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NEW DAY

Details Released of Comey Memos on Trump. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked if there was a FISA warrant. What's his need to know about that?

[07:00:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think his congressional allies did him any favors by revealing these memos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This false narrative about this Russia trip, that's normal for any individual to want to have clear at the table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rod Rosenstein did tell the president he's not a target of that Michael Cohen investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His main goal is to help bring the investigation to an end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's been hired more as a lobbyist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tried and tried and I couldn't. Andrea came over and was trying to get her back in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt a calling to get up and do something.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We made every effort to save this woman's life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. I'm fortunate to have Erica Hill here, because we've got a lot of news.

And let's begin with breaking news on the James Comey memos. Fifteen pages of redacted notes written by the fired FBI director after seven different interactions he had with President Trump and Mr. Trump's attempts to influence the Russia investigation.

Comey writing the president expressed, quote, "serious reservations" about the judgment of Michael Flynn. And salacious claims that Vladimir Putin bragged to Trump about Russian hookers. The Kremlin just put out a statement denying that Putin ever told Trump anything like that.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is joining the president's expanding legal team, saying his objective is to bring an end to the Russia investigation. This as "The Washington Post" comes out with a bombshell report that

looks back at Donald Trump allegedly lying about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400 list while posing as his own fictitious V.P. of finance, John Barron. All of this in never-been-heard audio tapes.

There is a lot to cover this morning, to put it mildly.

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, who is live in West Palm Beach, Florida. Abby, good morning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica.

President Trump is claiming that he's vindicated by these memos of James Comey's that were released last night, detailing his interactions with President Trump last year. He tweeted last night that there was no obstruction and no collusion.

But the memos do show one thing, which is that James Comey has been fairly consistent in what he said about his interactions with the president and also, he painted a picture of a president consumed by this Russia probe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): Personal memos from fired FBI director James Comey, obtained by CNN, detail conversations Comey had with President Trump.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think what folks will see, if they get to see the memos, is I've been consistent since the very beginning right after my encounters with President Trump.

PHILLIP: Comey revealing in his memos, the president said he had serious reservations about former national security adviser Michael Flynn during that infamous dinner with Mr. Trump at the White House where Comey says the president asked for a loyalty pledge.

Comey writing, "The president pointed his fingers at his head and said, 'The guy has serious judgment issues.'"

Comey also describing another meeting he had with the president a couple of weeks later in which he says the president kicked everyone out of the Oval Office, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "He then returned to the topic of Micha el Flynn, saying that Flynn is a good guy and has been through a lot. 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 said no more."

And just days before Flynn was fired by the president for misleading the vice president about his contacts with Russia's ambassador, "He then asked me if this was 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, 'Do you have a FISA order on Michael Flynn?'" That same day Comey says he met with Mr. Trump, who suggested he spoke

to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "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'."

Comey addressing the salacious claim last night.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: He told you that he'd had a personal conversation with President Putin about hookers?

COMEY: Yes.

MADDOW: Did you believe him, or did you think he was speaking hyperbolically?

COMEY: he didn't seem to be speaking hyperbolically.

MADDOW: Do we otherwise know that the president had had personal conversations with Vladimir Putin at that point?

COMEY: I can't recall. I think there was public reporting that he had spoken to Vladimir Putin as sort of a welcome, congratulations on taking office thing at that point. I'm not suggesting they talked about how beautiful the hookers were in Russia. But -- but I do know there was at least one publicly-reported conversation.

PHILLIP: President Trump has repeatedly denied having a relationship with Putin before taking office. But comments over the years raised questions about their ties.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.

I have nothing to do with Putin. I've never spoken to him.

PHILLIP: Just hours before Comey's bombshell memos surfaced, Rudy Giuliani confirming that he's joining Mr. Trump's personal legal team. The former New York mayor tells CNN he hopes to bring Russia' Mueller investigation to a conclusion, saying, "It needs a little push."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[07:05:18] PHILLIP: So it's already been a busy Twitter morning for the president this morning. He's tweeting again about this Comey book tour and also questioning why, as he says, "General Flynn's life can be totally destroyed while Shadey [SIC] James Comey can leak and lie and make lots of money from a third-rate book."

The president goes on to say, "Is that -- is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don't think so."

It's worth recalling here that General Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI, and the president himself fired him from his job as national security adviser. But clearly, the president here is not over the book tour, despite what sources tell us, which is that, you know, the people in the White House believe he's really weathered this one fairly well, despite the numerous interviews and all of these memos coming out in the last several days -- Erica and Chris.

CUOMO: Well, it's all relative, right? Usually, the head of state ignores them completely. So obviously, once again, the bar has been lowered. The rules have been changed.

Abby, thank you very much.

Put that tweet back up there for a second. It's a little bit of window into the mind. "Shadey [SIC] James Comey." "Shady," as you see, spelled incorrectly, unless maybe referring to Slim Shady --

HILL: Could be.

CUOMO: -- the alternate persona of Eminem.

HILL: Right. Since we're talking alternate personas this morning.

CUOMO: Right. So maybe this is a manifestation of his Mr. Barron days, which has been reminded to us by "The Washington Post."

So there's that. Misspelled word, not a big deal. Something also that we've come to expect from the president of the United States. But also something in there that is at odds with what Mr. Trump himself said to Jim Comey. Let's discuss.

CNN political analyst John Avlon is here and CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell. He was former special assistant to James Comey.

Now, in some of these memos, we see this back and forth between the two men, Josh. Now one of the things -- let's put up on the screen what the president had said about his concerns about Mike Flynn to James Comey. Very much at odds with what he just tweeted.

This is what Comey says. "He then went on to explain that he had serious reservations about Mike Flynn's judgment. And illustrated with a story from that day, in which the president apparently discovered during his toast to Theresa May that" -- redacted -- "had called four days ago. In telling the story, the president pointed his fingers at his head and said, 'The guy has serious judgment issues.' I did not comment at any point during this topic, and there was no mention or acknowledgement of any FBI interest in contact with General Flynn."

So, Josh, once again, we see the president says what he needs to say in the moment to advance his own interests. Right now, he wants to make Mike Flynn a victim. Tweet that James Comey -- James Comey ruined his life. When, to James Comey himself, he gave Comey reason to be suspicious of Flynn.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. And what's so interesting about these memos, if you look at then, is that, you know, we are obviously -- we have a very unusual, you know, chief executive now as far as, you know, taking to Twitter, taking to social media, where we think that we know thoughts on any given day about every possible topic. But then when you compare that with, you know, going inside to these

private meetings that we now know about, thanks to these memos by Jim Comey, they paint a very different portrait. And obviously, with respect to Michael Flynn, there was a question there as far as his judgment.

Then you have the chief of staff actually wondering if he's under some type of, you know, surveillance warrant, which shows that, you know, to even pose the question means that the White House may have some kind of concern.

But what's also interesting is if you look at some of these tweets, and obviously it doesn't take a genius to look at that and kind of figure out what's going on, it's the typical "what about"-ism. Right? So OK, Jim Comey is a liar but look what they did to, you know, poor Michael Flynn, not pointing out that Flynn lied to the FBI, as Abby mentioned.

HILL: Minor detail, lying to the FBI. We should also point out "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that the call that was redacted had apparently come from Russia, which is not an unimportant detail, as we look at all of this.

To your point about seeing the thoughts of this president on Twitter, I mean, it also brings in, though, as you pointed out, Chris, those change based on the circumstance. And we see a lot of that consistently. And so we're used to that.

One thing that we see, though, that did not change as we look through these memos that were released is the fixation on certain aspects, right? And certain things that we know the president has always been focused on. Chief among them, some of the details of this dossier and why we're talking about them. And some of the more salacious details, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, the salacious details are clearly a fixation. He's worried that Melania -- he repeatedly says he's worried that Melania is going to find out. Says he never spent the night in a Moscow hotel. Does say that he has spoken to Vladimir Putin about, you know, alleges that Vladimir Putin says that Russia has the, you know, best hookers in the world, apparently.

[07:05:07] HILL: But Putin is now pushing back -- or the Kremlin is pushing back on it this morning.

AVLON: We're just having an elevated conversation around the world this morning, people.

HILL: Yes.

AVLON: But I mean, so you do get a real window into just how transactional Donald Trump is. The dossier is a repeated obsession with him.

But he also says, for example, that one way to push back on leakers is to put, you know, reporters in jail and jokes about that. So I mean, you do have the sense that, you know, here he's throwing, you know, Flynn under the bus. At one point in the conversation, talking wistfully about putting reporters in prison. And showing a consistent anxiety about the dossier and, apparently, conversations with Vladimir Putin that vice president been divulged.

CUOMO: And it's also interesting, Josh. I love your FBI head on this. What do we see this morning?

The president of the United States goes out of his way to try to keep some type of opportunity to move closer to Russia. Maybe he has benign intentions. Maybe they're personally self-serving. We don't know. But the behavior is clear.

And what do we see from Vladimir Putin? Every chance the man gets, he sticks a knife into Donald Trump. That's what he does. This morning, on something pretty much irrelevant, what does Vladimir Putin care if he was quoted as saying to Donald Trump, we have the best women of -- what is he calling, reduced social responsibility. That's what he calls prostitutes. That's a whole other conversation.

But he doesn't care. But it's an opportunity to make Donald Trump look bad. Look at how, let's play the sound of how Vladimir Putin dealt with this allegation originally when talking to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: (SPEAKING RUSSIA)

GRAPHIC: First, he [Donald Trump] is a grown-up man, and secondly he is a person who has dealt with organizing beauty pageants, not all his life but for many years. And he communicated with the world's most beautiful women. You know, I can hardly imagine that he immediately headed off to the hotel to meet with our girls of reduced social responsibility."

CUOMO: There's the "reduced social responsibility" euphemism that he uses there. Here's the interesting thing. He does say that those women are the best in the world.

It does raise a legit issue, Josh. Is the president saying he had a conversation with Vladimir Putin that Vladimir Putin that he actually heard Vladimir Putin talking about it with somebody else? We know he's done that in the past, conflated what was said to him with what was said generally or to somebody else.

But again, do you see what I'm seeing or am I wrong, that Putin even there, writing him off as a beauty pageant guy and he's all about women and the idea that he would, and then repeats the allegation of exactly what would hurt Trump the most. He knows what he's doing.

CAMPBELL: Yes, he does. You know, he's throwing shade without throwing shade. Right? I mean, if you don't see the description of what he's saying.

But it's interesting, you know, from even the FBI days I noticed that, you know, looking at statements that come from Russia, from the Russian government, when they are denying something, it's not like, you know, what happened in the United States or, you know, in other countries where if something didn't happen you just say it did not happen. But there's, as we mentioned, kind of this word salad.

And as I sit there and listen to what the president was saying, I immediately keyed on the word "immediately." Because you have to parse every single word. So he says, you know, the president, he couldn't immediately rush off to the hotel.

And I say, "Well, OK, well, does that mean that maybe there was a lapse in time? Maybe he had a meeting first?" I mean, you have to look at every single word and scrutinize it. And I'm not saying that, you know, that took place. Who knows? I mean, that's something that, you know, we'll be left, maybe we'll figure it out some day. It's just it raises a lot of questions, a lot of eyebrows whenever a denial takes so long to deny.

HILL: Here's something else that definitely raises eyebrows, too. So as part of those memos, Comey talks about his interaction with Reince Priebus. And he details an interaction on February 8, where he says -- he basically asks -- wants to know if there was a FISA order for Michael Flynn.

And Comey, what -- what he answered is redacted. However, he says, "Listen, I answered him." But then I also explained to him that this is the way it should really work. The White House counsel should reach out to the Justice Department. This is not the way we do business.

And the reason that you don't ask me directly, the director of the FBI, is because you don't want any appearance of impropriety for the White House, for me, for anyone. And that, John, I would ask, too, it speaks once again to the misunderstanding of many within the administration about how things work, especially things that are there even to protect them.

AVLON: Yes. Clearly Donald Trump is not going to know that. This is his first run for political office. But the White House staff was full of people at the time who had been, you know, professionals in government. Reince Priebus is the chief of staff at the same time, former head of the RNC.

So I mean, look, tone comes from the top. The president may not know these protocols. But that impulse seems to be reinforced by the people around him. And that just shows there's an ethically slippery approach to protocol. And the reason those rules are in place, the reason institutions matter, is because they keep people in check.

HILL: To your point too, you know, we don't know where the question came from. So we had this memo. We know a little bit about it. Was this actually a question that Reince Priebus had? Was it a question he was told to ask?

AVLON: Yes. Both interpretations are possible, I think. CUOMO: You know, so, Josh, when we look at these memos, one of the

big political questions will be, "Well, did they help or did they hurt?"

[07:15:07] And on that answer, the context is, "Well, to whom?" You know, to Comey or to the president? How do you see they're playing out? The president is playing them out in a very obvious way. Look at all the memos: No collusion, no collusion, no collusion. And "Comey throws his own people under the bus." Who do you think wins the battle of perception?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think that's up to the American people. And, you know, if you look at -- I caution both sides. I mean, you have the president obviously then taking to Twitter saying that "This proves that I'm innocent." I saw last night, I think it was, that, you know, Representative Pelosi was saying, "Well, this proves that the -- you know, the president is corrupt."

This doesn't prove anything. We have to -- you know, if we're being fair, let's focus on what these memos are. These are contemporaneous observations from one party to these conversations. So they don't prove anything. Anyone who believes us that is setting themselves up to be disappointed.

But what they do provide, unfortunately, as I mentioned, is the ultimate he said, he said where the American people will have to decide who do we believe is more credible here, the president or Jim Comey?

AVLON: Look, they're contemporaneous memos. And that gives them an inherent degree of credibility. Every document that comes out in our politics, no matter how polarized we are, can't be a Rorschach test, based on which team you're rooting for. The fact these are contemporaneous gives them credibility. They also have to dovetail with previous accounts that Comey has given.

CAMPBELL: I don't disagree. And obviously, I personally believe what Jim Comey said. I'm just saying that if we're being fair here, I mean, this isn't, you know, some type of intelligence product or something that, you know, has been corroborated. This is his view. And again, it comes down to who do you trust. Two people are saying that this didn't happen, and one person is saying it did.

CUOMO: John, Josh, thank you.

All right. So we have new details, both serious and salacious, contained in these Comey memos. That much we know. What will they mean to you? That matters. What they mean to lawmakers. That matters, too. We have Democratic senator Ben Cardin next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:20:46] CUOMO: Former FBI Director James Comey's memos about his interactions with President Trump, they have some details in there. They reveal attempts by the president to influence the Russia probe.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Chris, it's good to be with you. Thank you.

CUOMO: The memos, do you care?

CARDIN: Well, two points. First, it's been reported that the Mueller team OK'ed the release of this information so it doesn't interfere with the Mueller investigation.

Secondly, I think the public should have access to as much information as possible to make their own judgments. So I think the more that can be made public, the better we are.

CUOMO: What do you learn?

CARDIN: Well, not much. I mean, I think what we have seen so far indicates that there was clearly a lot of information between Russia and the president and information coming out. There are a lot of areas of concerns. It's up to the Mueller team to connect the dots. And that's one thing that I think you still don't quite understand, how all this comes together.

CUOMO: What do you think the chances that at the end of all this, that there are any crimes found to have been committed by anybody very close to the president and his campaign or by the president himself?

CARDIN: Well, we've already seen that there have been indictments that have been issued. There's already been many, many areas of concern. Whether it will lead to indictments, the Mueller investigation is keeping that information very close at hand. And that's how they should.

An investigation cannot work in the public. They have to complete all of the information before making judgment. We want to make sure that that investigation is not intimidated by the president or anyone else and that Mr. Mueller has the complete authority to complete the investigation and that there's -- we end this threat of him being fired.

CUOMO: He says, the president himself, "They're still there. They've been saying for three, four, five months to me that I want to get rid of them, but they're still there."

Do you believe that means that A.G., Deputy A.G. Rosenstein and the special counsel are safe?

CARDIN: I certainly hope so. If the president tries to fire Mr. Rosenstein or Mueller, he's interfering with an investigation. That crosses the line.

I've talked to many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The Mueller investigation needs to move forward without any further intimidation from the president. And interfering with Mr. Rosenstein or Mr. Mueller would be interfering with that investigation.

CUOMO: Well, you say you've talked to your colleagues. One of them, Senator McConnell, says he won't even put a bill to protect the special counsel on the floor. Now, he's got one of his senior colleagues, Grassley, working with some of your colleagues to put a bill through committee to do exactly that.

But if there is even unanimous consent among you guys in Congress to protect the special counsel, what would you be able to do if the president made a move to get rid on of Rosenstein or get rid of the special counsel? What could you even do?

CARDIN: Well, Chris, I disagree with Leader McConnell. I believe we should have passed legislation protecting the independence of the Mueller investigation. But Leader McConnell has made it clear that he's not doing this, because he doesn't believe the president will interfere with the investigation by firing Mr. Mueller.

CUOMO: We both know that that's a completely specious premise, right? "I don't think somebody will do something, so I won't protect against them doing it" doesn't really work in any other area of legislation. You do things prophylactically. You do them protectively. You put it in place just in case.

You have to believe it's possible, because the president, by all accounts, has been considering it and hates the - the investigation itself. McConnell doesn't want to move. It seems his political motives are getting the best of him, no?

CARDIN: Chris, you're making my case. I agree with you completely. We should have acted. It's very clear that the president is trying to intimidate the investigation. It would be the right thing for Congress to protect the independence. We should have passed legislation well before now.

[07:25:04] But Leader McConnell is not going to do that. The point I was raising is that he says he's doing that -- he's not doing it because the president will not take those actions.

You asked what happens if the president does take those actions. Well, Leader McConnell told us he wants to protect Mr. Mueller. So I would expect Congress and the American people will not allow the president to take those actions without consequences.

CUOMO: Well, but the question becomes I don't know what the consequences would be. Hopefully, we don't have to get to that point.

Mike Pompeo, are you a vote for him or against him for secretary of state? Heidi Heitkamp, a member of your party, switching her vote in the committee there. Might that matter?

CARDIN: Well, she's not on the committee.

CUOMO: In your caucus. Sorry, sorry.

CARDIN: On the floor. CUOMO: Right. Will it matter?

CARDIN: I'm opposing his -- we'll see what happens on the floor. We'll see what happens in committee. The vote should be Monday in committee. I'm opposing him in committee. I do that because I want our chief negotiator, our chief diplomat to work with our international partners. And Mr. Pompeo has indicated that he thinks America should go alone on Iran and our climate and other issues.

So I'm opposing him, because I don't believe he would be an independent voice in the White House.

CUOMO: The authorization for use of military force. Do you believe it needs to be redrafted? Do you believe that actions like what just happened in Syria, no direct criticism of President Trump but direct criticism of all of you in Congress that you keep letting presidents overstep their statutory authority to conduct military actions against sovereign nations? Do you have to change that?

CARDIN: I absolutely believe that Congress needs to pass an updated authorization for the use of military force. Presidents, three presidents now have used the 2001 authorization that we used against Afghanistan because of the attack on our country on 9/11. To use this now in Syria against ISIS. That is a contorted view of the authorization given by Congress. I don't believe the president has that authorization.

But he's going forward with it. It is important for Congress to take back the constitutional power. And we need to redefine the authorization for force that the president can use against ISIS.

CUOMO: The reason I was pushing back on the notion of the American people won't allow, Congress won't allow the president to do something. That same argument applies on this issue.

Nobody stood up from Congress. I push people here on this show. And they say, yes, the president should come to Congress. But when he didn't, you did nothing. So what good is an AUMF if you don't have any real resolve to enforce it?

CARDIN: Well, you know, it goes back to the constitutional provision and who has the power to declare war? Only the Congress. We passed the War Powers Act. And the -- many administrations have ignored the War Power Act. It is -- the courts will not allow us -- it's hard for us to enforce this.

CUOMO: Right.

CARDIN: The president is commander in chief. He gives orders. So it is extremely difficult for us to exercise our constitutional power.

What we need to do in regards to what's happening today against ISIS or in Syria, Congress needs to take back that authority. We need to act now.

CUOMO: Right. And the question will be will you guys have the resolve to actually do anything to enforce the rights that you may have ascribed to yourselves through law. So that's the negative side. That's you guys not getting it done.

Let's end here on a Friday on a positive side. Tammy Duckworth, senator, new mother --

CARDIN: Yes.

CUOMO: -- takes her baby to vote with her on on the Senate floor. Everything she has endured. Everything she embodies as a lawmaker. What does this moment mean to you?

CARDIN: Well, Chris, first of all, it's the modernization of the United States Senate rules so a mother can bring her baby onto the floor recognizes, I think, how the Senate should operate as a family.

We are so proud to have an addition to our family in the United States Senate. And Tammy is going to be a wonderful mother. And I hope she brings a spirit to the United States Senate that we can get things done.

CUOMO: I think the more children you guys have around you the better. I think it will freshen up perspective, make you think twice about what you say and what you do. It's a good start.

Senator Cardin, thank you for joining us on the show, as always.

CARDIN: Good to be with you. Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Be well. Erica.

HILL: Heroic efforts by people on that deadly Southwest Airlines flight. Just ahead, you'll hear directly from a nurse who tried to save a fellow passenger's life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK