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James Comey Testifies This Morning; Russia's Expanding Campaign Of Interference. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired June 8, 2017 - 03:00   ET



[03:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump has just fired the embattled FBI Director James Comey.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: James Comey was fired for being too mean to Hillary Clinton. Does anyone believe that? Could anyone believe that?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: He wasn't doing a good job, very simple. He was not doing a good job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: No. Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: James Comey wrote a memo that President Donald Trump asked him to end the investigation into General Michael Flynn.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The possibility in this testimony of opening the door to an obstruction of justice charge.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And the most anticipated congressional testimony in decades.

BENJAMIN WITTES, FRIEND OF JAMES COMEY: This is a guy with a story to tell. If I were Donald Trump, that would scare me a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear that the testimony that you're about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, and welcome to a very special edition of EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: And I'm Dave Briggs. And it's Thursday, June 8th. It's 3:00 a.m. in the East. We are now just hours away from what promises to be a riveting chill on Capitol Hill. Fired FBI Director James Comey will testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with President Trump. Even before he takes the oath, Comey has already changed the dynamic. The Intel Committee releasing Comey's entire opening statement a day ahead of time. At this request, it confirms the president asked Comey to help, "Lift the cloud created by the FBI's Russia investigation."

ROMANS: It also confirms that President Trump demanded loyalty, and it contradicts the president's claim he never asked Comey to back off his investigation of former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Comey's statement does supports -- support the president's claim that Comey assured him he was not personally under investigation.

BRIGGS: Comey says the president brought that subject up over the course of multiple conversations. Today marks the first time Comey has testified publicly or spoken out at all since President Trump unceremoniously fired him last month. Manu Raju begins our coverage this morning from Capitol Hill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: In just a matter of hours, James Comey will finally take the seat before the Senate Intelligence Committee after weeks of anticipation. This coming after he suddenly released his testimony that he's going to deliver in his opening statement, laying out in vivid detail his interactions with President Trump. Some interactions in which he said, frankly, caused him some alarm, made him uneasy as the president asked for loyalty from the FBI director that drive through -- an agency of course that is supposed to act independently and one in which he's investigating the Trump campaign connections, any that may have existed with Russian officials during last year's elections.

President Trump also, according to James Comey's testimony, asked him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. We expect a number of senators, particularly Democratic senators to push Director Comey to say whether or not he thought there was anything illegal or improper in trying to interfere in any way with an ongoing FBI investigation.

Now, this comes a day after the testimony before the same committee before current intelligence officials testified but would not reveal their own interactions with President Trump. This causing great frustration, not just the Democrats on the committee, but also the Republican Chairman Richard Burr, who lashed out at the witnesses for not having enough information.

The question for today is how much more detail will Comey give beyond his opening statement that he released yesterday. Christine and Dave?

ROMANS: All right, Manu Raju, thank you. You know, the president declaring himself completely cleared by this opening statement from James Comey. The president's personal lawyer handling the Russia investigation, putting out this statement to the press, "The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda."

BRIGGS: The White House strategy today is simply to pack the president's schedule. Republican close to the West Wing says, "Officials are trying ensure he has no time to tweet about Comey's testimony." Rapid response is being handled by the Republican National Committee who talking points cast the president's decision to fire Comey as a selfless move he knew might hurt him politically but did anyway for the good of the country. He does have no public meetings this morning. It does appear his schedule is totally clear for the beginning of this hearing.

[03:04:59] ROMANS: All right, let's break the sound this morning with CNN law enforcement analyst, James Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent and CNN political analyst and historian Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University. Good morning.

Let's talk here first about -- I want to talk about Comey and how he felt. This is remarkable. It's seven pages of remarkable testimony that's going to be -- he will say with his own voice today, which I think will give a different impact and import. But let's first pour over here. This is what Comey says about how Trump asked him to lift the cloud. I'm going to read this. "He described the Russia investigation as a cloud that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud."

As someone who was in the FBI, what does that say to you, the president of the United States asking the independent leader of the FBI to lift the cloud?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Christine, when I read through the former director's statement for the record that was provided for Congress yesterday, I was struck by how brazen the attempts were.

And as you just pointed out, it was almost like it was nuanced in how he went about it. I mean the president is a very smooth operator. And the words he chose I think he chose them purposefully and carefully. But the intent, it's impossible not to understand or glean the intent from it.

BRIGGS: How do these seven pages -- Julian, how do these seven pages change anything, change the dynamic here?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the question is in terms of Congress, how do members of Congress feel after reading this? How do members of Congress feel after seeing what they will see today? And I'm not talking about the Democrats. I'm talking about the Republicans because I think --

BRIGGS: That's all that matters here.

ZELIZER: That's really the numb (ph) of this -- for the political and potential impeachment discussion, do the Republicans start to break apart? But it's a pretty devastating memo. And of course the memo and the conversations lead up to him being fired. I think that's the action that ultimately triggered all of this and is at the heart of lot of the concern.

ROMANS: When I read all these pages I see sort of a bureaucratic nerd who is putting down for the record every single little detail, right down to the color of the walls, what was being served for dinner and the two may be stories -- you know, they have this private meeting, just two people -- the two of them in the Green Room at the White House. Although, critics of Mr. Comey, Julian, will say he's a grandstander, he's a showboat. What is it on the spectrum of bureaucratic nerd putting it down for the record or someone who's sort of made themselves part of the story? Where are we here?

ZELIZER: Well, I think he put for the record because he was concerned. I'm not sure he put everything on the record. And it seems that these conversations were bothering him in particular. I don't know if he did the same with meetings with President Obama, for example. Something different was happening.

He's also an addition of being a grandstand and politically savvy and he caught the administration by surprise yesterday. He didn't allow them to control the narrative at the moment they were going out on the attack against him. And he also tried to overwhelm a bit the hearings that were going on yesterday where the administration officials were being less forthcoming. So he's a very politically savvy guy. And I think that's going to be important today as the senators come after him.

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: But the opinions are all over the map here, whether this is obstruction of justice or whether, in the words of Marc Kasowitz, the personal attorney to President Trump, he had a very good day. He was vindicated. What are your questions, James, to James Comey if you are on that panel today?

GAGLIANO: Dave, I think James Comey is involved in a high stakes game of chess. And when the president made his move yesterday, which caught a lot of us flat-footed and unaware, which was the appointment of Christopher Wray, the next FBI director, James Comey delivering of this bombshell. And I say bombshell because this is not typically done on the Hill. You don't typically get a statement for the record before its read before the cameras.

BRIGGS: Why did he do it?

GAGLIANO: I think for a couple of reasons. One is he had to have been cleared by Director Mueller, former Director Mueller, the special prosecutor. The second was I think he wanted to give the Senate Intelligence Committee an opportunity to spend the night going through this thing with a fine-tooth comb, and he led them just like an investigator would.


GAGLIANO: He led them on the courts. He wanted them to take. Here's the questions to ask me. Here's the direction to take. ROMANS: That's exactly right. And now reporting is that he released this because he wanted everyone to be able to see it, to know the import of the words so it wouldn't be -- they wouldn't be hearing it for the first time when it comes out of his mouth tomorrow and they would have plenty of times to ask questions that would move the conversation forward. So he wanted to make sure that this was all out there and on the record.

Let's talk a little bit about this honest loyalty because, Dave and I were really talking about this a lot earlier. When Trump was demanding sort of loyalty -- not sort of, he was demanding loyalty from the FBI director. President Trump then said, "I need loyalty," James Comely writes in this document.

[03:09:56] I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That's what I want, honest loyalty." I paused and then said, "You will get that from me. As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase honest loyalty differently, but I decided I would -- it wouldn't be productive to push it further. The term honest loyalty had helped end a very --


[03:16:27] ROMANS: Former FBI Director James Comey speaks later today with a testimony all ready moving global market, stocks popped tire after the release of his prepared remarks. Investors worry news that the president interfered in the Russia investigation would stall his economic agenda especially tax reform.

But Comey's testimony just one of three events today that could append markets including the U.K. election and the meeting of the European Central Bank. Investors have been cautious this week, stocks trade mostly lower moving money into safe havens like gold and bonds. Oil prices could also weigh on tax today. Crude tanked 5 percent over a possible supply glut. Two reasons, the rift between Qatar and four Arab States could hold the deal to cut output.

And he was -- crude inventories rose for the first time since March. But that's good news for U.S. drivers, gas prices usually spike during the summer. But they fell about two cents from last week.

BRIGGS: A new provocation from North Korea. Four more missiles fired into the sea east of the Korean peninsula. According to U.S. and South Korean Military sources, they flew about 125 miles are believed to be surfaced to shift cruise missiles. Pentagon is not expected to release launch tracking statements, as it usually does, because these were not ballistic missiles capable of posing a long-range threat.

ROMANS: Polls are open in the United Kingdom, voters deciding between the Conservative Party led by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn's Labor Party. There's a lot on the line here. Brexit will be a key issue for many Britains. But security is a very important topic in the wake of recent deadly terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

BRIGGS: Montana Congressman-elect, Greg Gianforte deepening his apology as part of the settlement with the Guardian reporter, he admits he assaulted at a campaign event. Gianforte, apologizing and writing to reporter, Ben Jacobs, calling his actions, unacceptable, unprofessional and unlawful, he also pledged to donate $50,000 to the committee to protect journalist.

ROMANS: Gianforte will plead no contest to assault charges when he appears in court later this month. Jacobs said he accepts the apology and hopes the resolution reinforces the importance of respecting freedom of the press.

BRIGGS: All right. It looks like King James is about to get knocked off his throne, the Golden State Warriors now one win away from another NBA title after staging a furious fourth quarter comeback to defeat LeBron on the Cavs 118-113 --


BRIGGS: -- in game three of the finals, where has been on 11 nothing run at end the game stunned the Cavs on their home court, Golden State now at record 15 and no in the playoffs. In game four, Friday night, the Warriors have a chance to become the first team in NBA history to complete a post-season undefeated. That was a heart breaker for Cleveland and arguably the entire NBA for the future of league. But we'll get into that later.

[03:19:18] ROMANS: All right, 19 minutes past the hours. Is the Russia probe here overshadowing more damaging activity from Moscow? We're there live with what's quietly happening at the Kremlin.


BRIGGS: FBI Director James Comey preparing to testify before the Senate Intel Committee in a matter of hours. In addition to all the political drama, Russia's meddling in the U.S. election will certainly be in play. And that issue has taken the focus off of other potentially significant issues involving the Kremlin. Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian. Good morning to you Clare.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Yes, it was interesting because according to Comey's testimony Donald Trump describe the whole Russia investigation as the cloud over his presidency.

And now, you could argue the same applies to Russia. That leads of a lot of talking political tackled here about how that whole controversy is preventing Trump from carrying out any of his more pro-Russia policies that we had about on the campaign trail.

But there's another variable insight to this. And if you look at that closely, the Kremlin has flipped the narrative here of why, every accusation that comes out about Russians tied of meddling be in the U.S. and Montenegro, more recently, France, Qatar just this week. It's called Russophobia on fake news. And that's created the political climate here whereby ordinary people view this as simply ridiculous or offensive and a sign of political chaos elsewhere. And it's really important to remember that there's a presidential election in Russia next year where Vladimir Putin is widely expected to run for another six years in office. He's facing nearly energized opposition widespread protests are expected early next week. And the sign of political chaos elsewhere as the public views it that way that is no bad thing for him.

And then another side of this as well, Russia is ramping up its own accusations of outside meddling and its own affairs, the upper house of parliament just yesterday decided set up a special commission to try to prevent outside interference, particularly and its upcoming election.

[03:25:14] So there's a real sense here, Dave, that while the chaos and confusion over Russia rages in Washington, the Kremlin is really using this opportunity to get things done, to work toward its own political agenda.

BRIGGS: All right. They sure are. Clare Sebastian live for us in Moscow. 10:25 a.m., thank you.

ROMANS: All right, they're calling this a political super bowl in the Senate, James Comey ready to testify about his conversations with President Trump. He'll directly contradicted the claim from the President. How will President Trump respond?



BLITZER: President Trump has just fired the embattled FBI Director James Comey.

TOOBIN: James Comey was fired for being too mean to Hillary Clinton. Does anyone believe that? Could anyone believe that?

TRUMP: He wasn't doing a good job, very simple. He was not doing a good job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: No. Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: James Comey wrote a memo that President Donald Trump asked him to end the investigation into General Michael Flynn.

PANETTA: The possibility in this testimony of opening the door to an obstruction of justice charge.

[03:30:00] CUOMO: And the most anticipated congressional testimony in decades.

WITTES: This is a guy with a story to tell. If I were Donald Trump, that would scare me a lot. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear that the testimony that you're about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?

COMEY: I do.