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Trump: James Comey is a Proven Leaker & Liar. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: In Trump Tower, his surprise, you know, the President-elect did not seem concerned about Russia's election meddling except, to the extent that it might jade perspective on him.

Comey also talks about the President's fixation with having the FBI disprove one of the most salacious details in the Russia dossier. And in an eyebrow-raising, moment, Comey says, he is not sure he believes the President's details on the same.

CAMEROTA: Comey's new interview comes after the explosive revelations in his new, tell-all book. It slammed Donald Trump's presidential leadership. In it, Comey blasts President Trump as unethical and untethered to the truth. He compares the President to a mafia boss who demands loyalty. Comey's account is seen by many as revenge and settling scores. So, how will President Trump respond today?

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House, any word from there, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn. This book is already exploding on to the scene days before it's even published, and we're learning from James Comey and his interpretation of his interactions with President Trump, starting with that meeting in Trump Tower, about the unverified dossier that they wanted to bring to the President's attention, and also, alleged Russian election interference.

Here's what James Comey said in an interview with ABC about that interaction with President Trump, listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: President-Elect 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. conservation 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 ANCHOR: You also said you were struck by what they didn't ask?

COMEY: Very much. And 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.

(END VIDEO)

PHILLIP: And Comey, repeatedly, describes President Trump as being far more concerned about his own reputation than about the actual allegations of Russian interference, and the idea that the Russian's were, perhaps, peddling false information about him. Comey also describes the President's concern about one other element of this unverified dossier. The President, apparently, wanted to be sure that some of these most -- some of the most salacious allegations in that dossier, didn't have an impact on his marriage. Listen to how Comey describes this and of course, as you just mentioned, Comey also implied that he didn't, exactly, believe that those allegations were completely untrue. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

COMEY: Says he may want me to investigate it to prove that it didn't happen, and then he says something that distracted me cause he said, you know if there's even a one percent chance my wife thinks that's true, that's terrible.

And I remember thinking, "How could your wife think there's a one percent chance. You're 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 to what kind of man does your wife think there's only a 99 percent chance you didn't do that.

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

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you believe his denial?

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

(END VIDEO)

PHILLIP: Well there has long been anger and frustration in this White House directed at James Comey but that is really boiling over, and now, as we were -- as we've been speaking, President Trump has actually weighed in himself on twitter. Here's what he wrote. "James Comey is a proven liar, a leaker and liar. Virtually, everyone

in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked classified information for which he should have been prosecuted. He should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress, under oath, he is weak and ... ."

The president apparently attempts to continue his response but clearly, this is a White House upset. We just spoke to the President's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, who expressed that -- that Comey was using this book to take personal shots at the President's appearance, at the President's marriage.

There -- I think there's a lot more coming. The interview is going to air in its full extent, later this weekend, and I think this White House is not done pushing back, yet. Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Abby, oh, my gosh. I mean to hear James Comey say that, to go there

[08:05:00]

down that incredibly salacious road, and now to have the President responding. Stick around, obviously, we will need you whenever anything breaks from the White House.

CUOMO: As soon as we heard that piece of sound, is it what's centrally important to the book? Of course it isn't, but image if you were the President, let alone, his particular personally and disposition towards criticism. To hear what Jim Comey just said, might be possible about him, and about his marriage. You knew he was going to come back and he did and they'll be more.

Let's bring in CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Josh Campbell and CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman. Who better to talk to about what this -- I mean, you know, you and I would have made no money, betting on this, because we both knew the President would respond and arguably, rightly so, with this type of allegation without proof from Jim Comey.

What is your understanding of what this book will mean inside the Oval Office?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN, POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, it means a week of uncertainly with this President who has already under enormous stress, who already has real external events such as Syria, that he is dealing with, and then, this issue which is constantly on his mind as well as the southern district of New York raid on the offices and home and hotel of his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

This is, I think, going to be where the President puts a lot of that stress and anxiety. To your point, any President but particularly, this one hearing what James Comey said about his marriage, about what could of happened with prostitutes in -- in Russia, in 2013, it is humiliating and not the kind of thing that he wants to have out there. I have not seen the book so I don't know how deeply Comey goes into this. He clearly talks about it a lot, in that Stephanopoulos interview. It -- it is hard to see how you can hold up -- he clearly does take some personal shots at the President and I'm not sure how necessary that is, given that, what Comey's actually talking about is whether the President is, ultimately, fit for office.

Inside the White House, people are concerned about what the President is going to do. They don't know what he's going to do. They all expect he's going to do something to try to undercut this interview this weekend, but again, no clue what that's going to be yet.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Josh, you know James Comey well. You worked closely with him. You were, in fact, by his side for some very pivotal moments, such as when he found out that he was fired by watching a CNN news bulletin cross on CNN. Is this surprising to you that James Comey is going down this road and talking about these things that are really salacious, and that he included some of them in the book?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN, LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's not, and I think, what we're hearing is, finally, a response from someone who has been a victim of a character assassination. And at the outset, let me just say, I think that we all distinguish between two things, at least, I hope we do. We can look at the decisions that Jim Comey made throughout the election as FBI Director, and we can look separately at the attacks on his character.

Now good people can disagree on the decision. I think, and obviously a bias party having worked up close with them, I think it's incontrovertible that he is an honest, ethical person. And one thing that I learned working with him, I learned a lot about leadership, but one thing that he would constantly say is you treat everyone you meet with dignity and with kindness. And there are a lot of bullies out there that you'll come across that think that they have to show bravado and that that's what garners respect.

They said no. It's actually kindness. But he said you will come across some bullies who will confuse kindness for weakness and you have to crush those people, but that's rare, and treat everyone with kindness. I think what we're seeing is him crushing a bully that he perceives, someone who has lied about him, someone who's not been honest, someone who's attacked his character and now he's telling the story and the American people can decide who they believe.

CUOMO: Let me ask you one quick thing as an FBI former agent. There is going to be controversy about whether or not he should be talking about anything that relates to the investigation at all. You have guidelines in your own rule book about what you're supposed to talk about and not during the pendency of an investigation. Being a former employee does not exempt you from that if there is an ongoing investigation. Was it right for this book to come out now?

CAMPBELL: That's a very good question and as you mention whether you're a current employee, whether you're a former employee, everyone is held to the same standards. Before you publish a book, you have to present that to the FBI and they get to decide whether it's classified information. I think - and it's interesting - I was hearing on Fox yesterday, they were kind of peddling this conspiracy from a foreign agent - former FBI agent that maybe he didn't send it through pre-pub so this is all something that's...

CUOMO: Highly unlikely. I know for a fact he did send it through prepublication review so anything that ended up in the book was actually cleared by the FBI. So I don't really know what they're talking about over there.

CAMPBELL: Good.

CAMEROTA: Hey Maggie, do we know yet what's going on behind the scenes while all of this is happening? I mean this is, you know, James Comey just laying bear his scathing critique of the President's leadership, the President's personality, the President's ego, and of course as we've just said, the President's marriage.

HABERMAN: One of the things that you're seeing Alisyn in the last week or so is the President is saying all the things he's been saying over many months. Privately he is now starting to say those things publically whether it is that he could

[08:10:00]

fire Mueller, whether it is that he was considering Scott Pruitt as Attorney General. These are things that he has been tweeting about, things that his aides have been trying to keep him from talking about for a long time. What you are seeing in that tweet that we just saw is really no different than what he is saying privately, that Comey is a leaker and a liar; this has been his line the whole time.

The President obsesses about does that even sound like me in terms of the tape, which is what he said to Comey it's also what he said in a press conference at Trump Tower during the transition. But he's angry. You know, Comey is somebody who's out making money off of him and the usual things that the President says. His mood is not a sustained piece of anger, it comes in and out. He gets distracted by other things, but he's watching a lot of TV. He's absorbing a lot of what is being said. And, this is a crushing amount of criticism for him.

CUOMO: You know, Josh, I don't know either of you can answer this question, it is an interesting thing to see what happens now. This President especially can't want this book to get any more attention than it absolutely has to. And it is interesting that ABC News, which has a penchant for going all over -- excellent agency, I worked there for a long time, good people. Their news anchor is in Lebanon right now and obviously we're waiting to see what happens in Syria.

And, it is no small irony, Josh, that on the same weekend their big interview comes out with Jim Comey, they have their biggest news anchor sitting in Lebanon, which is right next to Syria and we know why. What is your concern about whether or not the desire to deal with this book conflates the desire to deal with Syria?

CAMPBELL: Well, it is troubling. I mean it shows that the priorities a lot of times when the White House is attacked and obviously there are slings and arrows that travel in all directions in Washington, but it seems whenever there's something that's personal in nature, that tends to take center stage. Obviously there's this whole kind of wag the dog theory that we'll focus on other things, we'll focus on Syria, we're focus on firing Bob Mueller and Rob Rosenstein to get off the front page.

But I don't think it's going off the front page. And you know one thing that's interesting to me and it's curious to watch as an analyst, who is giving fuel to this fire around this book? It's not often that my job here is an analyst intersects with politics, but in this case it does. Look at the RNC, their campaign yesterday that came out and as I sit there and watch I used to work for the Republican Party before I worked on the FBI, and what I see is a party that's on the road to irrelevancy when you have the quote/unquote "party of law enforcement" that's now attacking the former chief of officer of the nation's premier law enforsement agency.

So I think that they're continuing to add fuel to this fire as well. They're giving it more attention maybe than they should. I don't think they realize that they're actually helping Jim Comey sell more books.

CAMEROTA: Hey Maggie, about Russia, in the book James Comey says that one of the things that struck him is the President and his team didn't ask about Russian interference, they didn't ask about the Russian threat, they didn't seem to be that interested. He was interested in the salacious stuff and trying to shut it down and making sure that Melania was reassured that it didn't really happen, but he didn't show -- express any interest in finding out if Russia still posed a threat to the next elections.

HABERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: I'm just struck by how often the president said -- Donald Trump said even when he was a candidate how much he wanted to repair relations with Vladimir Putin and with Russia. That was one of his stated goals. He really wanted to do that and felt that he was the man who could do that. Here we are fast forward to Syria. That must be a disappointment. Any way you slice it to him, that here we are as he tries to figure out what to do now to Russia and with Syria.

HABERMAN: look, two things. I think one theme is what we've been talking about this morning, which is that this president conflates the personal with the institutions he serves. He and his team have the habit of looking at anything relating to U.S. policy, to government, to the White House, to his Administration as not about a government but about him personally. And so I think that that is not a surprise. Look, his rhetoric about Russia during the campaign and wanting a better relationship, not really dissimilar from a lot of what the Obama policy was except that a lot has happened since Obama said all of that.

What has happened is the annexing of Crimea, an invasion into Ukraine, election meddling, and this President has been, for whatever reason, incapable of actually talking about that. He did get closer to it, to your point about a disappointment, he sounded disappointed on twitter earlier this week. Remember, he's not had a press conference in over a year so we don't actually know what he feels about this beyond the tweets.

But he clearly is aware that he sees everything in terms of strength and weakness and that it comes off as weak when he has talked about the U.S. getting out of Syria, and suddenly there is this nerve attack. That is a reflection of him.

[08:15:06] That is the only term I think in which he can approach this. But what that's going to translate into, I don't know.

And remember, one of the things that he did on twitter this week was talk about the reason relations with Russia are really bad is because of the Mueller investigation. That's just not true.

CUOMO: Look, two observations. One, the coincidence of this book and the exigency of what to do in Syria is one more reason that Congress has to be in the game on that decision. They have to make sure that the plan is right and that it's in the American people's best interests.

And second is, this is very unusual. The president ended his tweet, Maggie, with that signature dot, dot, dot.

HABERMAN: Right, more coming. More to come, stay tuned.

CUOMO: It's been a while. Usually it comes.

CAMEROTA: John Kelly has tackled him.

CUOMO: And it makes you wonder.

CAMEROTA: Or he's watching television. Who knows?

CUOMO: Maybe he's arming up. Well, if you're watching us, I would say default to talking to the American people about what you're going do in Syria and why. But we'll see what he says.

Josh, Maggie, thank you.

All right. So, who will Americans believe more, Jim Comey or President Trump? That's going to be a relevant part of the analysis. We get after it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: President Trump tweeting about James Comey a few seconds ago. The president writing: James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did until he was in fact fired. He leaked classified information for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under oath. All caps. He is a weak and untruthful.

[08:20:01] Here's the second part of the tweet we've been waiting for: Slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible director of the FBI. His handling of the crooked Hillary Clinton case and the event surrounding it will go down as one of the worst botch jobs of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey. Back with us now, Maggie Haberman.

Well, Maggie, he's not mincing words either.

HABERMAN: No.

CAMEROTA: Just as James Comey did not in the book, that is very clear how the president feels. How do you read that tweet? Is he calling for something bigger than just venting there?

HABERMAN: I mean, I don't know what else he could be calling for. I mean, I think that the question --

CAMEROTA: Prosecution.

HABERMAN: Right. No. I think that he might do something that's sort of complaining about that, but I don't think realistically he's going to do anything behind the scenes to make hay with it. I do think that you have this ongoing question of whether he is going to fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, or make a move against the special counsel, Robert Mueller. The Mueller move seems extremely unlikely.

Rosenstein, he's being almost baited by several supporters on television into firing. I'm told by White House officials that so far there is nothing there yet, but it obviously could get there. And that is where I think you will see his reaction.

He is going to feel like he has to do something to reclaim the narrative and just tweeting is not going to be enough because as we are seeing, Comey and this interview, which doesn't even air until another couple of days, is going to be everywhere. And that is going to make him crazy. Remember, he is going to be, I believe, in D.C. this weekend. I don't think they have plans. And then he was supposed to be at the Summit of the Americas. They cancelled that.

He is then going to go to Mar-a-Lago next week for a summit with the Japanese prime minister. This is going to be a lot of downtime with him in front of the TV stewing. And that is always a danger point.

CUOMO: All right. Really interesting perspective. ABC, of course, they're leading the charge here, right? They've got the big Comey interview coming Sunday night. They did a poll that went from the 8th to the 11th about who is more believable.

And it's 48 Comey, 32 Trump, which means this is really about a battle for a third. This was before the book came out. What will these numbers mean, Maggie?

HABERMAN: Look, I'm a little surprised the Comey number is not higher, which I think is reflective of the fact that Comey partly to the president's point, you know, Comey I think considers himself a man of honor and he clearly has a long record as a public servant.

But how he handled the Hillary Clinton email case was pretty controversial and then moves that he made after it were pretty controversial so, I mean, I think that that -- Comey is not an unknown figure and that is an interesting statistic. On the other hand, the points that Comey makes, number one, this is -- the very first firsthand account that we are hearing from anyone who was really close to the president about how he handles these issues. Comey is not saying anything that the president's critics have not mostly said over the course of the last 15 months, that he is untethered from the truth, that he voices loyalty as the prism from which all else flows. But the details he's doing it with are striking.

I do think that the president who likes to talk about any narrative not set on his terms is fake news. The president will have a challenge telling people Comey shouldn't be believed.

CAMEROTA: This is an upside, or is it, the president announcing that he will pardon Scooter Libby.

HABERMAN: He didn't announce it. They have conceded it, but it will happen at some point, yes.

CAMEROTA: OK. Obviously, you know, connected to Vice President Cheney in the Bush administration. So what's the timing of that all about and is that a direct message to Paul Manafort?

HABERMAN: It's a great question. I mean, I've seen a lot of speculation that it is a direct message to Manafort. It's certainly an indirect message, right? I mean, whether that is the intention behind it, whether they are looking to send a message, I've also seen this is a message to Comey because of a connection Comey had in terms of the Libby case. I think all of the above could be true.

I do think that the president, you know, was very conscious last year when he discovered that he had pardon power and what that meant, which he didn't really process until after the Joe Arpaio case, according to my reporting. The president was really enthralled by this and loved talking about how he could pardon anybody he wanted to. Not entirely true, but it's close enough.

I do think it is hard not to see given what we know about how his folks, his legal team has approached the issue of pardons with potential -- with witnesses in this case and targets in this case, Flynn and Manafort, it's hard not to see this as somehow related.

CUOMO: Maggie, what's your sense of whether or not, whatever the atmosphere is inside the White House, whatever it is that they're concerned about, that that will motivate doing something in Syria?

HABERMAN: It's a real question. I mean, I think that there's a high level of concern about that. One school of thought within the White House is that you will see a strike this weekend in part as a way to get Comey off of television.

[08:25:05] Knowing what we know about this president, it's impossible to say that that's not in the air and one of the options they're looking at.

I don't have any indication clearly that that is where they're going to go. I do think the president is mindful of the loss of life in Syria. I do think that those images trouble him just as the images from Syria last year did when we had that Tomahawk strike.

But I think that anything is in play right now in the context of the president feeling like he is under attack and that could mean a military strike.

CAMEROTA: It's been pointed out that we could use a secretary of state right around now for various things that are percolating. Do you have any sense behind the scenes of any worry that Mike Pompeo's nomination is in trouble?

HABERMAN: They feel pretty good at the White House about how Mike Pompeo has handled his confirmation hearing. They believe that he is playing with a pretty difficult confirmation hand and that he's playing it about as well as he can. But there is concern that he won't --

CUOMO: It kind of blew up their Iran argument about the deal, no pun intended. I mean, the whole reason that the Iran deal stinks in their theory is because Iran can get around it, Iran is still doing bad things, it doesn't deter them and he said there's no expectation that they're going to do anything to do a bomb any time soon whether or not there's a deal.

HABERMAN: Which is probably the truth, but certainly not how we have heard certain parts of this argument before.

Look, generally again, they are not focused on the policy areas where he contradicted the president. They are just focused on him convincing enough Democratic senators to get this through.

CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, great to talk to you. Thank you very much for sharing all the reporting.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. So what is the reaction to Comey's tell-all within the FBI? We're going to get perspective from two people who have worked there and have a lot of contacts and know what's going on this morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)