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Trump Talks Unfair Treatment; Trump Asked Comey to End Probe; Intel Committee Wants Memos and Testimony; Lawmakers Want Comey to Testify; Memo Could be Grounds for Impeachment; Obstruction of Justice Questions. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN. We've got some breaking news for you this afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.
We are expecting to hear from the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for the very first time since this explosive report and arguably the deepest crisis of Donald Trump's presidency. This memo from former FBI Director James Comey that claims the president asked him privately to stop investigating the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Reportedly saying, quote, "I hope you can let this go." Congress now demanding any memo, along with Mr. Comey's testimony, as lawmakers raise concerns that President Trump may have obstructed justice.
Amid all of this, silence from the president except for these comments he made during a commencement speech at the Coast Guard just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history - and I say this with great surety - has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, so let's begin now with our White House correspondent, Sara Murray, for us in Washington.
And so let's talk a little bit more about these memos and even Comey's testimony itself because, what, the ranking member on the Senate Intel Committee would like both.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Not just the Senate, the House and the Senate have both said that they want to see these memos. Obviously we know a portion of what's in them and we and other outlets have sort of reported some of the lines that are drawing concern. But these committees want to see sort of what is in this memo. I'm sure they want to see what is in some of the other memos that Comey may have written after his interactions with Trump.
And the Senate has also invited James Comey to testify. So that's really sort of the next chapter in this saga, whether Comey accepts this invitation to testify, whether these committees are able to get their hands on more of these memos and on these memos in sort of their complete form and what that tells us exactly about the president's role, his conversations with James Comey, and if he was, in fact, trying to meddle in this investigation into Russia.
BALDWIN: OK. Sara Murray, thank you.
Let's continue the conversation. Let me bring in Republican Congressman James Comer from the great state of Kentucky. He is a member of the House Oversight Committee investigating the Trump campaign's ties with Russia.
So, congressman, nice to see you, sir.
REP. JAMES COMER (R), KENTUCKY: Well, thank you for having me.
BALDWIN: All right, so, we want to talk to you because it's my understanding that you said earlier that you are skeptical about this memo, about the conversation between the president and his former FBI director. How so?
COMER: Well, I'm just - I'm curious why, when the deputy FBI secretary testified before Congress, he failed to mention this action. And I'm curious as to why, if it happened in February, that James Comey didn't bring it to the attention of the Department of Justice. So I think there are a lot of questions here that need to be answered. I certainly support Chairman Chaffetz's decision to request the memo so that the House Oversight Committee can look at it and then proceed from there.
BALDWIN: I can respond to a piece from that. This is from Jake Tapper's reporting on a source close to Comey on why he didn't go to anyone, because it wasn't a very successful effort and he thought if he pushed back on it, living with this president, it was about standing up and pushing back. And so it was about like having a good working relationship and things of that nature. So I just wanted to get that out there.
If you were to think perhaps the president was joking, why, then, would he ask both the vice president, who was initially in the room, and the attorney general, who was in the room, to leave?
COMER: Well, I think that's a question that certainly the president needs to answer himself. One of the things that I said earlier today, a reporter asked me, do you think that the way the president's personality is, that he could have said that in a joking manner. And I said he may - could have said that in a joking manner. A lot of times when you say a joke, people hear it and laugh, but when you read it in print, it's not very funny. And, you know, when -
BALDWIN: Well, why ask then - congressman, forgive me, but why ask those two to leave the room, if it was - let's go with what you're saying, if it was a joke?
COMER: I'm not saying it was a joke. I'm saying I was asked if it could have been a joke and I said it may have been a joke. I think we're going to find out a lot when we get the memo and I am certain that subpoenas will follow. I'm certain that James Comey will have his opportunity to testify before the Oversight Committee. And then, obviously, the president will - will have a chance to respond.
And let me say this, nobody's above the law. This is a very serious accusation. I take it very seriously as a new member of Congress, as a member of the Oversight Committee. But I think that we don't need a rush to judgment and we certainly need to let the facts come before the various bodies of Congress that are investigating this right now.
[14:05:9] BALDWIN: Of course. Of course.
We did hear from Senator John McCain. He was at a dinner last night honoring him. And he said essentially that these Trump scandals have, to quote him, "reached Watergate size and scale." Congressman Comer, do you think, you know, members of your own party, like Senator McCain, are overreacting?
COMER: Well, I certainly have the utmost respect for Senator McCain. My father's a Vietnam vet, so I was raised to appreciate heroes like John McCain. But I do think that there are a few Republicans in Congress that are - that are hitting the panic button right now. Certainly this is something that I take very seriously.
BALDWIN: Too much so?
COMER: I'm sorry?
BALDWIN: Too much so? Are they hitting that panic button a little too soon and which ones?
COMER: I think that every member needs to just step back and take a deep breath. You know, my big question is, why wasn't this brought out in testimony by the deputy FBI director just last week when he came before Congress? And a lot of the same people that I - I watch CNN all the time. A lot of the same people that are on CNN fussing about the president firing James Comey just a few weeks ago were calling for the president to fire James Comey. So it's amazing how quickly things change in Washington. This is certainly a serious issue that I think every member of Congress takes very seriously. But there's still a lot of facts still lingering out there, so we can't jump to any conclusions.
BALDWIN: It is possible that perhaps Mr. McCabe wasn't aware of the memos.
COMER: It's possible. And I think that's something that certainly the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Chaffetz, Ranking Member Cummings, that our committee will be able to answer for the entire press corps and the entire world. And if a law has been broken, then we'll go from there because, again, as I said earlier, no one's above the law. BALDWIN: You said that maybe some Republicans are hitting the panic
button a tad too early. We did hear from the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, today, and he was asked as he was heading out, you know, do you still have confidence in the president? And his response, two words, "I do." Do you, congressman?
COMER: I do, too. I do, too.
BALDWIN: You do?
COMER: And I just got back from a very successful town hall circuit in Kentucky. I had four town halls. And the majority of the people there support the president. He won my district by over 50 points. And a lot of the people in Kentucky are saying he's only been president a little over 100 days. Let's give him a chance. Let's give him a chance to put his administration together.
Now, he's made some mistakes and he's had a lot of unnecessary drama that's come out of the White House. But we have to remember, Donald Trump's not a politician. The American people didn't elect him because of his savvy political skills.
BALDWIN: But he is now, with all due respect, he is now the president of the United States. He's in the hot seat.
COMER: He is. He is in the hot seat. I wish he would quit tweeting so much. I think that most members of the majority party in Congress would say the same thing. But that's who he is. And that's what the American people elected.
You know, a lot of times very calculated, old established politicians, they speak with talking points. They're very disciplined. They never get off message. The American people were sick of that type of political figure. They wanted someone to speak their mind. Someone outside the box.
BALDWIN: You're right.
COMER: So Donald Trump's not very polished. He's not very polished. He's made a lot of mistakes early on. I hope that he can get things together because we have an agenda here to make America great again. We have to improve health care and make it more affordable and we have to get Americans working again.
BALDWIN: All right, Congressman Comer, I appreciate your time, sir, thank you very much, from Capitol Hill.
COMER: Thank you.
BALDWIN: I want to widen out this conversation with my panel. I have Dana Bash, our CNN chief political correspondent. Shelby Holliday is here with us. She is a politics and business reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." And CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston.
And so, ladies, let me turn to the two of you, just sitting next to me. I mean, listen, for all the people who are coming out and, you know, jumping out and using the "i" word and everything else, talking about obstruction of justice and whatnot, you know, it is so important also to listen to folks on the other end of the spectrum who are saying essentially, slow your roll. Don't hit the panic button despite what you may be hearing, reading and seeing.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And, look, there is a lot to be said for that. This is bad. There is no question about it. Even if this doesn't turn into anything that is illegal or actually technically improper when we get all the facts -
BASH: It is not good for the president's agenda. What he went to the White House to do, at least what the voters said that they wanted him to do, from the issues to just the demeanor and the notion of being a different kind of guy and draining the swamp, OK, well, that's not happening right now.
BASH: But, at the same time, you do have - I mean as you were doing the interview, a note from Deirdre Walsh saying that the House Oversight Committee has just scheduled a hearing for Wednesday. This is the Republican-led Oversight Committee. We don't know who the witnesses are. We don't know all the details of it yet. But that role is beginning to go. Slowly, but it's happening. And, you know what, it should go slowly. It should be done in a very deliberate and contentious way because this is the presidency we're talking about. This is, you know, I mean this is corny, but it is true. I mean this is sort of the cornerstone of democracy on all ends. But, in particular, this - I mean there's so many crises that we've been talking about in the past 48 hours, but this whole notion of Jim Comey feeling like he was pressured to change an FBI investigation has changed the dynamic and the conversations that I and my colleagues are having with the president's fellow Republicans like nothing has.
[14:10:38] BALDWIN: What do you think of the congressman saying, you know, well why didn't the acting director then say this in his testimony last week, or why didn't Comey go to even the DOJ? I guess my question would be, well, who is he supposed to go to, Jeff Sessions, to talk through all of this?
SHELBY HOLLIDAY, POLITICS & BUSINESS REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right. I mean we're hearing that a lot and different sides of the spectrum have different questions being raised. We live in a Google culture. We want to know the answer to something right away. That's not going to happen. To Dana's point, this should move slowly.
HOLLIDAY: That's good for Trump, but it's not good for Trump's agenda. And we're seeing Wall Street lose a tremendous amount of confidence in Donald Trump. The Dow, the S&P, the Nasdaq, they're - they've all fallen more than a percent today. So investors are worried. Voters are worried. They're watching this. Our latest "Wall Street Journal" poll shows independents are not on Trump's side right now. Those are the people who helped elect him.
HOLLIDAY: And the process should move slowly. It's very hard to prove obstruction of justice and the "i" word, as you mentioned earlier, I've been e-mailing with a Harvard professor and he just - the toughest thing is to prove intent. And so the fact that Trump may be joking could help Donald Trump. I mean he - the very things that helped Donald Trump be a good businessman, his demeanor, his jokingness, his sort of cut to the chase way of speaking to people are hurting him here. But if he was joking, it's hard to prove intent.
BALDWIN: Maeve, what about the fact that for a president who likes to spout off or tweet or, you know, what - speak off the cuff, you know, we haven't heard from him on Twitter in some 22 hours other than this, you know, commencement ceremony in Connecticut for the U.S. Coast Guard. What do you make of his silence?
MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I mean, at this point, he may need a lawyer, you know, so he may be getting some legal advice about the tweets that he's put out in the past, which getting to the point that y'all were just making, if we're looking at the president's intent here, he has a whole trail of tweets about Comey and the Russia investigation and then, you know, went on to fire Director Comey. So there's a bigger picture here and Trump may be at the point where he's realizing that it's not in his best interest to be tweeting about something that may - that is now a very serious legal matter.
And, you know, looking ahead to next week, I mean, I think we all have to remember that, you know, while the "i" word is being thrown around, it is now being talked about in a much more serious way.
RESTON: Republicans did not have good answers last night about what their response was to this. You know, Dana was making the point that - that this is a new level of seriousness. I mean last night it was like crickets. I would call people and they just wouldn't want to talk right now. They literally like don't know how to respond to this. So I think this is a different level of seriousness and we'll have to see how Trump behaves going forward over the next week or so.
BALDWIN: So there is the president, but then there's also now James Comey. Private citizen James Comey. So, Dana, I'm curious, a, how many more memos get out.
HOLLIDAY: So am I.
BALDWIN: When he finally breaks his silence.
BALDWIN: What do you think?
BASH: Well, look, we know that there are - there's not one but two committees in the Senate alone that are saying that they're asking for the memos.
BASH: Not just this one that we know about, about this conversation that he supposedly had with the president, where the president asked him to lay off Michael Flynn, but other conversations with the president that perhaps others in the administration that Congress is looking.
And this is, again, the Republican-led Congress is looking for those. And, as we speak, there are negotiations going on to get James Comey to Capitol Hill in a public setting. I know Lindsey Graham, who is the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the FBI, he's trying. The full Judiciary Committee is likely to try. We're going to see what happens there. And on the Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, who is the top Democrat, he told reporters today that he hopes their committee will have James Comey come and speak publicly.
So this is, again, we're talking about things that we have been told about by sources. To have James Comey go and testify and speak publicly is going to be - set this whole thing on a different trajectory, and we just don't know what that is yet.
BALDWIN: But at the end of the day, and I think it's - looping back to your original point, it could come down - maybe the joking that would help the president, but a he said/he said, unless there is some sort of hard evidence as far as what happened in that conversation.
[14:15:11] HOLLIDAY: It's true. And, I mean, as journalists, we write things down when we're talking on the phone or when we have an interaction because that is your paper trail.
HOLLIDAY: So paper trails do matter. And to Maeve's point, Donald Trump's tweets and his comments that are on the record will matter because when you go back and you look at these things, he had a shifting story about why he fired James Comey. He had different messaging coming out of the White House after he fired James Comey. Those things could matter, especially when you're looking at intent.
BASH: Can I just add one thing about -
BALDWIN: Yes, please.
BASH: About the whole question of writing it down. And, you know, I heard the same thing. I was hearing pushback from the White House when we first heard about this memo. But, wait a minute, if this was so alarming, why didn't he get in the car, drive to Capitol Hill and tell somebody about this? And - and that was, you know, criticism that we heard not just in the White House but elsewhere.
I was talking to a couple of people who are Trump allies, people who are very steeped in sort of how you prosecute obstruction of justice and all the things that go along with it who said that James Comey did exactly what he was supposed to do. He followed procedure to the letter of the procedure. He memorialized it, the conversation, as soon as he was done with it, and he did it, you know, to do it contemporaneously is something that they're apparently taught, maybe not just in law school, but, you know, in law enforcement in general because it could be and is generally admissible if it gets to that point.
BALDWIN: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. From you, Maeve -
RESTON: And carries great weight.
BALDWIN: Go ahead. Jump in.
RESTON: Yes, and to Dana's point, I mean, it carries great weight. You know, I think that - that there are a lot of legal issues right now that are - that are really unclear. But, in the end, the House would be deciding, you know, what - whether the president's conduct rises to the level of impeachment. And that's a different standard than the legal standard for obstruction of justice. So we'll be having a lot of conversations about that, you know, over the coming weeks as we see, you know, additional evidence and whether this rises to that level.
But there is a lot of explaining that the president needs to do at this point. And to your earlier interview, Brooke, I mean I think that - that the most curious thing, if the president was joking, is why he would have asked the vice president to leave the room.
BALDWIN: Those two to leave.
RESTON: I mean I -
BALDWIN: That's why I asked the question twice.
RESTON: That doesn't make sense, you know?
RESTON: So he'll have to explain that.
BALDWIN: Right. Unbelievable conversation. We're going to have it in four minutes.
Ladies, let me just thank you very much because let's get into the weeds on this, you know, this notion of, did the president obstruct justice? How could that even be proven, to your point, on intent? We'll have two legal experts on, one from the Nixon administration, to discuss.
Also just in, one of President Trump's closest friends weighing in on this memo. Governor Chris Christie says he has prosecuted these cases. Hear what the New Jersey governor is sharing.
And, Vladimir Putin coming to the president's defense today. Why the Russian president says he has a recording that will help President Trump.
You're watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[14:22:12] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Trump confidant and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will not weigh in directly about the news here that James Comey wrote a memo detailing the president's request to drop the case against Michael Flynn. Flynn was fired as national security advisor in February. Remember, the governor knows not only the president personally, but also Comey from Christie's time working as a prosecutor in the Justice Department. And Governor Christie did comment about the just fired director of the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm not going to comment on leaked materials that no one who either wrote the memo or was in the meeting have yet verified. It's just irresponsible.
I've known Jim Comey for 15 years. As I've said over and over again, even when we've had disagreements at times, both when we worked together, when I worked for him, and now during his tenure as director of the FBI, I have great respect for Jim and my - my view is that if Jim wants to be heard, Jim will be heard. He's not - he's never been a shy guy, in my experience. So if Jim wants to be heard, he'll be heard. But that's Jim's choice now. He's no longer in government service and he has no obligation to do anything else.
I'm the only person in this room, I think, who has prosecuted obstruction of justice cases and won them. They're very difficult cases to prove and you have to have very significant evidence of the state of the mind of the person who's attempting to do it. So I'd ask everybody to take a deep breath before everybody jumps to conclusions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Here are the comments - this is according to the source - Comey's memo says the president made to him about Michael Flynn. Quote, the president said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He's a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
I have now two lawyers with special expertise on the White House. CNN contributor John Dean was Richard Nixon's White House counsel. Dean pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his part in the Watergate cover up. He cooperated with federal investigators and received a reduced sentence. Also with us, Richard Painter, served as White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.
So, gentlemen, great to have both of you on.
And, Mr. Dean, you know, those three sentences from this source from, you know, President Trump to Mr. Comey, does that constitute obstruction of justice? JOHN DEAN, NIXON'S WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL, PLEADED GUILTY TO OBSTRUCTION
OF JUSTICE: Well, as you've mentioned, I'm very familiar with obstruction of justice. Learned about it the hard way. So I'm - I know what's involved. And there are two lines of cases when you're dealing with just the FBI. One line says that those are not pending judicial proceedings, therefore the statute doesn't apply. Other cases say you don't need a pending judicial proceeding.
[14:24:59] So the District of Columbia law, where this happened, is kind of a mishmash and not very clear on these issues. So given the fact that we don't have the - the facts or just a hint of what the fact are and we have a jurisdiction where the law that is a little mushy, I really can't say that there is an obstruction of justice. I can say politically Nixon, however, was impeached in Article I, Paragraph 4, for interference with the FBI. So it is an impeachable offense.
BALDWIN: Richard, same question to you.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, this memo, in and of itself, if it were just existing alone, probably would not rise to the level of obstruction of justice. You would need some form of coercion or implied threat to fire the FBI director if he did not go along and close down the Flynn investigation. But when you look at all of the facts, and the fact that the president asked for loyalty from the FBI director, that the president on several occasions made known his displeasure with the Russia investigation, the fact that Flynn was going to turn state's evidence and was seeking immunity in return for testimony, the fact that Director Comey was in fact fired by the president, the White House lied about the reason for the firing and then the president acknowledged that it had to do with the Russia investigation. You put all of that together and I think there could be a strong case for obstruction of justice, at least in those course that would apply the obstruction of justice statue to interference with an FBI investigation. So that's, I think, a very serious situation to have right now.
BALDWIN: Could be a strong case.
John Dean, back over to you. We went back to our archive. Let me take you back to March 1973 where you uttered those words, cancer on the presidency, saying it to President Nixon. Here it was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN (voice-over): There's no doubt about the seriousness of the problem that we've got. We have a cancer within the presidency that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding. It grows geometrically now because it compounds itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I mean, relating to what that looked like and felt back in 1973 now to 2017, what's the biggest similarity to you? DEAN: Well, I was trying to get Nixon to end the cover up and trying
to get his attention by telling him of the seriousness of the problem. That was about a 50-minute conversation with just he and I and about another 50 minutes when Bob Haldeman (ph) joins us. I tried my best, raising every problem we had that I could think of off the topics temporaneously (ph) and I got a lot of information in a fairly short time before him and I couldn't convince him. I couldn't turn him. I think that's the morning I really met Richard Nixon and he wasn't the man I expected.
BALDWIN: Wow. Richard, what do you say to, you know, folks like the congressman from Kentucky, Republican Congressman Comer, who I spoke with at the top of the program, and others who say, well, hold on a second, stop, you know, sounding the alarm bells so soon. The fact that, you know, this isn't quite as clear cut. Why didn't he go - why didn't Mr. Comey then go to whether it was straight up Capitol Hill and, you know, raise the flag then?
PAINTER: Well, I don't understand that argument. What's he supposed to do, report it to the FBI? Go to Capitol Hill? We've had enough of Jim Comey running up to Capitol Hill with all sorts of information. I don't think we needed that again. And telling Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who himself had contacts with the Russians and misrepresented that to the Senate in his confirmation hearing, I don't think that would be appropriate. I think Comey did the right thing here, just document the conversation.
The broader picture, however, is that this is about Russian espionage inside the United States. And that's the big difference with Nixon. I mean Nixon may have been a crook, but at least he was our crook. He wasn't a Russian agent. He was actually tough on communism and on Russian expansionism.
And this is a very different situation. This involves our national security. It's a serious threat to our country from a foreign power and the administration continues to engage in a cover up. Andi don't think it's in the interest of the Republicans. I've been a Republican for 30 years. I - there's no way that I would want to see the Republican Party stand up for covering up for Russian espionage and whoever in the United States has been helping the Russians. It's going to be a disaster for the Republicans. It's going to be a disaster for our country.
So we need the facts.
BALDWIN: We do.
PAINTER: We need a special prosecutor to look into all of this. And we need it now.
[14:30:05] BALDWIN: So far we have these committees. We know that they want those memos and they want testimony from Mr. Comey himself. I agree with you. We all - this country needs the facts. Richard Painter and John Dean --