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Former FBI Director Comey Shreds Trump In New Book; Trump May Vow To Deter Use Of Chemical Weapons in Syria; Pompeo Facing Uphill Confirmation Battle; Trump Considers Rejoining TPP Trade Deal. Aired 5:30-6a ET
Aired April 13, 2018 - 05:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[05:30:35] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Fired FBI director James Comey is not holding back in his new book, ripping what he calls the "forest fire that is the Trump presidency."
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN FBI agents may have seized tapes of phone calls during that raid on President Trump's personal attorney.
MARQUARDT: And, President Trump talking again with British Prime Minister Theresa May, working on a final decision for a response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.
ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes -- 31 minutes past the hour on Friday the 13th, but it is Friday so let's focus on that part.
In his upcoming book, fired FBI director James Comey blasts President Trump in brutal terms, calling him unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. Comey writes, "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 obtained a copy. Comey calls the Trump presidency a quote "forest fire" and says that aspects like Trump's loyalty oaths and the boss in complete control remind him of his days prosecuting the mob.
MARQUARDT: 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?"
ROMANS: And then there's the so-called dossier, opposition research commissioned by candidate Trump's opponents. Some material later verified but among the unverified claims that Russia had video of Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite in Moscow.
Comey says 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 to investigate the allegation to prove it was a lie. I said it was up to him."
MARQUARDT: Comey has also tough words for his fellow Republicans. Criticizing them, he seems to lay out his own mission statement, saying, "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."
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 are familiar with the matter say that the president's defenders will instead stick to a broader attack on Comey's credibility and character.
Now, 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" which is the original title, but then subtitling it 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.
ROMANS: All right. Joining us this morning live from Washington, CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd. She was a senior aide to the national security adviser in the Obama administration and served two presidential administrations. Good morning.
MARQUARDT: Hey there, Samantha.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Good morning.
ROMANS: Talk to us a little bit about this book reveal through the lens of national security. You have a president, according to this book -- the excerpts that we have just read -- that is more concerned about himself and the Russians than the Russians meddling in the United States election or attacking American democratic institutions. It's a -- it's a very self-focused portrayal of this president.
VINOGRAD: It is and I think it gets at something that we've been seeing since he came into office and particularly with respect to the last bit of the book that you just read, which is this massive inferiority complex about how he won the election.
So instead of talking about the fact that the Russians hacked into our election systems, hacked into e-mails, and laundered information from the DNC and from others, he was more focused on asking a question about whether any votes were altered, not because he was worried about what the Russians did and what the Russians are capable of doing even in the 2018 midterms, but because he's so consumed with this idea that someone's going to think that he didn't actually win.
And we've heard this before. We've heard that there not national security meetings on Russia, for example, and I think that's part of why we've had such a schizophrenic policy toward Russia since President Trump came into office. His personal paranoia, his personal inferiority complex has come before protecting our country and putting up defenses in the run-up to things like the 2018 election.
[05:35:09] MARQUARDT: Sam, Comey also blasts Trump's apparent understanding of the office -- of his role as president.
He writes, "I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal."
So he seems to be saying that Trump either doesn't understand what it means to be president or just simply doesn't care.
VINOGRAD: Alex, I feel like we ask ourselves this question so many times when it comes to President Trump or Jared Kushner and how he deals with foreign counterparts, or name any other member of the president's inner circle.
I have a hard time believing that Donald Trump, with his career in the past and with lawyers that essentially accompanied him into the office, didn't understand that the -- that Jim Comey wasn't there just to serve as his personal investigator. That's beyond comprehension to me.
I think instead, the president has chosen to reinterpret these offices. He has used various members of his cabinet to try to implement personal agendas and the whole notion of what an FBI director is supposed to do or an attorney general is supposed to do has been turned on its head.
We don't see a functioning cabinet anymore across the board. We see a clean-up squad when it comes to the president's statements on things like Syria or we seeing him trying to use these guys to again strike a personal -- scratch a personal itch.
ROMANS: Let's talk about Syria quickly because we've been talking to Nick Paton Walsh this morning in Northern Syria where they're expecting weapons inspectors Saturday investigating the suspected gas attack here.
How do you rate the U.S. response so far?
VINOGRAD: It's been lethargic and unfortunately, to use a very bad pun, the president shot himself in the foot because he got ahead of the policy process earlier this week through a series of tweets. The tweets are considered to be official U.S. policy. He telegraphed the fact that we would be striking with these smart missiles.
And we didn't have our ducks in a row. We had not gone through a process where we consulted with allies. We had not gone through a process where we identified even a target list or the tools that we were going to use. Are these strikes going to come from submarines or are they going to come from aircraft carriers? And so now, we have a kind of Peter cry wolf scenario where we said we were going to something, we haven't done it and at this point, the Syrians, probably with Russian and Iranian help, have moved any asset of value out of the way.
And so, I think that we'll probably end up striking in some -- in some capacity, perhaps with France and the U.K., but I don't think it's actually going to deter Assad from any future killings because we're not going to strike anything that matters to him.
MARQUARDT: And that, of course, is the point, is to deter any future possible attacks. And Syria is apparently saying after last year's chemical weapons attack that they can sort of act with impunity so that the thinking is the U.S. and its allies would now have to respond in a harsher way to ensure that more of these attacks don't happen.
ROMANS: Samantha Vinograd, nice to see you this morning. Thank you.
VINOGRAD: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: Thanks, Sam.
ROMANS: Have a good Friday.
MARQUARDT: On that note, sources tell 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 Cohen's recordings are now in the hands of the FBI. But investigators will have to wait to hear those recordings. Evidence from the raids has to be reviewed by an independent team first to make sure that it doesn't breach attorney-client privilege.
ROMANS: All right.
Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo asked at his confirmation hearing what would he do if President Trump fired Bob 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)
ROMANS: Pompeo's response just ahead.
MARQUARDT: And, anxious hours waiting for President Trump's response to a deadly chemical attack. We're live in Syria, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:43:48] MARQUARDT: Welcome back.
The White House says there is no final decision on how to respond to the apparent gas attack on civilians in Syria last weekend, but officials say that 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 in Northern Syria.
Nick, we are -- here we are, almost a week since that alleged attack and still no military response from the U.S. and its allies. Meanwhile, Syria is about to let in international chemical weapons inspectors. So how does that change the calculus, if at all, of a possible strike?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, indeed, Syria says they may have already let into Syria chemical weapons inspectors, although the OPCW, the U.N. chemical weapons investigators say they won't get to work until Saturday.
Now really, frankly of their own making, the U.S. and its allies, the U.K. and France, have a very complicated timetable ahead of them here. They made it absolutely clear in a number of statements that military action is likely. Donald Trump has reeled that back in, in terms of timing.
But, France has said it has proof chemical weapons were used. Jim Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense, says that he's looking for more actual evidence but he believes that to be the case, too. And the U.K. has been clear on that as well.
[05:45:00] You can't, though, really strike Syria while U.N. investigators are looking at the actual evidence. That's quite, you might say, disrespectful for the actual process themselves. They kind of have to get underway potentially if they're going to act before during today at some point and they have an 11:00, your time, Security Council meeting to bear in mind as well.
So of their own making, frankly, a complex timetable ahead here or a long wait until the inspections come up with their evidence in possibly a week or so from now.
Back to you.
MARQUARDT: Lots of complex mechanics at play there. Nick Paton Walsh in Northern Syria. Thanks very much.
ROMANS: All right, 45 minutes past the hour.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo 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.
Republican Rand Paul is already opposed, so 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), MEMBER, Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?
MIKE POMPEO, NOMINEE, SECRETARY OF STATE, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: 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, let's now bring in "CNN POLITICS" multiplatform editor Brenna Williams live from Washington. Good morning there, Brenna.
BRENNA WILLIAMS, CNN POLITICS MULTIPLATFORM EDITOR, "THE POINT,": Good morning.
MARQUARDT: All right. Well, Pompeo was asked in his hearing about the issue du jour -- about a possible -- a possible Mueller firing so let's listen to that, quickly.
(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: All right, asked there about what would he do -- deflecting there, saying he would stay away from it.
So does this indicate that he's going to be some kind of rubber stamp secretary of state as opposed to Sec. Tillerson and he's just going to go along with whatever the president wants?
WILLIAMS: Well, here's the thing. As Pompeo and Trump, as Pompeo said, they're very close. They have a lot of conversations. So, yes, I mean, coming into the State Department if he were to get confirmed, Trump would have an ally there.
At the same time, Pompeo has also said that he's committed to doing things that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn't do, like filling a lot of roles, including ambassadorships --
WILLIAMS: -- that weren't filled during the Tillerson administration -- or, you know, tenure.
ROMANS: Holding up the secretary of state at this time -- I mean, you look at all the things that are happening -- Syria, Russia, North Korea talks coming up -- what do you think the chances are here that this becomes a real battle?
WILLIAMS: Actually, it's really interesting because usually, you know, high -- when you're in a high-power position like the CIA director -- he already had to go through Senate confirmation -- it's an easier transition. But there are some people, like you said, Shaheen and Kaine among them -- Rand Paul -- that are not really on board for this.
Running the CIA -- yes, you need to be a good administrator, but it's a different kind of diplomacy than running the State Department --
WILLIAMS: -- so there are some questions about that.
So, yes, I think there's a battle although McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has indicated that he might still bring the vote to the floor. There are ways to do that should the vote not make it out of committee.
ROMANS: Rand Paul's --
MARQUARDT: But --
ROMANS: Rand Paul's issue is his position on torture. And some of the Democrats' issues is speech -- other things that he's said in his speech in 2013 where he criticized Muslim leadership for not standing up against the Boston Marathon bombing.
ROMANS: So they say there's anti-Muslim sentiment there, so that's what some of the --
MARQUARDT: The pushback.
Brenna, touch on -- expand a little bit more on that about how extraordinary it would be if the committee were to not recommend Pompeo for secretary of state but then McConnell brings it to the floor for a vote.
WILLIAMS: I think it would be a very controversial move and also, Pompeo would need to get some Democrats on his side because it's a very almost evenly split Senate right now. John McCain has not been around because of his health concerns and Rand Paul, a Republican senator as we said, is not going to vote for him. So, Pompeo has been kind of trying to show his diplomacy chops by going out to the Hill talking to Democratic senators -- talking to senators on both sides trying to convince them that he's the guy for the job. So we'll see if his diplomacy works on the Senate side as he hopes it would on the international stage.
ROMANS: Meanwhile, today in Washington, D.C., I think you're going to have people with their heads buried in a book that they've been trying to get -- this Comey book this morning.
We're going to hear from him on Sunday night in an ABC interview -- James Comey, himself. But people are starting to read this.
And give me a sense of just what Washington -- what Washington is making of this. And I also think -- we were just talking about how interesting it is that the RNC already has sort of like a strategy to discredit him personally and to attack his character -- James Comey's character.
[05:50:04] WILLIAMS: Well, we heard reports of this GOP strategy before excerpts from the book even hit. We knew it was going to cause a tidal wave. As my colleague Chris Cillizza said in last night's "The Point" newsletter, it hit Washington kind of like an atomic bomb.
Comey is coming out swinging. He's not holding back. He's making claims about the president's character, about things that the president said to him in private conversations. So this is not the last we're going to hear of this, right?
This is day one of many and the GOP -- like I said, they were expecting it before we even saw one word out of this book. So it's really interesting that the White House hasn't said anything yet but they are on board with this GOP-RNC strategy.
MARQUARDT: It's very hard to imagine the scenario in which the president stays silent on this. He's stayed silent on other things --
WILLIAMS: You think?
MARQUARDT: -- and he's held back on others things. But on this, it's got to be just a matter of minutes possibly before we actually hear from the president on Twitter.
WILLIAMS: Washington is waiting with bated breath.
MARQUARDT: Brenna, thank you so much.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
ROMANS: Brenna Williams, thank you.
Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.
Global stocks mostly higher today. Wall Street rose on reports -- I mean, that the president may rejoin the TPP trade agreement. Wall Street likes that. He also walked back threats of an immediate strike on Syria.
The hope today is that investors will focus on fundamentals, not headlines. You've got earnings season starting with some big banks -- Citigroup, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo. Wall Street expects big profits from those banks and bank stocks soared yesterday in anticipation.
In AT&T's antitrust trial its first witness aims to undermine the Justice Department's case. The DOJ, of course, is suing AT&T to block its purchase of Time Warner, the parent of CNN. The government claims the deal will mean higher prices for you, the consumer, but AT&T's economist argues it will lower prices because the merger creates a more efficient company.
The trial began in mid-March and is expected to wrap up this month.
All right. Tesla is in an open feud with the National Transportation Safety Board. Both sides accuse the other making improper disclosures about a fatal crash. It concerns the NTSB's investigation of a Tesla crash while in autopilot mode.
The agency removed Tesla from the official probe for disclosing details during the investigation. Tesla says no, it wanted to correct misleading statements about autopilot and that it removed itself from the investigation.
Tesla says the NTSB is more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety and threatens to make an official complaint to Congress. Unusual to see that kind of dispute spilling into the public.
MARQUARDT: Elon Musk does like his headlines.
ROMANS: Yes, he does.
MARQUARDT: All right.
Well, President Trump quit a huge trade deal last year. Now he may want to get back in. We're going to get reaction live from Tokyo, next.
[05:57:09] MARQUARDT: Welcome back.
President Trump is now directing senior aides to explore rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) if a substantially better deal can be reached.
CNN's Anna Stewart is live with us in Tokyo with more.
Anna, there was all this drama about leaving TPP. Now, the U.S. is talking about getting back in. What's been the reaction out there?
ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the national reaction today has been fairly the same across the board of TPP government, saying welcome back, that the door is still open, and it's not really a surprise. I mean, this trading bloc without the U.S. represents some 14 percent of global trade but with the U.S., it represents 40 percent so it would be a much more powerful trading bloc.
That said, there's a but in all of this and we've seen from Australia and actually, from Japan's government, both saying OK, you can come back but we can't do big amendments here. We can't do huge additions to the deal.
This is very eleventh hour stuff. The deal is actually signed and in the process of being ratified. Alex, it's like joining a member's club and at the same time being like can I change the rules?
MARQUARDT: Eleventh hour stuff. No one ever said that President Trump doesn't like a little bit of drama.
All right, Anna Stewart in Tokyo. Thanks very much.
ROMANS: It turns out you need a trading bloc with your friends if you're going to take on the Chinese --
MARQUARDT: Fancy that.
ROMANS: -- on trade issues.
MARQUARDT: Who knew?
ROMANS: Ha! All right, 58 minutes past the hour.
Colonel Lorna Mahlock has been nominated by President Trump to become the first black female brigadier general in the Marine Corps. Colonel Mahlock is currently a deputy director of Corps headquarters in Washington.
Women make up just eight percent of the Marines but Corps officials launched a diversity campaign in 2012 and say they expect to see an increase among women in the ranks. Good for her.
MARQUARDT: All right. Well, thanks for joining us. Thanks so much for having me this week.
ROMANS: It was great to have you this week.
MARQUARDT: It's been a lot of fun.
ROMANS: I know.
MARQUARDT: I hope to be back soon.
ROMANS: Yes, you're off to -- off in the field again.
ROMANS: All right.
MARQUARDT: It's back to the field I go. All right, I'm Alex Marquardt. ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now. Have a good Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Revenge is best served cold. He has some scores to settle here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I were the FBI director I would have said stick with the facts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have every confidence that Jim Comey accurately recounted what exactly went on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House is preparing an argument for why Rod Rosenstein should be recused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Firing Rod Rosenstein is akin to firing Bob Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen often recorded his conversations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a gold mine for investigators.
JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I believe there was a chemical attack.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're looking very, very seriously -- very closely at the whole situation.
POMPEO: The president has authority to act without first coming to Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It is Friday, April 13th -- Friday the 13th.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, thank you for that warning.
CUOMO: And let me tell you, we're going to play on that theme a little bit this morning here at 6:00.
Our "Starting Line," the Comey-Trump war is now in full effect.