Ashcroft to extend a program he didn't approve of. He then instructed his driver to quickly turn on the lights and siren.
TAPPER: That's right.
URBAN: Called the FBI, had FBI agents rushed there, he ran up the stairs. He acted very quickly.
So, this awe shucks Boy Scout moment --
JONES: Let's talk about that.
URBAN: -- that he could not -- he couldn't somehow acted and stand up to the president, I don't buy it.
JONES: I'm so glad that you raised that, because there you have a situation where you are operating in an extraordinary situation, but the context is a familiar context. You are talking about making a legal argument, you are talking about trying to figure out the best way forward for the country on a tough legal matter. Someone with his background is perfectly qualified for that. To be sitting there to have the president of the United States saying something to you that could be a criminal act, or just could be some weird thing from a weird person, that is not a normal situation for him to be in.
So, the comparison is not apt.
URBAN: But you simply sit --
TAPPER: I am sorry, David, I do want to let Phil Mudd and Carl Bernstein have the opportunity to speak.
Phil, let me ask you, here's Comey discussing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his recusal for matters involving Russia. Take a listen and tell me what you think.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president's actions with Attorney General Sessions even though he had not recused himself. What was it about the attorney general's own interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?
COMEY: Our judgment as I recall was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also are aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia related investigation problematic and so we were -- we were convinced. And, in fact, I think we'd already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with Russia related matters much longer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Phil, your thoughts.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let me give you a technical interpretation. He just crushed Jeff Sessions. He did it twice in 24 hours.
Yesterday, he talked about approaching the attorney general about the president pulling him aside on one on ones. The conversation in the media over the past 24 hours has suggested that former Director Comey should have been aggressive with the president. As someone who served four and a half years at the bureau, the first thing that the attorney general should do in that circumstance, when the director of the FBI says there was an inappropriate conversation with the president, the attorney general shouldn't ask anything of the FBI director. He should turn around and call the White House and say, don't ever do that again.
[16:20:03] Don't ever do that again.
TAPPER: Carl Bernstein, your thoughts?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a very bad day for the president of the United States, because what we see are these investigations and incredible testimonies closing in on his conduct and nearing a discussion of obstruction of justice and abuse of authority, there is a long way to go. And now, there is a credible Senate investigation. We have little expectation that the Senate investigation was going to have credibility or resources.
Today, we saw serious senators up there acting in a bipartisan way. We hear Marco Rubio after that hearing today saying, yes, we have to consider possibilities of obstruction here after we've heard this testimony. We now have a long way to go and a president who's being closed in by the most effective special prosecutor, Bob Mueller, that we have in this investigative culture. And the response of the president and his lawyer is once again to make the conduct of others, particularly Comey, the press, leakers, the issue, rather than the conduct of the president of the United States.
And meanwhile, the dog that has never barked through any of these and particularly today in Comey's testimony, not once has Comey pointed out, did the president say and exhibit any curiosity about what the Russians have done to undermine our elections. And that's the really serious bottom line of what this investigation of the president and those around him is about.
What the Russians did and whether there was any concomitant activity by the president and his associates that is going to bring this to a really serious head?
TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around, we got much more to talk about. We're going to take a quick break. Mr. Comey also has some tough things to say about the Obama administration today as well. My next guest questioned Comey today. We'll ask him about that and much more, next.