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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; President Trump Speaks Out on Comey; Political Turmoil in U.K. After Stunning Outcome. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired June 9, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says he is 100 percent willing to testify under oath.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump now accusing the man he fired as FBI director of lying and leaking, as he continues to dodge questions about whether he has James Comey on tape.
After Comey's testimony, there are new serious questions about the attorney general and his meetings with the Russians as the investigation into Russia heats up. 77
Plus, they have lived here just miles from Washington and crabbed the surrounding waters for generations. Now they could be the last generation to call this tiny island home before the sea literally swallows it up.
Welcome to the LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper.
And we begin with the politics lead.
Just moments ago, President Trump facing hard questions after the man he fired as FBI director basically told Congress he believes the president is a liar who cannot be trusted. And the president again refused to answer the key question of whether tapes of their conversation exist.
CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at the White House.
Sara, hard to parse out. What's the headline there? A lot of headlines on tapes and basically him calling Comey a liar in return.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim.
We really saw a defiant President Trump in this Rose Garden event today, disputing what Comey said under oath, saying that he lied, and Trump even saying he'd be willing to testify about his own version of events under oath.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No collusion, no obstruction. He's a leaker.
MURRAY (voice-over): After initially restraining himself during James Comey's testimony, today, President Trump is lashing out.
TRUMP: Frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said and some of the things that he said just weren't true.
MURRAY: Trump going on offense, accusing the former FBI director of lying under oath, but refusing to say whether he has tapes of his conversations with Comey.
TRUMP: I will tell you about that maybe some time in the very near future.
MURRAY: But Trump did say he'd be willing to testify to his version of events under oath.
QUESTION: So, he said those things under oath. Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?
TRUMP: One hundred percent.
MURRAY: This as Trump and his allies adopt a questionable defense strategy, insisting Trump is in the clear because Comey said Trump wasn't under investigation when Comey led the FBI, but arguing other parts of Comey's testimony are a fraud.
Today, Trump insisted he never asked Comey to back off the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
TRUMP: I didn't say that.
QUESTION: So he lied about that?
TRUMP: Well, I didn't say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn't say that.
MURRAY: And Trump says he never asked Comey for loyalty.
TRUMP: I hardly know the man.
MURRAY: Both statements that directly contradict Comey's testimony.
But while the president may feel exonerated, members of his own party are still airing their concerns and saying the president crossed a line.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The president asked Mr. Comey to do an inappropriate action and that was to drop the investigation of General Michael Flynn. That was clearly inappropriate. It crossed a boundary that the president should not have crossed.
MURRAY: And for yet another week, the Russia investigation overshadowed Trump's agenda, leaving the president struggling to drum up excitement for his plan to reform the permitting process as he capped off an ill-fated infrastructure week. TRUMP: Doesn't sound glamorous. They won't write stories about it.
They won't even talk about it, but it's so important.
MURRAY: So one of the sort of lingering mysteries is do tapes of these conversations exist or not? The president would not say, but he did tell reporters but that they would be very disappointed to find out the answer, whatever that means -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, maybe telegraphing they don't exist. We will see.
Sara Murray, thanks very much.
Lost in the Comey testimony yesterday was the original focus of the Russia investigation, Russian interference in the 2016 election. The former FBI director issued a stark warning that Russia is -- quote -- "coming after America and wants to undermine our credibility in the face of the world."
That is an alarming reality that Democrats and Republicans actually agree on as new questions emerge about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' own interactions with the Russians.
CNN's Brianna Keilar is following that part of the story.
Brianna, did we learn anything new about the Russia investigation?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I do want to update our viewers very quickly on something that we're getting in that's pretty fascinating coming to us from "The National Law Journal."
And that is that Robert Mueller, the special counsel in this case, looking into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, is adding to his team. Who is this? It's Michael Dreeben. He's a deputy solicitor general. Very importantly, he's one of the top criminal law experts, and this is an indication, according to "The National Law Journal," that he may be seeking advice on complex areas of criminal law, including obstruction of justice.
KEILAR (voice-over): As special counsel Robert Mueller looks into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, one senator is telling CNN the investigation is expected to go all the way to the Oval Office.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: It involves to some degree the president, so I would expect at some point, not right away, but at some point, that Mr. Mueller would feel he has to depose the president.
KEILAR: The Comey memos, the former FBI director's accounts of meetings with President Trump, are now in Mueller's possession.
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Do you have a copy of any of the notes personally?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't. I turned them over to Bob Mueller's investigators.
KEILAR: Descriptions of Comey's interactions with the president where he believed the president was directing him to drop an investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian officials.
COMEY: I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning.
KEILAR: Sources tell CNN Comey told senators behind closed doors the FBI has investigated the possibility of an undisclosed third encounter at the Mayflower Hotel between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sources tell CNN the meeting was discussed between an intercept of a call between Russian officials, though investigators have not concluded if it occurred. The Justice Department insists there was no encounter, but either way:
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: With a third meeting, and even without it, what we have is a pattern of contacts with the Russians by Flynn, by Sessions, by Kushner, secret and then concealed, in fact, denied, possibly in violation of the law. That denial, as former Director Comey said today...
QUESTION: So it could be perjury?
BLUMENTHAL: Could be perjury.
KEILAR: High-profile hearings continue next week. A Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday where Attorney General Sessions will appear is likely to turn into a grilling on the Russia issue.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We need to know the answer to a number of questions regarding the attorney general.
KEILAR: The drip, drip, drip on the Russia story shows no sign of abating.
TRUMP: So, Jared, maybe I will let you take over for a little while.
KEILAR: CNN is told the Senate Intelligence Committee will soon interview Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser.
And Flynn has now turned over 600 pages of subpoenaed documents to the committee.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Do you sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice or just seek for a way for Mike Flynn to save face, given he had already been fired?
COMEY: General Flynn at that point in time was in legal jeopardy.
KEILAR: Another development, Deutsche Bank is refusing to respond to requests from Democrats on Capitol Hill for information about Donald Trump's loans. Five members of the House Financial Services Committee have asked for this information. Deutsche Bank responded, saying they're not going to help, saying it would violate federal privacy laws.
SCIUTTO: Follow the money. Right? Brianna Keilar, thanks very much.
President Trump says that Jim Comey's testimony completely vindicates what he's been saying. Do Democrats agree? We will talk live with Congressman Eric Swalwell.
That's right after this.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back.
And we're back with breaking news in our politics lead.
Late today in a Rose Garden news conference, President Trump declared that he never asked fired FBI Director James Comey for a pledge of loyalty or to dismiss the Flynn investigation.
When asked if he would testify to that under oath, the president responded 100 percent he'd be willing to.
Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He serves on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, two committees at the center of the Russia investigation.
Thank you, Congressman, for taking a summer Friday to join us.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good afternoon, Jim.
SCIUTTO: You heard the president give a somewhat cryptic answer on whether there are tapes of the conversations. He said, I will tell you, but you have got to wait for it, and you will probably be disappointed.
I'm just curious. Do committee members, yourself, the House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, have the ability to demand from the president a hard answer to that question?
SWALWELL: On the Judiciary Committee, we're seeking those tapes.
Right now, though, Jim, it's a sad time in America. You compare what we saw yesterday, a sobering, serious testimony from James Comey about his interactions with the president, and then a clownish performance by a reality show star who isn't acting presidential, didn't sound presidential and didn't look presidential.
And it is really -- it is unfortunate to see him stand in the Rose Garden and, you know, really take this in an unserious way.
SCIUTTO: You accuse the president there of discussing this in a clownish way?
SWALWELL: Yes, to tease out whether or not he has tapes, like a season finale is approaching for a reality show, is very unpresidential.
And it's really time that he takes this seriously. He has interfered in the FBI's investigation, as described yesterday by Director Comey. He's interfered in the House Intelligence Committee's investigation. He should really get out of the way and take this as seriously as it deserves.
SCIUTTO: He had another answer to a question on whether he did direct Comey to end the Flynn investigation, and he said, no, I didn't do that, but then he said, even if I did do it, it would be OK based on everyone I have read this morning.
How did you take that answer? Was he leaving open the possibility that, well, maybe -- maybe he did, and, if he did, sue me?
SWALWELL: Well, Jim Comey's testimony yesterday was very compelling and believable. It sounded like he was hedging.
But it seems that the president wants to accept all of the parts of Jim Comey's testimony that are helpful to him or to throw out or dismiss anything that is damaging to him, and you can't have it both ways. And that's what the president is trying to do here.
SCIUTTO: A major headline from his comments is that he said he would, 100 percent, in his words, testify under oath. Do you take him at his word? Do you believe he will fulfill that pledge?
SWALWELL: I hope he testifies or at least gives testimony to special counsel Bob Mueller.
I really don't believe that he's going to be very cooperative. Certainly, if I had somebody come to Capitol Hill, take an oath and describe what James Comey described yesterday, if that wasn't true, wild horses wouldn't be able to stop me from going under oath to disprove it. So we will wait and see.
SCIUTTO: If he testifies under oath, would you believe the president's account of that conversation?
SWALWELL: I think there's other corroborating evidence I would like to see. I would like to see these memos of Director Comey. I would like to hear from the other individuals who may be witnesses, like Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner, who apparently were asked to leave the room. And then there's Admiral Rogers and ODNI Director Coats, who it sounds like from reports may have a story to tell as well.
So, considering all of that evidence, that's really for Bob Mueller to consider, but as far as the Congress, that would help me to determine who is telling the truth.
SCIUTTO: As you're aware, we reported last week, first to report, that Congress was investigating whether Attorney General Sessions had a third undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador and then we learned yesterday that in closed session, Comey discussed this possibility without confirming that it took place, but at least a possibility.
I want to ask you this, and I'm aware of the classified nature of much of the information involved, but just big picture. If he did not disclose a third meeting, would the attorney general be open to the possibility of perjury charges?
SWALWELL: Well, I can't say yes or no as to what he did or did not disclose. But, Jim, the fact that he didn't disclose the first two meetings to me is very, very problematic. He was asked in a Senate questionnaire and then, of course, asked by his confirmation panel, and he failed to disclose meetings with the ambassador. A third one certainly if true would really I think dismiss his charge or his claim that it was just forgetfulness for the first two.
But, you know, that's something we need to get to the bottom of, and I hope he answers those questions next week when he's in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
SCIUTTO: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks very much for taking the time today.
SWALWELL: My pleasure, Jim.
SCIUTTO: One year ago, Britain stunned the world by voting to exit the European Union. Now, a shocking election prompting the question: have the Brits changed their minds? That's next,
And President Trump said he will reveal in a very short period of time whether he secretly taped his conversation with Jim Comey. What's he waiting for? I have all that coming up.
[16:21:09] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Turning to our world lead now. Late today, President Trump called the U.K. election results, quote, surprising.
Overnight, Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party lost its majority in parliament after she had called an early special election to consolidate her power base, expecting a big win. Now, despite the stinging defeat, May is vowing to stay on as prime minister by forming a minority government and crucially to forge ahead with Brexit. Let's get right to CNN's Phil Black. He is outside the prime
minister's residence at 10 Downing Street in London.
So, Phil, I think the question for a lot of Americans is a simple one. Is the U.K. still going to leave the E.U.?
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, that decision made through a referendum last year. That still stands. In fact, the negotiations to begin that process, they are set to begin in less than two weeks. You could say that after this surprise election result there is a question mark over who the British people want to lead them through that process.
Theresa May insists she is still the best person to do that, and that is why she says she's struggling on to form a minority government. This is what she said here on Downing Street earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This will allow us to come together as a country and channel our energies towards a successful Brexit deal that works for everyone in this country, securing a new partnership with the E.U. which guarantees our long-term prosperity. That's what people voted for last June. That's what we will deliver. Now, let's get to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: Now, from Theresa May today, you heard that defiance, but there was no contrition, there was no acknowledgement of the fact that she and her party are in this position because of a decision she made, to go to an election that she didn't have to go to, to try to increase her majority in parliament. Instead, she now has no majority.
So, Theresa May tonight is in a position where she's desperately trying to maintain her authority over her party, over the country but also trying to project authority over those E.U. officials that she's going to begin negotiations with in the coming weeks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Just briefly so Americans understand, she didn't win a majority. She has a minority. So, she has to team up with a somewhat unusually small party to get her over the 51 percent mark in, effect.
BLACK: Yes, that's right. So, she still has the most seats in parliament but she's going to be teaming up with a much smaller party from Northern Ireland, a party that does not usually get involved on big national issues. It suddenly finds itself a power-breaker. It is the biggest what they called Unionist Party, that is in favor of Northern Ireland staying as part of the United Kingdom, socially very conservative, even more conservative than the Conservative Party here on the mainland U.K., but they will now be dealing with each other issue by issue, and Prime Minister Theresa May will be relying upon that party's support to get every piece of legislation through parliament -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Uncertain times in the U.K. Phil Black in London, thanks very much.
President Trump is accusing James Comey of being a leaker. Were Comey's actions actually illegal? We're going to ask a former intelligence operative right after this.
[16:28:22] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Today, the president accused James Comey of being a leaker and his private lawyer filed a complaint accusing Comey of breaking the law as a result. But is leaking illegal?
Actually, the courts for decades have found that most leaks are in fact constitutionally protected free speech. Why? Because courts have judged they often serve a public interest and because they follow a tradition, dating back to the Founding Fathers who leaked themselves, often anonymously.
The exception is leaking information that is classified. What the president says even in private is not in and of itself classified. And executive privilege, which presidents sometimes invoke, protects only the president's deliberations in carrying out his duties, not a conversation with an FBI director about ending an investigation, for instance.
Finally, the lawyer Stephen Cohen quoted in "The Washington Post" today makes an interesting point. Investigating someone for otherwise legal testimony that you don't like could be construed as something else that is actually against the law, that is, obstruction of justice.
We have this just coming into CNN. The House Intelligence Committee has asked for the Comey memos and crucially anyone White House recordings, and they set a deadline, June 23rd, just a couple of weeks away. Of course, there is no proof though, as the president, you heard him today, that those tapes exist.
Joining me now is Evan McMullin. He's a former independent presidential candidate. He was also with the CIA.
Thank you, Mr. McMullin, for taking the time today.
EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be with you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: You, as I just said there, served in the intelligence community and know the extreme sensitivity of leaking classified information. Based on what you know, did Comey in your view break the law?
MCMULLIN: No, because he didn't release classified information. It's plain and simple in this case.