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Sessions to Testify Before Senate Intel Panel; Trump Accuses Comey of 'Cowardly' Leaks; Interview with Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired June 12, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COONS: -- hearings before it ultimately became law. That's a very different process than the closed-door process Republicans are following now.
[07:00:08] CAMEROTA: And we obviously will be watching both of these things very closely. Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much for being on.
COONS: Thank you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next.
And for our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: The key things we have to get his side of the story related to Jim Comey.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Sessions testify in public or behind closed doors?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: There were some questions about Sessions that have to be asked. He should be sworn under oath. It should be public.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of the things that he said just weren't true.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don't understand why the president just doesn't clear this matter up, whether or not the tapes exist.
SEN. DIANNE WEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: At this point, I believe the FBI director. He's not going to lie.
TRUMP: I will tell you, I didn't say that.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You may be the first president in history to go down, because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CAMEROTA: Time-lapse. Very cool. Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.
Chris is off. John Berman joins me. Great to have you.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be here.
CAMEROTA: Welcome to NEW DAY.
Up first, attorney general Jeff Sessions ready to answer questions about Russia, he says, and James Comey's firing. Sessions is offering to testify before the Senate Intel Committee tomorrow, but it is not clear if that will be done in public.
BERMAN: President Trump is slamming James Comey as cowardly and accusing him of illegally illegally leaking details of their conversations, as the battle heats up over whether President Trump actually has tapes. The president's private attorney says the president will address the issue within the next week. Hold your breath on that one.
We have a lot to cover. Let's begin with CNN's Laura Jarrett, live in Washington. Laura, we still don't know how, where or if the attorney general will testify in public.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, John. The attorney general's agreement to appear before the Senate Intel Committee appears to have caught members by surprise over the weekend. And one big question is still unanswered. Will Sessions testify in public or behind closed doors or some combination of both?
Lawmakers have been clamoring for weeks to question Sessions on everything from the firing of former FBI director James Comey to any undisclosed contacts that Sessions might have had with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Now sources tell CNN that a number of senators are concerned that Sessions may be trying to avoid testifying in public by scrapping publicly scheduled appearances in front of an Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. But members of the intel panel says if Sessions does testify, they want to hear from him directly about some of Comey's revelations last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LANKFORD: The key things we've got to get out, obviously, his side of the story related to Jim Comey. Some of the conversations that Jim Comey had with the president, where Jeff Sessions was a participant there, or at least was around to be able to get the rest of the story.
Comey's statement to him, "I don't want to get time alone with the president," and again, that interaction as well as these accusations that are flying out there about conversations that he might or might not have had with Russians prior to the election. So want to be able to get his side of it, get all the facts out here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: Now the chairman of the Intel Committee hasn't actually said yet whether the hearing is going to go forward tomorrow, but Sessions is expected at the white House later this morning for a cabinet meeting his first after days of deflection from the White House over the simple question of whether the president has confidence in his attorney general -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Laura. Thank you very much for that.
So President Trump cannot seem to stay quiet about the Russia investigation. The president slamming James Comey again and even retweeting about his own chances of impeachment. Why is he doing this? CNN's Jason Carroll is live in Washington with more.
What have you learned, Jason?
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he loves to tweet. We know that. And we also know that the "he said-he said" battle is going to continue.
The president has offered to testify, as you know, under oath about what he said or did not say to Comey as he continues to attack the former FBI director in the wake of last week's testimony.
CARROLL (voice-over): President Trump on the defensive, retweeting a TV news clip downplaying the chances of his impeachment just one day after lashing out at his former FBI director, James Comey. The president suggesting Comey acted illegally by leaking his notes about their conversations, calling the FBI veteran "cowardly."
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No collusion. No obstruction. He's a leaker.
CARROLL: After Comey revealed, under oath, that he leaked the memos in hopes that it would lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor.
COMEY: 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.
CARROLL: Comey testifying that the president asked him to let the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn go, a charge President Trump flatly denies.
TRUMP: I didn't say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn't say that.
CARROLL: The president's son appearing to contradict his father's denial in a new TV interview. [07:05:04] DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: When he tells you to
do something, guess what? There's no ambiguity in it. There's no, "Hey, I'm hoping. You and I are friends. Hey, I hope this happens, but you've got to do your job." That's what he told Comey.
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: When I've been reading the statements about how the president has been contacting Jim Comey over time, it felt a little bit like deja vu.
CARROLL: Fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara alleging Sunday that he also had uncomfortable interactions with the president before he was let go.
BHARARA: He called me in December, essentially just to shoot the breeze. It appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship.
CARROLL: Bipartisan lawmakers now calling on the president to turn over tapes, if they exist, of his conversations with Comey almost one month after Trump tweeted they may exist.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don't understand why the president just doesn't clear this matter up once and for all.
LANKFORD: That I hope there are recordings, for Jim Comey's sake, if that's out there. But I doubt that they're really there.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If there aren't tapes, he should let that be known. No more game playing.
CARROLL: A number of Trump's team insisting that disclosure could happen soon.
JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, TRUMP LEGAL TEAM: The president said he's going to address the issue of the tapes, the -- whether the tapes exist or not, next week.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You're your own worst enemy here, Mr. President. Knock it off.
CARROLL: Senator Lindsey Graham encouraging the president to stop discussing the investigation.
GRAHAM: You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you.
CARROLL: Well, Alisyn, the president is now looking at another legal battle ahead. According to "The Washington Post," the attorney generals from Washington, D.C., and Maryland will file a lawsuit today against President Trump, alleging he violated the Constitution by allowing his business, namely his hotel here in D.C., to accept payments and benefits from foreign governments. The lawsuit alleges Trump has broken his promise to separate himself from his business interests. The attorney generals plan to reveal details about that lawsuit at a noontime presser -- Alisyn, John.
CAMEROTA: I know you'll be covering that. Thank you very much, Jason.
So let's bring in our panel to discuss all this: White House correspondent from Bloomberg News, Margaret Talev; CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein; CNN political analyst, editor in chief of "The Daily Beast," John Avlon. Great to see all of you.
Let's start with Jess Sessions. John Avlon, obviously, as a journalist, we have a vested interest in this. But why not just have Jeff Sessions testify in public in front of the Senate Intel Committees? Isn't that the answer?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think that is the answer in terms of transparency. You know, I think the precedent is the Comey hearings. Part in public, part in private. Given that he's offered this up. And it's clearly in the Intel Committee to follow up on the conversation, investigation. The more that is public, the more that is transparent, the better for our democracy in a time when we're undergoing a civics stress test.
BERMAN: Margaret, it's just one more game, this speculation, will it be public, will it be private? Are there tapes? Are there not tapes? Will the White House release them? It does seem that the administration sees some utility in stringing the American people along.
But of course, there's the difference because an interest if Sessions testifies in open the way Jim Comey did. The differences are obvious. One is Sessions himself may be to some degree in the cross-hairs of the investigation. Jim Comey certainly intimated that is the case. The attorney general recused himself -- recused himself from the Russia investigation.
So there -- it seems to me there are going to be limits on what he could say, whether it's in open session or whether it's in closed session. And to me, what I'm interested in is where the boundaries are what he can talk about.
CAMEROTA: Ron, what are you interested in?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was struck that the Intelligence Committee set a rather remarkable precedent already by allowing Dan Coats and Admiral Rogers not to answer questions in open session, because they didn't, quote, "feel it was appropriate."
I was trying to imagine, say, Henry Waxman in the 1990s, allowing the tobacco executives brought before the House Commerce Committee to saying, "Well, we didn't think it was appropriate to answer questions in open session," you know, that the committee was posing.
So they have already put themselves, I think, in a difficult position here to exert much leverage. Because they have established, you know, what Angus King and others acknowledged, demonstrated at the time was a remarkable precedent. And to allow Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, in effect, to go venue shopping here and to move from an open hearing on one side to a closed hearing on the other again would be an erosion, I think, of congressional oversight.
BERMAN: Hey, guys, I want to play a moment that I think some people may have missed this weekend. But I think it was an important marker.
Jay Sekulow, who is now a member of the president's private legal team. He was on the Sunday shows, and he was musing about -- he was asked about whether or not the president, you know, might weigh in and fire the special counsel, Bob Mueller, ultimately. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Will the president promise not to interfere, not attempt at any time to order the deputy attorney general to fire Robert Mueller?
[07:10:07] SEKULOW: Well, the president -- the president of the United States, as we all know, is a unitary executive. But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government, as well as outside. And I'm not going to speculate on what he will or will not do. I can't imagine that that issue is going to arise. But that, again, is an issue that the president, with his advisers, will discuss if there is a basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So John Avlon, you know, he doesn't think it will rise, but he wouldn't rule it out. I followed. I was on with Jeffery Lord, you know, not a legal team member for president but certainly an acolyte, who all of a sudden started sort of going after Bob Mueller a little bit. It seems to me you're starting to see people close to the White House throwing shade all of a sudden on the special counsel.
AVLON: I think it seems that way because it is that way. And I think this is the break glass scenario that they're comforting themselves with. The Mueller investigation, as special counsel, has an enormous amount of power, credibility. But their feeling is that, look, there's nothing to stop the president from derailing this investigation and firing Mueller.
And look, remember, the independent counsel statute expired. This is a different -- special counsel assigned by the deputy attorney general, because the A.G. recused himself. So the kind of enforceable independence that previously existed does not exist. And anyone who says that this president's not going to do something that may look bad in his self-interest isn't paying attention.
If Bill Clinton could have fire -- you know, I'm sure he wanted to fire Louis Fried tons of times, let along Ken Starr. But decency, precedent and the statute forbid him from doing that. None of those things are constraining factors on President Trump.
CAMEROTA: And there you go. So Margaret, why not -- why isn't -- why won't -- wouldn't President Trump fire him? I mean, we saw him fire James Comey. He's fired U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. Isn't that sort of the answer, if President Trump doesn't like this investigation?
MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I think break glass scenario is the right way to put it. That is an extreme move to say the least. Probably really too early to be considering a move like that. It may have been considered, but discussing it seriously. To do it really risks crossing a line with -- with Republicans.
So far, the president has been able to count on the House speaker, as well as the Senate majority leader to kind of hold down the line, hold down the fort on all this. A move like that could be a game changer.
BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, though, I do think that you noted that one of the things going on here is there are clear sides that don't seem to be budging here. And in some ways, you know, the president can say this. Because this really has one path to its conclusion right now.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, look, I think the special counsel investigation right now is the only game in town. Because the most important thing -- two important things that happened last week was that James Comey laid out a pattern of behavior that, while not all experts, many experts, former prosecutors like Preet Bharara and others, have said -- provide the basis for at least beginning an investigation of obstruction of justice.
On the other hand, you saw a virtually unanimous, not entirely unanimous rejection of that idea from congressional Republicans who, quite notably, did not challenge what Comey said, did not say that he was remembering it incorrectly or misrepresenting it. But rather said even if the president said that Comey alleged, that it was OK, that it was not a violation of the law. It may have been inappropriate.
The only way that changes is, I think, if Mueller presents them ultimately with evidence that forces them to act. What he is constrained with, is 1973 and 2000 opinions, from the office of legal counsel in the Justice Department. The government adjudicated, they don't have the force of the court decision behind that, but they are -- the Justice Department opinion that the sitting president cannot be criminally indicted. And what that suggests is that, even though Republicans want to push this off on Mueller, eventually, probably before the 2018 election, it will likely be back in their laps.
AVLON: And it's further complicated by the fact that, no matter how they may want to politically spin it, we're living in an era of situational ethics. Republican congressmen and senators are already on record as almost universally praising the integrity of Robert Mueller. So that will make that spin a bridge too far.
But part of the -- what we've seen is a pattern of saying, no matter what happens, call it a victory and hope your base doesn't pay attention. And so that disconnect between rhetoric and reality keeps growing. But with very serious consequences for the pursuit of justice right now. CAMEROTA: Margaret, if only there were tapes that existed, whereby we
could know what really was said between the president and James Comey. So what's next? What's the next move for Congress? Can they subpoena something they don't know exists?
TALEV: Well, we saw kind of a shot across the bow about that with the intel chairs last week, sending a letter to the White House counsel's office. It certainly sounds like the White House is suggesting that they will have an answer that answers this question in the next week or so. But we've seen timelines like that slide.
But remember, you know, on Twitter a few months ago was the suggestion that there would be evidence about President Obama wiretapping, you know, President Trump, as well. So President Trump seemed in that news conference in the Rose Garden last week to be suggesting everyone would be disappointed when the actual answer to this came out.
[07:15:07] I think that maybe means that there was no secret taping system. But I do think this is an answer, ultimately, that the White House is going to have to put on the record to answer lawmakers who are in the investigating committees.
BERMAN: Look, if there isn't a taping system, everyone should reflect on what this last month means, the fact that the president has been willing to play with this, and then no one in the White House stepped up and said, "There are no tapes." It's interesting that there are. A classic "he said-he said." President Trump escalating his war of words with James Comey. So exactly who will Americans believe? We're going to ask a Republican Congressman next.
BERMAN: A source tells CNN the Senate Intelligence Committee is debating plans to let Attorney General Jeff Sessions testify tomorrow. If he does testify, should it be in the public or behind closed doors? That's just one of the questions we're going to ask of Congressman Adam Kinzinger from Illinois. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Congressman, thanks so much for being here.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Thanks.
BERMAN: Let's get to Jeff Sessions in a moment. Because last time you were here on NEW DAY, you talked about the pending James Comey testimony. Right now, what we have is a case of "he said-he said." James Comey says one thing. The president distinctly says another. This is what you said you were looking for prior to the testimony. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[07:20:16] KINZINGER: There would be so many more iterations of information to come out on that. I mean, James Comey has a very good reputation for the truth. To go from saying, "I'm going to pick this guy over this person," and
that leads to the next iteration. There are so many issues to come out right now. But I will say this raises major red flags, and we need answers to what they are. The question is we need to have faith that the administration and justice is being served on all levels, no matter where that is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So James Comey told his story to the Senate. The president says it's not true. Who do you believe?
KINZINGER: Well, it's hard to tell, and that's why we need every iteration of information that's going to include Comey. If Sessions testifies tomorrow, that's going to be essential. Robert Mueller's investigation.
What it all comes down to is this. If you're Republican in some cases, every new piece of information, you say, "Well, it's not real. It's not true." If you're some of my friends on the other side of the aisle, every new piece of information you automatically assume is true and you scream for impeachment. I've heard a few do this. But the American -- this for me is about bigger than what it means for 2018, what this means for 2020 and what this means -- this is about defending the entire institution of democracy.
And my bigger concern is we look and say, "We hold our leaders accountable." And we need all the information to hold them accountable.
So I'll say on James Comey's testimony, there are a lot of concerning things he said that I think without a doubt, the president acted improperly to ask. Now, does that rise to the level of obstruction of justice? I don't know. I haven't heard people make the strong case that does. But I think there was a lot of information that needs to come out. And people have to have patience to this, kind of fall through that line.
BERMAN: But you're a Republican Congressman. It's June 12, 7:21 a.m. As you sit here this morning on Monday morning, you're not willing to say you believe the president of the United States that he did not say those things to James Comey?
KINZINGER: Well, I mean, look, you have what the president says, that he didn't say that. James Comey said he very much say things like "I hope you call the dogs off," basically or in this investigation.
My question is does that rise to a level of obstruction of justice? And I haven't seen a case made of that. I've heard a lot of folks say, and I agree, if there are tapes -- if there are tapes in the Oval Office, we should hear those.
BERMAN: What do you make of the game? What do you know of the game? The president has been dangling this notion out here for more than a month right here. What do you make of the game he's playing with that? KINZINGER: About the tapes?
KINZINGER: You know, I don't know what to make of it. There's a lot of times where I don't know what to make of whether it's something that's put out on Twitter or anything else.
I just know that, if there are tapes, we want the tapes. I just know that if, in fact, the president is telling the truth on this, if he did not say any of those things to James Comey, tapes will vindicate him. And frankly, people that are calling for his impeachment will look really bad in this case by having jumped to that conclusion.
I just say, "Look, I didn't try to overplay this." But I served in the military. I have served my country. A lot of people have, and a lot of have people given their lives to defend this country. And it's not just about the war on terror, but it's about defending democracy and the institution. So these questions to me go beyond the political implications. They go to where people have the trust and the faith of their institutions.
BERMAN: Look, it is the faith of the presidency, the faith of the former FBI director. Their honesty counts here. I have to believe there are people for whom you would say, "Yes, I believe them when they say, 'X'." It is not notable you're not willing to say that about the president of the United States.
KINZINGER: And I'm not willing to say that, really, about anybody at this point because we just -- again, when you have the president of the United States' words against James Comey, against Sessions and whoever else is involved. If you start playing the kind of micro- managing game as an elected official, which is every five minutes, I'm going to say who I believe at this moment, you're going to end up being probably wrong or right on something. I have faith that all the information is going to come out. And unfortunately, it takes patience to get there, but we have to have faith.
BERMAN: The attorney general should testify in public?
KINZINGER: I think so. Yes. And I think -- I think there are advantages to both testifying behind closed doors because in many cases, they can say things, but then also testify in public so the American people can see.
BERMAN: You can certainly do both. Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to George W. Bush, he wrote this over the weekend. Interesting. "Advice for POTUS. You have not been vindicated. You won't be unless Bob Mueller says so. Stop talking. You're heading into a giant perjury trap."
KINZINGER: That's right. So my biggest concern, yes, I think the president needs to let the investigation happen and move on. As a Republican, look, we passed our health care bill. We have tax reform. We have these things we want to do. I wish he would be spending his effort, messaging these issues,
instead of in the day-to-day of this investigation. We're going to come to answers in this investigation. Hopefully, it's sooner than later. But it may take a while. It does not serve him well or serve the party well to comment on every new little thing.
BERMAN: You're on the Foreign Affairs Committee. You did serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military is now involved all over the world. You know, there are operations in Somalia, operations in Afghanistan, including parts of Afghanistan where we haven't been very active. We now know the Special Forces may be involved in the Philippines, as well.
[07:25:11] What do you make of the growing U.S. involvement all over the world?
KINZINGER: So I think terrorists and people with terroristic ideology need to know that they're not safe anywhere they exist, that if, at any point, the U.S. military, that can kill them or capture them at people are at risk anywhere. They have to be under the threat.
The problem is we have to stay engaged. I agree with what the president is doing in terms of this more aggressive approach. But we have to realize that it's the next generation war on terror. It would have to win. It took us 50 years to win the ideology of the Cold War. It's going to take decades to win this ideology. This is what matters. This is what's important.
BERMAN: Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, thanks so much for being with us.
BERMAN: All right. Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, John, so the president said that he's going to reveal whether or not he has those tapes of his conversations with James Comey this week. What happens if there are no tapes? What's next?
CAMEROTA: Did President Trump secretly record his conversations with fired FBI director James Comey, and will we ever hear those tapes, if they exist? The president's attorney weighed in on these questions. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEKULOW: The president said he's going to address the issue of the tapes, whether the tapes exist or not next week. That's a decision that the president will make --