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Fired FBI Director to Testify Before Senate; Trump Attorney: President Feels 'Totally Vindicated'. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... not investigate Flynn.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: If that is not obstruction of justice, I don't know what is.
[07:00:06] ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: It's a beautiful morning in Washington, D.C., as we look at a live shot there of the Capitol. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's also a dramatic day ahead on Capitol Hill, with fired FBI director James Comey taking center stage there.
In a highly unusual move, the Senate Intel Committee released James Comey's prepared remarks a day early, Comey telling Congress that President Trump pressured him to lift the cloud of Russia hanging over the Trump administration. Comey is also expected to say the president demanded loyalty and repeatedly asked Comey to drop the Michael Flynn investigation.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The fired FBI director says he told President Trump he was not under investigation, but Comey says he refused the president's request to say that publicly. Several big questions in play today. Do the president's actions amount to obstruction of justice? Whose word will Americans believe? Jim Comey or President Trump? How will the president respond to Comey? Will it be in real-time on Twitter?
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jessica Schneider, live on Capitol Hill -- Jessica.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, James Comey will start this morning with seven pages of his opening statement in his testimony. In that statement, we already know that he'll document and recount five of the nine one-on-one encounters with President Trump, encounters that James Comey said he felt necessary to document and memorialize.
And it's something that James Comey said he never did with President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 14, Comey describes the president clearing the room, telling advisers "he wanted to speak to me alone" before turning the conversation to Flynn, who he had fired the previous day, stressing that 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...
DONALD TRUMP (R), 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 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 his 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 'lift 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 cryptic comment could be a talking point today. James Comey will say he did not know what the president meant when he said, "We had that thing you know."
And James Comey will also say that he was reluctant to inform the public that the president himself is not under investigation. James Comey saying if he did make that announcement, that it would create a duty to correct if the circumstances changed -- Alisyn.
[07:05:09] CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica, thank you very much for all of that.
So President Trump's lawyer says that the president feels, quote, "completely and totally vindicated" by Comey's prepared testimony. It's been nearly 24 hours since Mr. Trump has tweeted. So how will he respond today to what Comey says? CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. We know that there are Republicans, Joe, who are saying, "Put down the Twitter."
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON: That's absolutely right, Alisyn. The White House certainly is going to be closely monitoring all of the action on Capitol Hill today.
The pre-reaction from White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders came last night. She indicated, in part, at least, that the White House wanted to focus on the fact that the prepared remarks of James Comey came out on the heels of the testimony on Capitol Hill by the intelligence chiefs.
And as you said, the president's long-time attorney, Marc Kasowitz, also released a statement, drilling down, really, on one, just one of the many takeaways from the Comey prepared remarks. That says, "The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward." Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is firing up its message
machine to help the president on this day. It's very natural that they do that, simply because the president's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is a former chairman of the RNC.
Also, the RNC has a whole network of surrogates to defend the president around the country. Also lends itself to arguing that this is a political, as opposed to a legal, matter. We will see the president today around 12:30 Eastern Time. He's going to be appearing at a Faith and Freedom Conference and later with mayors and governors to talk about infrastructure -- Chris and Alisyn.
CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it. Let's bring in the panel. CNN political analyst David Gregory; CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd; and CNN national security analyst Matthew Rosenberg.
Gentlemen, I -- we just got Warner's -- Senator Warner's -- he's on the Intel Committee, Democrat. His opening comments. One of them, one of the paragraphs here is relevant. I think we should probably start the discussion there. Throw up that paragraph from Warner. You don't have it? All right. There's this one important point here that he makes.
He says the president appears to have threatened Director Comey's job while telling him, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty."
David Gregory, there's going to be a lot of focus today on him asking Comey to stop the Flynn investigation. But that's really only part of what you're going to hear a lot of politicians call inappropriate today. The question is what does that mean in terms of any type of censure or legality or illegality. Warner highlighting this, that he apparently threatened Comey's job. That would mean by asking him, "Do you want to stay in your job?" Is that a fair reckoning of that question?
GREGORY: Well, I think there's no question the president created this incredibly awkward pre-text to get together. And Comey describes it. He already indicated that he wanted to stay in his role and it was as if they never had that conversation. And here Trump is setting up a dinner between the two of them alone where they are isolated and Trump is making it very clear. That's good. You want to stay in your job, but you know, I expect loyalty. And can you make this investigation go away?
I mean, it's just highly inappropriate, leaning on his FBI director to back off an investigation that Trump says to him, according to Comey, is creating a cloud and is getting in the way of him governing. Never talking about the need to get to the bottom of Russian meddling in the election, never thinking about how completely inappropriate it is to do that as president of the United States, to show no care for the independence of the institution of the Justice Department or the FBI.
CAMEROTA: We have that exchange, and I want to read it to you. This was at this dinner in the Green Room in the White House, just the two of them sitting at a small table. It has been described as this sort of majestic room. And this was on January 27.
And the president brings up James Comey's job. He says -- and so James Comey writes right afterwards, "My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch.
Jeffrey Toobin, what do you hear there?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's just -- it's part of a pattern of obstruction of justice.
CAMEROTA: You hear that, you hear obstruction of justice?
[07:10:08] TOOBIN: Absolutely. Well, I mean, not -- if that were the only comment, then probably not. But you have to put it in context. That later, on Valentine's Day, he puts pressure on Comey to stop the investigation of Michael Flynn. That, as far as I can tell, is a smoking gun conversation. If it's, in fact, unfolded the way Comey said it did.
And then the most important thing of all, which is not part of Comey's testimony, is that Trump fires him after Comey refuses to buckle under and cancel the investigation.
So if you look at all the events together, it only seems to me the only reasonable explanation is Trump was trying to obstruct justice, to end an investigation that he didn't want, for his own purposes. Not for any sort of legitimate purpose.
CUOMO: Phil Mudd, how do you see it?
MUDD: I see it a little bit differently. Look, the reason that we are focused on this is because this is all that's available to us. We see none of the FBI interviews with Flynn. None of the FBI interviews with Manafort. We don't know what's happening behind the scenes in terms of the FBI's access to financial and communications records of other players here. This is highly unusual. Let me give you a different term from the FBI when I served. This is weird.
Whether it meets a standard of obstructing an investigation to me goes to what the special counsel is finding in areas we're not seeing. The only reason we're talking about this one is the only thing we see.
CUOMO: Wait. Why? Why would obstruction depend on what else is going on in the investigation?
MUDD: I look at this by itself and say, OK, the president of the United States looks at the FBI director and says, "What about your job?" Well, if you want to be courteous -- it's a rare moment we'll all be courteous -- the president doesn't know Washington. It doesn't quite realize the FBI director doesn't have to worry about his job, because he's got a ten-year assignment. Meanwhile, the president likes General Flynn, says, "Oh, he's a good
guy. Can't you see your way out of this?" I suppose you could explain this away if you want.
But what I'm looking for is what other elements that Special Counsel Mueller is going to find to support Jeffrey's point, which we may get to eventually, to say this is part of a broader pattern of activity that goes back to the fall of 2007 where the president was intervening.
CAMEROTA: Matthew, how do you see it?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think there's a bigger issue here, too, which is this administration and president himself doesn't seem to grasp there are parts of the government that are supposed to remain non-political and mostly in the national security world and the FBI and law enforcement and intelligence community.
And we're seeing a pattern here of many months where the president simply does not see a line where politics ends. And we've seen that with him trying to get Dan Coats and Mike Rogers and the director of national intelligence and the NSA to come out and intervene and say, "Don't worry about the Russia thing," where obviously, he pressured Jim Comey.
And you know, I think that's -- it's a challenge everybody's got to think about and how you handle that. Because like Phil said, this is a president who doesn't know Washington. So the most generous kind of assessment of this is, well, he doesn't understand these things.
But I think, you know, there are people in the administration who do. And for them, it really seems to be all political. And these are tools that need to be used to protect themselves and further their agenda.
CUOMO: David Gregory, doesn't in a way -- a perverse way -- isn't one of the best things the president has going for him James Comey? Because of all this stuff is as scary as people may lay out. Jim Comey didn't think it was that scary. Yes, he kept his notes, but he didn't do anything about it.
GREGORY: Well, he did some things about it, according to his own testimony in terms of raising the issue, especially later when he gets a call. But can't we get out the fact that I'm not being investigated?
And then why didn't he ever hear back from the deputy attorney general on that? This is the FBI director asking. I'm sure that will come up today. He did ask the attorney general to make sure he was not left alone with the president.
But I do think it's a question why big tough guy James Comey didn't push back harder against the president and then go up the legal chain of command to say this is obstruction, if that's what he thought it was. This was inappropriate tampering or, you know, interference. If that's what he thought it was.
And that's why I think his interpretation of all that, although I think it's clear the way he lays it out, becomes important. Or maybe his explanation will be, as we discussed this morning, he wanted to protect the investigation and kind of take the incoming, because he thought he could handle Trump, who may not have known what he was doing or was being his Trumpian self. But that they felt that he could handle it.
Let's remember to the bigger picture, this is the Intelligence Committee. So part of their purview there is Pete Hoekstra pointed out to you, Alisyn, I thought very insightfully last hour.
You know, their job is to really get at what it is was getting in the way or what we know about Russia meddling. That's going to be their area here of expertise and their direct purview. This was so important. What is the government doing to make sure this never happens again? A point that Phil has made this morning, as well.
[07:15:12] CAMEROTA: OK, so Phil, as we take -- as we look at these live pictures of the room, let's see if it's yet a beehive of activity. Not yet. But Phil, what's the answer, quickly, to what David and Chris are posing? Why didn't James Comey do more? Should he have said something to someone?
MUDD: Alisyn, you finally asked. We missed half the story at least. I served three attorneys general. As soon as they learn that the president of the United States is doing one-on-one pull-asides with the FBI director, Comey shouldn't even have to say anything. They're supposed to call either the president or the chief of staff and say, either the attorney general or the deputy attorney general, "You can't do this." People are putting too much pressure on Comey to stop this. He shouldn't have even had to made a phone call. The attorney general has to answer for this.
CUOMO: Right, but also James Comey, I mean, Mr. Toobin, let's give you the final word here. The president asks if he's under investigation. Comey uncharacteristically gives him comfort on three different occasions. He took an opportunity when he felt an investigation needed to be protected during the campaign. To go before the entire country and talk about Hillary Clinton. Here, he says nothing. He's going to have to answer for that today.
TOOBIN: He is. But Chris, I think it really is sort of unfair criticism of Comey to say that he didn't do anything. He did go to the deputy attorney general. He did go to the attorney general.
And the final act of what appears to me to be an obstruction was the firing of Comey. And at that point, Comey couldn't do anything.
CUOMO: Right. Except he does say in his own words that he did think he could handle it and just to keep it this way. You know, not let anybody know, and that's all right. You know, he did his official moves, but he didn't have the urgency he had during the Clinton situation. That's all I'm saying. TOOBIN: I think it's -- there are a little bit difference -- there
are some differences there. But I think, you know, it's a fair question. And it's one of the many that Comey is going to have to answer today.
CAMEROTA: Matthew Rosenberg, we're out of time. We owe you one. Sorry. We know that -- we appreciate you being here with all of your experience.
Panel, thank you.
James Comey's testimony, of course, is highly anticipated this morning. CNN's special coverage with Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer is going to begin at 9 a.m. Comey breaks his silence at 10 a.m.
CUOMO: Republicans. This is political. What is going to be their perspective today on Jim Comey? What are they going to want to get out of him? What are they going to want to test him on? The former leader of the House Freedom Caucus joins us live next.
[07:21:39] CUOMO: Fired FBI director James Comey is going to be testifying in this room on Capitol Hill before the Senate Intel Committee in less than three hours. Comey's going to say in his opening remarks that he told President Trump he's not under investigation. But he's also going to reveal that the president demanded loyalty from him.
What do the Republicans want to hear from James Comey? Let's talk with Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio. He's the chairman emeritus of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Good to have you with us, Congressman.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO:
CUOMO: What do you hope comes out today from Jim Comey?
JORDAN: Well, we'll see. But the real talk, I think, is what was in Mr. Comey's written statement yesterday, which largely confirms what the president's been saying that he wasn't under investigation, as you've talked about. Nowhere does Comey mention that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Nowhere does he mention that there was any obstruction of justice in his written testimony yesterday.
In fact, never forget, just a month ago, May 3, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Mr. Comey said he never felt pressured to stop an investigation.
So I think yesterday's written statement that we all got to take a look at confirms what President Trump has been saying for a long, long time. I think it's also interesting that, in that written statement, Mr. Comey says that the president told him to continue the Russia investigation, because the president wanted to be vindicated about some of the things said about him, so...
CUOMO: Where do you get that?
JORDAN: ... I think it was good.
CUOMO: I don't know that it's so clear that Jim Comey felt that the president was urging him to continue the investigation. He says exactly the opposite.
JORDAN: He has to clear his own name. The things said about President Trump, it talks about that.
CUOMO: And he asked him to get the fact out that he wasn't under investigation. I don't think that Jim Comey will hear today, in his own words. This is the first time he's asked directly about it. He was asked about the DOJ interference, the attorney general interference. Never asked about the president's interference in the election [SIC] until today.
But I don't see anywhere in this prepared statement where he says the president was urging him to continue the investigation. Where is that?
JORDAN: Mr. Comey -- yes, Mr. Comey talks about that when Michael Flynn came up in the conversation to continue the Russian investigation. It was only -- the president was talking about the Flynn situation and what took place and not the broader Russia investigation. Because there's all kinds of bad things said about the president in the dossier. The president, I think, wanted that cleared, as well.
CUOMO: Right. Hold on a second. Hold on. Congressman. He never says, "The president asked -- urged me to continue the investigation." He doesn't say that. He just doesn't. OK?
JORDAN: OK. But the president wanted that investigation, that part to continue to clear his name and to clear things up.
CUOMO: He wanted the fact to come out that he's not under investigation. You think that's the same thing as asking for the investigation to go on?
JORDAN: The president wanted the truth to come out. And what Mr. Comey testified to in the written statement confirms what the president has been saying. Three times he was told that he wasn't under investigation. No obstruction of justice. Mr. Comey even testified under oath that there's no obstruction of justice.
So this -- the other interesting things in here, too, Chris.
JORDAN: It's kind of interesting that the only conversations that were memorialized were the ones between Mr. Comey and Mr. Trump. I'd like to know, and I hope someone asks this today, how's come other important events in the Justice Department under Mr. Comey's tenure weren't memorialized?
CUOMO: Do we know...
JORDAN: For example...
CUOMO: Do we know that they weren't?
JORDAN: Well, we'll find out today. Hopefully -- hopefully, someone's going to ask this. How about when -- when they've made the decision to give Cheryl Mills immunity? After key conversations with important Justice Department officials, were those memorialized when that decision was made? How about the day after that Mr. Clinton meets with Loretta Lynch on the tarmac? Was that -- those decisions -- conversation took place there, were those memorialized? Lots of important things took place in other investigations. Why was this one treated different? So those are the kind of questions I think are interesting. And I hope he asked them that.
[07:25:24] CUOMO: Do you think as part of the purview of the Senate Intel Committee on the issue of the Russia investigation, they should talk about issues that have nothing to do with it?
JORDAN: No, I think context is important. Right?
CUOMO: Come on. That's a political talking point, and we both know it. It has nothing to do with the Russian investigation.
JORDAN: You don't think the American people would like to know key conversations between Mr. Comey and senior Justice Department officials that took place around the event of Loretta Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac three days before their scheduled interview of Secretary Clinton? You don't think that's important stuff?
CUOMO: One, I certainly think it's important. I covered it to death. And what I'm saying is Comey has already talked about it. Right? Remember when he came in front of the country and said that that meeting precipitated this needing to come out to protect the integrity of the investigation?
My question to you is you know that this is supposed to be about the Russia investigation. And it is interesting, Congressman, that you are choosing to prioritize something that doesn't have to do with the Russian investigation and ignoring -- and ignoring statements from the former director of the FBI, where he says that the president asked him if he wanted to keep his job. When we know he has a ten-year term.
And that he then said he needs loyalty from him. And when he was told he would get honesty, he says, "I want honest loyalty." And then he asks him "I hope you can see your way to finish this Flynn thing." None of that concerns you?
JORDAN: No. What concerns me is the truth needs to get out. That's what President Trump was trying to have accomplished. And in fact...
CUOMO: How do you know that? JORDAN: He confirmed that. Yesterday confirmed that.
CUOMO: How d=so?
JORDAN: He said three times "I wasn't under investigation." Did Mr. Comey's testimony confirm that? It confirmed it yesterday.
CUOMO: What does that have to do with him asking for loyalty and asking to end the Flynn probe and asking him if he wants his job?
JORDAN: Because he wants the American people to get the truth. That's why he was asking for those.
CUOMO: How do those statements speak to get the truth? Drop the Flynn probe. That says...
CUOMO: ... get the truth to you? How so?
JORDAN: Well, it's funny, Chris, because even in that discussion and Mr. Comey's testimony yesterday, Mr. Comey even says Mike Flynn's a good guy. That was the context of that conversation. He'd already fired Mr. Flynn. You don't think he understood that Mr. Flynn did something wrong? He fired the guy.
CUOMO: I think that...
JORDAN: Comey testifies that Mike Flynn is -- when President Trump said Mike Flynn is a good guy, what did Mr. Comey say? "Yes, he's a good guy." Right?
CUOMO: It's a very interesting read, because all I know is the reason we know that conversation...
JORDAN: It is not an interesting read. It's an accurate read. It's what's in the testimony.
CUOMO: It is -- it is your reading of what's in the testimony, because if you want to talk about context, the reason...
JORDAN: It's not my reading. It's the reading.
JORDAN: That's what's in the testimony.
CUOMO: Except that the context of it is that it is a communication, a dialogue.
JORDAN: You're talking about context. Right?
CUOMO: Well, context certainly matters. I'm saying you don't want to talk about the Russian...
JORDAN: Of course it matters. CUOMO: ... investigation. You want to bring up what happened in the
JORDAN: No, I don't.
CUOMO: That conversation is a function of a document that James Comey prepared, because he was so worried about the conversation. You're making it sound like it was a good conversation.
CUOMO: He memorialized it, because he was so troubled by it.
JORDAN: If he was...
CUOMO: He asked not to be left alone with the president because of it.
JORDAN: If he was so worried, why did he say on May 3 no one asked him to stop the investigation?
CUOMO: He was asked about the DOJ.
JORDAN: Come on.
CUOMO: Not the president. And I do think he has answers for that. You're right. He has to answer for that. He has to answer for that.
JORDAN: Of course he does.
CUOMO: Absolutely. Because if he was so concerned that he had to put it all in a document, he had to memorialize it because he was so worried. He asked the A.G. not to be left alone with the president, then why didn't he do more? Fair question.
JORDAN: You don't think the attorney general meeting with the former president three days before the secretary of state is to be interviewed by the FBI. You don't think that's important enough that it has to be memorialized? You don't think that provides some kind of...
CUOMO: I think people knew about it. Maybe people knew about it.
JORDAN: Maybe Mr. Comey is treating this president different than he did anyone else.
CUOMO: I think people knew about it.
JORDAN: That's part of the problem. That's why people lost confidence in James Comey. And maybe that's why Mr. -- the president decided that he was going to get rid of James Comey. That's context, and that is all important. The American people believe that's...
CUOMO: It is important. The fact that Comey was fired after saying he wouldn't be loyal and that he wouldn't drop the Flynn probe. Very, very relevant. I agree with you about that. What's your take on that?
"Will you be loyal? Will you drop the Flynn probe?"
How do you feel about that chain of events?
JORDAN: Chris, this town had lost confidence in James Comey. Look, I called -- I said what Mr. Comey did last July was wrong. I was also one of the few Republicans...
CUOMO: The president didn't get rid of them.
JORDAN: ... that said what he did in October was wrong, as well. Right before the election.
CUOMO: I remember that. I remember that.
JORDAN: I thought he screwed the investigation up. I took a lot of heat for that.
CUOMO: I remember that.
JORDAN: I'm being consistent as me. All I'm saying is if we're going to be consistent, context is critical throughout Mr. Comey's tenure. That's why he was let go by the president.
CUOMO: I hope he gets asked about all of it today and we can discuss his answers after. Congressman Jordan, appreciate your take, as always.
JORDAN: You bet.
CUOMO: Be well.
JORDAN: Thanks, Chris.
CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. We'll get the other side next. What are Democrats' burning questions for Comey? A senator on the Intel Committee joins us live next.