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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; James Comey Testifies; CNN: In Closed Intel Session, Comey Said Atty Gen Sessions May Have Had Third, Undisclosed Meeting with Russian Ambassador. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: "Lies, plain and simple."
James Comey accuses the president of publicly defaming him and privately pressuring him. This hour, new reaction to the fired FBI director's explosive testimony and the questions still unanswered.
Shocked and troubled. As senators ask why he didn't speak out earlier, Comey sites a stunned response to the president's actions. We're digging deeper into Comey's account and his credibility vs. the president's.
"I hope there are tapes." Comey is urging the release of any secret White House recordings of his talks with Mr. Trump that might confirm what he wrote in those memos. The former FBI chief now admitting he made sure those memos got into the hands of reporters.
And retaliation? The president's lawyer is firing right back, denying Comey's most serious allegations and claiming he's seeking payback for getting ousted, this as the president restrains himself from tweeting, but complains of being -- quote -- "under siege."
We want to welcome our viewers from around the states and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: James Comey's gripping and incriminating testimony under oath portraying President Trump as a liar who directed him to end his investigation of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The former FBI director told senators he takes Mr. Trump at his word that he was fired because of the Russia election meddling probe, Comey publicly confirming that the president wasn't under investigation while he was at the helm of the FBI.
Also tonight, the White House declaring that the president is not a liar, as Mr. Trump tells a friendly crowd, "We are under siege." His lawyer's denying that the president asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation or that he asked for a loyalty pledge, and he's raising the possibility that Comey should be investigated for leaking memos on his conversations with the president, Comey now acknowledging that he gave his memos to a friend to share them with the news media, thinking it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
As the White House disputes Comey and attempts to discredit him, the former FBI chief says he hopes there are tapes of his meetings with the president, as the president himself has hinted. We are going to get reaction from both parties, including a senator on the Intelligence Committee who questioned Comey today, Republican Senator James Risch, and a House Intelligence Committee member as well, and our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, Comey went beyond his written testimony that was released yesterday to make some very powerful allegations against the president.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Today, Comey cleared the president on some allegations, but corroborated others. He made clear -- this is important -- that the president personally was not under investigation when Comey was fired in may. However, Comey accused the president of lying about why he fired him, among other lies, and of inappropriately directing him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.
And the former FBI director indicated that that order was of investigative interest before he was fired and is now likely to be under investigation by the special counsel.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Former FBI Director James Comey was barely two- and-a-half minutes into his opening remarks when he first accused the president lying specifically about Mr. Trump's reasons for firing him.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
SCIUTTO: And it would not be the last time he called Mr. Trump a liar. In fact, he said the reason he took notes immediately after his nine meetings and phone conversations with the president, a step he never took after interactions with Presidents Bush or Obama, is because he feared the president might lie about them.
COMEY: I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigative function.
I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document. SCIUTTO: Comey made clear once and for all that President Trump was
not personally under any open FBI investigation by the time he was fired in May.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Was the president under investigation at the time of your dismissal on May 9?
SCIUTTO: However, he accused the president of what he called -- quote -- "very disturbing, very concerning interference" in the ongoing Russia investigation he was leading. He said definitively that he believes his firing was base directly on his handling of the Russia probe.
COMEY: There is no doubt that it's a fair judgment, it's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
SCIUTTO: And he said that, when the president told him he hoped he would let the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn go, Comey believed the president was ordering him to end the probe.
COMEY: I took it as a direction.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Right.
COMEY: I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying, "I hope this." I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.
SCIUTTO: How was he so certain?
He explained to senators that's in part because the president made sure he was the only person in the room.
COMEY: A really significant fact to me is, so why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the president, the chief of staff out to talk to me if it was about something else? And so that, to me, as an investigator, is a very significant fact.
SCIUTTO: Senators of both parties pressed Comey on why he never told the president that his comments and requests were inappropriate.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: You're big. You're strong. I know the Oval office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn't you stop and say, Mr. President, this is wrong, I cannot discuss this with you?
COMEY: It's a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have.
I was so stunned by the conversation that I just took in.
SCIUTTO: Once fired, the former FBI director made a remarkable effort to shape the investigation, asking a friend to leak the contents of the memos documenting his meetings with the president to spark the appointment of a special counsel.
COMEY: I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
SCIUTTO: An end result that Comey got with the appointment of Robert Mueller, who leaders of the Senate Intel panel will meet with next week about their concurrent Russia probes.
Comey also hinted at information not yet known to the public about Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
SCIUTTO: And Comey making more news today, saying that Obama's Attorney General Loretta Lynch seemed to insert herself into the Clinton e-mail probe in a way that troubled him.
COMEY: At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation, but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me.
SCIUTTO: Comey today made several important revelations about the ongoing Russia investigation. One, he said that the so-called dossier which CNN was first to report that intelligence chiefs had briefed both Trump and Obama in January is, according to Comey, still under investigation, including the key question of whether Russia has compromising information on President Trump.
Two, he said the FBI's still investigating whether Trump aides colluded with Russia. On the question of whether the president himself colluded Comey said, somewhat cryptically, that he could not answer that question, Wolf, in open session.
BLITZER: Yes, cryptically, indeed. All right, Jim Sciutto, good report. Thanks very much.
Also tonight, the White House is declaring that the president is not a liar, leaving it up to Mr. Trump's outside counsel to deliver a much more extensive response to Comey's testimony.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. Sara, the president lawyer says some of Comey's most serious
allegations simply never happened.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And it was an interesting response, because on one hand, we saw the president's personal attorney latch on to Comey, saying that President Trump was not under investigation and say, see, President Trump is vindicated. But on the other hand, we saw the president's attorney trying to discredit James Comey's testimony, insisting that President Trump never asked for Comey's loyalty and that he never asked James Comey to dismiss this investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC KASOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: The president never in form or substance directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including the president never suggested that Mr. Comey -- quote -- "let Flynn go."
The president also never told Mr. Comey -- quote -- "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" -- close quote. He never said it in form and he never said it in substance.
Of course, the office of the president is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving the administration and, from before this, president -- and from before this president took office to this day, it is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications.
Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: So you see Trump's attorney there making in one case that we should trust Comey's testimony when it's beneficial to the president, but in another case, we can't trust the words that he was saying there under oath -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The president also spoke out today. He seemed to make a rather veiled reference to what's going on right now.
Update our viewers.
MURRAY: That's right.
Despite the possibility that the president could be out there live- tweeting this hearing, he did not do that today. He did not respond to reporters' questions later this afternoon about how he felt about the Comey testimony. He just made sort of a hint toward how he is feeling when he was
speaking to an evangelical group today. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are under siege. You understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: So that just gives you an indication that, while the president may not have been mentioning Comey by name, he certainly is in that hunkered-down and fight mentality, Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting for us, Sara, thank you very much.
Let's talk more a little bit about the Comey testimony, the reaction.
Republican Senator James Risch is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. He took part in today's questioning.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
RISCH: Wolf, glad to be here.
BLITZER: You had two-and-a-half hours of testimony. The former FBI director said President Trump told him in one of those critically important meetings -- quote -- "I hope you can let this go," referring to the investigation of the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
And he said he took the president's comments as direction, his word, direction. You questioned the former FBI director on this. Let me play the exchange you had with Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RISCH: He did not direct you to let it go?
COMEY: Not in his words, no.
RISCH: He did not order you to let it go?
COMEY: Again, those words are not an order.
RISCH: Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?
COMEY: I don't know well enough to answer. The reason I keep saying his words is, I took it as a direction.
COMEY: I mean, this is a president of the United States with me alone saying, I hope this. I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. Now, I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.
RISCH: You may have taken it as a direction, but that's not what he said.
RISCH: He said, I hope.
COMEY: Those are his exact words, correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, now, he also said that Flynn, the retired general, the fired national security adviser at the time, the investigation was significant and Flynn was under legal jeopardy.
He used the words legal jeopardy. So, if the president of the United States tells you, and you're working for the president, "I hope you can let this go," shouldn't that individual see that as an order or a direction?
RISCH: Wolf, first of all, words are important. We go to law school for a lot of years, we study words, we write them.
Jim Comey is a wordsmith of high caliber. If you look at the seven pages he wrote there, they are excellent. The American people are better off because of what he did. He delivered those seven pages to us yesterday.
And the heart of what he's talking about is on page five, paragraph three, and it's 28 words. And he put those in quotes. And I asked him specifically about those. And he said, yes, that's exactly what the president said and he wrote those down contemporaneously.
BLITZER: But he also pointed out that everyone else was kicked out of the room before he had that exchange, the chief of staff, the attorney general, Kushner.
BLITZER: Everyone -- the president said, get out.
And then the president had that private exchange with him. And Comey later said in response to a question with Dianne Feinstein, the senator, "When it comes from the president, I took it as a direction to get rid of this investigation."
RISCH: Look, we prosecutors are not shrinking violets. Jim Comey is a smart guy. He's a tough guy. He's been around a long time.
If the president said to him, I hope a certain outcome, and he takes it a different way, it's incumbent on him to say, well, President Trump, exactly what are you telling me? If the president then said, I direct you or I order you, Comey's got a whole suite of things he can do. He could say, I'm not going to do it. He could say, I quit. He could say, I'm going to do it, but I'm going to tell everybody.
BLITZER: But even if there's no legal basis for, let's say, an obstruction of justice charge, was it appropriate for the president to tell the director of the FBI, when there's an criminal investigation under way involving Michael Flynn, let it go, I hope you let it go?
Forget about whether or not there's enough to file a charge, but was it appropriate?
RISCH: I guess appropriate is in the eye of the beholder.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think?
RISCH: I wouldn't have done it, but that doesn't mean somebody else wouldn't. Look, this president...
BLITZER: Why would the president -- why would the president even say that to the director of the FBI?
RISCH: You would have to ask him.
Wolf, I'm not going to speak for him. The people of the United States, the 50 states, elected a president who is not what we're used to. He has not been in the political arena before. He hasn't done diplomacy. He hasn't done dealing with the Justice Department, so he does things differently.
So, to sit here and defend it, I'm not going to sit here and defend it.
BLITZER: Was the firing of Flynn an act of obstruction, because the president himself said he fired him because of the Russia investigation?
RISCH: You mean the firing of Comey?
BLITZER: Excuse me, the firing of Comey.
Well, obviously not. I mean, the president's bright enough to know that the firing of Comey had zero effect on the investigation and he knew it was good. There are thousands...
BLITZER: But he thought it was going to go away, presumably. He said the next day in that meeting with the Russians, he said a lot of the pressure has been removed because I fired Comey.
RISCH: Well, he said that. But he didn't say that -- that's not -- I don't interpret that as being a statement that it's going to go away.
This thing was going to go on. Anybody in that White House would've told him it's going to go on. There's thousands of people at the FBI. There was a team working on this. The only thing that the director had was a general oversight of it.
The day-to-day operations went on. They're still going on.
BLITZER: The president says through his attorney, his private attorney, Kasowitz, that Comey is lying. Comey says the president is lying. Who do you believe?
RISCH: Well, you would have to take -- I'm not going to get involved in those two.
The one thing I want to put in perspective is, is what you're looking at is a very, very small slice of our investigation. It's been going on since January. We looked at thousands and thousands of documents. We have interviewed a lot of people.
We are going to will have to resolve this stuff. And, look, this is Republicans and Democrats working together. We all understand, we all realize how important this attempt by the Russians to inject themselves into our campaign process, into our electoral process, how important that is, and we're going to work at it, we're going to continue to work at it and we're going to deliver...
BLITZER: And you have no doubt the Russians did that, because, as you know, the president calls this whole thing a witch-hunt?
RISCH: We know some things today that we didn't know this morning. And a lot of them have been said by Comey, they're black and white. There's no question about it.
And one of them is something that we have known all along. And that is the Russians attempted, although they failed, but they attempted to manipulate our elections. They couldn't get it done, but they tried.
BLITZER: So the president is wrong when he says this whole investigation is a witch-hunt, a hoax, and he says it's simply designed to give the Democrats an excuse why they lost?
RISCH: Well, I will let you say that. What I would say is, it's important that the American people have an independent investigation that our committee is doing in a bipartisan way and determine exactly what went on here and how we can keep it from happening in the future.
BLITZER: What can you tell us about -- you had a private meeting with Comey after the public meeting. It was behind closed doors. It went on for at least an hour or so. You seem to have learned something as a result of that private exchange behind closed doors.
RISCH: Well, You know what I'm going to tell you, Wolf. I can't tell you what went on.
BLITZER: Without giving us classified information.
RISCH: Well, everything that went on in the room.
BLITZER: But did you learn something new?
RISCH: There were some items that we learned that were new, and they fit in the overall scheme of things. There was very little that came out in the hearing, I think, that was new.
The one thing I was surprised at that came out that was new for me is that Loretta Lynch was giving direction to the FBI director that meshed with what the Clinton campaign was doing. I was really surprised at that. I hadn't heard that before. That was all news to me.
That was something that was brand-new. I think that's going to...
BLITZER: Do you believe there are tapes of those conversations between Comey and the president?
RISCH: I don't know.
BLITZER: You're asking for them if there are, though?
RISCH: If there are tapes, we will get them. But, look...
BLITZER: The question of lying, the question of -- if Comey is lying, he swore. He took -- he was testifying under oath. And you're a lawyer. You know, if you lie under oath before Congress, that's...
RISCH: It's a problem.
BLITZER: That's perjury. And you go to jail for that.
RISCH: Yes. And it's a big problem.
But, look, Comey...
BLITZER: I just want to make sure. You don't think he was lying, because if you do think you're lying, you're accusing him of a crime.
RISCH: Well, if you take the seven pages that he gave us, I have no problem with that at all. And those 28 words that he wrote in quotes, I think are absolutely legitimate.
I haven't seen the White House deny that. Obviously, the president used words saying one thing. Comey said he took it as something else. Comey should have resolved that, but he didn't. BLITZER: Yes. Well, we're done, but the president's private
attorney, Marc Kasowitz, he did say that Comey was lying about the loyalty pledge and about asking that the Michael Flynn -- to let go of the Michael Flynn investigation.
We will leave it on that note.
RISCH: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: As usual, Senator Risch, thanks for coming in.
RISCH: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Up next: Democratic reaction. Congressman Joaquin Castro is standing by. There's a lot more to digest from the Comey testimony, what happens next.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on James Comey's blockbuster testimony today accusing the president of the United States of lying and pressuring him to back off of the Michael Flynn investigation before Comey was fired as the FBI director.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, you heard Comey say that part of this conversation with the president, the president asked him to, "I hope you can let this go," referring to the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
BLITZER: He saw that as direction. He used the word direction from the president. Are you ready to say it's obstruction of justice?
CASTRO: Well, that's a great question, and it certainly furthers that narrative.
I do think that we need to wait to let the special counsel do his work. He has just started that. But it's hard to imagine that, if you're James Comey and you're in a one-on-one meeting at the White House with the president, which is very rare, which he said, and he says, I hope this is what happens with this investigation, that you don't take that as either directive or pressure of some sort.
BLITZER: What would be the bar be to go forward with an obstruction of justice charge? How high is that bar? CASTRO: Well, I think there's basically two investigations that need
to go on here and really are going on, I think.
Number one is the substantive issue of collusion, whether any Americans colluded with the Russians who interfered with our 2016 elections. And then the second part is now this obstruction of justice issue.
And, of course, that's a legal issue. And so the special counsel is going to have to make that determination and ultimately give us some sense of whether it meets that legal definition.
BLITZER: You have told me in the past you believe, when all is said and done, some people -- I think -- some people will probably go to jail. You still believe that?
CASTRO: Sure. I gave a frank assessment. I gave my impression, but I also think that it's important that we go through the process.
And, you know, some of my colleagues have said that they think we should move forward on impeachment. Every day on social media, many Democratic members and I'm sure Republican members are hearing from the American public that is pushing for impeachment, some people getting very anxious.
But the point I would make is this. First of all, the process has to be a fair, it has to be thorough. And because of the makeup of the Congress and what you see now, with many Republicans in Congress really digging in and really doing acrobatics to defend the president, if you're going to go down that road, you have to make sure that all of your ducks are in a row.
And I just don't think we're there yet. Yes, the evidence seems very damning. What we heard is very damning, but we have to make sure that we compile all of the pieces of evidence that we possibly can.
BLITZER: But without mentioning any names, because I know you don't want to, potentially, who would wind up in jail? What kind of individuals?
CASTRO: That was just my impression.
Again, I can't be specific about why or what. But if you ask me my impression, having seen everything that I have seen, both public and otherwise, that's certainly my impression.
BLITZER: Trump campaign associates, people associated with the Trump campaign, that's what you're talking about, right?
CASTRO: Sure. I would rather not specify, but I think it's important that we let this thing play itself out, and then the public will see for itself.
BLITZER: So, the former FBI Director Comey, he accused the president today and his administration of lying on multiple occasions, not just once or twice. That's why he said he wrote those contemporaneous memos detailing the conversations he had with the president.
CASTRO: And that, by itself, Wolf, is remarkable, that an FBI director would say that about a sitting American president.
BLITZER: And the sitting American president's private outside attorney, Marc Kasowitz, came out afterwards, had a little statement that he read over at the National Press Club in which he said Comey is a liar on both the Michael Flynn "Let it go" issue and on the loyalty issue.
He said Comey is lying, that it's not true. Now, Comey was testifying under oath.
CASTRO: That's right.
BLITZER: If you lie under oath before Congress, that's a crime. That's perjury.
CASTRO: There's a perjury charge, right.
BLITZER: You could potentially go to jail. So, it's a he said vs. he said. How are you going to find out who is telling the truth?
CASTRO: Well, a few things.
First, you're right. There was only one person who was speaking under oath. And that was James Comey, and he gave his testimony. The second thing is, I would ask the president to produce the tapes of those conversations, if they, in fact, exist.
BLITZER: Do you think they do exist?
CASTRO: I don't know. He's the only one that can answer that.
But I also think that the committees should subpoena, should send over a subpoena to the White House for those tapes, and they should be produced if they exist.
Secondly, I think, instead of a spokesperson, the next time the president gives a public address, hopefully this week, he should address this issue directly to the American people, because, as was brought up in this testimony, it is a very big deal.
BLITZER: Well, he's got a private attorney now who is going to speak for him on these matters, although we did hear from the deputy White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She said today the president is not a liar.
CASTRO: The American people don't want to hear from a spokesperson. They don't want to hear from Sara Huckabee. They want to hear from the American president about all of this, and he should speak to it.
CASTRO: The FBI director did say, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes." Your committee, the Intelligence Committee, you could subpoena tapes if they exist, but the Republican leadership has to go along with that. Are there -- is there the kind of demand among your Republican leadership in the committees to seek those tapes if, in fact, they exist?
CASTRO: I've got to be honest; I haven't had conversations with them about that, and so I don't want to speak for them. But I will say that it's something we should be able to agree on, a bipartisan basis, that we ought to subpoena those tapes.
I said early on, we ought to give the White House a chance to turn them over if they exist. At this point they've not turned anything over but have also not confirmed that they exist or do not exist, and so we ought to subpoena them.
BLITZER: Very quickly on the Loretta Lynch issue that came up today during the testimony. Comey was clearly irritated at the former attorney general during the Obama administration, because at one point, he was talking about his investigation of Hillary Clinton and the e-mail server -- the private e-mail server that she was using; and she said, "Don't use the word 'investigation.' Use the word 'matter'."
And he was -- he said he was deeply disturbed by that. You understand why that would anger him?
CASTRO: Sure. I mean, I think, you know, most people would call it an investigation. I do think that it's a matter of semantics.
And it also -- the Clinton e-mail issue and story is something that was covered over and over and over during the election. It's something that was basically investigated by the Congress or touched upon. And so we've got a much more serious issue in front of us: obstruction of justice and whether that occurred and, secondly, whether anybody colluded with the Russians.
BLITZER: We're just getting word that the House investigators have now received what are being described as a batch of documents from former national security advisor Michael Flynn, one week after issuing the subpoenas. I'll quote Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, on your committee. "We're going through the documents we've received from various witnesses, including General Flynn, to determine if they meet the requirements of the documents we've asked for. I think we're still engaged in that review."
Have you personally seen those documents?
CASTRO: I have not. I look forward to seeing them. I'm glad that Michael Flynn has turned them over. I hope that other witnesses will do the same. And that, in due course, he'll come in front of the committee and that the other witnesses that we've identified will come over also.
BLITZER: Was it appropriate for Comey to hand over his memorandums on his conversations with the president to a friend of his, a professor at Columbia University Law School, and say, "Give these to a reporter," and, in fact, they were leaked to the "The New York Times"? Was that appropriate for private conversations between him and the president to be distributed that way? CASTRO: Well, I'm not the final arbiter of that or anybody else on
the committee, the legislative committee. But from what I could tell, those were not classified documents, which means...
BLITZER: Comey said they were not classified. The lawyer for the president said they were privileged communications.
CASTRO: Well, I'll let the lawyers in the Justice Department settle that issue, but, you know, I don't see it as being something that was completely out of left field.
BLITZER: Comey said he did that because he wanted to put some pressure to get a special counsel involved.
BLITZER: And there is now a special counsel, Robert Mueller, a former FBI director.
Congressman Castro, thanks for coming in.
CASTRO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Just ahead, Comey in his own words, defending the FBI and accusing the president of defamation. More on the breaking news right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly, the FBI, by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leaders. Those were lies, plain and simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:38:57] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the White House insisting the president is not a liar after James Comey publicly and repeatedly accused the president and his administration of lying about him and the FBI.
We're covering all the angles of the fired FBI director's truly blockbuster testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Trump team's reaction. Right now listen to some of Comey's dramatic opening remarks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: When I was appointed FBI director in 2013, I understood that I served at the pleasure of the president. Even though I was appointed to a ten-year term, which Congress created in order to underscore the importance of the FBI being outside of politics and independent, I understood that I could be fired by a president for any reason or for no reason at all. And on May the 9th, when I learned that I had been fired, for that reason I immediately came home as a private citizen. But then the explanations, the shifting explanations, confused me and increasingly concerned me.
[18:40:08] They confused me, because the president and I had had multiple conversations about my job, both before and after he took office, and he had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job and he hoped I would stay. And I had repeatedly assured him that I did intend to stay and serve out the remaining six years of my term.
He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me, including our current attorney general, and had learned that I was doing a great job and that I was extremely well-liked by the FBI workforce.
So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation and learned again from the media that he was telling, privately, other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation.
I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn't make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions have had to be made. That didn't make any sense to me.
And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I'm so sorry that the American people were told them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our reporters and analysts and specialists. And Laura Jarrett, I take it you're just getting a very lengthy statement from the Department of Justice, reacting to the testimony from Comey. Tell our viewers what it says.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. The Justice Department is pushing back hard against two aspects of Comey's testimony today.
The first one has to do with the scope of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal and exactly what Comey knew about it and when.
So you'll remember that the attorney general recused himself back in March, and he said that it was because of his involvement in the Trump campaign. And this statement from the Justice Department now supports that. But he also says that Mr. Comey was aware of that fact, even though today he said that he wasn't aware of any memorandum issued from the attorney general or the Department of Justice to the FBI outlining the parameters of the attorney general's recusal.
Well, the Justice Department has now released an e-mail from Attorney General Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, Jody Hunt, directly to James Comey, outlining the reason for the recusal and instructing James Comey, "You should not instruct members of your staffs -- you should instruct members of your staffs not to brief the attorney general about or otherwise anything having to do with this Russia investigation."
So disputing this idea that Comey somehow wasn't aware at the time of the reasons for this recusal.
But the other interesting part is this issue of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' silence. So you'll remember part of Comey's testimony was that, in the February meeting, everybody was shooed out of the room, including the attorney general and the vice president; and it was just Comey and Trump alone. And the day after Comey says he went to the attorney general and said, "That's not OK. That can't happen. It's inappropriate." And as Comey tells it, the attorney general looked at him in silence and didn't reply.
Well, the attorney general is now saying that didn't happen at all, and he says in this statement, "The attorney general was not silent. He responded to this comment by saying that the FBI and the Department of Justice needed to be careful about following appropriate policies regarding contacts with the White House."
So two aspects there, both recusal and this issue of silence, Wolf, that the Justice Department is now pushing back on.
But it's interesting: they don't address the one bread crumb that was kind of cryptically left by Comey today about some of the other reasons, a variety of other reasons that he couldn't discuss openly, about why the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. That was certainly a huge bread crumb, indeed.
You know, Gloria, there's so much of what Comey says that the president is a liar. So much of what the president's private attorney Marc Kasowitz is saying, that Comey is lying. So it's a "he said versus he said." So is it now up to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to determine who's telling the truth and who's lying?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, unless there are tapes, in which case Congress ought to subpoena those tapes and find out some of these answers.
You know, right now, we've got somebody who, you know -- they're both calling each other liars. One's a leaky liar; one's a lying liar. And -- and you have the president's attorney saying, on the key issues that might constitute some sort of obstruction, that in fact, the president never said what Comey said he said. That he never tried to shut down the Flynn investigation, that he never asked for a loyalty oath.
You know, these are key components of all of this and I think -- at this point, obviously Comey kept contemporaneous notes. We don't know what Donald Trump did but if there are tapes, that's one way to resolve this issue.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Comey also testified under oath about it.
BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.
CHALIAN: That's a difference as well.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If he was lying, that's perjury and he could go to jail for that.
You served four years in the White House, you spent a lot of time in the Oval Office. You believe there -- I don't -- you might not know, but do you believe there are tapes of those conversations?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was only there two years, so that wasn't long enough to find out, Wolf.
BLITZER: It felt like more, though.
AXELROD: It did, indeed. I had no reason to believe that we were being taped in the Oval Office. And I have to say that, perhaps there was a tape taping system that the president was aware of, but to shoo everyone out of the office and then have a tape running seems inconsistent to me. So, I'm a little dubious about that.
BLITZER: Whether or not there are tapes because that could be the decisive element in this he said versus he said.
You know, David Chalian, listen to Marc Kasowitz. He's the private attorney now representing the president in all of this. After Comey's testimony, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC KASOWITZ, OUTSIDE COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president never in form or substance, directed or suggested, that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone including the president never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, let Flynn go.
The president also never told Mr. Comey, quote, I need loyalty, I expect loyalty, close quote. He never said it in form and he never said it in substance.
Of course, the Office of the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving the administration and from before this president -- and from before this president took office to this day, it is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications. Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: It sounds like they want to have a full scale investigation now, the administration, of Comey and his decision to share those memorandums he wrote of his conversations with the president with a friend of his who then gave it to "The New York Times."
CHALIAN: All because James Comey wanted to initiate a special counsel, because he had thought that the president crossed a line, so he was trying to be a catalyst for an action and he got his way. Whether or not it's a leak, your own private recollections and memorializing an interaction you had, I think is something that people are going to debate, whether that is an actual leak.
The other thing Kasowitz said there, that was privileged communication. Well, it's not at all clear that it was privileged communication, not every bit of communication with the president is privileged. So, clearly, they want to fight Comey on this notion that he is out and about leaking, but I don't know the facts are going to totally create a successful leaking investigation into what Comey did --
AXELROD: I think Mr. Kasowitz is swimming in unfamiliar waters here. I spoke to a couple of former White House counsels today who are, you know, pretty dismissive of this notion that they could actually make this thicken and he himself said, we'll let others decide whether or not, this is an actionable offense.
BLITZER: We have a lot more to discuss but when I heard the attorney for the President Marc Kasowitz come out with that strong statement accusing Comey of lying, saying that he was doing the wrong thing by leaking that kind of memorandum, it was a typical Donald Trump move, somebody punches you, you counterpunch right back and then you go ahead and say, well, maybe we should investigate you for leaking that kind of information.
We're going to continue all of our special coverage right after this.
[18:54:09] BLITZER: Breaking news on what James Comey apparently told Senate Intelligence Committee members during this afternoon's closed door session.
I want to go straight to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
Jim, apparently, this confirms something you first reported here on CNN last week.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're learning now that in closed session this afternoon, the fired FBI Director James Comey told senators that the reason he didn't want to discuss the Attorney General Sessions any further in public session is because of a possible third meeting, a third undisclosed meeting between Sessions and Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. My colleagues -- myself, my colleagues Evan Perez and Manu Raju are
told that this is based on Russian-to-Russian conversations, intercepts discussing this meeting and I should say, as you noted, Wolf, we were the first to report last week that congressional investigators were looking into the possibility of a third meeting, this taking place at the Mayflower Hotel in April of 2016.
[18:55:08] One more note, I will tell you, when we reported that story last week, the Justice Department quite definitively denied that any such meeting took place, saying the facts haven't changed. The then- senator did not have any private or side conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.
But as I said, we're now learning that James Comey told the senators in classified session this afternoon that there is a possible third meeting that they are investigating here. This would be quite explosive information relating to the current attorney general, Wolf.
BLITZER: It may have been what he had been hinting in open session earlier in the day. We don't know that, but it's possible.
I want to bring back our reporters and specialists.
All right. Rebecca, this is as big deal.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a very significant development, Wolf, to say the least. And it injects new meaning into the White House recently and not being able to say to reporters that they have full confidence in Jeff Sessions. Sean Spicer could not go that far with reporters very recently and now it has elements of Michael Flynn.
They before he was fired from the White House could not say to reporters that they had full confidence in Michael Flynn and it was because we came to learn that he was in some legal jeopardy. And so, now, this could perhaps be the reason why Sessions is in some hot water with the White House. Another undisclosed meeting with Russians.
BLITZER: We know the president has always been upset that Sessions recused himself because it showed weakness and when you're under fire, you don't show weakness.
BORGER: Right. I mean, the president was really upset that Sessions recused himself, because he felt in he had not recused himself, he wouldn't be in the position he is right now with a special counsel because he thought Sessions could have at least taken charge of this and perhaps handled everything for him. But, clearly, that wasn't to be. He's mad at him about other things. There's this now this issue lingering out there that Comey raised today and we're going to have to see what Sessions says going forward or what occurs.
CHALIAN: And even today, to Rebecca's point, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders finally gave word --
BLITZER: The deputy White House press secretary. CHALIAN: -- gave word, she wouldn't say that the president had confidence in Sessions specifically. She just said that the president has confidence in his full cabinet. Obviously, Jeff Sessions is included in that. But she still wouldn't answer the question specifically about Jeff Sessions.
BLITZER: It's really humiliating to the attorney general, David Axelrod, of the United States when the president, through his various spokespeople, refuse to say this the president has specific confidence in him.
AXELROD: Yes. I was wondering the other day whether he was looking at the filing dates for the special election for senator in Alabama to fill his own seat. He might want to jump back into that race.
BLITZER: I assume, Laura, the Department of Justice is now going to have to respond to this latest report you just heard Jim Sciutto's report that Comey in this closed door session with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee is raising the possibility that Sessions did, in fact, have a third undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. You know, the Justice Department has been pretty consistent on this, both this week and last week. They say this pull-aside meeting -- that this alleged meeting never happened. It's a flat denial. It's not an equivocation.
And so, at some point, we may have to hear from the attorney general himself. Obviously, he's been called up to Capitol Hill. Various panels want to talk to him about a variety of issues, including Russia. And so, I predict this nay come up.
BLITZER: This is another example, David, of -- if it's true, of people close to the president of the United States having amnesia, forgetting about various meetings with Russian officials.
AXELROD: You just compounded the story over and over and over again. The fact is if you don't have anything to hide, you don't hide anything. And this is epidemic. And particularly as it relates to Kislyak, who we know is not just an ambassador but also closely allied with the intelligence community in Russia.
BLITZER: Yes, Comey called him a diplomat today. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, although he said there's a huge operation working out of the Russian embassy that is engaged in espionage.
BORGER: I'll tell you, Kislyak was doing his job. I mean, not only, you know -- I mean, he met with Jared Kushner. He met -- he spoke with Flynn. You know, he was -- he was doing what he is paid to do with an incoming administration. We just don't know about the other side of these conversations.
BERG: And it's possible that someone like Jeff Sessions could have been being used by the Russians without his knowledge but then the question is, why not disclose those interactions in the first place? AXELROD: Right.
BLITZER: Very dramatic material all through the day. We're going to stay on top of it all through the night as well.
But that's it for me. Thanks for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Our special breaking news coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."