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President Trump's Preoccupation With Russia; Comey's Book Further Calls Trump's Judgment Into Question; Floridian Student Shot in Ocala Forest High School. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN; CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, I'm John Berman. New this morning; an international dispute about whether the Russian president and U.S. president held a conversation about the relative merits of their nations' prostitutes.

Seriously, the Kremlin has weighed in. Just one piece of the fallout from the release of the memos written by fired FBI Director, James Comey last year in real time, after various meetings or exchanges with the president.

Memos that Republican allies of the president pushed to be released, but memos that indicate that President Trump had questions about the judgment of his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. Memos that revealed that the president was told that parts of the controversial dossier had been corroborated.

Memos that don't draw into dispute really anything James Comey has said publically, that the president asked if he could back off the Flynn investigation. Unclear if the release of the memos served the purpose that Trump allies thought it would, it is clear they haven't changed the president's mind. Overnight he wrote they "show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction." Wow.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in Washington; Shimon, I confess the memos came out, were released after I went to sleep. They're an interesting read.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ; CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, certainly are. I was still up, John. I started to read them. And really, they give us an insider account of those meetings, some seven meetings that the president -- they were conversations that the president had with the former FBI director, and some new details.

You know, Comey has talked a lot about this on his book tour now in TV interviews. But there are some new details that we learned. And one of those you mentioned is that the president in one of his conversations was questioning the judgment of Michael Flynn.

And here's what, according to Comey, the president said, quote, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said, "the guy has serious judgment issues." Now as you'll recall, this is perhaps in relation to the president's conversations concerning the investigation of Michael Flynn. And one of those where he said -- and as this has been reported and Comey has testified to, letting Flynn go.

And Comey writes in the memo that he then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn in one of their conversations, saying that "Flynn is a good guy and has been through a lot. He mislead the vice-president, but he didn't do anything wrong in the call." And this is in reference to the phone call with the Russian Ambassador.

He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." And then Comey says, "I replied by saying, I agree, he is a good guy." And then Comey says he said no more to the president.

And then one of -- finally one of the new things we did learn is concerning Reince Priebus, the former Chief of Staff to the president in a conversation that he had with the former FBI Director.

Now this is new, where he was asking also questions about Michael Flynn and whether or not the FBI had him under surveillance, a wire tap.

We've all learned about these FISAs by now. And he was asking the -- Priebus was asking the -- Comey, if Michael Flynn was under a FISA. Here's what he wrote in the memo about that.

"He then asked me if this was a private conversation." Comey says, "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," Comey writes, "Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?"

Now, John, this is new. This is the first time that we're learning about this. Certainly some new interesting details in this -- in these memos. They're certainly going to be a topic of conversation for some time to come.

BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz in Washington, thank you very much for piecing that together.

Joining me know is Phil Mudd, CNN Counterterrorism Analyst, and Caroline Polisi, Federal and White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney.

Phil, I want to start with you here; just big picture, after all this lead up. You read these memos. Memos again that Republican allies to the president wanted them released. And you thought what?

PHILIP MUDD; CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: One simple thing; and that is credibility. If you look at the contemporaneous detail, the thing that struck me here was not any particular fact. We knew a lot of this before.

But the level of detail in this series of memos that goes on over time, not only in person meeting, but telephonic conversations between the former FBI Director and the president. The level of detail going into the Mueller investigation suggests to me that Comey is credible.

You don't sit down there and just come up, especially for a career prosecutor who's whole career is built on credibility in front of a judge and jury, you don't sit there and just say, let me spin this kind of detail out of thin air.

When I saw that detail, I'm saying Mueller is adding that to all he's getting from other interviews, from financial and phone records. That detail, I thought was pretty remarkable.

BERMAN: And remember, this was written in real time, contemporaneously, while James Comey was FBI Director. He didn't know at that point he was going to be fired. He thought he was going to be FBI Director for years to come.


Caroline, the president writes this morning the James Comey memo show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction.


BERMAN: Doe sit show either of those things?

POLISI: No, it doesn't. I mean, I agree with Phil that there is more to the picture here in terms of an inspection case. But I don't think that there's any bomb shells here, it's largely consisted with James Comey's prior testimony from the Senate intelligence's comity.

And so I don't see anything new coming it of this is terms of an inspection case. But I don't like that this disproves one either. I mean, I think there's nothing new, nothing lost here.

BERMAN: Right. I mean, it doesn't prove collusion --

POLISI: Right --

BERMAN: It doesn't prove obstruction, although it gets to the issue of being asked to back off Michael Flynn, but it certainly doesn't clear him on either of those runs.

POLISI: Absolutely. And look, you get to that closed door, that February 14th closed door Oval Office meeting, definitely you get a peak in to President Trump's psyche at the moment. And when he asked Flynn - when he asked Comey to stay clear of the Flynn thing, let the Flynn thing go. The key issue there for Mueller is whether or not Trump knew at that time that Flynn had already lied to FBI investigators.

BERMAN: Right.

POLISI: That's going to be a key portion, and we don't know the answer to that.

BERMAN: We still don't know that, but we do now though know Phil that we didn't know before is that the president was questioning Michael Flynn's judgment, his national security advisor a weak, a weak in to the administration to his FBI director, that's interesting.

MUDD: IT is. It looks - and fast forwarding now, whatever it is, 14, 15 months, it looks again at the issue of the loyalty of the president whose demanding loyalty of James Comey to his own staff.

There are two specific mentions in there that struck me. One is that comment that you just referenced about Michael Flynn. The other one is the president saying at one time - he differs again later in the conversation.

But one time, that the chief of staff doesn't even know he's having dinner with the FBI director, which suggests to me the president already doesn't trust this chief of staff.

The contrast John, between the president saying he demands loyalty and at the same time hammering people who have come on in some cases Mike Flynn throughout his entire campaign, pretty striking to me.

BERMAN: It is interesting. One other interesting thing, and it has received some attention, and it seems like it's (inaudible), but it does tell you about the president's state of mind is his fixation around the salacious of the dossier, the incident with the prostitute, the allegiance today with the prostitute.

And this was in the memo, the president said the hookers thing is nonsense, but that Putin told him we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. So Caroline, is this just A, strange or B, legally important or C, all or none of the above?

POLISI: Well first, I can't believe we're actually having this conversation. It's a sad state when it comes to that. But I think if you look at James Comey's interview that he did yesterday where he said it's possible that the Russians may have had dirt on President Trump, sort of dangling that possibility.

That's really the legal question. The legal question's whether or not President Trump could be blackmailed by - by this information. I think what Comey said was he can't say for sure, but the fact that somebody just in his sort of experience as a prosecutor. When someone continually brings up something and continually denies, denies, denies, that could be an indication that there's actually something there.

BERMAN: He claims he had a conversation Phil, with the president of Russia about it according to James Comey's memos. And let me just play you, because I think this plays in to it also the various versions of how the president described his relationship with President Putin over the years. Listen to this.

TRUMP: I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer. I have nothing to do Putin, I've never spoken to him I don't know anything abut him other than he will respect me. BERMAN: So, both those things by the way goes without saying both those things can't be true at the same time. So the president has made up things about conversations with Vladimir Putin in the past, so we just don't know if he's making this thing up about the prostitutes.

MUDD: I mean, I look at this and the first thing that occurs to be of course is that Vladimir Putin who's been a strong man around since his days in the KGB has got to be looking at the President of United States and saying I can work this guy.

If the substance of our conversations is about prostitutes and (inaudible), that tells me about this guy's attention to long-term strategic interest United States and how he's going to be as a negotiator.

He's talking about prostitutes, I mean I looked at this and said that the president of Russia' got to be saying my counterpart is sort of a con guy, and I'm going to - as the KBG guy from decades ago, I'm going to con him out of Syria and out of (Inaudible), that's how I interpreted it.

BERMAN: And one last thing Caroline here, I don't want to let go unnoticed, it's that according to James Comey's memos, Comey told the president that parts of the dossier ad been verified.

POLISI: Right. I think one of the things that's so noteworthy about these memos is not necessarily what's in them but what is not in them. And the fact is - and Comey has been stating this on his book tour, the president never pushed harder.

He never followed up with James Comey asking well, what were the allocations or what did happen in the 2016 election which is - which is shocking by all accounts that the President of the United States wouldn't want to get more information about what by all accounts the entirety of the intelligence community agreed was medaling in the election. I think that that's the issue


I think that, that's the issue (ph), goes to that point.

BERMAN: All right, Caroline, Phil. Thanks so much for being us. Guys, stick around cause we have more to discuss cause there's a whole lot of news this morning. He was known as America's mayor. He is now the president attorney. Rudi Giuliani joining the legal team to help, quote, "Push to an end of the Mueller probe, but can he pull it off."

Plus a reporter claims that Donald Trump posed as his alter ego John Barron and lied to him to get on the Forbes 400 list. We have the audio. This is remarkable. A new reaction this morning from Russia, on those Comey memos, what Russia is now saying about the president comment about prostitutes.


[09:15:00] BERMAN: All right, new, this morning (ph). The Comey memos are out and we're left with this question. Why did republican allies of the president want them out so badly, given what they say? Here now to discuss, CNN Political Analyst Jackie Kucinich, Molly Ball, and Matt Viser.

You know, Jackie, this was republican allies of the president, pushing and pushing and pushing. You know, subpoenaing, forcing, cajoling, anything they can do, presumably, because they thought it would help the president's case. Do you feel, in their heart of hearts (ph) this morning, they're pleased with pushing so hard?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITCAL ANALYST: You know, it is, really, an interesting question because this doesn't seem to help anyone, but validate what James Comey has been saying all along and a lot of what he's outlined in his book.

It also shows the president's continued preoccupation with Russia. It -- it re-digs up all the -- all of the hooker talk, and, not to mention, it reveals that it's redacted but we've come to find out that the president even talked with Vladimir Putin about hookers. So it really is -- I do wonder if they're waking up some regret this morning.

BERMAN: And it's interesting, Molly, because the White House has been spinning to all of us, all week, that they're pleased with how they've handled the Comey storm, the release of the book and all the interviews they've done. They felt that they thought (ph) him to at least a draw, if not had the upper hand in the public relations battle, and it just feels like they might be wondering if they snatched a feat (ph) from the jaws of victory.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: That is actually the way that I feel about it. I think -- I do think that in political terms, the White House and the Republican Party succeeded to a great extent, in turning the narrative back on Jim Comey, making it -- making his whole book tour a referendum on his character and on his credibility, and that was what so much of the conversation about him turned into instead of the substance (ph) of allegations that Comey makes in his book.

The allegations he makes about Trump's respect for the rule of law, and the specific things that he witnessed, and so, by releasing these memos, I think they have turned the conversation back to those topics, back to the things that, you know, most of this is in Comey's book, but if you believe that these memos are authentic and were written at the time, it greatly, substantiates the allegations that he's made and I think, turns the conversation back to that.

BERMAN: You know, so, Matt. This morning president, not only did he write, overnight, these memos prove no collusion, no obstruction, which they don't really address at all, but also, going on the attack, again, against Michael Flynn. Let me read you what he wrote this morning. So, General -- sorry, going the attack (ph) against James Comey.

"So, General Michael Flynn's life can be totally destroyed, while shady James Comey can leak and lie and make lots of money from a third rate book that should never have been written. Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don't think so." You can almost see him trying to turn the focus back to where he let it slip away from.

MATT VISER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BOSTON GLOBE: And it's interesting, his defense of Michael Flynn, given some of the questions -- new questions that we know from President Trump, raising, about Michael Flynn and his judgment, which is one the few newer elements of out these memos. Most of these things, you know, have been forecasted.

They've been in James Comey's book. They've been previously reported, but him questioning the judgment of Michael Flynn was a new element, and it was -- it's always been, somewhat, baffling why he stuck by Michael Flynn for so long and it's, similarly, baffling why, now, he's coming back to Michael Flynn's defense other than, as you say, it sort of changed the subject to something else.

BERMAN: It is interesting (ph), we learned in the Comey memos that he was questioning the judgment of the national security advisor, days (ph) into the administration, now he defending Michael Flynn in relation, at least, to James Comey. Want to read another quote here from the memos cause it's interesting. It gets to the president's state of mind and what James Comey thought about it at the time.

"The conversation, which was pleasant at all times, was chaotic with topics touched, left (ph), then returned to later, making it very difficult to recount in a linear fashion." You can see the clash here of styles between the two men from the very first time they met, Jackie.

KUCINICH: Well, right, and I mean, that's totally believable, if you've ever listened to one of the president's speeches, that he would have private conversation that reflected a lot, what we hear in the publicsphere (ph).

But yea, it was -- it was, abundantly, clear from the get go that these were two very, different individuals and you're seeing that, again, in the memos, but again, as Molly and Matt pointed to, it really is -- it's curious why you would want to rile the president up, and also, with those tweets, the memos can't, both, validate the president and be lies.

So, you -- I don't how there's -- how he's squaring that or if he even cares to, but -- and also -- and also, is important to point out, Michael Flynn has plead guilty to lying to the FBI. So, they're kind of on different legal footing as well.

BERMAN: You know (ph), you pointed out an internal contradiction in the president's logic, here, which is either, he thinks the memos are real and they prove no collusion or obstruction, or they're fake memos, which he has said overtime. There's another aspect here, Molly. While there's nothing in the memos to dispute any of the claims that James Comey has over time, there are things here that paint him in a unflattering light, and I didn't want to let this pass by because James Comey's memos, he basically says that he and the president had a good laugh over the notion that reporters being raped in prison, right. They were arguing about leaks of material that were coming.


And this what Comey wrote. He goes, "I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as message." Comey said. (ph) He, the president replied by saying, "It may involve putting reporters in jail. They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend and they're ready to talk." "I laughed, as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened." (ph)

You know, so, James Comey's memo there. He admits that he was laughing about this notion of what would happen with reporters in jail.

BALL: And I think that's how a lot of people in the FBI probably feel about reporters. I would just like to go back to Trump's tweet for a second and say, if anyone ought to know about making tons of money off a book of questionable value, it ought to be Donald Trump. It seems to me that's exactly how America works, at least the publishing industry.

But yea, I mean -- and I think, that, that's been the story of Comey's entire book tour, is, this is a flawed human being. This is person who's made a lot of questionable decisions, and that's part of reason why he hasn't gotten much backup from democrats, even as republicans are savaging him, is, because he still has declined to say that he made a mistake in his handling of Hilary Clinton, during the campaign.

And so, you do see certain things about Comey, laughing at a joke like that, but I think that also adds to the authenticity of the memos, that he would record that encounter and share his impressions, at the time, in a way that seems believable.

BERMAN: No, yea, absolutely. I mean you put this, in its totality here, you know, Comey doesn't seem to brandishing himself, at times, here. He's just laying out things that happen as they happen. Matt Viser, you know, we're going to talk about Rudi Giuliani coming on the legal team, in a moment.

Where do you think the president is today, based on everything you're seeing, reading, and reporting? Rod Rosenstein is the Deputy Attorney General, still is, despite the fact that people said he was on the way out. Does any of this make it more likely that he will be pushed out soon?

VISER: I mean, you -- the Rudi Giuliani thing seems to be an effort to mend fences with, at least, Mueller and his team and a way that signals some type of cooperation, hiring somebody that has relationship with Bob Mueller. So, it does seem, heading in a more, you know, potentially cordial direction, in that regard, but I mean, the walls continue to close in. I mean, the Michael Cohen stuff, I think, it's very troubling to this White House and this president and the pressure on Michael Cohen. And we've seen some, sort of, extraordinary talk from some lawyers who've been close to President Trump.

One of his longtime lawyers saying that the chances of Michael Flynn flipping are very good, and so, I mean, I think, that, that aspect of the investigation is probably what the president and his team are more worried about at this point than the Mueller investigation, which is somewhat striking, given the severity of Mueller's investigation.

BERMAN: Matt Viser, Jackie Kucinich, Molly Ball, great to see you. Have a terrific weekend. We have -- do have some breaking news just in to CNN. Deputies are responding to school shooting in Ocala, Florida. This is at Forest High School. We are told the suspect is in custody, one person is injured and being treated by medics. People are being asked to avoid the area. We will bring you updates as they come in.

We're getting new reaction this morning from Russia about the released Comey memos, and it comes, just to the (ph) Kremlin says, it is ready to set up a meeting between President Putin and President Trump. Want to go to CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Sam Kiley. Sam, some of these statements from the Kremlin, the type of thing we thought we would never hear.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yea, this is not the language of international diplomacy, but then, the Trump administration has subverted quite a lot of norms of politics in international relations.

Now, in that response to a question from CNN to the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, specially asking whether or not it was true that the Russian president had boasted about the quality of, and I quote "Russian hookers in a conversation with Donald Trump."

The Kremlin spokesman came back with this response. He said "President Putin could not say such things and he did not say it to President Trump." Taking into account that they had never communicated before Trump became president.

And now that is going to prove fairly awkward, perhaps, for Mr. Comey, depending on what conversations were had, not face-to-face, but over the phone during the Trump presidency. There may be some wiggle room to show that this was a remark made in a phone call, not in a man-to- man meeting, so to speak. John.

BERMAN: The White House now says that the new National Security Advisor, John Bolton met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. What were the fruits of this meeting?


KILEY: Well, I think this was the first meeting between John Bolton, himself, pretty hard driver in terms of international affairs and the new Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov. Not, in itself, remarkable but it has produced a statement coming from Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, in a interview to one of the state media outlets saying that Vladimir Putin would gladly accept an invitation that they say they've had from Donald Trump, to visit the White House.

Now this comes, of course, amid extremely high levels of tensions between the two countries and between Russia and other American allies. The invitation is not formal. It was made, probably, in an off the cuff Trumpian (ph) remark by the U.S. president to Vladimir Putin upon his reelection to office back in March. But it also comes at a time when tensions are -- could be exploited here by Russia as typical maneuvering.

For example, the British have just set up a parliamentary committee to monitor all Russian activities across the board inside the United Kingdom, so they would not be chaffed to see a presidential handshake on the White House lawn.

BERMAN: Sam Kiley, for us in Moscow. Sam, thank you very much. Want to give you an update on that story reported moments ago from Ocala, Florida. We have learned that one student was shot. Deputies are responding to the shooting in Ocala's Forest High School. One student was shot, we believe, in the ankle. There is a suspect, now in custody.

We're getting new details on this. We will bring them to you as they come. We'll be right back.