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I.G. Report: Comey's Reason for Announcing Reopening Clinton Probe Was "Unpersuasive"; I.G. Report; "Texts from FBI Officials Strzok, Page Create Appearance of Bias in Investigative Decisions; Comey Responds to I.G. Report. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired June 14, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: 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?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: No, I don't think it's necessary. We've gone now another week where seemed you know what my constituents want to do? What is Congress doing to drive down the cost of health care, make drugs more affordable. When is Congress going to put together a bipartisan build to rebuild our country. Every week that we're assumed by conflicts and investigations means we're not getting the work done for the American people.
BALDWIN: Congressman David Cicilline, thank you so much for weighing in on this I.G. report. Thank you, sir.
James Comey, we are now getting reaction from James Comey himself. That is next.
[14:35:32] BALDWIN: So we are just now getting our hands on this opinion piece that James Comey has just written here in the wake of this I.G. report. One of the top lines of this highly anticipated watch dog report on the handling of this Clinton e-mail investigation, this report finds then FBI Director James Comey did not act with bias but did violate norms of the Department of Justice.
So we now have this reaction coming straight in from James Comey himself. I just want to read part of this for you. This is an opinion piece just published in the "New York Times." Here's one quote we're pulling: "I do not agree with all of the inspector general's conclusions, but," he writes, "I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism. All of our leaders need to understand that accountability and transparency are essential to the functioning of our democracy, even when it involves criticism. This is how the process is supposed to work."
Phil Mudd and Jeff Toobin are with me.
Phil Mudd, what do you think of Comey's words? PHIL MUDD, CNN: What he did violated principles. He should not have
done it and you get a get out of jail free card, you're allowed to not talk about those investigations. He continued to critique Hillary Clinton after he said the case is closed. Mr. Director, if the case is closed and you collected information on a U.S. citizen, you don't play school principal and judge whether that citizen did something wrong, according to your standards, once you decide not to press charges. I think it was an honorable statement he made. I hope the president has the same sense of the judicial system. But he was wrong. Get over it.
BALDWIN: Jeffrey Toobin?
Oh, we can't hear you. Do you have a microphone on?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYT: I do.
BALDWIN: OK. Now I hear you.
Go ahead, my friend.
TOOBIN: Good. Oh, well, I'll start from the beginning. I think Comey made some terrible, terrible decisions during this investigation. And I think Hillary Clinton was deeply damaged by it. I think the report is clearly correct in the sense that I don't think Comey behaved with bias. I don't think he was trying to elect Donald Trump president. But I think he did the wrong thing and I think Hillary Clinton paid a major, major price for it. I don't blame Comey for defending his conduct in the "New York Times." He's certainly within his rights. But I think the inspector general has the better of the argument about whether it was right, as Phil said, to denounce Hillary Clinton in the course of announcing not charging her, and especially within a few days before the election, reopening the case publicly. I think that will haunt Comey's reputation forever.
BALDWIN: For the rest of his life.
Another piece of this opinion piece from Comey, this I.G. report, "resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs. Clinton as we had concluded, although, that probably will not stop some from continuing to claim the opposite is true. This independent assessment will be useful to thoughtful people and an important contribution to the historical record."
Again, you understand he's defending himself, Phil Mudd, saying they found there would have been no charges against Hillary Clinton when he came out, you know, controversially when he did and said no charges.
MUDD: I think he's dead on, on that one. If you had looked over the past five to 10 years, length, I'd hate to know what you'd see. When I saw the judgment in that summer when Comey came out, I looked at it and said if it weren't Hillary Clinton, you wouldn't have much to debate about this. I think the real issue was Clinton herself and varying explanations on why she did this, not the DOJ declining to prosecute. I didn't think the case was very significant. TOOBIN: Also, it wasn't just Comey's decision. This was a considered
judgment by a lot of senior officials in the FBI, not the problem wasn't necessarily the conclusion. It was the way that Comey flounced it. He announced it with this barrage of criticism of hers, you put up or shut up. You file a case, in which case, you can criticize all you want or you don't file a case and then you say nothing. Comey tried to have it both ways, by not filing a case and criticizing Hillary Clinton, and that wasn't the way the system is supposed to work.
[14:40:15] BALDWIN: Let me bring in two more voices, including one guy who was actually with Comey when he found out he was fired. Josh Campbell, former FBI supervisory special agent and former aide to Comey and Mueller at the FBI. And Steve Cortes is with us, former chairman, Trump Hispanic Advisory Council.
Josh, what do you have make of this 500-page report faulting your former boss?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's certainly a day of reckoning about it looks like in this case there was wrong doing. The inspector determined there was policies not followed. The question p second question is, are these criminal charges or administrative charges? None are great. But are officials con dubbing themselves consistent with law and policy? This specific report, we have a team going through line by line. It does not appear there was any kind of criminal activity on the part of officials. The reasons that's important is if you look at the assault on the FBI over the last year and a half, that has been the call of some of the opposition saying these are crooks, they're corrupt, they tried to throw an election, which as an FBI agent, as an employee of the DOJ, you're essentially saying you violated your oath to uphold the Constitution for political reasons. This report does not say that. Again, a day of reckoning for the FBI. There's a lot to learn but it certainly we've been looking forward to.
BALDWIN: Steve --
STEVE CORTES, FORMER CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S HISPANIC ADVISORY COUNCIL: That is not true. That is just not true. Let me give you an actual quote from the report --
CAMPBELL: Please. Please.
CORTES: -- that refutes that exactly. I'm not talking about Comey, I'm talking about Strzok and Page, what the head of counterintelligence, not a minor figure, what he was texting to his mistress at the DOJ, Page, was, quote, according to the I.G. report, "Indicative of a biased state of mind." Quote, "Willingness to take official action to impact the candidate's electoral prospects." The report refutes exactly what you're saying.
BALDWIN: What does it say before and after that, Steve?
CORTES: That there was actual bias, that there was actual bias and corruption. Is it criminal? I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. But was it corruption? Absolutely it was.
CAMPBELL: Look, Steve, we're sitting here in the middle of breaking news trying to unpack a 568-page document. You can make your points, you can make your political reports. I think we owe it to our viewers, we don't know in this, as we go through it, but as of now
CAMPBELL: -- it appears that the officials -
CORTES: Peter Strzok said, "We will stop this." He said, in a text, "We will stop this." Who does he think he is?
CAMPBELL: Answer the question. Who was he talking about?
CORTES: What kind of a swamp rat he's talking about Donald Trump.
Who do you think he's talking about? Is he talking about himself? The FBI? We don't know.
CAMPBELL: I'm not going to get into a political back and forth with you. Our job was to unpack this.
CORTES: Is Trump going to become president. We're going to stop it, right. He said, "We will stop this." What kind of a swamp rat says something like that. And who do these people think we are?
By the way, those of us on Team Trump have been maligned for months, that we're paranoid, that we're over reacting, that we're reaching, when we talk about the swamp and these tactics. We now know for certain. We see it in actual writing, in texts, in this report that the swamp was doing everything possible to try to prevent Donald Trump. As an American, that's scary.
CAMPBELL: OK, let me respond to this.
CORTES: Donald Trump, thank goodness he had the guts not only to win the election but, post-election, to stand up to these swamp rats. And by the way, this is -
CAMPBELL: When you find a period, let me know, because I want to respond to that.
CORTES: Go ahead.
CAMPBELL: And say these texts are about abhorrent. These two individuals have done more damage to the FBI, talking about Page and Strzok. Incredibly bad judgement, which the inspector general has looked through and said, this is terrible judgement. My point to you and those who know the FBI will tell you, they do not represent the heart and soul of that organization.
CAMPBELL: Secondly, I'll say this, that within the FBI you have to understand that there's simply no way that someone in the position that Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were in could have politically impacted an investigation. And hear me out. What I mean by that is the organization is built on a system of redundancy and checks and balances. The investigation wasn't done by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
CORTES: Well, it was --
CAMPBELL: Excuse me. Excuse me. It was done by agents and analysts working hard to determine whether there was a fault here and whether it was criminal. And if they would have suspected that anyone at the top was politicizing their investigation, they would be screaming form the rooftops right now.
[14:44:45] BALDWIN: Steve, Steve, let me stop you from jumping in. I know you want to keep the conversation going, and we will.
I do need to get a quick break in. But this conversation is emblematic of what's going on around the country right now, especially when it comes to that text message exchange. It's not a good look for the FBI, that back and forth. But as the same time, are two thoughts of two individuals at the agency. We're going to keep this conversation rolling.
We're getting a quick break and we're waiting for Sarah Sanders to step behind that podium. How will the White House respond to that report today? Eighteen months in the making, out this hour.
We're back in a moment.
BALDWIN: We're back now, just going through all the findings of this report, 17, 18 months in the making, from the government watch dog, inspector general here. As we're learning more, as they've looked into the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail servers, we're getting some takeaways, mainly, as it pertains to now fired FBI Director James Comey and text messages between two folks at the FBI highly critical of the president.
Evan Perez is our senior justice correspondent. He's been going through this whole thing.
Evan, you know more about this than most. What is your biggest takeaway?
[14:49:56] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, I think my focus and my interest here is looking at the key period in this report. They're describing the period in which the FBI had discovered the hundreds of thousands of e-mails on the Anthony Weiner laptop and the three, almost four weeks it took the FBI do any serious investigative work to look into exactly what these were. That's a key period for all of this investigation, simply because, obviously, in late October James Comey decides to send that letter to Congress saying they're now going to take a look at it and investigate what was on the laptop.
Meanwhile the key people in the FBI, top leaders in the FBI, already knew that there was a lot of information that they need to take a look at. What this really paints is a terrible picture for the leaders of the FBI because it shows that there's a combination of incompetence. It appears they simply dropped the ball. They had no idea that people underneath them were not doing the work they were supposed to be doing.
I'll read you a part of this. They gave various explanations for why they didn't take action on the Weiner laptop, but the inspector general says, "We found these explanations to be unpersuasive justifications for not acting sooner. Given the importance of the information and the Clinton investigation, the group had sufficient information to take action early in October and knew it would need a new search warrant to review any of the Clinton-Abedin e-mails. "
When October comes along, late October comes along, one of the reasons why Comey decides to send this letter to Congress is he's afraid it's going to leak. He's afraid that this information is going to leak. According to the investigators from the attorney general, it looks like that was exactly what was going to happen. There were people in the FBI wondering, why are we sitting on this, not doing something about this? It's clear there were people inside the FBI who were about to do something about this if the FBI hadn't started investigating the Weiner laptop. So it tells us a lot about what was going on inside the FBI at the time.
It appears that Comey and some of the FBI leaders were more focused on defending the FBI, the FBI's reputation, their own reputation, and were not paying enough attention to what really they should have been doing, which was investigating this laptop to see whether there was any good reason to reopen this investigation.
Again, three, four weeks would have made a huge difference, again because they send this letter -- Comey sends this letter to Congress in late October, days before the election. Perhaps this could have been wrapped up a month before and that, perhaps, changed the course of history.
BALDWIN: I mean, Josh, Evan gives yet another example. I was listening to your conversation with Steve before we hit commercial break. Of course, you're proud of your work at the FBI. But coming out of this report, how concerned are you that law enforcement agencies are coming out damaged because of this?
CAMPBELL: It's extremely concerning. I would say this a damning report, that looks at the actions of the FBI and determines there were things that were done that were not done well, not done appropriately. This is a prime example to that. You think back, again, we can't change history, but what if those e-mails would have been reviewed a month earlier. WE know it took the FBI days to go through them and determine that these appear to be duplicates or there's nothing new to change our case. The fact it took place so close to the election, again, probably changes history. There's the old adage, don't Choke up to malice what can best be explained by incompetence. No one wants incompetent people, especially in the FBI with a mission that's so great and so important. But my concern is you have these political types, including down the street, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that are looking at the FBI and trying to broad brush and say that there was some political malfeasance that was criminal in nature when it appears this happened to be incompetence.
CAMPELL: Steve, I'm going to finish. And it appears that this happened to be incompetence, which, again, we have to take a look at, and if we need to clear house and clean house and bring in people --
CAMPBELL: let's do it. But I don't want to hear from politicos that this was done for political reasons.
CORTES: It not incompetent to say, "We will stop him." Think about --
CAMPBELL: You're back to that?
CAMPBELL: What does that have to do with the laptop thing we just talked about?
CORTES: It has everything to do with the corruption at the highest levels of the Department of Justice, of the FBI under President Obama. Again, this was not some minor figure. This was the head of counterintelligence saying --
(CROSSTALK) CAMPBELL: You need to get your facts straight.
CORTES: With all the resources that the FBI has, saying, "We will stop him," and then being appointed to the Mueller team. So I also will disagree with this idea that, well, maybe Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, maybe there was all kinds of misbehavior there, but it had nothing to do with the Mueller probe. That's not correct, because they've doubled dipped. They were part of the Obama DOJ, FBI, and then part of the Mueller probe. And, by the way, the Mueller probe --
[14:55:15] BALDWIN: Hand on. Let me stop you. It so important not to mix these two up, right? This I.G. report was specifically on Hillary Clinton's private e-mail investigation. This is entirely separate from the Russia Mueller investigation.
CORTES: No, it isn't because Strzok and Page were on that team.
BALDWIN: Hang on.
CORTES: It's not separate.
BALDWIN: But they're no longer with the FBI.
CORTES: But they were. But they were.
CAMPBELL: Strzok is still with the FBI, which amazes me.
BALDWIN: But go ahead. Go ahead, Josh.
CAMPBELL: Steve, let me just say, I understand you have a job here to do. But your arguments is a house of cards, and let me tell you why. If you look through this report, it indicates there was widespread leaking in the FBI. That's something they're faulted for. But your argument does not hold water, because think about what was going on. If, as you say, if Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and all the "corrupt" people, as you say, at the top of the FBI were out to get President Trump, there was widespread leaking, but no one leaked that President Trump's campaign was under investigation. If you wanted to stop him --
CAMPBELL: -- and go after him, that would have been the way to do it.
(CROSSTALK) CAMPBELL: What you would have us believe is that somehow they waited until the president got elected and then they would go after him. It's a house of cards.
CORTES: The reason that they didn't leak is because they were, by the way, spying on our campaign, totally illegally in my view.
CORTES: They were. That's not debatable. And guess what --
CAMPBELL: It is debatable.
CAMPBELL: It's highly debatable.
CORTES: They were finding nothing, no collusion, no malfeasance, no corruption within the Trump campaign.
BALDWIN: Steve, there was no spying. Come on now.
CORTES: When you send in a human asset --
CAMPBELL: Come on, you're on Spygate. Can you address the point I just made?
CAMPBELL: Can you address the point I just made?
CORTES: At the direction of a government under false pretenses, I don't know what you call that other than a spy.
CAMPBELL: So the FBI was out to get the president --
BALDWIN: Evan, Evan, Evan Perez --
BALDWIN: Hang on, guys.
CORTES: The spying revealed nothing. There was no --
BALDWIN: Evan reports on this. Evan knows the facts.
Correct, there was no spying? PEREZ: Right, this was not a spying operation. Look, I think the
problem for the FBI is that these e-mails and text messages, from Pete Strzok and Lisa Page, give the opening for exactly that kind of political argument that he made. That's what happens when you have conduct, misconduct, frankly, that was going on behind the scenes that we had no idea was going on behind the scenes. The I.G., the inspector general, addresses some of this. He says that some of these text messages does raise the question of whether or not the actions taken by some of these people in the FBI had some political bias. Again, it opens it up to these political arguments that are being made.
BALDWIN: Quick break. Everybody, stand by.
We're waiting for the White House briefing to begin momentarily.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.
[15:00:07] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BALDWIN: Here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.