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Comey Speaks to CNN as Trump Feud Escalates; CNN Obtains Comey Memos. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 21:00   ET



[21:00:00] JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I hope that's a FBI -- I'm not the FBI director but I hope that's a FBI director type answer.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: When you gave the press conference about Hillary Clinton in 2016 in the summer you said you didn't say she didn't lie. Or you didn't say it's possible she lied. You said you found no evidence she had lied.

You found no evidence that she had that e-mail server knowing that it was improper. But you're not using the same construct of there is evidence or there isn't evidence. You're saying it's possible that leaves the impression for people that there might be stuff out there that there might be evidence that President Trump is under the thumb of the Kremlin?

COMEY: Yes, but I see that, Jake as -- you're asking me of two different things. I'm not going to talk about the investigation of possible cooperation between Americans and the Russian effort to influence our election. What you asked me about now is why did I say what I said when people ask me what I thought it was possible that the Russians had derogatory information on President Trump. I think it's unlikely but I think it's possible.

TAPPER: But isn't that construct unfair to President Trump in a way because the question was, if President Trump was compromised by the Russians. You say it's possible. I don't think it's likely but it's possible. I mean, it's possible there's life on other planets. We don't know. For you, somebody like you with your reputation saying it's possible isn't -- I mean, it is also possible that it's not true. Isn't that another way you could look at the same question?

COMEY: Sure. But I'm not looking to the stars saying there might be green men out there. There's a reason I say it's possible. Two things struck me. One the President's constantly bringing it up to me to deny it and in my experience as an investigator it's not an ironclad rule but it's a striking thing when someone constantly brings up something to deny that you didn't ask about. And second, I'm always been struck in my encounters with him that he wouldn't criticize Vladimir Putin even in private, which struck me as odd.

Now those aren't definitive, those are conclusive facts but I'm not -- the reason I'm saying it's possible is there are things that lead my common sense to believe it's possible.

TAPPER: But isn't that kind of cute? I mean, you're not saying that you have evidence of it. You're just saying it's possible. I mean, do you have evidence that President Trump has been compromised by the Russians? Have you seen evidence of it?

COMEY: No. And I think I have said that throughout. I'm trying to be transparent. Here my reasoning. Here's why an honest answer has to be it's possible. Now, I'm not saying it's likely. I've said all along and I'm repeating it to you here today. It's unlikely in my view but it's possible.

TAPPER: So let's talk about the investigation. And what you can talk about it. In January 2017 when you met with President Trump and you did that oral presentation of what's in that two-page memo, summarizing the Steele dossier, we know from the book that you talked about the unverified allegations involving him and prostitutes. Did you brief him about any of the other things in the Steele dossier, claims that associates Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort were potentially working with the Russians or was it only about the prostitutes?

COMEY: It was only about the salacious part of it.

TAPPER: Why? Why only about that?

COMEY: Because that was the part that the leaders of the intelligence community agreed he needed to be told about because we knew it and thought it was about to become public and if it was true we didn't know whether it was true it would be important to let him know this as part of a defensive briefing.

TAPPER: While we are on the subject of the dossier, by the time you left, how much of it do you think you were able to either prove to be correct, verify, or debunk?

COMEY: Work was still under way. I wouldn't be able to say if I was still there. But work was still under way when I was fired.

TAPPER: Some of it -- is it fair to say that some of you, you verified as true and some of it you debunk as false?

COMEY: I think all I can say a core part of it was consistent with lots of other intelligence, core part being the Russians are engaged in an orchestrated campaign to influence the American election.

TAPPER: The -- Michael Cohen, I want to ask you about him. He's now criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, your former job. CNN's reporting that one of President Trump's former lawyers is warning the President that Michael Cohen could flip and also we're hearing and lots of people have reported that President Trump and his advisers are much more concerned about the investigation into Michael Cohen than they are into the Russia investigation. Put on your legal analyst hat for a second. Why might that be? Why would they be more worried about Michael Cohen than about Robert Mueller?

COMEY: I'm going to resist putting on the legal analyst hat. You got all these awesome legal analysts at CNN. I'm not one of them.

TAPPER: We know that Cohen's name is in the Steele dossier. We know that the FBI is trying to verify whether or not parts of the entire dossier is true or not. Is he vulnerable in the Russia investigation or not, Michael Cohen?

COMEY: That's not something I can't answer.

TAPPER: In the book, you detail several interactions with the President that made you uncomfortable. Ultimately you accepted President Trump's dinner invitation. You promised honest loyalty. You later that agreed that Michael Flynn was a good man.

Now, you write that your experience in high school gave you a lifelong hatred for bullies. Do you think President Trump is a bully? Do you hate him?

COMEY: I definitely don't hate him. There are things he does that make me uncomfortable, and I think are inappropriate that are in some ways like a bully-like behavior. But I don't hate Donald Trump. I don't even dislike Donald Trump.

[21:05:13] TAPPER: I want to ask you a devil's advocate question about President Trump.


TAPPER: You are a person who privately briefed him the salacious allegation involving prostitutes. Is it not possible that President Trump when he asked for your loyalty had in his mind the idea that here's a FBI director, the only FBI director I'm familiar with is J. Edgar Hoover and I know he blackmailed politicians all the time. Is it not possible he thought he was asking for your loyalty because he was worried that you were going to drop all this incriminating information on him that may or may not have been true?

COMEY: It's possible.

TAPPER: It's possible?

COMEY: Only saying that because you said that.

TAPPER: I want to get clarity on something else you said this week. You said this week, that President Trump, "treats women like meat." Is that from some personal experience that you saw or heard about or is that just from things that he has said?

COMEY: Just from media. Not from personal experience.

TAPPER: I want to ask about specifically about if you could put on your hat, legal analyst hat, I'm going to ask one more time.

COMEY: Which I'm refusing to put on.

TAPPER: You're refusing to do. But to look at -- I know you've been asked about the obstruction of justice charge and you said there's possible that there's an obstruction of justice case to be made. Specifically with firing you and asking you after you -- after the meeting he asked you to drop the Flynn matter, look at the conspiracy matter, aiding and abetting and I know colluding is not an actual criminal charge.

If you look at what there is there, we know the Russians hacked the Democrats. We know that at least two people in the Trump world Papadopoulos and Trump Jr. were approached by people with Kremlin ties and told about dirt on Hillary Clinton. We know that there's an expression of a desire for that information. We know that two people in the Trump world reached out to Julian Assange. We know that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks published these e-mails and we know that President Trump made a lot of hay out of those e-mails.

First of all, am I missing anything? Is there anything else in the conspiracy that we don't know?

COMEY: I can't answer that.

TAPPER: Of everything I just said which is all in the public domain, is that enough for a conspiracy charge against anybody?

COMEY: It's really not something I can answer. I would say this. If you're the special prosecutor you want to understand those facts and any around them to try to make that analysis.

TAPPER: But is there a case there?

COMEY: You don't want me to say it's possible again. It's possible. But I don't know.

TAPPER: You write in the book about the controversial decision to notify Congress that you were reopening the Clinton investigation just a few days before the election and you've been asked a lot about this. So I'm not going to ask the same questions other people have but you did say you were thinking at the time, "If I hide this from the American people she will be illegitimate the moment she is elected." Didn't that happen except to Donald Trump? In other words, you didn't disclose -- I understand why you didn't but you didn't disclose the Russia investigation to the American people and now there are people who think he's illegitimate and it's something that he himself thinks is a cloud hanging over his presidency. Didn't in avoiding possibly and trying to avoid, doing one thing to Hillary Clinton you did it to Trump?

COMEY: I don't think so because I think of the two investigations and everybody working on it in the Department of Justice and the FBI did, as well, as quite different. Very early stage counterintelligence investigation of Americans, not Donald Trump, a small group trying to figure out is there a connection between those people and the Russian effort. Separate from the Russian effort which we had important discussions about whether to publicize that. But I don't know what we would have said in the early stages. We weren't investigating Donald Trump. We had just started. I think there actually wasn't serious consideration given to it because it wouldn't be remotely appropriate under our policies. TAPPER: You thought very early stages in October 2016. But you disclosed it in March 2017, that's only five months later. Is that -- was there really such a difference in terms of disclosing it?

COMEY: Only in a general way. I mean, five months later we informed Congress there was an investigation and didn't say anything more about this and the reason for that is the acting attorney general decided there was such pressure of Congress, Senator Grassley was holding up the confirmation of the deputy attorney general unless he got more information that there were important credential reasons for the Department of Justice to say something in general about it five months later.

TAPPER: You admit in your book that you made two mistakes in the Clinton investigation. One of them is using the phrase extremely careless to describe the secretary's handling of classified information. You said that was a mistake. What phrase should you have used?

COMEY: I don't know. Even in hindsight I haven't come up with a better way to capture that it was something above mere sloppiness. We are talking about eight top secret e-mails, dozens of secret e-mails. So we were trying to find a way to honestly describe something that was above just ordinary carelessness. Leaving a document on a counter at a restaurant or something by accident and criminal misconduct it was between those two.

TAPPER: But you still don't have a phrase that would have been --

[21:10:00] COMEY: I still don't. You might expect I've kind of suppressed the effort to try and figured out since then.

TAPPER: After you were fired President Trump tweeted that there might be tapes of the private conversations. You said you asked your friend to then leak some information about your interactions with the President. Not classified information but information about your interactions with the President and you say you did this, you testified that you did this to try to force the creation of a special counsel. Why? Why would a special counsel be needed? Why would the Department of Justice and FBI not be able to continue to do the job?

COMEY: Because I thought that the department as currently supervised would not be aggressive enough to go serve process to get the tapes?

TAPPER: Because Jeff Sessions is too weak?

COMEY: Well, he had recused himself.

TAPPER: And Rod Rosenstein --

COMEY: It was a new deputy attorney general, who I didn't have confidence in given what I'd see around my firing and so I thought something has to be done because there were lots of discussions in public then about appointing a special prosecutor. Something has to be done to push them to appoint someone to have the gumption to go get the tapes. TAPPER: What do you say to people who say, boy, that seems awfully manipulative, not your role and maybe even it seems like payback?

COMEY: I don't think of it that way. I was a private citizen who saw something I could do. I thought that was very, very important. And I did it and it obviously acknowledged at the moment I was asked about it publicly. I thought it was something that needed to be done and a private citizen can talk about their unclassified conversations with the President.

TAPPER: Yes, but the average private citizen doesn't think to him or herself. I'm going to leak this information to force the creation of a special counsel. I mean, it's an extraordinary gambit that you made and obviously it paid off and congratulations but it's not the kind of thing that the average private citizen would do.

COMEY: Of course not but the average private citizen, first, I don't take any joy in it. So I don't accept the congratulations. The average private citizen didn't have a one and one conversation with the President of the United States, we asked him to drop a criminal investigation. And tweet at him after he's fired that he better hope there aren't tapes. I was in a position given what I knew to do something that would be useful and important. And so I did it. And reasonable people can disagree about it but I still think it was the right thing to do.

TAPPER: I asked you earlier about Andrew McCabe, the deputy. I also want to ask you about FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that worked at the FBI, there's been a lot in the news about text messages they sent back and forth and which they disparaged a lot of people including President Trump.

Now, you say you had no idea that they were having affair or about the text messages and I take at your word. But put yourself in Donald Trump's shoes for one second. You're Donald Trump and you feel this is unfair, this investigation. You find out that Peter Strzok, the lead FBI agent is texting somebody disparaging things about you and then you find out that he is the one that actually helped conduct the Hillary Clinton interview and he called you an idiot. Wouldn't you think that this is unfair and politicized?

COMEY: Sure. I get why he would be very concerned about that. It's the reason Bob Mueller removed Peter Strzok who's an excellent agent, but removed him from that investigation. It's poor judgment and shouldn't happen. So I get the concern about it.

TAPPER: Your book is about leadership. Throughout. Does it say anything about your leadership that Strzok, who was a very high level FBI agent was doing this? Did you set in any way any sort of tone where that kind of glib insult of a major political candidate at the time would be not that big of a deal?

TAPPER: No. But it does say something about my leadership. I mean, I'm responsible for the senior members of my team and I have asked myself the same question. I tried the model a certain way of acting that did not include that behavior. But I asked myself should I have given them all a speech? But these are grown-ups, these are senior people in the counterintelligence division. I don't want to be too tough on myself. But yes, I'm responsible. I'm responsible for their actions and their poor judgment.

TAPPER: Speaking of leadership, after you were fired, you say you got a phone call from then Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly now the Chief of Staff at the White House. In which he referred to the President as dishonorable and was talking about quitting. You told him not to quit. Were you surprised when he took a job as the White House chief of staff and have you been surprised to see him as one of President Trump's strongest defenders?

COMEY: I don't remember John calling the President dishonorable. He was talking about people and I don't like you being treated this way and I won't stay and work with people that would treat you in a dishonorable way.

TAPPER: Who else would he be talking about?

COMEY: I don't know. I just want to be clear he didn't say the President by name.

TAPPER: That's fair and I appreciate the clarification but just to dial down on this point, who else would he be talking about? Who else mistreated you but President Trump in his view or your view?

COMEY: No that's fair. I mean I don't know what he had in his head but he might have meant the attorney general, he might have meant the deputy attorney general who were deeply involved in my firing.


COMEY: So I don't know. But he conveyed a sense and didn't want to continue to work for people who treat me that way. And I wasn't surprised to see John serve because he cares deeply about this country. His whole life has been about serving this country, so no I wasn't surprised.

TAPPER: You named your secret Twitter account no longer secret after I hear of yours philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr. You begin your book with a quote of his, who once said, "Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history."

[21:15:12] Right now we're in the immediate context of history and probably to a lot of people out there both supporters of the President and opponents of the President a lot of stuff doesn't make sense. How do you think history's going to look at this? Are you confident that you're going to be seen as taking the path of the righteous?

COMEY: I don't know. And I hope people will see me even if they disagree with my decisions as a fair minded person acting in good faith, being careful, involving other people. But I don't know. And I hope it doesn't sound odd. It doesn't matter that much. I mean, I'm a happy person. I care how my family feels about me. I'd love to be a great father and grandfather. People make their judgment over time.

TAPPER: You have been very sensitive to the criticism that some people have made that you have an infatuation with your own sense of integrity. You acknowledge you have a big ego but you don't like that specific criticism. I don't understand the disconnect because I think the ego is about your sense of integrity, don't you think? Isn't that the biggest --

COMEY: Yes. I see it as the same. I agree with you. But I'm a little sensitive to it because I've spent my whole life trying to make sure that it's not ego driving my decisions. And the decisions made here whether you agree or disagree with them weren't made by me alone. I put together a team of people who argued and fought and debated and didn't abide my rank or position to make a good decision together. So I'm responsible for these decisions but I didn't make these decisions in a vacuum. And so that's why I'm a little defensive about it but these decisions were made by me with a group of people around me that helped me as a guardrail and not falling in love with my own view of things.

TAPPER: You are an interesting public figure because I don't know anyone so reviled by the Hillary Clinton partisans and the Donald Trump partisans. Does that mean to you that you did your job right? Or does it mean to you that -- or does it mean something else necessarily?

COMEY: Well, it means mostly that my deputy was right when he told me in the summer of 2015 that I'm totally screwed as this investigation began. But it doesn't mean I'm right that everybody hates me. I could still be wrong.

TAPPER: Do you feel that everybody hates you?

COMEY: I mean the partisans on both -- you said both sides.


COMEY: They both can't be right that I'm in the other team's pocket, which I hear all the time that can't be possible. The challenge of being the FBI in today's political environment is you're not on anybody's side. That confuses people which I get and it angers people, which I also get and there's only so much you can do about it except constantly try to show transparency. Show people your work so that fair minded people make a judgment and that's what I've tried to do in this book.

TAPPER: All right. Well, the book is selling quite a bit. Congratulations on that. And thanks for coming here and taking our questions. I appreciate it.

COMEY: Thanks for having me Jake.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we have breaking news, CNN has just obtained the Comey memos that were handed over to Congress I have it here. We'll have details on them next.


[21:21:39] COOPER: We have breaking news tonight. We have just received the James Comey memos that were handed over to Congress by the Justice Department. I want to go to CNN Justice Reporter, Laura Jarrett. So Laura, obviously these are just come out, we're all reading them. What stands out to you so far?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Anderson, it is remarkable just how detailed they are. They read like narratives out of his book and many of the instances they're very consistent with what James Comey has told Congress and obviously what he has said on his book tour.

I want to read to you just one part from the memo describing an Oval Office meeting with President Trump. The one that has garnered probably the most attention since it involves former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

In this he says, "President Trump returned to the topic of Mike Flynn saying that Flynn is a good guy and has been through a lot. He misled the vice President and didn't do anything wrong in the call." He said, meaning, President Trump said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go. To letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go." I replied, meaning Comey replied by saying, "I agree. He is a good guy but said no more."

And this goes on and on, Anderson. He discusses a variety of topics including his impressions of former Attorney General Holder and Lynch as well as Jeff Sessions, the current attorney general, but it is quite detailed, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Laura, we'll check in with you throughout this hour as you continue to go through the memos. You can see, there are some parts where are redacted.

We're going to bring in the panel. Gloria Borger, David Urban, James Gagliano, Paul Begala, Karine Jean-Pierre, and Michael Zeldin.

I know you're all going over them, as well. Gloria, they're very detailed and interesting in the discussion that James Comey has in this about his notes about the dinner, the private dinner we are with President. He talks about the difficulty of kind of doing this in a linear fashion because the conversation was sort of all over the place.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It was all over the place. And, you know, the President was talking about how he had won the election, the inauguration, they were talking about Comey's future.

But what was interesting to me is that President Trump went out of his way to say how much respect he had for James Comey. How James Comey had been in a difficult situation during the election. And that he wanted him to stay if he would, of course, he asked for loyalty. There are a few other thing that is sort of struck me. One in here was that when this notion of the golden showers and everything, it was in the so-called dossier was raised, you know, and Trump, of course, said that's not true. It's never happened.

COOPER: Right. According to Comey as soon as he mentioned that the Russians, you know, were saying -- something about prostitutes the President-elect at that point immediately said there were no prostitutes.

BORGER: Nothing. You're right. Nothing and then at one point it was a comment he made where Putin -- to the extent that he said that Putin had told him that they have the best hookers in Russia, which I was under the impression that the President had not had conversations with Vladimir Putin or at least he ended up saying that during the campaign.

Another thing that struck me was that he was critical of Flynn at one point. The man he asked Comey to save or to stop the investigation, one point he said he didn't really trust him because Flynn hadn't told him he had a conversation with a foreign leader which was blacked out. And that didn't tell him for six days and Trump thought it was rude and that he should have returned that call and that he said, you know, I have, you know, I have a lack of confidence.

[21:25:16] And also, that Reince Priebus had asked, the former chief of staff, whether there was an FISA order on Mike Flynn. So clearly he was on the radar someone they knew they had to be concerned about.

COOPER: David Urban, as a supporter of the President, what stands out to you? I know you just gotten them. But also how important do you think these are?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think it's going to be very important to see contemporaneously at least one perspective of what the FBI director at the time thought.

I think look. I think the most telling part about all these is what was read earlier that says when the President says I hope you can let this go. Replying, I said, I agree he's a good guy and said no more. But said no more. At that point, James Comey should have looked at the President and said, Mr. President, I'm the director of the FBI. We can't have that conversation. I hope you understand, I respect General Flynn, as well. But you know, I can't look the other way on this thing and you have understand that. I bet the President would have said I'm not asking you to do anything untoward, I'm just asking you to respect the fact he's had a long career and this would have been over, it would have been done. But Comey as we heard and his testimony before the Senate when asked by Senator Feinstein why didn't do that. Why he didn't come to the hill. Why he didn't say something, and said I guess I didn't have the courage to do at the time. That's amazing to me.

COOPER: James?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Andrew (ph), what I'm struck by, let me just break this down for the viewer because this is the first time we're all seeing these documents that these are familiar to me. So there's two types of documents here. One is an FBI e-mail so the top copy we have here with a name to who it's sent to and then the first one the director's reaching out to -- and as I'm looking at the to line here deputy director, his chief of staff and his senior counsel. Those are the three people there and he's asking about the classifications.

The way I look at these, there's two classifications here. Some of these are secret, no foreign. No foreign stands for no foreign nationals, meaning if you're not a U.S. citizen, you're not able to take a look at this. The others are confidential. And I'm interested in how he chose these ways to communicate the sensitive information. One is an e-mail, which appropriate on the red side or in the FBI we would call it classified side. And the other is a memo.

Now, the memo is an outdated archaic form of communication for the FBI. I'm surprised that he didn't draft what we call an electronic communication or an E.C. but the director chose to do this on those two either a memo or an e-mail.

The last thing I'll say on this, and this is what I'm struck by, with these reductions, as I'm looking through it and I'm trying to piece it together and distill what it means, the director gave these documents or four of them, now, we thought there were seven, now he spoke to Jake Tapper today he said I don't know it could be five, it could be 10. But these are all classified information from what I'm reading on here. So if those are the document, four of those documents were leaked as we've heard to the Columbia Law Professor, who then gave them to "The New York Times." that's an issue. I'm struck by that.

COOPER: Do you know -- do we know -- and I don't know the answer for this. Were those memos leaked in their entirety? Was it a summation? Do we know?

GAGLIANO: I don't know. I know that he gave them and he said that the Columbia Law Professor read them to "The New York Times" so I'm not sure what was shared but if he gave them to the professor the professor's not cleared for this.

BORGER: But he told you why. Because he thought that if there were tapes you needed to have a special counsel.

GAGLIANO: I understand that. And I understand from a journalism perspective that's a good thing. I'm looking at this from an FBI perspective.

COOPER: It's interesting, one of the memos he says to the President that he doesn't leak, he doesn't do anything fishy, obviously who wasn't leaking as FBI director in this particular case. When he gave it to his friend he was out of the FBI by then.

GAGLIANO: But the point in that is again -- let me just break this down. For the department of justice and as an FBI agent or an FBI director, here's how we define an employee, those who hold or who have held a position of trust within the agency. James Comey's still a FBI employee. MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not from a First Amendment standpoint.

GAGLIANO: Michael, that's a completely different argument. But I hear what you're saying.

ZELDIN: But that's exactly the legal argument. You're calling him a leaker which is a term of art which means disclosing information which is classified.

GAGLIANO: Or sensitive.

ZELDIN: Which apparently he did not. We understand his motives. We can agree or disagree with his motives. And then we have the contemporary you memoranda, which reflect his state of mind at that time.

As I look at the Comey memo that talks about let Flynn go, it doesn't create for me a compelling case for obstruction of justice. I think there's a lot of room for people to argue what it was that was at the heart of what the President was asking. So if this is the case upon which you're going to try to bring an obstruction of justice case, I think, well, maybe you have the look for some additional evidence.

COOPER: Interesting. Paul?

[21:30:00] PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm struck how often in Comey's telling of it the President comes back to Russia and Mike Flynn. He's talking to the chief investigative officer of the United States.

If you were to have engage from the campaign you think he would talk to him a lot about, say, Mexican gangs, a sort of thing on the campaign, opioid abuse. He just seems obsessed with Russia and with saving Mike Flynn's hyde and I think that's politically problematic.


COOPER: Karine, it's interesting, one of the things that James Comey talked about with Jake Tapper saying that he thought it was odd just as an investigator just in his experience as an investigator that somebody would constantly come back to the subject and say, you know, there was nothing there there. He thought that was suspicious, the President doing this.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SERNIOR ADVISER, MOVEON.ORG: Yes. I totally agree. I mean, with that on James Comey, I mean, looking at this, to me, it doesn't -- I'm not sure why the House Republicans would even want this out. It doesn't paint a pretty picture of Donald Trump at all. It certainly -- I mean, he -- like Gloria was saying. He has no trust in Flynn. He is asking -- he is questioning Flynn. And it just seems quite bizarre. You have the White House chief of staff and who doesn't understand how long the FBI director serves.

It just shows that you are dealing with people who don't -- who he doesn't have the best people working for him but don't understand how any of this works. What it means to be President of the United States. What you are supposed to do and not do and to me there is some obstruction of justice here that he was trying to do that in some way, some form. Yes, you probably need more but knowing Donald Trump you just don't have the best thoughts of him. You don't think that he is going in the right direction. You think he is going in the wrong direction.

COOPER: Paul, are you surprised that they leaked right after the justice department gave them to Congress?

BEGALA: Well -- no.

COOPER: I knew answer to this question.

BEGALA: The great forms of communication are the telegraph, the telephone, the television and tell a member of Congress.

JEAN-PIERRE: Took one hour.

BEGALA: With Karine, I leave the legalities to the FBI agents and lawyers. I don't think politically it helps the President at all. It seems like he is a guy obsessed about the Russians. Why? Because he is obsessed about the Russians.

COOPER: Well, Michael, a source told CNN, the Special Counsel Mueller's office was consulted on the release of those memos and that media's office did not object and the Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the release will not and according adversely impact the investigation. I mean, they are redacted to no classified information is getting released.

ZELDIN: Right. And they have probably already taken this testimony themselves and they have it in a jar ready to go if they need it. So this is not going to be additional to that. Therefore, doesn't really impact the outcome of what Mueller is doing. If Comey hadn't yet testified before Mueller and these were being revealed for the first time it could be adverse to the investigation, could be impactful on the investigation but at this point in time I think Mueller knows all that Mueller needs to know and then this is just a story for the public consumption.

BORGER: I also think this tells you an awful lot about the President's state of mind given the Russia investigation because he kept talking to Comey about, "lifting the cloud." And we've heard this before in our reporting that the President has said when I talked the foreign leaders they don't take me seriously because they know I'm under investigation. And he said that, you know, he said that to Comey. And he said that he wanted essentially, you know, if we didn't find the good housekeeping seal of approval, Comey said, we have to do our work and he agreed but then returned to the problems of causing him. And then went on a great length about how it affected his presidency. So we know that he was constantly thinking about this and also by the way mentioned putting leakers in jail.

COOPER: But also in fairness to the President or President-elect, who wouldn't be thinking that constantly? I mean, if you had done nothing wrong -- if the President done nothing wrong or the candidate he done nothing wrong, to then be under this cloud has got to be, you know, extraordinarily upset.


URBAN: Director Comey earlier when Jake asked him about that, wasn't unfair, right? He specifically had this press conference to lift the cloud for Secretary Clinton and -- I understand, Paul.

BEGALA: Caused her the election. So concerned about her well-being.

URBAN: To your point, Anderson, right? He didn't lift it on the President and still remains.

GAGLIANO: But one thing here that's interesting again to break this down for the viewers, I'm looking at this, FBI agents and FBI directors prepare testimony or documents or called FD-302 the director didn't put that on there FD-302. He put it on the memo. If I'm driving my government vehicle to work, Anderson, and I have a car accident, I put it on a memo. If I'm sending somebody to somebody that I'm not expecting to be used as discovery in a case, I put in it an e-mail. That's what's so curious about this that he decided to record this on a memo. Can they be used in court? Absolutely. But for a FBI agent or an FBI director, if you are thinking that something here is serious enough or could possibly be important enough that you're going to have to testify to it, why was it put --

[21:35:19] BORGER: So why do you think?

GAGLIANO: I don't know. I mean, as I'm reading through this and seeing him do it, he puts far more detail than you would put in an FD- 302. If I'm an agent, and I know I could testify to this, I don't want to back stand, so I want to stick to just the facts, just the evidence down. He put a lot of detail. Michael, do you agree?

ZELDIN: He is reflecting his state of mind about meetings that he found to be so out of the ordinary that it required this dear diary styled entry. Now, whether you think the form was right or wrong is a process point which I don't think matters as much as the content of the communications.

And what is interesting and we'll have the look at these more carefully, but in a quick review of this, as I read this, I don't see anything in here that if I'm the President of the United States I can't sit down with Mueller and talk about fearing that the consequence of that will be that I'm going to be charged with obstruction of justice so it may well be that this is helpful to -- he has three new lawyers, Jane and Marty Raskin and Giuliani, who I don't know really is a lawyer as much as a consultant. I don't mean it.

Will have to take a hard look at this and say does it inform us about how we precede with Mueller around these obstruction of justice issues?

BORGER: I spoke with a source in the White House today who is familiar with the content of this. Who said, this is going to help us. It's going to help the President because we don't see anything in here that to your point --

ZELDIN: Speaks directly to obstruction.

BORGER: That speaks directly to obstruction. It speaks about how he is worried about Andrew McCabe the entire time and was thinking --

BEGALA: And about Mike Flynn.

BORGER: And about Mike Flynn who he thought was -- he said there's something wrong with the guy.

COOPER: As a historical document?


COOPER: It is fascinating reading -- I mean, can you imagine if J. Edgar Hoover had made, you know, memos like this? God knows what would have been --

URBAN: Yes, but just to make Michael's again, if this is the case of obstruction, I agree saying a good guy but said no more. There's no -- I mean, there's pages of pages of reflections.

BEGALA: My guess is Mueller has more than these couple of pages.

URBAN: But why? No, no, no but --

BEGALA: By the way, if he also has Flynn, the guy that the President seems so obsessed about in these memos has now flipped, he is rolled, right? He is now --

URBAN: My simple point is if that whole thing is built upon, Mike Flynn firing, there's pages and pages here but one brief sentence about that interaction. There's not more detail. It's very short.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll talk more about the memos and what we've seen. Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper also joins us with his reaction ahead.


[21:40:05] COOPER: Well, the breaking news tonight, the Comey memos are out detailing his conversations with the President. CNN has obtained the memos here, some of them, which are redacted, which are turned over to Congress just tonight.

Back now with our panel and in a moment, we'll talk director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Do you agree, Gloria, that these may help the President?

BORGER: I don't think if this is everything that they're going to hurt the President. Let me put it that way. I think that there's not a lot of surprises in here because Comey has talked about it, written a book about it. It's been reported. The memos were leaked to "The New York Times" and were reported. So there is a -- you know, there's a question of obstruction. I'm not a lawyer. You are. And you're the one who says that this, you know, doesn't make the case.

What it does make the case about is that this is a White House, a President who was obsessed with this cloud as you point out, rightly so, hanging over his head. They didn't really like Flynn very much. The President didn't like Flynn very much but then he asked Comey to please figure out what he could do to kind of get rid of that odd investigation which doesn't make that much sense to me.

COOPER: Let me just bring in our National Security Analyst and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. I understand you've had a chance to briefly review these coming memos. They just came out. I'm wondering what is your take on what you have seen and what you've heard from James Comey so far?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, the memos are more detailed rendition of what has already come out. They very much comport with what has been said before. I said before that I was -- had every confidence that when Jim Comey recorded his conversations with the President that they would be very meticulous and very detailed and that appears to be the case here. I have to say I haven't read through all of them but I was beginning to read them as I was coming in here. So, it doesn't -- I don't think any big surprises here. Just more detail except perhaps apparently the President wasn't such a big fan of Mike Flynn after all which that was at least for me at least one surprise.

COOPER: One of the things that Jim Comey has said is that in that briefing, in which you were present in which it was decided that Jim Comey would present to the President the information that was in the so-called dossier, that the reaction according to Comey from the President's team afterwards was essentially trying to figure out how to, I don't know, spin is the right word or just to deal with this not from a national security standpoint or a standpoint of what to do about Russia and, you know, their interference in the election, but what message would benefit them the most. Is that your recollection?

CLAPPER: Yes, it is. What happened was that we had originally -- Jim and I were going to -- we had already pre-agreed. And I say we, with John Brennan, Director of CIA and Mike Rogers still director of NSA and Jim and myself that will go through the formal briefing with the talking points so we'd agreed on -- I would lead the discussion and then we hand off to each of the other participants in our group to embellish or expand or amplify the particular talking points I went through. And the reason we wanted to do it this way because we knew we were going to be talking to a lot of other people besides the President-elect.

We had a battery of briefings to do to the Congress the following week. And we'd also agreed at one point -- Jim and I were going to -- when we going to ask to neck down to brief the President on the dossier and at the last minute Jim said it ought to be better if he did alone just for the sake of discretion.

And I completely agreed with that. And so we were at the -- as we were winding up the normal briefing, you know, they started drafting -- Reince Priebus did, a press release to go out about this session and wanted to say that we said that there was no impact on the election by virtue of the Russian interference which we didn't say, we didn't examine that. We didn't have the authority and the capability's resources anything to do that. All we had said was -- we saw no evidence of meddling with voter tallies.

That's not to say -- it wasn't meddling with voter tallies, we saw no evidence but we made no pronouncement whatsoever on the impact of the Russian interference on the election but that's the spin, the angle that they wanted to take even before we left the room which was, you know, I thought awkward and inappropriate.

[21:45:02] So at a pause in the conversation Jim spoke to the President-elect and said, you know, sir, we have one other matter we would like to discuss with you and like to do it on a one on one basis. Mr. Priebus asked the President-elect, do you want anybody with you? And he said, no. And everybody else left the room. For me it was a relief to leave and then Jim and briefed the President on the dossier.


CLAPPER: A point that Jim made I would reiterate in his interview with Jake earlier today was the whole point of informing the President-elect about the dossier was simply out of a duty to warn if you will. We thought it important that he know that this thing was out there. It was our understanding was fairly widely available in the media at least. At least two members of Congress had it. And we felt that duty bound at least to warn him that it was there, in light of the salacious allegations made in it.

COOPER: And it certainly seemed like people on the President's team or the President himself, president-elect felt perhaps that interpret it in a different way or at least some people in the team seems to interpret it as perhaps this was, you know, Jim Comey signaling that they had this information hanging over the President-elect?

CLAPPER: Well, yes. And we anticipated that. That was a concern we had that -- and especially and the bureau itself had that concern that this would be shades of J. Edgar Hoover and all that. And we agonized over that. I've often wondered, you know, if we hadn't told him about it and then of course, it came out and then he learned he, the President-elect, now President Trump, found out that the intelligence community knew this and was sitting on and didn't tell him about it, hell to pay, then, too.

COOPER: Yes. Difficult situation. Director Clapper, thank you for being with us, General Clapper. I Appreciate it.

CLAPPER: Thanks.

COOPER: We'll going to have more ahead with the panel in just a moment.


[21:50:13] COOPER: The breaking news tonight, the Comey memos are out detailing his conversations with the President. One of the memos Comey takes notes on one of those conversations at the White House from early February 2017. He writes the President, "brought up the golden showers things" then writes this. "The President said the hookers thing is nonsense," that Putin told him, "we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world."

Back now with the panel. Gloria, you brought this up as being odd just because as far as we know the President never actually did talk to Vladimir Putin.

BORGER: Well, you know, during the campaign, he said he didn't. We know that he got a congratulatory call from Putin, et cetera, but the President saying this in February is kind of, it's just kind of interesting because it sounds like it occurred at some point, you know, at some point in the past.

And I think that the President went out of his way to ask Comey to disprove this. To effectively act as his private investigator and disprove this and Comey said to him, you know, it's hard to disprove a negative. If it -- it's hard to disprove something that didn't happen and sort of said I can't. I can't do that.

COOPER: You can read that statement, though, as just the President embellishing -- I mean he also said in other times that he had had, you know, contact with Putin and he was clearly embellishing a relationship that wasn't there. So it could have been him just --

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: -- you know making stuff up to have a conversation.

BORGER: Lying, right.


BORGER: What he does, he lies all the time.

URBAN: We can also understand the President --

BORGER: And Reince Priebus was in on this conversation, by the way. So maybe Reince --

URBAN: Again, with the cloud that's hanging over it, there's a theme here with the President saying, look, legitimacy of my presidency is being questioned, as you mentioned before, please make -- can we make that go away? The story, this false narrative about this Russia trip, this golden job dossier, that's can you make that go away? It's not true. Can you make it go away? Can we get that cleared up? I mean, that's normal for any individual to want to have it cleared off the table if, in fact, false. And if it was true, would you be asking your FBI director who may not be on your team to please look into it more?

BEGALA: He first demanded loyalty from him.

URBAN: I didn't say demanded. I skimmed this I don't see it. BEGALA: To me, what's newsworthy about this is that we've learned at least I've learned for the first time that the President did have worries and concerns about Mike Flynn. You see that again and again in these notes and yet despite these worries and concerns about Flynn, he says to the FBI director, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go." So --

URBAN: Paul --

BEGALA: -- two, three, four times.

URBAN: You're not going to make your case on that. And here also --

BEGALA: Hold on. It's not that he thinks he's a good guy.

COOPER: One at a time, please.

JEAN-PIERRE: So here's what I want to say about this, look, I'm not a lawyer so I can't speak to, you know, the legalese of this. But he emptied the Oval Office and told Comey to end the Flynn investigation. He asked the Vice President to go out. He asked the A.G. to leave. It doesn't say obstruction to justice, but it certainly describes event that seems to lead to that.

COOPER: Michael --

JEAN-PIERRE: So I just think it paints a bad picture.

COOPER: Michael, you are a lawyer.

ZELDIN: Yes, I am. Playing one on television. The narrative here, which is interesting to me from a prosecution of a legal case or writing a report for consideration by Congress for articles of impeach is this in some sense the President being the President which is he speaks, he doesn't ask questions. It's a rat tat tat sort of free- wheeling state of mind monologue.

But it doesn't necessarily say that there is an obstructive intent here. There's other evidence. Paul's right. We -- Flynn is cooperating. Papadopoulos is cooperating. But as I just read these things, themselves, on quick read, it doesn't strike me that they're dangerous. That said, of course, if the President had just kept his mouth quiet about firing of Comey, the firing of Flynn, all of these things -- these would even be more benign than they are. And because he kept talking and saying in an embellishing way the things that Comey begins to talk about here, he may have put himself in a precarious legal position.

URBAN: In here also, you have the President ask Comey about McCabe. Right?

ZELDIN: Again and again.

URBAN: Many times.

BORGER: Many times.

URBAN: What does Comey say? McCabe's a good guy, he's honest, he's not a leaker. I wonder -- there's a piece right here where Comey says "I'd like to find a leaker, nail him to the doors, a message to the agency." Now that McCabe is maybe facing criminal charges here if that's going to hold true. But, you know --

[21:55:06] BEGALA: I'm sure President Trump is very upset that Andy McCabe allegedly leaked a negative story about Hillary in the closing days of the election. I'm sure that's what Trump is upset about.

URBAN: Maybe not.

GAGLIANO: I've known Andy McCabe for a long time. He worked for me on the New York SWAT team for the FBI back in the early 2000s. And I agree with Director Comey what he said to Jake Tapper there. I believe good people can make mistakes. I think Andy is guilty of lack of candor, that's a nice dressed up way of saying he lied. And he is facing the consequences. If you're a new agent with one day on the job or a deputy director 26 hours away from retirement and you lie, bye, Felicia, that's what happens. As I look through this --

BEGALA: Is that a --

GAGLIANO: That is not.

JEAN-PIERRE: Bye, Felicia?

GAGLIANO: As I look --


BEGALA: By Jay Edgar, can we say something a little more FBI-ish?

GAGLIANO: This is going to be harsher. And I have to preface this by saying I have no ax to grind against James Comey. I served as his direct representative to the Mexican government and law enforcement for a year. I don't know the man well. I served under him. He never, ever sanctioned me. So I have no ax to grind. But reading these memos and reading through this book it tells me the book's title should be "Abdication of Duty." There were so many opportunities for him to push back. I read these memos now, he could have said, Mr. President, that's inappropriate.

COOPER: All right.

GAGLIANO: You should have done that.

COOPER: I got to get a break in. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Lot coming out every day in the saga surrounding FBI Director James Comey. Tonight it was his memos. No tell what it's going to be next Wednesday night when Comey will answer questions from me and an audience in Virginia. Join us for the CNN Town Hall "Comey, Truth, Lies and Leadership" Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

That's it for us right now. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts now. See you tomorrow.