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James Comey Also Speaks About Hillary Clinton in New Book; Ambassador Nikki Haley Addresses U.N. Security Council About Syria; Court Hearing to Address FBI Raids of Michael Cohen; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 10:30   ET



[10:31:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a lot of breaking news we're following this morning.

Fired FBI director James Comey not only going after President Trump in his new book, he also tries to explain why he went public about restarting the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation in the days leading up to the election. He writes, "It is entirely possible that because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in the polls. But I don't know," he says.

Back with us, CNN political commentator and former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and CNN political commentator, Republican strategist Alice Stewart.

Robby, James Comey also writes of Hillary Clinton, "I have read she has felt anger toward me personally and I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry that I couldn't do a better job explaining to her and her supporters why I made the decisions I made." So he says he's sorry for that. Apology accepted?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm glad that he acknowledged in the book -- and I haven't read it yet, I'm just seeing what you had on the screen, but I'm glad he acknowledged -- it sounds like he acknowledges in the book that his decision was based on politics. And I think there is a really important lesson out of here, there's a lot about President Trump in that book and you know, we need to pay attention to that.

But I also think we need to take away from this. The FBI should not be in the business of making political calculations. And I'm glad that Comey admitted in the book that this was a political calculation. And one, by the way, that I think caused a lot of mistakes across the board. You know, myself included and on the campaign.

I think a lot of things happened because everybody thought Hillary was likely to win. I think those things added up to, you know, to the result that we have. I -- to be honest with you, my understanding is there's lot about leadership in the book. I wish that Mr. Comey reflected a little bit more deeply and maybe called what he did a mistake because I think it was.

And, again, particularly because he talked so much about how important it is to follow the rules and follow the law, there were really clear rules in place that he shouldn't have done what he did. And chose to break them. And apparently did that based on politics. So what matters is the lesson is out there, I hope it's learned. I hope that people at the FBI internalize that and I'm glad it's in the book.

BERMAN: Not to split hairs here, I don't think he directly says he made the decision based on politics. But he doesn't rule it out. And I know that might be a distinction without a difference, but in literal terms, and Robby, while I have you on this subject, I just want to know because, again, I know you haven't read the book but you've seen the excerpts now, I'm sure since last night. When you see him talk about things like this, just how does it feel to see it?

MOOK: You know, there is a lot that all of us could have done differently, myself included. I certainly wish Comey had done this differently. I'm not -- I'm not angry. I'm not bitter. Because there is nothing we can do to change the past. We have to focus on the future. So like I said, I'm glad that he is open about what his motivations were. I wish he would maybe be a little bit more forthright that this was a political calculation and that that probably wasn't -- that definitely wasn't something that someone at the FBI should be doing.


MOOK: You know, and frankly there is so much else in that book, so much else that swirling outside, I'm a little bit more concerned for the country than worried about 2016.

BERMAN: Go ahead, Alice.

STEWART: John, I do think this was a terrible mistake for Comey to come out and announce this investigation. There is standard DOJ policy that says you're not supposed to publicly comment on an investigation 60 days out of an election so it was a mistake.

[10:35:10] That being said, if we go back in time and we think what else was going on, Donald Trump was facing the fallout of the disgusting "Access Hollywood" tape, so he had battles he was fighting. I truly believe whether Comey did this or not, Trump would have still won the presidency. He was the one that connected with the people, he campaigned, he went to the right states, he had the right message, and he won the election.

I think it will be easy for Democrats to blame a lot of this on Comey who made a terrible mistake, but there were extenuating factors that helped the president to win this and a large part of it was the fact that he was able to connect with the people. But it will be easy to point the finger at Comey based on what he has acknowledged in the book.

BERMAN: There is another episode that James Comey writes about, I guess tangentially or not so related to this, where he talks about a meeting that we hadn't known about previously with President Obama after the election and President Obama apparently told James Comey this, "I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability. I want you to know that nothing, nothing has happened in the last year to change my view."

If you read the excerpts, Alice, you know, it's clear that James Comey seemed to have a higher opinion of Barack Obama than he does of Donald Trump.

STEWART: Sure. And I'm sure therapeutic for him to hear that from the president and he needed to hear that and of course he was going to include this in the book. However, you go back to the litany of Democrats who don't share that view, I mean, that called for his resignation from Nancy Pelosi to Bernie Sanders, Harry Reid, all of them, were extremely frustrated. I'm sure they don't share that same sentiment but I -- it was important I'm sure for Comey to hear that and certainly included that in the book.

BERMAN: Yes. Reassuring for James Comey, Robby. Again, reassuring for you to have the president say you did everything perfectly, pal?

MOOK: Well, to be honest with you, I want to hear from the president -- the former president of the United States what he said. And Comey gets to say whatever he wants in the book.

Look, I think this gets back to -- there is always a question about what's the purpose of this book and what role are they playing right now. I hope that the purpose that this book serves right now is to provide us lessons on what Director Comey did, why it shouldn't have happened, and on our current president and his judgment.

I hope this doesn't become, you know, a whole back and forth about James Comey and how great or how not great he is. He's not in that job anymore. What matters is what we're doing moving forward. And, you know, I just hope in his interviews over the next few days he keeps us focused on where we need to be, which is the country and not him.

BERMAN: And he talks a great deal about presidential leadership and what he thinks is lacking. And that is the overall thrust of his book. We'll see much more about that I'm sure in the coming days.

Robby Mook, Alice Stewart, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your candor on a tough subject for you, I'm sure, this morning.

We got a lot of breaking news. We'll be right back.


[10:42:09] BERMAN: You're looking at live pictures from the U.N. Security Council, a meeting happening right now.

Moments ago we heard from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who had some strong, strong words for both Syria and Russia. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Now that we have established what we all agree on, let's ask ourselves what should we be condemning today? We should be discussing the actions that really brought us to this moment in time. We should not be condemning the country or group of countries that might actually have the courage to stand up in defense of our common principle, the principle against the use of chemical weapons. Instead, we should be condemning the country that unilaterally has stopped the Security Council from upholding this principle.

Who is it on the council that most exhibits unilateralism when it comes to chemical weapons? It is Russia alone that has stopped at nothing to defend the Syrian regime's multiple uses of chemical weapons. It is Russia alone that killed the joint investigative mechanism which allowed the world to ensure accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria. It is Russia alone that used its veto six times to prevent the condemnation of Assad's use of chemical weapons.

It is Russia alone that used its veto 12 times to protect the Assad regime. And to make matters worse, it is Russia alone that had agreed to be the guarantor of the removal of all chemical weapons in Syria. If Russia had lived up to its commitment, there would be no chemical weapons in Syria. And we would not be here today.

That is the Russian record of unilateralism. It is a record that has led to the trashing of all international standards against the use of chemical weapons.

This meeting should not be about the so-called unilateral threats. It should be about the multiple actions Russia has taken to bring us to this point.

Our president has not yet made a decision about possible actions in Syria. But should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree, It will be in defense of a bedrock international norm that benefits all nations.

Let's be clear, Assad's most recent use of poison gas against the people of Douma was not his first, second, third or even 49th use of chemical weapons.

[10:45:02] The United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times. Public estimates are as high as 200. In the weeks after Assad's sarin gas attack last April that killed nearly 100 people, including many children, the regime used chlorine gas at least once and possibly as many as three times in the same area.

Last November, just as the joint investigative mechanism mandate expired, the regime attacked its people with sarin again in the Damascus suburbs. In January, Assad used at least four chlorine- filled rockets in Douma and then he struck again last weekend. And thanks to Russia there was no U.N. body to determine blame.

But we know who did this. Our allies know who did this. Russia can complain all at once about fake news. But no one is buying its lies and cover-ups.


BERMAN: Here with me now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Admiral, a remarkable statement from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations saying Russia alone is responsible for allowing Syria to conduct these actions it has, the chemical attacks against its own people. Your reaction?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I completely agree. I thought that was a brilliant statement by Ambassador Haley. Very well done, very well put, lots of detail and context in there. And she's absolutely right.

Look, Assad is the one who is flying the helicopters, who's dropping the barrel bombs of chlorine, no doubt about it. But he wouldn't be able to do that, John, if he didn't have the backing of the Russian government and the Russian military which has, for now, three years in Syria been aiding him, fueling his aircraft, giving him intelligence, giving him targeting analysis, and actually flying missions in support on their own. So -- to crush the rebellion. So she's absolutely right. Very well put.

BERMAN: One of the statements she made there at the end was the president has not yet made a decision about military action in Syria right now. What do you think is taking so long? One year ago, the military response was within 60 hours. We're already twice past --

KIRBY: Right.

BERMAN: Past twice that point right now.

KIRBY: I think there is a couple of things. One, I think there's an honest debate going on about the evidence. Now I know the French have said there is evidence and CNN's reporting that some U.S. officials claimed there is evidence. But I'm not really sure where they are on that and how firm and solid they want that evidence to be of the use of chemical agents before they strike.

Number two, I think -- and probably not so much today, John, but in the previous few days, I think there was definitely a need to slow down to make sure that the allies, in this case the British and the French, had all their domestic ducks in a row and they, you know, politically were able to act and according -- and in conjunction with us and also that militarily they're planning an operational readiness at an appropriate level.

Number three, and this is the big one in my view, I suspect that the -- certainly the Pentagon leadership wants to make sure that the president understands the ramifications of a strike and the risk of a potential greater provocation with Russia and with Iran as a result of a strike. If it is true that he wants something a little bit more robust than he did a year ago, the opportunity to do that actually sort of thins because the Russians and Syrians have had a lot of time to prepare.

BERMAN: We will be watching very closely what goes on at the White House today and the United Nations.

Admiral Kirby, thank you very much for being with us.

KIRBY: Yes, sir.

BERMAN: All right. Happening right now, the first federal hearing concerning the searches on President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The big question, will a judge grant Cohen's apparent request to have the FBI stop immediately looking at any of the evidence they might have collected.


[10:53:23] BERMAN: All right. Lawyers for President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, we believe, are scheduled to be in federal court at this moment about the FBI searches of Cohen's home, hotel and office this week. The hearing, we believe, is about a restraining order that Cohen has filed that essentially is asking a judge to not allow the government to use any of the evidence that they recovered in these searches.

What we don't know is what the FBI exactly might have found. And one of the big questions this morning is, does the FBI have in its possession as we speak recorded conversations between Michael Cohen, campaign staff associates of the president and perhaps even the president himself?

And joining me now, Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst. A lot of ground to cover here.

Paul, first let's talk about this hearing which is scheduled to be under way right now. We could be learning details, first hard details about these searches and what they might have. What do you make of this hearing?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first, I would expect this would be a closed door hearing because generally until all of the items have been inventoried and are formally returned in the form of a report to the court you don't have an open court discussion of it. But this is of such enormous public importance.

Remember, Cohen is the personal counsel to the president of the United States. And the way we tend to conduct our business, sometimes we're talking about personal things with our lawyer, but work might get involved in the discussion, so the president may have a very big interest in making sure that none of the material that has a bearing on him gets publicly released.

BERMAN: Michael Cohen is the attorney for Donald Trump, which I think independent of him being the president of the United States I don't know whether that will be of legal significance. Ultimately that's something that may go up to a higher court to be sure, Paul Callan.

[10:55:05] This issue of recordings. CNN and others reporting overnight that friends of Michael Cohen, associates of him, say this is a guy who liked to tape phone conversations, had recordings of conversations. An audio recording is an astounding piece of evidence in an investigation.

CALLAN: Yes, it is. It's a very important piece of evidence and New York, unlike a lot of other states, allows you to record conversations of other people without telling them. I will add one other thing, though, it's considered unethical for a lawyer to do so. And you can be disbarred. But if you're not a lawyer, you can record your conversations in New York and it is perfectly legal.

BERMAN: Well, what about if you're a lawyer not acting as an attorney? If this is Michael Cohen acting as an associate of the president, you know, talking to campaign staff, but not on a legal basis, still ethical?

CALLAN: Well, that's a tough question. I mean, where is that line drawn between him being a lawyer and him not being a lawyer. You're kind of a lawyer all the time.

BERMAN: All right. The merits of this hearing that we believe is under way right now, are restraining order. You know, the FBI presumably had to get probable cause, had to go to a judge already to conduct these searches. What's the likelihood that a judge now says you can't get this evidence, you can't use this evidence that a court already said it was OK for you to go after?

CALLAN: It's a very complicated question. I would find it hard to believe that the judge who is having the hearing today would overrule in some way a prior judge's determination that there was probable cause to seize these items. But on the other hand, because the president of the United States is clearly implicated and involved, this is a case that could go up to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and who knows, even the Supreme Court of the United States.

It is an important issue here about possible presidential papers.

BERMAN: All right. Very clearly and very quickly, Paul, there is a criminal investigation that now involves Michael Cohen that has to do with these raids. There is also the civil litigation Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels have filed against him where Michael Cohen is apparently asking for a delay or for this to be put off because of the criminal investigation.

Do you think that the Stormy thing, the civil case now, goes on the back burner?

CALLAN: I think there is a good chance that it will because Cohen in his papers has asserted that there may be an overlap, he may be asserting the Fifth Amendment, and he can't even speak in open court about the case. So the judge may look at it and say, you know, how can we proceed, and, by the way, maybe the FBI has the critical documents in the California case. So I think there are a lot of good reasons to postpone the civil litigation in California.

BERMAN: Paul Callan, great to have you with us. Thank you very much.

Other breaking news, this full blown, knockout fight, James Comey hits President Trump, President Trump calls James Comey an untruthful slime ball.

All the developments next.