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Explosive Thrown at U.S. Embassy in Ukraine; Soon: Fired FBI Director to Testify Before Senate. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 8, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:32:53] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: An explosive device thrown at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine's capital, Kiev. An unidentified suspect threw this device over a fence and detonated on embassy grounds just after midnight local time. Police are calling it a terror attack. They say there are no reports of injuries. The embassy is actually open. An investigation is underway.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Wreckage and bodies from a missing Myanmar military plane discovered in the Andaman Sea. Officials say three bodies, including two adults and a child were found along with life jackets and bags of clothing. The plane lost contact shortly after takeoff Wednesday, 122 people were on board, including 15 children and 58 civilians. The other passengers were military personnel.

CUOMO: British voters heading to the polls today to elect new members of parliament. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, the Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn, and Liberal Democrat Tim Farron leading their respective parties ahead of today's vote. The snap election taking place in the wake of back to back terror attacks.

CAMEROTA: Well, James Comey is prepared a Senate testimony released a day early. Now, two former intel committee members give us their take on all of it, next.


[06:38:04] CAMEROTA: In just hours, James Comey will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in an unusual move, Comey's prepared opening remarks were released by the committee a day early at James Comey's request, giving lawmakers time to crack their questions around what he will say.

Let's discuss all of this with former Republican congressman and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, and former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and now president and CEO of the Wilson Center, Jane Harman.

Great to have both of you here.

Congresswoman Harman, how unusual is this that you on an intel committee would get the prepared remarks at such -- with such detail a day before a witness shows up?

JANE HARMAN (D-CA), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: I don't know of another example like this. I gather it was at Comey's request. I'm not sure why the committee complied.

I mean, what worries me, and I think Pete would agree, this isn't reality TV. This isn't "House of Cards." This is American democracy on trial, and it isn't just about Donald Trump. It's really about whether Congress can thoroughly investigate the matter, which is totally entitled to do, did in the Army McCarthy hearings, did in Watergate.

CAMEROTA: But what do you think is cheapening it? I mean, what do you think is turning it into a TV show?

HARMAN: Well, I think the personality of our president kind of drives news in this direction. I think the networks do too these days. Hate to tell you.

CAMEROTA: You mean we shouldn't be covering this?

HARMAN: You should be covering it, but this is all about he said/he said, and, you know, what is the latest little tidbit in this thing.

And if you step back and if you are anybody anywhere in the world, you are looking at thinking what has America become? Have we coarsened our politics? Is this just try-outs for president in 2020? I hope not.

I mean, Congress has had great moments. This is the point I want to make. And Pete and I didn't do so badly when we were chairman and ranking member a few years ago.

And I think Congress is on trial as well as this whole fact situation, as well as American democracy.

[06:40:01] CAMEROTA: Congressman Hoekstra, what jumps out at you about these turn of events?

PETER HOEKSTRA (R-MI), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: It's great to be with Jane Harman, and I agree with a lot of what Jane has to say.

I think the thing that jumps out at me, Alisyn, is, you know, this is a hearing that is in front of the intelligence the investigation has supposedly focused on Russian intervention in our elections. It appears that there's no collusion. It doesn't appear that there's been obstruction of justice and those types of things.

CAMEROTA: Hold on one second, Congressman. Let me just stop you right there for one second. Sorry to interrupt.


CAMEROTA: So, there is nothing here in these seven pages of James Comey's testimony that you think is obstruction of justice? The president is saying I sure wish you could back off the investigation into Michael Flynn.

HOEKSTRA: Well, I'm not an attorney. Again, this is in front of the Intelligence Committee. These are folks that are looking at issues going on in the intelligence community.

They're not, you know -- the role of the intelligence committee is not to determine whether there's been, you know, or to debate whether there's been obstruction of justice or those types of things. It was to identify -- this is what the committee should be focused on.

I think Jane is right. Congress is on trial here through this process as well because the American people, if there's anything that they want to know about this, sure, they want to know about the president's role, but they're also interested in, what did the Russians exactly do in 2016? Did it have an impact or not?

That is what the intelligence committee -- they've got the expertise and the background to do that. A lot of the issues that are being thrown around today and being discussed are things that the intelligence committee may not be the best committee to do the job.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Congresswoman.

HARMAN: Go, Pete. Let me add something else. The hearing they held yesterday, which should be part of our discussion, I think, was on Section 702, which has to do with emails.

CAMEROTA: With the intel chiefs.

HARMAN: With the intel chiefs.

Now, that quickly morphed into the same conversation we're having today. What did the know, and maybe a little bit unmasking and whether they were unduly pressured. That wasn't the topic of the hearing.

And again, I don't think that was the right subject for the committee to be talking about, and I was very surprised that two very senior people who had the -- who are the DNI and are the head of NSA would have done what they did, which was sort of go halfway in and say we weren't pressured, but we can't tell you anything. Either don't say anything or say we're going to go into private session or tell what happened.

But I -- it felt awkward, and I think the have said this is awkward.

CAMEROTA: Interesting. So, you both feel as though the committees are getting distracted. Very quickly, do you believe James Comey?

HARMAN: This is a strange third chapter for James Comey. I mean, he was very bold in the Ashcroft hospital room. He was very bold and wrong last year, and this year he seems much more timid.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, do you believe James Comey?

HOEKSTRA: I believe that what he said, he's got some credibility issues with what has happened over the last 18 months, especially with the Hillary Clinton investigation and those types of things.

And I think we have to very cautious reading too much into what he says. A lot of this is the context of how are these conversations and these comments made? We don't know. We weren't in the room.

CAMEROTA: OK. It will be very interesting to hear what your counterparts in the Senate Intel Committee will be asking him today. Thank you very much. Great to have both of you.

HARMAN: Thank you.

HOEKSTRA: Thank you.


CUOMO: It will be an interesting match of fact and feeling. James Comey's testimony, his concerns about his repeated interactions with President Trump. How did he handle the situation? We'll discuss with members of the intel community, next.


[06:47:57] CUOMO: All right. A big point of scrutiny for Comey today is going to be how he handled these interactions with the president and in his statement that he released early, we see an insight into why Comey says he handled it the way he did. He says he took copious notes after each meeting, starting in the car outside Trump Tower, immediately after their first meeting in January. Why?

Here's why. Comey writes: I felt compelled to document any first conversation with the president-elect in a memo to insure accuracy. I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. President Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

So, how did he handle it? Was it the right way? What does it show about Comey overall, and how he is going to be dealt with today?

Let's get reaction. Former members of the intel community, former CIA intelligence officer David Priess, former CIA analyst and senior fellow in the national security program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Nada Bakos, and CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI advisory special agent, James Gagliano.

OK. So, he was known to write memos sometimes, not all the time. This time he said it was his practice because he was concerned about these, but not concerned enough to do anything about it, James, and that's going to be the test for Comey today. Why was that the right move?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think he explained if it inside this document, Chris, inside the seven pages. I think from his perspective, his argument is going to be I didn't want to do anything to influence the Russian collusion case. And if I tainted the agents who are investigating it and if I tainted the prosecutors who are following the evidence, that might happen if I went public on this.

I look at this as a former -- as a West Point graduate, and putting it into a military paradigm. The president is the commander in chief, so if you are the commander in chief, in the military, you have to adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and there are crimes and misdemeanors that you can be charged with.

[06:50:03] Anything that doesn't fit into that -- into those black and white issues is conduct unbecoming an officer. That's like an end all-cure all.

I look at the way that the president handled this, and I say maybe there isn't an obstruction of justice case here. Maybe that can be argued. Legal scholars will do that. But it was conduct unbecoming the commander-in-chief.

CAMEROTA: Nada, what do you think when you understand that James Comey felt compelled to take these copious notes?

NADA BAKOS, FORMER CIA ANALYST: So, I agree with James, where there's a separate question of obstruction of justice. But when you look at this from a perspective of -- this is a counter intelligence investigation at this point, on whether or not Russia meddled in our election.

So, at that point, what can be tainted is politicizing the actual nature of the investigation itself when it comes to intelligence. You can pollute basically what ends up being the intelligence chain of evidence.

CUOMO: All right. David Priess, you got a more basic deal here, which is for those who know James Comey, he is no shrinking violet, although he may have been trying to hide next to the drapes as he says in that meeting with the president.

If it was enough to make you want to write the notes, why didn't you push back against the president if you are a man who believes in speaking truth to power? Why didn't you go up the chain? Why didn't you alert people like you did with the Clinton investigation?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Sure, Chris. I keep hearing this word timid being thrown around, and that's not the word that seems to apply here. Reading through the opening statement, it sure looks like he is being careful. I can understand where that care comes from.

Here he is as someone who has sworn like I did as a former CIA officer to defend the Constitution of the United States. Not to defend the person of the president, but to defend the Constitution of the United States. Now, most of the time, there's no conflict between the two, and you hope you're never in a situation where such a conflict arises.

Did several decades ago when the CIA was asked to interfere in the Watergate probe, but that's not something that comes up every day for an intelligence officer or a senior law enforcement official.

Well, at this point, he was feeling that conflict in that room when he thought, my job is to defend the Constitution. Is there a conflict between serving the president and serving the Constitution? What did he do as a result? He documented everything to make sure that that would be on record, but he did not want to take that further step, which would actually affect the investigation, that would in some way affect what the officers at the FBI were doing.

I think that's a very careful attitude and one that most of us would not want to be in that situation.

CAMEROTA: But, James, how would it have affected the investigation if he had said Mr. President, stop asking me that, that's out of bounds?

GAGLIANO: Alisyn, that is a fair criticism, and I read my Twitter feed, and I've all a sudden become a shill (ph) for Jim Comey and it makes me laugh, because I can fairly critique him on this. I can say if that had been me, and when I was in upstate New York FBI chief, if I was in a meeting with a small town mayor, you know, and he said to me, hey, can you see to it that I would have documented that and I would have immediately notified my supervisor who would have been an assistant special agent in charge and say, I need to go on record with this just to let you know that --

CAMEROTA: But you wouldn't have said to the mayor, Mr. Mayor, that's inappropriate.

GAGLIANO: I'm going to give the director the benefit of the doubt here. I think he was so struck mute in the moment. I think he was so shocked that I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He got back in the car. He went back immediately assembled his team of senior executives at the FBI and said, let's sit down and talk about this. I want you to be aware of this so that no one can say, well, he said this a week later, but he doesn't really remember the details. I want to go on paper now.

CUOMO: But here's the problem, Nada, and look, this may devolve today to a gotcha contest between left and right. But this is the Senate Intel Committee, right? And you would think that their focus, at least out of the box, should be on this broader Russian investigation and what was known and, you know, what happened between the president and Comey in any way z interfere with that or inform his understanding of it.

Comey has got some bad facts. You know? So, on three different occasions you wound up giving comfort to the president that he doesn't have to worry about himself in this investigation.

CAMEROTA: He is not the target.

CUOMO: And while he was telling you about this, you wound up not doing what you did in the Clinton investigation, which was come out and let everybody know about your concerns and your opinions. You decided to do nothing. And did that nothing reflect on the urgency you applied to the investigation overall and how would we know if the answer to that is fair or true coming from Comey?

BAKOS: Well, I think that's spot on, because I think today what we're going to end up seeing instead of the Senate Intelligence Committee focusing on Russia and the meddling in the election, asking Comey some fair questions in the public forum about that, we are really going to end up probably seeing this partisan effort of slicing and dicing Comey's statements.

And if you do put yourself in President Trump's shoes when Comey is talking to him about whether or not he is a target, that context that could have been provided at the time, not only just saying that you are not a target of this investigation, it really was about at this moment we're not pursuing that piece of the investigation.

[06:55:17] I can't promise you that in the future that this won't evolve into something else.

CUOMO: I don't know that he said that, though, right? Because whatever he said to the president gave rise to the president's request that, hey, you should go public with that. Let people know that fact that I'm not under investigation. He gave them some comfort.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of the insight and your expertise.

So much more ahead on this very big day in Washington. James Comey will testify in just about three hours. What can we expect when the fired FBI director is in the Senate hot seat? That's next.



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.