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Trump Responds to Comey Interview; James Comey Breaks Silence; Conway on Comey. Aired 8:30-9a ET
Aired April 16, 2018 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:31:39] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump reacting to James Comey's interview now. He has tweeted just moments ago saying, Comey drafted the crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her, lied in Congress to Senator G, then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled he, McCabe and others committed many crimes.
Joining us now, CNN contributor and former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean.
Mr. Dean, great to have you here.
What do you think has changed this morning after hearing James Comey publically make his case of his interactions with President Trump?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I thought he was very honest in his demeanor and his style and he had no reason to distort anything. So I think he told it the way he remembered and the way he thought it ought to be presented. So I thought it was a good presentation.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask you something, just to go to the substance of the president's tweet here. Clearly he wants to attack Comey, right?
DEAN: Of course.
CUOMO: That's his intention. But he can do that two different ways. He can just insult him or he can try to make a case. He seems to be trying to make a case. He exonerated Clinton long before he talked to her. Is that true?
DEAN: Well, it may -- it well -- there was a reference to that in the interview last night. We don't have the full five hours, how much he said. But investigators often do reach conclusions before they reach the end of the investigation, which he indicated, and not --
CUOMO: So he'd need to talk, even to Hillary Clinton, because he could decide this is something we can't prosecute her on.
CUOMO: And the second one is, he lied in Congress to Senator G, Grassley I believe he's talking about. And I believe he's referencing the testimony that Comey had to then correct. But the testimony he had to correct wound up being favorable to Hillary Clinton.
CUOMO: He had said that she had been passing along classified information. He had to then go back and say, well, it wasn't -- there weren't as many as we thought there were. He had to correct it. Does that help the president's case against Comey?
DEAN: No, not at all. I think Comey's an honest man. And he's going to be a good witness. What worries me most is he's going to be questioned an awful lot between now and when he has to testify and he's very likely to spin something one way, spin it a little different another way. It's just human. You don't -- we're not reporting machines and we don't come out the same way. That will be used against him in cross examination.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the timing of this, because this is something that you had a personal experience with. Everybody in the White House has a story to tell. Everybody in previous White Houses have stories to tell. So why do you think he did so now when you held off on writing your book?
DEAN: He, obviously, had publishers knocking at the door with attractive offers.
CAMEROTA: So, opportunity? I mean that's --
DEAN: Yes, opportunity, exactly. When I was confronted with the same situation after I left the white House, I waited about two years before I published. I actually ended up with better material in many ways having gone through all the trials and what have you than I would have just with the White House story. So --
CUOMO: Well, look, Jim Comey's handcuffed right now. He can't put meat on the bones of a lot of his impressions and assertions, what about he -- what he says is possible because of the ongoing investigation. Do you think he should have waited?
DEAN: I think he should have waited, yes. I think it would have been a better book to have all the experiences to go through what he's going to go through with the president.
CAMEROTA: You said a couple of weeks ago on our air that you believe Trump is Nixon on steroids.
[08:35:03] DEAN: I did say that.
CAMEROTA: What does that mean?
DEAN: I said stilts and steroids I believe. He's a little bit taller than Nixon for one thing and he's certainly more aggressive in many ways than Nixon.
Nixon was behind closed doors. We wouldn't know Nixon but for his tapes because he was very polite and shy in public, whereas Trump is just right out there. He just throw it at -- throws it out every day. CAMEROTA: So you mean stylistically. You don't mean in terms of legal vulnerability or pushing the envelope legally?
DEAN: I don't think Trump understands the presidency as well as Nixon did. He had been vice president, been in the House, the Senate. He knew where all the levers were. He knew how to push and pull the right things at the right times. Trump's learning. So Nixon was more experienced in that regard.
CUOMO: Lawmakers keep saying from both sides of the aisle, the president should not get rid of Mueller. And then when we asked them, so what are you going to do about it? Are you going to protect him? There's some bills out there. Will you put legislation in place? They say, we don't need to do that because we don't think he's going to make this move. But, obviously, common sense tells you, if the president were to make a move, it would be too late for legislation. Do you think there's a chance that the president does that, tries to stop the investigation by removing Rosenstein most likely and would that be a mistake?
DEAN: I -- you know, I think, first of all, if he removes Rosenstein, its' not going to end the investigation. That's going to go on. If he removes Mueller, all he'll do is have a hiccup in the proceedings and a new special counsel will be selected and it will go forward.
CUOMO: How do you know?
DEAN: It's just the way of the nature of -- there's too much momentum now. Too much interest. Too many -- too many years have now been spent on this investigation just to put it on the shelf and make it go away. It's not going to go away.
CAMEROTA: All right, John Dean, great to get your expertise. Thanks so much for being here with us on NEW DAY.
DEAN: It's a pleasure. Nice to visit with you.
CUOMO: All right, there's certainly a war of words going on here. Jim Comey had his say and the president is not going to stay quiet. He just tweeted, there is a counter offensive going on and one of the soldiers in that army is senior counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, and she's joining us next to make her case to you.
[08:40:51] CUOMO: Time now for the "Five Things to Know for Your New Day."
Number one, fired FBI Director James Comey says Donald Trump is morally unfit to be president and a stain on those around him. This from an interview with ABC News. Comey saying if Trump tried to fire Bob Mueller, it would be his, quote, most serious attack yet on the rule of law.
CAMEROTA: The Treasury Department can announce new sanctions against Russia today. More than a dozen entities are being evaluated, including banks, equipment suppliers and companies that sell helicopters to the Kremlin.
CUOMO: The Bush family surrounding former First Lady Barbara Bush as her health deteriorates. A family source telling CNN the 92 year old is opting for, quote, comfort care at home instead of going back to the hospital.
CAMEROTA: Seven inmates are dead and 17 others are injured after hours of fighting at a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Police say the incident started as multiple fights between inmates in three housing units. This was at the Lee Correctional Institute.
CUOMO: Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson in Philadelphia today to offer a face-to-face apology to two black men who were arrested last week in one of the company's coffee shops. More protests are expected this morning after dozens of demonstrators occupied the shop briefly on Sunday.
CAMEROTA: For more on the "Five Things to Know," you can go to cnn.com/newday for the latest.
CUOMO: All right, so President Trump is reacting to the Comey interview. And, in fact, there is a coordinated response. You're going to see a lot of people coming back on Comey on the president's behalf. One of them is senior counsel Kellyanne Conway, next.
[08:46:28] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Is Donald Trump unfit to be president?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes. But not in the way I often hear people talk about it. I don't buy the stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who's tracking conversations and knows what's going on. I don't think he's medically unfit to be president, I think he's morally unfit to be president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Fired FBI Director James Comey says he does not believe President Trump is fit to lead. The president responding on Twitter saying, quote, Comey drafted the crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her, lied in Congress to Senator G, then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, McCabe and the others committed many crimes.
Joining us now is counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway.
It's good to have you this morning. An important day to have you.
Is it true that the president watched last night and what did he think?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, the president thinks that Jim Comey is engaging in revisionist history. If he objected to anything that he had witnessed when he was in his very limited, very few meetings with President Trump in a six week period, he should have said so. Why not run out of the Oval Office and say, hey, attorney general, vice president, come back? Why not swing the door open? Why not ask who else is coming to dinner if, in fact, you don't want to have dinner alone with the president? There's a simple answer for that and it was on full display for the world to see last night.
CUOMO: So we'll go --
CONWAY: Jim Comey loves to be in the center of power. He loves to divert the spotlight to himself and be in the center of power. So the president is correcting the record because there were two people involved in these conversations. And he's right, Chris, you can't -- you can't say that McCabe is a credible person when we just learned -- I mean we just learned in the IG's report from Friday that he lied four times, three times under oath. They were running an FBI of honorable men and women in the rank and file. But at the tippy top, people who were in charge of the Clinton investigation were --
CONWAY: They were Clinton people. Strzok and Page texting each other about how much they didn't like our now president. Peter Orr (ph) and his wife. McCabe himself. This was a hot mess --
CUOMO: Well, McCabe's a Republican. His wife's a Democrat.
CONWAY: And Jim Comey was too busy running out to the cameras on July 5th, on October 28th. And you agreed with it. You were tweeting pretty heavily last fall after October 28th that Jim Comey has made himself more politically relevant than any FBI director has ever done, that he has created controversy --
CONWAY: (INAUDIBLE) with apparently no good cause. So I saw a man last night very shaky and unsure to answer questions, not even under oath. But we know when Comey was under oath, that he had a very difficult time telling the truth. The FBI had to clean up the big mess, the big lie about how many confidential e-mails were on the Huma Abedin/Anthony Weiner --
CUOMO: Well, it wasn't a lie. He was wrong.
CONWAY: Oh, come on. He was wrong by hundreds of thousands.
CUOMO: The president has that in his tweet, also. He corrected it. And he was wrong.
CONWAY: Oh, Comey math is really fascinating.
CUOMO: It was less.
CONWAY: It was a handful. CUOMO: Well, I just think it's interesting that you and the president call that a lie, which, one, it obviously isn't, but also that it benefitted Hillary Clinton, that fix (ph).
CONWAY: It's not a lie?
CUOMO: So the president's upset that Jim Comey had to change testimony in a way that helped Hillary Clinton? Is that what it is?
CONWAY: No, no, we're putting on the -- the president -- we are pointing out, and I have on your network and other places over the course of a year, pointing out that when he testified the FBI immediately had to correct the record, that it wasn't hundreds of thousands, it was a handful.
CUOMO: Right, it was wrong. Right, because it wasn't that big a deal, which is why when you guys --
CONWAY: Oh, right. Well, it depends who you are.
CUOMO: When you guys made such a big deal about it during the campaign saying, oh, these new e-mails will change everything and it amounts to nothing, that's why the Democrats are mad at Comey.
CONWAY: No, let's -- let's boil it down to the interview last night. No, the Democrats are mad at Comey for lots of reasons. I mean they -- they blame him for her loss. I look -- I saw -- I saw Jim Comey last night and I said, this guy swung an election? I don't think so. I mean it definitely took away from that. He struggled to even answer basic questions.
[08:50:04] He also admitted that he, as FBI director, injected partisan politics and -- and his belief that that person who lost the election should have won, Chris. That he believed that she would win and he was operating under that premise. He also had people in his own household who wanted her to win.
CONWAY: And then he tells George Stephanopoulos he didn't vote --
CUOMO: But he wound up hurting her.
CONWAY: But he didn't vote --
CONWAY: No, he didn't, she hurt herself.
CONWAY: She was not -- Christopher, she was never at 50 percent in any of the polls in those swing states.
CUOMO: It's certainly higher than Trump was. But that's not the point.
CONWAY: I said it to you, to Anderson Cooper.
CUOMO: Comey wound up disclosing the existence of the --
CONWAY: No, no, no, no, don't -- don't interrupt me. Don't do that.
CUOMO: I'm interrupting --
CONWAY: Don't just throw out these sound bytes and -- to go viral without letting me finish the sentence.
CUOMO: Listen, you're the one who goes viral.
What I'm saying is, when Comey came forward and said that they were looking into the e-mail investigation, it was undoubtedly damaging to Hillary Clinton. When he came out a second way -- time and said he was doing it.
CONWAY: No. Show me -- show me the swing states where she was over 50 percent on October 20th. Excuse me, before Comey came out, show me the swing states. Show me in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, show me the swing states where she was above 50 percent.
CUOMO: But that's not the metric.
CONWAY: There's -- those states that President Obama carried, twice in the case of North Carolina (INAUDIBLE) over 50 percent.
CUOMO: Right, she did not do as well as Obama did clearly, but not being over 50 percent is a false measure.
CONWAY: That had nothing to do with Comey. Had nothing to do with Comey.
CUOMO: It's about whether or not it hurt her.
CONWAY: No. Oh, OK.
CUOMO: And it certainly hurt her just in terms of media exposure alone. And if you think about it, Comey hurt Clinton and helped Trump --
CONWAY: No, wrong. We disagree.
CUOMO: Because he refused to disclose the probe on him. So he was quiet about Trump and loud about Clinton.
CONWAY: That's wrong. We disagree completely.
Oh, who's trying to re-litigate the 2016 election now, Christopher? I'm not going to stand in the White House Briefing Room talking about the 2016 election.
CUOMO: I'm not. You brought it up. I'm just stating what it was.
CONWAY: Here's what I'm going to talk about. That, wow, this man is president. The FBI director took two months to go visit the president- elect at Trump Tower. If you're that concerned about alleged Russian interference, if you're that concerned about counterterrorism, you need to meet the new president, you can't like get on the shuttle or walk to New York?
CUOMO: What's the relevance?
CONWAY: It took him two months to -- it's relevant because he's the sitting FBI director. He wanted to keep his job. Go and brief the president-elect before that. It took him two months. Then it took him --
CUOMO: But he did brief him. And usually you come when called.
CONWAY: And then it took him -- it took two months, come on.
CUOMO: You come when called.
CONWAY: And then it took a year -- it took a year for him to say that he's clearing his conscience. If you have vital information in the national -- in the national interest, then you come forward before your book and your media tour start and you know that.
This man had no political instincts whatsoever. He was wrong about the election, as were many people. But then last night he tells George Stephanopoulos, I didn't vote because the FBI director should be independent. You can't cast a private ballot in the mail or in a ballot box? That's so ridiculous.
CUOMO: But so --
CONWAY: He didn't vote because he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win and didn't need his help.
CUOMO: That doesn't matter.
CONWAY: Yes, it does matter because last night at the end he gave a free political commercial. No, the president shouldn't be impeached but people should know.
CUOMO: Look, what he did to Hillary Clinton was by no one's measure helpful to her. Had he done the same thing to Donald Trump, you would have been going nuts about it.
CONWAY: Christopher, she was on her way to losing already. She had no message. She had no message.
CUOMO: All right, but that's -- that's -- that's beside the point about what Comey's role was.
CONWAY: Her running mate, Tim Kaine, would show up at a rally and there would be a handful of people. It looked like a second small wedding where I come from. There would be like a couple hundred people.
CUOMO: But that's besides the point. CONWAY: Come on, she was on her way to losing. She ignored Wisconsin and Michigan. She went to Georgia and Texas.
CUOMO: I think those are fair points, but they are beside the point of Comey's influence.
CUOMO: Let me play something else for you that he said last night.
CONWAY: He feels guilty.
CUOMO: I want your take on it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: At least in my experience, he won't criticize Vladimir Putin, even in private, even in a meeting with three people in the Oval Office he is arguing that he gave a good answer when he said essentially we are the same kind of killers that Putin's thugs are. And that struck me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: So this is from a different interview with "USA Today."
CONWAY: I have no idea what he's talking about.
CUOMO: Jim Comey is making the point that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, has a built in resistance to saying anything negative about Vladimir Putin, even if that winds up meaning that he will put the United States on even footing with Russia when it comes to being killers.
CONWAY: Completely ridiculous. I'm not even going to let you finish that, it's so ridiculous.
CUOMO: I'm finished.
CONWAY: I know you guys have these screaming graphics that cost you tons of money about Russian collusion, Russia, Russia --
CUOMO: Well, that's Comey saying it.
CONWAY: And -- and that's turned out to be non -- excuse me, Comey is basing that on a meeting that he -- one small meeting he had last February. This man has been in the presence of the president of the United States less than five times. A handful of times. He's basing it -- he had three -- it sounds like he had three or four engagements with the president, two alone very briefly, in the span of six weeks. And we have a book over -- about 15 months later that's supposed to be compelling about what this president thinks about Russia and Putin.
You know what he thinks about Putin, and here's why. He expelled 60 Russian diplomats last month. On April 5th, we put sanctions on Russia that have hurt them financially more than almost anybody anticipated. And just this weekend --
CUOMO: It took you a long time to put the sanctions in place, but you did.
CONWAY: Excuse me -- no, it has taken you a long time to prove Russian collusion. I know that's very disappointing to your network.
CUOMO: It's not my job.
CONWAY: But let me tell you something, Christopher. And, in addition, this weekend, this president did precise, decisive strikes -- effective strikes against Syria. And that puts Russia and Iran on notice, also. Russia tried to embarrass the United States. I think, which you and I both are citizens of, Christopher, tried to embarrass our country this weekend and it blew up in his face. He only had Bolivia and China agree with them in their -- in this ridiculous vote. The U.S. had everybody else standing with them, and the U.K. and France.
[08:55:17] CUOMO: The criticism stands that the president rarely mentions Vladimir Putin by name and almost never in a negative way.
CONWAY: No, no, no, he's expelling -- excuse me, he's expelling Russian diplomats. He's sanctioning their finances.
CUOMO: That's a fair point.
CONWAY: It's not a fair point, it's a fact. You want facts first? That's a fact.
CUOMO: Yes, the fact is that he talks about Putin in the negative by name very, very infrequently.
CONWAY: I thought we were talking about Comey.
CUOMO: That was what Jim Comey was echoing.
CONWAY: And I'll talk -- and -- and can you talk negatively about Jim Comey like you did in tweets right after October?
CUOMO: I'm not the president of the United States. Let's stick to who matters.
CONWAY: The president --
CUOMO: I'm just -- I'm just a -- I'm just asking questions.
CONWAY: The president is a busy guy. We're not worried about Jim Comey.
I -- honestly, there were parts last night where I was trying to grasp his essential relevance. He had limited interaction. I'm in the Oval Office more in a day than this guy was in his limited career as FBI director under President Trump. CUOMO: Right, but he was conducting an investigation that gave him a
lot of insight into a lot of different things.
CONWAY: And who was in that investigation?
CUOMO: He didn't need to be face-to-face with the president.
CONWAY: Excuse me, who was in the investigation?
CUOMO: And, frankly, when he was face-to-face with him, he often was put off by the president and he was avoiding him --
CONWAY: Oh, isn't he so wonderful.
CUOMO: Because he was worried about the president trying to compromise him again --
CONWAY: No, he wasn't. No, he wasn't. He would have walked out of the dinner. He would have invited somebody else.
CUOMO: Like asking for loyalty, like asking him to stay away from Flynn.
CONWAY: He loved being -- he loved the taste of power, and you know it.
CUOMO: How do you know?
CONWAY: Until he didn't have it any more.
Because there he was at dinner alone with the president. There he was in the Oval Office.
CUOMO: He was asked by the president to go to dinner. What, are you supposed to say no?
CONWAY: No, but you could have said, who else will be there? Should I bring my wife? Should I bring my deputy, Andrew McCabe? That would have been fun. Should I -- should I bring Page and Strzok? They like to spend time together. Should I bring Peter Orr and his wife? Should I bring all these people who are at the highest level of the FBI who are investigating Hillary Clinton and were for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump? Maybe they could have come to dinner.
CUOMO: They were so for her that they announced an investigation against her twice, once in the last two weeks of the campaign. Yes, they were really trying to help her out. I understand that.
CONWAY: And, so what. And then he closed the investigation. She was already was losing, and you know that. She couldn't -- she could not surmount 50 percent.
CUOMO: Well, you can't have it both ways. Either that's what they were doing and that's what mattered, or she was losing anyway.
CONWAY: And I came on this network many times and said so. CUOMO: Also, look, you talk about doing the right thing.
CONWAY: No, no, this is not about her.
CUOMO: Should the president have asked him for loyalty? No. Should the president have told him to leave Flynn alone? No.
CONWAY: The president said he did not ask him for personal loyalty. The president has denied that. The president said he never asked anyone to interfere -- interfere in the investigation.
CUOMO: Doesn't mean it didn't happen.
CONWAY: No, and it doesn't mean it did happen because Comey says so. And let me say something, are you comfortable --
CUOMO: Well, Comey has contemporaneous notes also. Does the president have proof of what he says and didn't say.
CONWAY: Let me ask you a question -- let me ask you a question, as a reporter, as a good person, as a father of three children, let me ask you if you're comfortable with the FBI director headed right -- directly into the gutter when it comes to what he was looking for in his first meeting with the president, what he wants to reflect in his book, the length of his tie, the size of his hand sizes. Are you comfortable with that? Because I'm very uncomfortable with that. I think that's a disgrace.
CUOMO: No, I think it's tawdry stuff that the American people don't need to hear.
CONWAY: And I agree with Rod Rosenstein and what he said in May 9th last year, the deputy attorney general, when he said very clearly that Jim Comey, quote, has violated the obligation to preserve, protect and defend the traditions of the department of the FBI. Agreed to by former attorneys general and deputies attorney general, right, left and center. And he recommended the removal of Jim Comey because he said he broke every FBI and DOJ protocol when it came to how to respond. Why didn't -- George Stephanopoulos asked the right question, Comey, why didn't you just say, we declined to prosecute Hillary Clinton? You had to go out there. You had the pipe and flags behind you.
CUOMO: Torchered (ph) language that made it really deceptive in terms of whether they should have prosecuted or not.
CONWAY: Well, he shouldn't have done that. But he's very skilled at one thing. Jim Comey's very skilled at diverting the spotlight on to himself. And it's unfortunate that people think he's got a big story to tell. He had very limited interaction with the president. He admitted he was nervous to meet the president.
CUOMO: Right, but he was doing the investigation. It's not about his face-to-faces. It's about what he knew about the investigation.
CONWAY: Oh, no, come on, he's the FBI director. CUOMO: But, hold on, you're raising a great point here. Rosenstein, very important to the president. Hand-picked. Wrote this letter. Fundamental in kind of building the case against Comey. Can you assure the American people that Rod Rosenstein and the special counsel are safe, that the president will not move on them until the work is completed?
CONWAY: So the president and his team have complied with everything that they've been asked to do with respect to this investigation.
CUOMO: That's not the question.
CONWAY: Hold on. It's over 20 -- 20 individuals and thousands -- tens of thousands of pages of documents and you know it. He says --
CUOMO: I don't know it but I'll take your word for it.
CONWAY: Well, you do. Well, that's been said publically. You should take our word for it.
When I think of Rod Rosenstein, I think of --
CUOMO: No, not all the time but this time.
CONWAY: I think of several things. I've worked with him very closely on a couple of matters here. But I think that he was the man last May 9th who wrote this scathing indictment of Jim Comey and his performance --
CONWAY: Rosenstein. He did. Everybody should read it because you guys covered it for a second.
CUOMO: I read it.
CONWAY: Your colleague rolled his eyes at me. No, it's an incredibly important document. Go put it up on cnn.com. You guys have a big digital platform. Do -- do every -- do America a favor and remind them that the deputy attorney general that you want to stay in this job, he's a man of great integrity and everything --
CONWAY: As you're saying, and I've worked with him on a couple of issues --
CONWAY: Go and see the letter he wrote last May 9th.
CUOMO: Yes, OK, we'll put it up there.
CONWAY: It is unbelievable --
[08:59:59] CUOMO: And you do the American people a favor also. Can you assure them that Rosenstein is safe in this job so there's less turnover and less tumult on something as sensitive as this investigation? Is he safe or not?
CONWAY: Oh, stop it. The president makes the decisions around here. The president met with him, Mr. Rosenstein.
CUOMO: So you're saying there -- is there a chance that he will get rid of Rosenstein?