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Comey Tell-All Book Calls into Question Trump's Leadership; Comey Breaks Silence in First Interview. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Comey likens his interactions with the president to "flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the mob."

[07:00:18] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a vendetta against him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's saying that this president does not respect the law. He's abusing his power.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The president's attorneys pulling back on discussions for him to meet with Robert Mueller.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Rod Rosenstein has not done his job. He has not supervised Mueller. This whole thing is an absurdity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels as though he's living through a scene out of "Mean Girls." The GOP uses him as a punching bag.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Folks, we'll see what happens. It's too bad the world (ph) puts us in a position like that.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He has the authority under the existing AUMF.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think strikes are probably imminent. The fact is, we're in complete chaos.

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ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Fired FBI Director James Comey blasting President Trump in his new tell-all book. Comey portrays the president as, quote, "unethical and untethered to the truth." He compares Mr. Trump to a mafia boss who demands loyalty. And he slams what he calls the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Comey's account is as much about revenge, apparently, as it is about telling his side of the story. Comey also writes about the president's apparent fixation with having the FBI disprove one of the most salacious details in the Russia dossier.

The big questions this morning are these. How is the president going to respond to this Comey book? And will it change the president's disposition towards the Mueller investigation?

CAMEROTA: All right. There's so much to discuss. We have all sorts of excerpts. So let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former FBI senior intelligence adviser.

Great to see both of you. OK. So let's see. Where should we start?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Dramatic readings?

CAMEROTA: Well, you know, Chris and I do like that.

GREGORY: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And we do fancy ourselves pretty good with it. So -- but this one is serious, so I'm not going to do a dramatic reading. This is: "Lying is a way of life." OK, this is how James Comey sees how -- the modus operandi of President Trump. "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."

What jumps out at you, David Gregory, in this book?

GREGORY: That we have to stop the madness around all of this. There is going to be a back and forth on this. The president is going to start tweeting. People are going to come out talking about all the mistakes that Jim Comey made. And he made many. He made many with regard to the Clinton e-mail investigation, getting into unprecedented waters with how he handled that.

But the bottom line is what has been demonstrated is that we have a president who is openly contemptuous of our institutions of law and order in this country, of the FBI. He fired the FBI director because he didn't like the investigation that was going on into him. He's now threatening to fire the assistant attorney general. He's criticized his attorney general for recusing himself. He's suggesting that an FBI raid on on his lawyer's office when it was approved by a judge and the Justice Department was an attack on America. These are dangerous things.

And I think supporters of the president need to get their heads on right and understand where support for a president and standing up for American institutions differ. Let's be honest with ourselves. If President Hillary Clinton had engaged in this kind of action toward the Justice Department and the FBI, she would have been impeached months ago.

CUOMO: Look, Phil, as you know, people can agree, not agree. That's a spot-on analysis of the political implications here. As somebody who investigated these kinds of situations, what is the lens through which you're looking at this information, and what are you still looking for in the rest of the book?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: A pretty straightforward lens, Chris. And that is you've got to assume that every one of these facts that's relevant has already been discussed with Robert Mueller. When I saw the facts of the book come out, I separated out two pieces.

The piece that includes the personal observations of the former FBI director about things like the size of the president's hands. I don't know why we care. With the more significant stories about the president's engagement during, up to and after the firing of James Comey. Again, those conversations have been had between Comey and the investigators.

My curiosity was the mosaic around those, the other conversations that Mueller has had that say that everything Comey said was true. And then the follow-on conversation, does that mean the president did something illegal? I'm curious about how much confirmation Mueller got.

CAMEROTA: David, do you think we -- do we have it?

CUOMO: All right. We're waiting on a clip of --

CAMEROTA: Comey.

CUOMO: -- the discussion about interference and what was in it. When it comes, it comes.

[07:05:04] CAMEROTA: In the meantime, let's talk about -- because you raised Hillary Clinton, David Gregory. It's interesting to hear James Comey, I think for the first time, spelling out, at least more explicitly, what his rationale was for why he decided to go public that there might be a new treasure trove of Hillary Clinton e-mails on Abedin's laptop before he knew whether these were new e-mails. They turned out not to be. OK?

And so he talks about how he felt, if he kept that secret, it could actually hurt Hillary Clinton. Here it is: "It is entirely possible that 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."

GREGORY: I mean, this is -- first of all, let's be very clear. Donald Trump did not fire the FBI director because he was defending Hillary Clinton's honor. He fired him because he didn't like how he was handling the Russia investigation. So let's put that aside and now focus on what is legitimate criticism of Jim Comey. I think these explanations are ridiculous.

I think Jim Comey was trying to manage his media profile and the politics of the FBI because he was getting so much pressure, especially after how they handled the Petraeus investigation, former head -- general and head of the CIA, trying to protect the FBI from criticism from Republicans. So he did what you never do, which is if you don't charge someone, you don't talk. U And unfortunately, there was a very weak attorney general at the time, Loretta Lynch, who was half in and half out of this investigation, which made Comey's job harder. All of this was handled extremely poorly, and he ended up interfering in the election. That's his legacy. He's got to live with that.

That is separate from the fact that he got fired because how he was -- you know, he was getting too close on the Russia investigation for President Trump's liking.

CAMEROTA: You know -- thank you for that, David. It shines a light on something that is going to be a problem with Jim Comey in general.

The first one is, Phil, that he did something, as David just said, very eloquently, we've never seen before, where we had an FBI head come out and start talking about it, an investigation during a campaign that was entirely prejudicial, initially, towards, you know, bad for Hillary Clinton.

And then that's going to play out in other aspects of this book, where he'll say, for instance, there's reporting out there about him talking about the former attorney general, Loretta Lynch and saying, "I learned things about her, but they're still classified right now." So here's ABC's sound on it.

Wait for it.

CAMEROTA: OK. This is going to be James Comey in his own words for the first time talking about some of these stories.

CUOMO: A dramatic pause sometimes is more interesting than the sound itself. But Phil, quickly answer that question for me. Is that the burden of Comey when he's talking about these people, he's done things that are controversial. So he's going to have to give proof of why it was OK. As David says, it may fall flat. And then he may say things in this book that he can't back up with any proof.

MUDD: I think you're right. I think he's going to have a problem this week as he rolls this out, and that problem is not whether he's factual or not, whether he's honorable or not. He is. I assume -- I judge the facts in the book are correct.

The problem is the character of James Comey. And we saw this in the comments that Dave was just making about Comey's comments on Hillary Clinton, is that sometimes he views himself as America's high school principal.

Look, we're not here because he can judge what he thinks is right or wrong in terms of the president's ethical or moral behavior. We're here because he's the chief law enforcement officer for the United States, and we're interested about what he determined in terms of illegal activity or his observations in the Oval Office that might have led to illegal activity.

So this sermonizing about Loretta Lynch, about his hand-wringing about Hillary Clinton, I think, is going to detract from what is a powerful message. That is his factual observations on what went on in his interaction with the president of the United States.

CAMEROTA: Well, listen, his factual observations are also wed now with his take. I mean, his kind of perception, impressions. And so here's this example, where he does use the analogy of a mob boss. That's how he interpreted the way the Trump Organization was run.

CUOMO: As a former mob investigator.

CAMEROTA: As a former -- career prosecutor, mob investigator. So this analogy is particularly apt and vivid coming from James Comey. "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."

David, how do you hear that?

GREGORY: You know, again, I think one of the striking facts that we've talked about from the book is that, in some of these initial briefings, neither the president-elect, Trump, or his advisers ask about the ongoing threat by Russia against our country and against our democratic systems and institutions. That's very troubling, because I think, you know, the president, as I've said many times, doesn't view the presidency as bigger than himself.

[07:10:18] You know, Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, has a lot of detractors. But I think people would say that he views the job of attorney general as bigger than himself and his politics. He may have a political agenda about certain things he pursues within that job.

But I think that's what's missing here, and that's really what comes through. And so I think people who support the president, who say the media is unfair. Or this investigation is unfair. They have to kind of pull back and say a president who so often doesn't tell the truth or who's attacking institutions, who uses hyperbole, like, you know, the FBI is conducting a hit or an attack on the country, is undermining the institutions that serve not just him but the entire country. That's dangerous. That should not be tolerated.

CUOMO: Phil, what do you think that this book is supposed to do, can do, might do for what really matters about this? This isn't a memoir. It's not something that's written 20 years later. Even like Clapper's book, with all due respect, you know, looking at his 50-year career. We're in the midst of a probe right now. This man was central to our understanding of it from a prosecutorial perspective. What are the expectations?

MUDD: I think two things. One, on the Comey side, this is part of a picture that will be completed by Director Mueller. We all have our outside perceptions of who the president is and how things operate in the Oval Office. This is the beginning of confirmation from the inside that what we perceive is actually accurate.

I think one of the more significant pieces, though, is the president and his circle, those 40 percent of Americans who support him, are going to say, "Look at the judgments in this book. This confirms that there are deep-state people out here who don't like the president and, from within government, including James Comey, want to take him down."

I think the statements like the one you just read will confirm to people, including the president, that there are people out to get him within the government.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic, David. President Trump has announced that he's going to pardon Scooter Libby. What's this about?

GREGORY: You know, as has been suggested, maybe it's the shot across the bow. Scooter Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice. He was not pardoned by President Bush. His vice president, Dick Cheney, weighed in, because he worked for Vice President Cheney, said it was the equivalent to leaving a man on the battlefield, a soldier on the battlefield. And President Bush was mad about it. He was mad at -- what's that?

I'm sorry. I thought there was some -- but my point is that, you know, President Bush did not like being put in that position and was not willing to pardon him. Maybe this is Trump saying, "Here's a guy who was caught up in obstruction of justice. You know, it was illegitimate part of that investigation," and wants to make a point as he's being looked at for obstruction of justice in a different context, a sitting president. But that could still become part of a report that's sent to Congress if that's the finding.

CAMEROTA: Phil, five seconds. Were those mutterings something you wanted to say?

MUDD: No. I'm sorry. Someone was speaking to me in my ear, and I thought it was you. I apologize.

CAMEROTA: How dare they! Thank you both, gentlemen, very much.

CUOMO: All right. So look, this book matters on a lot of different levels. We know some of what Jim Comey is saying in the book. And we know even more about what he's saying in his own words. This morning we're hearing from the fired FBI director in his first interview. There are excerpts. You can hear them next.

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[07:17:26] CUOMO: All right. We have breaking news. For the first time, we're hearing from fired FBI director Jim Comey in a new interview about his book. Comey tells ABC News what he told President-elect Trump about interference days before being sworn in. Listen to this.

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JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: President Trump's first question was to confirm that it had no impact on the election. And then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a P.R. conversation about how the Trump team would position this and what they could say about this. They actually started talking about drafting a press release with us still sitting there. And the reason that was so striking to me is that that's just not done. That the intelligence community does intelligence. The White House does P.R. and spin.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You also said you were struck by what they didn't ask.

COMEY: Very much. No one, to my recollection, asked, "So what -- what's coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What's the future look like?" It was all "What can we say about what they did and how it effects the election that we just had?"

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CUOMO: Joining us now is CNN national security analyst Michael Hayden, of course, the former director of the CIA and NSA.

General, nobody ever accused the political operatives around Donald Trump of being too savvy and always asking the right questions. But when you hear Jim Comey recount this, what stands out to you?

MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, that's a remarkable story, and frankly, Chris, consistent with my conversations with other intelligence veterans who are in the room. And what you've got is a president and a team around the president whose lens for considering these kinds of things is, frankly, self. It's the Trump brand that they're concerned about, rather than the larger strategic interest to the United States.

And I might add, that statement there that the Russians have no impact on the election, that Jim Clapper and Jim Comey said, you know, "We can't -- we don't have evidence of that," that actually made it through the press release that the Trump team issued later that afternoon.

CUOMO: Let me play another clip for you. Now, again, some of this stuff is a little tawdry. But it is going to be an interesting perspective on what matters to Comey and what mattered to the president in Comey's estimation. Listen to this.

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COMEY: He says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn't happen, and then he says something that distracted me, because he said, "If there's even a 1 percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible."

[07:20:05] And I -- and I remember thinking, "How could your wife think there's a 1 percent chance you were with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow?" I'm a flawed human being, but there's literally zero chance that my wife would think that was true. So what kind of marriage and what kind of man does your wife think there's only a 99 percent chance you didn't do that?

And I said, "Sir" -- when he started talking about "I may order you to investigate that." I said, "Sir, that's up to you. But you want to be careful about that, because it might create a narrative that we're investigating you personally. And second, it's very difficult to prove something didn't happen."

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you believe his denial?

COMEY: I never thought these words would come out of my mouth. But I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes being on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.

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CUOMO: All right. What's your take on that?

HAYDEN: Wow. So, No. 1, I think the president is treating the FBI the way he has treated other people in the Trump Corporation that they are responsible only to him and will do his will, rather than have a responsibility to a broader institutional, constitutional framework. And you saw Director Comey push back on that.

But Chris, there's another reality here. I think Jim points out two or three things that are really important. The frequent distance between the president and the truth, this obsession with personal as opposed to institution or constitutional loyalty. And then finally, this obsession with self, the Trump brand, rather than the interests of the United States. Those are really important questions.

I'm hopeful that the other things in Director Comey's book, like what you just saw, don't subtract from the focus on that message that we become wrapped in some other messages that Jim's saying or that we focus on the messenger rather than on the important message.

CUOMO: Fair point. But just by way of observation, if you don't think that when President Trump hears Jim Comey say that it might be possible that those things happened with him in Russia, that's all he needs to hear to go full counterattack on Jim Comey. We know that. No matter who it is. No matter what station the person, man or woman, occupies.

You say something like that about Donald Trump, you've got a fight on your hands.

Now, in terms of what his station will mean within this book, isn't he a little handcuffed? Even with what is being reported that he said about Loretta Lynch. But he can't expose what information he knew, because it's classified, confidential, ongoing investigation, which I think makes it more damaging to Lynch, by the way. Because when you don't know the basis of his observation, it fuels a lot of speculation, which I'm sure is happening as we speak.

But he can't really back up a lot of things in here in terms of what he knows and what he thinks about it, right?

HAYDEN: Right. And I've lived that life. That's my own personal experience. Because I have to have what I write cleared by CIA, as well. So this is quite an artform to be able to express what you need to express but live within the legitimate classification regime within which you have to live. Let me second what you just said. I think that was very unfair to the

former attorney general to put that cloud out there and then simply say, {"But I can't talk about it." She can't even respond to that, because there's no specificity with what it is he's talking about.

CUOMO: Is it unfair for him to say that about the president, saying that that kind of salacious detail is possible when he doesn't have any proof that it happened?

HAYDEN: Again, I think it subtracts from the importance of the core messages he's trying to communicate.

And, Chris, look, I think he doesn't have to convince you or me or perhaps many folks who are listening to us about the problems we think we have with the president. I think he needs to address that 30 to 40 percent of the country who simply believes those concerns are not warranted. And when he mixes in this, I think he dilutes his message and undercuts his legitimacy as messenger.

CUOMO: What do you think the chances that a book like this can move the needle in terms of people changing how they think about the Russia investigation or the Trump presidency?

HAYDEN: Yes, I've not read the whole book. I've seen the excerpts, the kinds of things that you're replaying here. I fear it will be a national Rorschach test. And people will believe in the book the beliefs they brought to the inquiry in the first place.

CUOMO: Do I have a second still with the general? It's all about timing. All right, good. Can I ask you something, General?

Paul Ryan just said the president of the United States does not need to go to Congress to bomb in Syria. That the existing AUMF is enough. I don't understand that. It could be true, I guess. But it could be not true. Do you think going into Syria with whatever the plan is requires consent, debate, and authorization from Congress?

HAYDEN: I don't think so. And Chris, keep in mind, I'm a creature of the executive branch. I have an expansive view of executive authority. I think the president might be able to do it under his raw Article II commander in chief authorities, rather than looking at --

[07:25:08] CUOMO: In what way, General, please?

HAYDEN: Yes. Well, look, because he is the commander in chief. The Constitution gives him great room to maneuver here.

CUOMO: Right. But where is the threat to the homeland?

HAYDEN: Well, no. The threat is to U.S. forces in the theater, if these chemical weapons may not be used against them, as well. Look, I think there's legitimacy there. I think it is politically insane not to consult with the Congress. And I don't see any evidence that that's taken place.

CUOMO: I appreciate your perspective on this, General. It matters that we have the right process in place with these kinds of decisions. Everybody is making it sound like you can just go bomb in Syria and go home and not worry about what happens next. You know better than just about anybody that's not true. Thank you.

HAYDEN: Chris, that's the big question. Where's the big strategy? That's the question.

CUOMO: Thank you, General. Be well.

Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. So will the U.S. and the international community launch those airstrikes as part of a big strategy against Assad and Syria after the suspected chemical attack? We have a live report from Syria. What's happening on the ground there, next.

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CUOMO: So what is the United States going to do in terms of responding to this suspected attack in Syria? There's confusion. Why? Well, the president tweeted to Russia, "Here come the bombs. They're coming." Then he says, "Well, I didn't mean they're coming -- "