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Interview with Representative Eric Swalwell; Russia-Linked Efforts Aim to Discredit U.S. on Syria; James Comey Speaks About Trump and Clinton E-mails; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:31:31] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is en route to Florida for a lunch time event that's supposed to be about tax cuts. It also may prove a prime opportunity to fire back on camera at the former FBI director who compares him to a mob boss in a scathing new book and TV interview.

I want to bring in Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat of California and a member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Congressman Swalwell, thanks for being here. What do you see as the impact of this Comey interview?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), JUDICIARY and INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEES: Good morning, Ana. The impact is that we have a consistent version of Donald Trump attempting to obstruct justice, and it has not been contradicted by what appears to be the only other witness, Donald Trump. James Comey has raised his right hand, he's gone to Congress, it sounds like he's interviewed with the special counsel. And he's remained consistent and credible.

Donald Trump, who has pledged to give his account and talk to Bob Mueller, continues to, I would say, try and distract from his responsibility to do that and still has not been forthcoming with the American people.

CABRERA: Now Comey has said in recent interviews and in his book that he did, in fact, tell Trump he was not under investigation. I mean, could that be used by Trump's defense that he had no reason to obstruct justice?

SWALWELL: Well, he was asking the director to get rid of a case that the director was involved in. We just don't do that in America. Our president doesn't tell the FBI director, the independence of the Department of Justice, who they do and do not investigate.

And, you know, Ana, he may not have been under investigation back in January and February of 2017, but I would sure be surprised today if he -- if that was the still the case.

CABRERA: Comey has talked a lot about the Russia investigation in these lengthy interviews that he gave to George Stephanopoulos. He also spoke with "USA Today," talked about the private conversations he had with the president. He's talked about his own judgment on whether the Russians have compromising information on the president. Bottom line, the Russia investigation isn't over.

You, as a member of the Intelligence Committee as well, know as well as anyone how important it is to protect the evidence. Should Comey be talking about it? Is he jeopardizing the special counsel investigation?

SWALWELL: He's not. And there is a lot of information that I know and members of the Intelligence Committee know that James Comey also knows that he has not yet revealed. I think he has a right to defend himself. He has had his reputation completely, you know, besmirched by the president and he does have a right to defend himself.

But, Ana, you know, as we learn more and more about what the president did, I think that's all the more reason that the House investigation never should have been shut down and that it was so irresponsible to do it so early as we have more information coming for it every day. We should be open to receiving that information and pursue it rather than just saying there is nothing to see here.

CABRERA: James Comey was also asked about whether President Trump should be impeached. Let's listen.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I'll tell you, I'll give you a strange answer, I hope not. Because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they're duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.


CABRERA: Do you agree with Comey?

SWALWELL: Well, if the president violated the law, no one is above the law. And he should be held to account. I do agree with the sentiment, though, that it would be better for our democracy if the president was impeached at the ballot box by the voters.

[10:35:07] However, right now, we're not in a position in Congress with Republicans giving this president a green light on everything to even investigate his concerning conduct. So I think what we should assure the American people is if Democrats win Congress this November, we will conduct a thorough investigation, we'll hold the president accountable if that is necessary.

But also, Ana, let me just say this, if President Trump fires Bob Mueller or Rod Rosenstein, we should also see that as committing the crime in broad daylight and make sure that he's held accountable immediately.

CABRERA: On that note, the president could order Mueller's firing. He'd of course have to go through Rod Rosenstein. Comey said he believes Rosenstein would refuse an order to fire Mueller and that's such an attempt by the president would lead to this. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: It would, I hope, set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law. And it would be something that our entire country, again, Democrats and Republicans, that is higher than all of the normal fights about policy. And it would be to the everlasting shame of partisans if they were unable to see that higher level and to protect it.


CABRERA: Congressman, do you have faith in a bipartisan response to protect the special counsel probe?

SWALWELL: No, Ana. I don't. Because we have seen the president for the last six months talk about firing Bob Mueller and undermine the investigation. So what we should do immediately is just make it clear, don't do it, Mr. President, there will be a steep, steep penalty to pay if you do it. But also put in place legislatively protections for Bob Mueller and Rod Rosenstein that they could only be fired for cause and then also make it clear that if he were to cross that line, that he would immediately be referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and be brought up on charges for obstruction of justice.

CABRERA: But I don't understand why you don't have faith about Republicans. I spoke with Charlie Dent this week and he signed on to legislation to protect Robert Mueller. We have a Senate which has a bipartisan bill right now to do just that.

SWALWELL: Actions speak louder than tweets or words, Ana. I want to see the bill on the floor and people having to say yes or no. And we haven't seen that yet. And right now it's just talk. And this president, we know how he responds to just talk. We have to put that bill on his desk and allow him -- and make him make a real decision rather than just benefiting from members saying what they are or are not going to do.

CABRERA: Last quick question to you, we know Michael Cohen is in court today. The "New York Times" is reporting that the president's team is more concerned about the Cohen investigation than Robert Mueller that it could be a bigger threat than the special counsel investigation. Where do you stand?

SWALWELL: Well, I think the president has a lot of problems right now, which is all the more concerning as he makes some important decisions about Syria and North Korea. But, you know, the best thing the president can do is just come clean with the American people. Be forward and forthcoming as he said he would be with Bob Mueller. Remember, he told the American people in September 2016 only the mob takes the Fifth Amendment.

So show us, Mr. President, that you're not running your White House like a mobster. Cooperate and stop preventing us from knowing what happened, whether it is with Michael Cohen, whether it is with the Russians or any of the other scandal that plagued this White House. CABRERA: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for coming on.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

CABRERA: James Comey will sit down with our own Jake Tapper for a live interview here on CNN. It airs this Thursday on "THE LEAD," that's at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Now the Pentagon says Russia is actively working to discredit the U.S. and its allies actions in Syria. More on that and what we're seeing next.


[10:42:51] CABRERA: New this morning, the Pentagon says the U.S. is seeing an increase in Russian linked online efforts. They're aimed at discrediting the U.S. and its allies over their actions in Syria. And this is all happening as investigators work to gain access to the site of a chemical weapons attack there.

Joining us live, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what more are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Ana. The Pentagon is now saying that there's been about a 2,000 percent increase in Russian account activity linked -- accounts linked to Russia, discrediting the U.S. and the allies over the attacks in Syria that this has emerged in the hours before and since those attacks happened.

Now they're calling it a 2,000 percent increase. We don't have the exact precise number of how many more Russian-linked social media accounts are on line, engaging in this activity. This is all monitored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of their efforts to track foreign influencing happening around the world and in the United States.

So what we know is the Trump administration, the Pentagon, very much tracking this right now. And because of this uptick in Russian online activity, it is one of the reasons the Pentagon has come out over the weekend with more details about what they say they did in attacking those sites, trying to put their words out there from the Pentagon directly about why the U.S. undertook the action, what the U.S. goals were, and what the U.S. military attacks were really all about.

So certainly something to watch right now because while I haven't seen any military reaction from Moscow, apparently they're getting quite a lot of reaction online -- Ana.

CABRERA: And apparently as investigators are working to gain access to the site of this suspected chemical attack, Barbara, we're now hearing a U.S. official saying Russia may have tampered with that site?

STARR: Well, what the thinking is right now is that Russian military, most likely Russian personnel, went to that site in Syria after the attack last weekend. Not this very past one, but the one before that, the attack happened at some point, after that Russians visit the site.

[10:45:06] So the concern obviously by these international inspectors is that that site has been tampered with. They are still trying to get to that location -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

Still to come, why former FBI director James Comey says he felt sick to his stomach leading up to the last presidential election. Next.


CABRERA: Fired FBI director James Comey appears in the crosshairs of both the left and the right for decisions he made in the run-up to the presidential election.

[10:50:04] Here is Comey on ABC now talking about what it was like in the last 10 days after he made that announcement regarding new e-mails in the Clinton investigation.


COMEY: It sucked. I walked around vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down, felt like I was totally alone, that everybody hated me, and that there wasn't a way out because it really was the right thing to do.


CABRERA: Joining us now, a friend of Mr. Comey and former federal prosecutor Walter Mack.

Thank you, Walter, for coming on. As a friend of Comey, what is it -- how does it impact you to hear him say that?

WALTER MACK, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I would say the first thought when I watched that last night was where was his staff, where were those around him with comparable experience to overcome whatever beaten down views he had? Because at least my experience is when you feel beaten down, your decision-making is impacted and that's when you need people around you to get you to think a little bit about your situation and what you're supposed to do about it.

CABRERA: We understand this was a five-hour interview that ABC condensed to one hour. And there was so much in it. They did release the full transcript. Did you hear anything or learn anything that surprised you?

MACK: Well, I would say that most people, such as Jim, and me, and others without experience are very reluctant to be in produced pieces and interviews. So when I saw how edited the interview was, and in many ways I'm wondering whether he was making the right decision to be interviewed outside of the legal process, which he is part of right now. CABRERA: He put himself out there clearly. But then he in his book

and some of his comments that he's made on air, in these interviews, commenting on orange skin and small hands, I mean, if he wanted the focus to be on what he sees as a serious threat to the office of the presidency, why go there? Why even talk about the president's appearance?

MACK: I'm not going to justify that, myself. I tend -- the only time I talk to the press is in the courtroom, and that is when I'm explaining myself either to a professional and I think you run the risk of lowering your platform by interacting and going at all personal. And he may regret it. I hope his advisers, I'm not one of them, have considered that in terms of how he conducts himself last night and in the ensuing time, whether going on book tours and interacting and perhaps lowering his own credibility in order to deal with what's coming his way, I'm not sure it enhances his reputation.

I do need to read his book because my guess is that he -- these portions that were selected are what are most newsworthy, but omit the buildup to his positions of leadership, integrity, principle, standards, things of that nature. So I want to reserve judgment and take a look at the book a little bit more carefully.

CABRERA: He has been strongly criticized for his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and what he made public, what he said on the record during the election campaign cycle. Yet he says he wouldn't have done anything differently. Let's watch.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: If you knew that letter would elect Donald Trump, you'd still send it?

COMEY: I would. Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If I ever start considering who whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we're done. We're just another player in the tribal battle.


CABRERA: So, Walter, he does say that he was thinking that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the United States. And that came into his calculus when he made his announcement. So does that mean political fortunes in fact did play a factor in this?

MACK: That would be my takeaway of that and certainly been an area of criticism of his position for that very reason. And, again, I'm hoping that he continues and has staff around him that would argue because traditionally Department of Justice stays out of politics in order to avoid perhaps exactly what we're watching and observing now.

And so I think, again, I'm wondering who was he talking to at this time period and what advice are they giving him that caused him to proceed.

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Walter Mack, for coming in. MACK: Great, thank you. Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: We'll be right back.


[10:59:06] CABRERA: New this morning, Starbucks says the manager of the store where two African-American men were arrested last week no longer works at that store. But they won't say if the manager was fired or reassigned.

It comes as Starbucks says those two arrested men will meet with the company's CEO. Protesters have been meeting inside and outside the store. Here they are again this morning.

Dedication on display in Boston as the Boston Marathon gets under way in less than ideal weather. Runners are starting this race in rainy 40-degree conditions. And if that isn't bad enough, winds are now gusting up to 30 miles per hour.

It has been five years since the Boston Marathon bombing, one of the runners about to start his race, our own John Berman. We, of course, know he's a tough guy. We wish him the best of luck in less than ideal conditions.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Ana Cabrera. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan.