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Comey: Trump 'Morally Unfit' to Be President; Cohen to Appear in Court Today. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired April 16, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- so much so. It's Trump and Russia is a made up story.
[07:00:05] GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you think the Russians have something on President Trump?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former director Comey has a God complex.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always found him to be very credible.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Cohen heads to court just hours from now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's had a long relationship with Michael Cohen.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: She wants to make sure that she is behind efforts to bring to light as much information and documents as possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's impossible to say at this point that the mission has been accomplished.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the strikes were proportional and justifiable. We wanted to send a strong message that they needed to stop the chemical weapons program.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.
The feud between President Trump and fired FBI director James Comey reaching an extraordinarily public level. In an interview that aired last night, Comey called the president a serial liar who is morally unfit and stains those around him. Comey also said Mr. Trump may have obstructed justice by asking Comey to let go of the Michael Flynn investigation. And Comey said he believes it's possible that the Russians have some leverage over Mr. Trump.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The president sounding off. Tweets all weekend long calling Comey "slippery, not smart," and "a slime ball." The president's focus is split between insulting Comey and dealing with a criminal investigation into his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Now, in just hours, Cohen is going to be in court for a hearing on the records taken by the FBI in searches last week. Could the Cohen case be a bigger threat to the president than the Mueller probe?
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins live at the White House -- Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, I'm not sure we've ever ever seen anything like what we saw last night. The former FBI director publicly attacking the sitting president who fired him nearly a year ago. And if there was any chance that this feud between President Trump and James Comey had a chance of evaporating, that was gone last night the minute that James Comey started going Trump.
COMEY: I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally fit to be president.
COLLINS (voice-over): Fired FBI director James Comey unleashing a scathing criticism of President Trump's character, blasting him as unfit for office and a stain on those around him.
COMEY: The person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're 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 televised interview since the president fired him last May, Comey reveals he thinks the president might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?
COMEY: It always struck me and still strikes me as unlikely. And I would have been able to say with high confidence about 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 into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Should you have said, "Mr. President, I can't discuss this. You're doing something improper"?
COMEY: Maybe. Although 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 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. STEPHANOPOULOS: Was President Trump obstructing justice?
COMEY: Possibly. I mean, there's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.
STEPHANOPOULOS: 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. And so impeachment, in a way, would short-circuit that.
COLLINS: Comey comparing 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."
And I just stared at him. And had this little narrative within myself, inside, saying, "Don't you move. Don't you dare move. Don't even blink."
STEPHANOPOULOS: 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 the whole time.
COMEY: A constant series of assertions about the inauguration crowd. His inauguration crowd was bigger than that of Barack Obama's first inauguration. That's just not true. That's not a perspective. That's not a view. That's just a lie.
[07:05:06] STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're listening. Are you thinking, "President Trump is a liar"?
COMEY: Yes. Yes.
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: They know that's my "Oh, no" face.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's not exactly what Patrice said, is it?
COMEY: Well, I don't want to say it on television. She said, "That's Jim's 'Oh (EXPLETIVE DELETED)' face?"
COLLINS: Comey revealing how it felt when he discovered he'd 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 into particularly whether anyone in the Trump orbit had 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.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you feel like to be James Comey in the last 10 days of that campaign after you sent the letter?
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.
COLLINS: But the fired FBI director adamantly defending his handling of the Clinton probe.
STEPHANOPOULOS: 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 whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we're done.
COLLINS: Now the president hasn't responded to Comey's latest comments. But the White House and the Republican National Committee have been working overtime to undermine James Comey's credibility ahead of this interview and this book release.
Of course, the president says that he always likes to hit back when he gets hit first. And he will have an opportunity to do so as he departs the White House today. He's going to South Florida for an event on tax cuts before spending the week at his Mar-a-Lago club on Palm Beach as he waits for the prime minister of Japan to arrive -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan. Thank you very much.
Let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. Good morning to both of you.
David Gregory, what were your big takeaways?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I have a few different thoughts all at the same time. I think that Jim Comey is an important part, potentially, of the Mueller investigation because of his interactions with Trump and the question of obstructions of justice.
I think his opinions and his interactions with President Trump are devastating to the president and his assault on the rule of law and his disdain for the independence of institutions.
Having said that, I didn't like that interview. I don't think Jim Comey came off well at all. I think yet again he is obsessed with his -- his standing, his media standing, his kind of political standing.
I love how he says he doesn't want to go down the road of getting involved in politics, and yet that's exactly what he did in the Clinton e-mail investigation both times. He protected the Trump investigation, but he had no problem just waving around what was happening with the Clinton investigation.
And at the very end of the campaign, by -- by sending that letter -- by revealing all of these e-mails that were on Anthony Wiener's computer server, without knowing whether there was any evidence of a crime, he did tilt the balance. When he said, "Oh, I should never think about the ramifications of politics," but that's exactly what he did. Because he was worried that if Clinton was president that she would somehow be tainted if that came out later. So he's trying obsessively to manage things.
And here's one last point. I don't buy this whole thing -- you know, here he is, Mr. Tough Law and Order experience, you know, mob prosecutor, the guy who stood up during the Bush years in that hospital scene defending the independence of the Justice Department.
And now he's with the reality star turned president who starts saying all this inappropriate stuff like "I need your loyalty," and he wants to meet with him alone, and he doesn't have the -- you know, the strength to say, "I'm sorry, Mr. President, maybe you don't know how this works, but that's inappropriate. We can't do that. I need my boss back in here"? I'm troubled by that.
CUOMO: What about the idea that the book came out now at all, John? I mean, we know it was vetted. We know some stuff was redacted. But so let's assume that Mueller/the relevant bureaus were OK with this.
Do you think this was a self-serving decision to sell it at a time where it would make money instead of doing the best service by the public and waiting until the probe is over?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the publishing house obviously is going to make a commercial decision. But I think there's also no question that Comey's side of the story is of importance to the public good.
And I think, you know, whatever the -- the inevitable book promotion aspect of last night's interview aside, it still is remarkable when you take a step back, not only looking at the context of Comey's career, but the Republican FBI director saying the things he says about this president based on his experience, comparing the culture surrounding the president to a mob boss and that kind of culture of fear.
And then obviously, being present in private conversations that are at the heart of this investigation, which is more than a legal investigation. It is really a debate we're having in real time about the republic. And what Comey is saying is that, from a moral standpoint, this president in private seems to not only have crossed the line with obstruction of justice. But he can't even say definitively that it's not possible that he is compromised by Russia. That's a serious accusation from a Republican FBI director.
[07:10:27] CAMEROTA: He ALSO can't say definitively that he is compromised --
CAMEROTA: -- by Russia or there is some leverage. So let's play this moment. And David, you can tell us if you think this was a satisfying answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?
COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States. But it's possible.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's stunning. You can't say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised by the Russians?
COMEY: Yes, it is stunning. And I wish I wasn't saying it. But it's just -- it's the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: What did you think of that, David?
GREGORY: Consistent. If you're going to scrutinize the president and -- and Comey in this situation, I don't think that's appropriate.
First of all, he's almost exuberantly recounting the unproven details of this dossier that was funded by political opponents on both sides of the aisle of President Trump. And I don't think it's fair to the president to dump all this stuff out there that is so salacious when you don't know.
And I think the danger of Jim Comey, who was at the highest level of our intelligence apparatus in this country, to be kind of spreading that innuendo. I think it's not responsible, and I think it undermines the independence of these institutions. When you do have Brennan, former CIA director, Comey and others who are joining the political fight and getting into the mud with President Trump. I don't think that that's a healthy for them to be doing. It frankly fuels the people who think, you know, there's some deep-state conspiracy, which I think is difference.
AVLON: David -- David, I appreciate where you're coming from. But I think it's also fair to say that they all believe they're trying to strengthen institutions by, institutions that seem to be under threat, under constant attack by the president on Twitter and other things. Now -- so I think there's a public good aspect of transparency of
these men's opinions based on their experience, which is relevant.
GREGORY: But that -- that's fair. I don't disagree with that. But I'm just saying if it was wrong for him to trash Hillary Clinton after saying we're not going to charge and saying how she was reckless and all of that, then it's also wrong for him to kind of lay out these salacious details when they don't know if this thing is even real or not. That's what I'm saying. I think that is a consistent point.
AVLON: Yes. Yes. And I do think the details of the dossier are actually a distraction to the larger conversation at this point. Because they are unproven in a fundamental way. And they do -- they're so salacious that they suck the oxygen out of the room for a sober conversation.
GREGORY: And again -- but also, John, I think that -- I come back to this point. And I don't know that I really had this view when all of this came out the first time. But sitting down, watching it, listening to his answers, I'm sorry, I'm unsatisfied that he feels so clear that when the president says to Jeff Sessions and the V.P., "Can you guys leave? I want to talk to Jim Comey." This is an experienced director of the FBI who has a 10-year term. And the reason he has that is so he can tell anybody to take a walk, because he's independent of the political process.
He knows something bad is about to go down, because he's already seen this. And he doesn't say, "You know, Mr. President, I'm sorry, this -- maybe you don't know how this works. I've got to have my boss in here. Whatever you want to say to me you've got to say to him."
Because he created a scenario where it's now the president's words against his. I think that was irresponsible, and he knows better. And he has demonstrated that he has the ability to stand up for that independence that you're saying is so important, which I agree with. And yet he didn't do it in a couple of cases. He had to compromise with the president and say, "I'm going to give you my honest loyalty"? No, Mr. President, I won't have to have the shrimp scampi. I'm here to tell you, I'm the FBI director. I don't make loyalty oaths. It's just not done.
CUOMO: Also, with him layering this with, boy, John, "it really reminded me of my work as a mob prosecutor." You know, where loyalty is everything over the truth. If he really felt that way, you know, what John Brennan called a kakistocracy. The opposite of aristocracy. Aristocracy is the best of us. Kakis is the worst of us.
That if you felt like that, then why didn't you step up? If you felt you were being mobbed up by the suggestion by the president, why didn't you stand up?
AVLON: Well, look, first of all, in his accounting, he does say, "You have my honesty" when he is asked for his loyalty. We can parse whether or not there was a more virtuous way to handle those private conversations. But it's also a mistake to take the president off the hook. Because
he's the one who's asking the FBI director to stay behind. And that ten-year term was done for two reasons. First of all, political independence. But also to avoid the kind of Hoover -- J. Edgar Hoover situation we had where you had someone perpetually in power. So I think that's important to us.
[07:15:06] We have found -- one of the reasons the situation is unprecedented is we've never had an FBI director fired in the midst of an investigation involving --
CUOMO: Or come out and talk the way Comey did during the election.
AVLON: The election, that's right.
CUOMO: Taking a job that wasn't even his.
CUOMO: You know, again, I'm sitting here last night. David, we were saying earlier in the show, who told Jim Comey, "You should -- it's OK for you to go to the American people and say that this won't be prosecuted with Hillary Clinton"? That's not the job of the FBI to determine.
CUOMO: That is the DOJ. That's the AG's office that's supposed to do it. Who told him it was OK?
GREGORY: Yes. Nobody did. And I know what he told people internally that he felt. And I do believe that he believes this, that he had to protect, you know, the honor and the integrity of the FBI, which goes to John's point, which is standing up for the independence of these institutions.
And he was in a tough spot. I think Loretta Lynch as the attorney general under President Obama did not perform the job well and made his situation more difficult. But it doesn't mean that the norms somehow don't apply. You know, if you don't charge, you don't talk about it. You don't render judgment.
And -- but, look, at the end of this, I do agree with John. I mean, I think that you can have all these problems with Comey, last night and, you know -- but the fact remains he got fired because the president didn't like the investigation he was doing on Russia. That's clearly inappropriate. Whether it's illegal or something approaching impeachment, that's for the special prosecutor to make a determination about.
CAMEROTA: All right, gentlemen. Thank you very much for the debate. David Gregory, John Avlon, great to talk to both of you.
So we're going to hear a lot more from James Comey this week. On Thursday he sits down with Jake Tapper at 4 p.m. Eastern for a live interview right here on CNN. CUOMO: Coming up next, we will get the White House's take on these
revelations. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway is going to join us this morning.
CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, we are following some breaking news. Seven inmates are dead, 17 others are injured after hours of fighting at this maximum-security prison in South Carolina that you see this live shot on your screen right now. Police say the incident started as multiple fights between inmates in three housing units. This is at the Lee Correctional Institute. It took more than eight hours for officers to secure the prison. Police say no officers were hurt. So we will update you as we learn more details about this developing story.
CUOMO: All right. President Trump's long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is going to court today. They're fighting over documents that were taken by the FBI in their warrant and search. What is the legal risk for the president in all this? We'll discuss next.
[07:21:32] CAMEROTA: In just a few hours from now, President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, will be in court, a legal battle heating up over what the FBI seized last week. And there's a twist from Stormy Daniels's attorney.
CNN's Kara Scannell joins us now with more. What have you learned?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, Michael Cohen will show up in court later today after a federal judge ordered him to return to court this afternoon, because she wants to know more about who his clients are as part of Cohen's effort to prevent the prosecutors from reviewing the documents, cell phone and other devices that were seized in last week's raid.
Now, Cohen has been pushing back on this. saying that this should be covered by attorney-client privilege. Last night Trump's lawyers weighed in. They said that they want to review the documents first before the FBI can even take a look at them.
Now, this is something that the judge is going to hear arguments on later today. But it's not the only piece of drama today. Stormy Daniels is going to be in court. She's going to face off against Michael Cohen. She doesn't have a role in the court hearing, but she's there as part of the effort that she and her attorney have been pressing since they came public.
They want to keep pressure on Michael Cohen. They want to keep pressure on the president, and she's at the heart of this issue, too, because we know that the search warrant was looking for information that has to do with any efforts that Cohen had to suppress any negative information from coming out in the campaign.
Now, all of this also matters because the real issue here is that this is significant. Michael Cohen was the president's personal attorney for 10 years. And that has the White House very concerned about what might come out if the government does get their hands on all of this evidence -- Alisyn, Chris.
CAMEROTA: Thank you.
CUOMO: Thank you very much. The president has lawyers. Cohen has lawyers. And Cohen is the president's lawyer.
All right. So let's bring in people to help us make sense of all this. CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa.
Let me ask you something first, Jeffrey. We're just hearing from people, you know, the Mueller investigation's exposure, potentially, to the president there, certainly on the -- any obstruction of Trump.
But this Cohen thing, he better be careful there. Alan Dershowitz came and said, "I'm very concerned about the president's exposure." Why?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Because when it came to sensitive matters, including dealing with women and most notably, Michael Cohen was the person who did it. And he has access to all of Donald Trump's most coveted and complicated secrets. And presumably, the information about those secrets were in his phone, his files, his e-mails. That's why they're so worried about it.
CAMEROTA: You know, one of the things that Alan Dershowitz has talked about also is, in terms of the president putting out the pardon that he, you know, sort of telegraphed the idea that he's willing to pardon people. Somebody can dictate in New York with the FDNY investigation. Can the president pardon that person or only federal crimes?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So the southern district of New York is the attorney's office for that district. So these are still federal crimes. So the president --
CAMEROTA: Michael Cohen, whatever happens down the road, can be pardoned by the president?
RANGAPPA: He can be pardoned for any crimes that that office charges him with. He cannot be pardoned if the New York attorney general charges him with crimes, because those would be state crimes that could be pardoned by the governor.
One thing about the southern district case, though, Alisyn, is the fact that it is originating out of that office means that it's untethered to Mueller's investigation. If it's truly a referral that they are conducting independently, and the government court filing says that it is, that means that firing Rosenstein, firing Mueller will not impact that investigation proceeding apace.
[07:25:18] CUOMO: Well, let's talk about that. I have one little question about whether Cohen can still represent the president. Is he still his lawyer right now, even though he is the subject of this investigation? TOOBIN: Well, he can be. It's up to the president. If he wants him
to be. I mean, you know, most people would not want a lawyer who is under active criminal investigation themselves. But --
CUOMO: It's about things he did for Trump, though. You know?
TOOBIN: Well, that's right. But the short answer is if the president wants him to be his lawyer, he is still his lawyer.
CUOMO: All right. So now, the "New York Times" has a big editorial today, literally took out a full page, talking about how they hope the president doesn't make a move on Mueller, how bad it would be for the democracy, the American experiment overall. If he does, you guys have different feelings about this.
The president would move on Rosenstein, theoretically, if not Mueller directly, to stop the investigation. Would that be successful if that were his goal?
TOOBIN: Well, I think firing Mueller would be very successful. Because at that point, the investigation would just return to the Justice Department, and they would presumably just not pursue it with anywhere near the vigor that -- that Trump -- that Mueller did.
Remember, when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox in 1973, he also appointed a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. There's no indication that -- that if Trump were to fire Mueller, he would replace him with anyone. And so I really do think that's the way to kill the investigation. Firing Rosenstein is more of a bank shot.
And I don't know -- I actually doubt that would end the investigation. It would be very controversial, but I don't think he would kill the Mueller investigation by firing Rosenstein.
CAMEROTA: You disagree?
RANGAPPA: I disagree. I'm not -- I'm not saying it shouldn't be alarming. It wouldn't be a constitutional crisis, a big problem that we all should be worried about. But as Jeffrey said, all of these investigations would revert back to the Department of Justice. But also to the FBI, who are in the midst, in the middle of these investigations, counterintelligence investigations, criminal investigations. And there could be 10, 20, 30. We know that he's looking at Russians, too.
I just don't see how these would just stop midstream. And you also have this -- this person nobody is talking about, which is Christopher Wray, the FBI director, who'd also have to get on board, in my opinion, and say, "OK, we're going to shut down these Title III's and these FISAs and going to court and saying, "No, we're not getting anything." I just don't see how career FBI agents and prosecutors would all get on board in the --
TOOBIN: But FBI agents do not work on their own. They can only bring cases if there's the Justice Department, if there are prosecutors working with them. The whole reason that the president would shut down the investigation
by Mueller is to shut down the investigation by Mueller. He's in charge of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions is the attorney general. He's going to fire Rosenstein, according to this hypothesis. If he wants to stop this investigation, he's going to stop this investigation.
RANGAPPA: I disagree.
TOOBIN: All right. Well --
Perhaps we won't -- perhaps we won't see it. He won't shut down any of it.
CAMEROTA: All right. So last night, you know there was the James Comey interview. Guess what? That was only a fraction of the interview. It was five hours long, ABC says. They put out one hour of it, but they put out the transcript of more of it.
So in the transcript, which we didn't see on on TV, it was a question about how James Comey feels about Rod Rosenstein, the deputy A.G.
So let me read this for you. He says, "Well, the attorney general was recused, and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, in my view, had acted dishonorably by putting out this pretext," meaning the letter that he gave Trump, "about why I was fired. So I thought, 'Well, he's amica nostra.' Right? He's part of the family now." Meaning if you believe that this is the mob, the mob model.
CUOMO: "Amica nostra" means "our friend."
CAMEROTA: "He's part of the family now. I can't trust him. And so what can I do? I can do something now."
I think that that was the pretext for why he then gave his notes to someone.
TOOBIN: To Daniel Richmond, the professor at Columbia Law School.
CAMEROTA: Which is why, you know, the president calls him, you know, the leaker, the huge leaker.
CAMEROTA: All that stuff.
So what does that tell you, what was going on? What Comey says?
TOOBIN: I mean, I -- it also -- I mean, Comey does make a good point that Rosenstein came up with a bogus rationale for firing -- for firing Comey, this idea that he was too mean to Hillary Clinton. Everybody knew, as Donald Trump promptly admitted, that the real reason he fired Comey was because of the Russia investigation. So you can see why Rosenstein is -- is a source of irritation to Comey.
You know, I think Rosenstein has generally behaved honorably in supervising the Mueller investigation. But Comey's resentment is certainly understandable.
CUOMO: The sin of pride, a deadly sin, is Comey guilty of that? The feel of -- the need to justify himself when Rosenstein happened, leaking the information? The need to do what, in his opinion --