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Comey Says He Was Fired Over Russia Investigation; White House Pushes Back on Comey Testimony; Interview with Sen. Tim Kaine; Ryan Defends Trump: 'He's New to This.' Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired June 9, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting.
[07:00:23] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He felt the need to write memos, because he felt the president would lie. That ought to take our breath away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI James Comey to close the investigation on Michael Flynn?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that an accurate statement?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe it is.
MARC KASOWITZ, TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: The president never suggested that Mr. Comey let Flynn go.
COMEY: I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has undertaken assaults on our institutions.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president is new at this. He's new to government.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: President Trump's pattern of contempt for justice, I think, disgraces the office of president.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Comey and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. President Trump is up early and fighting back against fired FBI director James Comey. In his first tweet in 48 hours, the president calling Comey's testimony false and lies. He finished it off by calling Comey a leaker. ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: James Comey taking aim at the president's credibility. He went so far as to say that President Trump lied about why Comey was fired.
And another major news event this morning. The U.K. is thrown into political chaos. Prime minister Theresa May's Conservative Party losing its majority in Parliament. And there are now growing calls for her resignation. So we have a lot to cover. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House. What's the latest, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Alisyn, it was a long silence on Twitter, but it was not destined to last. The president echoing the words of his longtime attorney, Marc Kasowitz. In a tweet this morning, "Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication. And wow. Comey is a leaker."
Trump and his attorneys seizing on the fact that Comey did say in his testimony that he did not tell the president he was under investigation. Nonetheless, that testimony seriously undermining the credibility of the man in the Oval Office. Comey asserting that the president of the United States is a liar.
COMEY: Although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI.
JOHNS (voice-over): FBI Director James Comey repeatedly calling the president of the United States a liar, both when discussing President Trump's initial explanation of why he was fired...
COMEY: By saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led and that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
JOHNS: And when explaining why he decided to start taking meticulous notes about their interactions.
COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting.
JOHNS: The White House pushing back.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can definitively say the president is not a liar. I think it's frankly insulting that that question would be asked.
JOHNS: During almost three hours of testimony, Comey recounted the events that ultimately led to his abrupt dismissal.
COMEY: 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. JOHNS: Confirming for the first time that his memos are now in the
hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, raising the possibility that obstruction of justice may be part of Mueller's investigation.
MUELLER: I don't think it's not 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. But that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work towards.
johns: Comey did lay out a number of interactions that concerned him, including the president clearing the room before allegedly telling Comey he hoped that he could let the Flynn investigation go.
Comey: So why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the president, the chief of staff out, to talk to me if it was about something else? And so that to me, as an investigator, is a very significant fact.
JOHNS: But was it an order?
COMEY: I took it as a direction. It is the president of the United States with me alone, saying, "I hope this." I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.
JOHNS: The president's attorney flatly denying that this interaction took place...
KASOWITZ: The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.
JOHNS: ... while simultaneously celebrating other parts of Comey's testimony.
[07:05:03] KASOWITZ: Mr. Comey has now finally confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told President Trump privately. That is that the president was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference.
JOHNS: Still unclear whether the president actually recorded their conversations, as he suggested on Twitter after firing Comey.
COMEY: I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
JOHNS: The president's lawyer also sharply criticizing this admission from the former FBI director.
COMEY: 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.
JOHNS: Comey also raised concerns about a discussion he had in 2015 with former attorney general Loretta Lynch about downplaying the significance of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.
COMEY: At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an "investigation," but instead to call it a "matter," which confused me and concerned me.
JOHNS: Comey also said Lynch's impromptu tarmac meeting with former president Bill Clinton led him to announce the outcome of the initial Clinton e-mail investigation.
JOHNS: Today President Trump is expected to hold a news conference in the Rose Garden with the president of Romania. It will be the first opportunity, the first formal opportunity in about three weeks to get a couple of questions to the president. Not much, but still an opportunity, perhaps, to gauge his reaction to the Comey testimony -- Alisyn, Chris.
CUOMO: All right, Joe, one of the big developments in terms of the fallout from yesterday is that the GOP rallied behind the president. House Speaker Paul Ryan taking what Comey said off that interaction you were just hearing about and said, "Oh, that's just the president not knowing much about politics."
CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. If you combine the excuse from Ryan with the intense interest in Loretta Lynch during the Comey testimony, the president has to feel pretty good about where his party is.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly. There's been no mass defection, Chris. And I think that's an important point.
Look, when you talk to Republicans here on Capitol Hill, both in the Senate and the House, at least when they're being candid, they understand the gravity of yesterday's hearing. There's no question about it.
But they also want to focus on their agenda. They want to focus on legislation. They want to focus on the things that they said they were going to do on the campaign trail, that they thought think they'd be able to do with a Republican president.
But up to this point, they've largely been stymied, at least in terms of putting law or putting bills on the president's desk to sign. So the question so far is what's their rationale trying to move on from yesterday's hearing? Well, as you know, Speaker Paul Ryan making very clear he believes it's because the president just doesn't know any better, which led to a follow-up question that I asked. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: The president is new at this. He's new to government. And so he probably wasn't steeped in the long-running protocols that established the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. 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?
RYAN: It's just my observation. I'm not saying it's an excuse. It's just my observation.
MATTINGLY: Should you be corrected?
RYAN: He is new at government. I think he's learning as he goes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And guys, that's something we heard from multiple Republicans. He should have been staffed better. He probably didn't know any better.
I think the big -- the big issue here right now for Republicans on Capitol Hill. Again, they recognize what yesterday is, what yesterday represents. They also recognize that it's largely gotten in the way of what they want to do. It's a very difficult balancing act. One that I'm not sure how long it will last. At this point, they are planning on keeping going.
CAMEROTA: OK. Phil, thank you very much for all that.
Let's bring in the panel to discuss. We have CNN senior legal analyst Jefferey Toobin and David Gregory and reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza.
Jeffrey Toobin, I want to take your temperature. Because yesterday when you read the opening statement, you thought that it could approach -- what the president had done could approach obstruction of justice or, in fact, qualified. Now that you have heard James Comey's actual answers, what do you think?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's even clearer this is a case of obstruction of justice. This is essentially in the political arena now. You know, what matters is whether the Republican Party sticks with him more than anything. And it seems like the Republican Party will.
But when you look particularly at that February 14th meeting in the Oval Office, where he shoos everyone out of the White -- out of the Oval Office, which is what prosecutors call consciousness of guilt and then ask the FBI director to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn.
[07:10:07] That, to me, is just a classic obstruction of justice in the -- in the mold of Watergate. And if you have any doubt about that, when -- when Comey declines to drop the investigation, what happens? He gets fired because of that. I mean, it just seems pretty straightforward to me.
CUOMO: And yet, Chris Cillizza, the Republicans yesterday when hearing all that from Comey, didn't just push back on that, but then brought up Loretta Lynch. And in the aftermath, many of them were quoted as saying, "Well, you know, that may be obstruction. But I'm not concerned about
what Comey said about the president."
How do you believe those two things? How can you be concerned by what Loretta Lynch did and not concerned by all that Comey discussed with the president?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Because you're a politician and you're good at compartmentalizing, Chris.
The thing that I was most struck by yesterday was how even people who have been openly critical of Trump. Marco Rubio who ran against Donald Trump for president. Roy Blunt, sort of the face of the establishment. Senator from Missouri, former leader in the House. These people were -- John McCain. I'm not totally sure what John McCain was doing, but I think he was trying to defend Trump. These people were still largely on board with Donald Trump.
Again, this is another example of compartmentalizing. Every one of those Republican senators, Jim Comey -- with the exception of Tom Cotton, everybody said, "Jim Comey, you're a great guy. Appreciate your service." But then at the same time, they sort of stayed in support of the Trumpian view of all this.
Donald Trump is on record as saying Jim Comey is a showboat and a grandstander and everyone at the FBI hates him. And now James Comey is under oath on the record, saying Donald Trump is lying.
So I'm surprised, particularly given Donald Trump's poll numbers, which are not good. I'm surprised you're still seeing Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt, John McCain, largely on board still with this president. There was no one who threw Donald -- no Republican who threw Donald Trump under the bus yesterday.
CILLIZZA: Susan Collins, you know, a moderate. There was no one who went out and said, you know, "This is really troubling to me" about the president of the United States.
CAMEROTA: But David, is that being on board with President Trump or is that agenda, agenda, agenda? "We want Obamacare repealed. That's what we promised. We want tax reform and lower taxes."
CUOMO: The nice vote yesterday pulling back the protections to kind of keep people safe from crazy financial practices.
CAMEROTA: We are just all sticking together to try to get the agenda forward.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm sure they are thinking about that. But they're doing two things about Trump. They recognize he's got enough power among Republicans and that he -- that he wields a big enough stick politically against them that they're not going to buck him at this point. And they're going to try to stick -- they're going to argue the case the way that Trump is arguing it, which is that he himself was not the subject of an investigation, although that appears to have changed, based on his interactions with Comey; and now that's in the realm of the special counsel, Bob Mueller.
And they're arguing that, well, he may have done all these things, and that may have been inappropriate, but the investigation still goes forward. Right? He didn't completely derail all of that. So I think they're just trying to walk a fine line until support -- until and unless support craters for Donald Trump.
But they're afraid of what they should be afraid of, which is a credibility contest between Comey and Trump. Trump, who brought us the birther lie against Barack Obama and rid that -- rode that to national political prominence, now wants to have a face-off on you can believe between him and James Comey. Comey has got some credibility issues, for sure.
I come back to a point I made last hour. This is a president who threatened the FBI director that he had tapes, and he better not hope there are tapes. Put up or shut up. Where are the tapes? You can -- you can win this credibility fight. Why don't you put forward the tapes? All of this tough talk from his lawyer and from the president and how he's going to fight. Put up.
GREGORY: Well, I don't know. But I think if you read into the fact that we haven't heard about these tapes since then from Trump may be an indication that that was more talk than it's going to be walk.
Jeffrey Toobin, if Comey is right, because he gave himself a little wiggle room when he said that he thought that Mueller would be looking at obstruction with the president. If that were true, why would Mueller, let the guy who has to be his main witness go out there in front of the Senate and get slapped around like that and have his credibility called into question?
TOOBIN: Because Mueller understands that Congress has a real role here. Think about, you know, the big scandals in our history. Watergate. Iran-Contra. They have both had independent counsel investigations and congressional investigations, and the same witnesses have testified in both.
[07:15:17] The -- the special counsel does not have the right to say to all the witnesses, "Don't say anything."
And also, you know, James Comey has testified many times. He has notes indicating what went on between Mueller -- between him and Trump earlier. His testimony is not going to change. So I don't think Mueller had any right or any reason to tell Comey not to testify. And I think that's just how the system should play out as the Congress has an interest, and they get to hear their witnesses.
CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza.
CILLIZZA: Just quickly I would add to Jeff's good point. I also think, look, Comey and Mueller know each other and have for a very long time. I think Comey wanted this. You know, I mean, every indication is he wanted this opportunity. He quite clearly believed that Donald Trump had run him down politically. And he -- and he wanted this chance to defend his reputation. Like you saw that repeatedly when he talked about the FBI and what Trump had said and the fact that that was not accurate.
CUOMO: I wonder if some of the sticking with the president isn't just political tribalism, but a function of Comey's behavior, David. You know, the guy did seem to do everything that was good for him. He preserved what happened in the memo. But he didn't speak out the way he did in the Clinton situation. Why? Why not? He didn't really get to that.
And he did leak information out. And I know now we're debating whether or not it was a leak, because he's not in office. It wasn't classified. Whatever. He got out what he wanted to get out. He did it, he said, in his own words, because he wanted a special counsel appointed to look at, at least, in part what the president did with him. I mean, I'm sure that didn't win him a lot of friends in the GOP.
GREGORY: No. And I think it does fortify that view against it. This is a skilled inside-Washington player. Knows how to look good, to say, "I'm so sorry I didn't get the chance to say good-bye to my colleagues properly at the FBI."
He knew how to use that stage and to strike back at a president of the United States who embarrassed him and who fired him and acted incredibly inappropriately for a president of the United States. And Comey seized that ground and knew how to use it.
But I do think these are questions about, well, if you thought this was so bad, if you thought it was so inappropriate, then why didn't you report it up the legal chain? And I don't think he had an incredibly well-thought-out answer for that, other than I was just kind of stunned.
And maybe you can argue that differently, that this is part of the problem. That, you know, he's a human being, too, and that he was made to feel so uncomfortable by the president of the United States acting that inappropriately.
And the fact that he leaks, by the way, the White House leaks. All White Houses leak when they want to get something out to influence opinion and influence the public. That is what Comey did. And it was not classified information that he leaked.
TOOBIN: Can I just add one point. I mean, I think about this argument that, "Well, you know, why didn't Comey do X, Y and Z? Why didn't he continue to, you know, reporting up the chain of command"? You know one reason why he didn't report and continue this -- you know, continue this, is because he got fired. So I mean, the idea that, you know, the Republicans can claim, "Oh, he should have done X, Y and Z." We'll never know how he would have handled this investigation, because Donald Trump preempted the investigation by firing him. CAMEROTA: OK. Panel, thank you very much for all of that.
So James Comey also taking on the Clinton e-mail probe and the GOP jumping on that part of the testimony. So we have Clinton's former running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, join us with this thoughts on that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[07:22:53] COMEY: The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led. That the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: All right. That was fired FBI director James Comey testifying, and it has shaken up Washington. Comey questioning the president's credibility and laying out the events that led to Comey's firing.
Let's bring in Senator Tim Kaine, find out what he thought. He sits on the Armed Services Committee. And he, of course, was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Good morning, Senator.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Hey, Alisyn, good to talk to you today.
CAMEROTA: What was your big takeaway from James Comey's testimony?
KAINE: Well, just the strength and just clarity of his testimony. You know, that he says, "The president fired me because of the Russia investigation." He made very plain in his written testimony and, orally, that he did not trust the president. He felt like the president was so likely to lie that he needed to document carefully all of his interactions with him.
And I think this hearing is going to provide ample fodder, both for the ongoing Senate investigation but also for the special prosecutor.
CAMEROTA: Senator, obviously, Republicans have seized on different moments and what they heard in Comey's testimony. One of them being that he testified that then-attorney general Loretta Lynch under President Obama asked him to sort of characterize the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation in a different way. Let me play that for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: At one point the attorney general had directed me not to call it an "investigation," but instead to call it a "matter," which confused me and concerned me. But that was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude I have to step away from the department if we're to close this case credibly. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK. So Republicans say how is that different? That's the attorney general pressing the FBI director to do something in terms of an ongoing investigation and how he characterizes it. That's what -- same thing that they're looking at now.
KAINE: Well, you know what? Alisyn, that's ridiculous. Because where is the action? President Trump fired the director of the FBI, the guy leading the Russia investigation.
[07:25:07] So you know, I thought that was an interesting piece of the testimony. The Senate Intel Committee wants to take a look at it if they can, too.
But basically, with Director Comey, what we're looking at here is the president took an action that had an effect on the investigation. He fired the guy heading the investigation.
CAMEROTA: Yes, but did you know...
KAINE: What is -- what is his intent in taking that action? And yesterday's testimony laid out some very, very disturbing pieces of evidence about what that intent was.
CAMEROTA: Yes, of course. And that's what the ongoing investigation, that's part of the ongoing investigation. However, just -- I ask just because you were part of this presidential campaign. Did you know, was there a talking point that you weren't going to refer to the Hillary Clinton e-mails as an "investigation" and just call it a "matter"?
KAINE: No, never. I mean, look, we used the word "investigation" all the time, because remember, on the 28th of October, when Director Comey said, "Well, we're going to have to look at these e-mails." The papers were filled for weeks about, OK, is the investigation going to be reopened? So there was no talking point about that.
And look, I know the Republicans are trying to seize on things to distract attention. This is kind of like see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They're trying to close their eyes to the impact of this investigation. But I think the American public sees how serious it is, and we've got to get to the bottom of it.
CAMEROTA: One more thing for the historical record, because it is interesting, obviously, to see what happened in the election with Hillary Clinton. James Comey made it sound as though the moment that Loretta -- that president -- former president Bill Clinton walked onto Loretta Lynch's airplane on that famous tarmac meeting, that that shifted something for him in terms of his calculus. Listen to this moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 mean both the FBI and the Justice Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Senator, what did you think when you heard that? That that moment set in motion his decision to then go public and speak about Hillary Clinton's e-mail investigation?
KAINE: Alisyn, I thought that was pretty much irrelevant in the hearing yesterday. 2016 is he over. This is about 2017. This is about a sitting president and why he fired the FBI director in an historic move and was that connected, as he suggested, to the Russians in his office the next day with his desire to undermine the Russia investigation?
So look, 2016 is in the rea-view mirror now. Now what we're talking about is a sitting president of the United States and whether the administration took an action to fire the FBI director in an historic way because of a desire to take the pressure off the Russia investigation.
So you know, again, There were some interesting tidbits in the lengthy testimony yesterday that I don't really think are that relevant or that important when what we're talking about now is 2017 and trying to understand what the president was thinking when he took the very extreme and historically unprecedented action of firing the FBI director.
CAMEROTA: What did you think about some of the questionable actions that James Comey took that he didn't say to the president, "Mr. President, that's inappropriate. You can not press me to let go of the Michael Flynn investigation." And then he didn't go completely up the chain of command to say the president is doing something untoward.
KAINE: Well, I think he actually did. You know, he was very troubled and probably shocked by some of the actions of the president. And when you're in the middle of the meeting with somebody and you do something that you find shocking, sometimes you don't immediately react.
But what he did is went to the head justice official in this nation, the attorney general, and said it is not appropriate to have a meeting and have the president pull the FBI director in privately. That's just inappropriate.
So he did go to the attorney general, who has had to recuse himself over the same issue, misleading the Judiciary Committee about his contacts with the Russians and complain. And I think he took those steps, and he also took other steps, which was it was not his practice to document meetings that he held with presidents Bush or Obama.
But he felt the need immediately to document, contemporaneously, his meetings with President Trump because he felt like there was such a great likelihood that the president would lie about the meetings. That is taking a step. And obviously, those notes are going to be incredibly important to the prosecutor and the committee as they try to understand who's telling the truth.
CAMEROTA: OK. Senator Tim Kaine, thank you very much. It's great to get your take on everything that happened.
KAINE: Thanks, Alisyn. You bet.
CUOMO: So we're trying to get you a broad range of perspective. You had the Democratic senator there who ran for president with Hillary Clinton. Now we're going to give you former attorney general Alberto Gonzalez. What did he think mattered in the testimony? Where does he think it goes? Next.