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James Comey's Memos Recording His Interactions with President Trump Released; Rudy Giuliani Joins President Trump's Legal Team; Interview with Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Comey writing the president expressed, quote, serious reservations about the judgment of Michael Flynn. And salacious claims that Vladimir Putin bragged to him about Russian hookers. And then all of a sudden out of nowhere, the Kremlin puts out a statement this morning denying that Putin ever said that to Mr. Trump.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Just another Friday morning.

Meantime former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani joining the president's expanding legal team to push for an end to the Russia investigation. This as "The Washington Post" comes out with a bombshell report alleging Donald Trump lied, posing as his alter ego John Barron in 1984, all to get onto the "Forbes" 400 list. And we have those rediscovered audiotapes. You can hear them for yourself just ahead.

We begin, though, with CNN's Abby Phillip who joins us live from West Palm Beach, Florida. Abby, good morning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Those highly anticipated Comey memos are finally out, and President Trump claims that they vindicate him. In a late-night tweet last night he said they show no obstruction and no collusion, but the memos do show a president who is consumed by this Russia investigation even as it's intensifying.


PHILLIP: 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 advisor 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 Michael 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 hooker 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?


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 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, 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 Mueller's Russia investigation to a conclusion, saying it needs a little push.


PHILLIP: So President Trump is up bright and early this morning and he's tweeting once again about Comey. This time reviving the issue of his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, writing "General 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 the way life in America is supposed to work? I don't think so."

But the president fails to mention that Michael Flynn was fired from that job and the president himself fired him. And he also pled guilty to lying to the FBI. So unclear why he's reviving this, especially since his aides have told -- or sources have told CNN that his aides believe that he's really weathered this Comey book tour fairly well considering all of the things swirling around him, but the president seems eager to continue to go after him on social media, Chris and Erica.

[08:05:00] CUOMO: Abby, "fairly well" is a completely relative term and a very, very low bar for President Trump. Thank you very much.

Also let's just quickly seize on the moment here. The tweet that Abby just put up about where Comey is getting attacked by the president for being so mean to General Flynn, guess what. That's the way Trump was talking about Flynn to Comey, one of the things that is now revealed in these memos. He said to James Comey, President Trump did, I have big concerns about Flynn's judgment. So if you're going to talk about throwing Flynn under the bus, who's driving that bus? It may look a lot like the president.

Let's discuss, CNN political analyst John Avlon is here, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin who worked with Robert Mueller at the Department of Justice. John, it's not about being unfair to the president. It's about being real about what's revealed in these memos. You don't say that it's your fault this guy went down when I was saying that you should be worried about the guy that you eventually got.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In these contemporaneous memos, we have him repeatedly saying that Flynn has got serious judgment issues. As Abby pointed out, Trump fired Flynn for not only lying to the FBI, which he confessed to, but lying to the vice president about his contacts with Russia. So this is a selective retelling of the past, and it contradicts the president's own statements. He talks about loyalty a lot, but it does seem to be a one-way street.

HILL: You summed it up quite nice there.


HILL: So as we look at that, the other thing that really sticks out here, well, a number of things, but to your point the back and forth. We know that sometimes the president changes how he feels about things depending on the day, depending on the news of the day, depending on the tweet. That being said, it is consistent in these memos as to what the president is preoccupied with, and a lot of that has to do with this dossier.

And it is pointed out to him by James Comey, the reason I'm bringing this to you, I want you to know there's a reason. It's because this has been corroborated by various intelligence agencies, and so we want you to know that it's out there so that you're not surprised by it and so that it doesn't throw you off guard. How important is that part? It's things we've heard before, but to see it in these memos.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that the dossier and its corroboration will be important to Mueller as he evaluates the Russia collusion coordination, because that dossier -- leave aside the salacious golden showers part of it -- that dossier paints a picture of coordination in some respect between the campaign and foreign nationals. And so to the extent that it's corroborated by Mueller in his separate investigation, that is meaningful legally.

In respect to these memoranda, it shows a president with what he's preoccupied with. His personal reputation, his standing in the world community. He's upset with Flynn, because why? He interrupted him to say it wasn't actually true that Theresa May was the first person who called him. Apparently that's not something that you do with the president, you don't interrupt.

And so you've got a president who is free associating throughout these memoranda, and it's an interesting portrait of his state of mind. We talked about, can you prove mens rea, criminal intent of the president to obstruct justice. These memos I think in some sense undermine the notion that this guy is forming criminal intent. He seems to just be all over the place in his communications. He's just rambling on and on and on. I think Comey said he doesn't speak in a linear way. It's hard to prosecute somebody who doesn't speak in a linear way when you have to prove they had specific intent to do something that is criminal.

CUOMO: Part of the suggestion in what these memos mean is that they show the president's efforts to interfere with the investigation. Do you agree with that?

AVLON: I think they show a preoccupation with the investigation. They show him trying to work the margins. It's the Flynn conversation, asking for loyalty, that's repeated, seeing if he can clear things up. I don't know that these Comey memos show a smoking gun in that regard, but they clearly show a president who is aware and anxious about the implications of this investigation, and he's throwing some brush-back pitches, which from a president is a serious deal. Then you've got the question from Reince about the FISA warrant.

ZELDIN: What the most serious potential aspect of this is the clearing of the Oval Office to have that conversation. If he just had the conversation, you think, well, maybe not appropriate to ask about letting a case go. But when you clear an office, that shows -- that's the thing that shows mostly what he's intending, which is potentially to have a communication that he knows is inappropriate. But in and of itself --

CUOMO: He denies it, the president.

ZELDIN: I understand, I understand. But if you're going to take Comey at his word and his contemporaneous memoranda, then it seems to reflect the president with knowledge that this is something that he needs to do quietly, and that's not helpful to the president. But in and of itself I don't think it rises to the level of obstructive behavior.

[08:10:00] HILL: There's something that stood out about Russia. So as we're learning in this memo, so he talks about, talking about Michael Flynn and how he interrupted, to your point, interrupted as he was making a toast to Prime Minister Theresa May and saying I want to thank you for being the first foreign leader to call. That's when Michael Flynn decided to say actually, no, she wasn't first. X person, it's been redacted, actually called a few days ago. And the president was very upset.

The "Wall Street Journal" reporting that that person was Vladimir Putin. The president upset understandably, he didn't know about it for some days. But also Comey points out in the memo that he's upset. I'm going to read this here, that the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the president that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from a redacted of a country. Redacted, noting that if he called and didn't get a return call for six days, he would be very upset. That's a legitimate point. A world leader calls you, you don't want to wait six days. But especially as we're learning as the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting that this is Vladimir Putin and he's not calling him back for six days. And we see the way the president reacts to all things Russia. That stands out, John.

AVLON: It does. The president is perhaps one for punctuality and has a good sense of manners. It's inappropriate to not call a world leader back. But it's notable that Putin is allegedly the first world leader to call him. And again we know the subject of Vladimir Putin is one that puts the president back on his heels. He was willing and eager to criticize almost anyone in any orbit, but by all accounts in public and private, Vladimir Putin causes him to back down, and of course that's the question, why. Why?

CUOMO: So now a big question that both of you have raised in your own ways, whether it's the underlying basis of the belly of why or who is to be believed is veracity, right? Telling the truth is important here, and it's one of the reasons that we are bringing you a story that is a reminder of something that you've heard before. There's a "Washington Post" story today which talks about a former "Forbes" reporter who said Donald Trump lied to him about his wealth to get onto the "Forbes" 400 list. So what? Keep listening. He did it by posing as someone who was supposedly the VP of finance for his company, but it was him. And the reporter has it on audio tape. Donald Trump pretending to be someone named John Barron. The audio is from 1984. The journalist is Jonathan Greenberg, and he says I got duped by this guy, John Barron. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump because you have Fred Trump. And I'd like to talk to you off the record if I can just to make your thing easier. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I think it really is Donald Trump now. I think last year somebody showed me the article and I think you had 200 and 200, and really it's been pretty well consolidated now for the most part. As I also think somebody had mentioned that you had asked about that or somebody had, and it's been pretty well consolidated, OK?


CUOMO: Now, "the Washington Post" says they went to the White House for comment. The White House declined and says the Trump Organization didn't respond as well. This is not a big brain situation, OK. The president under oath in a lawsuit has acknowledged that he used this as a pseudonym in the past, John Barron. People know that he was doing this in the '80s. That sounds like him. And then you have the bigger consideration here. The man is known to lie, to spin, to puff, to prevaricate, all different types of lying in order to advance his cause. How meaningful is that now?

ZELDIN: It's meaningful when you're his attorney and you're trying to figure out whether or now he should sit down with the special counsel. That's the million-dollar question in this case. I think that Mueller wants that interview. I don't think he is going to be able to avoid that interview, but they need to do something either to avoid it or circumscribe what it is that he's going to be asked about in a way that he does not lie under oath to Mueller because lying under oath to Mueller has been proven to be a very bad thing for one's liberty interests.

CUOMO: Tim O'Brien, used to be on the show, he's working at MS now, works for "Bloomberg," he got into a big lawsuit. Why am I telling you this? Because you can go and look at the deposition that Donald Trump did and you will see he can be good under oath. He can know how to play the game, I don't recall. But he can also get caught lying. And that could have -- we keep saying constitutional crisis, and I believe that's overhyped. Not in this context. If he lies in an interview with Mueller, we have a whole new ballgame.

AVLON: And that's the risk his lawyers have been concerned about. The whole obsession with perception and pumping up his own net worth and the palpable weirdness of posing as someone else to talk about how wealthy you are, that has all served him well, but not in a deposition context. Truth cannot we transactional with those stakes, because when you are dealing with the president under oath, it is a constitutional implication. Now bringing in Rudy Giuliani in, who, full disclosure, I worked for for years as a speech writer, is to professionalize his legal team with someone who has real weight in the law enforcement community and potentially with Bob Mueller.

[08:15:07] But these are the stakes, if the president has nothing to hide, the best way to show it is to go and testify truthfully and clearly and cleanly as he does in the past. But if he starts riffing, if he starts amping, if he starts prevaricating and falsifying as he has wanted to do, that creates real problems for him. That's real legal jeopardy.

ZELDIN: The bigger benefit to the president in this recent hire is Jane and Marty Raskin. Very capable lawyers. I know them long and we've worked together. They're going to prepare the president if he's prepared to go into that interview.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Michael, John, thank you both.

Did the GOP help or hurt President Trump by releasing the Comey memos? We're going to ask a senator, next.


HILL: Fired FBI Director James Comey's newly released memos detail several interactions with President Trump in attempts to influence the Russia investigation perhaps. Three Republican committee chairmen had pushed for the memos to be released. But do they help or hurt the president?

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who, of course, is also a member of the foreign relations committee.

Sir, good to have you with us. When we look at these memos and what's coming out of them, there's a lot of focus, obviously, from each side on certain aspects. Elijah Cummings saying they show a blatant effort to deny justice and interference by the president.

Is that what you see?

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, obviously, the president was obsessionally focused on the Russia investigation.

[08:20:07] His conversations with Mr. Comey reflected that, his public comments have reflected that, his comments about the investigation by Robert Mueller being fake all reflect that. So, these documents just further flesh out this intense effort, which Donald Trump has had right from the beginning of his presidency to try to sweep the entire Russia investigation under the rug.

And all this is going to do is just further intensify the public's demand that they know everything that did happen potentially to compromise the presidential election of 2016 and the relationship between the Trump campaign, the Trump administration and the Russian government.

HILL: The president clearly does have a focus on the investigation, but being in your words obsessed with it, does that really show an effort though to interfere? You can be obsessed with something and talk about it all the time and how you want it to go away, but is that evidence that he is, in fact, trying to undermine -- especially based on what we see in these memos?

MARKEY: Well, I think what we've seen right from the beginning is a whole series of steps taken by the president to ensure that there would be no full investigation of what happened in Russia. He is just absolutely angry with Jeff Sessions for walking away from the investigation, recusing himself. That is evidence that he thought his attorney general would be responsible for ensuring that there was no investigation.

The same thing is true with how he requested that it be an easy handling of Michael Flynn, of how each and every revelation that comes out is just something that is not real news, not accurate. But the totality of the picture, each and every detail as it comes out is an indication of a serious concern on the part of the president that in its totality, it becomes clear that there was an attempt to obstruct an investigation to get to the heart of the potential compromise of the election of 2016.

HILL: Although, of course, the investigation is still ongoing. We don't know what it found, it is not finished yet and so, it rolls along.

I want to get your take on some other things and let's stay with Russia if we could for a moment, because obviously Russia is a focus as we're seeing in a lot of these memos, but also based upon what we learned happened with the president over the weekend, walking back plans for sanctions. You know, as someone who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, where do we stand at this point? How does this affect the way the United States is being perceived?

MARKEY: Well, we still are waiting for the president to impose the sanctions on the Russian government that have been legally authorized by the United States Congress. That includes for actions which the Russians are taking in propping up Assad, for their actions in the Ukraine, for other actions that clearly go right to the heart of this malign influence which increasingly Russia and Putin are playing across the planet. But the president thus far has not been willing to impose the toughest possible sanctions on the oligarchs in Russia, on economic entities within that country that would begin to push back on Putin to show him that there is a price that has to be paid when the leader of a nation, this is Putin, who is in clear violation of the norms of international conduct.

HILL: I also want to get your take on North Korea because North Korea as we're learning dropping its demand that American troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for giving up its nuclear weapons. Hearing that more from the president of South Korea, does the president deserve some credit here for moving these diplomatic efforts forward?

MARKEY: Over the years, the North Koreans have made many representations that ultimately have proven not to be true. If this is true, if the North Koreans are willing to accept a concession that American troops can stay on the Korean peninsula, then that would be a step forward.

But history teaches us that when we are negotiating with the North Koreans that we have to test their representations every single step of the way.

[08:25:08] But ultimately, if it's possible to keep our troops there and to begin a process towards denuclearization, then that would be a good thing. But I think it's much too early to reach a conclusion that the North Koreans are actually able to propose and comply with that kind of a guarantee back to the United States and South Korea.

HILL: Senator, we are super tight on time so really only time for a yes or no on this one. Heidi Heitkamp saying he will be a yes for Mike Pompeo. Is this a political calculation in your mind?

MARKEY: Well, again, each individual member of the Senate has to make up their own mind on each nominee and I obviously am opposed to Mike Pompeo. I think his record on LGBTQ issues, on Muslim issues, on issues of war and peace from my perspective cannot earn an affirmative vote from me, but other members have to make up their own minds.

HILL: We will have to leave it there. Senator Markey, appreciate your time, thank you.

MARKEY: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, this is a tough story but we have to talk about it. Sandy Hook families are taking legal action against this guy, conspiracy monger Alex Jones. He called the massacre of 20 children and six educators a hoax. He is, of course, going back on that now that he may have to pay a price for it.

But a father who lost his son that day says that ain't enough. He's filing suit. The details, next.