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Former FBI Director James Comey to Testify before Senate Intelligence Committee; Comey's Written Testimony to Congress Examined. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey to close the investigation into Michael Flynn?
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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What it describes is a president who knows no limits.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot of un-clarity from Director Comey's comments. We're only hearing one side of this conversation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this becomes a credibility contest, that's a contest that the president is going to lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, June 8th, 8:00 in New York, and all eyes are on this beautiful monument to American democracy. How will it be served just two hours from now when it hosts one of the most anticipated congressional hearings in decades?
Fired FBI director James Comey testifying before the Senate Intel Committee, but it's going to be a gauntlet of left and right. And in the crosshairs will be Comey and the president of the United States. In his opening statement that he released a day early, heightening the drama, Comey says President Trump demanded his loyalty, pressed him to end the Michael Flynn investigation, and asked what could be done to lift the crowd of Russia bogging down the administration.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Now President Trump's attorney says the president feels, quote, "totally vindicated by the Comey testimony," but the hearing is sure to raise questions about obstruction of justice and many others things. Who will the American people believe today, President Trump or Mr. Comey? We have it all covered, so let's begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider live on Capitol Hill. Things are getting very exciting there, Jessica.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Alisyn. Just two hours until James Comey begins his testimony, his testimony we all got a preview of when the Senate Intelligence Committee released that prepared opening statement one day early. That was at James Comey's request, something that was really unprecedented. We know from that seven page glimpse into this that James Comey will be recounting five out of his nine one-on-one meetings with the president, something he felt the need to document and something he never did with President Obama.
SCHNEIDER: "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 advisors 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 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also as you --
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 27th, the president summoned Comey to a private dinner at the White House, asking whether he wanted to stay on as FBI director despite the 10-year term. Moment 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 honestly 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 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 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.
[08:05:07] "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 Comey saying he didn't know what the meant with that cryptic comment, "We had that thing, you know." As for the White House, they are responding via outside counsel Marc Kasowitz. Kasowitz putting out this statement last night, saying "The president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publically 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 move forward with his agenda." Chris and Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica, thank you very much for setting that all up perfectly for us.
Let's bring back our panel to discuss. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, and chief White House correspondent for the "Associated Press" Julie Pace. Great to have all of you on this very important morning.
Jeffrey, let me start with you because let's just start with what the White House says, which is that the president has been vindicated because in these prepared statements James Comey said, yes, in fact he did assure the president three times that he was not the target of an investigation. That's what President Trump had claimed. People were skeptical that that had actually happened. In fact it did happen.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's sort of like a lawyer saying, you know, the prosecutor admits that my client didn't steal any cars. But the fact is he's charged with robbing a bank. I mean, yes, it is true that Trump was vindicated in a way about this statement of Comey that he was not under investigation. But what about everything else in this statement? What about the obstruction of justice possibly regarding the investigation of Michael Flynn? It's picking one corner of Flynn's -- of Comey's statement as a vindication, but there is a heck of a lot more that Comey talked about.
CUOMO: Right. But also remember what it is is a window into what matters to the president. Obviously what's been driving his moves here for better or worse is this fascination that this is all bad for him. Counselor Zeldin, how do you see the stakes today in terms of laying out a case that the president did something wrong?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are essentially -- there's either one big thing or two parallel things. One is, and the 800-pound gorilla in a sense in the room, is the Flynn matter, because it is very hard, and the clips you showed has the president categorically saying I did not intervene. Comey saying absolutely you did intervene. And so there's the -- that's the biggest thing that's been joined. And how that plays out, who are they going to believe, the American people and the senators, will determine a lot about how this outcome is reviewed.
The other thing is this whole cycle of loyalty. January 6th starts the relationship with loyalty and essentially because he felt that Comey's failure to get these things out was a disloyal act, he gets fired. So you have got the loyalty loop going on on one hand. You've got the Flynn thing going on the other hand. In some respects they merge, in some respects they're separate. And how people view those things will be really what's dispositive of the outcome here. Not necessarily in legal terms, but in terms of the public opinions.
CAMEROTA: Julie, you are the White House correspondent. How is the White House preparing for this blockbuster event? Have his aids hidden President Trump's twitter machine?
JULIE PACE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: No, they haven't. And I don't think they could even if they gave it a good shot. They have tried to put a lot on his schedule today. He's got an intelligence briefing this morning. He's got some events later in the day.
But his public schedule is pretty clear during this prime window. The Comey hearing starts at 10:00. There is nothing on the president's schedule until a little bit after 12:00. So I think it's an open question as to what President Trump is going to be doing in terms of his public reaction to the hearing. But I think there's no doubt that he like so many people across the country are going to be watching this in real time.
CUOMO: And David Gregory, this could be about a lot of things today, right? It could be very direct in the purview of what the Senate Intel Committee is supposed to be looking at. But it keeps being billed as the Super Bowl for left and right on this issue. What do you think we're going to see today?
[08:10:03] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think you are going to see political agendas. I think you're going to see this fight between the left and the right. This is a political matter fundamentally. The special counsel is pursuing the legal matter. This is the intelligence committee.
But there are competing agendas. I think credibility is at stake here for Jim Comey as well as the president, and I think the underlying offense, the fact that Russia was meddling in our election, what we know about it, whether there's been efforts to get in the way of finding out more about it and how we prevent it from happening again is all important.
I do think -- I will be looking for one sign of the apocalypse which is to hear a senator quote a tweet from Donald Trump that may happen in real time and then turn around and ask Jim Comey that. If that happens, I will definitely fall off my chair, but I won't be totally surprised.
CAMEROTA: That's an oxymoron, but OK.
GREGORY: I guess so.
CUOMO: No surprises.
GREGORY: But I do -- I'm still struck by something here that you started with Jeffrey. You know, we've always said that he could -- the president may not be being investigated, but that could always change. And I thought Comey made that point according to what he's going to say in his testimony. But it is so revealing of how the president thinks about all of this. Are you investigating me? If not, OK, I'm done with it. it doesn't matter whether other people associated with me might have colluded with the Russians, doesn't matter that this undermines trust in my administration, doesn't matter that you have an attack on America that I, as the president, should get to the bottom of. As long as you're not investigating me then what does it matter?
CAMEROTA: So Jeffrey, you are the person who has said that you think that what you have seen in these Comey prepared statements does rise to the level or could of obstruction of justice. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong.
CAMEROTA: But that's not what the Senate Intel Committee is tasked with, right? That's not what they're trying to get to the heart of today.
TOOBIN: No. But I think if the president perhaps committed a criminal offense, I think it is interesting, and I think it's something worth discussing.
But the intelligence committee obviously is concerned with, you know, the broader issue of Russia and, you know, their interference in our election. But let's be honest. What a lot of people are interested in, including the politicians in that room, is whether the president of the United States behaved appropriately and whether if he didn't what degree of inappropriateness leading all the way up to criminality he did display. So, I mean, I think the focus on Trump's behavior and the merits of it is really going to be what most of us are looking at regardless of what committee it happens to be on.
CUOMO: Counselor Zeldin, don't you think every time Trump defenders hear the word "inappropriate" today, they are going to be like, phew. Because "inappropriate" is what you say when your kid uses bathroom words at school. It's the kind of word a politician uses when they want to say something is wrong but they don't want to do anything about it. If that's the level of scrutiny that it winds up coming down to today, that's a pretty good position to have the president in if you were on his side, right?
ZELDIN: Sure. If you have on his side and the worst that comes out of it this was that the president was inexperienced, inappropriate, perhaps naive, unaware of the established protocols in the Department of Justice and in the White House through regulation about behavior. They did say they chalk it up to he's an outsider and that's just the way it is and maybe he's learned a lesson now. And if that's the way it turns out, that's good for him. I'm not sure it will turn out that way because it is impossible to get beyond the Flynn meeting with just inappropriate if Comey is believed.
ZELDIN: If Comey is believed that the president said to him, you need to close down this investigation, that's not naive, and that's not inexperienced. That's almost criminal, and then it is a very different day for the president.
CAMEROTA: So Julie, is the feeling in the White House that this is the tip of the iceberg and James Comey comes armed with more ammunition or that he's going to reveal, or this is the sum total of what happened and what he memorialized and what he wants to get out?
PACE: I think the White House, frankly, is nervous about what's to come in the testimony. We have the opening statement, but there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. One thing that really stood out to me in the opening statement is Comey suggests that he and others in the FBI knew about two weeks before, or believed about two weeks before that Jeff Sessions was going to have to recuse himself from this matter. I think that's a huge question.
I also think Comey, though, will face questions from lawmakers about why he didn't raise alarms at the Justice Department and elsewhere about his interactions with the president, why he maybe didn't resign. The White House is hoping to focus on that. They hope that's where the rest of this hearing goes, as opposed to digging into more detail not only about the president but about this investigation and perhaps Flynn and Sessions and Kushner and their interactions with the Russians as well.
[08:15:13] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But I do think Jeffrey is right. Look how much attention in the committee yesterday on the president's behavior with regard to Rogers and Coats, et al., about how -- whether the president tried to shut the investigation down through them, whether he's talked to them about "The Washington Post" reporting yesterday.
So, this question of the scale of inappropriateness approaching criminality is no doubt a question for the intelligence committee which also dovetails to what they care about, which is, are we getting to the bottom of the meddling to begin with, because that's what this inappropriate yacht behavior is about, shutting that down, that inquiry down.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, panel, thank you very much for previewing it all with us.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now, all these questions being asked or not asked comes down to the senators. What are they going to be looking for when they grill James Comey?
We have committee member, Senator Angus King joining us. We expect he will not go easy. Why? Did you see what he did yesterday? Here is a taste.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Why are you not answering our questions?
ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: I feel it's inappropriate, Senator.
KING: What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral. What you feel isn't the answer. Why are you not answering the questions, is it an invocation of executive privilege? .
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: In two hours, all eyes will be on this hearing room inside the U.S. Capitol. This testimony anticipated before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a way we haven't seen in a long time.
Joining us now is one of the main players in that room, one of the senators tasked with asking questions of the fired FBI director, Angus King, independent senator from Maine.
So, Senator, thank you for joining us on this important morning.
Where is your head?
[08:20:00] Where is your heart?
KING: Well, I've read Director Comey's pre-filed testimony a couple of times. I have a number of questions. I think part of what we're going to try to get at today, Chris, is not just the cold facts, but what his impressions were, what the conversations with the president were, what was the tone?
I mean, there's been a lot of discussion about, did the president direct me to do something. The question is, if you're in the Oval Office and the president suggests something, the president of the United States, is that a direction?
And we're going to be talking about those kinds of questions. Of course, I think some of the drama has been taken away from this testimony because of the fact that we got a copy of Director Comey's testimony yesterday. I'm sure there will be some twists and turns to the discussion today.
CUOMO: What did you make of the decision for him to release it and for you guys to put it up on the website?
KING: Well, I thought it was a little unusual. I've never heard of that, although in many cases witnesses file their testimony in advance. But in this kind of situation, as I say, it was somewhat unusual.
But once it was out there and once it was public, then I think the committee felt it ought to be made broadly available, so everybody can read what he said which is -- it's quite a document. It reads like the first few pages of a novel. It's very detailed, has a lot of sort of color, and we'll see where the details go when we discuss those things with him today.
CUOMO: How intent are you about getting answers out of Comey? What if he doesn't want to opine as to whether or not he thinks things were illegal or not, or he doesn't want to get too deep into how he construed different communications in deference to the ongoing investigation?
KING: I do think that is going to be a constraint. He's not going to get into the on going investigation. I think a lot of the questions today will relate to his firing, what the circumstances were. But he had nine direct one-on-one contacts with president Trump in the short period of three or four months.
By the way, he had two with President Obama. That was one of the things that came through in his testimony, how uncomfortable he was with these one-on-one interactions. At one point, he was in a large meeting with the attorney general and four or five other people.
The president told everybody to leave the room, everybody. The attorney general apparently lingered. He said, no, I want you out, too. Closed the door, one-on-one with Comey and that's when he started talking about the Mike Flynn investigation.
That's highly unusual and the kind of thing we'll be exploring today.
CUOMO: I'm sure you're hoping today is very different than yesterday in terms of how it went. I felt the way you examined the intel chiefs and the way they responded was so indicative of the dynamic, that we cut a piece of it. If you can tolerate watching and listening to yourself a little built, we want to review a little of what happened yesterday.
KING: I think you testified, Admiral Rogers, you did discuss today's testimony with someone in the White House?
ROGERS: I said I asked did the White House intend to evoke executive privileges associated with interactions with myself and the President of the United States.
KING: And what is the answer to that question?
ROGERS: To be honest, I didn't get a definitive answer. Both myself and the DNI are still talking to the White House General Counsel.
KING: So then I'll ask both of you the same question. Why are not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the President of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?
ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of.
KING: Then why are you not answering the questions?
ROGERS: Because I feel it is inappropriate.
KING: What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral. What you feel isn't the answer.
ROGERS: I stand accountable.
KING: Why are you not answering the questions? Is it an invocation of executive privilege? If there is, let's know about it. If there isn't, answer the questions.
ROGERS: I stand by the comments I've made. I'm not interested in repeating myself, sir. I don't mean that in a contentious way.
KING: Well, I do mean it in a contentious way.
ROGERS: Yes, sir.
KING: I don't understand why you're not answering our questions. You can't -- when you were confirmed before the Armed Services Committee, you took an oath. Do you solemnly swear to give the committee the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God? You answered yes to that.
ROGERS: I do. And I've also answered that those conversations were classified. It is not appropriate in an open forum to discuss those classified conversations.
KING: What is classified about a conversation involving whether or not you should intervene in the FBI investigation? ROGERS: Sir, I stand by my previous comments.
KING: Mr. Coats, same series of questions, what's the basis for your refusal to answer these questions today?
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The basis is what I previously explained. I do not believe it is appropriate for me to --
KING: What's the basis? I'm not satisfied with I do not believe it is appropriate or I do not feel I should answer. I want to understand a legal basis.
You swore that oath, to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And today, you are refusing to do so.
[08:25:01] What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this committee?
COATS: I'm not sure I have a legal basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: I was ready for you to hold them in contempt, Senator. What did you make of their recalcitrance, their refusal to answer questions that did not go to classified conversations?
KING: Well, it was -- it was just ridiculous. You don't get -- there wasn't a qualification on that oath. It didn't say I'll tell the truth unless I feel uncomfortable about it.
When I came in late one night, my dad said. where have you been? I didn't say, well, I don't think that's an appropriate question or I don't feel like answering it.
They should have answered the questions. And the one -- the thing that really bothered me, and there's another section, they opened the door. They said something like, we weren't directed to intervene in the Flynn matter.
Well, that word "directed" cries out to be followed up. Was it suggested, was it asked, was it hinted? And so, you can't open the door. In lawyer terms that would be they waived the privilege by opening the door to that kind of discussion.
And then they shut the door and again say we're not going to answer any more questions. It was totally inappropriate in my view.
Now, secretary -- Director Coats said we'll talk about it in closed session. OK. We're going to have that closed session, but even so, I don't know why it needs to be a closed session. We weren't talking about anything classified, and they both said, executive privilege hasn't been invoked. There was no reason to not answer those questions.
CUOMO: Today, how big are the stakes in your mind? On the short side is this just going to be about politics and left and right are go after this guy, James Comey, through their own lens? Or do you believe there may be something out of this that's revelatory?
KING: Well, I think there will be something that's revelatory, but I don't -- I think we're putting too much weight on this one witness and this one bit of testimony. This is a wide-ranging investigation involving many, many witnesses, more than ten, probably more than 20. It's already involved thousands of pages of classified documents.
So, there is a lot of information. So, today is important, but the world isn't going to hinge on what happens today. And I think -- I think people need to realize that. This is one piece of a wide- ranging investigation that goes back more than a year. It is clearly important, but it's not the whole deal.
CUOMO: Do you feel that Comey is going to have his feet held to the fire today to justify how, on the one hand, he felt things were important enough to put in a memo, on the other hand, he didn't seem to do anything about those same concerns?
KING: Well, he talked about that in his -- he had some real dilemmas here. And he did share his beliefs and his feelings and the facts of these conversations with the senior leadership of the FBI, and in other part of that questioning yesterday, I was very frustrated with the acting director of the FBI who wouldn't answer any questions about it and wouldn't say whether or not Comey shared it with him.
He pled the Mueller defense. He said I can't talk about this because it will be part of Mr. Mueller's investigation. That really wasn't very satisfactory either.
But, sure, we're going to probe that information. But we're also going to be looking subsequent to this hearing for corroboration, one way or the other. But the fact -- one of the interesting things is Jim Comey said in his testimony, in his prepared testimony that he immediately after his first meeting with President Trump started what amounted to a diary, contemporaneous memos. He said he wrote them on a laptop in the car driving away from Trump Tower because he felt so uncomfortable about these interactions.
He met with President Trump nine times in a couple months, twice with President Obama, never had any recording of his conversation with President Obama because he didn't feel it was necessary. I think that's an interesting aspect of this. Why did you feel so uncomfortable about this? And you could say, well, he should have shared this with the upper echelon of the Justice Department.
But don't forget, Jeff Sessions at this time was the attorney general who was about to recuse himself. So, he did share it within the FBI. He didn't go further than that.
CUOMO: Do you think you'll get the memos?
KING: I do. I think we will. I don't know exactly when. But, yes, I don't know how anybody is going to argue that they are not fair game for our inquiry.
CUOMO: Senator King, always a pleasure. We look forward to your questioning today and discussing your reactions as soon as you can do it.
KING: Yes, sir. Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: Be well.
So, Jim Comey's testimony is going to be must-see TV no matter what your political filter is. Our special coverage with the big guns, Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer begins at 9:00.
The fired director of the FBI breaks his silence at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
CAMEROTA: So, Chris, how unusual is everything we've seen in the past 24 hours in James Comey? What is to come today? Counterterrorism official Richard Clarke here to give us his bottom line, next.