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Comey: Trump Said of Flynn, "I Hope You Can Let This Go"; Comey: Trump Said, "I need Loyalty, I Expect Loyalty"; WH On Comey Statement: Timing of Release "Interesting"; Comey: Trump Called To Ask How We Could "Lift The Cloud"; Comey: Told Trump He was Not Under Investigation; Comey: I Did Not Tell Trump To Let Go Of Flynn Probe; Comey's Statement Raises New Question For Tomorrow's Hearing; Comey: Trump Said He Wasn't Involved With Hookers in Russia; Trump Atty.: President Feels "Totally Vindicated"; Comey Details "Awkward Silence" During Dinner With Trump; Intel Chiefs Won't Say If Trump Asked Them To Sway Russia Probe; Intel Chiefs Decline To Answer Trump Question At Senate Hearing. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[00:00:23] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. From Washington, where the stakes frankly could not be hired, tomorrow, a fired FBI Director James Comey will tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that the President of the United States asked him to drop the investigation with his fired National Security Advisor for possible improper contact with Russia.
He'll tell the committee that the President did so after asking others, including the Attorney General to leave the room. Those are just two headlines of many from his opening remarks, which the committee released today. It's no exaggeration to say they hit this town with some seismic force pushing today's other intelligence committee hearings which were contentious, even combative in their own right, almost off the stage. That's because no testimony has been so hotly anticipated nor potentially so consequential to a sitting president in decades.
We'll look at all the angles and implications tonight, starting with CNN's Phil Mattingly.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nine one-on-one interactions with President Trump, three in person, and six on the phone, detailed through FBI director James Comey's testimony. Comey describing one meeting with the President and other counterterrorism officials in the Oval Office, where all but Comey were asked to leave the room. "I want to talk about Mike Flynn," Comey quotes the President is saying, referring to his recently fired National Security Adviser.
"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go." Comey says Trump told him, "He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey goes on to say he prepared an unclassified memo of that conversation, understanding that the President was requesting he drop any probe into Flynn. He shared that assessment with his FBI leadership team but declined to share it with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the assumption that Sessions would soon be recused.
While those details were kept closely held, Comey says the next time he spoke to Sessions, "I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me." Comey also recounts the private dinner when the President allegedly told him, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Comey describes his reaction as this, "I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other, in silence."
Comey also seems to corroborate what Trump wrote in his letter firing the FBI Director, that he had first informed the President-elect on January 6th, he wasn't the target of a counterintelligence investigation. There's a point that based on Comey's recounting, aid at Trump and dominated much of their interactions after Trump assumed office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: During the phone call he said it and then during another phone call he said it. So he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.
LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: Did you call him?
TRUMP: In one case I called him, in one case he called me.
HOLT: And did you ask him, "Am I under investigation?"
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, "If it's possible, would you let me know, am I under investigation?" He said, "You are not under investigation."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Comey says Trump stressed the cloud of the Russia probe was interfering with his ability to make deals for country. Trump telling Comey at one point, "We need to get that fact out." And another saying explicitly, "He hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn't being investigated." And reiterating the point in their final phone call. Trump adding this time, "Because I've been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know."
Comey says one of the primary reasons he wouldn't say publicly Trump wasn't under investigation was, "Because it would create a duty to correct should that change."
COOPER: Phil Mattingly joins us now. So how the White House and President Trump allies reacting to this?
MATTINGLY: Vindication, that is what you're hearing both from Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, and also the Republican National Committee, which is serving as kind of the de facto rapid response operation for James Comey's testimony tomorrow.
There is really, Anderson, when you look at it, they're only focused on a very small sliver of those seven pages we've all been pouring over for the last couple of hours, the part where they make clear that multiple times Jim Comey told the President that as it currently stood he was not the target of a counterintelligence investigation.
As we also noted in that piece, Anderson, Jim Comey made very clear that was at that moment in something he didn't want to say publicly because there's a chance perhaps in the future he'd have to correct that.
COOPER: You've also been talking to senators, what are their expectations for tomorrow's hearing?
MATTINGLY: Well, look, obviously they have all been digesting the seven pages. And the interesting element here is this testimony was released at the behest of Jim Comey. Why? According to a source familiar with Comey's thinking here, he wanted senators to have the time to read this, get their heads around and this source say there is an understanding.
[00:05:06] This is a complex narrative. He wanted everybody prepared in advance of the hearing. What are they doing to prepare? Well, Mark Warner, top Democrat on the Committee, had a two hour prep session according to one aide, several other Democrats saying the same thing. What they want out of tomorrow is more than just this testimony. They want to layout as many facts and details as they possibly can.
One interesting note, though, the chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Burr, saying he didn't -- after reading this testimony didn't believe he saw any wrongdoing at all. You're going to see a lot of conflicting views on what they actually saw on this testimony, some hope tomorrow from Democrats that Jim Comey can clear up any misconceptions on the Republican side and make the case for them as this investigation continues, Anderson.
COOPER: Certainly a big night. Phil, thanks very much.
Big panel, Paul Begala is here, Jason Miller, Mary Katharine Ham, Jeffrey Toobin, April Ryan, Carl Bernstein, David Axelrod and Phil Mudd.
Jeff Toobin, earlier today you said, I want to get this right, you said, "If that is an obstruction of justice, I don't know what it is.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And I think that is true. When you look at the full scope of activity here by the President when you see him, you know, demanding loyalty and then making the demand once he is -- I mean, also, I mean, think about the scene in the Oval Office, I mean it's just astonishing. He asks the vice president of the United States and the Attorney General to leave. Doesn't that suggest that he wants real privacy?
COOPER: And Jared Kushner sort of lingers and then he tells Jared Kushner to leave.
TOOBIN: And he told Kushner to leave. He wants Comey alone and what is he do? He says, "Can we make the investigation of Michael Flynn go away," repeatedly asked him, "Let him go." That to me is obstruction of justice. And the reason you know it is obstruction of justice is that when Comey doesn't end the investigation Trump fires him. That's a pretty compelling case here.
COOPER: Mary Katherine Ham, is it obstruction of justice here?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, actually, I saw -- I've been somebody who along the way has been more likely to believe Comey and be sympathetic of him than others, and to believe him more than Trump. I was most surprised to find that Trump had told the truth about him saying he was not investigated -- he was not under investigation.
And the interesting thing to me about the meeting alone is that when you read this document it turns out Comey is the one who set the precedent for them meeting alone in that first meeting at Trump Tower. And then the subject of the conversation was that Comey wanted to tell him on this personal, salacious part of the counterintelligence that he was not under investigation personally for that.
The thing that is interesting to me about that is somebody who has lays most of Trump's fault at the feet of incompetence versus nefariousness is that if that was the President that was set, I'm not all that surprised that he did it several more times.
This is not to exonerate him. I just think that why do we not talk about the fact that the first meeting they had Comey was like, "We're going to sit down together alone and then I'm going to tell you that you're not under investigation for this part of the investigation."
COOPER: Carl Bernstein, do you see it was an obstruction of justice?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's early in the process and I think this information is devastating to the President of the United States.
BERNSTEIN: Devastating, but there is a long way to go.
COOPER: Why is it devastating?
BERNSTEIN: It's devastating because it shows the pattern leading to him firing Comey because Comey is pursuing this investigation and the President is saying, "Don't pursue this investigation. Don't pursue the Flynn case." But more important, the facts in these investigations are closing in on the President of the United States and at the same time we need more information. We have a sprawling investigation being conducted by special counsel. We need more facts. We need -- I keep referring to the best obtainable version of the truth.
There is gray area in here. There has been gray area all along, but nonetheless what we continually see was the President trying to impede, obstruct, and I'm not saying obstruct justice in the legal sense, impede, obstruct, demean, shred the ongoing investigations into the conduct of him, his campaign, those around him, and this is more of the same, but the most devastating yet, but we do need a lot more information. A long way to go and were just in the first stages of that.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The questions loom about obstruction of justice. Jeffrey may be hitting the nail squarely on the head. But there seems to be either someone who doesn't know what's going on or a clear abuse of power. And going back to that meeting that you talked about where he asked the vice president and he asked the Attorney General to leave, Reince Priebus even came back to save him.
COOPER: Right. Reince Priebus sort of stuck his head in the door.
RYAN: Yes to say, you know, "I'm here," you know. And he was trying to save him because he knew that you're not supposed to do this. That is what I'm thinking from working around prior administrations. We have at least two administrations here and they -- he was trying to save him understanding you are not supposed to be in that room alone with your FBI director. So the question now is, where is the fire? Because there is a lot of smoke.
[00:10:04] And when you were talking about meeting prior to at Trump Tower, he was president-elect, OK?
HAM: No, I know that -- let me make that distinction. I'm not sure --
RYAN: But you cannot qualify that.
HAM: Do you see what I'm saying?
RYAN: No, I don't see what you're saying. What you have to understand is, as president-elect, he is --
HAM: You, yourself said this might be an instance of people not knowing what they're doing and that's what I'm saying.
COOPER: One at a time. One at a time.
RYAN: But this is why Comey probably came to set the parameters and I've talked to Axelrod prior to that, and I was asking him, "Look, you know, when you came into the White House, did you not get the protocol understanding about what happens, what you can and cannot do?" There is a lot of stuff that's arrived, but he was president-elect at the time. You cannot hold him at that standard for this.
HAM: I am not holding him at the standard. I'm saying that Comey made that distinction but Trump did not because, as you said, there's a chance that they don't know what they're doing.
RYAN: I don't see your argument. I'm sorry.
COOPER: David, I mean, Director Comey made the point that he only spoke alone with President Obama, your former boss, twice in person, never on the phone. He recalled nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in just four months. What do you make of that?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, my recollection is that when the President appointed judges and I think when he appointed Comey, the last thing he said to them after he made the appointment was, "This is the last time you and are likely to be together alone in a room," because he understood that there had to be an independence for the FBI director, for judges, and that president should not have that kind of relationship with those appointees in those offices. So the thing that I would say is I think Mary Katherine is right that there is a case to be made for ignorance and incompetence. I think there are some of that.
RYAN: Not a flattering case.
AXELROD: But on the Flynn matter, it's very hard to do and not just because what's in this memo, but because of what we already know. We know, for example, President Obama warned him about Flynn. We know the acting Attorney General came to the White House and said, "He lied." And the vice president went out and repeated that lie and they didn't tell the vice president and they didn't act for 18 days until this became public and the next day he is calling Comey in for dinner.
So the question is, what is it about Flynn that has the President so frantic that he would delay firing him, that he would ask the FBI director in extraordinary way not to go after him? I think that is what needs to be pursued.
COOPER: Jason, I mean, the President said or the President's term he said he feels vindicated by Comey's statement. The President's own comments of last month contradict another part of Comey's statement about letting the Flynn investigation going. I just want to play what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER BAKER, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back --
TRUMP: No. No. Next question. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So Comey is going to refute that directly tomorrow, is that a problem for the President?
JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: No, I don't think. So I mean, I think if you look at it, there is a lot of unclarity from Director Comey's comments as to what these conversations actually entailed. Now keep in mind, we're only hearing written commentary for one side of this conversation, we're not getting it from both sides.
But I think the fact that Director Comey who I think everyone here in this panel and by all regards people say he's very meticulous, he's very detailed type person. If he is going to go through and write these detailed notes and not go and say that there is obstruction of justice, and not go and take this to Attorney General Sessions, or not go and report this to White House Counsel Don McGahn, or go and make this public as we've seen in the past where he had these previous press conferences where -- we even saw in his written testimony today words like compelled and instincts. So he wasn't compelled by his instincts to go and make this public and do something. But, again, all this --
TOOBIN: He did go to Sessions --
BERNSTEIN: He did go to Sessions.
TOOBIN: -- and he said, "Don't let me in the room with that man."
COOPER: One at a time. One at a time. One at a time. Jeffrey's thought and then response.
TOOBIN: Wait, I mean, you know, this has been --
TOOBIN: -- a talking point from the very beginning about like, why didn't Session -- why didn't Comey go to Sessions? He did go to Sessions and he said, "Don't leave me alone in the room with that man."
MILLER: But he didn't raise the specter of obstruction of justice.
BERNSTEIN: That's not his job.
MILLER: And again, he absolutely should have said that.
COOPER: One at a time. One at a time.
MILLER: -- can't come back now and try to play the obstruction of justice game --
RYAN: It is not a game. COOPER: OK, Paul, what about that?
RYAN: It did happen.
COOPER: I mean he's saying he didn't do obstruction of justice at the time. The others have argued, well, maybe in each particular incident he didn't see it, but it is more of the pattern. But how do you see it?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I do think that's where the hearing will go tomorrow and should go. What did you do with that? When the president said to you, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go." That does seem like very direct obstruction of justice.
He went to the man conducting the investigation, asked him to stop the investigation. That's pretty clear after making it clear that he wanted the FBI director to feel gratitude to him for keeping his job.
[00:15:00] The question is why didn't he go with that knowledge to someone? I don't know who, the head of the FBI, maybe the agent.
PHIL MUDD, CNN ANALYST: Or even they used the term.
BEGALA: But this is where I think you guys are making a huge mistake, when the President and his allies, this is vindication, because it does vindicate this talking point that President Trump had, that said three times to the FBI Director Comey.
MUDD: Which is huge?
BEGALA: It is huge. But when you give that a way, you can't impeach Comey on everything else. Comey is basically -- it's not basically. Comey is saying the President of the United States is a liar, the president of the United States obstructed justice. You're saying, well, although he did confirm one thing that Trump said, I think, honestly, I just think, you can't refute Comey's testimony when you have now embraced Comey's testimony. I'll take the entirety of it. I'm perfectly ready to believe that three times Comey did say, you're not personally under investigation.
MUDD: And that's the biggest news today.
BEGALA: It is not the biggest as he went and tried to stop a federal investigation.
MUDD: The biggest news is the President was proven right.
BERNSTEIN: One of the most extraordinary things I've ever heard and I think we ought to stop it. Jason, you just said the President was proven right, President ought to be of the United States ought to be proven right 9/10 of the time on everything he said.
HAM: Actually people elected him knowing that was the case. I mean I'm a Trump critic.
BERNSTEIN: We expect the President to be right 9/10 of the time.
COOPER: So we haven't heard from you, I mean, the President, according to Director Comey, the President asked for a loyalty pledge, saying, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." There was this long awkward silence where they're just staring each other. How unusual is it for the President of the United States, he asked the FBI director for loyalty?
MUDD: He didn't ask for loyalty. What he asked him for was, I want you to do what I'm asking you to do.
COOPER: So when he is saying loyalty, he is saying --
MUDD: And look if the FBI director, I worked for the special counsel for four and a half years down the hall, Director Mueller, if he ever called me in and said, "Phil, I want your loyalty. My first question would have been, what's wrong, why are you asking me? What did I do that led you to believe that I can't be loyalty to you?" The answer from the direct of the FBI is, "Of course, I will be loyal but if there is a federal investigation where facts leader in a certain direction, I've got to follow that investigation."
That conversation wasn't about loyalty. It was about, "Do what I want you to do." And the proof of it partly is in him also asking, "Do you want to stay on the job?" It's a 10-year term. Why is the President asking if you want to stay on the job? And second, "I want you here without the Attorney General because I don't want him to hear it."
AXELROD: So I am no lawyer, much to the chagrin of my late mother, but I will -- but, you know, I could see where the president's lawyers might say, look, he did not order Comey to do anything. He simply vouched for a guy who was his friend and said he hoped it worked out.
But the thing, Jason, that makes it more insidious is the fact that he was fired. If you haven't been fired, I think you'd have a much better case there.
RYAN: But not only fired. On Twitter, talking about, I hope there's not a tape of this conversation. And the question now is, he versus he, who do you believe? And it unfortunately, it seems like America right now is listening to Comey. They are not totally believing their President of the United States. And I'm going to say another thing. Tomorrow, who tries to keep a grown man busy during the day to keep him distracted from something that the American public is watching so he won't tweet? That's another thing.
RYAN: No, no, no. No, no, no. That is true. Tomorrow at 12 --
MUDD: That's silly.
RYAN: No, it's not silly. Tomorrow, at 12:30, he has a speech.
MUDD: It's silly to think that the President is going to be let around like that. That's -- I mean, the President --
RYAN: His tweets have caused his own party to say, get off of Twitter, Mitch McConnell.
HAM: Look, I think it's clear --
MILLER: Look, I think the tweets are smart.
HAM: It is clear to me that the President is a person who acts inappropriately at times, who lies at times. I think many people actually voted for him knowing that. And an exit poll said, yes, we know that he does those things. So that's like a baseline and when you're saying, it's pretty low bar to have this part confirmed, I'm a Trump critic, so I'm like, oh, I'm actually sort of surprised by that.
I think the question is, not whether you're acting inappropriately, but whether that amounts to an obstruction of justice and frankly on a panel sometimes, it feels like a lot of reporters have already come to a conclusion about that before they've heard and even speak.
RYAN: I have been in that room, and in that place, 150 feet from Oval Office for 20 years. So I'm not condemning him. But I'm going to tell you this, there's a lot of smoke and there are a lot of alarm bells. So --
MUDD: And that's the media -- well, that's the media of creation.
RYAN: That's not the media -- oh my goodness.
MUDD: Yes, it's absolutely is.
RYAN: But Comey's letter is media of creation?
MUDD: There were sources --
RYAN: I'm not going to take that. I'm sorry.
MUDD: There were sources --
RYAN: You take that one. I'm not going to take that one.
MUDD: But we have an ongoing investigation.
COOPER: Nobody can hear at home.
MILLER: There were sources who were saying on this network and another networks that Comey was going to testify that he did not tell the President that he was on --
COOPER: Right. And those sources were wrong and CNN corrected that.
COOPER: But I will also point out that the vast majority -- I mean, basically, Comey has confirmed just about everything else that we and others have been reporting now for weeks, which is why some people are saying, well, there's not much new here but it actually -- what's new is, he is actually confirming he has some pretty startling things in the eyes I think of a lot of people on this panel.
[00:20:09] RYAN: So your argument is new (ph)?
MILLER: No, I think that's a big egg on the face for many on the media who wanted this to be a big thing --
RYAN: Oh, please. My face is clean. No egg.
RYAN: I think you're trying to spin -- Republicans are trying to spin as their poll numbers are dropping, watching this. People are believing the former FBI Director who was fired because of an investigation --
COOPER: Jeff, you talked about that you think this is obstruction of justice. Do you -- are you talking about that from a legal standpoint? I mean, because the criminal statute, the federal obstruction of justice statutes, I mean, there's -- my understanding is there's a lot of them with, you know, witness tampering. I mean it's --
TOOBIN: Right. Well, but it is actually very similar to Watergate, the Watergate coverup. I mean, the June 23rd, 1973, the so-called Smoking Gun Tape between HR Haldeman and Richard Nixon was their agreement to pretend to use the CIA to stop the FBI investigation of the Watergate break-in. This conversation was President Trump saying to Director Comey, stop the investigation of Michael Flynn. It's the use of presidential power to stop an FBI investigation for improper purpose.
AXELROD: Jeff, can I ask a question though about this. There was a crime. Everybody knew there was a crime. There was a break-in at the Watergate. Do we know that Flynn has committed a crime?
TOOBIN: By no means, but that's not --
AXELROD: And if he hasn't -- well, this is my question, because I'm not a lawyer if he hasn't committed a crime, does that make a weaker case?
TOOBIN: No. I mean, not under the statute. And another question that I think a lot of people have is, well, if he didn't successfully obstruct justice, is it obstruction of justice? Because after all, the President did not stop the FBI investigation, but the statute is very clear that in attempt to obstruct justice, even if it's unsuccessful is obstruction of justice.
COOPER: But, I think it was National Review, I saw it, you know, someone making the argument about, you know, OK, maybe it looks like it could be an abuse of power, but not necessarily obstruction of justice. There's the difference.
TOOBIN: There is a difference and, you know, I think one of the reasons why this argument is a little -- is very unusual is it's far from clear, constitutionally, that the President -- sitting President could ever be charged with a crime. So Director Mueller is never going to end this by asking a grand jury to indict him.
The real issue is, will Congress choose to investigate him for a high crime and misdemeanor, which is the standard for impeachment? That standard, high crime and misdemeanor is not, you know, from Title 18 of the United States code, that's the political judgment, the Congress has to make of what is a high crime and that's, you know, not something about parsing the statutes. It's about what Congress thinks the President should be able to do.
COOPER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have a lot more toning, including more on the White House reaction. We'll take a closer look at this notion of vindication of how the President can take a part of Director Comey's testimony and say there's a vindication.
Later, the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today in the fire storm that are up there when Senators in both parties try to get top intelligence officials to answer some basic questions about the Russia investigation. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[00:26:26] COOPER: As we mentioned before the break, the president is claiming vindication in light of Director Comey's opening statement in advance of tomorrow's testimony. More on that now from CNN's Athena Jones who's at the White House for us. So what more did the president's personal lawyer say about this?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Anderson. Well, let me read to you from that statement from our cast (ph). He said the president is pleased that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda.
Now, I should mention the Republican National Committee, which is handling rapid response to the Comey testimony, is also pushing the same line about how these opening remarks from the former FBI Director corroborate of what the president himself has said about having been told that he's not personally under investigation.
What's interesting here is that by using parts of the seven-page document and saying that they're accurate, saying they're a defense and that the president feels vindicated because of them. It might make it a bit harder to then call into question other parts of the same document.
COOPER: But, you know, it is a seven-page statement from the director. Are the president and his team acknowledging any other parts of it or responding to any other parts of it?
JONES: Well, this is interesting. Our own Wolf Blitzer got a statement from another Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, who takes issue with one part of this. Let me -- I'll let you know what he said. He said, "Comey's statement release today needs to be carefully scrutinized at his testimony claims the president was concerned about the dossier." He's talking there about a dossier put together by a former British Intelligence officer that includes allegations about the president's ties to Russia. But Cohen says, "It must be noted that the dossier had been debunked even by the author himself, Christopher Steele."
Now, this is a bit odd, Anderson, because that second sentence from Michael Cohen is false. The dossier has not been debunked by its author, Christopher Steele. Steele has said that not all of it is fully verified. We know from our reporting that some of it has been corroborated. So a little bit of an odd defense there from that second Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. Strange to put out a statement that actually has something which is not factually accurate. Athena Jones, thank you. Joining us now is Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger. Jeff Toobin is back. With us as well as is Harvard Law School's Mr. Alan Dershowitz.
So Professor Dershowitz, you said this is not obstruction of justice by the president and that actually strengthens his position against Director Comey, how so?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, first of all, let's look at the big constitutional picture. The president could have told Comey you are commanded, directed to drop the prosecution against Flynn. The president has the right to do that. Comey acknowledges that. He says in the statement that, historically, presidents have done that to the Justice Department. But in the last few years, we've had a tradition of separation. But that tradition doesn't create crime. Remember also what the president could have done. He could have said to Comey, stop this investigation. I am now pardoning Flynn. That's what President Bush did in the beginning of the investigation of Caspar Weinberger which could have led back to the White House to the first President Bush. President Bush, on the eve of the trial pardoned Caspar Weinberger, pardoned six people, and Special Counsel Walsh said this is outrageous. He's stopping the investigation. Nobody talked about obstruction of justice. You cannot have obstruction of justice when the president exercises his constitutional authority to pardon, his constitutional authority to fire the director of the FBI, or his constitutional authority to tell the director of the FBI who to prosecute, who not to prosecute.
[00:30:08] So let's get out of the weeds and let us look at the big constitutional question.
COOPER: But let me just ask you -- well, let me just ask you professor, just to be clear, according to Director Comey, the president told him, I quote, "I hope you can let this go discussing Michael Flynn via the investigation." You don't believe he was trying to influence or impede any possible or further investigation of Michael Flynn?
DERSHOWITZ: What I'm telling you is that even if he did want to impede it and even if he did impede it, that is his constitutional power.
DERSHOWITZ: He has the right to say, you will not investigate Flynn. The best proof of that is he could have simply said to Comey, stop the investigation, I've just pardoned Flynn. It's over. My President George Bush, he pardoned Weinberger when Weinberger could have easily pointed the finger --
DERSHOWITZ: -- back Bush.
COOPER: I want to get Jeffrey's take on your argument.
TOOBIN: I mean respectfully, I could not think Alan is more wrong. And the simple response is Watergate. I mean under Alan's theory --
TOOBIN: Let me finish, Alan. Let me finish. Under your theory, the president, since the FBI works for the president, he can tell him to do anything they want. Well, in Watergate, President Nixon and his -- they conspired, they made an agreement to stop the FBI investigation of Watergate. Was that a constitutional authority? No, it was a crime.
DERSHOWITZ: Absolutely, absolutely.
TOOBIN: Several people went to jail and the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Nixon over it. So yes, he could have pardoned him but he cannot obstruct justice.
DERSHOWITZ: Well --
COOPER: You're saying impeachment is different than -- go ahead.
DERSHOWITZ: Impeachment is political. There's no judicial review of impeachment. You can impeach a president for jaywalking and nobody can review that. I'm talking about was there an obstruction of justice? I have to tell you, and I wonder if you would agree with me, Jeffrey, if you and I will call these expert witnesses in an impeachment trial of President Trump and we were asked the question, has President Trump committed an obstruction of justice by pardoning Flynn, or by firing Comey, or by telling Comey not to investigate Flynn? My answer as an expert on the Constitution would be, absolutely not. He didn't commit obstruction of justice. You Congress, you can impeach him if you don't like what he did. If you think is obstructionish, or it would be an obstruction if he wasn't president. But you cannot say it is a crime. It's simply not a crime for the president to exercise his constitutional authority to pardon, to direct the FBI. It wasn't a crime when Thomas Jefferson directed the Attorney General what to do. It wasn't a crime when Lincoln did it. It wasn't a crime when President Obama --
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, Alan, I think you're coming up with all sorts of interesting hypotheticals. But I think, you know, it is well- established that the president of the United States cannot engage in corrupt acts, acts designed to protect his political interests and use the FBI to advance those political interests and obstruct justice.
TOOBIN: I mean I just think that's so basic. And --
DERSHOWITZ: As long as he doesn't destroy tapes, as long as he doesn't fail to comply with the subpoena, as long --
COOPER: All right, I want to bring --
DERSHOWITZ: -- as long as he exercises constitutional authority, he cannot be prosecuted for exercising his constitutional authority. Yes?
COOPER: I want to bring in Gloria. I mean, the president is focusing -- I mean the president's personal attorney is focusing on the fact that according to Comey's opening statement, he is he is, in the president's words --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPODENT: Vindicated.
COOPER: -- vindicated.
BORGER: Right, he's vindicated because Comey said that that he told the president that he, you know, that he wasn't investigating him.
COOPER: That is his rights because I mean some of the reporting that we have --
BORGER: Well, in our reporting, and we've corrected that because Comey said quite clearly that he had told the president that a few times. Although I am looking forward to his testimony tomorrow because I'm sure they're going to ask him to elaborate on his conversations with the president and how exactly he told them. But so I believe that they feel vindicated to a great degree because the president was clearly concerned first and foremost about himself, number one. Number two, the thing that I can't get out of my mind here is why is he so concerned about General Flynn? I mean he asked the -- you know, he had this conversation with Comey the day after Flynn was fired and he cleared the decks. There is a whole bunch of people in the room. There was, you know, the vice present was in the room, the Attorney General was in the room, Jared Kushner was in the room and he got them all out of the room and then he said you know, I'd like you to, you know see your way out of this. And did the president know that he was doing something he shouldn't be doing by clearing that room? I would think so.
[00:35:00] COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, what do you make of, you know, the argument of something that, look, the president is not, you know, he's not held office before, he is maybe naive to the to the separations that are supposed to exist.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I think that's probably right. I think most people would know about these separations. And --
COOPER: Although most people wouldn't be president of the United States, I mean.
DERSHOWITZ: But I don't think that's the argument that will succeed for President Trump. I think the argument that will succeed is since he had the right to tell them to stop the investigation, he surely have the right to say, look, he's a good guy, Comey agreed he's a good guy. I would request that you stop the investigation. Comey said no. Comey didn't stop the investigation. He went on --
TOOBIN: And he got fired for his trouble.
BORGER: Right. And by the way --
DERSHOWITZ: And he got -- and he has the right. Now, he's fired for a different reason. If you look at the Comey memo, the reason he probably got fired is the president told him over and over again, I want you to make public the fact that I am not under investigation. He told it to him repeatedly. That's in the memo. And Comey didn't do that. And I suspect that may be one of the reasons he was fired. The memo also says that he never asked him to stop the investigation of the Russian thing, only to stop the investigation of Flynn because he felt sorry for Flynn. Flynn's a good guy. It's very much like what Bush -- I'm sorry.
COOPER: Well, we don't know what the president actually delivered. We don't -- we know according to Comey what --
COOPER: We know according to Comey what the president said the reason is that Flynn's a good guy. But we have no idea if that is actually the reason or if there is some knowledge shared between --
COOPER: -- Michael Flynn and the president of United States. We don't know that.
DERSHOWITZ: And we don't know why President Bush, who's widely admired, made the decision on the eve of trial to pardon Caspar Weinberger when Walsh said that the reason for that is that Caspar Weinberger may have pointed his finger at the Oval Office. Nobody suggested that.
BORGER: Well, but maybe that's the reason here. I mean maybe -- we don't know any of this, and as long as you're speculating --
COOPER: Well, yes, let's not even go down.
BORGER: Yeah. But I want to also just add one thing --
COOPER: Let's take -- we got -- OK, very quickly, one thing.
BORDER: -- that Donald Trump was asked directly in May, whether he asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation at a press conference and he said no, no.
COOPER: We played that.
COOPER: But he said he did not do that.
COOPER: And that seems to be directly contradicted by Flynn by Comey.
COOPER: Thanks everybody. Coming up today is other hearing that was quite something even by Washington standards, which these days are pretty high, four of the country's top intelligence chiefs faced question from the Senate Intel Committee for more than two hours. It got very heated at times. Well, the headlines from that hearing next.
[00:40:30] COOPER: Well, the top intelligence chiefs in United States gathered for a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing today extensively on foreign surveillance, as you might imagine, instead what dominated the question was whether the president interfered in their respective Russian investigations. There were not a whole lot of answers. There were plenty of fireworks at time. Brianna Keilar has the details.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My questions deserve answers.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPODENT (voice-over): In a contentious intelligence hearing today --
WARNER: And we've gotten no answers from any of you.
KEILAR: -- senators from both sides of aisle expressed frustration and at times anger at the president's intelligence chiefs.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I do mean it in a contentious way.
KEILAR: Repeatedly asking the men to confirm or shoot down news reports that the president asked them to help end the Russia investigation.
WARNER: If any of this is true, it would be an appalling and improper use of our intelligence professionals -- an act if true that could erode the public's trust in our intelligence institutions.
KEILAR: Yet instead of confirming or denying any specific conversations, the director of National Security Agency and Director of National Intelligence would only answer broadly, saying they had never felt pressured by the president.
ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: In the three- plus years that I have been the director of National Security Agency, to the best of my recollection, I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OR NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: In my time of service, which is interacting with the president of the United States or anybody of his administration, I have never been pressured. I have never felt pressure to intervene or interfere in any way.
KEILAR: But the two intel leaders would not go further, repeatedly stonewalling the committee on questions of whether the reported conversations with the president happened or what was said.
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You realize how simple it would simply be to say, no, that never happened?
COATS: I think conversations between the president and myself are for the most part --
HEINRICH: You seem to apply that standard selectively.
COATS: No, I'm not applying it selectively. I'm just saying I don't think it's appropriate --
HEINRICH: You clear an awful lot up by simply saying it never happened.
COATS: I don't share -- I do not share with the general public, conversations that I have with the president.
HEINRICH: Well, I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question speaks volumes.
KEILAR: Over and over again.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: You went back on a pledge --
KEILAR: Angry senators pushed back.
SEN. KAMELA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Can you give me a yes or no answer, please?
KEILAR: Asking the men who at times shifted uncomfortably in their seats to give detailed answers.
ROGERS: I've never been directed to do anything in the course of my three-plus years as director of the National Security Agency --
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Not directed, asked.
ROGERS: -- that I felt to be inappropriate, nor have I felt pressured to do so.
RUBIO: Have you ever been asked to say something that isn't true?
ROGERS: I stand by my previous statement, sir.
KEILAR: Coats and Rogers told the senators they had discussed their testimony with White House counsel. But they also said they had not been given direction from the White House to refuse to answer or to invoke the president's executive privilege, telling the committee only that it would be inappropriate to discuss their conversations with the president publicly, eventually infuriating independent Senator Angus King.
KING: I'll ask both of you the same question. Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the president of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?
ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of.
KING: Then why are you not answering our questions?
ROGERS: Because I feel it's inappropriate, Senator. KING: What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral. What you feel isn't the answer. You swore that oath to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and today, you are refusing to do so much. What is the legal basis for you refusal to testify to this committee?
COATS: I'm not sure I have a legal basis.
KEILAR: And in a rare moment of bipartisan exasperation, even the Republican chair of the committee chastised the directors, closing the hearing by saying Congress had a right to the truth.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: At no time should you be in a position where you come to Congress without an answer. It may be in a different format, but the requirements of our oversight duties and your agencies demand it.
COOPER: And Brianna joins us now. You mentioned that Coats and Rogers said they were not given direction from the White House to invoke executive privilege. Is that still a possibility?
[00:45:00] KEILAR: Well, they asked. It appears to still be a possibility, of course, because these Intel leaders technically are subject to it. They work at the behest of course of President Trump, so they would fall under that. But their inquiries, it appears, were not answered. We have asked if executive privilege is going to be invoked. We have not heard back.
They did inquire with White House counsel about their testimony. We know that. But when it comes to this issue of executive privilege, it's still up in the air. Obviously, there was a lot of sensitivity but it wasn't -- they're saying that they weren't going to answer questions. It wasn't based in that legal basis as you certainly noticed, Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. All right, Brianna Keilar, thanks so much. Back now with the panel. Jeff, I mean at that moment where he admits, there is no legal basis and there's no executive privilege.
TOOBIN: It was amazing. I mean, it was just -- you know, it's -- when you're testifying before Congress, it's not like what you feel like answering. There are legal rules that you either can limit your answer if it's like covered by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege or classified information. He just didn't feel like answering. And I think one of the things that's really disturbing about this is that, you know, in Watergate there was a special prosecutor and there was a congressional investigation. In Iran- Contra, there was a special prosecutor and a congressional investigation.
The congressional investigations proceeded even though there was a prosecutor. Here, it sounded like all of these witnesses were saying, well, I can't answer these questions because there's a special prosecutor. Congress has a right to these answers. The public has a right to these answers. And, you know, for them simply to blow off Congress because there's another investigation or because they don't feel like it, I just think it's outrageous.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, that's Andrew McCabe actually who said that that his conversations with -- he didn't want to do anything that revealed his conversations that might be part of Mueller's investigation.
HAM: And, you know, that's very interesting because in the past when you think about presidents and principles in their conversations, they don't want to divulge information for fear. And that's some of the thing that we heard during the Bush years with Valerie Plame and Scooter Libby. They didn't want to divulge information.
But going back to what Jeff said, I mean, it makes no sense. This is about getting to the bottom of what is what. And in the House, they're trying to figure out what to do. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee just convened a meeting of what steps could be taken, next steps. They had constitutional lawyers, constitutional scholars as to what the Judiciary Committee could do in case there is found to be an abuse of power. In this session, we didn't see much come out of it. But the question is, how far will they dig? What can they get from this?
COOPER: Carl, how unusual was this for that?
BERNSTEIN: Well, it was an appalling moment, their absolute contempt for the Congress of the United States and its legitimate function. And they showed it in their attitude. But what is so extraordinary about it is here we have the Congress of the United States for a change. A committee really trying to do his job, trying to sift through facts, really be in meticulous. That is a rare event, all of us would probably agree and these guys go up there and try to stiff him. It's appalling.
COOPER: Phil, do you see it the same way?
MUDD: Heck no. 180 degree is different. I can tell you what I would have done and now would've said stuff it for three reasons.
Number one, which committee do you want me to talk to, judiciary, government affairs, Intel? You want me to talk to the Senate and House. This about partly -- this is not the primary point, but partly dysfunction of the Congress. How many conversations am I going to have?
Second, have you coordinate this with Director Mueller? How am I supposed to talk to you and then go talk to the federal investigator over the FBI in the third and final? When I walk into the Oval Office tomorrow and the president wants to have a confidential conversation about an intelligence issue, and he says, are you going to go talk on national T.V. What do I tell him? One minor point, actually significant, they made a huge mistake at the outset. As soon as they said we weren't pressured, but we won't talk, they opened the door. You either close it or you open it. You don't start by saying no pressure, but I won't explain what the conversation was.
AXELROD: What I thought was remarkable was there's Dan Coats, who spent decades in the Senate. He would never have accepted that answer if you are on the other side asking those questions. And he knows better. And it made me wonder as I listen to the two of them. It may just be that it's they felt a sense of propriety about what they could --
AXELROD: -- and couldn't say. It may have been that. But it felt like there was an orchestrated play that we were going to give these answers and we were not going to go beyond these answers. Even though, as you point out their first answer begged the question.
COOPER: Jason, as a supporter of the president, were those the right answers to give?
MILLER: I think Rogers came across much more buttoned up. I think Coats's answer on that did not come across very well. I think he probably should have a tighter answer.
COOPER: It maybe because he acknowledges he didn't have any legal backup for what he said?
MILLER: Yes. I mean, that was just I mean the optics of that were just a bad answer. I think he started off saying that he hadn't been pressured, that there hadn't been anything untoward, both he and Admiral Rogers both gave slightly different answers but made it very clear that they had not been pressured to do anything inappropriate. I thought that was good and I was surprised they didn't go a little bit further.
[00:50:12] But again, this whole thing, you know, today, I thought this was supposed to be about Russia. I though this is supposedly about trying to get to the president about some supposed coordination between the campaign and some foreign entity. And that seems had been completely thrown out. I mean, this really does. You can see why Republicans look at this and feel like it's a witch-hunt, because they see this what happened today and like I thought this is about Russia.
BEGALA: The hearing actually was about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is a controversial section that allows the government to eavesdrop on foreigners, not Americans, but still a lot of Americans have problems with it. That's what the intelligence community wants. They want that reauthorized. And that's what the hearing was about. It's been set for months.
The problem, I think Jeffrey has a good point. I come at it more even though I work in the media now. More as a former government official, right? And government needs to keep secrets. People in journalism always everything to come out. I respect that. The government needs to keep secrets about sources and methods of how it obtains intelligence. I believe in executive privilege. The president has to have a right to talk to his closest aides and not have that come out. But you have to assert those rights.
They deliberately said, we are -- the president is not invoking executive privilege and this is not classified. It does not go to our sources method, but we just don't feel it. So they -- I think they have discredited themselves and also limited the very legitimate times when the government has to sometimes say, look, we cant tell you. And so I think hurt their own cost.
RYAN: But Paul, how can you protect source and methods when this president is not getting source and methods in some instances? And I mean, it's been factually found out that he's not. So I mean how can you successfully say you're protecting that when this president is not and when President Obama was in when appropriate is when he received sources and methods? So what is it?
BEGALA: Well, that's the problem. We already have a president, who in his brief tenure, has apparently let the cat out of the bag about an ISIS source that our closest ally in Middle East, Israel reportedly had to the Russians in the Oval Office. I mean so I understand that --
HAM: I mean, executive authority doesn't cease to exist as a concept because the president learns some things and not other things you just said that all --
RYAN: No, no, no. Sources and methods is some of the most sensitive information Intel you can get.
HAM: But they could still --
HAM: Yes. But I think this is like clearly an execution problem if you're going to go there and say we weren't pressured then answer the questions or assert some sort of legal basis for not doing it. And it seems to me that all the people here, including Comey, are having a split the baby problem where they want to say, look, I wasn't compromised here but also I don't want to go too much further than that and they're all sort of landing in the middle and it's fairly inconclusive.
COOPER: And so -- I mean where does this go? I mean, for, you know, for someone's watching at home and here's what Comey has said today, where does this go?
TOOBIN: Well, there's -- I mean there's sort of two general parts of this investigation. One is the obstruction of justice in the White House after Trump becomes president. You know, the Comey situation here.
The other part of the investigation, which is really just getting started, is what was the nature of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians and was there any inappropriate or unlawful collusion. That's a very complicated and lengthy investigation, and, you know, that -- I wish it were all today, but that's --
BERNSTEIN: And do the two come together? That's why we need to step back and give this thing time. Let grey areas develop. Let them take testimony. Let's no all of us go t talking points.
COOPER: Although it is --
TOOBIN: But we know that --
COOPER: It does. It is interesting, David.
COOPER: It is interesting. And the Comey statement that was released today, according to Comey, the president seemed willing to -- I don't know how to describe it but basically say, will look if some satellite people related to the campaign were involved --
AXELROD: He kind of acknowledged that maybe there were some people --
COOPER: But he seemed willing to throw some people under the bus if they were --
AXELROD: Yes, I think that clearly he was willing to do that. And so that --
COOPER: Which is something he had said publicly once in a press conference. I think he sort of intimated, well, there may have been some other people.
AXELROD: Well, and I think Sean Spicer did, as well, once from the podium, separating himself, separating some of these people who are under investigation. I do want to give some credence to what Jason said. I hope that the investigation also does ultimately focus on the larger role the Russia is playing, played in our election, but also playing in the world right now.
We just saw a situation in the Middle East where they fomented a crisis, apparently, by leaking a false document. And so this is the world in which we live right now. So there is a serious mission for Congress here, in addition to finding out exactly who and who was involved in the situation.
[00:54:59] COOPER: Yes. And that to Jason's point though, when there are investigations, often they start out as one. I mean with the Clinton, it starts out with Whitewater and ends up with --
BEGALA: A failed real estate deal leads to exposing an affair. The -- I'll get back to David's point. The president was on the May 18th Press Conference with President Santos from Colombia here. And President Trump said, this is the exact quote, "There's no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can only speak for myself and the Russians."
So there in public, he gave a hint to careful listeners. And believe me, if he had aides or advisers who were colluding, they were listening. I'm going to throw you under the bus. And apparently said same thing to Jim Comey. That this is -- this -- believe me, the people who are the targets, the president is not under investigation. We know that. Somebody is and most people are listening. They're lawyering up.
BEGALA: And they know Trump's throwing them under the bus.
AXELROD: Well, you know, that he's like -- that kind of statement also makes the Flynn thing stand out because --
AXELROD: -- one thing -- and Jason, you may disagree with this. The one thing this president hasn't distinguished himself for is, you know, blind loyalty to the people around him. He's been throwing people under the bus right and left yet.
AXELROD: So why is it that there's this one guy for whom he went to this extraordinary lengths when he is willing to toss everybody else over the side.
HAM: So I mean how about blunt?
COOPER: Let Jason go ahead.
MILLER: Well, I think there's -- I don't think folks can have it both ways. I mean either people are going to make the case that the president is trying to obstruct justice and try to shut this thing down or he's telling Comey go ahead and complete your investigation and do what you need to do. And I think that I take it --
COOPER: What he did according to Comey he said about, but he described the satellites who may have done something, it would be good to know that.
MILLER: I interpreted that as the president saying, make sure you're continuing to do your --
COOPER: But that's sort of done, right?
MILLER: Right. And so I think that folks can't have it both ways on this. But -- so that's my point there.
BERSTEIN: Don't we need to come back to the question, though, that the president himself said that he was firing the head of the FBI because of this Russia thing? And that's why I keep saying, these two things are not separate. Meanwhile, special prosecutor has hired the former head of the fraud division of the justice department to be his assistant in one area of investigation which has to do with money, follow the money. That is going to go into the Trump organization. It's going to go into the finances of the campaign. It's going to go into Paul Manafort's accounts. We don't know where any of this is going.
And I keep coming back to that because why do we need to decide the case here? Yes. There's prima facie evidence the president may well have obstructed justice in a conventional way. But we got a long ways to go here.
COOPER: Yes. We got to take a quick break. We have long ways to go tonight. Up next, the stunning details we are expecting to hear on Capitol Hill tomorrow about President Trump's fired FBI Director James Comey, probably more details that we got from his opening statements obviously, as well as we'll have more on the president's reaction in a moment.