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Comey: Trump Called Comey to Ask if We Could "Lift the Cloud". Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired June 7, 2017 - 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: But staying on what I just read, Jeffrey Toobin --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I'm sorry. Can you ask someone else? I'm trying to read --
BALDWIN: Are you distracted?
BALDWIN: Gloria Borger.
BALDWIN: You just failed. Get out.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What you clearly have is a president who is talking about the cloud that's interfering with his ability to get stuff done for the country but really what he's talking about is a cloud over his personal effect. Not over his agenda or ability to get anything done although I'm sure he felt it impacted him but his interests were self-interests in every single question. You once told me I wasn't under investigation and Comey clarifies that in his notes why he did or didn't do it but the president keeps calling him back about this cloud. Well, it's his cloud. What is it in "Peanuts," he walks around with -
BORGER: -- with the little cloud over his head.
BORGER: But I think this is a president that seems to be pretty much obsessed with clearing himself personally.
BORGER: And we know that he felt that way because that's what he wrote in his letter when he fired Comey, and that's the fact that he always wanted to get out about this. For some reason, he wanted to help Flynn. We understand that. But this is all about him.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Whoever said that President Trump was under investigation? Why did that --
CHALIAN: Why did that mean --
CHALIAN: He was so concerned about getting that statement out there when nobody had reported or said, and, quite frankly, Jim Comey in his testimony before Congress clearly didn't say that it was not part of what he was saying that they were investigating --
CHALIAN: -- and yet Donald Trump wanted it out there that he wasn't being investigated.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the irony is that because he did all that, this story has exploded and become exactly what he was trying to avoid, about him. It is about him because of having these completely inappropriate, potentially illegal conversations with the FBI director.
TOOBIN: I think one of the themes of this meeting is exonerate me. Say this, say that.
TOOBIN: And if that's all it was, I think it -- it would be wildly inappropriate --
BALDWIN: You mean the roll of the conversations?
TOOBIN: Right, if the conversations were, why don't you announce that I'm not under investigation and you could sort of understand why Trump felt like Comey had said that a couple of times, which I think is -- Comey didn't completely vindicate him but he did say things that, if you wanted to hear that you are not under investigation. But what makes this, frankly -- and if that's all it was, you know, this would be very bad and very inappropriate. But what makes this so deeply sinister is the Mike Flynn stuff. Is the --
BALDWIN: The "let it go" stuff? TOOBIN: To shut down the investigation of Mike Flynn. Because that
is not just asking for a statement, that's asking for FBI to take action, and that, I think is much more serious since the president is the boss of the executive branch, which includes the FBI.
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Two things I don't want to get lost in what you've been reading. Number one, Comey's repeated attempts to go to the Department of Justice and get some assistance from them, whether it's guidance or, you know, insulation in helping him and not getting it. So Sessions says I can't promise you I won't leave you alone with the president and in the passage that you just read, that he went to the acting deputy attorney general and said I want your guidance and didn't get any.
TOOBIN: This is very -- you make a very good point here because one of the Republican talking points since this story has come out --
TOOBIN: -- is if this is so terrible, why didn't you go to Sessions? Why didn't --
BORGER: He did.
TOOBIN: And he did. Several times.
RANGAPPA: The other point I want to quickly point out is the emphasis that he did not tell the agents working on the case because he's acting pre-emptively there in terms of not allowing the credibility of the rest of the investigation that's been going on to become accused of having political bias, which, you know, I think we can see coming. He nipped that in the bud by saying only a small number of people at the FBI level knew about this. The agents that had been investigating this all along have not been aware of this.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, but I do think that as we're sitting here at this table, we have to look at this through the eyes of what we think America is looking at through the eyes and we know a lot about this investigation. As Jeff was saying earlier, there are a lot of pieces to this investigation, to this story. They are all over the table right now. We're still trying to put them together. You are going to see the Trump allies seize upon this part of the letter that we will hear Jim Comey talk about tomorrow where he says that he was not under investigation. That's very important because that is going to be a narrative that will be pushed very hard to try to discredit everything else that we hear tomorrow, that we hear today, and hear the next day and as we move forward.
So I think a lot of people are going to look at, as Jeffrey said earlier, at Donald Trump and say, well, look, why couldn't they, because, you know what, even though all you people in Washington are saying we never said it about Donald Trump, it was the Trump campaign, it is the Trump administration, these are Trump associates. So in many ways, it was about Donald Trump. At least in the eyes of America.
[14:35:54] BORGER: So you get the sense of a president having this conversation with Comey where Comey seemed to be wanting to placate him in once sense or another to just kind of get him off the phone or -- you know, because again, Trump said at one point, you know, I hope you can find a way to get out that I'm not being investigated and then Comey says, not answering the question, Comey says, I told them I would see what we can do and we would do our investigative work well and as quickly as we could, which is to say, we got -- we've got to do our job. I can't do what you're asking me to do.
TOOBIN: But he didn't say no. he changed the subject.
BORGER: Right. He's very smart.
BALDWIN: On the dossier, though, I've got Shimon Prokupecz, one of our justice correspondents, producers. He's going to join this conversation we've been having.
Because you have a little more context on the dossier referenced in this phone call? What do you have?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN JUSTICE PRODUCEDR: It's kind of -- this is from one of the January meetings. We know early in January that the director personally briefed the president that Trump at the time was not president yet but he started briefing him on some of the content of the dossier. And it seems like in reading this stuff for the testimony tomorrow, Trump was obsessed over some of the contents. He called them salacious, and at one point, even asked Comey if he would investigate the claims in the dossier and Comey, in looking out for Trump, said to him, you know, this may not be a good idea because then I would essentially be investigating you, and people could infer that, and Comey said you're not under investigation. And it's something that I think Comey was very cognizant about. He did brief members of Congress that Trump was not under investigation and it was appropriate for him to do that but it had to be in the right setting. I think all the contacts here are very interesting and it's extremely detailed, sort of Comey-esque. Knowing Comey and covering him the last few years, this is how he is. He's meticulous. It's really --
BALDWIN: The details, Shimon.
PROKUPECZ: The details are incredible, down to the number of people serving food, the clock in the Oval Office. It's just very specific. All kind of lending credibility to what he is saying here. You know, I think this whole cloud, this notion of the cloud over Trump really began after CNN's reporting about the dossier. It was significant that the FBI director chose on his own then to go ahead and brief Trump about the dossier and the contents. It was probably a very difficult thing for Comey to do, given some of the allegations. But nonetheless, it was extremely important to do that given that he was about to become the president.
BALDWIN: Shimon, thank you.
You have covered Comey for a while, and he is pretty darn meticulous in some of these detailed meetings and phone conversations.
Back over to you, just listening to Shimon, and he is right about the fact that Trump called it salacious and he's almost fixated on the dossier and clear me.
CHALIAN: Yeah. You don't often read a document from an FBI director that the president called me to say he didn't hang out with hookers. That is not like a normal case event.
So certainly, this is a bit different. I want to pick up -- I think Mark Preston is totally right that the Trump White House, his allies are going to seize upon these lines about Comey explaining to the president that he's not under investigation in that moment of time. The problem with that -- that he is what they are going to seize on. Totally ignore what Jeffrey is saying, which is what their push back will be, which misses the most serious thing here is about Flynn and that stuff about whether or not Trump is under investigation, misses the most serious point about why Jim Comey is testifying.
[14:40:05] BALDWIN: No, go ahead.
CHALIAN: I want to make a second point. And there's a larger political point. The context in which Jim Comey is going to go and say these words tomorrow is we have new poll numbers for the American people and where they are on this. 56 percent. That's a sizeable majority, believe that the president interfered with the investigation. That is where a majority of the American people are as Jim Comey goes to say this.
BALDWIN: 34 percent in this new poll.
CHALIAN: That's the context at which it's not as if Donald Trump has some reservoir of support in terms of the majority of the country to push back against what Jim Comey is saying. His numbers are going in the wrong direction, and a great majority of the country thinks he interfered.
BALDWIN: Let me quickly interject, as we are dissecting this statement. Manu Raju is up on the Hill and he's getting reaction from Senator John McCain, who will be one of the questioners questioning the fired FBI director. And his word describing this opening statement, in a word, "disturbing." BASH: Well, no question. And I know that there's one sort of school
of thought that it's going to be -- I'm talking about how the Republican response --
BASH: -- how the Trump White House responds is going to be and that is he didn't do anything wrong legally at the beginning and that was the whole point of this.
The other thing that I'm getting, just texts from Trump loyalists, come on, you know this is all political. And, you know what, there are people who have legal hats, or commonsense hats, that are going to say, no, it's not political. But you can be sure that they are going to say, this is a man scorned. This is a man fired by the president and he's got an ax to grind. I am not saying that that is correct, but I'm just giving you a preview of what I'm getting of what the Trump defense is going to be.
RANGAPPA: And this is why the memos matter.
RANGAPPA: Because he wrote the memos before he was fired.
RANGAPPA: He wrote them -- I'm reading in the very beginning of this, January 6th, he said, "I began to type this on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting.
RANGAPPA: And the other thing I'll point out is, in this first conversation, which you haven't read yet, Brooke, and I'll save it if you want me to, is he does assure him on this January 6th meeting that -- he assures the president that there was no counterintelligence investigation.
RANGAPPA: That's an important distinction.
RANGAPPA: Because counterintelligence investigations are fundamentally different in purpose and scope and methodology than a criminal investigation. In a counterintelligence investigation, you're looking at foreign intelligence activity in the United States. Have people been targeted, do foreign adversaries now have access to sensitive information or secrets, for example. That is very different than a criminal investigation, which is a separate entity. It's a separate division of the FBI and Department of Justice. He makes it clear at the January 6th meeting that it was not a --
(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Why does that matter?
BORGER: It does matter.
TOOBIN: This is one of --
BORGER: Because it's one of the three --
BORGER: Because the president interpreted it as I'm free and clear. A counterterrorism investigation is narrow. It's very, very narrow.
Comey's smart. Comey chooses his words
RANGAPPA: Very carefully.
BORGER: -- very carefully. And I think that's what -- I think that's what we see here.
And I also think that we see Comey, in many ways, trying to get the president to go elsewhere on this. I mean, Comey reached out as much as he could. You can imagine that. He's not getting any responses from the people he wanted to get responses to. And then he tells the president on April 11th, when the president says the cloud is still hanging over my head, he said, well, I tried. I passed the request to the acting deputy attorney general and he hadn't heard back and then the president says, well, maybe I'll get my people to call the acting deputy attorney general. Huh? So you see a little bit of -- I don't want to say naivety on the part of the president. That Comey is trying to say to him, I'm doing this by the book --
BORGER: -- and here's what I'm doing and the president's trying to say --
BALDWIN: Short cuts.
BORGER: -- that's not enough.
BALDWIN: Let me get a response. I've got Norm Eisen with us. He's a former White House ethics czar under President Obama, a former ambassador, and a CNN contributor.
Mr. Ambassador, I don't know how long you have been listening to this or how much of this opening statement from James Comey. We heard the statement from Senator McCain. He finds it disturbing. What's your response?
[14:45:01] NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brooke, thanks for having me. I have read the statement and have listened to the fascinating
conversation among the panelists.
I think it's remarkable. Clearly, Director Comey is looking ahead to the day beyond the hearing tomorrow when he may have to testify about this, whether it's in an obstruction proceeding, in an impeachment proceeding or something else, and it is like trial testimony with the detail, the color of the room, what was served for dinner. It has the ring of truth. It captures Trump's own voice.
I agree with the panel that the most troubling thing in here is the direct request from Flynn and remarkably Comey is troubled by it, and without saying it would not be appropriate for a fact recital of this kind to say there was obstruction, he notes how troubled he was and documents it and addresses how to deal with this kind of an extraordinary intrusion on an investigation and that Flynn conversation is another nail in Trump's coffin. This constitutes, I believe now, beyond a prima fascia case of obstruction. We may still hear the negative case, but I think this is another turn of the screw for President Trump on the obstruction-of-justice front.
BALDWIN: Mr. Ambassador, stand by.
Jeff Toobin, you heard him.
TOOBIN: I don't think it's that complicated. When you tell an FBI, the director of the FBI to shut down an investigation or ask, you know, the crime of obstruction of justice takes place regardless of whether you succeed in obstructing or not. The crime, Section 1503, says obstruct or attempt to obstruct. Now, since he's the president, I think there's a very clear -- unclear constitutional question about whether he could ever be charged with a crime while he's president. But certainly, if Congress decides to look at this as a high-crime and misdemeanor, they will look at obstruction of justice. And it doesn't matter that Comey had the integrity to protect the FBI. What matters, it seems to me, unless it's refuted, is that Trump tried to obstruct the FBI.
BALDWIN: Ambassador Eisen, how would you respond to that?
EISEN: Well, I agree with Jeff. I will say that if that were the only conversation, as troubling as it is, if there had been no firing at the end of this, no loyalty demand at the beginning of it. If you didn't have a whole pattern, you'd have a legal argument that Trump has the constitutional right to direct investigations but the pattern is what takes it out of the argument which you're hearing from commentators about Trump's right to direct Comey. The pattern takes it out of that and moves us into the land of obstruction because of the test, Brooke, corrupt intent. And I think that this now, with the additional detail in the Comey memo, this moves us into the same realm as Nixon's obstruction, maybe worse. This is the equivalent of the Nixon tapes. And we are in very choppy waters.
BALDWIN: This is the equivalent of the Nixon tapes. Let me follow up quickly before we bring in two more voices. What do you say to Trump supporters who say this is political ax to grind, guy was fired?
EISEN: Well, I think President Trump has already lost that battle. The American people, majority of them we have heard have made up their mind but it's not political. I think the document itself speaks to the patience of Jim Comey and the American people will be watching tomorrow. Comey is a master at testimony. He's at his best. Again, like a trial witness, he himself a prosecutor trial lawyer, he knows how that game is played. He's going to be convincing and he's going to be credible. Trump is wrong-footed. He's already losing the argument, scrambling to catch up. Releasing the statement today is just another devastating blow to him. So I don't think those political arguments are going to fly.
[14:50:07] BALDWIN: OK. Norm Eisen, thank you for your time.
As we're all listening to this opening statement released ahead of tomorrow's testimony on Capitol Hill, now fired FBI Director James Comey sitting in front of and being questioned by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
I have here with me now herein Washington, David Jolly, Republican attorney and former Florida congressman; and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and the former political director for George W. Bush. So two Republicans.
Matt Schlapp, to you first.
Ambassador Eisen said this is the equivalent of the Nixon tapes.
MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION & FORMER POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: I like Ambassador Eisen very much. I understand that his politics are not my politics. I think it's way hyperbole to say that. This is one man's account of a conversation. It's a set of notes. It's exactly what we expect from Jim Comey. We've all worked with Jim Comey during the Bush years. He's a grandstander. He likes to be the honest man. He's going to play that role on Thursday.
The whole question about all of this is whether the FBI acted appropriately during the campaign season, which is why this whole thing started. Then we have the second set of facts about the potential collusion with Russia. All of this has been decided by the Trump administration to go to a special counsel. We are through the gate on what the FBI's role here is. We are now at the point where we have a special counsel, and that is the appropriate place for this to be. We can all argue on the Republican side who should have recused and whether it should have happened. It is where we are. And all the facts are going to come out.
And the facts that matter are all of these things around this potential collusion. And I have to say one thing. Having been in the White House that's being investigated by a special counsel, it's one of the most stressful things you can go through, and the one thing everyone is told by the FBI is whether or not they are a subject or a person of interest. It is absolutely human nature to want to know whether you're a subject. And Donald Trump was told from the very beginning of this that he was not. And it's total commonsense that you would want to make this clear publicly, in a sense the FBI did this all, in a sense, publicly, because there were so many leaks.
So I think if everybody would breathe a bit, I agree -- this is -- I agree this is wow, and I haven't even gotten through it. This is exactly what Jim Comey does. He has garnered the spotlights and cameras all around the world. What we have to do and journalists have to do is listen to all sides of the story and let the American people see the facts. And if there's wrongdoing, I guarantee you something, that this country will do the right thing by that.
DAVID JOLLY, REPUBLICAN ATTORNEY & FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Welcome to infrastructure week in Washington, D.C.
But I'm not sure I agree with matt on this. We are in serious --
SCHLAPP: I am the only person who is saying this.
JOLLY: We are in serious times, historically, but let's not forget, we are still in a "he said/he said" environment. And Republicans still control the House of Representatives, were any charges or any -- frankly, they would be having hearings with academics but they are not going to do that because Republicans are in control.
I do think what happens going forward, it's not much of a surprise. The big question was, is Comey going to actually acknowledge and say, yes, I felt like Trump was trying to influence me.
Now is the chase for evidence, for tapes, and for documents, third- party corroborating documents.
Listen, it was President Trump himself who brought up the idea of White House tapes if you want to talk Nixonian. Where is the evidence? And, frankly, Comey's testimony tomorrow lights a fire on that pursuit of third-party evidence. Perhaps it is tapes. That is a question now. Did the president have White House tapes, but also Comey, known for covering his trails, known for creating written documents, like we're about to see. Does Jim Comey have tapes? Because at some point, it's going to require that type of affirmation to get a Republican Congress to move on a Republican --
TOOBIN: But Comey tapes don't come until the second hour of the movie.
Just slow down, OK?
JOLLY: He is always two steps ahead of this president. Always two steps.
BALDWIN: Is that legal?
TOOBIN: I don't know if it's legal, but if he had tapes, he would have said he had tapes.
PRESTON: Let me ask Matt this, though. If you look at where President Trump is right now, he's at high 70s, low 80s in approval ratings with Republicans. It doesn't seem that anything he does is really dinging him. If, in fact, as Jeffrey said the most damning thing out of this document is obstruction of justice, and he's found guilty, do you really the supporters of President Trump are going to care?
SCHLAPP: I don't see -- I didn't get through the whole thing.
SCHLAPP: I listened to networks on your network, over and over again, I listened to people like Alan Dershowitz say this could be a political issue but it actually isn't a legal question. And I know you're a lawyer and you can disagree with me, but there a lot of lawyers say actually the FBI director reports to the president of the United States, and the president directs the FBI director. Now, the president I served, George W. Bush, was advised by his White House counsel to not meet with the FBI director one-on-one. We had him on and recently talked to him about that. And that insulates the president more. So you could have all kinds of questions about "would have, could have, should have."
[14:55:37] SCHLAPP: But there's not obstruction here --
BALDWIN: Congressman, can you respond to that?
JOLLY: We don't always want to go to impeachment, but the legal question is important as the legal question, and those are two different lines.
And to your point, no, I don't think the face ever turns. Look at what the president has done in the past three days. He's attacked our allies, the media, gun control advocates. He continues to feed his base. What he learned from the Paris Accord is his base comes out and pat him on his back when he does these things.
JOLLY: I think that's what he'll do here.
SCHLAPP: The main focus of your question, which is, when it comes to picking somebody like Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, when it comes to pulling out of the Paris agreement, stopping these regulations, when it comes to trying to cut taxes and get the economy moving, there's no question that his base sticks with him. It's interesting. It's not a completely Republican base. It's more of a mixed base than we've see in the president in a long time. And they stick with him because he's doing the types of things he says he would do.
And I agree that the Russia investigation has been something that has hallowed him politically. And I think all of us are a bit exhausted from, is there something here? Let's see if there's fire. There is an investigation going on. The nation is a bipartisan --
BALDWIN: The approval rating is at 34 percent.
CHALIAN: Let's separate out his base and the coalition of voters that got him elected. Those are two different things.
CHALIAN: He got elected with 36 percent of -- 46 percent of the vote. That included a lot of Independents. They are now completely leaving him. So it was part of his electoral coalition but not necessarily part of his base of activist supporters who show up at rallies and what have you. That's a smaller slice. We know that 80 percent approval mark among Republicans, that Mark was citing, historically, that's a bit of a danger sign in your own party, if you're below 80.
CHALIAN: So why his core base supporters I totally agree are there, he is losing some of the electoral coalition that put him in the Oval Office.
SCHLAPP: If you're saying that impeachment, I agree with you. Going into something like that, that is a problem. That is so many steps beyond where we are.
Let's look at where we are. This is a president that is in a position where he's got a window to change the direction of things. Bill Clinton had this problem when his wife tried to rewrite the health care laws and he lost Congress and he had to retool this whole approach and said the era of big government was over. Ronald Reagan faced this moment when he had Iran-Contra and his second term was spinning down into the dirt, and he brought in Howard Baker. He put things together again. This is not unusual for presidents to find themselves, especially early, in a perilous situation. I'm not going to sugar coat it for you. I think he's in a tough position. Jim Comey is going to make his life a living hell as much as he can. And it's up to us to look at the facts of the wrongdoing. Yes, there's so much drama here. But until I see wrongdoing, I'm not going to be somebody who says that there's wrongdoing.
BALDWIN: Gloria? Preet Bharara just tweeted, now fired U.S. attorney general.
SCHLAPP: I bet it's not positive.
BALDWIN: "Obstruction aside, it's never OK for a president of the United States privately to ask an FBI director to drop a criminal investigation. Extraordinarily wrong and dumb."
Matt -- your interpretation of that -- and then I want to ask Matt a question.
TOOBIN: At a minimum, that's true. That's why presidents have these policies for how the FBI should interact with the White House. And this was true under Obama, under George W. Bush. That for precisely this reason, you don't want to have interaction about individual investigations between the president and the director of the FBI.
I think Preet Bharara's tweet begs the larger question about obstruction of justice. I mean, I don't think that a lot of people are going to argue that it wasn't wrong and dumb. But obstruction of justice is a crime. It's an impeachable offense. That's the issue that I think is the focus now. And I think it's a really problematic place for the president.
BALDWIN: So my question to you, following up, and let's give the president the benefit of the doubt. To your point about, if there's this cloud swirling, and if you're the guy in the Oval Office --
SCHLAPP: And you know you're not a target and you know they're not investigating you --
BALDWIN: Well, well, that he keeps asking, right? And nobody said --
SCHLAPP: Because he --