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Report: DOJ Finds Comey Violated FBI Norms Though Not Politically Motivated. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired June 14, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Report into how the FBI handled the Hillary e-mail investigation, the official report is expected to be released to the public at this hour, but we are learning from our sources that the Inspector General here concluded that fired FBI director James Comey was not biased in his handling of the investigation but that he did in fact deviate from department norms.
This sweeping 500-page report is expected to detail a series of failures by top federal officials, including Comey, ahead of that crucial 2016 presidential election. A lot of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton herself, blame her election loss on Comey's decision to reopen the investigation just days before that election in 2016 and a lot of Republicans felt Comey gave Clinton a pass when he didn't charge her. This IG report is supposed to reveal more critical information against Trump.
All of this as the White House gets ready to hold its very first press briefing since the president returned from Singapore to meet eye to eye with Kim Jong Un. Our reporters and legal experts will be combing through the report the moment it's released. Let's start with what we know so far. For that our lead reporter Laura Jarrett, live at the Department of Justice. Laura, you know what's in this thing. Let's start with what did the report find?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brooke, after 17 months, over 100 witnesses and 1.7 million documents reviewed, these are the top findings from the top watch dog at the Justice Department. I want to read one of the key lines from his report. He said we found in evidence that the considerations were influenced by bias and we determined that they were based on the prosecutors' assessment of the fact, the law and past department practice. The Republicans have said this investigation was rigged from the very beginning, said that it was biased in favor of Clinton and clearly here now this is the first non-partisan assessment from the justice department watch dog that looked at all the evidence and said that is simply not true.
In fact, Brooke, he looked at a number of different key moments on the investigation, a number of different controversial moves that had been under scrutiny and he said not only were those not affected by bias, but they also followed past historical approaches this prior cases under different leadership. Now of course the report does not hold back.
It is scathing on former director James Comey, it is scathing in certain parts on Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but most specifically, Brooke, the new news here is on the current FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzock. We've heard a lot about these text messages because the president and Republicans have latched on to them. This is the key exchange, I want to read for you, Brooke. This is in August of 2017. Page says, "Trump's not ever going to become president, right?" and Strzok says back, "No, no, he won't. We'll stop it."
Now the Inspector General is concerned about this text message in particular, and what he says on it essentially it says the entire investigation may not have been tainted in terms of its ultimate outcome. But these messages cast a cloud of doubt on their state of mind and that's the part that's problematic.
BALDWIN: We'll get into all of that. The exchange from 2016. What about you mentioned the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, her half hour meeting on the tarmac in Arizona with former President bill Clinton. What did the IG report find on her?
JARRETT: On that one he looked at it at length and he interviewed the attorney general and Bill Clinton and found that they did not discuss the merits of the investigation during that controversial tarmac meeting, no matter how bad it looked and he certainly realizes the appearance of impropriety there but, Brooke, the Inspector General is really focused on how Loretta Lynch decided not to recuse from the investigation and instead even after that tarmac meeting, she said that she was going to defer to the career folks at the Justice Department and at the FBI but that she was also still going to receive briefings on the matter. So, the Inspector General said that led to a lot of public confusion that was unhelpful.
[14:05:00] BALDWIN: Public confusion. And lastly, so this 500-page report officially comes out to the public this hour. What now?
JARRETT: At this point, Brooke, we are learning more and more, we're doing a deep dive on this. One of the issues that had been sort of unknown up until now is what exactly happened with the leaks between the FBI and the media during the Clinton investigation. And on that score, there's a little bit of a question mark. He says that the leaks are obviously abundant, but he says the investigation on that point is ongoing. So still some further questions.
BALDWIN: All right, Laura Jarrett, you and the team going through the 500 pages. We're already getting reaction from folks on Capitol Hill on the left and the right. Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. What are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Coming out of a briefing, we're hearing reactions along party lines. Democrats saying that what they saw here was an FBI that did make mistakes but to the benefit of then-candidate Trump in 2016 and Republicans saying there was significant misconduct in the way that this investigation happened, and that Hillary Clinton was improperly exonerated. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the house oversight committee, he says this taking aim at the FBI agent Peter Strzok who Laura was talking about. "The report also conclusively shows an alarming and destructive level
of animus displayed by top FBI officials. His bias was so pervasive and toxic as to call into question any other investigations he was part of his role in the very long of what Russia did in 2016." That's a key statement because other conservatives emerged from that briefing saying something similar, saying they believe this goes against the Russia investigation.
Top Democrats in the house say the stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI's actions helped Donald Trump become president. So clearly this report, despite its findings, despite its exhaustive nature and not resolving the political debate on Capitol Hill and to that point Ron Johnson, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman just told me nothing beside an outright confession, that this was a politically bias investigation could lead the Inspector General to reach a conclusion like he did where he said there was no political bias in this investigation.
He is disputing that key finding. So, some members are raising questions about what the Inspector General found himself. But we'll hear hearings, Horowitz, The Inspector General, expected on Capitol Hill next week for multiple rounds of hearings. So, this debate only bound to intensify in the coming days, Brooke.
BALDWIN: It is indeed. Thank you on the Capitol Hill reaction. I've got some great voices now just standing by to walk through what we know so far from this huge IG report, all 500 pages. Jeffrey Toobin joins us, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and also former FBI and CIA, and Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst. I want to go round robin. I want everyone's first big takeaway just from what we know so far, Jeff Toobin, just starting with you.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Plenty of ammunition for both sides. If you think the FBI didn't like Hillary Clinton and didn't want her leaked president, you can find that in this report. If you think the FBI was biased against Donald Trump and there were agents there he hated him and didn't want him there, you can find that there. It's not a glowing day for either scenario but I doubt many people whose minds haven't been made up will be changed by what's disclosed today.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what we're seeing in the reaction here is a very partisan reaction and predictable.
[14:10:00] The Democrats are saying that Hillary Clinton was badly treated, and the Republicans are saying, you know, wait a minute, James Comey did not adhere to protocol and, therefore, the president, A, was right to fire him and I'm sure we'll hear more about that from the president himself. However, the Inspector General could not have been clearer about the fact that he says there was no conspiracy here within the FBI. And will see how that plays with the president who has said, yes, there is a conspiracy and it has moved over to the Russia investigation.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The other shoe didn't drop. We knew there was really poor judgment by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, really poor judgment by James Comey, stupid e-text messages between FBI participants in the investigation. We knew all that. The other shoe which I anticipated didn't happen.
That is the Inspector General, I thought would come out and say and then I saw some of this bias reflected in activities at the core of the investigation that questioned the integrity of the investigation. Didn't happen. I expected a sledge hammer. We just got the same kind of hammer you use to hammer a painting on the wall. I was surprised at how mild it was.
BALDWIN: You say mild, you also referred to the text messages as stupid. Phil, I just want to stay with you on that, because that was the first time we really saw the language in the text between Strzok and Page. Again, Trump's never going to be president right, no, no he won't, we'll stop it."
First of all, how damaged you think law enforcement agencies are because of this coming out?
MUDD: I could tell you anybody serving at the FBI, and I expect Christopher Wray, FBI director is supposed to speak at 5:30 today will address this. You cannot say that on a government phone. The point here is not that Americans including those working at the places like the FBI either despise Hillary Clinton or despise Donald Trump, a lot of people did. The point is you can't exchange those messages on the phone. You're going to go back to the question of did the Inspector General then say I saw that kind of language as pervasive enough that it affected the investigation as a whole and he very clearly said that didn't happen.
BALDWIN: That's the question as to whether or not these two and their views clearly were emblematic of an entire agency? But you know conservatives are going to say, how could this not be politically motivated?
BORGER: Look, I think that the e-mail exchange was kind of dumb and following up on what Phil said, it shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have happened. It's not as if -- you know, when you serve on a jury, you're allowed to have your opinions going into a jury but you kind of check them at the door. When you work at the FBI, you're allowed to have opinions, but you check it at the door.
That did not happen. But the Inspector General did not take it to the next step and say that there was a conspiracy, that it was pervasive throughout the FBI, that it did affect either the Hillary Clinton investigation or it did run over into the Russia investigation, which the president has said is rigged because these same people were investigating him. So, you know, The Inspector General stopped short of doing that but that will not stop political opponents from saying it. BALDWIN: Which is exactly where I wanted to go next. We had this
first press conference. We're going to see Sarah Sanders in that White House briefing room momentarily. Let me just go out on a limb, everyone, and assume that they're going to take this victory lap, right? We keep hearing these words witch hunt from the president. She'll say it's justified, but I think also, Jeff Toobin, you've been so great on this, it's so important not to conflate. Comey can screw up, violate the department's norm but that has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the Mueller Russia investigation.
TOOBIN: Right. Although it will be easy for Sarah Sanders and the president to combine those two events. Remember, one of the main issues in the Mueller investigation is did President Trump obstruct justice by firing James Comey in order to interfere or stop the Russia investigation?
[14:15:00] The president from the very beginning has said -- he said a lot of different things but the subsequent justification for firing has always been, no, I fired him because he was incompetent, because he skewed up the Hillary Clinton investigation. This report gives him ammunition to say, see, James Comey deserved to be fired independent of the Russian investigation.
BALDWIN: Let's remind everyone what the president has said on his firing of James Comey. Roll the sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia, it's a made-up story. It's an excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have won.
That was so bad what happened originally, and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the of the kind of opposition he had where they are trying to protect her --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Toobin, I think part of your point and I want to come back to you, but Trump can say, see, thank me for firing Comey. But not only do we know that he cited the Russia probe in the Lester Holt interview. And he told Russians in the oval office such, he saw that last clip, he praised Comey's actions during the campaign. Go ahead Toobin and then Gloria.
TOOBIN: And the answer is that was then. Consistency is not something we can expect from Donald Trump. The point he will make now is, see, an independent authority said James Comey made mistakes. I fired him. I was justified in doing it.
BORGER: But the Democrats are going to read this report and they are going to say James Comey made mistakes and who did it impact the most?
BALDWIN: Hillary Clinton.
BORGER: Hillary Clinton. Because of the ill-advised press conference he gave, calling her careless. Because days before the election he decided to reopen part of the e-mail investigation, because he did not follow protocol with Loretta Lynch, then attorney general. All of these things, Democrats are saying that hurt Hillary Clinton and, by the way, the Justice Department also knew they were investigating Donald Trump at the same time and the American public never heard about it.
BALDWIN: Stand by, everyone. They're going to be holding a news conference. We're moments away from that. Another huge story today, New York's Attorney General is suing the president and his children, alleging their charity illegally used money for campaign purposes, among other things. Let dive into that. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN here. 18 months of waiting and now the breaking news in a much-anticipated report. The justice department's internal watch dog says firing James Comey into how he handled the Hillary Clinton private e-mails claimed Comey was not politically motivated. Let's go to Jim Acosta ahead of this first briefing since he's been back from North Korea. On this IG. report, what are you hearing from the White House?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They just pushed the briefing back to 2:45. I think they're loading more cannon balls into the cannons over here to respond to this IG report. Obviously, this is a big embarrassment for the FBI to have these texts going back and forth, talking about stopping Trump during the 2016 election. That is obviously an embarrassment for the FBI and the White House is likely to seize on that and say this is an example of what the president is up again and justifying all the president's tweets up until now saying that the Justice Department and the FBI have been biased against him. We should point out this watch dog report found no bias in the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation but there's plenty of fodder for the FBI to seize on.
The Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley was out a few minutes and asked to respond to this and he said the president wants transparency and all the findings of the IG report out there. They're certainly getting some and then some. During this briefing coming up at 2:45, it's not going to be just about the IG report, the Trump Foundation, what's happening, and what's happening in the Trump foundation, mishandling of funds and so on. My suspicion is that Sarah Sanders will defer that to outside counsel or officials of the Trump Foundation.
[14:25:00] And of course there are those pictures, that video of Trump saluting the North Koreans during his summit over in Singapore. That's obviously going to come up as well. When Hogan Gidley, the press secretary, was asked about that, he was offered an opportunity to look at some pictures of that and he declined. It will be interesting to see how Sarah Sanders respond to all of that. In the past president Trump has hit former president Obama how he has bowed and offered gestures of friendship and so on when he's been overseas. So, some of that may come back to haunt president Trump in this briefing with Sarah Huckabee Sanders coming up in a few moments. I think the real reason they want to come out and have this briefing this afternoon and they're all sleep deprived like the rest of us, is of course they want to fire off on this IG report which does not paint a very good picture of how the FBI handled things during the 2016 campaign.
BALDWIN: Thank you very much. Let's go back to Laura Jarrett. Let's talk about the messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
[14:25:00] JARRETT: While the overall investigation outcome doesn't appear to be tainted based off the Inspector General's review, he has zeroed in on a period of time from late September to October 2016 where you might remember there was a delay in reviewing the e-mails related to the Clinton investigation found on former Congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop. On that score he doesn't say that Strzok is blamed for the delay, he said he can't rule out political bias from his mind. Strzok's lawyer said that he cannot rule out political bias. In fact, all facts contained in the record lead to the conclusion that the delay was caused by a variety of factors and miscommunications that had nothing to do with special agent Strzok's political views. In the inspector general report, they do find that he searched for evidence, it was broader than just Page and Strzok. He said could I find no evidence in the e-mails, texts or other documents that suggested an improper purpose.
BALDWIN: Laura, thank you for that. I want to get some quick reaction over on Capitol Hill from Democratic Congressman David Cicilline. Congressman, thank you so much for being with me.
REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure.
BALDWIN: First, just out of the gate, sir, your gut reaction to this whole thing, this IG report.
CICILLINE: I think the IG report confirms much of what we already knew, that Director Comey had a double standard, he improperly spoke about the Clinton investigation when it was reopened and made comments when the decision was made not to bring charges and remain silent on the investigation that was underway related to the connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians. It was a departure from the norms of the department. I think there's no question about that.
But I think what is very important is there is nothing in this IG report that has anything to do with the Mueller investigation. The president will try to conflate the two in an ongoing effort to undermine the ongoing investigation. This was about the handling of the Clinton investigation.
I think Mr. Comey departed from the practices and the norms of the department and that's clear and I think it disadvantaged Hillary Clinton obviously and helped Donald Trump, but what's very important now is that we not allow the president or any of his allies to use the findings of the report to try to interfere with this separate investigation by Mr. Mueller, which is under way and serious and I think the president's going to just continue to attack the department and attack the FBI and attack Robert Mueller and we have a responsibility to stand up and be sure that that investigation is completed.
BALDWIN: On your first point going back to Comey, u talk about this disadvantage, do you believe Comey's actions cost Hillary Clinton the election?
CICILLINE: I don't know that we're ever going to know that but for sure they put her at a very incredible disadvantage. This was a very close election. It was certainly a departure from the usual actions of the FBI. It was a very serious departure and he has acknowledged that in the report.
BALDWIN: The word is violate and deviate from the norms of the department, so when the president comes out and says he was justified in firing Comey and you're critical of Comey and you talk about the double standard, how can you argue against Trump firing him?
[14:30:00] CICILLINE: There's two different questions there, whether or not Director Comey should have been removed as a result of his behavior is one question. But what we know for certain is that the reason President Trump fired Director Comey is not because of the Clinton investigation. He told us that live on television in the interview with Lester Holt. He fired Director Comey because the Russia thing. Those are words that came from his mouth. The notion that President Trump who is at rallies saying lock her up, would fire Director Comey because he thinks he mishandled Hillary Clinton's investigation is laughable.
We know the reason he did. He said it from his own mouth, so we should not though there are separate independent reasons that Director Comey's conduct should be challenged, and he should be held accountable, that is not the reason the president discharged him. And we know that, we don't have to guess. The president told us in his own words from his own mouth on live television.
BALDWIN: As a result of this report, you know conservatives are already pointing to the missteps by the FBI. On the Senate side, Republican Lindsey Graham is already calling for a second special counsel to investigate this further. Do you think that is necessary?