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EARLY START

Comey Slams Trump in an Explosive Memoir; Sources: Feds Have Tapes of Cohen's Conversations; Waiting for Trump's Syria Decision. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:01] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Comey has written, quote, his leadership is transactional, ego-driven and about personal loyalty.

The book is not officially out until Tuesday, but it exploded into public view last night. CNN has obtained a copy, in which Comey calls the Trump presidency a forest fire and says that aspects like Trump's loyalty oaths and the boss in complete control, those are quotes, reminded him of his days prosecuting the mafia.

ROMANS: In other key passages, Comey recounts his first meeting with then-president-elect Trump when Russian meddling in the election came up. Comey says that Trump's only question was quote "You found there was no impact on the result, right?"

MARQUARDT: And then there's this, the so-called dossier, the opposition research commissioned by candidate Trump's opponents. Some of that material later verified. Among the unverified claims that Russia had video of Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite in Moscow.

Comey says that the president was obsessed with these golden shower allegations. Quote: It bothered him if there was even a one percent chance his wife, Melania, thought it was true. He just rolled on, unprompted, explaining why it couldn't possibly be true, ending by saying he was thinking of asking me, Comey, to investigate the allegation to prove it was a lie. I said it was up to him.

ROMANS: Comey has also tough words for his fellow Republicans, criticizing them. He seems to lay out his own mission statement: It is also wrong to stand idly by, or worse, to stay silent when you know better, while a president brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence and law enforcement institutions that were established to keep checks on our leaders in check.

Now, the White House and the Republican Party are not planning to respond to each of the many allegations that are coming out from Comey's book. People familiar with the matter say that the president's defenders will instead stick to a broader attack on Comey's credibility and character.

They've already put up a Website. They're calling it lyinComey.com. And the RNC has put out a fake cover for Comey's book retitling it, "A Higher Loyalty" to "Me, Myself, and I." Of course, the response that everyone is wondering about could come at any time or never on the president's Twitter feed.

MARQUARDT: He's due to wake up and we assume, just around an hour, an hour's time.

All right. Joining us this morning, live from Washington, CNN national security analyst, Sam Vinograd. She was a senior aide to the national security adviser in the Obama administration.

ROMANS: Good morning.

MARQUARDT: Good morning, Sam. How are you?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good morning. I'm good. How are you? Waiting for the president to tweet unfortunately.

MARQUARDT: Well, whether --

ROMANS: He gets up right about now. So, we'll see. We'll see.

MARQUARDT: All right. Sam, you served in the Obama administration. There are some extraordinary quotes in this book, as we mentioned, we just got a copy. I want to read one of them. They lose the ability to distinguish between what's true and what's not, Comey writes. They surround themselves with other liars. Perks and access are given to those willing to lie and tolerate lies. This creates a culture which becomes an entire way of life.

Sam, you have served in an administration. What is your response to the extraordinary revelations that Comey has made? He was someone perceived to be a bureaucrat. We were certainly not expecting a tell- all book from him.

VINOGRAD: Well, Alex, I served in two administrations, one Democrat and one Republican. And I've never heard this kind of characterizations of an inner circle or a cabinet. We heard when they come to President Trump. But in my experience both for Bush and for Obama, the president likes being surrounded by people who don't disagree with him. He like -- they both like being surrounded by people who gave them alternative points of view.

But what this book really does is shows us things that we already knew about the president, that he likes being surrounded by yes men, that he is so deeply focused on personal issues and personal gripes and these kind of conspiracy rabbit holes. Other than the real issues facing our country, which are frankly at the presidential level like Russia's attack on our country. So, I think we learned a lot of unflattering things or allegations about the president, but a lot of the foundations for the stories were already there.

ROMANS: Put it through the national security lens for me, if you will, because you've got a president, at least in the view of this book of James Comey, his concern about Russia has nothing to do really with the attack on American democracy or American institutions, but on himself. VINOGRAD: Exactly. And again, we've seen that before. I mean, how

many months went by before this administration was actually willing to do something on Russia. We have seen stronger steps now.

But the Russia policy has been schizophrenic and perhaps it is a function of the fact the president was worried about something. We don't know if the Russians, in fact, have real compromising material on him or not. But from James Comey's book, it looks like again he is so focused on these personal issues and personal concerns rather than the strategic threat Russia poses to spreading misinformation, spreading information or hacking into our election systems.

[05:05:00] MARQUARDT: Sam, obviously, the president will be occupied with the Comey revelations this morning. One of the things on his plate is Syria. The chemical weapons attack that taking place last week. It has been almost a week.

Last year when another attack happened, it was a couple days when the U.S. responded. Clearly the administration is deliberating. What is happening? Especially when the president says the attack could be imminent or may not be.

VINOGRAD: Well, I think, unfortunately, at this point, we're going to strike for strike's sake. The Russians, the Syrians and Iranians have really moved most of the assets of value out of the way. That is why from the national security perspective and from an operational perspective, you don't telegraph plans before you actually have them.

I think what happened here is the president is upset as we all were. He went out and made a statement and hadn't done the actual policy work that the NSA would typically do with respect to coordinate with allies. Theresa May had to get approval from the cabinet. French President Macron only yesterday said the French have evidence and real proof that the regime was involved. So, there were all of the boxes that needed to be checked, in addition to getting military assets in place to launch a strike.

So, unfortunately, at this point, I think we will see a strike happen at some point. I don't think it will accomplish the original mission objective of destroying targets of value to the regime.

ROMANS: A strike for strike's sake. Do you see a strategy from the White House? A Syria strategy outside of a strike?

VINOGRAD: I don't. I think we at one point had to counter ISIS strategy in Syria. That was turned on its head when the president said we would withdraw.

We have not had a strategy for countering CW in Syria. As you recall, the Russians in the United States were supposed to be working together on removing chemical weapons. Obviously, that didn't work.

So, to me, the real strategy for countering Syria goes through Moscow. We have to deter Vladimir Putin from his support for Assad which as we discussed in relation to the Comey book, we don't have a strategy on that either. ROMANS: Sam Vinograd, come back in about a half an hour, we'll talk

more. Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Thanks, Sam.

MARQUARDT: All right. Sources are telling CNN that conversations recorded by President Trump's personal lawyer before and during the 2016 campaign were likely scooped up in this week's raid on Michael Cohen's home, his office, and his hotel room. The sources say that Cohen routinely recorded discussions about the campaign and interactions with the media.

Two campaign officials tell "The Washington Post" that Trump associates are worried that Cohen's recordings are now in the hands of the FBI. Investigators however will have to wait to hear those recordings. Evidence from the raids has to be reviewed by an independent team to make sure that it doesn't breach attorney-client privilege.

ROMANS: Sources tell CNN that the White House is preparing talking points to undermine the credibility of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The strategy is to cast him as too conflicted to oversee the Russia investigation. The plan is still in its plenary form. The president is considering firing Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel.

The deputy attorney general met with the president and the White House on Thursday. Administration officials say that meeting was arranged to discuss routine Justice Department business.

MARQUARDT: And the White House says that President Trump will grant a full pardon to Scooter Libby. Libby was chief of staff to then Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2007, Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI about leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence but he refused to grant a pardon.

President Trump has already granted one. That was to controversial sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Arizona sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt over his hard-line tactics against undocumented immigrants.

ROMANS: All right. The U.S. is looking for allies as trade tensions with China simmer. The U.S. had until Trump quit the trade deal in the first week of office which was meant to pull allies together to blunt the China influence. Trump told lawmakers he directed his top economic advisors to take a new look at the Trans Pacific Partnership, a huge trade pact with 11 other Pacific nations.

Candidate Trump railed against it, calling it an unfair deal. President Trump withdrew from the TPP in 2017. The other countries including Mexico, Canada and Japan, they moved forward without the U.S. They signed TPP 11.

And now, Senator Ben Sasse says President Trump is reconsidering whether to join the agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: He multiple times reaffirmed the point that TPP may be easier for us to join now once the TPP 11 is aligned. And we might be the 12th party to those negotiations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Trump made those comments during a meeting with lawmakers from states that rely on agriculture. Farmers are hopping mad over the adminstration's escalating trade battle with China. China is threatening tariffs on many agricultural exports.

[05:10:00] Experts say TPP which does not include China, the whole thing was designed to combat China's economic clout.

Late last night, Trump tweeted he would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to President Obama, adding that the U.S. has one-on-one deals with six of the TPP nations. It's currently working on another with Japan.

You know, the Trump administration going to bilateral deals, one-on- one deals. The point of TPP and trade deals like that is that together, countries can negotiate together to blunt China's impact. They're more powerful together than separately.

MARQUARDT: You have to wonder what is going in the halls of Beijing.

ROMANS: Yes.

MARQUARDT: Around and around we go.

All right. Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo asked in his confirmation hearing what he would do if President Trump fired Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Would you resign your post as Secretary of State in order to demonstrate that we are a nation of laws, not of men?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: You'll hear Pompeo's response. That's just ahead.

ROMANS: And anxious hours waiting for President Trump's response to a deadly chemical attack. We are live in northern Syria, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:24] ROMANS: The White House says there is no final decision on how to respond to the apparent gas attack on civilians in Syria. President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May have vowed in a phone call to deter further use of chemical weapons in the region.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in northern Syria with all the details this morning.

I mean, I guess we are waiting to see what kind of response there will be and when, Nick, even as weapons inspectors are expected to get to work.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Curious timetable that the United States and allies set for themselves. Now, very clearly, they believe there has to be some sort of response in the joint rhetoric.

Yet, the timetable for that is getting tricky because U.N. chemical investigators, chemical weapon investigators, the OPCW say themselves they're going to start work on Saturday, looking at the scene in Douma, near Damascus where this last weekend attack occurred.

Now, we heard from the French president and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the U.K. government they believe chemical weapons were used and the finger is point squarely at Assad, the issue is you can't really attack Syria while the U.N. is doing their investigative work without sounding like you're disrespectful for that process. You could potentially hurry it ahead in the hours before that begins and suggest you had to act out of political and military urgency.

But we also have an 11:00 a.m. U.N. Security Council meeting getting underway as well. So, it's a complicated day ahead for the U.S. commander in chief. And if he waits for the inspectors to finish their work, well, frankly, his attention span will have at last as well the kind of collective will amongst his allies who often face domestic political issues when launching military action.

So, a difficult task, perhaps Donald Trump's own making simply in the next 24 hours ahead.

Back to you.

ROMANS: You have to wonder what he is thinking. I mean, first, he said, look out, Russia, for the smart bombs that are coming, you know, in Syria. And then they said maybe nothing is coming. So, we just don't know what he's thinking on this.

All right. Thanks so much, Nick.

MARQUARDT: All right. CIA Director Mike Pompeo is facing an uphill battle in his bid to become secretary of state. Two key Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have signaled they are prepared to vote against his nomination.

You combine with Republican Rand Paul already opposition and Pompeo may not have enough support to win a favorable recommendation from the committee.

Listen to Pompeo deflecting questions about President Trump and the Russia probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, I don't recall. I don't recall what he asked me that day precisely. But I have to tell you, I'm with the president an awful lot. He has never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: All right. Now, assuming he is confirmed, Pompeo was asked whether he would resign as secretary of state if President Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller or the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: Senator, I haven't given that question any thought. My instincts tell me no. My instincts tell me that my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important at increased times of political domestic turmoil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Pompeo was also pressed on how he would handle the nuclear threat posed by Iran. He insists as secretary of state, he would pursue diplomacy first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: There is no doubt this administration's policy and my view is the solution to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as we find the same place with North Korea and Iran is through diplomacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now, if Pompeo fails to get a favorable recommendation from the committee, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could still bring up his nomination on the Senate floor. That would be an extraordinary move. Pompeo would need support of at least one Democratic senator and given Rand Paul's opposition and continued absence of Senator John McCain.

ROMANS: All right. Detroit has it's octopi. What is that?

MARQUARDT: I have no idea. It sounds kind of fish, I guess.

ROMANS: Octopi, oh, my gosh. Nashville has catfish. The fish were flying as the predators were playing on home ice.

Lindsay Czarniak has more in the "Bleacher Report" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:23:59] ROMANS: Colin Kaepernick won't be working out for the Seahawks, but the reports of why postponed it begin to surface yesterday.

MARQUARDT: Lindsay Czarniak has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey there, Lindsay.

ROMANS: Good morning.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, good morning, Christine and Alex.

You know, this story surfaced when ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted yesterday that Kaepernick workout for the team which was scheduled for this past Monday was postponed because the former quarterback declined to stop kneeling during the national anthem next season. The Seahawks told me they did reach out to Kaepernick's camp last week before the visit, but it was with a broad question about his overall plan for off-field social activism.

But as for the Kaepernick side of things, a source close to the situation maintains Seahawks did ask directly if he intended to kneel as part of on-field activism. When Kaepernick would not commit to a plan, the Seahawks to chose to postpone the workout.

Despite this, the Seahawks are talking about if they will bring him in. They are discussing it. No timetable is set.

[05:25:00] The party has officially started in Nashville. It happened last night as they kicked off the playoffs. Smashing cars outside the arena, throwing catfish on the ice.

Last year, the Predators made a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final. But this year, they are the top seed in the west, they'll have a target on their backs for sure. Pittsburgh scoring twice, this amazing goal through his own legs as well as the helpless defense in a 5-2 win.

Angels star Shohei Ohtani, he wants more playing time, but he's got to get more bats if he is doing what he did yesterday. A young fan asked for his bat while watching Ohtani at batting practice. Ohtani shrugged it off. After batting practice, he delivered. He presented the bat to the boy. Ands look at the expression on his face.

Ohtani said he would not do this all the time, because he'd run out of bat, but appreciated the child's boldness for us. He's certainly made a life long fan in the process.

And a dream come true in more ways than one for former South Carolina star A'ja Wilson. She was taken with the first overall pick in WNBA draft last night. She was given a message from her favorite NBA player, Pistons star Blake Griffin. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAKE GRIFFIN, DETROIT PISTONS FORWARD: I can't wait to see what you do in the league. You will dominate. Congrats. I'll be watching.

A'JA WILSON, WNBA: Oh, my goodness! What?

(END VIDEO CLIP) CZARNIAK: Can you imagine? It gives me chills. She is playing for the Las Vegas Aces, so he will be able to watch her success there, guys.

ROMANS: Wow.

MARQUARDT: How do you get catfish in the hockey arena?

CZARNIAK: Oh, they figured it out, and they can get any size in there. So --

ROMANS: And it smells great.

CZARNIAK: Oh, I'm sure.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much, Lindsay.

CZARNIAK: You're welcome, guys.

ROMANS: Fired FBI Director James Comey all but declares war against Donald Trump in his new revenge tell-all. CNN has a copy of the book. We will share it with you next.