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EARLY START

Trump Fires Comey; Outrage After Trump Fires FBI Director; Most Lawmakers Stunned By Comey Firing; Grand Jury Subpoenas Issued To Flynn Associates; Harsh Reaction To Comey Firing; Trump Administration Officials Praised Comey; Clinton Campaign Aides On Comey Firing; White House Defends Timing Of Comey Firing; What's Next For The Trump-Russia Probe; Check On CNN Money Stream; NASDAQ Hits 30th Record Close In 2017; Democrat Seek Probe Of Carl Icahn. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 10, 2017 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A truly stunning development rocking the foundation of American government. President Trump fires the FBI Director investigating Russia's ties to Trump's aides. This morning demands for a special prosecutor amid growing doubts over the direction, the future of the Russian investigation. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 30 minutes past the hour on another stunning day in the political scene in this country. Was James Comey fired as the FBI Director for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation as the White House claims, or something else? This morning, the reality for the bureau and the White House is this. Russia probe is alive without anyone to lead it and the President of the United States is taking serious heat from both sides of the aisle for a move that stunned the nation, and at a minimum, raises some serious questions about why this move came at this time.

ROMANS: Democrats calls for a special prosecutor on the Russia probe grows louder this morning. House Democrats are now asking for the preservation of all documents related to Russia and to Comey's firing. The FBI Director's unceremonious termination with eerie echoes of Watergate went down rapidly and under tight secrecy.

BRIGGS: The President acting on advice from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who cited Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe, not once, mentioning Russia. Trump on the other hand, certainly had Russia on his mind when he penned an abrupt letter to tell Comey he was out of a job. But Comey actually learned of his own termination from T.V. monitors at the FBI office in L.A. Our coverage begins this morning with our own Jessica Schneider who's here with us in New York, great to have you here this morning on this stunning story. We'll get to how this went down in a moment because it is a head scratcher like everything else. But how did we get here?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting because we know that tensions have been building between the White House and the Justice Department on one side, and the FBI on the other. We know that for the past several weeks, the Justice Department has really been making a push to the FBI to really investigate the leaks that have been coming out. We know that President Trump has repeatedly talked about these leaks, the classified information pushing for more action on that side.

While the FBI has been pursuing that line of investigation, they've also been equally pursuing the Russia probe. And of course, that may have ruffled some feathers at the White House, Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well. So, we know that those tensions have been mounting for the past few weeks. So, the question is what exactly was the straw that broke the camel's back? Why exactly did this happen now? Of course, perhaps, part of what led to this is that just in the past 24 hours Director Comey has been a bit under fire for some of the misstatements that he made in testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So, perhaps, the White House may have seized on those questions about Director Comey's credibility for a misstatement he made regarding Huma Abedin. And he had said last week that she had forwarded manually hundreds and thousands of emails when we know, in fact we learned this months ago, in fact, that a lot of those e-mail sent to her then husband's Anthony Weiner's computer they were actually done by an automatic backup. So, yesterday the FBI issuing a clarification, perhaps, the White House seized (INAUDIBLE), used that opportunity to then put these plans in motion.

ROMANS: So, the official word from the White House this has nothing to do with the Russian investigation. But the President himself, in his letter to James Comey, mentioned the Russian investigation. He said this; this is the Trump letter to James Comey. While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I'm not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

The Department of Justice led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, by the way, has recused himself from the Russia investigation which the President has mentioned in that very letter. So, it's clearly in front of his mind.

SCHNEIDER: It is, it's at the front of the President's mind. Like you said, it was within the first sentence or two of this, actually, very short letter to Director Comey. But the is quite a disconnect between what President Trump sent in his letter to Director Comey between the memo that actually the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote. Rod Rosenstein focused his two-and-a-half page memo on the mishandling, as he put, of the Clinton e-mail investigation by Director Comey. Of course, we saw this all unfold during the election season.

He talked about how it was inappropriate for Director Comey to hold that press conference back in July, to really go above the head of Attorney General Loretta Lynch at that time, take matters into his own hands, and really call out Hillary Clinton's behavior. It's a dash of irony here because, of course, Rod Rosenstein, now Deputy Attorney General at the Justice Department working on behalf of the Trump administration, he's now railing against how Director Comey handled this. Whereas President Trump, then-candidate Trump on the campaign trail, praised the way Director Comey handled this and talked about the victory you know, talking about the Clinton e-mail investigation.

ROMANS: It's unbelievable.

BRIGGS: Really good for a stunning 100 days. This race is set to a new level.

ROMANS: A lot of dots to connect to this morning.

BRIGGS: Rod Rosenstein cleared that this is about the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. Is anyone, right or left, criticizing his characterization of how Comey handled the emails?

SCHNEIDER: Well you know, interestingly, in this two and a half page memo, Rod Rosenstein cited several people. And he talked about how they also had criticized Director Comey's handling of this investigation. However, we do know that in just the past few hours, it was Donald Ire, he was the Deputy Attorney General under President H.W. Bush, he actually called this reasoning a sham. He said that it was a complete sham that they're using this investigation of the Clinton e-mail server as their cover to then fire Director Comey. So, at least one person cited as being behind this decision in this memo from Rod Rosenstein is saying, no, this is all just a cover, there's obviously something else behind this firing.

ROMANS: You know, it's also a cloak and dagger. So, we have this video of the President's, you know, body man delivering the letter to FBI in a manila envelope.

BRIGGS: Knowing that Comey was out of town, mind you.

ROMANS: And Comey was not even there. You know, he's watching the news later on television. You know, in the FBI offices in California.

SCHNEIDER: And what's so interesting is the man that you're seeing there, Keith Schiller, he has been a long-time confidant, body man, and security guard for President Trump dating back to 1999. On the campaign trail, people talked about how he was one of President Trump or then-candidate Trump's closest confidants. So, yes, he was dispatched to give this letter to Director Comey at the FBI headquarters. But of course, Director Comey was out in L.A., at the field office there talking to staff when he learned about it on television.

ROMANS: All right. Jessica Schneider, a great reporting. Thank you so much, nice to see you this morning. Another busy day here in Washington.

BRIGGS: Indeed. On Capitol Hill, Comey's firing met with shock across the political spectrum. Republicans, expressing a range of concerns; many of them focused on the timing of the dismissal months into Trump's term and nearly a year after Comey's news conference on the Clinton e-mails. Tennessee Senator, Bob Corker, one of six Republican's critical of the timing saying, his removal at this particular time will raise questions. ROMANS: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona tweeting, I've spent the last

several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing and just can't do it. Fellow Arizona Republican John McCain says he's disappointed in the President's decision that marks a rare break from McCain with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. Lindsey Graham voiced support on Comey's firing.

BRIGGS: Absolutely, he did as did Susan Collins, a very moderate Republican Senator as well. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats largely unified in calls for a special prosecutor, here was Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last night.

This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House and as far away as possible from anyone that President Trump has appointed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (R), NEW YORK: This investigation must be run as far away as possible from this White House. And as far away as possible from anyone that President Trump has appointed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: President Trump, ready to fire right back on Twitter, Crying Chuck Schumer stated recently, I do not have confidence in James Comey any longer. Then act so indignant. #draintheswamp.

ROMANS: All right. Soon after a word of Comey's firing broke out, CNN learned federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. They are seeking Flynn's business records from colleagues who worked with him on contracts after he was forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. This signal's significant these subpoenas are a significant escalation of activity in the FBI investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Investigators have been examining how Flynn handled disclosures about payments he received from clients to foreign governments including Russia and Turkey; attorneys for Flynn, declining to comment.

BRIGGS: The Comey firing met with a harsh response from across the political spectrum; we'll have more on that. And what's in store for the Russian investigation, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: James Comey was fired for being too mean to Hillary Clinton? Does anyone believe that? Could anyone believe that? This is an investigator who is investigating the White House. And he was just fired by the White House. This doesn't happen in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It does. It just did.

BRIGGS: It just did. And Jeffrey Toobin also called it a grotesque abuse of power, just one example of the outrage across the country from this Comey firing. For more on the response on Capitol Hill and the future of the Trump-Russia investigation, let's bring in Zach Wolf, Managing Editor of CNN Politics Digital; and CNN Legal Analyst, Areva Martin, she's a Civil Rights Attorney in Los Angeles, great to have you here on this very important morning. Zach, let me start with you and let's go back as we have so often, and listen to what Donald Trump said campaigning about James Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: And I have to give the FBI a credit, it took guts for Director James Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition that he had where they're to protect her from criminal prosecution. Good job by the FBI. I have respect the FBI has given her a second chance. I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. I'll tell you what. What he did, he brought back his reputation. Because there's a lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:45:34] BRIGGS: And that's not all, Zach. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Fox last year, FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence; he had no choice but to report it to the American Congress. How do we reconcile that turn of events this morning?

ZACH WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR: Well, it's incredible. You know, from hypocrisy standpoints just the idea of saying those things before the election and then turning around and firing the guy for essentially those things, you know, the things that he used to praise him for is remarkable; One of the more remarkable things about this. I don't understand how they reconcile the two. I would love to hear Donald Trump explain this. We haven't seen him in a couple of days. I don't think we're going to see him today. So you know he needs to get out there and talk to the American people about this. And tell them why he did this.

ROMANS: He's not had a public event, really, for five days; this'll be the sixth day. He has a meeting with Sergey Lavrov the Foreign Minister of Russia with Rex Tillerson the U.S. Secretary of State. So, that's on the agenda here today. We heard from him last night in a tweet at about 10:00 where he slammed Chuck Schumer. Chuck Schumer is calling for a special prosecutor; like many Democrats calling for a special prosecutor for the Russia investigation.

The President said this, Crying Chuck Schumer stated recently I do not have confidence in James Comey any longer then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp. That's all we've heard from Donald Trump in the wake of this firing. Well, we have heard, Areva, from the team Clinton. Pretty much, universal condemnation for this firing. And they are no fans of James Comey. Hillary Clinton herself just recently said that if the election happened on October 27th the day before, you know Comey's public statements that she would have won the White House. So, we heard from Brian Fallon last night on CNN, he called in. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The timing and the nature of this firing that the Trump administration is announcing now belies any possible explanation that this has anything to do with the Clinton investigation. And the only thing that I think could have further deteriorated confidence and eroded faith in the institution of the FBI than Jim Comey remaining there. It was firing James Comey and now Donald Trump has done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And (INAUDIBLE) look at that campaign manager, Twilight Zone. I was as disappointed and frustrated as anyone as for how the e-mail investigation was handled. But this terrifies me. Are you surprised by the reaction from the Clinton team?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not at all, Christine. And it's important to note that all things legal are not expedient. So, legally, Donald Trump had the authority to fire James Comey, even though Barack Obama had appointed him to a ten-year term. The President, the sitting President has the authority to fire the FBI Director. But what's so stunning about this is when you look at the timing, as we've been talking about, and the explanation it's employment law 101.

If you're firing someone because of their performance, you want to make sure that that termination occurs close in time to the actions giving rise to the termination. So, if the termination is related to what happened in terms of the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails back during the 2016 campaign, you would've expected to see from the Department of Justice a memorandum, close in time to that recommending his termination. Not for that to come 110 days into the Trump administration. And also what's troubling to me as a lawyer is how this termination breaks with the protocol of the Department of Justice.

We didn't get a legal brief, we didn't get case law that was cited, and we didn't get precedent. We get a memo, two and a half page memo that's quoting campaign literature from the Clinton team. That's quoted aped pieces. That's quoting things that you can Google. We didn't get the kind of robust legal analysis that you would expect for a decision that has the gravity of the decision of firing the sitting FBI Director.

BRIGGS: And bipartisan criticism of the firing of James Comey specifically, the timing, Zach. Six Republican Senators questioned the timing and says this further complicates the investigation. But Susan Collins, a very moderate senator as you know, said this was the inevitable conclusion of the way Comey handled the Clinton e-mail probe, also said it's patently absurd to suggest that this obstructs the Russia investigation. Where does it go from here? Might we see a special investigator, a special counsel, if you will?

WOLF: Well, if you would ask me yesterday afternoon, if we would see a special prosecutor or council of some kind, I would have said absolutely not because Republicans control the Senate and, you know, the Attorney General's office. And if you're going to have that, you need somebody from one of those two bodies on board with it. But I think that this move of firing Comey if anything, this could start the sort of dominos in that direction. We'll have to see what happens; obviously, it'll be a while before we get there. And the outcry will have to grow even more to force that hand, I think.

ROMANS: All right. Areva Martin, Zach Wolf, nice to see you both this morning. Thank you so much for your insight bright and early. Thank you.

BRIGGS: We have so many questions. Time for a look at what's coming up on NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, joining us. Chris, so many questions. You wonder when James Comey will have his opportunity to tell his side of the story. What's your biggest question this morning?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Well, that's a good question in and of itself. I'll tell you what I'll tell you what I know as opposed to what I need to ask this morning, is that we have to be very careful about staying focused on the facts of what happened and what it means for the administration of justice going forward. This is an easy opportunity for pundits to really get their fulmination on and outrage on a lot of partisanship about it. We're hearing a lot about it, and that's understandable given something that's as cataclysmic as this. But why it happened? And a real laser-focused on what the rationales are and what happens now.

It's a good discussion you were just having about special prosecutors, that's legislation. No question that would be what congress has to do and this is being compared to Nixon. You know, Nixon did not dismiss the Director of the FBI. That is something that's being misreported a lot. He got rid of a special prosecutor. It was plenty controversial. So, today we're going to take you through why the White House says this happened. We're going to test that explanation. And we're going to talk about what has to happen going forward to secure the administration of justice. That's the only thing that matters to the democracy, everything else is politics. So, we're going to have a lot of big names on.

We have White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway on to talk about it. We got three senators involved in these main investigations into Russia's role in election meddling. We got Senators Angus King, Richard Blumenthal, and Lindsey Graham. They're going to tell us what they see as next. Remember, the President had said he was going to unite people. He did it, but he did it in a way he didn't, I think, want to which is you have Republicans and Democrats that are united in their concern about this. We have former Attorney General Gonzalez on. We got Condoleezza Rice on. We're going to give you both aisles taking a look at this. And I think they're going to be united in this general concern: what happens next?

ROMANS: All right. BRIGGS: Looking forward to it, Chris. And to Chris' point about Nixon:

the Nixon library tweeted, fun facts: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI. That was tweeted almost 30,000 times last night.

ROMANS: But the point is that the point is that he got rid of the person who was investigating the White House, and that's a parallel.

CUOMO: There it is. And remember, that's what that statute was all about. That expired in '99. We needed to remove it from political pressure. So, when he did that you could argue, it was equally controversial.

ROMANS: All right. Chris Cuomo, it's nice to see you this morning. You got a lot of big interviews up there on the seventh floor. Democratic lawmakers want to investigate a noted investor of the President's Special Adviser, Carl Icahn. Big questions, there. CNN Money Stream is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Futures of global markets mostly lower after Wall Street once again barely moved. Still, barely moving was enough for the NASDAQ to hit another record high close, the 30th this year, and Dow and S&P 500 closed lower. Democratic lawmakers want the SEC to investigate whether Activist, Billionaire Investor, and Trump friend and Adviser, Carl Icahn broke securities trading laws.

It has to do with CVR Energy, a small oil refinery icon has the majorities taken. It bet again something called biofuel credits. EPA regulations require refineries to buy them. The prices for those credit plunged after Icahn and the trade group presented the White House a plan to revamp those very EPA regulations. Democratic lawmakers argue the resulting profits could be insider trading. No comment from Icahn. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. NEW DAY starts right now.

CUOMO: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, May 10th, 6:00 here in New York and we begin with breaking news. President Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey. The timing and rationale for the President's abrupt termination of Comey for his handling of the Clinton probe, that's what we're told, this is all objectively puzzling. There are two main questions: why would the President fire the man investigating whether his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election? And perhaps the even bigger question is who among our leaders will step forward to secure the administration of justice in your democracy?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Many Republicans, now joining growing the calls to have an independent probe while democrats are drawing parallels to Nixon and Watergate. All of this as CNN learns exclusively that federal prosecutors have issued subpoenas to associates of Michael Flynn in the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. We have every angle of this huge story covered for you, so let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House. Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.