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White House Pushes Back on Comey Testimony. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired June 9, 2017 - 06:00 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.
[06:00:01] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's not a liar. It's insulting that that question would be asked.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Jim Comey's testimony reinforced the comparison between Watergate and what we confront now.
JASON MILLER, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: 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 WEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He refused to pledge loyalty to a president, and for that he got fired.
MARC KASOWITZ, TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: The president also never told Mr. Comey, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty."
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The cloud hanging over this administration has just gotten a whole lot darker.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, June 9, 6 a.m. 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 on the line after James Comey told senators that 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 all that and says the president never demanded loyalty from Comey. Instead, Mr. Trump's team says Comey's testimony confirms that the president was not personally being investigated. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, Republicans are lining up behind
the president, arguing that he's new to the job. And that explains everything he said to James Comey. And they say it's really about President Obama's attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and why she tried to, in their terms, obstruct that investigation. That was their big takeaway from yesterday, and that tells you everything about the political tribalism at play right now.
In the U.K., there in political chaos. British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party lost their majority in Parliament, and now there are calls for her to resign. What will that mean for the Brexit negotiations?
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House. What a day, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Chris. President Trump today is expected to hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden with the president of Romania.
Now, this will be the first time the president has answered questions in about three weeks, probably only answering a couple questions from reporters. But it will be an opportunity to try to gauge the president's reaction after that dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill of fired FBI director James Comey.
What was most striking, perhaps, about his testimony on Capitol Hill was the vision of a former FBI director accusing a sitting president of the United States, plain and simple, of lying. Comey even suggesting that he prepared memos of his private conversations with the president in anticipation of 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)
COMEY: By leaking memos of those interactions to an intermediary, Comey says, among other things, he's hoping that it would end up leading to the appointment of a special counsel. Comey said he prepared those memos and then turned them over to a law school professor who, in turn, gave the memos to the news media. 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. There might be a tape. And my judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square. And 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 it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Comey said if he had given that key memo directly to the journalist, it would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.
One other note: Through all of this, quite unusually, the president did not tweet at all, which certainly gratified his attorneys, but also pointed to the fact that his attorneys were right here at the White House with him -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Seagulls. OK. I mean, we're often likened to circling sharks. So I guess seagulls is an upgrade. All right, Joe. Thank you very much.
So, many Republicans see it differently. They are sticking with the talking points in the wake of James Comey's explosive testimony that it actually revealed things about James Comey, not the president. House Speaker Paul Ryan chalking up the president's transgression, he said, to inexperience.
So we have much more on their reaction from CNN's Phil Mattingly. He is live on Capitol Hill for us.
What's the latest, Phil?
[06:05:05] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think one of the most interesting elements, Alisyn, as you guys pointed out, it was kind of choose your own news here with this hearing. Every single political party seemed to be able to grasp onto whatever they thought was most important.
When it came to Republicans, most interesting, I think, particularly on Capitol Hill, guys, at least in talking to senators after the hearing was their kind of perspective that there was no bombshell. Nothing new. It was a mixed bag. That's what Senator John Cornyn, the top Republican on the committee, said. They basically wanted to move on from this. They recognize these investigations are still ongoing, both on the federal level and here on Capitol Hill, but they want to move forward, focus on legislative agenda.
Please get away from President Trump and please get away from Russia. That's something you hear repeatedly up here. But there was another explanation, and I started hearing a lot yesterday that is a bit of a shift. It's something House Speaker Paul Ryan said, as you noted, Alisyn, which brought a pretty natural follow-up from me. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Of course, there needs to be a degree of independence between DOJ, FBI and a White House and a line of communications established. The president is new at this. He's new to government. And so he probably wasn't steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White House. He's just new to this.
MATTINGLY: You said the president is new at this. He has a staff. He has a White House counsel. Why is that an acceptable excuse for him?
RYAN: I'm not saying it's an acceptable excuse. It's just my observation.
MATTINGLY: So there's nothing...
RYAN: It's just my observation.
MATTINGLY: There's nothing that should be corrected?
RYAN: He's new at government. And so therefore, I think that he, he's learning as he goes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And guys, that's something I also heard from Senator Marco Rubio. Several Republican lawmakers saying the same thing. Look, that's a public defense.
Behind the scenes, when he talked about lawmakers and staff, they recognized that yesterday was not a great day for the White House, despite what they might be saying publicly. I think what they want to focus on and what you hear consistently here is this cloud of Russia that the president continues to talk about is also a cloud that's kind of undercutting their legislative agenda. They want to move on from this. They also understand nobody is moving on from this anytime soon, guys.
CUOMO: Ryan needs to take a page out of the Trump rule book and own a situation when you do it. If you're going to give the president an excuse for his behavior, own the excuse. Don't say, well, I'm not calling it an excuse. Yes, you are. You're excusing the behavior.
Let's bring in our panel: CNN political analyst David Gregory; reporter and editor-at-large for CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza; congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," Karoun Demirjian; and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.
David Gregory, the plus-minus.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, this was a damning day for the president of the United States. I think the testimony from Jim Comey was compelling. It opened himself up to criticism, as well, which we'll get into. But overall, it was a real blow against this White House, against this president.
And it only had the effect of widening the investigation around potential obstruction of justice for the special counsel to look into those areas where the president sought to insert himself or interfere with the investigation into Michael Flynn, if not the broader Russia investigation. So there will be a lot of questions. There was cherry picking on the part of the president's lawyer.
Things he liked about Jamie [SIC] Comey's testimony -- Jim Comey's testimony, that he wasn't being investigated, but things he didn't like. He's trying to have it both ways.
And in the end, this -- this discussion we were just having about the House speaker, the president's defenders excusing the behavior by saying he's new to all this. They're overlooking and apologizing for the most self-destructive part of this. That is the president doesn't listen to anyone. He has a White House counsel. He has advisers, including an attorney general, whom he ushered out of the room. There is no excuse.
If he wants to practice in politics, he should have run for city council. He's president of the United States. There's no excuse for this kind of behavior, even if it is not illegal.
CAMEROTA: Laura, as a former federal prosecutor, do you agree that this somehow widened the investigation?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Of course, ignorance of the law, David is correct, is no excuse for potentially criminal activity or wrongdoing.
What happened here was the president's attempts to try to end or interfere or stop in some way the investigation into possible collusion with Russia.
In doing so and in noting it was a distraction for his overall campaign on -- you know, as the president of the United States at this point, he essentially created a big sign that said, "Look right here." He invited the scrutiny of the FBI through his conduct and through his communications and certainly exposed himself to criminal liability or criminal investigation when, interestingly enough, it was not yet there yet.
Remember, the testimony of Comey was, at the time he was the FBI director, all signs did not point to Trump personally, until Trump inserted himself in, in an attempt to undermine the investigation of his colleagues or cohorts.
[06:10:13] CUOMO: Chris Cillizza, what do you believe the fallout from yesterday will be?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: So I'm not sure yesterday -- while I agree with David and Laura that it was a seminal moment in the Trump presidency, I don't know that the immediate, certainly, political fallout will be vast.
The president has already lost a significant amount of support. He's in sort of in the mid- to high 30s in terms of polling. My guess is, if you're a Trump supporter, you will come out of that hearing yesterday and say, "No smoking gun. He said he hoped that Comey would find a way to get rid of the Flynn investigation. Not that he would.
Comey affirmed that Trump -- he had told Trump three times he wasn't under investigation. Comey leaked out -- typical Washington insider, leaking out his memos.
So there was enough there that, if you're looking for it, I think today is not as bad a day for Donald Trump as some of his strategists might think. That said, it was not a good day. And I actually think it sets up a series of not good days to come. Right now, we have a he said-he said. We have Jim Comey saying, "This is what my interpretation" -- under oath, by the way. I believe that he was asking me to end the investigation and asking for my loyalty. Through Trump lawyer, that's not true.
Out there is Bob Mueller doing, you know, what will be the sort of key investigation here. We don't what we're going to find out, but that's the central thing. Otherwise, we have a he said-he said.
Trump is betting a lot on the fact that it will never move beyond that. Which, of course, he better hope there aren't tapes of those conversations, which he's floated and the White House has continually -- which I think is amazing -- continually refused to knock down.
CAMEROTA: Hey, Chris Cillizza, I know that you were watching the clock.
CUOMO: You jinxed it. You jinxed it.
CILLIZZA: Did he tweet?
CAMEROTA: He just tweeted at 6:11. I know you were trying to get to 6:14.
CILLIZZA: He made it -- he missed it by -- if he had waited two more minutes, it would have been his longest Twitter drought in history.
CUOMO: And you know what? He probably was going to until Camerota had to bring it up and say, "I wonder if he'll do it." And this is what he says.
CAMEROTA: "Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication. And wow. Comey is a leaker!" Exclamation point. So there you go. That, Chris, I know...
CILLIZZA: Missed it by that much.
CAMEROTA: Karoun. Karoun, what do you think? I mean, look, we've heard both sides now. Republicans want to get back to the agenda. OK? This has all been a big diversion that they don't like, and I think that most voters would agree. So what do you think the fallout was from yesterday?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think this really depends on what we hear next. What Comey said raised these obvious questions other people have to ask about whether there was obstruction of justice by the president.
And the thing is that that is more difficult for Republican members of Congress to wave off than the questions of Russian collusion, which a lot are waving off as, you know, trumped-up thing in the media and standing alongside Trump saying that that's, you know, part of a witch hunt.
If he did do -- if Trump's actions did lead to obstruction of justice, there's going to be a lot of members that are going to be concerned about that. We won't know, really, whether they're going to get to that point. And we won't even fully know what the value of Comey's testimony is in driving those questions until we hear from other members of the administration. I know we're focused on Comey, because that was a very, very big deal hearing on Thursday.
But you kind of have to take it in totality with the day before, when they heard from Dan Coats and admiral Mike Rogers, who did not tell them. would not speak about their interactions with the president, their conversations with Comey. And have promised to do that behind closed doors.
So for some of the leaders, Republican leaders of these committees, too, are waiting on it to hear if they hear a similar story from those other two intelligence chiefs. And if they do, it makes Comey's -- what Comey said have even more weight behind it. Because if they also tell a story of being influenced by the president to try to get Comey to shut down the FBI investigation, all of a sudden it's not he said- he said. It's he said versus three "he saids." And there's news reports that say that is -- actually went on.
So we have to see kind of where this goes next, who they pull back to interview, to see exactly how much weight Comey's testimony is going to have in driving this investigation into that new direction, where you know, if it turns out to get closer to the obstruction of justice point, that's a much more serious thing Republicans can't wave off.
CUOMO: David, final word?
GREGORY: I just want to react to the tweet. OK? There's no question that that the president now has a new political lane to drive against Comey. The argument is "These people are out to get me. The intelligence community. FBI chief. They're leaking to hurt me when there's nothing there. I'm completely vindicated."
[06:15:07] That is not the case. He's not completely vindicated at all. As a matter of fact, he widened the investigation.
If this is a credibility fight between him and James Comey, let's remember: The president was the one who brought us the birther lie. There's a lot more to go here than credibility. And by the way, he said he had tapes. So it's time for the president, his lawyer to put up or shut up. Where are the tapes? You know, if you want to win this argument with Comey, let's get it on. Put them out there.
CUOMO: That's what Comey said: "Lordy, I hope that there are tapes." Of course, all of this that you guys are intelligently laying out depends on good faith curiosity by our political leaders, and it is clear that the president's party doesn't want to go there.
So where does the process go? We'll discuss that. Now, James Comey's testimony is in the books. What happens next in this political process? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CAMEROTA: All right. Now that James Comey has told his side of the story what happens with all of the Russia investigation in Congress, as well as with the special counsel? So let's bring back our panel: David Gregory, Chris Cillizza, Karoun Demirjian and Laura Coates.
So Chris Cillizza, where does this leave us in terms of the congressional -- let's start there -- investigations into Russia?
[06:20:10] CILLIZZA: So if you look at Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, early on in his testimony, he asked Jim Comey, do you think that the special counsel investigation makes it impossible for us to do our oversight investigation, just to get Comey on the record. And Comey of course says, "No. I think it's uniquely possible."
So there are two different things here. The special counsel is looking into criminality. Really, what Congress is doing is their oversight function as it relates to the executive branch. So just here on the surface what all happened probably, although I defer to Laura, because she knows a heck of a lot more about special counsels than me.
But I would say probably on a faster calendar than the special counsel. So we may find some more out in the Senate intelligence -- from the Senate and House Intelligence Committees than we will in terms of when, from the Mueller leak. But these things are -- Mueller leak, Mueller investigation. These two things are still ongoing. This is the problem.
The Trump declaration of victory, as it relates to that tweet sent just three minutes before he could have set his all-time record for timing between tweets. Suggesting he's been completely vindicated.
I assume that's just spin. I assume he doesn't really think that. But we're sort of in the middle, beginning of the middle of this process, certainly not the end of this process. The same thing that I think -- Jim Comey should not declare victory. I'm certain that Donald Trump shouldn't declare victory.
CUOMO: David Gregory -- and I open this to any of you to push back on -- but couldn't you argue that the president got what he needed most out of yesterday? While I'm not differing with any of your analysis in terms of the import yesterday and what it could mean. When Burr said, "Hey, I want to talk to you about Loretta Lynch and her wanting to call an investigation a "matter." And the GOP, in chorus like Shakespeare, all saying, "Ooh, that could be obstruction."
And Paul Ryan saying, "Well, the president, yes, he ordered people out of the room. But he's new to this. Didn't he get what he needed most of all in a political process? His party is behind him, the facts be damned.
GREGORY: Yes, I agree with that and that I would add to it. I mean, I think the fact that Comey and who was pressed by Democrats and Republicans about it. If you -- if you felt this way, why didn't you push back and why didn't you immediately report up the legal chain of command that there was obstruction of justice.
If you felt you were being directed to do something that was wrong and felt the commander in chief, the president of the United States was lying, why didn't you do more?
We have, in even those memos by Comey, that Trump said it would be good if this investigation saw to its conclusion.
But in all of this, the president takes from what's happened that he's in the clear. No. 1, that's not the case. Even if that was the case before, that he wasn't investigated, that could have changed. That may have very well changed just on his behavior.
And he doesn't seem to realize that trust in him and his administration is undermined by this entire cloud as the investigation moves forward. And so I agree that he will take some things to this, and he will drive Comey, the leaker of the story line and the idea that the media and those who are entrenched in government are out to make him look bad and derail his presidency. And there is a constituency for that. And that's what we're finding if you look at his support among Republicans.
CAMEROTA: Laura, where do you think -- sorry to interrupt. Where do you think the investigation goes from here?
COATES: Well, I think it lays squarely with Robert Mueller, who really has a task to have a singular focus. Remember, the congressional hearing focus is very different. That's expected to talk about changes. Where to go, going forward, to preserve or retain the credibility of democracy.
The criminal justice probe is like a big dog with a very big bone. And they're going to be singular in their focus.
But what I find so perplexing about all this and the idea of what the president has just tweeted is this. The very thing that the president needed was the corroboration from James Comey that he did, in fact, have these conversations. And he was told this information. And Comey went ahead and did that.
But now people are saying that he was wrong to have leaked the very information that corroborated the president's own statements. It's a very, very interesting dynamic that's perplexing and points out a hypocrisy that I think needs to be discussed. But ultimately speaking, the criminal justice probe into the collusion aspect for it is one that is widened by the president's own actions. The memos have corroborated the portion that actually helped the president and display Comey in a very different light that no one anticipated. But it did not do anything to obstruct, per se. It accelerated the justice system process.
[06:25:00] CUOMO: You know, to that point, Karoun, it was interesting. Kasowitz, a capable talker...
CAMEROTA: The president's lawyer.
CUOMO: ... the president's lawyer, came out and said, "You see that? You know, he never directed any action. Comey said he didn't even direct it." It's not what Comey said. And in fact, Comey said that he leaked or whatever, gave the memo to his friend, because he wanted a special counsel.
And when asked if the special counsel would be considering obstruction of justice, he gave an "of course he will be" answer. So where does the president and his men and women get confidence that he's in the clear?
DEMIRJIAN: Well, in how they are setting it up, basically. It was very early on during the hearing yesterday that Jim Risch, who's a senator from Idaho, was -- made the point that, you know, "Well, the president said, 'I hope that you can see your way clear to letting this go on Flynn.'" Not "I'm going to order you to do that." Certainly, they picked up on that.
And then raising these questions about Comey's credibility, as well.
But to the earlier point of where does this go from here, I think a lot, in a way, is going to ride on a meeting that is supposed to happen next week between the Senate Intelligence Committee chairs and vice chair with Mueller to talk about deconfliction. This magic word about trying not to butt heads with the congressional investigations and the criminal probe that he is -- that Mueller is running.
Of course, the Senate Intelligence Committee is also scheduling time to talk to Jared Kushner. So they're still doing fact finding the other way. But as much as Mueller's going to be able to drive the direction of how this goes and where the division of labor is split up, ultimately, Democrats and Republicans both believe this. This is going to come back to Congress. It is very unlikely that Mueller ends up indicting Trump if he finds obstruction of justice. It would be up to Congress to decide if they want to do something.
And also, if it doesn't get to the level of criminality, again, it's not there yet. You can't find anybody in Congress, Democrat or Republican, that says anything more than we have evidence that it gets to this point, but we have more work to do. If it doesn't get to that point, the court that matters is the court of public opinion. And again, that's not Mueller. That's Congress or the country.
CUOMO: You can't find a Republican who will look at what happened yesterday and say, "Oh, yes, the president, he was trying to obstruct." But you will find them who say Loretta Lynch was trying to obstruct by calling an investigation a "matter."
CAMEROTA: We heard it here on our air.
CUOMO: I don't know how you believe those two things at the same time.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of that. We also have to get to this breaking news. A stunning outcome in the
U.K. election. Theresa May's big gamble backfires. How will the prime minister respond now to calls for her to resign. We have a live report from London next.