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James Comey Testifies This Morning; More Trouble From Russia. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 8, 2017 - 04:00   ET



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?

[04:00:02] Does anyone believe that? Could anyone believe that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.

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

TRUMP: No. Next question.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Comey wrote a memo that President Donald Trump asked him to end the investigation into General Michael Flynn.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: The possibility in his testimony of opening the door to an obstruction of justice charge.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 are about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, some are calling it the congressional Super Bowl.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is

Thursday, June 8th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we are just hours away from what promises to be a riveting show on Capitol Hill. Fired FBI Director James Comey will testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with President Trump.

Now, 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, and this is at Comey's request. This testimony confirms the president asked Comey to help lift the cloud created by the FBI's Russia investigation.

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

ROMANS: 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 fired him last month.

Our Manu Raju begins this morning's coverage 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 which he said, frankly, caused him some alarm, made him uneasy, as the president asked for loyalty from the FBI director, a director of an agency that is, of course, supposed to act independently, and one of which is 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.

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 testimony before the same committee where four current intelligence officials testified but would not reveal their own interactions with President Trump, this causing great frustration not just for Democrats on the committee, but also 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: Thanks, Manu.

BRIGGS: All right. For his part, President Trump declaring himself completely cleared by Comey's opening statement. The president's personal lawyer handling the Russia investigation, Marc Kasowitz, pointing out this: The president is pleased that Mr. Comey is 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.

ROMANS: The White House strategy today is simply to pack the president's schedule. He has no public events this morning, but a Republican close to the West Wing says officials are still trying to ensure he's too busy to tweet about Comey's testimony. Rapid response being handled by the Republican National Committee.

BRIGGS: All right.

ROMANS: Do you think he doesn't tweet?

BRIGGS: I think he will be in front of a 60-inch flat-screen, and I think we will have a split screen on CNN streaming the president's tweets. Just my prediction.

All right. Let's get some inside analysis from our panel. CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, CNN political analyst and historian Julian Zelizer, professor at Princeton University, and political analyst Rebecca Berg, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics", joining us from Washington.

ROMANS: Good morning, everybody.

[04:05:00] BRIGGS: Good morning, everybody!

Rebecca, we will start with you. All right, the big takeaways from this -- the loyalty pledge, the fact that the president asked Mr. Comey if he could let this go, regarding the Flynn investigation, and that he was not under investigation. How does the opening statement from the former FBI director change the entire dynamic here, or does it not?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it absolutely does. I mean, this is the first time that we have had James Comey's side of the story in writing. We will hear him say this testimony, deliver this testimony today to the Senate Intelligence Committee. These have all been to this point unsourced reports, anonymous reports in news, and the president has been able to latch on to those and say, you know, this is not credible because these are anonymous sources. Well, now, we have this testimony straight from James Comey. It is

the sworn testimony. He is swearing to tell the truth in this testimony. And that's a very big deal, because James Comey is someone who comes to this hearing today with a great deal of credibility. The president and his team are going to do everything they can, and have been doing everything they can, to cast some doubt on his credibility.

ROMANS: Right.

BERG: To shred his credibility. But this does do a great deal in terms of setting the stage for where this investigation goes from here.

ROMANS: They have called him, Rebecca, a grandstander, you know. They have said that he's a -- someone called him a showboat, you know --

BERG: The president.

BRIGGS: The president did.

ROMANS: Yes. The official -- the official word, though, from Marc Kasowitz, Trump's outside counsel, is that, Julian Zelizer, that he feels vindicated. And there's a specific part of the testimony they're zeroing in on, and I want to read this. This is from a January 6th briefing in Trump tower, talking about a one-on-one meeting where, apparently, James Comey did assure him that he was not the target of -- he himself being investigated in the Russian probe.

I discussed with the FBI's leadership team that I should be prepared to assure President Trump that he was not under investigation. That was true. We did not have an open counterintelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted. During our one- on-one meeting at Trump Tower based on the President-elect Trump's reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assistance.

This is what Donald Trump has wanted all along. And even when he had that interview with Lester Holt, and he issued the statement about the firing about James Comey, he was very quick to say, oh, by the way, I wasn't under investigation. That was really important for the president for the world to know that.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And so, it seems Comey assured him that he was not personally under investigation, but that doesn't mean that the campaign wasn't under investigation, and it was his campaign. And at the same time, the connection with the administration, all of this is still President Trump, still Donald Trump.

And so, I think we have to be careful into reading too much into what that statement meant. It's understandable why President Trump wants to spin it that way, but the investigation that's taking place, it's a pretty broad investigation, and it's pretty clear what it was about.

BRIGGS: But you could also argue that the president's completely justified in wanting the American public to know he's not under investigation. He needs to govern. He needs to pass legislation.

ROMANS: Yes. BRIGGS: But the question is, James, why would the director of the FBI assure him three times that he wasn't under investigation? And why would the director of the FBI pledge to him, quote, honest loyalty?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Dave, I think that the FBI director told him that he wasn't the specific target of the investigation. So, the Russian collusion investigation is an investigation that's got a myriad of different parts to it. But at that time, he wasn't the target of it. That doesn't mean that he couldn't come under scrutiny down the road.

Look, since 1924, the FBI's only had a total of seven directors. I served under four of them. The first one was like 48 years for, you know, for J. Edgar Hoover, and he died, ironically, a week -- a couple of weeks before the Watergate break-in.

During all those times, all those other directors, most of the presidents that they served under had a healthy respect and maintained that distance and that apolitical mean of the FBI. This is the first time where a president has actually put an FBI director on notice and put him back on heels. You go to the March 30th telephone call that's chronicled in this --


GAGLIANO: -- and he brings up Andy McCabe, the current director of the FBI right now, the acting director, who is the deputy director. And it's almost like he's putting him on notice and saying, remember, I didn't weigh in on the McCabe thing, dot, dot, dot.

ROMANS: Let me read a little bit from that March 30 phone call, because I think that's a really -- that's a really interesting part of this testimony. It's talking about how Trump asked him to lift the cloud of this investigation. 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. This has to go with that dossier that was circulating. And had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud.

[04:10:00] Rebecca Berg, weigh in on that particular phrase.

BERG: Well, what I found interesting about him using that phrase at that time, Christine, is that just ten days prior was when James Comey testified to the House Intelligence Committee and Devin Nunes, the chairman who has since recused himself from their Russia investigation, actually used that term, cloud. He said that the investigation was a gray cloud over the president and the administration, and he was urging James Comey to move on from it, much in the same way that the president did in his phone call with James Comey. So, what that says to me is that the president watched that testimony,

was unhappy with James Comey's performance, was unhappy with all of the news attention it was getting, and he wanted something done about it.

BRIGGS: Julian, at the heart of this, though, is the question many are asking, and for good reason -- is this obstruction of justice? But perhaps before we even get there, does it even matter? Because obstruction only comes under an impeachment hearing, which only comes from a Republican-led Congress. Does it matter if this is obstruction?

ZELIZER: Well, it matters in that it might change the opinion of Republicans on Capitol Hill. This is a political process --


BRIGGS: Lindsey Graham said it was a very good day for President Trump yesterday.

ZELIZER: Well, that's a signal that should make the White House happy. I think you're right. Ultimately, there is, most legal scholars agree, a lot of protection for a sitting president from criminal prosecution. So, it's about whether he would be subject to an impeachment process.

Thus far, Republicans have not really broken at all. There's been a few statements of concern. But the question is, does the hearing itself change public opinion?

I mean, members of Congress love to be re-elected. They love to have their majority. And they will be concerned if this starts to turn into a very serious threat for 2018 and 2020.

But until that happens, that's his firewall. It's partisanship. And I think that's what he's counting on.

But let me add -- even though he might not have been the subject of investigation at the time of that conversation, now he is. That's what this is all about. It's about --

ROMANS: Well --

BRIGGS: Regarding Robert Mueller and the special counsel or --

ZELIZER: Right. Well, no, because the question is did he engage in obstruction after -- when he fired Comey. And so, now this is the subject that we're talking about.

ROMANS: Because there's pre-firing and post-firing.


ROMANS: And the same set of facts look differently once you see that the person in charge of the investigation is fired, James. GAGLIANO: Sure. And there's a distinction to make here. Understand

that impeachment, impeachment is for this purpose, high crimes and misdemeanors. And that's sedition, that's treason, that's bribery.

This is going to -- you know, President Trump's lawyers right now are going through all of his statements, and they've got to go through his tweets and things he said on air, and they're looking at it, and they're going to argue that his commentary's elliptical and that you can't pin it down as being an overt obstruction of justice offer, which is what we're reading into this and going, how can it not be?

BRIGGS: It's amazing both sides are pleased with these seven pages, and that's what makes today particularly fascinating.

ROMANS: And Chris Christie calls this, it's just normal New York City conversation.

BRIGGS: That's right.

ROMANS: Normal New York City conversation.

BRIGGS: All right. Rebecca, Julian, and James, so good.

ROMANS: Don't go away.

BRIGGS: Let's do this again in about 20 minutes.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: OK. Plenty to get to on this. Is the Russia investigation overshadowing bigger issues out of Russia? We'll go live to Moscow.

ROMANS: And how is anticipation of James Comey's affecting the markets? It is, believe it or not. Next.


[04:17:39] ROMANS: All right. Former FBI Director James Comey's testimony later today is actually already moving markets. Look it there. You can see exactly the moment on the charts when Comey's testimony was released, and boom, stocks popped.

You know, one theory here is it gave investors more of the facts, right? It's moving the ball forward.

But there are still worries that new revelations about the president's possible interference in the Russia investigation could delay his economic agenda, especially tax reform. Tax reform is the Holy Grail for investors.

Comey's testimony is just one of three events today that could move markets. There's the U.K. election. There's the meeting of the European Central Bank. Investors have been cautious this week, stocks trading mostly lower, moving money into safe havens like bonds and gold and out of stocks. Oil prices could also weigh on stocks today. Crude tanked 5 percent

over possible supply glut. Two reasons there, the rift between Qatar and four Arab states could halt a deal to cut output and also, we have U.S. crude inventories that rose for the first time since March.

Now, that could be good news for U.S. drivers. Gas prices usually spike during the summer, but they fell about 2 cents from last week, Dave.

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

ROMANS: Polls are open in the United Kingdom. Voters are deciding between the Conservative Party led by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn's Labor Party. A lot on the line, of course. Brexit will be a key issue for many Britons, but security also top of mind in the wake of terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

BRIGGS: And it looks like King James is about to get knocked off his throne. The Golden State Warriors are one win away from a NBA title after staging a furious fourth-quarter comeback to knock off LeBron and the Cavs 118-113 in game three of the finals. The Warriors went on a 11-0 run at the end of the game, stunning the Cavs on their home court. They led after three quarters in Cleveland. Golden State now 15-0 in the playoffs.

In game four, Friday night, the Warriors have the chance to become the first team in NBA history to complete a postseason undefeated.

So tough for Cleveland. They did just about everything right and just can't seem to win.

[04:20:00] ROMANS: All right. Back to the Russia probe. Is that Russia probe here overshadowing more damaging activity from Moscow? We're there live next 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. Is the Kremlin using the political circus here to spread its own message?

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian with answers.

Good morning to you, Clare.

[04:25:01] CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Well, you know, Trump called this a cloud over his presidency,

according to James Comey's testimony. But whether or not it's a cloud for Russia is really up for debate. On the one hand, yes, you know, there's been a lot of talk here in political circles about how this has prevented Trump from carrying out some of the more pro-Russia policies that we heard about on the campaign trail.

But on the other hand, there's a really important kind of essence to this. The Kremlin has really successfully flipped the narrative here, whereby every accusation that comes out against Russia of cyber meddling, be it in the U.S., in France, in Montenegro, more recently this week in Qatar, is labeled as fake news or Russiaphobia.

Now, let's not underestimate the level of anger and frustration they feel over this, but it has also been useful in a way that ordinary Russians now view these stories as either offensive or simply ridiculous, the more of them that come out, and a sign of political chaos in other countries, which is useful for President Putin. There's a presidential election coming up next year. He's widely expected to run for another six years in office.

He has an energized opposition here to deal with. Mass protests are expected across the country on Monday. So, to appear calm and composed in comparison to other countries is a good thing for him.

And there's another side to this as well. Russia has ramped up its accusations of outside interference in its own affairs leading up to that election next year, that the upper house of parliament just this week has agreed to set up a commission to try to prevent outside influence in Russia's affairs, whether it's controlling NGOs or other measures. So, there's a real sense here that the chaos in Washington is being put to use by the Kremlin.

BRIGGS: We'll see if there's a Kremlin response to today's hearings.

Clare Sebastian live for us in Moscow -- thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

A political super bowl of sorts in the Senate, James Comey in his own words, detailing his conversations with the president. He will contradict a big claim from the president. How will President Trump respond?