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Fired FBI Director to Testify Before Senate; Trump Attorney: President Feels 'Totally Vindicated'. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI director James Comey to close the investigation into Michael Flynn?
[05:58:05] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Comey is saying the president of the United States is a liar and the president of the United States obstructed justice.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There is no evidence of obstruction of justice. All in all, a pretty good day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is almost a Watergate level effort to interfere with an ongoing investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has President Trump committed an obstruction of justice? Absolutely not.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: What it describes is a president who knows no limits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of unclarity from Director Comey's comments. We're only hearing one side of this conversation.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If it becomes a credibility contest, that's a contest that the president is going to lose.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Beautiful.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A beautiful shot where there may be some ugly moments today on Capitol Hill.
We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, June 8, 6 a.m. here in New York. All eyes on Capitol Hill.
Today, the speculation ends. In just hours, former FBI director James Comey will testify in the most anticipated congressional hearing in decades. Thanks to Comey releasing a copy of his remarks, which is highly unusual, we know the fired FBI director will testify President Trump asked him to drop the Flynn investigation and asked him to "lift the cloud" of Russia on his administration by saying publicly that Trump was not under investigation. Comey will also testify Congress that the president demanded loyalty,
repeatedly asking him to drop the investigation.
CAMEROTA: Now, President Trump's attorney sees things very differently. He sees the president feels, quote, "totally vindicated" by Comey's prepared testimony.
So there are many big questions today. Do the president's actions amount to obstruction of justice, and whose word will Americans believe? James Comey or President Trump?
We have a lot to cover. So let's begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider. She is live on Capitol Hill. Set the scene for us.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the highly- anticipated testimony made even more so by the release of James Comey's opening statements by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's a seven-page document that goes into detail about James Comey's five of nine one-on-one interactions with President Trump. Their interactions that James Comey said he was compelled to write down. Something he never did with President Obama.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Concerning, awkward, inappropriate. These are the words fired FBI director James Comey uses to describe his interactions with President Trump in this riveting seven-page opening 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 14, Comey describes the president clearing the room, telling advisers "he wanted to speak to me alone" before turning the conversation to Flynn whom he had fired the previous day, stressing Flynn did nothing wrong with contacts with Russia, even though he misled the vice president. "He's 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI director. James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn and also, as you look back...
TRUMP: 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 president broached the FBI's potential investigation of General Flynn.
Two weeks earlier, on January 27, 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 very nice dinner. And at that time 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 separate occasions where he offered the president assurance.
The first during a meeting at Trump Tower on January 6, 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 30 phone call in which 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 'life the cloud'."
During that call and another on April 11, 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 loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know."
SCHNEIDER: And that comment sure to be a big talking point during James Comey's testimony today. James Comey will say that he didn't know what the president meant when the president said, "We had that thing, you know."
And James Comey will also talk about his reluctance to tell the public that the president was not under investigation. James Comey saying in that opening statement that if he were to say that, it would create a, quote, "duty to correct" if the circumstances change -- Chris.
CUOMO: All right, Jessica. James Comey released his opening comments to the Senate committee, and the president apparently likes what he has read. The president's attorney says Trump feels completely and totally vindicated and is ready to move forward with his agenda.
CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with more. That tees up the big question. Will today signal the end of speculation or just the beginning?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It sure does, Chris. And the White House certainly will be watching very closely today. The pre-reaction last night from White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders, pointing out the timing of the release of Comey's prepared remarks coming right after the intelligence chiefs appeared on Capitol Hill. Also monitoring closely, we're told.
Marc Kasowitz, the president's long-time attorney and his team, has also put out a statement last night. And it says in part, "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's eager to continue to move forward."
[06:05:14] Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee firing up its message machine in assistance of the president. They put out, among other things, a list of talking points last night, saying in part that the president knew firing James Comey would be detrimental to his presidency, but he did it anyway for the good of the country.
Using the RNC is a good idea for the president, because they have surrogates all over the country. Also, it lends itself to framing this as political, as opposed to a legal, issue.
The president today will speak around 12:30 at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference. Reporters may also get a chance to throw a question to the president at an infrastructure conference with mayors and governors -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: All right. That will be interesting, Joe. Thank you very much.
Let's bring back our panel. We have CNN legal analyst Laura Coates; CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd; and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.
David Gregory, let's just read for people who might not have had an opportunity to read James Comey's prepared statement. And as we were reminded by James Galiagno (ph), this is a sworn statement. It serves as a sworn statement. So this is James -- this is James Comey talking about Michael Flynn.
He says that the president 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 replies only that 'He is a good guy.' I did not say I would let this go." I mean, it's fascinating. All of these are fascinating, David, to
read, particularly once again, we see President Trump's dedication to Michael Flynn, who had lied to the vice president.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's right. And in this particular case, Donald Trump is contradicted by his own words, because he denied ever having that conversation with Jim Comey. And he made that assertion in a press conference.
So the high stakes of this hearing are really underlined by the question of who are you going to believe? Do you believe the president or do you believe the fired FBI director? The man fired in the middle of this probe of the White House and connections to Russia. That becomes important.
What we've read from Jim Comey's description of his meetings with the president are highly inappropriate for a president to act this way. Inappropriate is one thing. Was it actually illegal? And will Jim Comey say today what he thought those comments meant? In other words, did he think it was obstruction of justice? Did he think it was potentially illegal tampering with the investigation, or will he just offer the facts and not offer any opinion?
The big question, I think, is a political one today. There is a legal one. But the political one is to what extent will this testimony further erode confidence and trust in the president and his team? The president may feel vindicated by the fact that he was told he wasn't investigated. But it shows that he's only thinking about himself. There's a larger investigation here that could potentially implicate those around him and would cause further political damage and a loss of trust in his administration. So I think all of that is on tap today.
CUOMO: Interesting. Heading into it, this notion of it being a credibility contest. And the latest polls have both of these guys being unbelievable. Comey at, like, 55 percent. And the president much harder -- much higher than that. Just shows what a deficit of credibility we have right now.
Phil Mudd, I want you to answer the main question for us here. On that statement alone, if it's true and believed, he said, "I hope you can find your way to stop this Flynn thing." Does that rise to the level of any illegality, in your mind?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It does not. I think there are two questions you face here. The question is not addressed to those seven pages. It's where we started. What did the Russians do back during the electoral process and were the officials in the White House involved? Comey obviously talks about the president there. He doesn't talk about the people we've been talking about all along, people like Paul Manafort.
The second question, as you're addressing is this question of whether the president is obstructing the investigation. Obviously, you're a lawyer. I'm not. But when I looked at this as someone who once served in government. I looked at this as someone who walked in the Oval Office without a lot of experience in government and looked at the FBI director and says something that is completely inappropriate.
It suggests that comment about Flynn and backing away from the investigation. That the president doesn't want the investigation to continue. But the context is, "Hey, this is a good guy. Can you get out of it?" If that's the sole thing we're looking at, I'm going to say, that's inappropriate. I don't think it's illegal.
Let's ask Laura Coates. You're a lawyer. Laura, obviously, former federal prosecutor. Was this interference? Was this inappropriate? Was this New York bargaining, or was this obstruction of justice?
[06:10:10] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it was certainly the former three. It was an instance of the president who was trying to throw his weight around in an attempt to influence an election. And remember -- influence an investigation. And remember, attempting to try to do that can, in and of itself, constitute a crime. But that's not the end of the inquiry here.
The reason this is so important is because, of course, it is an attempt to thwart an investigation or to stall one in some capacity. And so the end game here is not to stop at whether or not the president tried to influence an investigation or stop one. The end game is trying to ascertain what is the actual evidence they're looking for? What is a proof of a greater crime here? Obstruction is not the end game.
But more importantly in this particular contest of credibility as Chris alluded to. You've got the FBI director, who is corroborating the statements of the president. And he felt compelled to document, but not compelled to confront the president on the inappropriateness of his questions. Now, though he has tried to talk to the attorney general, at one point Jeff Sessions and then Dana Boente. He still does not confront the president of the United States.
This begs one question. When you have obstruction, it's about the intent of the speaker and also how it's received. If he acquiesced in any way to try to assure the president that he was not doing the wrong thing or that he was not inappropriate, you have a much harder case for any prosecutor on that charge.
CUOMO: And that's a good point. And if Comey is going to deal with that today, because he's going to be asked a lot of questions about why he didn't do more if he thought that it was so wrong.
David Sanger, we left a juicy one for you, where they talk about this requirement of loyalty. Let's put this up here. All right. "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 be productive to push it further. The term 'honest loyalty' had helped end a very awkward conversation. What do you make of that politically?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the phrase itself is so ambiguous to make us wonder whether or not the two participants in the conversation were even in the same planet much less in the same room.
OK, so by honest loyalty, well, if the FBI director wants to come with an honest assessment, and the president considers that honest assessment to be disloyal, where are you?
It was clear that to Comey, as he wrote, this was just a way to get out of the room. And I can understand why he would feel that way.
The political impact, I think, of this statement is that the very best thing you can say about President Trump is that he did not understand why it is inappropriate for a president to be discussing an ongoing investigation, particularly one about his own administration, with the FBI director. That he did it repeatedly tells you he probably didn't want to hear very much about why it would be inappropriate. And the conversations seemed to be very similar, I'm sure, to ones that Mr. Trump held when he was running a small business.
And it's just part of why he was unable to make that transition smoothly enough to understand the institutional distinctions in the United States. That's the most generous, I think, interpretation of events that you could make from those statements.
GREGORY: I think -- I think David is incredibly generous there. But I think it's the fact the president would behave this way is just so unbecoming of the president of the United States. I mean, it's just glaring that he would ever think that this is OK. You want to do that in a real-estate negotiation? Or I don't know what that means, this kind of New York bargaining. That sounds offensive to me and euphemistic to me.
It's just never OK, period. And any adult should know that, especially if you want to be the leader of the free world.
And I think the other piece of this, though, does go to Comey and to your point, Chris. You know, this is not a subtle guy. Jim Comey gets in your face and lets you know if something is inappropriate. David and I covered that in the course of the Bush administration with regard to the illegal wiretapping when Ashcroft was in the hospital and all that.
So I'm not -- I'd like to question him as to why he didn't interrupt that dinner and put this butter knife down and say, "Mr. President, I've just got to tell you, you talking about loyalty, I think we know what you're doing here. Not appropriate. I'm the FBI director. I'm independent. Let's not go there. Because that's not how this works."
[06:15:03] CAMEROTA: Well, look, that would have been the ideal script. But you know, on some level, kudos to Comey for not injecting that into his written -- he could have written anything. This is just his take on what happened.
CUOMO: He put plenty of opinion.
CAMEROTA: I'm not saying opinion. I'm saying that he didn't make himself look as good as David Gregory wishes he had made himself look. He could have claimed that he had stood his ground and said, that's what I think. I think he is reflecting something that doesn't make him look as good. So maybe that's more authentic.
CUOMO: Except that if he had done it that way, which many people assume he should have, it raises the question even more why didn't he do anything about it? So you know, he had the balance.
CAMEROTA: I mean, he did say -- he does say that he did try to talk to the acting deputy attorney general about all this. So it isn't just that he kept quiet.
CAMEROTA: He tried to talk to some people.
CUOMO: But he had an opportunity in front of the same committee to talk about it and didn't say anything. He was asked about this subject and said nothing.
CAMEROTA: That will come up.
CUOMO: It was disparaging to New York, especially someone coming from New Jersey to talk about New York.
CAMEROTA: You're right. There's no aggressive talk from any New Yorkers.
CUOMO: Coming from New Jersey. You know your place.
CAMEROTA: Yes. We know aggressive talk, from Jersey.
CUOMO: New Jersey versus New York.
CAMEROTA: We know it when we see it.
CUOMO: Much more with our panel. What questions will senators have for James Comey when he takes the stand in a matter of hours? Remember, this is as much about Comey today as it is about Trump. Next.
[06:20:18] CUOMO: All right. So Comey released his opening remarks early. So we have a sense of what he's going to say before the Senate Intelligence Committee. But often the questions wind up being as important as the anticipated answers. They can change everything.
So let's bring back our panel: David Gregory, Laura Coates, David Sanger and Philip Mudd. And go through what you think some of the pressing inquiries are that he could get today. David Gregory, give me a couple.
GREGORY: Well, did you think that the president was trying to obstruct justice? Did you think he was trying to shut down the investigation? CUOMO: And when he demurs and says, "I'll leave that up to other
people," what's the follow-up?
GREGORY: Well, then, you know, you put all this down, how you felt about it, how awkward the silence was, how uncomfortable it made you. We know that you went to the attorney general and said, "Don't leave me alone with this guy." So clearly -- you've made it clear that you were uncomfortable about all of this.
And oh, by the way, Mr. Director, you haven't shied away from offering your opinion on things that weren't concluded yet. See the Hillary Clinton investigation.
And as a follow-up to that, why didn't you really rattle the cage and go up the legal chain of command and say, "The president of the United States is way out of line here. I think he may have committed a crime, and this investigation is compromised as a result. You know, he has to be reined in or I'm going to resign, or some action has to be taken."
CAMEROTA: OK, Phil Mudd, your question for James Comey.
MUDD: One question. The president is commander in chief. It's not primarily about infrastructure. It's not primarily about health care. It's about protecting the United States. Can you find one instance where the commander in chief looks at the FBI director, who has a tremendous cyber-security capability -- and says, "It's not just about me, Mr. Director. It's about protecting the Americans and their right to vote free and fair in 2020. I would like you to join me in a conversation with the national security adviser about how we protect America going ahead"?
Every one of those seven pages is about the president. I want one sentence, one, where Jim Comey talks about when the president exercises his authority as commander in chief. I don't see it.
CUOMO: David Sanger.
SANGER: OK. Two for you, Chris. The first one is, at any point did Mr. Comey take on the president on his fundamental assertion that the Russians may have had nothing to do with this. I mean, let's remember how we got here. We got here because the Russians were meddling in the election. That would have gotten us to the question, perhaps, of whether or not the president was protecting some group,, including Mr. Flynn for their statements about it and their effort to reconstruct things with Russia.
The second thing I guess I would ask goes to your earlier question, Chris. Why didn't you stand up at some point and say, "Mr. President, I recognize that you're new to this office, and you don't understand yet or may not understand yet the limits of the way an FBI director deals with the president. But we cannot discuss ongoing investigations, particularly those that have to deal with your administration."
Doesn't strike me that that would have been a very difficult thing for somebody with the self-assurance and background and knowledge of Jim Comey to just come out and say straight out. And as Alisyn pointed out, he didn't even contend in his own statement that he made that effort.
CAMEROTA: Laura, your question?
COATES: Well, the first question I would ask is whether or not the president's attempt to undermine the investigation actually opened up his own exposure to a personal investigation for his participation, No. 1.
And No. 2, based on Comey's dealings with the then-attorney general at that capacity, Sessions and also Dana Boente. Does he believe that the special counsel was put into place because the Department of Justice has been rendered powerless under this particular administration to do just an objective investigation. It's very telling.
CUOMO: These are a good list of questions. I'm trying to think what -- what Comey will do. I mean, I think that the biggest thing he's probably dealing with, David Gregory, is this acquiescence, this mildness in the face of these types of things. Because I think it might be a Democrat who says to him, "Boy, I've got to tell you, you didn't play this way with Hillary Clinton. You know? You sent that letter that you knew everybody was going to leak. You came up there and gave all these opinions about her being extremely reckless, but you said it didn't meet a legal standard. And that didn't even make sense. And it was extremely recklessness, arguably. Was the legal standard in that case. And now, mum about all this stuff. What are you so afraid of?"
CUOMO: Right. And you know, I think his underlying credibility is an issue. This as he is walking into a political cauldron here, where Republicans have been fortified with talking points and arguments in defense of the president. Obviously, we know the administration, the president himself wants there to be some real back-up on the part of Republicans.
[06:25:13] But that's why I come back, actually, to Phil's point, which I think is so very important. This is about more than just the president and whether he's being investigated or whether he wants Jim Comey to prove that dossier wrong.
This is about protecting the country and why it is that the president has never seemed that interested in getting to the bottom of why and how the Russians meddled in the election and how to prevent it from happening again. That should be the litmus test.
CUOMO: You don't think you know the answer to that question?
GREGORY: What's that?
CUOMO: You don't think you know the answer to that question about why the president seems as fixated as he does, on which aspects that he is? GREGORY: Oh, no. I think I know the answer to the question. But I think that that -- that obsession with his own perceived legitimacy and his own ego are getting in the way of real leadership and the real question here.
No, I think I know the answer to it. And I think that is it at least or maybe there's something worse. But I don't know that that's the case at all. I just think that he is getting to where a real leader needs to get to.
COATES: Can I say this if I could? You talk about leadership. I think it should surprise everyone to know that the leader of the FBI was timid when he should have been forthright and aggressive. So my question really, as you talk about, what David Gregory is talking about.
And Philip Mudd, did the timidity that he displayed towards the president of the United States actually infect the investigation into the Trump campaign? The timidity that he's displayed with the president between hiding, perhaps, behind the navy curtain of trying to bend in or perhaps trying to acquiesce to points where he should have been far more aggressive and confrontational.
Did that timidity affect the investigation? And will we see the results of that going forward, that we do not have the aggressive investigation that could either stop the investigation, because there's nothing there or accelerate it, because there is something there?
CAMEROTA: I don't know, David Sanger. I mean, look, we obviously all see this through our own lens, as we see everything. But for me, having once worked for a long time for somebody who demanded loyalty like that, sometimes these conversations one-on-one are so surreal that all you can do is leave the room and get outside of the looking glass and write it down, because you just think, "There's nothing I can say to this person."
SANGER: Look, I think we've all have been in conversations like that, where we've decided to go deal with the uncomfortable issue by deflection. And clearly, Mr. Comey makes it clear in his statement that, in some cases, he just decided not to go press the issue.
I think that the real question around Laura's good point is whether or not Comey believed that he was the firewall protecting this investigation. That by not telling those below him who were working on it about the president's pressure, the president's interests here, that he was just going to let that -- that investigation play out. And my guess is that's what you're going to hear him tell the committee.
CUOMO: I think that's a good guess. David Sanger, thank you very much.
Panel, appreciate it. We'll check back in a little bit.
James Comey's testimony, there's one thing for sure. It's going to be on today. And that's going to be must-see TV.
CAMEROTA: Are you sure?
CUOMO: Our special coverage today at 9 a.m. Eastern. You've got Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer beginning at 9. Comey breaks his silence at 10.
CAMEROTA: We'll have more of our coverage of Comey's testimony ahead. First, though, a suspected terrorist targeting the U.S. embassy in Ukraine's capital. We have the breaking details for you next.