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Soon: Fired FBI Director to Testify Before Senate; Trump Atty: President Feels "Totally Vindicated". Aired 5-5:30a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This moves us into the same realm as Nixon's obstruction, maybe worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dramatic, written testimony released a day early at James Comey's request.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Comey's describing is not a criminal case for obstruction of justice. I think people are getting ahead of their skis on this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read this and I literally wanted to rinse myself off afterwards. I felt completely disgusted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is obstructive, and it looks like an abuse of power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is exactly what Jim Comey does. He is a grandstander.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has the right to say, you will not investigate Flynn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that isn't obstruction of justice, I don't know what is.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, June 8th, 5:00 here in New York, and we are just days away from the most anticipated congressional hearing in decades.
Here is your starting line in a highly unusual move, the Senate Intelligence Committee released James Comey's seven-page prepared statement a day early. The fired FBI director will testify that President Trump pressured him to, quote, lift the cloud of the Russia investigation off of his administration. Comey says the president asked him to publicly say that Mr. Trump was not being investigated by the FBI. Comey will also tell Congress that the president demanded loyalty,
repeatedly asked him to drop the Michael Flynn investigation.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump's attorney seeing things very differently, saying the president feels totally vindicated by Comey's prepared testimony.
Several big questions today. Did the president's actions amount to obstruction of justice? What does that even mean? Would this be legal or just political?
Whose words will Americans believe, James Comey or President Trump? And how will the president respond to Comey? Will he respond in real- time?
[05:00:02] There's a lot to cover. So let's begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider live on Capitol Hill.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
The Senate Intelligence Committee publicly released James Comey's opening testimony one day early at James Comey's request, something that is highly unusual. In this seven-page opening testimony document, James Comey recounts five of the nine one-on-one interactions with President Trump. It's something that James Comey says he was compelled to write down after all of these interactions, something he notes he never did with President Obama.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Concerning, awkward, inappropriate, these are the words fired FBI Director Comey uses to describe his interactions with President Trump in this riveting seven-page opening statement, meticulously chronicling the president's efforts to encourage the FBI to drop the Michael Flynn investigation and to clear his own name.
After an Oval Office meeting on February 14th, Comey describes the president clearing the room, telling advisers he wanted to speak to me alone, before turning the conversation to Flynn, fired the previous day, stressing that Flynn did nothing wrong in his contacts with Russia, even though he misled the vice president.
He is a good guy and has been through a lot. I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. The president flatly denying this exchange took place three months later.
REPORTER: Did you in any way urge James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no. Next question.
SCHNEIDER: Comey does not say whether he believes this was an attempt to obstruct justice but does say the request concerned him, given the FBI's role as an independent investigative agency.
After that meeting, Comey writes that he asked Attorney General Sessions to prevent any future direct communication between the president and me, although he did not tell his boss that the press broached the FBI's potential investigation of General Flynn. Two weeks earlier on January 27th, the president summoned Comey to a private dinner at the White House, asking him whether he wanted to stay on as FBI director, despite the ten-year term.
Moments later, the president told him, I need loyalty. I expect loyalty. Comey was uneasy, writing, I didn't move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.
You will always get honesty from me, Comey replied after the issue came up again, to which the president responded, That's what I want, honest loyalty.
TRUMP: We had a nice dinner, and at that point he told me, you are not under investigation, which I knew anyway.
SCHNEIDER: Comey also corroborating the president's claim that Comey assured him three times that he was not under FBI investigation, describing three occasions where he offered the president this assurance, the first during a meeting at Trump Tower on January 6th when he briefed Trump one on one about a dossier of allegations involving the then president-elect and Russia.
The dossier coming up again during a March 30th phone call in which Comey says Trump lamented that the cloud of the Russia investigation 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.
During that call and another on April 11th, Comey says President Trump pressured him to publicly say that he was not personally under investigation. He repeatedly told me, we need to get that fact out.
And in that final conversation, the president again emphasizing loyalty, because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.
SCHNEIDER: And that cryptic comment set to be a talking point during the testimony. Comey will note that he didn't know what the president meant when he said that. In addition, James Comey will say that he was reluctant to inform the public that the president was not under investigation because Comey said that that would, quote, create a duty to correct, should that change -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica, thank you very much for all of that.
President Trump's lawyer says the president feels, quote, completely and totally vindicated by Comey's prepared testimony. CNN's Joe Johns is live in Washington with more.
What's he hanging that on?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We'll see, Alisyn. The White House will be watching closely today. White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders pointing out the timing of the released Comey prepared remarks coming after the testimony of the intelligence chiefs on the Hill. Also watching closely today, as you say, the president's longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, according to a source familiar with the situation, he did put out a statement following the release of Comey's prepared remarks.
It says: The president is pleased Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private remarks that the president was not under investigation in any Russia probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is firing up its message machine to defend the president, releasing a set of talking points, suggesting that for one thing, the president knew the firing of Comey would be detrimental to his presidency but did it anyway for the good of the country.
[05:05:07] RNC, of course, a natural fit for defending president Trump now because its chief of staff used to run the RNC. Also, it's a place where the message can get out quickly and be circulated all through the country with an existing apparatus of surrogates.
By the way, added benefit, the whole issue is instantly framed as a political, as opposed to legal, matter.
The president will be at the White House until around noon, then he speaks about 12:35 eastern to the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference.
Alisyn, Chris, back to you.
CUOMO: All right. Joe, appreciate it.
Let's bring in the panel, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN political commentator Errol Louis, and CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano.
David Gregory, the stakes?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Are very high. I think the central question is whether the president obstructed justice. I think that's on the minds of lawmakers. Did he try to interfere with this investigation in a way that broke the law or was simply inappropriate?
And I think what you've got over the past couple of days are those intelligence chiefs who said that they did not feel pressure, and now, an FBI director saying and laying out the facts of where the president clearly acted inappropriately, whether it was illegal will be a separate matter. But I think that will be the issue. I'm also interested, picking up on what Joe just reported, on how
Republicans try to frame this, the fact that the president was vindicated. He wasn't being investigated. It goes to show the president's really just thinking about himself in all of this and not the potential political damage to his entire White House, but that that was a focus.
I think that will be important in how they generally see how Republicans see and try to frame the way that Democrats have approached all of this. I think this is really on the starting line.
CAMEROTA: So, James, you said, as we heard there, after you read Comey's notes, that you felt you had to rinse off. What was so greasy about it?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, to David's point, you know, the legal scholars can determine whether or not there was an obstruction of justice attempt here. I read this. I read all seven pages. I went through it in excruciating detail.
And, Alisyn, what I came away with was brazenly inappropriate. President Trump pulled out a Trump card and announced his pick for FBI director yesterday. That had to be a distraction, knowing that Director Comey's testimony is coming up.
CAMEROTA: But the inappropriate part was that they were one on one, sitting in the Green Room in the White House, and that President Trump was making these requests.
GAGLIANO: The most brazen part of that is that it happened on a number of different occasions, and it established a pattern. And in investigations, that's what you do. One time, OK, that's an accident. Twice, coincidence.
You go through this litany of meetings and inappropriate telephone calls and conversations, and you go, wow, this is ominous and sinister. No better way to describe it.
CUOMO: All right. So, let's bring in counselor Coates here for a second.
Inappropriate is not a legal standard that triggers obstruction of justice. So, you have balancing the impact versus the intent. What will the legal mind be looking for today from James Comey?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: For that very thing, Chris, the intent here. What was the interpretation by James Comey of these conversations? What it seems to me is that it's very clear that Comey's statement suggests that these were roadblocks that the president intended to put in the path of the investigation. Is that inappropriate? Yes. Does it interfere with the investigation? Absolutely.
But before you contemplate simply obstruction of justice, realize that that is not the end game. If it were to be the end game, it would be akin of saying, listen, you've got a sign that says, nothing to see here, folks, and you actually turn around and stop the investigation. Obstruction is kind of an add-on claim that you put on to buttress other charges.
And certainly, it would not be the one you would stop at if your goal is to understand what it is they were trying to thwart you from seeing.
So, legally speaking, yes, there is the claim of obstruction that would be available, but you have to also look at the end game here, which is this nebulous term of collusion. What does it mean? What were the criminal statute hooks that will link this behavior? And what are the things that the actual investigation will yield?
It's very clear that James Comey was aware of that, he was very deliberate in his attempt not to relay the information, knowing that very fact, that obstruction is merely an ends to a means -- actually, a means to an end.
GREGORY: Can I just add?
CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.
GREGORY: What I think is important about what Laura is saying is that I think there will be a lot of questions about whether the investigation slowed down at all or was derailed in any way. And what you're hearing from all of these intelligence chiefs, what you'll hear, I think, from James Comey, based on his letter, is that nothing infected the broader investigation.
[05:10:03] CUOMO: And that's important politically, David, but it wouldn't be for the legal analysis --
CUOMO: -- for that particular crime because it's intent-based.
COATES: And attempt --
CUOMO: Again --
COATES: Attempt would be enough.
CUOMO: Yes, attempt would be enough based on what the intentions were when you did it. But it's a pretty high bar.
So, Errol, how much of this today is about the law? How much of it is about politics?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's interesting. I think that the politically-minded people on the panel -- that's really all of them --
CUOMO: Right. LOUIS: -- are going to try to frame it as a legal question, or
they're going to make it sound like a legal question, when, in fact, it's a political one. The legal question just as has been described is really relatively narrow, it's fairly easy to prove, but it's really not the point.
I mean, something I'm very curious about, and I hope the senators will follow up on, is this question of this cloud over the White House. What was he impeded from doing? The fact that these questions are out there, that this unverified dossier is floating around alleging scurrilous activity by the president some years ago.
Well, what does that mean? What does that stop you from doing? You just did an international trip. He's named a Supreme Court justice. He's been --
CAMEROTA: He has gotten in the way of the agenda. We've talked about this. I mean, we do spend a lot of time in the media and obviously in the White House, in discussions, talking about it, talking about how to get out from under this. It does eclipse, yes?
LOUIS: Even someone at times impetuous as the president of the United States I would think could say, look, I will make this worse if I continue to talk about it. If this really is a cloud, the best way to make the cloud go away is to let these professionals do their job, complete their investigation, show that there's nothing to any of this, and then I can get to my agenda.
That's the one thing that he simply refuses to do, and I think that's one reason that we're going to have this big, dramatic hearing today.
CAMEROTA: James --
GREGORY: But the cloud --
CAMEROTA: Hold on, David, one second.
CAMEROTA: Because let's just talk about for one second how extraordinary this statement was from James Comey, not just that it came out a day before his testimony, which is highly unusual, but that he felt compelled after every conversation -- he says that he had nine of them with the president, some on the phone, some in person -- to go and take, as close as he could, verbatim notes to memorialize this. Is that customary, or does that tell you that he felt something really unusual was happening?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: He purposely pointed out, Alisyn, that he did -- this was not a matter of course of his typical business. He did not do this when he had a private meeting, two of them with President Obama.
What I was struck with, this is a statement of the record that was released a day prior to the testimony. That's not typical. And secondly, this is a testimonial document. You're sworn when you give this statement, which he's prepared to do this morning.
What I was struck with was the amount of opinion in it. When you typically write a testimonial document, you stick to the facts. He did, but he also puts some editorial commentary in there, and I believe the method to the madness for the FBI director was, I'm going to lead these senators down the path of this so they ask me the right questions.
CUOMO: Not the first time he's done that, and it's not going to be the first time he's called out for it.
David Gregory, one of the things in listening to all of the build-up to this last night, I don't think people are anticipating enough about the potential beat-down that Comey may get today from both sides. I mean, the Democrats are going to have a lot to want to talk to him about, specifically the fact that he gave so much comfort to the president about whether he was or was not being investigated. The Republicans are going to have a lot to say to him.
How much of that will affect what we get out of James Comey today?
GREGORY: That's a really important point, because he's going to be buffeted by all kinds of different questions and agendas here. Comey is not popular. He may be a vehicle for Democrats to make an argument, indeed, a charge against President Trump, but there's a lot that he would be accountable for.
And I'll add to your question this piece. Why is it that he never really got in the president's face, right? Jim Comey, Mr. Justice with a capital "J," the guy who took on the previous Bush administration in defense of proper Justice Department procedure, why did he never tell him, Mr. President, what you're doing is inappropriate, and you've asked me on several occasions for my loyalty, you don't have my loyalty one on one here, I'm independent of you, and that's how it should be?
Now, he was put in a difficult position, but the way that this carries out is, in his notes, indicates a lot of subtlety in these exchanges back and forth. And overall, it wasn't just Comey. Why didn't the intelligence chiefs, if they were asked to make this investigation go away, why didn't they say, Mr. President, no, don't ask me that question, not appropriate?
CAMEROTA: OK, panel, please stick around. We're going to need you during these next hours as we ramp up to the Comey testimony, because there are seven pages of this riveting testimony. And now that senators have had a chance to digest it, what questions do they have for James Comey when he takes the stand in just a matter of hours? We discuss all of that next.
[05:19:07] CAMEROTA: Just hours from now, fired FBI Director James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee, on his request, has already released his bombshell opening statement. So, let's analyze some off the key passages with our panel. We want
to bring back, Laura Coates, David Gregory, Errol Louis and James Gagliano.
OK. So, let's look here at, you know, really the heart of the matter, that President Trump asked Flynn to let -- sorry, asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go. Here's what it says -- Trump then said, I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go. I replied only that he is a good guy. I did not say I would let this go.
Errol, there's just a lot to unpack, right? Just even right there.
LOUIS: Oh, sure. I mean, in fact, that really is the heart of the matter, right?
[05:20:00] So, the question of obstruction, which is this legal term, put that aside for just a minute. I mean, really, wrapped within that definition is getting involved in or interfering with an official proceeding. That is interfering with an official proceeding. I hope you can let this go.
In the same kind of conversation where he's saying, you like keeping your job, don't you?
LOUIS: It's clear where he's going with it. It's clear what the intention is. Comey's opening statement makes clear that he interpreted it in exactly that way.
And so, you've got trouble here for the president, especially around this particular question. And keep in mind, this happened the day after Flynn was fired. So, it's not as if it was, you know, a rampaging investigation that had maybe gone off the rails or was going too far.
That, again, raises that question of, like, what kind of cloud was there? I mean, this is the day after it happened, and he immediately kicks everybody out of the room, pulls the FBI director aside and says, I hope you can change what you're going to do, I hope I can steer you in the direction that I want this to go. Obvious interference.
CUOMO: So, let's bring up the cloud one, because it is the corollary to the request about letting Flynn go. So, put up the cloud language and we'll read it, all right?
On the morning of March 30th, the president called me at the FBI. 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.
David Gregory? GREGORY: Well, I think you put those two together, what's interesting to me is, what is the FBI director thinking at this point? How is he taking in this administration? Is he feeling threatened in a way, as if, wow, the president of the United States is talking to me in a way that he wants me to shut down my investigation?
Or does he think, wow, this is nuts! I can't believe he's actually saying this to me! Of course, I'm not going to do any of these things, but it's just wild that he would bring this stuff up in such a manner? That will be important I think in terms of the question.
I think what's amazing here is, this is the president of the United States, and he is showing such utter disregard for the office of the presidency and for the appropriate independence of the FBI and the Justice Department, that he thinks he can just say, oh, by the way, I hope you can just let all this go. I mean, it's so obviously inappropriate to do so as president of the United States.
And what it also reveals is two-fold. One, he is just obsessed with himself in his own legitimacy, not whether any of these things actually happened, but the cloud being, hey, I won the Electoral College. I'm sure he had the maps here ready to show him. And you're doing something to delegitimize whether I'm president, and therefore, I can't govern effectively because it makes me look bad.
And at no time has he shown a commitment to deal with the underlying problem, and that is, oh, right, Russia tried to interfere with our election, and as president, I should probably stand up to that.
CAMEROTA: So, Laura, the other thing is that he was -- Comey was repeatedly asked by the president to sort of state and promise his loyalty. Here's this part of the testimony:
President Trump then said, I need loyalty. 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 it would not be productive to push it further. The term honest loyalty had helped end a very awkward conversation.
So, that's out of bounds.
COATES: Well, yes, but again, what I look at that and say is Comey made a strange acquiescence just now when he made that statement, by trying to comfort the president of the United States in that particularly awkward moment, and certainly, inappropriate moment. And one of the things that Comey will face an uphill battle today is the idea that he, one, received this information in a way that obstructed justice, or that he felt inferred obstruction of justice, and that he also was not complicit in trying to motivate the president to believe that he was appropriate in asking these questions. That's a very tough hill to climb, especially when you have these sorts of acquiescences by Jim Comey. On the other hand, however, people were questioning whether he'd be
considered credible during his testimony because of the allegations he was a showman, a grandstander, or had a different agenda, or perhaps an ax to grind. His both corroboration of the president's statements and the president's timing of different statements combined with his own interpretation and an instinct to define why he was doing certain things will likely inure to Comey's credibility benefit.
CUOMO: But it could also hurt him, right?
CUOMO: Let's bring you in here, Gagliano, because for people who know Comey, there is a little bit of, who is this?
[05:25:02] Who is this man who was interacting with President Trump? Because it ain't Jim Comey. Jim Comey, you know, using his stature, using his size, looking at people and basically saying I am the law, that was his reputation, is that I will speak truth to power at any moment. That's what he says about himself.
I think that he opened himself up to legitimate questions in here about what Coates calls acquiescence. Why didn't he say, no, I'm not loyal to you, I'm loyal to the con -- like he says to everybody else, right? Why wouldn't he say, don't worry, you have nothing to worry about in this investigation. That's supposedly not who he is, and he does look a little bit like a grandstander, giving his opinion on top of what was supposed to be a recitation, memorial of fact.
So, how much is he exposing himself to today?
GAGLIANO: Chris, that's fair, but does anybody that has a passing familiarity with Jim Comey, even the public that's just watched him since he first entered on stage as a U.S. attorney and then as a deputy attorney general, does anybody not believe he was built for this?
I mean, you read these words. You see how carefully he crafted his words here. You see him testify before. I mean, this is going to be -- it's a case of he said-he said. But in the court of public opinion, folks are going to come down along the side of the FBI director. No one is going to question --
CUOMO: Why are you so sure of that?
GREGORY: Yes, I disagree.
CUOMO: So, let's get both sides. Make the point of why people will believe Comey, then David can make his point.
GAGLIANO: I have said this repeatedly, you can look at him interjecting himself into the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, and I will argue that that was caused by that ill-fated meeting on the phoenix tarmac between the attorney general and the former president. You could come down on both sides of the continuum. You can say he made mistakes. You can say he made the right judgment, but we know that he did it from following his moral compass, doing what he felt was right.
Jim Comey has pushed back on Republican administrations. He pushed back on the Obama administration during the viral video effect era. No one is going to question his apolitical mean in this. The fact that he went and made this -- I hate to use the term so personal, but I felt he was going to be far more elliptical in how he described it. I thought he'd stick to the facts on it and wouldn't interject his opinions.
He went on paper, statement of record. This is a testimonial document.
GAGLIANO: And he got personal.
CUOMO: All right. So, David, what's the other side?
GREGORY: Well, I think to be contrarian about this, I think that critics will look at Comey and see a self-righteous Boy Scout who decides in and of himself, you know, what procedure ought to be. He totally jettisoned Justice Department procedure in the Hillary Clinton investigation, and I think it's a very thin read to blame it on an incredible act of arrogance and stupidity on the part of the former president to have that meeting on the tarmac with Loretta Lynch, the attorney general.
But the fact that he saw upon himself, took it upon himself to say, we're not charging Hillary Clinton and there's no basis for doing so, but she acted recklessly and all the rest made no sense whatsoever. So, I think that's how he'll be viewed.
And I think he'll be questioned as well, examined about, well, if you felt interfered with here, why didn't you resign in this case? Why didn't you go to the attorney general and say, hey, this is way out of bounds and we've got to do something about this?
CUOMO: See something, say something. All right, let's leave that there for right now. We've got plenty of time to talk. Panel, thank you.
Another story for you this morning, this apology letter from Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte. He sent it to the journalist, but really, he sent it to everybody. Remember the guy he body-slammed last month and then some people tried to cover it up for him? It fell apart.
The reporter's response, next.