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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Allies to Attack "Lyin' Comey" As He Launches Book Tour; Missouri Gov Calls Accusations A "Witch Hunt"; Reports: Former Trump Doorman Given $30K In Hush Money Case. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our politics lead now: President Trump and the Republican Party are preparing to try to take down former FBI Director James Comey. CNN has exclusive details about the White House and Republican National Committee campaign to attempt to discredit Comey, including a brand new Website that launched today called lyinComey.com.

[16:30:02] The attempt is to undermine Comey as the former FBI director kicks off his book tour Sunday.

I want to bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who's breaking the story.

Jeff, how else is the White House preparing for this?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the White House is bracing for what potential stories James Comey has to tell about private interactions he had with the president at the beginning of the administration. Now, for all the talk of this well- orchestrated plan the Republican National Committee is doing on behalf of the White House, there was one thing they can't control and that's what the president does after he sees James Comey on TV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump's allies are mounting a campaign to fight back against James Comey, hoping to brand the former FBI director with two words "lyin' Comey", through this Website and digital ads, Republicans are trying to undermine Comey's credibility as he kicks off a media blitz for his new tell-all memoir.

To make their case, Republicans are turning to Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: He made a mistake. Maybe he's not in the right job.

ZELENY: Using their vocal criticism of Comey to remind Americans there is plenty for all sides to dislike about the nation's former top law enforcement official.

The irony of Republicans using Democrats to discredit Comey underscores the political contradictions surrounding the former FBI director who Trump fired nearly a year ago.

REPORTER: Why did you fire Director Comey?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.

ZELENY: It was a decision that changed his presidency, setting into motion the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russia investigation. That cloud hangs over the White House and is weighing on his presidency.

REPORTER: Mr. President --

ZELENY: The president is already thinking about his own plan to combat Comey, turning to one of his informal advisors, FOX News host Sean Hannity.

Big show tonight on Sean Hannity, the president tweeted last night. Minutes later, Hannity launching into a conspiratorial monologue about Comey.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, tonight, Comey is already in hot water after comparing the president to a mob boss.

ZELENY: That's apparently how Comey described the president to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, whose interview with Comey kicks off the media blitz Sunday.

HANNITY: We're going to break down this appalling analogy. We'll remind Comey tonight what a real mob boss looks like, and you would think that a former FBI director would understand this.

ZELENY: The president didn't always think so poorly of Comey from this handshake in the early days of the administration to these glowing words on the campaign trail when Trump thought Comey was on his side.

TRUMP: It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had.

ZELENY: But less than four months after taking office, Trump fired him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And it is that firing nearly a year ago that is a key part of any potential obstruction of justice investigation. That's why this matters now, Jake. That's why the White House and the Republican National Committee pushing back so much to try and undermine James Comey. Certainly an open question if their work here will change the minds of Americans that they're certainly trying to weigh in here. But no question the president will be watching this book release out next week and, of course, you will talk to him next week as well, Jake.

TAPPER: A week from today. Thanks so much, Jeff Zeleny, at the White House. Appreciate it. Breaking news now about what Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly told James Comey after President Trump fired the FBI director. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:20] TAPPER: And we have some breaking news just in. "The Washington Post" is reporting some new details from fired FBI director James Comey soon to be released book. It comes out next Tuesday, in which Comey describes an interaction he had with then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security but now Chief of Staff John Kelly.

"The Post" reports, quote, Comey writes that when he was fired by Trump in May 2017, then Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly called him in an emotional and said he was sick over the ouster. Kelly told Comey that he, quote, intended to quit because he, quote, didn't want to work for dishonorable people, according to Comey's account.

The story was first reported by "The Daily Beast".

I want to bring in my political panel.

Oh boy, I don't know. I wouldn't want to be sitting in John Kelly's office right now.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have yet to find a person who isn't directly being paid to support Trump or benefit from his support who thinks that firing Comey was a good idea. Even if you look to people at "Breitbart News" who champion Trump, lend him a lot of support, they say that the very least was an unforced error, and Steve Bannon after he's left has said that this is probably the most consequential thing that Trump has done to put his presidency in danger.

I think everyone recognizes that and yet, the RNC is out, full- throated campaign against Comey, calling him a liar, a leaker, you know, in this funhouse world of the Republican National Committee where somehow Comey is a terrible person because he told the world about the Hillary investigation which the RNC and Donald Trump used against her on the campaign trail.

TAPPER: They loved it. And, in fact, Paul Begala, if I had, if we could go back in time and where it's the end of October 2016, and Comey is just to come out and reopened the case in to Hillary Clinton, and I was to tell you I can't explain how, but the Republican National Committee and Donald Trump were going to launch a huge campaign James Comey in April 2018, you wouldn't believe me.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Exactly. James Comey, this is not just me, this is FiveThirtyEight, all the propeller heads over there, the nerds, they say that it's probable that it was the Comey at the end intervening in the election that swung the election to Mr. Trump, now President Trump.

Donald Trump should give James Comey flowers or candy or something. He, Comey, made Trump president. That doesn't mean Hillary didn't make mistakes. Mr. Trump made a few in the campaign too, but for the first time in modern American history, or an all-American history, FBI director twice weighed in attacking one of the candidates.

By the way, both candidates we now know were under investigation. Hillary was cleared. Trump was still ongoing, all he talked about was Hillary, trashing my friend in my candidate.

So, I have no love for James Comey.

[16:40:01] I'm with the RNC on this. I don't know that he's a liar though, there's a difference. He's not a liar. I don't know that he lied.

But the problem is he told the truth very selectively, attacking Hillary Clinton not ever revealing that Trump himself was under investigation, too.

TAPPER: It's going to be -- it's going to be an interesting week next week with president with Comey's first interview Sunday night with George Stephanopoulos.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

TAPPER: We have one with him live on Thursday on THE LEAD, one week from today, and I cannot imagine what President Trump is going to do.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, we can a parallel might be the "fire and fury" fury that we saw with a Michael Wolff book, the White House in some ways caught flat-footed around that book, didn't have a real coordinated response. Of course, the White House eventually did have a response. They nicknamed Steve Bannon "Sloppy Steve" for a lot of the things that came out in that book.

So, we'll see. I mean, they've got this coordinated attack with the RNC. You imagine that the RNC might be better spent, you know, doing other things than putting up Websites about Jim Comey, putting out digital ads, quoting Maxine Waters and her feelings about Jim Comey.

So, you know, we'll see how it goes. I mean, this news about John Kelly, you do wonder how that's landing at the White House. Somebody who's, you know, kind of stature has declined over these last months isn't in the inner circle as much as he was before, isn't kind of consulted on some of these the calls around staffing.

So, we'll see how this lands. Does he have to come out and say something? Is it just all under the rubric of lying Comey?

TAPPER: And this idea that the John Kelly thought that Donald Trump was dishonorable is big. But you keep talking -- Lyin' Comey, that's the name of the Website, Lyin' Comey.

CARPENTER: I mean, come up with another name. Don't recycle that from the campaign as a former campaign staffer.

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: That's a pretty good one.

HENDERSON: Yes.

TAPPER: I mean for a guy who's actually pretty good Little Marco, at these new low-energy Jeb, crooked Hillary, I don't think Lyin' Comey -- and let me point out also, according to "The Washington Post" fact- checker, as of March 1st, the president had made 2,436 false or misleading claims.

So, this is almost as if he was like insulting combing for having an unusual hairstyle. It's like really, is that really the criticism you want to do?

CARPENTER: This isn't new for Trump or his supporters. What is new and interesting is that I think this preview from "The Post" gives us the idea of where James Comey is going. I mean, he is going all out. He is calling out the chief of staff, saying he told me the president was dishonorable.

HENDERSON: Yes.

CARPENTER: I mean, he's going into this guns blazing, taking names and, you know, we'll see where that goes.

BEGALA: Yes. Comey's problem is not -- is not veracity so far as we know. He testified under oath for many hours, I don't think anything he said was proved false or intentionally misleading. His problem in my eyes is bias and sanctimony. He intervened the election to hurt my candidate and swing the election to Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Do you think he did that to hurt her?

BEGALA: Yes.

TAPPER: Do you think he purposely was trying to hurt her?

BEGALA: Yes, I believe he was --

CARPENTER: I mean, I think --

BEGALA: Let me be honest, yes. I listened to that press conference in July when he first cleared her and all his mission is, is to either refer to the Justice Department for charges or say we should not charge. He decided no reasonable prosecutor, his phrase, would prosecute this case.

He's not supposed to that call a press conference and bitterly attack a candidate for president. Why do you think he attacked her? He didn't attack her because he liked her.

CARPENTER: But could it be he was under pressure from then Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying, clear this, call it a matter, don't refer to as an investigation and he was trying to tow that line? I think there's certainly a question of --

BEGALA: I don't think Loretta Lynch sent him out to attack a candidate for president, but that's what's so unprecedented.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

In just a few days, former FBI Director James Comey will sit down with me for his first cable news interview since being fired by President Trump. And you can see it right here live on THE LEAD next Thursday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, a Republican governor refusing to step down even after lurid, explicit, horrific details of an alleged sexual assault are made. He said the attacks are a, quote, witch hunt. Witch hunt. Sound familiar?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: THE embattled Missouri Governor is taking a page from President Trump's playbook and decrying a "witch hunt."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ERIC GREITENS (R), MISSOURI: This is a political witch hunt. This is exactly like what's happening with the witch hunts in Washington, D.C. Smearing, lying and attacking people who want to change how things are done is wrong in Washington and it's wrong in Missouri.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A report filed last night by the Republican-controlled legislature says that a witness that the legislature deemed credible is accusing the Republican Governor of subjecting her to non- consensual sexual activity and violence. Eric Greitens' accuser said that under -- said under oath that he took a photo of her bound and blindfolded and threatened to blackmail her with it if she ever told also anyone about the extramarital relationship. She also says that he coerced her into oral sex while she wept uncontrollably. And another encounter, she said that Greitens slapped her after asking about other sexual partners including her husband. Greitens denies all of this and calls it a witch hunt. And back with the panel. First of all, just -- this is sending out shock waves in Missouri politics. So far, calls for him to resign have come from the Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, Republican Congresswoman Ann Wagner who used to be the Chair of the Republican National Committee. It's interesting that Senator Roy Blunt who is part of Senate Republican leadership has not said that he said that the legal process to play out. I don't know if it's a coincidence not, Blunt is the only one of people I just mentioned who's not on the ballot in November.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, that could be the reason why. I mean, Josh Hawley also who's running against Clair McCaskill -- McCaskill has come out and said that he should resign. Hard to see how Eric Greitens survives this. I mean, he's going to go on trial I think next month on invasion of privacy, a charge related to one of the incidents. You talk to -- you know, he was someone who had great potential, good-looking guy, Navy S.E.A.L., Duke graduate, I think he went to Oxford as well, introduced himself as a proud father and proud husband, and now all of these revelations and allegations come out. He says it's a witch hunt. Well, if it is a witch hunt, it's led by members of his own party, right? I mean, Missouri is controlled by Republicans in both Houses and they're the ones who put out these 25 -- 24-page report detailing very salacious allegation that is you imagine are going to break through to the public there because they're so easy to understand.

[16:50:48] TAPPER: And it's not just the word witch hunt that he's using that is reminiscent of what -- of how President Trump deals with his scandals. He is denying everything, attacking his accusers, and just staying the course with no indication that he's going to bow out. This seems to be a kind of model, a Trump precedent. Roy Moore attempted to do it. It didn't work out so well for him, but he stayed in the race even after these debilitating charges against him. Now we have Governor Greitens doing it.

CARPENTER: Yes, and as the person who is being accused in this case, the governor and other cases Donald Trump does this, there's blowback on other Republicans. And so, I think we could extend this scenario out. When Republicans are confronted with wrongdoing by another Republican colleague, must the bar be criminal violations, found guilty in court to speak out? I mean, why isn't Senator Blunt saying the same thing the Republican Attorney General can say in the state? I mean, Republicans in the state have produced this report, signed off on it saying you're moving towards impeachment. And so I don't understand why the BAR is criminality when violations of morality are so clear.

TAPPER: I mean, compare how Democrats in the Senate handled the accusations against Al Franken --

BEGALA: That's what I was going to say.

TAPPER: -- which are you know, serious but nothing like this.

BEGALA: Not at all criminal.

TAPPER: Compared to what Roy Blunt is doing with Greitens.

BEGALA: And maybe Greitens is watching Senator Franken who said, well, I really took an inappropriate picture pretending to touch a woman who was wearing a flak jacket while she was asleep, very sophomoric picture but this is sworn testimony of astonishing criminal and vile acts and yet, he's just stonewalling. You know, Franken said I'm sorry. I've kind of been boorish at times but that's not how I remembered it, the way -- he was nuanced and apologetic and his own party threw him out. No Republican called for him to leave, his own party tossed him out. And maybe Blunt is saying if I deny everything -- not Blunt -- Greitens is saying if I deny everything, admit nothing -- these are serious crimes. Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels thing is just accused of a consensual affair, he denies it, but there's no allegation of non-consensual in that case, it's nothing compared to this. TAPPER: Well, except that he's also being accused by association and

we have yet to see evidence of this but of intimidating Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford with --

BEGALA: Right.

TAPPER: -- remember she says that there was a thug that approached her years ago before he was running for President or anything like that and said, you shouldn't talk about -- you shouldn't talk about this even a vague threat to her regarding her daughter. Let's talk about for a second if we can the scandal involving American Media, the parent company of The National Enquirer and a known other story about this company spending money on a charge they say have no credibility that with this doorman saying that the President and again, there's no evidence of this that I know of, the President fathered a child out of wedlock, but the idea that once again, David Pecker and American Media, the National Inquirer paying somebody for a story that never saw the light of day.

HENDERSON: Right, and that's of course what happened with Karen McDougall who was on the air talking about this, said she had an affair with Donald Trump while he was married to Melania Trump and I think Barron was either newborn or she was pregnant at that time, and then American Media basically stepping in offering her all sorts of things, a column, and nothing ever happened and essentially suppressing her story. And the question is whether or not these represent in-kind campaign contributions. I mean, that's one of the things probably that the FBI is interested in. And not only with the Karen McDougal case, but then this other case that was uncovered allegations that this doorman was paid as well. And the other question is, are there more cases? I mean, is this sort of a routine of people in Trump's orbit to be handing out cash to keep secrets buried from Trump's personal life in and around his campaign.

BEGALA: He seems to be the third party beneficiary of a whole lot of actions, right? David Pecker and American Media now are twice accused of paying women or now a guy and a woman of -- to quiet stories. Michael Cohen accused of paying Stormy Daniels -- the whole Russian attack on our election, he was the beneficiary. He says I didn't participate in it in any way. So it just amazing how just things happen that benefit, Donald Trump, that other people do for him and he never knows about it.

[16:55:14] TAPPER: Some people are lucky. Everyone stick around, we got lots more to talk about. Who will be appointed with a President Trump nickname next? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: I think there's consensus on the panel that "Lying Comey" isn't really up to snuff. The people are not -- the people are not impressed with that nickname, Mr. President so you might want to get back to the drawing board on that. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I turn you over now Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.