Return to Transcripts main page


Comey: Trump "Morally Unfit To Be President"; Comey Compares Trump To A Mob Boss, Says He Demanded Loyalty; James Comey Breaks His Silence In First Interview; Comey: Possible Russians Had Leverage Over Trump. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 05:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to a special early edition of NEW DAY. It is Monday, April 16th, 5:00 in the east. Here is our starting line. Fired FBI Director James Comey speaking out in a no-holds barred interview calling Donald Trump, quote, "morally unfit" to be president and a stain on those around him," end quote.

Comey says that the president may have obstructed justice by asking him to let go of the Michael Flynn investigation and he believes the president is vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. Comey also talks about why he reopened the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation days before the 2016 election.

Saying that he was in a no-win situation. He stands by his decision. President Trump launching a full-scale twitter attack against Comey before the interview aired calling Comey slippery, not smart, and again labeling him, quote, "a slime ball." The president ramping up calls to prosecute Comey.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The president's focus is split between one prosecution he wants to start and another that he is hoping never starts involving his long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Cohen is going to be in court today for a hearing on all of the records seized by the FBI in the searches last week. Stormy Daniels' attorney says his client also plans to be in court. Could the criminal investigation into Cohen be a greater threat to the president than the Mueller investigation?

And President Trump launched air strikes in Syria with the U.K. and France and without Congress debating or voting. Now, we are hearing that the French President Emmanuel Macron claims that he has convinced Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria.

But the White House is pushing back on that. So, what is the president's strategy? Will Congress wind up doing its duty?

Let's begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins live in Washington. Good morning, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Chris. If there is any chance this feud between the president and James Comey did not end in all-out war, that chance evaporated last night during the searing interview that amounted to a public assault on the current sitting president from someone who has served in the highest levels of government.

Something I don't think we have ever seen before. This is a five-hour interview that they condensed into one hour. I'm not sure we have seen anything like this before.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he is medically unfit to be president. He is morally unfit.

COLLINS (voice-over): Fired FBI Director James Comey unleashing a scathing criticism of President Trump's character. Blasting him unfit for office and a stain on those around him.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: A person who sees morally equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they are pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small, and insists the American people believe it. That person is not fit to be president of the United States on moral grounds.

COLLINS: In his first interview since the president fired him last May, Comey reveals he thinks the president might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?

COMEY: It strikes me as unlikely. I would say with high confidence with any other president I dealt with, but I can't. It's possible.

COLLINS: Comey reflecting on the February meeting when he says President Trump asked him to drop the investigation his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't you say I can't discuss this? You are doing something improper.

COMEY: Maybe, although, he didn't know he was doing something improper. Why did he kick out the attorney general and vice president of the United States and the leaders of the intelligence community, and why am I alone if he doesn't know the nature of the request?

COLLINS: Trump denies he made the request, but Comey believes it bears weight in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was President Trump obstructing justice?

COMEY: Possibly. It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will it mean if President Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller? COMEY: It would, I hope, set off alarm bells, that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law.

COLLINS: But when asked whether Mr. Trump should be impeached?

COMEY: I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values. Impeachment in a way would short circuit that.

COLLINS: Comey comparing the behavior the president's behavior to that of a mob boss saying he repeatedly demanded loyalty, most notably at a one-on-one dinner.

COMEY: He said I expect loyalty. I need loyalty. I just stared at him and this narrative with myself inside saying don't you move. Don't you dare move. Don't even blink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not say no?

COMEY: I think because I was caught totally by surprise.

COLLINS: Trump denies he ever said that. Comey says President Trump dominated the conversation talking about himself whole time.

[05:05:04] COMEY: Constant series of assertions about the inauguration crowd. His crowd was bigger than that of Barack Obama's first inauguration. That is not true. That is not a perspective, view. That is just a lie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you are listening, are you thinking President Trump is a liar?


COLLINS: Comey recalling his infamous handshake from Trump in the White House shortly after the inauguration. He says even his family knew how uncomfortable he was.

COMEY: I know that is my "Oh, no" face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that's not exactly (inaudible).

COMEY: I don't want to say that on television.

COLLINS: Comey revealing how he felt when he discovered he had been fired.

COMEY: I don't remember being angry. I thought it was crazy to fire me. I'm leading the investigation of Russian influence and particularly whether anyone in the Trump orbit coordinated and conspired with the Russians. That makes no sense at all.

COLLINS: Comey also reflecting on his controversial decision to inform Congress that he was reopening the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation just days before the election. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was it like to be James Comey in the last ten days of that campaign after you sent the letter?

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

COLLINS: But the fired FBI director adamantly defending his handling of the Clinton probe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you knew that letter would have elected Trump, you would have still sent it?

COMEY: I would. Down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force to the American life. If I ever start considering whose political fortunes affected by a decision, we're done.


COLLINS: Now the White House knew the attacks were coming. They have been working for days to undermine James Comey's credibility along with the Republican National Committee. But this is a president who has already gone after James Comey. He says when he gets hit, he hits back ten times harder.

So, we'll be waiting to see if he says anything else about Comey's latest comments as he leaves the White House today. He is going to a tax reform event in South Florida. He will spend the rest of the week at his Mar-a-Lago club as he awaits the arrival of the Japanese prime minister -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: What a moment, Kaitlan. Thank you very much for breaking all of that down for us this morning.

So, let's bring in CNN political analyst, John Avlon, and CNN law enforcement analyst, James Gagliano. James, let's talk about your impressions of the Comey interview. You think he didn't do himself any favors? Why not?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I don't think the interview last night moved the needle, Alisyn. I think people that view him as a symbol of the resistance still do and people who think he is a piece of the apparatus, that's the deep state, still do.

My takeaways, I have been fiercely critical of his feckless leadership decision throughout the Clinton probe, Russia probe, and while FBI director. When I say that, I mean lacking the character to push back on the president during those nine inappropriate interactions --

CAMEROTA: Meaning when he said I demand loyalty. You think that James Comey should have said something more definitively?

GAGLIANO: That one segment, that clip right there with the one that maybe the most, to use his term, mildly nauseated. Why? Because when the president as he tells it said I need your loyalty, and he says I can give you honesty, and the president comes back, and says, well, I can give you honest loyalty.

He should have said, Sir, what are asking me to do? Let me be specific about this and if what I think you are asking me to do is what you're asking me, here is my resignation.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Obviously, I have enormous respect for your service in the FBI, but I really disagree with you on this point. Life is not a movie script as we know. Should he said that in (inaudible), yes, and he admitted it, which I think is one of the many examples of candor we saw where he was very self-critical and open to the idea that he had been wrong at critical moments including that one.

But he did say I can give you honesty. That itself is a step in that right direction. You are in an almost impossible situation and he realized something was wrong. So, I think the overall impression last night wasn't as a character of the deep state or the resistance.

But a lifelong law enforcement guy, who believes in concepts of honor and institutional stability, who is really troubled by what he saw and really came across as someone speaking from the heart with honesty as a guiding principle. That is a clear contrast.

GAGLIANO: John, I ran an FBI office. It was a small FBI office in upstate New York. If a New York governor or a mayor had ever said the same thing to me and I reacted the same way, I would have been censured or sanctioned, and I could have possibly fired. To say what Chris Christie said yesterday, which was, if he made that decision that James Comey made of stepping in front of the cameras in July 5th, 2016, he would have been fired.

CAMEROTA: You are talking about confirming the Hillary Clinton investigation?

GAGLIANO: Yes. I'm using it an example of if I had done what the FBI director did when I was in a position with somebody of comparable level to me like the mayor, and I've sat down with that mayor. The mayor said the same thing to me. I would have merely gone on record, gone back to the bosses and it's something that happened that made me feel uncomfortable, I would have pushed back.

AVLON: He did push back. There is a difference between the mayor and president of the United States. In a one-on-one meeting which is itself inappropriate and I think we should also --

GAGLIANO: That's fair.

AVLON: -- you need to separate the decision to go in front of the cameras on the Hillary memo and interactions with Trump. I think they are both serious.

[05:10:09] They both angered different people on different sides of the aisle for different reasons, but I think we should deal with them separately.

CUOMO: So, look, people who came to the interview last night for an understanding of what happened in a deeper understand. They will be frustrated, right. We have an ongoing investigation. Comey has his hands tied. He could not give much new information about what we know about the president or Russia probe or anything.

Even the Hillary Clinton e-mail situation. He couldn't put a lot more meat on the bones. So, it was an interview about why. You said he is a man who admitted he made mistakes. What mistakes? He doesn't think announcing that Hillary Clinton e-mail probe was a mistake. It was. It was something that this bureau has never done before. Let's listen to the sound.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wasn't the decision to reveal influenced by your assumption that Hillary Clinton was going to win and your concern she wins, and this comes out several weeks later and then that's taken by her opponents as a sign of illegitimate president?

COMEY: It must have been. I don't remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been. I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. So, I'm sure that it was a factor. Like I said, I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been. She will be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected. The moment this comes out.


AVLON: That to me is not a man laboring under crushing certainties, who believes in absolutes. He is being quite reflective about the contours of his own mind. What affected his ow thinking. Not that he was 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong, but also that he's not wouldn't necessarily go back and make a difference --

CUOMO: Was it his job?

AVLON: That's a different question, Chris.

CUOMO: No, it's the main question.

CUOMO: We're picking up the interview later on here and George is as smart a mind as I have ever seen in journalism before so he was putting a very (inaudible) context of this. He did brilliantly throughout the interview, I thought last night, in what they used.

But it wasn't his job. James can pick up on this. We had never seen -- the FBI investigates. They then go to the DOJ and say it is your decision to prosecute. Not my job. He took that job. Maybe because --

CAMEROTA: He did not trust Loretta Lynch.

CUOMO: Maybe she gave him a nudge and a wink. It's OK. James, whatever it was, you never have seen a director?

GAGLIANO: What he should have done was punted the ball back across the street to main justice and deputy attorney general who most people have great respect for in Sally Yates and say, Ma'am, this is now yours. This goes back again to the feckless leadership piece.

What I want is strength at character. Look what Loretta Lynch said yesterday in her own statement. She came out and said if James Comey had issues with me calling something a matter as opposed to an investigation, he was in meetings with me and could have done it. He had private conferences with me. He didn't do it. I don't think James Comey is a bad man. I think he was the wrong man in the wrong position at the wrong time.

CAMEROTA: What you are talking about is that he says Loretta Lynch pressured him to refer to the Hillary Clinton investigation as a matter instead of investigation. That is what people thought was grossly partisan. Why try to downplay it? She gave a great explanation. She said we never confirmed investigations.

CUOMO: Do we have sound or is it a statement? A statement. Put it up.

CAMEROTA: "I have known James Comey for almost 30 years. Throughout his time as director, we spoke regularly about some of the most issues in law enforcement and national security. If he had any concerns regarding the e-mail investigation, classified or not, he had ample opportunities to raise them with me both privately and in meetings. He never did."

CUOMO: That is not the part about why they called it a matter instead of investigation.

CAMEROTA: That's what she said they didn't want to publicly announce that they had an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

AVLON: Right. And I think that's a very credible explanation too. I think we have to be careful to pay attention to the substance of what Comey said last night and whether it seemed credible or not. There is a massive push back from the White House. You can have real issues and should about the decisions he made during the campaign. I think violating the protocol had an impact on the election, but it was driven by ego and assumption that --

GAGLIANO: He did not break a law, John. That is a Department of Justice policy.

AVLON: Comey came across as credible last night, as someone who is honest and trying to come up with the best of the recollections, driven by honor, and concerned about instability of our institutions and law enforcement. When he's someone who investigated the mob and compares the president and the culture around the president to one he's recognizes from mob boss investigations, that is a serious accusation.

CUOMO: Look, you are drawing an interesting and easy comparison here, which is one that should be drawn, which is do we like the answers that Comey was giving? Are they satisfied when the audience watches it? How does he line up as a truth teller versus Trump? What's your take on that?

[05:15:05] GAGLIANO: Well, to use the mob analogy, my first job in the FBI in 1991 was the Gambino crime squad in Queens, New York working the John Gatti (ph) case. I spent three months in an FBI safe house with Sammy (inaudible). I would have to say that -- to James Comey, I don't think Donald Trump -- I know Sammy Gravano, he is no Sammy Gravano.

Now you can talk about the affect and how he treats the folks at work, but that's a guy that came from the private sector that is adjusting his life. You can say take the training wheels off. You are president now. I thought that and some of the more salacious attacks on appearance and too long tie and hair and the size of the hands. I'm witnessing the shrinking of James Comey.

CUOMO: Do you think Comey was telling the truth?

GAGLIANO: I do. I believe Comey is a man of probity and more rectitude. You contrast it with a president that even his most ardent supporters say is a man of moral turpitude. So, yes, I believe he was telling the truth.

CAMEROTA: We have so much more to talk about. James, John, thank you both very much.

CUOMO: And the reason we are drawing the truth comparisons because that is what the president of the United States has made this about. He has been tweeting a lot about the Comey interview. What will we see today?

This is just the beginning of a week-long media blitz. Will the president take on this fight or will he do what he is supposed to do? Do his job and let others take up the Comey fight. We discuss next.




COMEY: If he didn't know he was doing something improper, why did he kick out the attorney general and the vice president of the United States and leaders of the intelligence community. Why am I alone if he doesn't know the nature of the request? It's possible in the moment another person would have said, you can't ask me that. That is a criminal investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was President Trump obstructing justice?

COMEY: Possibly. It certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.


CUOMO: Once again, you have never heard an FBI director talk about possible exposure to crimes and possible malfeasance the way Comey does. The former FBI director laying out why he made the decisions that he made involving the e-mails with Hillary Clinton and Russia probe. It is one what you just heard of several bombshells. That word possible will loom large all week long.

Let's bring back John Avlon and James Gagliano. Jimmy, something that's relevant here. The idea of -- well, did the president know he was doing this? That question applies to Jim Comey in writing this book. The ongoing investigation and beneficial timing for selling books, but is it the right thing to do? People were talking as it wasn't vetted. As he was a former employee, he had to submit it to the FBI, if not to other agencies, and to Mueller for clearance. What is your take?

GAGLIANO: I'm not casting any as persons on the FBI. I believe that the former director's book has come out, it has gone through the vetting process. The vetting process works this way. Pre-publication review has to look at any book before it's published.

They have to look at headquarters and anything that involves a substantive field division in the country. They send that section out. They did this lightning quick. That is what it is, but here is the thing. This is what troubles me about the prohibited disclosures in the book. The book itself is a prohibited disclosure.

CUOMO: Meaning what?

GAGLIANO: It means this, first of all, James Comey is still an employee of the FBI. An employee by Department of Justice standards is defined as anyone who owns or has held a position of trust in the agency.

Secondly, of the 13 primitive disclosures, obviously, Chris, some of them are classified information. Duh! One disclosure is this, you may not speak about any materials relevant or salient to an ongoing or open case or investigation. Tell me someone how this is not an ongoing or open investigation when he is talking about the nine interactions that are related to the Russia probe?

CAMEROTA: So, why did they approve it?

GAGLIANO: I have no idea. I'm questioning it. How could that not be relevant to an ongoing and open investigation?

AVLON: We know it was reviewed by the FBI. We know there apparently some redactions but minor and done on record speed, but the fact is the book is out. Let's not also forget this is something we have never seen before. A former FBI director who had a dramatic outcome on the election, but also was fired amid an ongoing investigation during the president's administration. This is historic on its face and therefore, has a degree of, you know, public good driving its publication.

GAGLIANO: The acrimonious relationship is not historic. This happened back in '90s. You are saying.

AVLON: That is minor league ball compared to what we are dealing with now. The difficulty with Bill Clinton.

CAMEROTA: Listen, the heart of the matter is whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia somehow, wittingly or unwittingly, and changed in an effort to try to sway the election. So, of course, James Comey was asked about that last night, and you guys tell me if this was a satisfying answer. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think it is possible. I don't know. I think these are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's stunning. You can't say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised by the Russians.

COMEY: It is stunning, and I wish I wasn't saying it, but it is the truth.


CAMEROTA: That's a little different compromised than colluding. Is he saying something there? He's saying, I don't know.

AVLON: The fact that a former FBI director who has spent a life in law enforcement saying it is possible that the president of the United States is compromised by a hostile foreign power that tried to impact the election outcome is a big deal.

That's (inaudible) normalization starts to creep in. There is nothing normal about that. That open door is itself incredibly serious.

CUOMO: That is a problem, though, right. In the law, the expression the open door. You walk there. He -- you walk through. What he has to respond to in that situation is how do you know?

[05:25:07] It's possible that they had some -- why do you think that?

AVLON: The day after he fires Comey, the Russians are in the oval office.

CUOMO: James Comey has a duty to tell people why he thinks that is possible and obstruction of justice is possible because it would be just as easy to say I saw no evidence of it.

GAGLIANO: He is a private citizen now, John. He can throw suppositions out there. Again, it is not a good look for a former FBI director who follows the facts and deals in evidence. When you say sure it is possible, people look at that and go former FBI director, who we believe is a man of vast credibility and honor. They say it must have happened. That was wholly inappropriate.

AVLON: I think it was a question of individual judgment based on his experience and understanding of the facts. Now you can argue that even as a former FBI director, there are things you can't and shouldn't say. You shouldn't have written the book. I think the president --

GAGLIANO: Precisely.

AVLON: -- the president teed it up by firing him, which is what some of the advisers were warning about. The cascading effects of firing an FBI director in the middle of the investigation is what brought us to the moment.

CAMEROTA: For sure. James Comey answered it similarly when George Stephanopoulos asked him about the allegations of prostitutes in a Russian hotel room. Again, it felt like does he have information? Is he suggesting something? Here it is.


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


CAMEROTA: Now this is one is a little different. The language is exact same.

CAMEROTA: Why didn't he just say I'm not going to answer that --

CUOMO: The difference is between the two. I would like to hear more discussion on collusion specifically even though it is not a legally operative term. Jimmy knows this stuff. That is a point of satisfaction. I would like to see more than general probing. This is why. He doesn't like Donald Trump.

He doesn't respect Donald Trump. Donald Trump ruined his career. I have to believe in his own estimation from the way he writes about him in the book. So, when he says it is possible they have something on him, that's about the investigation.

When he says it's possible that this may have happened, I think that is a character judgment that he is making about Trump. This guy is the kind of guy who I believe is possible.

CAMEROTA: I do, too. None of that is based on information.

CUOMO: Maybe but he didn't offer it.

GAGLIANO: It was the most cringe worthy part of the interview for this. He would have worded it differently. Maybe Eastern European women of ill repute relieved themselves on a presidential candidate instead of using -- you are in second grade. It is so tawdry and unseemly.

AVLON: It is tawdry and unseemly. It is salacious distraction from what we are talking about. I think that possibly is different than the other. It is about what does he know?

CUOMO: But also, look, his demeanor, if you watched last night and you'll be seeing tons of clips. Now that the situation like this, you want all of this to come out and all of the questions to come out. Now he gets to go back to Jim Comey with what we are talking about here. There will be a lot to come in the second bite at the apple. His demeanor is flat, but he is a man with significant animus against the president of the United States. For good reason or not, it's up to you.

CAMEROTA: Make sure you watch that. Thursday at 4:00 p.m. with Jake.

CUOMO: The president's attorney, Michael Cohen, heading back to court today. There's a case against him or not. Is it about being a threat to the president? Is it really potentially worse than the implications of the Mueller investigation? We'll discuss that next.