Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Obtains James Comey's Memos About Conversations With President Trump; Comey's Memos: A Key Part of Robert Mueller's Investigation of Potential Obstruction of Justice Aired 11-12a ET
Aired April 19, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast live with huge breaking news. James Comey's memos about his conversations with President Trump turned over to Congress tonight, and CNN has obtained a copy.
Those memos are, of course, a key part of Robert Mueller's investigation of potential obstruction of justice, and they are full of fascinating details.
We're going to go through them page by page, and we will bring you all of it tonight. I want to get first to CNN's Justice Reporter, and that is Laura Jarrett. She joins us now from Washington.
Laura, good evening to you. You have been combing through the Comey memos detailing his interactions with President Trump. What are you learning?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, the memos are detailed and full of color. They cover everything from President Trump's alleged loyalty request to James Comey, as well as their conversations about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
And I want to read to you a couple of the new bits of information that we've got tonight from these memos. The first is a January 27th meeting at the White House at dinner with James Comey and President Trump. And here's what James Comey writes.
In addition to President Trump requesting loyalty, he said and I quote, he then went onto explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn's judgment. That's the first time we've heard the President express those types of sentiments at least to James Comey.
But Comey also describes a February 14th meeting in the Oval Office where Trump allegedly kicked everyone out including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And on that Comey writes this.
President Trump returned to the topic of Mike Flynn saying that, quote, Flynn is a good guy, and has been through a lot. He misled the vice president, but he didn't do anything wrong in the call -- in the call with Kislyak.
I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go. He's a good guy, I hope you can let this go. I replied I agree, he's a good guy, but said no more. Now, Don, Comey also goes onto describe a conversation that he had with former chief of staff Reince Priebus on February 8th.
And in that situation, Comey says the two were alone, and that Reince asked me, meaning Comey, if this was, quote, a private conversation. I replied that it was. He then said he wanted to ask me a question, and I could decide whether it was appropriate to answer.
He then asked, quote, do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn. Now, Don, that's extraordinary because this is just days before former national security advisor Mike Flynn is fired. And this is the chief of staff asking the FBI director if they have a surveillance warrant on the national security advisor.
And I also just want to mention later on February 8th, Comey says that the White House -- I should say President Trump met with him on that same day.
And although President Trump has emphasized how limited his interactions are with Vladimir Putin, Comey writes, the President said the hookers thing is nonsense, but that putin had told him, quote, we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.
Now, Don, no reaction from President Trump to all of this latest revelations from these Comey memos tonight. But of course, in the past he has denied a lot of these interactions.
LEMON: OK. OK, listen, Laura, thank you. I want to get to our panel because I want to put something at that last quote up from Laura. Let's bring them in now.
I want to bring in now CNN Political Commentator, Joe Lockhart, who was the White House Press Secretary for President Clinton, CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni, "The New York Times," CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem, and Republican Strategist, Rick Wilson.
OK, let's put up the last quote that Laura just gave us. Laura, again, thank you very much. So the last quote that Laura just gave us, the President said, the hookers thing is nonsense, but that Putin had told him, we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.
OK, so this is a day before. Here's a tweet. I don't know Putin, had no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy, yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, number one terror -- in terror and no problem. That is a problem, Rick Wilson, isn't it?
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is one more example of Donald Trump either having a relationship with Vladimir Putin, and he hasn't been honest about it, or being fabulous in trying to impress people with an imaginary relationship with Vladimir Putin.
This is guy whose behavior -- I mean the stink of guilt is all over this guy. And I don't think his congressional allies did him any favors tonight by revealing these memos. They thought this was going to make Comey, and the investigation look
bad, this is once again just reminding people of the concept of Trump, hookers, and Russia all in one big package. It's astounding how dumb these people were to insist on this being released tonight.
LEMON: Juliette, what do you make this - in contradiction, correct? I mean, can you put it any other way?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, and I think the memos are so damning to Trump in particular.
[23:05:02] There is three key takeaways I have just having read them that are undeniable. One, he wanted the investigation to end, and said it explicitly.
Two, he wanted the FBI to protect Flynn, and three, that he wanted loyalty from Comey. None of those -- those are just out there now. I don't know how that helps Trump at this stage. And remember in the background, this of course is all around the Russia investigation.
So the fact that there's complete silence by Trump on any questions about what did the Russians do in 2016, also, you know, just sort of more evidence that all Trump is concerned about is stopping an investigation that is just at these moments just beginning to circle the White House.
LEMON: Yes, but also, Frank Bruni, it's also during a media tour where the President has saying that - has been saying that James Comey is slippery. But these memos, I mean, it shows that he's been consistent. He has been saying the same thing all along. The memos back up everything he's been saying.
FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, it's astonishing that we're seeing this, thanks to House Republicans, because these memos do Donald Trump no favors. And when you read them, many of the charges in them, or the substance within this is stuff we've seen before, there are new details, of course.
But really what strikes you is just what scrupulous detail James Comey is taking. And they really bolster his credibility because he's taking the act very seriously. And what's also interesting is as he's saying, I'm writing this five minutes after a meeting in a vehicle, I write to dinner 10 minutes early, and got to know these severs.
You know, he senses that he's doing something historical and important here. He knows that something is going on, and someday somebody is going to read these, and he's trying to establish how scrupulously detailed he's being, and he's very conscious that he's doing something for history, and not just in case.
LEMON: OK. I want to go to, Joe, but if you can tell me, Juliette, because I had -- got so much in my mind. You said three things, he wanted the investigation, and he wanted to protect Flynn, and what was the other one?
KAYYEM: He wanted loyalty from Comey. Those are the three... LEMON: Loyalty from Comey.
KAYYEM: Those are just -- yes.
KAYYEM: Those are the three sort of takeaways outside the hookers, and everything else.
LEMON: Any other takeaways for you, Joe, besides that. She brings up very good points there.
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I think the most interesting thing in this is the mystery of Mike Flynn. Clearly, you know, Reince Priebus who -- should have access to that information, they're scurrying around.
Trump simultaneously tells Comey he's got questions to his judgment, but then in another meeting privately says please let him go. They're worried, and there's a bigger point here, which is that there's a lot of stuff out in the media.
Mueller is doing his investigation. There's even more stuff that we don't know. So I expect that he's got what he needs on this. He'll issue his report, and this is a sideshow. This is political Washington show.
LEMON: As I was -- I was listening to Jake who had a fantastic interview with James Comey today, but then as I was getting dressed to come into work, I kept thinking that Robert Mueller must be sitting at home just sort of doing this about everything that's going back and forth like yada, yada, yada, but no one really knows what's happening.
LOCKHART: Yes, there's a really stark difference between the last time I went through this when I worked in government with President Clinton, where the Independent Counsel was using strategic leaks to try to force a resignation.
Here, Mueller hasn't leaked a thing as far as we can tell. Every indictment has been a surprise. He's got his case, or he doesn't have his case, but he's not worried about House Republicans. He's not worried about Rod Rosenstein right now.
But what they're doing is trying to put pressure on Mueller through trying to get these released. I think as the other panelists have said, it's not going to help them very much, but he's - you know, he knows what he knows. We'll find out when he's ready to tell us.
LEMON: OK. Let's go through some more quotes here. So, Juliette, at one point, the President and Comey discussed leakers, and the President bring up, Judith Miller by name. And we're going to tell you why that's significant because Comey writes here, he said, I said I was eager to find leakers, and would like to nail one to the door as a message.
I said something about it being difficult, and he replied that we need to go after the reporters, and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago, we put them in jail to find out what they knew, and it worked.
He mentioned Judith Miller by name. But OK, so why is this so significant, and not to mention the irony here. Who was Judith Miller's source, Scooter Libby. Who did the President pardon just a couple of days ago? Scooter Libby.
KAYYEM: That's exactly right. And I mean, the irony, of course, you know, Judith Miller, you know, is sort of infamous in national security circles because she was a strong proponent of the war in Iraq from the -- you know, the front pages of The New York Times, and is really viewed in hindsight as someone who sort of drinks the Kool-Aid without sort of being an objective reporter.
[23:10:00] So a lot of us don't consider, you know, her as being a reporter. But I took this part to be sort of consistent with what we also saw in the earlier parts of the memo, which is just Trump -- and I don't give him any -- I don't buy this argument anymore that he does not know what it's like to be in government.
Trump knows exactly what he's saying as President of the United States to utilize the FBI, to go after reporters who leak. And he knows it when he's saying it to Comey.
And so to me, this is consistent with his sort of lack of respect for the judiciary, lack of respect for processes, lack of respect for the law, and then lack of respect for the First Amendment.
LEMON: Yes. Rick, were you saying -- did you say correct?
WILSON: Yes, I think Judith's right on target here -- I'm sorry...
WILSON: Excuse me, Juliette. I think she's right on target because, you know, we've seen this kind of behavior in other places, other countries. And we've seen places where authoritarian figures, you know, talk casually, or actually go ahead and lock up reporters.
You know, Turkey is the out liar of the whole world right now on this. But, you know, we've seen that kind of behavior before just never with an American accent.
And it's troubling and ought to be disturbing that the President's looking to put people in jail to intimidate them, and to try to pressure them into revealing confidential sources.
You know, we had a long tradition in this country, and frankly, this is one of those tests where if Barack Obama was doing this to conservative reporters, the right would be having a gigantic pissy fit right now, and an epic meltdown like we have never seen before.
LEMON: Well, he talks about the former president. We will get to that quite now. But let's get back to some of the quotes. Much has been made in this panel about him wanting to protect Flynn by both Juliette and Joe, so let me ask you this, Frank.
So talking about Flynn, he says he then started talking about all the women who falsely accused him for grabbing -- is this the right one? Is this the right quote that I have? No, sorry, here it is.
He then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn saying that Flynn is good guy, and he's been through a lot. He misled the vice president, but he didn't do anything wrong in the call.
He 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 by saying, I agree he's a good guy but no more.
OK, so, Frank, it sounds like what he is doing is saying, you know, along this - he's been saying this all along. Again, it supports what Comey has been saying, what was reported earlier, and now what he's been saying in this press tour.
BRUNI: No, and it's stark -- it's stark now to see it in the memo itself in black and white. And that exchange which we've gone over before, which is at the sort of heart of the notion that Trump was trying to wave Comey away, and possibly obstruct of justice, and of course, in doing that, it really does sound in a not particularly subtle way he's saying, let's just let this all go.
Mike Flynn is an OK guy, we really have to -- we don't have to dig into this as deeply as you want to, people make mistakes. I mean, it's a very humanly recognizable moment with only one obvious goal, which is to ask James Comey to turn the other way, to be blind to this, and to move on.
LEMON: I think he said, Frank, that he asked people four times -- four times to be left alone with Comey in the room, so that they can have this conversation.
BRUNI: Yes, which we have talked about before is completely inappropriate. And James Comey has said that it made him very uncomfortable that these moves were being made.
And we know that there was an incident where Jeff Sessions didn't want to leave the room, and clearly didn't want to leave the room, because he too knew it was inappropriate for the President to be alone with James Comey, and he had a very good idea what the President was going to try to get James Comey to agree to do, or rather not to.
LEMON: The President said the hookers thing -- this is another -- this is for you, Joe. The President said the hookers thing is nonsense, and that Putin had told him he had some beautiful hookers in the world -- the most beautiful hookers in the world.
This is apparently the President recounting to Comey's conversation that he had -- that he had with Putin, and then now we have the tweet where he's saying, no, none of this happened. I don't know him at all.
LOCKHART: Yes, there are a couple of points here. I think Comey did a good job of explaining to Jake Tapper today why this was important to him.
He talked about his investigative instincts from, you know, years from his career that when unprompted people continually come back to tell you they didn't do something, your antenna goes up saying maybe you did that. So I think that's one piece of it.
The second is, you know, I think as Rick was saying earlier, you just don't know with Trump. I mean, he gave multiple speeches, and interviews during the campaign. And then earlier the President is saying, he didn't know -- he didn't know Vladimir Putin. And now he's telling James Comey that he and Vladimir Putin had a conversation about hookers.
[23:15:00] So, you know, one of those things is true, and you know, we don't know -- neither one of them is good for Donald Trump, though.
LEMON: OK, I'm going to keep all of you around. We're going to continue on. When we come back, much more on our breaking news. New details tonight on James Comey's memos about his conversations with President Trump, and what they mean for the Mueller investigation.
LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, CNN has a copy of James Comey's memos detailing his conversations with President Trump, and we're going through them page by page.
Joe Lockhart is back with me, so as Frank Bruni, Juliette Kayyem as well, and Rick Wilson.
OK, so, Juliette, this is for you. Let's talk. This is again in the meeting at the dinner. Comey writes, at about this point he asked me to compare A.G. Holder, and A.G. Lynch.
I said, I thought A.G. Holder was smarter, and more sophisticated, and smoother than A.G. Lynch, who I added is a good person. He said Holder and President Obama were quite, I replied that they were, and it illustrated in my view, a mistake presidents makeover, and over again because they reason that problems from our president often come from justice.
They try to bring justice close, which paradoxically, makes things work because an independent DOJ and FBI are better for a president and the country. I listed off John Mitchell, Ed Meese, and Al Gonzalez as examples of this mistake, and he added, Bobby Kennedy. What do you think of that?
KAYYEM: It's interesting. I thought that was a moment in which Trump seemed really aware of history because a lot of the -- a lot of the memos shows Trump, and just meanders through a narrative in ways that are really hard to follow.
[23:20:07] You know, he goes from North Korea to how many people were at his election I -- you know, this is typical Comey as sort of -- he sounds -- you know, he sounds like he is giving a sermon from the mounts. You know, here is the historical lesson. And I think the other aspect of this is obviously Comey in the book is
pretty harsh on Loretta Lynch, the A. G. And I think that there is a history to be written there.
I think we are not quite sure -- I'm not quite sure honestly how to think about it. Loretta lynch might have been better off completely recusing herself from the investigation.
Remember when she met with Bill Clinton, she sort of partially recused herself, which Comey says sort of led him to believe that she was not totally free and clear.
And that's -- actually that moment begins this entire drama that we're still in. And so I think what he says about Loretta Lynch is interesting, and he clearly sort of reserved judgment of her until the book came out.
LEMON: Well, speaking of attorney generals, and recusals, and all of that, I mean, Rick Wilson, he is upset -- Trump is upset about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself. He's never forgiven him for that. And he wants loyalty from his attorney general, the exact opposite advice Comey gave him during this memo apparently during their meeting.
WILSON: Well, it's one of those examples of no good advice goes unpunished with this man. And, you know, James Comey outlined exactly the correct sort of stance. We should -- we should have -- regardless of the administration, in terms of the relationship between the White House and the Justice Department, justice and the FBI should be independent agencies that are not beholden to the political whims of the White House.
They should go without fear or favor as they say. And unfortunately Trump has any number of little stompy foot Twitter hissy fits about Jeff Sessions not exactly doing what he wants at exactly that moment.
And he's also elliptically and non-elliptically threatened to fire Sessions, fire Mueller, fire Rod Rosenstein. He's gone through this whole thing, with his very public kabuki dance of his, you know, emotional state about the Justice Department over and over again.
And the special counsel over and over again. And frankly, it puts him in a worse box every single time, and he keeps bring it up as I call that stench of guilt. Even if he's not guilty or not trying to obstruct justice, he smells guilt adjacent, or obstruct adjacent when he does these things.
LEMON: OK, Frank Bruni, I have this one interesting. Here's what he writes. He said he began joking that I was getting more publicity than he. I replied that I hate it.
He then said he was trying to run the country, and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult. He asked what he could do to lift the cloud.
I explained that we were running it down as quickly as possible, and that there would be a great benefit if we didn't find anything to our good house keeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work. That's the end of quote. The cloud of the Russia thing making it more difficult, what do you think of that, Frank?
BRUNI: Well, you know, Trump -- according to Comey, Trump asked what he could do to lift the cloud. I think he was really asking Comey what he could do to lift the cloud. And you've got kind of two quintessentially things about Trump there in that one little bite. One is his utter obsession all the time with publicity.
It was getting on his nerves that James Comey was more famous, because if one person is more famous, maybe Donald Trump is a little bit less famous, and that cloud thing is him saying to Comey in yet another way. You know, I don't like this, I want to move on, can you help move on.
I also want to add to something -- Juliette has twice brought up something really, really fascinating, which is, we have so often portrayed this president as the sort of bumbling fool who doesn't know how the levers of government work, you know, who really isn't up on history.
And in between the meanderings in these memos -- he seems very aware of exactly how the various branches and agencies of governments work with each other, and what they're suppose to do, when he seems much more aware of history in precedent than we usually give him credit for, and I find myself with as many new questions as answers about Donald Trump when I read these memos.
LEMON: But didn't he say he fired -- Joe, he fired Comey over the Russia thing after he said this, you know, this whole cloud, and then he said in an interview I thought it was a Russia thing.
LOCKHART: Well, that was when he wanted to show-off to Lester Holt about how strong he was, and now he's saying -- tweeting that he didn't do that because it's not convenient for him any longer. There's not a sense with this president that people are paying attention, that people are going to go back.
You know, there's a cottage industry of no matter what he says finding a tweet from a few years back where he says just the opposite.
You know, again his supporters hear it, and they don't care. They just don't care. They love it, and his detractors keep pointing out and scolding him. And at the end of the day I'm not sure how big a difference it makes.
LEMON: And not only for the president, but for him mostly, but we always ask -- we say here, there's a tweet for everything.
[23:25:01] Every time the President says something, and we go back, and then we find there's a tweet that contradicts what he says. And all you can say it's hypocrisy...
LOCKHART: Going back to what Juliette said in the beginning, the simple most starling thing about all of this, is there's multiple meetings about a foreign power trying to influence, and upset our elections, and try overturn our elections, and not once does President Trump ever say what are we doing to stop this, how did this happen, you know, who dropped the ball here, and what are we doing? He just didn't care.
LEMON: Yes. Hey, Juliette, I wanted to ask you about Rudy Giuliani going to work on Trump's team.
KAYYEM: Oh, wow.
LEMON: What do you think?
KAYYEM: That man does bring a lot of baggage to that litigation team. I wanted to say something that I tweeted out earlier because I come from the counterterrorism world. Rudy Guiliani was a fantastic leader at a time that New York City, and the country needed him to be.
And I think we should remember that, but that is not the Rudy Guiliani today, and not just simply because of his sort of rampant partisanship, and his, you know, attack -- this physical attacks -- physical comments about Hillary Clinton's weight to his clients, and his client base from nefarious countries -- I'll put that nicely.
But also he's implicated in these very investigations. There are questions, and Comey admitted it today, there was an investigation about whether Rudy Guiliani was getting information from agents from the FBI, in New York City, ones that clearly he would know regarding the Hillary Clinton investigation.
Comey said today he did not know where that investigation went after he left, but the idea that you're going to bring Guiliani in as a lawyer is quote-unquote is a joke. What Trump is bringing Guiliani in as this is my guy, I'm going to fight this politically. Guiliani is well-known as any other lawyer in the country, and he's going to fight if in the air ways.
LEMON: Do we have time? It seems like other panelists want to respond to this. Rick, do want to...
WILSON: Yes, Don.
LEMON: And quickly if you guys can.
WILSON: Sure. Look, I'm a former -- I'm a former Guiliani guy. I worked for him for a long time. And I will say this, he will not necessarily bring in the sort of sophisticated nuanced legal maneuvering thing, but he will bring a lot of fight, and fire into the equation, and Trump wants, and needs that right now.
And the irony is Rudy is a guy who put a lot of mobsters in jail, and Robert Mueller right now is dismantling the Trump universe because he's using the techniques of putting mobsters in jail.
And the approaches that Mueller is taking are things that Rudy once did on the side of the good in light, and now, you know, in service to Donald Trump, we're going to see if that works, and we will if the sort of bravado part of Rudy is going to be sufficient to offset the gigantic tidal wave of evidence, and power that Mueller is bringing to the table as well.
WILSON: That was a short answer, Rick, thank you. Frank, do you think he's going to be much affected by Guiliani?
BRUNI: No, I don't. But I think in Guiliani, Trump get two things that we know he loves perhaps above all others. He loves loyalty, he loves celebrity. He gets both of those in Rudy Guiliani. And Rudy Guiliani self-debasement continues unabated.
LEMON: Joe Lockhart. 9 LOCKHART: I think it's an interesting recognition by Trump, and maybe his team that he has more of a political problem than a legal problem. The legal problem is going to sort itself out. This is going to get decided by politicians not by judges, at least what Mueller's looking at.
Whether Rudy Guiliani is the right guy to be giving political advice, I don't know. But I'll make one prediction which is about the third or fourth time Rudy Guiliani is on TV, he's going it get his wings clipped because the President doesn't want him getting more publicity than him.
LEMON: As you said -- you began joking that he was getting more publicity than him, that's what he said to Comey. And then if he ends up on the cover of Time Magazine...
LOCKHART: It's over.
LEMON: It's over. All right, thank you all. When we come back, more on what we're learning tonight from James Comey's memos about his conversation with President Trump, and what will they mean for the Mueller investigation.
[23:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. New details from James Comey's memos about his conversations with President Trump and what Robert Mueller will do with all of this.
Joining me now is CNN Legal Analyst, Michael Zeldin, Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department, and Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.
Good evening to both of you. So Michael, we were reading copies of Comey's memo where he talks about condemning leakers and reporters.
And then he says, I then explained why the leaks purporting to be the FBI intelligence operation were also terrible and a serious violation of the law. I explained that the FBI gathers intelligence in part to equip the president to make decisions, and if people ran around telling the press what we do, that ability will be compromised.
I said I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message. I said something about it being difficult, he replied that we need to go after the reporters and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago, we put them in jail to find out what they know and it worked.
He mentioned Judy Miller by name. I explained that I was a fan of pursuing leaks aggressively but that going after reporters was tricky for legal reasons and because DOJ tends to approach it conservatively.
What do you think?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the conversation is terrible for both parties. The notion that you're going to pursue the press for materials that they received from leakers to me is very problematic. I think that which stands as a bastion of our democracy is the fact that we have a free press.
And if the notion is from the director of the FBI and the president of the United States that they want to pursue reporters and lock them up, to me that's just bad. No way to look at it --
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER PROSECUTOR: To me, Don, this sounds like something that a third world dictator would say, not somebody who is the president of the United States who swore an oath to uphold the constitution, swore an oath to uphold the First Amendment.
Our country is based upon the freedom of the press, and Comey was right to say in that meeting, the Justice Department has strict rules about charging journalists and safeguards because we don't want the power of the executive, the power of the president to be used to go after the press, to discourage, you know, free speech and discourage dissent and discourage reporting about what an administration is doing.
[23:35:02] That's literally how you get down to road to a dictatorship. So to me, when I read the memos, that was the most frightening passage because it really suggested to me that at its core I think Trump has some very anti-democratic tendencies.
ZELDIN: I read it a little bit differently than that, which is to say that it seems to me that Comey was a much more sympathetic audience to the president's point of view than you're attributing to him. It seems to me he too felt that it was in the interest of law enforcement to make examples of leakers including reporters. And to me, both of them should be, you know --
LEMON: He pointed out he was a fan of pursuing leaks aggressively but that going after reporters was tricky for legal reasons because the DOJ tends to approach it conservatively. He's saying that's never going to happen. But he also explains how the FBI gathers intelligence in part, if people run around telling the press what we do. It seems to me they're talking about the leakers and not the press.
ZELDIN: To me --
LEMON: It seems to me Comey is talking about the leakers and Trump is talking about the press.
ZELDIN: I understand it. But I would have hoped from Comey that he will said, Mr. President --
LEMON: He can't do that.
ZELDIN: -- you can't do that. And he said, well this is -- this is tricky and the DOJ is conservative. That's not saying, I'm against this, it's bad for our democracy, don't even think about this. He's saying, well, you know, it's tricky.
LEMON: And the FBI director should be able to stand up to the president and have blunt conversations with the president of the United States.
ZELDIN: And we see throughout the memos his failure to do that in other areas as well.
LEMON: OK. So, quickly, Renato, you first and then I'll ask Michael. The memos are detailed. They don't paint a favorable picture of this president, but do you see any intent to obstruct justice?
MARIOTTI: Well, certainly the request to let Flynn go is really problematic. At that point I think there's very good reason to believe that Trump may have known that Flynn had lied to the FBI, for example. It's clear that at that point he was concerned if Flynn had legal jeopardy, and he's asking the FBI director to let Flynn go. To me, that certainly suggests that he was intending to obstruct justice at that point.
LEMON: This is Comey's notes. In this, do you see an intention to obstruct justice?
ZELDIN: No, not on the four corners of these documents. I understand that Comey was concerned. The president cleared the office and said he hopes he can let this matter go. But if you're a prosecutor, you have to prove that a person had willful, corrupt intent to obstruct the due administration of justice.
I don't think on its face these memos create that case. Now, there may be other things. You've got Papadopoulos, you've got Flynn as cooperating witnesses, you may have other documentary evidence. But on its face with the president who speaks as Comey said in nonlinear terms, it's hard to figure out how you prove criminal intent on these documents.
LEMON: Go ahead, Renato.
MARIOTTI: I was going to say, Don, just to be clear, I do agree with Michael that you couldn't certainly -- I've never had a criminal trial where I had one exhibit. I wouldn't suggest that you will just put these memos in or putting Comey's testimony and that would be it.
There's a lot of other evidence out there I think though that would be probative of this corrupt intent. And I do think that instance is an instance to which he was attempting obstruction of justice. LEMON: All right. Stick around, both of you. We've got lots more details to come on James Comey's memos about his conversations with President Trump and what this all means for the Mueller investigation.
[23:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, new revelations from the Comey memos. What the former FBI director, James Comey, happened in his conversations -- what happened in his conversation with President Trump and of the impact it's going to have on the Mueller investigation.
Back with me is Michael Zeldin and Renato Mariotti. I am being told there is a tweet from Donald Trump. I have to go and find it because I don't follow -- there it is. OK. James Comey memos just out and show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow. Will the witch hunt continue?
Renato, you want to respond to that first?
MARIOTTI: Wow, right? Well, yes.
LEMON: Surprise, surprise.
MARIOTTI: But, you know, yes, right, well, I guess he's not reading the same memos I have been reading because I think there is definitely indications of obstruction of justice. We just talked about that.
And there's also indications in these memos that that dossier is more corroborated than we had heard otherwise, that actually, you know, as of -- I think, you know, February of last year, Comey was already telling -- I think it was Reince Priebus, that there were portions of of the dossier that were corroborated by the FBI.
I mean, what I would say is that tweet shows why the Republicans wanted these memos released. You know, what a lot of people have been asking tonight, why the heck did the Republicans in Congress fight so hard to get these memos released when they aren't very positive for President Trump?
And I think the answer is because they were hoping that this would bring some groundswell to charge Comey for releasing classified information because supposedly one of the four memos that he released is classified. I think that's going to be a tough road, but that seems like something they're going to try to do.
LEMON: Well, that's -- everything I'm reading, it says, I'm not sure why House Republicans -- I'm perplexed. I'm a little confused, why on earth, can someone please explain to me or how does this help the Republicans case? Do you agree with that?
ZELIN: There is nothing in here that is helpful to them. It's as helpful as the Nunes memo was, which is not helpful at all. What it does is allow people to confirm what they already believe and believe that which they want to believe. But nothing in here changes the narrative. [23:44:59] And in fact, I think what is clear about this perhaps is that it shows Comey to be a consistent teller of the same story. He testified to it in May. He wrote his memos contemporaneously. He's on his book tour telling the same thing. Whether you credit it is one thing, but you have a very consistent witness here who we know has testified before Mueller already.
So Mueller has all of this evidence. It's all sealed and signed and delivered. And now he's going to have to figure out whether or not it amounts to something that is an abuse of his office or corrupt in some other way.
LEMON: So can you explain to me because there has been some (INAUDIBLE) about this because he says in his tweet, also he leaked classified information. Wow. He was a private citizen and he gave something to a reporter. He was not an FBI director at the time. He was not in government at the time. Is that leaking?
ZELDIN: So a leak is an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. My view of these things is that they contain nothing which is classified that would rise to the level of a prosecutable leak.
LEMON: So it's false for him to say that he leaked classified information?
ZELDIN: If you use the word "leak" in its legal term, it is false to use that term. He disclosed information, but whistle blowers disclose information and they're not leakers, they're whistle blowers.
LEMON: So again, James Comey's memo just out shows clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction. According to Renato, that's not true. And he leaked classified information. Wow, will the witch hunt end? Classified information, according to Michael, that's not true as well, it was not a leak of classified information. Gentlemen, thank you. I appreciate it.
When we come back, we've got a lot more to come on James Comey's memos, about his conversations with President Trump. Plus, what is it about Michael Cohen that has President Trump's longtime lawyer warning he could flip on the president?
[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Breaking news tonight, new details from James Comey's memos about his conversations with President Trump. That, as sources tell CNN, the president is consumed by worries about the raid on Michael Cohen, his personal attorney.
I want to bring in now, CNN Contributor, Michael D'Antonio, the author of "The Truth About Trump," and Andrea Bernstein, a senior editor at WNYC and co-host of the podcast "Trump, Inc." Welcome.
So, we will get to Michael Cohen. Is this comport with what you have been reporting and what you know about Trump all along, these memos? MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. We do know from Comey's testimony before Congress and from his book that these pitches (ph) that Trump made about letting Michael Flynn go and notify the public that I am not under investigation, there is no collusion, all of this is consistent.
LEMON: Yes. Trump, Inc. He is consumed by publicity because he says so here. What about as well? Is this consistent with what you know about Trump and Trump, Inc.?
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, WNYC: Well, I mean I -- there is nothing inconsistent in these memos. I think the most darling is was that there seems to have been a conversation with Vladimir Putin, according to the memos, about hookers, which, you know, two years ago, there is no part of that conversation or that sentence that would have been understandable.
So, I mean, there may not have been specific smoking gun in these memos, but I think it certainly corroborates the counter-narrative to Trump of the events that we've learned so far.
D'ANTONIO: He would say (INAUDIBLE), right?
D'ANTONIO: This is another example.
LEMON: Yes. So let's talk about Michael Cohen now because it has been said, and he said, he will take a bullet for Donald Trump. He does -- he is completely loyal to it. People have been asking, talking about whether he is going to flip. The thing is -- I mean, that carries the assumption that there is something to flip about, that he did something illegal, and is until proven guilty.
You have dealt with Michael Cohen over the years. Why are people so convinced that the southern district raid will uncover something untoward or crimes?
D'ANTONIO: Well, this is a person who has escaped arrest himself many times. So, many of his associates and even his father-in-law have been felons. The businesses that he has been engaged in have been quite shady.
And when he is gone into business with folks as he did with the casino (INAUDIBLE) in Florida, he went notoriously bankrupt and walked away from debts and walked away from vendors. He has got the same M.O., the same set of issues that Donald Trump --
LEMON: I was going to ask you, you are talking about Michael Cohen or Donald Trump?
D'ANTONIO: It's very, very similar. And I think when you get inside these private businesses with an investigation that involves seized documents, all of a sudden a whole world of issues arise. This is what the president has been afraid of. He's got 500 or more entities and they've been protected and sheltered because they're private. LEMON: Yes.
D'ANTONIO: But when a prosecutor is involved, it's private no more.
LEMON: That was the comment about the red line, right?
LEMON: He didn't want him crossing that red line. Andrea, you've been doing some investigative reporting for WNYC, mapping out the many associations of Michael Cohen that he has had over the years.
Here is what you said. You said, a distinctive pattern emerged early in Cohen's career. Many of the people who crossed paths with Cohen when he worked in Queens and Brooklyn were disciplined, disbarred, accused or convicted of crimes. Cohen 51 has always emerged unscathed until now.
So talk to me about what you found out about his background. Why do say until now?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I think until now because it is pretty clear to you as attorney and these are people that were appointed under Jeff Sessions, believes that Michael Cohen committed a crime. That's pretty clear from their legal papers. This pre-indictment, he hasn't been charged.
What we found looking back 20 years to his associates in the taxi industry, in the insurance industry, in the diamond industry, in the former Soviet Union, person after person that we come across has been accused of fraud, in some cases assault, in some cases of money laundering.
[23:55:02] Michael Cohen not convicted, not investigated as far as we know, but somebody who is the president's personal attorney to have this kind of criminal history dating back to the Queen's waterfront and what is called little Odessa in Brooklyn because of the Soviet immigrate population, this is where he came from.
LEMON: Yes. And listen, you said he's like a mini-Trump and you said that he is long associated as you said with many Russians from the former Soviet Union, and I wonder if these ties raise any red flags in terms of his background. There's a story about his uncle's social club where mobsters hang out?
D'ANTONIO: There was the Russian mafia and what Andrea called Little Odessa in Florida. There were so many Trump units at the developments there. I think a third of 2,200 units were bought by former residents of the Soviet Union, LLCs (ph) that were controlled by oligarch.
These are all very difficult to trace but we're talking about more than $100 million pouring into Trump properties often facilitated by attorneys of the Michael Cohen sort.
BERNSTEIN: We went there. We went to this club, El Caribe, which is in Mill Basin, Brooklyn near the water. It was reputed to be a hangout for the Russian mob and the mafia. It's now a place where you can go and have weddings and events. And it was owned by an uncle of Michael Cohen.
It appears that Michael Cohen had a stake in it for a while. This is just one of the many, many sort of stops along the way where you find that somebody, one person removed from Michael Cohen appears to be rubbing elbows with the underworld.
LEMON: This sounds like the screenplay to "Good Fellas". I've seen this before.
BERNSTEIN: It's important to say that Michael Cohen has not been charged, he's not now charged, he hasn't been charged for any crimes. But it is a very -- you know, I've done political reporting and I've done all kinds of reporting in New York in the real estate industry for years and even in that context, this is an unusually high number of this kind of association.
LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, much more in our breaking tonight, James Comey's memos of his conversations with President Trump released.
[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)