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Comey: Trump Lied, Defamed Me and FBI; White House Pushes Back on Comey Testimony. Aired 5-5:30a ET
Aired June 9, 2017 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The administration chose to defame me. Those were lies, plain and simple.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president is not liar. It's insulting that that question would be asked.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DNI: Jim Comey's testimony reinforced the comparison from the Watergate and what we confront now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We waited all day for some big shoe to drop and there just wasn't anything.
COMEY: There's no doubt I was fired because of the Russia investigation.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Refused to pledge loyalty to a president, and for that, he got fired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president also never told Mr. Comey, I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: A cloud hanging over this administration has just gotten a lot darker.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Friday, June 9th, 5:00 here in New York.
There are two major stories shaking up the political world. Here is our starting line: the cloud of Russia looming larger over the White House and President Trump's credibility. James Comey told senators the president lied about why he fired him. Comey says the president wanted him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.
President Trump's lawyer disputes that claim, says the president never demanded loyalty from Comey. Instead, Trump's team says Comey's testimony confirms the president wasn't personally being investigated and didn't obstruct anything. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Meanwhile, everyone saw this
hearing differently. Republicans defending President Trump, arguing that he is new to the job and they're pouncing on James Comey's concerns about President Obama's Attorney General Loretta Lynch and why she tried to downplay the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
[05:00:07] And there's political chaos in the U.K. British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party losing their majority in parliament, as calls grow for her to resign. So, what does that mean for Brexit negotiations?
We have a lot to cover. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live for us in Washington.
What's the latest, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
President Trump is expected to hold a joint news conference today at the White House with the president of Romania. It will be the first time the president has spoken with reporters in three weeks, likely only to take a couple of questions, but at least an opportunity to speak to him about this extraordinary turn of events on Capitol Hill. Perhaps what was most striking about the testimony of fired FBI Director James Comey is that he accused the president of the United States, plain and simple, of lying.
Comey, even went as far as to suggest that he prepared memos about his conversation about the president because he anticipated the president lying about those interactions. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: There's no doubt that it's a fair judgment, it's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Comey made it clear in no uncertain terms that he was making what might be described as one of the noisiest exits by a lawyer in the history of government law. He essentially took one of the key memos, perhaps the key memo that he prepared and delivered it to a law school professor in hopes that that professor would, in-turn, leak the memo to the media. He also said he wanted it leaked so that a special counsel would be named, which is exactly what happened. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: The president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there's not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night because it didn't dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. It might be a tape. And my judgment was, I need to get that out into the public square.
So, I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel, so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: OK. So, why didn't James Comey essentially leak his memos, his information directly to the news media? He said it would have been like feeding seagulls at the beach.
One interesting note as we anticipate seeing the president today at the White House, the president did not tweet during all of the testimony on Capitol Hill of James Comey and that is something apparently his lawyers were pretty grateful for.
Alisyn and Chris, back to you.
CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you. In fact, that's a record. As of in about an hour --
CUOMO: Yes, hold on a second. Don't jinx it.
CAMEROTA: -- thirteen minutes.
CUOMO: Don't jinx it.
If we get to 6:14 in the East --
CAMEROTA: It will have been a record, the longest that President Trump in fact -- wait does he mean? Our producer is saying one of the longest? We thought that it was a record.
It will have been one of the longest stretches that we have seen President Trump, even candidate Trump go without tweeting.
CUOMO: Right. And, look, the point is not about how long it is. It's that there was enough high stakes tension here that the president stayed off Twitter, followed probably counsel's advice.
Phil Mattingly now with a very important part of the story, which is that this testimony was filtered entirely based on partisan perspective. The GOP came out after everything that Comey said and basically got in line behind the president and said there is nothing here in terms of obstruction and yet at the same time wanted to talk about Loretta Lynch wanting to change investigation to matter as potential obstruction -- tribalism on display.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, Chris, it's -- it was kind of pick whatever you want out of the hearing. It was a little bit for everybody here. Democrats obviously seized on a lot of the testimony really illustrating some of the major concerns that they have been talking about over the course of the last couple of weeks, and mentioning potentially illegality. But as you know, Republicans either demurring or saying really nothing
happened. John McCain saying he wasn't shocked by anything. John Cornyn, the number two Republican, said, you know, it was a mixed bag when it comes to testimony.
Guys, one of the interesting element in the wake of this hearing and we tried to talk about just about everybody or any Republican we could reach out to over the course of a few hours afterwards was their rational for what they had heard.
Now unlike the White House, unlike the president's personal lawyer, they weren't necessarily saying what Jim Comey was testifying wasn't true.
[05:05:07] They weren't challenging the facts here but their defense was interesting. Most notably, he didn't know any better. That's what Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, had to say. He said, look, the president was poorly served by his staff here. This clearly wasn't appropriate but I don't think it reaches the level of illegality.
More interesting perhaps, guys, was Speaker Paul Ryan. In a press conference yesterday, as this hearing was going on, he was asked about the testimony and what he had heard. Paul Ryan made very clear, look, guys, he's new at this. He doesn't know the protocol and doesn't understand the long standing divisions between or at least separations between these two entities that exist.
Now, guys, there's a natural follow up here which is, how is that an excuse? You have a White House counsel. You have a staff. That's not an excuse just because the president knows any better.
I asked Paul Ryan just that and he said, look, I'm not saying this is an excuse. It's just an observation and then went on to say that based on the testimony, you can tell why the president is frustrated. Guys, I think the big takeaway here if there is one is, obviously, Republicans aren't seizing on this to attack the president. They are continuing to at least on Capitol Hill, keep their heads down, try and focus on their agenda, try to get away from everything that we have all been focusing on, Democrats have been focusing on for the last couple of months.
The reality is, though, whatever excuses they try to make, whatever defenses they try and roll out, yesterday was a very difficult day, and I can tell you this, senators know that and House Republicans know that as well. They told me that behind the scenes.
But publicly, at least, no big deal, guys.
CAMEROTA: All right. Phil, thank you very much for that.
We have so much to talk about on this very early edition of NEW DAY. So, let's bring in our all star panel. We have Ron Brownstein, David Sanger, Karoun Demirjian, and Laura Coates.
Great to see all of you. Ron, your takeaway from yesterday.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was a very clarifying day because it made two things abundantly clear which were kind of summarized nicely in your first two reports.
First, you had the former FBI director in person, under oath, saying what had previously only been attributed to associates or news reports of memos that the president engaged in a series of -- in a pattern of conduct that over the past 24 hours many legal experts, former Watergate prosecutors, law professors, others, have argued justify, become a plausible case of obstruction of justice, and move that debate significantly forward.
And then the other point is equally important, is that there are essentially no congressional Republicans or virtually no congressional Republicans who are willing to interpret it that way, and thus what that says is the only game in town, the only thing that could force their hand to act on potential sanctions against the president is the independent council investigation and secondarily, the congressional Republicans are making a huge electoral bet because as I said before, the biggest risk to them in 2018 is that voters who are ambivalent or uneasy about this president will view them as not exercising a sufficient check on him, and they have latched themselves more tightly to his mast at a time when this boat is taking on water.
CUOMO: Yet a nice silver lining for the president in all this. He didn't get the loyalty he wanted from Comey, but he is getting it from Republicans. They lined up behind them. For them to not see any need to discuss obstruction in any way with what the president did, but jump on it with Loretta Lynch, wanting to call an investigation of the matter, I don't know, Laura Coates, how they distinguish those things. How can you be upset about one and not the other?
But while Ron is right, a lot of people said, oh, there may be a pattern here, it may have been an intent to obstruct, you had Alan Dershowitz, another heavyweights come out and say, absolutely not. The president has a constitutional right to end this and we didn't see any directed action by the president that Comey followed.
What did you say?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the reason they say that is because they're showing you how hard it is to prove intent which, of course, is the obstruction of justice statute makes you prove that it was corruptly, meaning you intended to do the very thing that you're being accused to do. And even your attempt to do so, even if it's unsuccessful it's not going to work out.
But, remember you can actually glean something from the innuendos of the "I hopes" and contextual clues that were actually there. So, if you want to say that you don't have the specific intent or the evidence that says that he said directly, you must stop the investigation or else, you can conceptualize it in context with the words "I hope", with the suggestion if you wait being turned around will mean just that. But it just would prove it's hard to prove that. But what it did show
and what Comey's testimony did show is that you had a pattern of behavior that wasn't simply inappropriate but was geared towards trying to exact the very end that he was trying to stop the investigation and the consequence when he failed to do was his own firing. That in and of itself is where the true obstruction of justice inquiry begins, at the firing.
CAMEROTA: Karoun, we have another moment from former Director Comey that is being quoted because he used a very folksy term to explain his wishes.
[05:10:01] Listen to what happened yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: I very carefully chose the words. Look, I have seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Meaning he hopes there's corroboration, lordy, he hopes there's corroboration of his version of events.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Right. He was saying, look, if the president actually tapes things and he's explained having, you know, woken up in a shock, thinking, oh, my goodness, there might actually be tapes after Trump put out that tweet, he's thinking that might not be a bad thing, which is basically saying, look, I stand by my account of what I said about our conversation and what I wrote down and he believes that if there are tapes, that will corroborate what he said.
But again, this goes back to the point that Phil was making a minute ago before our panel, which is that yes, Trump and his lawyers are saying nothing to see here at all and questioning Comey and questioning what Comey is saying, but Republicans on the Hill are not. They are taking what Comey is saying, complimenting him on the detail of his account, and then saying, see, because he said hope, that's not a direction, you can't prove it.
Now, you know, as we were just talking about, that may not stand up in an actual legal proceeding when you're trying to indicate what the president's intent was and the fact that you can say, I hope, in a way that makes that intent pretty clear.
DEMIRJIAN: But that is what they're hanging on and saying, you know, fine, we take you at your word and Comey is clearly saying, well, look, my word is good. If that ends up being proven by tapes that may or may not exist, it may not change anything in terms of how people are interpreting this course of event.
CUOMO: David Sanger, what did you see in this situation? What did you feel was a good sign? What did you feel was a depressing sign? DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first
of all, the good sign, Chris, was that I think this is probably the best, most focused congressional hearing that I think I have seen in sometime. You have a committee that was asking good and serious question and a witness who was highly organized.
The second takeaway was, there's a reason it's dangerous to go fire your FBI director. So, imagine, what was the president's objective out here? If you believe that the president was trying to end this investigation in some way to lift the cloud as you said, to move beyond this for his agenda, he fires Director Comey without sort of thinking the chess game out two or three moves ahead. Comey wakes up one night and says by his own account, if I take my notes and I make sure those get into the hands of a reporter or colleague of mine, Michael Schmidt, at "The New York Times", and that gets out, what is going to happen?
It's going to force the naming of a special counsel, which will hound President Trump for the next year or two years or however long this investigation takes. So, a Washington insider who understood exactly how the levers of power are pulled woke up one evening and found a way to move completely opposite to what President Trump was attempting to do, and now, no matter how this comes out, whether or not they prove intent for obstruction of justice, the president is going to be dealing with that special counsel for at least the first half of his term.
CAMEROTA: And so, Ron, you know, this morning, there's all sorts of debate and discussion about, did Comey leak? This is what the president and his -- through his personal attorney is saying, it's Comey who is a leaker.
So, handing off memos to a friend of yours with the hope, or even directive, if they get into the hands of "The New York Times", is that a leak? What constitutes a leak?
BROWNSTEIN: I suppose it's in the eye of a beholder. I mean, it seems to me a very peripheral question next to, you know, the -- whether the president committed an act that could be construed as obstruction of justice, how the information became public. I mean, clearly, you had concern -- I mean, what we have had all the way, it seems parallel to what we had all the way through in this investigation, which is you had career law enforcement professionals who are concerned about whether the information they're developing will accurately kind of, you know, move up the chain of command and ultimately influence the decisions that are made and are making that choice to put that out as Comey said in the square.
And I think you know, I think, ultimately, he did not have faith that he was going to be treated fairly, as he said in that rather remarkable statement, that he felt it necessary to memorialize this conversation from the beginning because he was afraid that this president would mischaracterize them or frankly lie about them. So, I think it was an extension of what we have seen all the way through this investigation and how much of it has ended up in the newspapers and, you know, and through CNN, frankly, because of those concerns by many of the people involved on unearthing the information.
CUOMO: The reaction from lawmaker seemed to be that it passed the duck test as a leak. Looked like a leak, sounded like a leak, was a leak.
[05:15:00] And I don't think it helped Comey for him to say and he leaked because he was hoping it would lead to the appointment of a special counsel.
CAMEROTA: Right. Yes, no, that was like radical honesty that he was using that some people can analyze and determine if that was necessary. He offered that.
Panel stick around because we want to talk to you about where the investigation on all of these fronts goes from here.
CUOMO: And what the Republicans are seizing on as the big deal, which I might suggest in the next panel is one of the biggest bouts of hypocrisy we have seen in this so far.
CAMEROTA: Is that a preview after what you're going to do on the next panel?
CUOMO: Yes. Too much of a tease? Did I give too much away? Is there no reason to watch?
CAMEROTA: No, no. I like it.
CUOMO: We'll be back right after this.
CAMEROTA: We have a lot to talk about in terms of everything that James Comey disclosed yesterday. This was one of these rare situations, Chris, where there was so much anticipation before the former director of the FBI took the stand, and it exceeded expectations.
[05:20:03] You know, we didn't know if he was going to under-deliver, over-deliver. He gave even more than what people had anticipated.
So, let's bring back our panel. We have David Sanger, Ron Brownstein, Karoun Demirjian and Laura Coates.
Karoun, let's talk about what Republicans have fastened on. One of the angles the Republicans fastened on in Comey's testimony and that was apparently Comey was under siege from both sides.
Loretta Lynch, former attorney general, also tried to get him not to back off an investigation but to downplay it, he says. To not call it the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails an investigation but rather a matter.
And here's the moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let me go back if I can very briefly to the decision to publicly go out with your results on the e-mail. Was your decision influenced by the attorney general's tarmac meeting with the former President Bill Clinton?
COMEY: Yes, in an ultimately conclusive way. That was the thing that capped it for me that I had to do something separately, to protect the credibility of the investigation which meant both the FBI and the Justice Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK, that was a little bit different than what I -- I mean, it's the same topic but a little bit different. But that's also fascinating, right? Fascinating to hear that had Bill Clinton not approached Loretta Lynch on the tarmac and gone on to her plane, that also history would have been different, Karoun.
DEMIRJIAN: Well, yes. I mean, Comey has hinted at this in various other public testimony that he has given over the last few months. He has been asked about the decision that he made involving the Clinton e-mail scandal and that shuttering that investigation and publicly talking about it at various points and certainly, the GOP is still asking about it now because for many of them, for many of them, first of all, they never wanted to close the issue.
For others, it goes to the question of testing Comey's credibility because they want to basically suss out that he made decisions in a certain way, that jive with what he is doing now. Certainly, this came up also in the decision to fire him because of that Rosenstein memo and that was focused on whether he made appropriate decisions in the Clinton e-mail probe.
And so, this issue just isn't going away, both because there's people that still want to keep it front and center and because it's played a role, a concurrent role, with the reasons that Comey was fired, which we know the president said after those memos were released that it was about the Russia investigation, that's what Comey believes, but it's never been completely separated and associated.
So, you keep having it coming back up in these various different ways usually by Republican members of the Congress that are trying to raise it, and to some level relitigate it, but to some level also just use it to kind of paint a picture of who Comey is and who Trump is and what the real truth of the matter is there.
CUOMO: And this is why I woke up this morning, because this was a part of the discussion that would never be allowed in a court of law, maybe you would argue it as an exception, because it would go to his state of mind, maybe. But it was a clear departure and it was a gotcha and it was an equivalency test about the Republicans. Oh you want to talk about what Trump did, let's talk about Clinton again.
They're talking about the Russia probe. That's the subject. It has nothing to do with the Russia probe, but, David Sanger, it means so much politically and I feel that it was the metaphor moment. You saw the GOP lined up, whether it was Ryan, with his awkward and obvious defense of well, he's new to this. Marco Rubio, well, he's new to this, which is -- what does that even mean about the president of the United States? You really don't believe he knew what he was doing when he was talking to James Comey?
But how can you do everything that's should be ignored, it doesn't really amount to anything, but, boy, when Loretta Lynch said change an investigation to a matter, that's something we should look at as obstruction. How can you believe those two things at the same time?
SANGER: Well, Chris, it was a question of distraction. I mean, the 2016 election no matter what you thought about it is over, and the Clinton e-mail investigation is over, and the Trump investigation is just in it's sort of early stages really, the mid-stages here.
A few things. First, in the Paul Ryan statement and others who said the president's new to this, he is new to this in that conversation would suggest that he was treating Comey as he might have treated one of his real estate associates. It's all about loyalty and let's just get this done and move on.
This is usual transactional approach without thinking very much or caring very much about the separation and what it is you do and do not say to your FBI director or to the Justice Department.
[05:25:03] Now, the tale on this to my mind is that the way Mr. Comey laid it out, two critical conversations happened when the president made sure that no one else was around.
SANGER: The first was this one-on-one dinner where Comey said he expected others to be there and the second is an Oval Office thing where he asked everybody, including the attorney general, who you would think would be party to this conversation to leave the room. He even asked Jared Kushner to leave the room, his closest family member, you know, senior in the White House, other than his daughter Ivanka.
So, the fact that the president wanted to hold these conversations one-on-one strongly suggests that he didn't want anybody else around that would give verifying element of the conversation. It's now maybe hurting him because the president is disputing what happened and it would probably help him to have a partisan there to say, no, the president's version is correct because, right now, we're down to Mr. Comey's version of events versus President Trump's.
CAMEROTA: Laura, what does your legal mind see in all of these angles yesterday?
COATES: Well, first of all, I do not think the president of the United States gets to have a learning curve. His cabinet should ensure that it's not necessary, number one. Number two, the analogy that would have been appropriate to make between the Loretta Lynch context and the one that's happening here with the Russian collusion is if the president, the former president had been the one to say change the words from investigation into matter, then we could have a relevant analogy.
But, finally, when you think of what's happening right now, and I look at that testimony yesterday and I said as a prosecutor, Comey is the consummate professional witness. He buttressed his own credibility with his statement earlier. He corroborated the testimony of the president of the United States when the president of the United States in a way that made his later statements seemed all the more credible.
He came across as folksy and endearing in an effort to show that his agenda was not an ax to grind, but ultimately speaking what he did was show that the president of the United States by handing over the memo to special counsel is now a subject of investigation likely because of the president's own attempt to obstruct an actual active investigation.
CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, great to have all of your experience here with us this morning, as we make our way through everything. All of the threads of Comey's testimony. Thank you.
CUOMO: So, we're definitely dealing with political turmoil here and now they're dealing with it in the U.K. as well. A shocker in the outcome of their election. Theresa May, the prime minister, called an early election a big gamble, and now it seems like that. They thought she'd ruled. She lost control of the government. Will she survive?
A loss report from London -- a loss report -- a live report, when NEW DAY continues.