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James Comey Testifies. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I worked every day at the FBI to help make that great organization better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Also revealed today, James Comey said he intentionally had a friend leak memos of his conversations with the president to the media, hoping it would eventually create the pressure to then spur the hiring of a special prosecutor in this Russia investigation, which is precisely what's happened.
He offered more details about the private interactions he had with President Trump, now fired NSA Michael Flynn, and what the president meant when he allegedly said, "I hope you can let this go."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: The reason I keep saying his words is 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.
RISCH: You may have taken it as a direction, but that's not what he said.
RISCH: He said, "I hope."
COMEY: Those are his exact words, correct.
RISCH: You don't know of anyone ever being charged for hoping something, is that a fair statement?
COMEY: I don't as I sit here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, so that was just a piece of the hearing. We will play you snippets throughout the course of the next hour.
But we also just heard from the special counsel of the president of -- the outside special counsel, Marc Kasowitz. He just spoke moments ago here in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC KASOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Contrary to numerous false press accounts leading up to today's hearing, 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.
The president -- Mr. Comey also admitted that there is no evidence that a single vote changed as a result of any Russian interference.
Mr. Comey's testimony also makes clear that the president never sought to impede the investigation into attempted Russian interference in the 2016 election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right. So I have some very smart lawyers on my panel who can get into privileged conversations, what that means.
But before we get to that, you know, let's just start anew. For people who are just tuning in, they have learned about this hearing, going through the headlines.
Chris Cillizza, just first starting...
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, not a very smart lawyer, just FYI.
BALDWIN: He's not a smart lawyer. So, we won't look for you on that.
CILLIZZA: ... watching right now, but yes.
BALDWIN: But, on politics, you have got that, you have got that.
So I read your piece right after we just heard Comey, the whole lie comment.
BALDWIN: Out of the gate feeling like he was defamed by the president, confused over why he was fired.
Look, they don't have that long a history together. Jim Comey and Donald Trump met on January 6. Now, it speaks to what Jim Comey thought of Donald Trump that, on January 6, that first meeting, he immediately gets in the car afterwards and begins rapping out notes of the meeting because, as he said today, he was concerned that Donald Trump might lie about the nature of their conversations.
I mean, that's pretty striking. We're talking about the sitting FBI director in his first encounter with the president of the United States.
BALDWIN: In the van on a classified laptop.
And this is not a guy in Jim Comey who has never been at this level before. This is a guy who has advised George W. Bush, met privately with Barack Obama. This is someone who has been at this level of government for a while.
So that his alarm went off, I think, is telling. Now, if you think that Jim Comey is out to get Donald Trump, then you're going to dismiss that. But I do think that that is important. And almost as soon as he met Donald Trump and took the measure of him, that's how he reacted.
BALDWIN: His antenna went up.
CILLIZZA: One other quick thing.
Nine conversations, three in person, six on the phone, between Donald Trump and Jim Comey, almost all, I believe all, initiated by Donald Trump one way or another, either inviting him to the White House or calling him on the phone.
And in three-plus years as FBI director under Barack Obama, Barack Obama's last two years, two total conversations one on one, one of which was to say, have a -- your presidency is over. Hope you have a happy trails.
Again, that's not a smoking gun. Right? As the many smart lawyers will tell you, that's not -- legally, that doesn't do much. But, politically speaking, if it is right now -- and this is what it has evolved into -- a he said/he said, which is probably what was always going to go -- that seems to be to be telling in terms of the pattern of Trump's interaction with Comey and then Comey's assessment of Trump.
BALDWIN: It is a he said/he said, because, having heard from the lawyer, the whole let Flynn go and the other piece about the loyalty, he's saying no way did the president ever say that.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you have identified the correct headlines here. It's never a good day for a White House when the spokesperson has to go out and say the president is not a liar. That -- you're not having a good day.
And Matt Schlapp, the conservative Trump supporter who was here yesterday, said there's no way for today to be a good day.
And it wasn't. It's terrible. You have the former FBI director calling the president and his administration liars and saying that he understood the president to be giving direction to stomp down on the Flynn investigation.
Those two things are terrible headlines. That being said, Chris was just talking about that, at first meeting, Jim Comey was already suspecting that Donald Trump was a liar.
Well, you know what, 64 percent of the electorate last November said when they went to the polls that they didn't believe Donald Trump was honest and trustworthy. By the way, one in five of the people that said that voted for Donald Trump.
So, here's what I'm saying. I don't know that Donald Trump's political position got a ton weaker today. It's a terrible day for the Trump White House, but I don't -- it could have been so much worse potentially had new information been introduced here.
Here, the country already kind of knows that Donald Trump's a liar. That is -- two-thirds of the country thought that on Election Day. And we have seen in recent days that a majority of the country believes he did interfere with the investigation. So he was already -- this was a problem already for him on these two fronts.
CHALIAN: What I found intriguing today, in watching the Republicans on the committee, they certainly didn't go with the RNC talking point at the top of the day, which just was never going to work, discrediting Comey as some people who shouldn't be trusted or listened to.
That was just absurd. That wasn't going to work. The guy is a total stand-up guy and knows how to do this and is a pro. And so they propped him up, kept saying all day long, all the Republicans were saying, you're a great patriot.
BALDWIN: We respect you.
CHALIAN: Totally respect you.
But they did keep underlining almost to a person this notion of, you did tell the president that he wasn't under investigation. They were still on team Trump in terms of that. And I did not sense or see -- others feel free to tell me if you saw something else -- a Republican really take a turn away from the White House.
And when you talk about this being a political -- forget the legal for a moment -- that's not my role -- but in terms of the political arena, the thing that is going to change politically at some point is when the Republicans start abandoning this president over that. And I didn't see any of that today.
CILLIZZA: Including Rubio and McCain, by the way, Brooke, who are people who have been quite critical of Donald Trump.
CILLIZZA: I'm not totally sure -- I don't want to say that McCain was defending Trump. I was unclear on what McCain was doing, as I think most people were.
But Rubio quite clearly -- I thought Rubio and Roy Blunt from Missouri were two of the sort of staunchest defenders...
BALDWIN: Let's come back to the Republicans. And I think you guys bring up a good point, but the overarching question, right, and especially regard to the conversation -- this is, again, according to James Comey, Director Comey, not according to the president, who disputes this, as to whether or not he said let Flynn go.
And the question then being, would that constitute obstruction of justice? Here's more from the hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: General Flynn at that point in time was in legal jeopardy.
There was an open FBI criminal investigation of his statements in connection with the Russian contacts, and the contacts themselves, and so that was my assessment at the time. I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct.
I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that's an offense.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Director, is it possible that, as part of this FBI investigation, the FBI could find evidence of criminality that is not tied to the 2016 elections, possible collusion, or coordination with Russians?
BURR: So there could be something that fits a criminal aspect to this that doesn't have anything to do with the 2016 election cycle?
COMEY: Correct. In any complex investigation, when you start turning over rocks, sometimes you find things that are unrelated to the primary investigation that are criminal in nature.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So, Evan Perez, our justice correspondent, who is breaking news right and left on this whole story, the question becomes, for the special counsel, for Bob Mueller, what, then, would constitute obstruction of justice?
Walk me through the steps that he will have to take to determine whether it is or not?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what you heard from Jim Comey just now is exactly what we expect to be the next set of headlines, right, which is whether Bob Mueller, now that he has these memos from James Comey after having the benefit of watching him testify today, which we know over at the special counsel's office, just about half-a-mile away, they were watching today, whether or not he's going to now look at and investigate any effort to impede this investigation, whether he considers this enough probable cause to basically direct FBI agents to start investigating the president and anybody else who might have tried to meddle and interfere with this investigation.
That's where we're going to go next. We don't know...
BALDWIN: To investigate the president, which, really, let's just step back for a second.
PEREZ: Which means -- right?
BALDWIN: But this was initially, in these conversations, this is according to the public -- the public statement from Mr. Comey, the president wanted to have the public assurance that this wasn't a personal investigation into him, which it never was.
PEREZ: Which is the irony. Right?
BLITZER: Which is the irony of this whole thing today.
And, look, Marc Kasowitz, according to Jim Acosta's reporting, was last night at the Trump Hotel just down the street celebrating, smoking cigars, sort of saying, yes, we won. The president is not under investigation.
Well, that may quickly change because of the facts that we're hearing. And, look, we're not saying here that there has been obstruction. I think there's still some steps here that we need to hear from the other people who did have interactions with the president, including the director of national intelligence, the head of the NSA, who both had interactions which may be interpreted as trying to influence the investigation.
All those things need to come to light. But I think what you heard from Comey is that he certainly says, you know, I'm sure that the special counsel will work to figure out whether there was obstruction or something there.
BALDWIN: You, sir, know the special counsel very well, having worked with him. Michael, just weigh in on obstruction of justice and especially given
the fact that we have now heard from the outside counsel for the president saying he never said that.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, that's interesting, in and of itself. Let's start with obstruction of justice.
I think there is, on the basis of the testimony today in the question- and-answer period, enough information for Mueller's office to initiate an inquiry as to whether or not the president in his communications with Comey with respect to Flynn endeavored to obstruct justice. And...
BALDWIN: Initiate an inquiry?
ZELDIN: Right, start an investigation.
ZELDIN: Second, I think that, when you put together the loyalty and the communications about the cloud and the communications about the cloud, and then the firing, that's another element that has to be looked at in the totality of the state of mind of the person who is endeavoring to obstruct justice.
So, from a legal standpoint, today was not a great day for the president's legal team with respect to the Flynn investigation.
The other thing that's not also a good thing for the legal team, Marc Kasowitz's statement. And Marc is a very good lawyer. He was careful, I think, to say the president was not under investigation. Well, the reality, of course, is, he is now.
And, unfortunately, he is now by his own ham-handedness. And he had no need to be under investigation, if he just let the investigation go.
PEREZ: If he had just not tweeted, if he had just shut up about it, if he had just not commented about the reason.
BALDWIN: Could of, would have, should have. It happened.
ZELDIN: And I think the -- may I just say one last thing, and then -- I'm sorry.
ZELDIN: The one -- and the thing that's odd to me is that they have chosen to have a fight with Jim Comey, reputational fight.
Who, America, if you will, who, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, are you to believe, this witness who has spent his career in government who just testified under oath about all of these things, I think in a very heartfelt way, vs. the president?
I just don't think that's a good place to be legally. BALDWIN: Rebecca, Rebecca, jump on that, but also a piece of
testimony today, we heard Director Comey saying with regard to this meeting over Michael Flynn and the whole, I hope, I hope you let this go, vs. let this go.
REBECCA LEGRAND, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes.
And you saw Republican senators trying to rehabilitate what Comey had said by asking Comey, well, he just said I hope, so that's OK, isn't it? Have you ever looked up a case where I hope you drop the investigation is sufficient to bring obstruction of justice charges?
As a starting point, that is a bad day. It is a bad day when you have got Republicans out there sort of trying to carefully craft or pick apart the president's statement to try and save him from obstruction of justice charges. But Comey was clear. What Comey said is, I felt it was a directive. I felt I was being told to drop the investigation against General Flynn. I find that extremely disturbing. Flynn was in legal jeopardy, and I felt like I was being directed.
And he also said, I felt like I was being -- essentially, it felt like that he felt like there was an effort to corrupt him, an effort to make him feel like he owed Trump something, that there was a patronage relationship.
BALDWIN: It was the whole bit about having this job, right?
I really like you, the whisper across the Blue Room, like, as though the president had done him this favor by keeping him in his job. Therefore, what are you going to do for me? That's how...
LEGRAND: And he had that great quote about that lady justice has a blindfold. She's not supposed to be peeping out looking if it's OK with her patron.
And what Comey, who spent his life in law enforcement, felt was that that the situation he was being put in. He was being pressured, if not threatened, to drop an ongoing investigation.
Go ahead, Michael.
MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFFER: Well, Brooke, I am a lawyer, although I try not to play one on television.
Let me agree with David in every way. It wasn't a good day for the White House, but here's what they got out of it. They finally have a communications message going forward.
And it's to go after Jim Comey. Jim Comey, who I have the greatest amount of respect for, I think he's a patriotic American, he has cultivated this image of moral rectitude, indeed, the Boy Scout.
And then he turns the ship into the torpedo and says, yes, I took a memo, handed it off to my friend on my way out of town and he leaked it to "The New York Times" with my knowledge.
It says Comey is a common politician. I don't think he is. But it's the move of a common politician in Washington to take out his opponent by leaking a memo and...
BALDWIN: How do you explain the leak?
ALLEN: Did that ever give...
BALDWIN: It's a great point.
ALLEN: Did that ever give Trump a talking point to come after him.
BALDWIN: That's a great point.
AMY POPE, FORMER DEPUTY HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: I actually disagree with that.
I have to say it's the move of someone who lacks confidence in the leadership of the Department of Justice to act impartially, to act independently and to do their job.
It says to me that he wasn't sure that the story was going to get out any other way, and the only way to get to the bottom of what happened here was to get the truth out and to figure out what it meant. That's what it says.
PEREZ: And to force a special counsel to be appointed.
POPE: To force an independent investigation.
CILLIZZA: Though I do think, if you -- you guys all are in -- we all are in this world and we're following every second of it.
I do think, if you're following it in the broadest strokes, what do you see out of that? Jim Comey, D.C. insider, Donald Trump, D.C. outsider. That doesn't save him from legal jeopardy. I think he's not saved from political jeopardy either.
But that dynamic is -- that's the dynamic by which he won the election. Now, that's not going to stop the special counsel. That doesn't stop all this stuff. But it's not a bad contrast.
PEREZ: I think what Michael is saying, though, is that their message is to go after Comey.
The problem with their message is, it is a bit muddled, right, because they are saying believe Comey here, but not here.
PEREZ: Right. It's not exactly a clean message.
(CROSSTALK) POPE: So, accept every time that he wasn't investigation, but don't believe him...
BALDWIN: Asha, I want to come back to you.
The thing is, so much of this would be cleared up if there are tapes, is there is an actual record of...
BALDWIN: Lordy, we hope so.
More on the tapes.
Quick break. More of our CNN continuing live coverage from Washington, D.C., on a very big day. We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took in.
And the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind -- because I could remember every word he said -- I was playing in my mind, what should my response be? And that's why I carefully chose the words.
Look, I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
The president surely knows whether he taped me. And if he did, my feelings aren't hurt. Release the entire -- release all the tapes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."
That's where we're going to begin this conversation here with my panel. We're here in Washington. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.
It's this whole question, does the White House have tapes? And, apparently, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one the -- the spokeswoman for the White House, today said in a gaggle, essentially, I don't know if we have tapes, and joked apparently about looking under the sofa.
It's actually not funny. And I think that the public deserves to know.
David Chalian, my question being, they have to know. You can't just say, I don't know. Reince Priebus has to know. The president has to know. CHALIAN: Well, certainly, the president has to know, I would imagine.
I don't understand how there could be a taping system that he tweeted about if it existed that he would not know about. And so certainly let's start there.
You recall that tweet that morning he put the word tapes in quotes...
CHALIAN: ... which people on his team had pointed out. So it has been confounding ever since he tweeted that, whether it was pure distraction and just a made-up thing or if there are actual tapes.
But the White House -- Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today no.
BALDWIN: We have some sound. Let's actually listen to her ourselves.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can you say definitively whether there's a taping system that allows the president to record his conversations here at the White House?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no idea.
QUESTION: You said that you had no idea whether or not there was a taping system in the Oval Office. Could you try to find out?
And a lot of people are interested, as you might imagine.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sure. I will try to look under the couches.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CILLIZZA: I mean, here's the thing. This is an answerable question. This is not like, what is the meaning of life, right?
Like, this is a quick -- like, either it was taped, there -- recordings exist or they don't. This is the strategy, I guess strategy, that the White House uses now, which is, you ask a question that has a clear answer, like, does the president believe in global warming or not, because he's called it a hoax and said that it was made up for the Chinese before. Can you ask him, Sean? Yes, I will see if I can.
Two days later, hey, Sean, have you asked him? No, I haven't had a chance to ask him.
Like, these are things -- I'm not saying that the press secretary should have full-time access at -- that the only thing the president should is respond to press inquiries, but these are things that have answers.
BALDWIN: Do you think they should come out, Michael?
CILLIZZA: When you float the idea that it's -- you are recording...
PEREZ: There's a real consequence, though.
PEREZ: There's a real consequence.
There was a real consequence to that tweet, because, according to James Comey's testimony today, he says that he got up in the middle of the night thinking about what the president said and remembered that he had memorialized all these conversations, and so thought, well, hell, if he's got tapes, I have got memos.
CHALIAN: Which then led to the special counsel, a direct line from that tweet about tapes to Bob Mueller being appointed.
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: And, Brooke, just so you know, if there are tapes, they are legally required to come out.
They would be considered -- there's a law called the Presidential Records Act. Those cover any kind of communications that would be recorded in the Oval Office. They cannot be destroyed, and they would be legally required.
BALDWIN: That would be pulled in to the Bob Mueller investigation.
ALLEN: I totally agree, and that there will be an interrogatory, let's say, going to the White House to say, does this exist or does it not?
Back to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I think you're starting to see a press strategy here, which is, let's devalue the press briefings. We don't know the answers. We don't want to know. We probably don't want to know for legal reasons as well.
And they are going to communicate through their own lawyers. They are starting to get their message together. It took Bill Clinton a long time in Whitewater to come up with, it's just about sex. Let's move on, and Ken Starr is the devil. We're starting to see the beginnings of a strategy.
I'm not saying it's great. I didn't like Clinton devaluing... PEREZ: But that's exactly what they did...
POPE: It's just about Russians taking over the democratic process. Not to worry. Nothing to see here.
ALLEN: Hey, I'm just saying they are going to get their sea legs out of this.
PEREZ: ... exactly right.
ALLEN: It wasn't great that Clinton lied either. And what the Russians did is horrible.
POPE: Wait. That was about sex, and this is about the Russian...
ALLEN: That was about lying under oath.
POPE: Oh, lying.
ALLEN: Lying under oath. Lying under oath.
ALLEN: Hey, I'm not equating the two. All I'm saying is that they have a political strategy now that came out of today, which is the deep state actually exists. It's the president vs. the permanent government.
RANGAPPA: Doesn't that terrify you as a lawyer? I'm a lawyer, too. That terrifies me.
RANGAPPA: We're at war with our constitutional...
ALLEN: I'm scared every day.
BALDWIN: Off of Michael's fear, let's go to Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent, who has, I know, been listening to all of this.
You cover, you talk a lot about these briefings. We're talking about this leak, although there's been discussion as to whether or not it could be constituted as whistle-blower status vs. leak here, this memo. What do you think?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think largely the conversation about leaks is a sideshow. It's a talking point for conservative media to say the president had a good day and not a very bad day here.
Look, if you are -- if you are James Comey, and you feel there is a problem at the top of our government, what do you do? You tell a couple of your friends and you try to get the word out however you can. Whatever the president said to Comey, it's not necessarily classified, not necessarily privileged.
Not every conversation they had was a secret. But this White House seems to be trying to keep a lot of secrets. That was my takeaway all morning, Brooke, was that there's a lot of secrets in this White House. Is he taping conversations or not? That's a secret. We're not going to tell you the answer.
And I can't help but think, who's really the answer today? Is it Vladimir Putin? You know, this is -- Comey is telling the country to pay attention to this crisis, this attack by Russia. He says it's going to happen again.
And yet what do we hear a lot today? Partisan squabbling, the left and the right bickering all over social media and sometimes on television about who is right and who is wrong here.
Russian propaganda outlets are loving this today, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Michael, what do you think about this?
ALLEN: I think the Russians have been having a field day all along, because, look, Trump may have been the favored candidate of Putin in the election for whatever reason, but Russia is no friend of Trump's now and Russia is no friend of the United States.
And so they want to show their public that, look, democracy is disorderly, it's terrible. Look at all these different people over here, because he doesn't need it coming into his deck of the woods, because it delegitimizes, well, what is a corrupt kleptocracy in Russia.
And so, yes, I think they are benefiting from this.
BALDWIN: One sidebar, though, that we haven't even gotten into, which we will in a second -- we're going to take a quick commercial break -- but the sidebar being the former A.G. Loretta Lynch, and the damning testimony that Mr. Comey gave today regarding Ms. Lynch and apparently, when the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation was swirling, whether he should call it just a matter, instead of an investigation.
We have got that for you coming up next.