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Comey Blasts Trump's Presidential Leadership in Tell-All Book. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired April 13, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Revenge is best served cold. He has some scores to settle here.
[05:59:14] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: If I were the FBI director, I would have said stick with the facts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have every confidence that Jim Comey is accurately telling what exactly went on.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: 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.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's a gold mine for investigators.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe there was a chemical attack.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are looking very, very seriously, very closely at that action.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has the authority to act without first coming to the Congress.
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 13. Friday the 13th.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for that warning.
CUOMO: Let me tell you, we're going to play on that theme a little bit this morning here at 6 p.m. Our starting line, the Comey-Trump war is now in full effect. Fired FBI Director Jim Comey is tell-all book is leaking out. Comey portrays the president is unethical, untethered to the truth. He compares Mr. Trump to a Mafia boss who demands loyalty and slamming what he calls the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.
Now, Comey's account is very personal. And you're going to see things in this book that are unusual here from a former official at his level. There's a lot of revenge in this book, as well as telling his side of the story in terms of a factual account.
Comey also writes about the president's fixation with having the FBI disprove one of the most salacious details in the infamous Russia dossier. How will the president respond to these revelations.
Here's what we know. He is going to respond. And might this change his cooperation with Robert Mueller's investigation? I'm getting a little choked up.
CAMEROTA: I know you are.
CUOMO: Part of it is my breakfast that got caught eating. The other part is the emotional impact.
CAMEROTA: Glad you revealed that. I did think you were cutting it a little close with the scrambled eggs today.
CUOMO: Yes. You should have told me that.
CAMEROTA: I should have.
Meanwhile, sources say the White House is preparing to plan to undermine Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to make the case that he is too conflicted to oversee Mueller's probe. What exactly will they do?
Also, President Trump's secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo, may fall short of the votes that he needs to advance to a vote on the Senate floor. So there are several crises facing the Trump administration. What will they do to get Pompeo confirmed?
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. Another busy day, Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There's so much to get to this morning, Alisyn. Already, days before Comey's book is even released, it's already making waves in Washington in part because of the stunning rebuke of President Trump's presidency.
Comey characterizes him as a liar and as someone who is unconcerned with Russia's threat to American democracy. Fired FBI director James Comey's takedown of President Trump is nothing short of extraordinary. Comey revealing explosive details about the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.
Comey paints the president as a compulsive liar, devoid of human emotion, "unethical, and untethered to truth and constitutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego-driven and about personal loyalty."
Comey recalls his first-time meeting the president-elect at an intelligence briefing at Trump Tower just days before he was sworn in. After briefing him on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, Comey writes, "Mr. Trump had this question": "You found out there was no impact on the result, right?" "The Washington Post" reports that Comey reveals in the book that he was surprised that Mr. Trump did not seem interested in Russia's threat to America but instead focused on how they could spin what he had just told them.
The former prosecutor comparing the president's leadership style to that of a mob boss. "The silent circle of ascent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth."
PHILLIP: And Comey also talks in this book about his reactions with President Trump at a private dinner that he had in which the president apparently asked him for loyalty. And here's what he wrote: "I was determined not to give the president any hint of assent to this demand so I gave silence instead. I stared at the soft white pouches under his expressionless blue eyes. I remember thinking in that moment that the president doesn't understand the FBI's role in American life."
Comey also talked a little bit about the back and forth with President Trump over this dossier, the unconfirmed dossier. Some of the allegations in that dossier were so outrageous even to the president that he kept repeatedly asking Comey about them. And even at one point, Comey says, considered asking him to investigate it.
But here's why Comey -- the president was so concerned about it, according to Comey. "It bothered him if there was even 1 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."
As far as we know, the president didn't direct Comey to investigate one of the more salacious elements of that dossier, which is -- involves pee. That's all I'm going to say about it.
But the point is that Comey is really detailing some of the most private moments with President Trump and also detailing a man who was obsessed with this Russia investigation; but not because of the impact that it would have on American democracy but rather the impact that it would have on his reputation -- Alisyn and Chris.
[06:05:08] CAMEROTA: Abby, there are some moments they don't teach you in journalism school. And I think you might have just encountered one.
CUOMO: But it's OK. Even knows what you're talking about, Ab. Don't worry about that.
All right. Let's discuss the impact with CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. Brother Gregory, a little bit of Danielle Steele coming at us there
with the white pouches under the expressionless blue eyes. A little bit of a bodice ripper. What jumps out at you about what we understand to be in this book so far?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the timing is what jumps out at me. We know this story line. We know the back and forth between, you know, these two players, the president and Jim Comey, who is going to be heavily criticized, as he was by Democrats and Republicans later.
But Democrats at the time of the election, for how he intervened in this e-mail investigation and tried to manage his media profile and that of the FBI's in a way that was deservedly criticized.
But so we know this back and forth. But I think the timing of it now, at this crescendo moment in the Mueller investigation, with the president, you know, making threats about firing the assistant attorney general, I think speaks to one of the most troubling aspects of this presidency. And that is that President Trump does not seem to respect the rule of law or the institutions of law enforcement in our government or our intelligence agencies. And that is a huge problem.
What Comey puts out there again is the fact that, when the facts of the Russia meddling became known, without suggesting that it impacted the result of the election, the president didn't seem to care about what the threat was, what the future of the threat was. We have to keep coming back to that. And even the president's defenders have to give room to say, "Why doesn't he seem to care about a major threat to this institution?" These folks in law enforcement, from the attorney general to his head of the FBI, they believe in the rule of law. They're going to run this stuff down. They do care about that stuff no matter who appointed them. And the president seems not to care.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He is concerned about questions about illegitimacy in his election. That seems to be the context in which he cares.
But that speaks to, I think, what Comey -- the story Comey is telling is a president who's untruthful and doesn't seem to care about institutions or acknowledge them. Especially the institution of the presidency. Which is a sacred trust with American history and the American people and that you should care about, you know, things of national interest that don't affect you or maybe even reflect badly upon you.
What's startling to me about this is this isn't just the timing, though I think it's fascinating. It is coming out as the Mueller investigation reaches a crescendo, as he says, but the fact that Comey brings to bear his lifetime, professional lifetime of experience in investigating in particularly the mafia and the New York mob. And the parallels he sees in the culture surrounding this president and things he saw at the Ravenite Social Club in the 1980s and '90s in New York. That's fascinating.
CAMEROTA: Maybe we should -- maybe it's worth reading that passage again for people. Here it is. "Flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob. The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth."
AVLON: And again, this is not coming from a partisan Democrat taking cheap shots. This is somebody who's always tried to hold himself above politics.
CAMEROTA: Yes. But it is coming from somebody who has a score to settle.
AVLON: No question about it.
CAMEROTA: Let me just say one thing. I think this is really important. The cascade of events that happened because James Comey was fired, OK? We've talked about this in terms of the Robert Mueller investigation. Also this book. I mean, this book would never have been written --
AVLON: Of course not.
CAMEROTA: -- had he not been fired.
AVLON: This is why people were warning the president not to fire Comey, because it would set off a series of things.
But nonetheless, you have to look at Comey's record. He is a lifelong Republican, Republican appointee; served presidents of both parties honorably in different roles in the justice and the FBI. So there is real moral authority. So you can't simply dismiss him or the RNC trying to cheaply go after him with sort of frat boy humor. This is someone whose career has gravitas and you can't dismiss as a partisan.
GREGORY: I --
CUOMO: Go ahead, David, please.
GREGORY: I agree -- I agree with that. But we do have to step back and say that Comey got himself into a lot of trouble because of self- inflicted wounds. He tried to manage this e-mail investigation and making certain parts of it public for his own kind of political and media stature under the guise of protecting the FBI. He didn't have to do what he did. It was unprecedented that he shared both things that he thought would be -- you know, that Clinton people thought were good for them, as well as stuff that was bad for them. He didn't have to do either of those things.
It doesn't mean he should have been fired. And let's remember: he was fired because the president didn't like how the investigation was going.
GREGORY: That's a huge problem. That's what still holds true. [06:10:04] And you know, this business of this kind of mob boss
mentality that this president has, let's remember as we question some of the events of the past couple of days, how the FBI is going in and seizing records from his lawyer and how unusual that is.
It's also unusual to have a fixer as a lawyer do these outlandish things that nobody believes: making $130,000 payment to a porn star and recording these conversations. This is what FBI and Justice Department officials do. They do prosecute people for bank fraud, for wire fraud. They do that stuff, in part, to make a larger case, perhaps, or just because of those crimes in and of themselves.
And so the president and his people can carp about it, but Comey and all these people represent law and order in the country, which is worth standing up for.
CUOMO: Well, that's going to be the open question about this book, though, is whether or not it's about light or it's about heat. I have never seen -- haven't read a ton of these types of books. But this man, with his type of stature, John, there's a lot of pettiness in this book. There's a lot of open revenge in this book.
CAMEROTA: Should we read some?
CUOMO: Yes. And we do have to remember, Jim Comey did something that the FBI never does.
GREGORY: Never does.
CUOMO: I mean, I've been working on cases with them for almost 20 years now. And they frustrate you with the "We can't confirm or deny. We can't tell you." Nothing ever ends.
He came out in this. People believed it was self-serving. He's got enemies on both sides. In this book, it will be interesting to see how much -- who it really hurts and who it really helps.
CAMEROTA: In terms of the more frivolous, I guess, if you want to call it, or as you said, tawdry stuff, do you want to talk about the appearance? Is that what you want to hear about?
CUOMO: Me personally? I don't want to hear about any of it. But go ahead, because it's going to get a lot of headlines. That, the pee- pee tape, that's going to get a lot of headlines.
CAMEROTA: Here -- OK.
GREGORY: That happened. That just happened.
CUOMO: It's going to happen. I mean, it says something about, you know, the culture, writ large. And I guarantee you that these clips, the ones you're going to read right now and the one about that tape are going to be the big sell on this book going into it. That tells you something, too.
CAMEROTA: Maybe. But I mean, I do think that, to your point, this shows that it is James Comey sort of lowering himself when he talks about the president's appearance, who it is.
CUOMO: Go ahead. Go ahead.
CAMEROTA: This is James Comey's impression of Donald Trump: "His face appeared slightly orange," Comey writes, "with white bright half moons under his eyes, where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coiffed bright blonde hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his."
AVLON: There's a compliment right there.
CUOMO: First of all, he's got unique perspective, because he's like 6'8", 6'9". So he's --
AVLON: Look, you can call this petty. And you can say it's evidence of his observational skills developed as an FBI agent. And it's also not terrible writing. He is describing the president as he has seen up close. And I don't think there's anything petty, necessarily, about describing what somebody looks like.
CUOMO: That's what you want to hear from the former head of the FBI? Is his depiction of the president --
AVLON: Among other things, absolutely. Sure, why not? Look, if there's an eye for detail that not every, you know, government bureaucrat or even author would have. So I don't think it's illegitimate. I'm not sure that, really, this is the great scandal of the book.
CUOMO: No, no, I hear you. It does set a tone.
Go ahead, David.
GREGORY: It's an editor -- it's an editor and an excellent writer like a John Avlon, saying, "Hey, Mr. Comey, can you take us in the room? Can you use precise descriptive language to kind of take us into the room that would help the narrative here?"
CAMEROTA: Definitely. I heard an editor all over that moment.
CUOMO: Right. But you've got to remember who your author is. That's all I'm saying, is you know, you read the books, you know, from the big-shot generals and the big-shot politicians who are in. It's not the kind of recountance (ph) you're used to seeing.
AVLON: In very few of these post-administration memoirs is the blood this bad. Right? I mean, this is an FBI director who was fired, who's been a controversial figure on both sides of the aisle over the last 18 months. And I'm sure there will be stuff the Clintons don't like in the line he tried to walk to explain his decision to release those two memos.
But -- but you know, I think you've got to see this in context. And this is somebody who, over the course of his career, has clearly stood for law and order and has seemed to be trying to hold himself to a higher standard than he's seen the president held.
CAMEROTA: There was something, David, that we hadn't heard before, and that was how the first lady, Melania, reacted to the salacious parts of the dossier that were becoming public. And so it's interesting. Here's -- here's that excerpt.
"It bothered him if there was even a 1 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."
I think that's interesting, because you know, obviously, it shows sort of the personal interaction behind all of these salacious headlines. And it does have an impact on real human beings and real relationships.
GREGORY: Well, it does. And it's also fair that President Trump would have a huge reaction to something that he claims is absolutely false and that has been unconfirmed getting into the public domain.
There's a lot of sides to this that are understandable, including the president and his supporters' reaction to the idea that there's -- so much of this may not be true, that may be off base, that may be unfair to him, including concerns about the investigation and the sprawling aspect of the investigation. You know, that's all fair.
[06:15:15] I think -- and there's so much criticism to be levied at Comey, perhaps his conduct in the book, details in the book. But you've got to go back to the base points about what's been alleged in the basis of the investigation and was it justified to fire him. That's what people are going to examine here.
CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory, John Avlon, thank you both very much.
So in the book, the fired FBI director, Comey, also claims that President Trump seemed unconcerned about Russia's election interference after a briefing by his intelligence chiefs. Former DNI James Clapper attended that briefing. He joins us with his take next.
[06:19:33] CAMEROTA: In his new book, fired FBI Director James Comey writes about his first meeting with President-elect Donald Trump days before Trump was sworn in, in which he and other intelligence chiefs briefed Mr. Trump about the Russia interference in the 2016 election. Comey says the president-elect did not ask any questions about Russia's threat to America's democracy or how to stop future attacks.
Our next guest was present for part of that meeting, former director of national intelligence and CNN national security analyst, James Clapper.
Director Clapper, great to have you here this morning. It will be very interesting to bounce off James Comey's impressions that he shares in the book with yours, since you were there for part of these things.
[06:20:07] The first one I want to bring up is the moment when you all were briefing President Obama about some of the things in the Russian dossier. Let me read this. "Obama turned his head to the left and looked directedly at me. He raised and lowered both of his eyebrows with emphasis and then looked away. To my mind, his Groucho Marks eyebrow raise was both subtle humor and an expression of concern. It was almost as if he was were saying, 'Good luck with that.'"
Do you remember those moments?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I do, yes. As it turns out, the previous Tuesday, January 4, I was in the Oval, and in fact, as we were walking in, Susan Rice, the national security adviser, said, "Say, could you give President Obama a little run-through on the dossier?" And I kind of gulped, because I wasn't actually prepared to do that. So I gave him sort of a cursory review of it.
And I thought that President Obama's reaction was very similar to what Jim described in our subsequent meeting -- when I say our, Jim Comey, John Brennan, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Admiral Mike Rogers, who was then and still is the director of NSA. That meeting came later.
In my meeting, the president didn't say anything. He just kind of rolled his eyes. And I think, you know, body language, facial expressions conveyed volumes. And that -- so his reaction to my brief preliminary, you know, coming attractions was very consistent with what Jim described in our subsequent meeting.
CAMEROTA: Director Clapper, there's so much in this book. It's so -- it's such a commentary on President Trump. It's a commentary on how James Comey thinks President Trump feels about the justice system. And there's all sorts of what some might call some petty details in here. There's some settling of scores. What do you think about James Comey having written this book?
CLAPPER: Well, I think it, above all, is a truthful portrayal of how -- you know, Jim's observations, his feelings and -- and what occurred. You know, people can take issue with decisions that Jim made and things he did. But in my view, knowing Jim as I do, I think whatever he did, he did it for what he felt were the best reasons and were in the best interests of the country.
Of course, I'm kind of comparing notes here, because I've got a book coming out next month which also talks about some of the same events. And I'm sure that the same accusations are going to be levied at me, as well.
CAMEROTA: Do you include things about the president's appearance? I'll read a passage -- hold on one second -- from James Comey's new book. "His face appeared slightly orange with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blonde hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his."
Do you have details like that in your book?
CLAPPER: No, I don't,, Alisyn. Maybe I should have. I don't know. But no, I don't get that specific, although I've don't agree -- I don't disagree with any of the description. But I didn't include that kind of --
CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, the point is -- the reason I ask is because James Comey was always depicted as this career prosecutor, serious man, straight shooter. And so is this the James Comey that you know to include some of the more salacious details in this book?
CLAPPER: Well, Jim didn't generate the salacious details. And so he chose to include, you know, some pretty specific graphic details about his impressions of President Trump. Well, that's the nature of those kind of books. So I don't -- I don't fault him for it. I just, in my case, chose not to include details like that.
CAMEROTA: When is the last time that you spoke to James Comey, and what did he tell you about the coming onslaught connect connected to the book?
CLAPPER: Well, we didn't -- when last we were in contact was informal dinner that John Brennan and his wife and the Comeys and my wife and me had, we referred to it as the reunion of the Nazis, I guess.
CAMEROTA: Why is that?
CLAPPER: Well, that's the way President -- then President-elect Trump characterized us after that 6 January briefing in his news conference on the 11th of January, which is what, of course, occasioned my call to him, which I did more just to defend the men and women of the intelligence community than anything else. So we, as I say, referred to it as the reunion of the Nazis. I mean, we all --
CAMEROTA: When was that? When did you all have this informal dinner?
CLAPPER: It was about three or four weeks ago. And I think we clearly, and certainly Jim understood, that there's going to be a firestorm in terms of reacting to the book.
Of course, we're all having is a discussion about the book. And at least for my part, I haven't read it. All I've -- I'm aware of is excerpts that have been reported in the media. But there's going to -- an we knew there would be high interest in it. And you know, this is a period of great controversy, very politically charged. And however you describe it, is going to evoke controversy. And I expect there will be criticisms of what I said, too, when -- when my book comes out.
CAMEROTA: Well, why don't you give us a preview? How are you going to trump this one, so to speak? What are some juicy tidbits in your book?
CLAPPER: Well, mine is a longer time span. It goes back over my 50 years in intelligence. And so I discuss my take on Edward Snowden and his aftermath and the aftermath of what he did, and Benghazi. I talk about that and I guess from sort of the government's perspective.
So it's a broader time span than -- than just focusing on -- although I do speak, of course, to the election and the result and the aftermath which, to be honest, is kind of what motivated me to write a book. I hadn't planned to do that until all of that happened.
CAMEROTA: Well, that sounds like it will be fascinating. Obviously, we will have you back on to help dissect your book when it comes out, Director Clapper.
CLAPPER: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for talking to us.
CLAPPER: Thank you. Thanks, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK. Chris.
CUOMO: I think we may see a spate of books. This administration is going to generate a lot of people wanting to tell their side of the story, so it seems.
All right. After threatening to launch missiles, now we're hearing that President Trump has not decided on how to respond in any way to the suspected chemical attack in Syria. So was that tweet just hype? Is there any plan at all? Is there any plan to go to Congress? Is Congress insisting they do that? These are important questions. Answers ahead.