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Soon: Fired FBI Chief Comey Testifies Before Senate. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired June 8, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:18] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. One hour from now, the most anticipated congressional hearing in decades will begin to unfold. Fired FBI Director James Comey goes public with his private interactions with President Trump.

We want to welcome viewers around the world to our special live coverage. I'm Anderson Cooper here in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're live here up on Capitol Hill.

The advanced copy of Comey's testimony rocking Washington. And the questions, they are mounting.

Did the President abuse his authority when he demanded that Comey pledge his loyalty to him? Did the President obstruct justice when he asked Comey to let go of the investigation into the fired national security adviser Michael Flynn? And why did Comey not reveal these claims until he was fired?

The President's lawyer says the President feels vindicated by Comey's testimony. It shows the fired FBI Director did tell President Trump that he was not under investigation as the President has claimed.

I've got CNN's top reporters with me here to set the stage for what is expected to be a lot, a lot of high drama.

And, Anderson, the excitement up here on Capitol Hill, clearly, is building.

COOPER: Yes. Jim Comey, we're told, has left his house. He's on his way to Capitol Hill. We'll be talking with our best legal and political voices as well. That is the former Director leaving there. Our crew's spread out across Washington.

Let's start with our Manu Raju. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Anderson, I'm here in the hearing room where hundreds of people are waiting outside this room to get one of the hottest tickets in town in a room that, really, only fits a couple hundred people. So a lot of people will be outside waiting for this riveting testimony, in which we're going to hear James Comey really lay out three key things.

One, President Trump has asked for loyalty over nine interactions that they had during Mr. Comey's time in office before he was fired. Two, the investigation into Michael Flynn and the President asked that he drop that investigation into the President's former national security adviser. And as well as James Comey himself, the push from the President for James Comey to clear the President's name by saying that the President himself was not under investigation.

And a couple of key passages that were laid out in James Comey's written testimony that was released yesterday really gets into this in some detail, particularly the loyalty ask. This is one key moment from a January 27th dinner, in which Comey reveals that the President asked for loyalty.

He says this, Anderson. "A few moments later, the President said, I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." He said, "I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner." He asked for, quote, "loyalty" that Comey was not comfortable in giving.

Now, this was not the only time that this came up in their conversations. Later, on a March 30th phone call, the two discussed the possibility of Comey lifting the cloud, in the President's words according to James Comey, over this Russia investigation, saying that, "On the morning of March 30th, the President called me at the FBI. He described the investigation as a, quote, 'cloud that it was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.' He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia and always been assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what he could do to, quote, 'lift the cloud.'"

Now, this is all according to his prepared testimony to try to show the President's efforts, to pressure Mr. Comey to ensure that the President was not under investigation, to try to get James Comey to back off this investigation over Michael Flynn.

And the question that senators will raise here is whether or not the President crossed the line, whether or not there was any obstruction of justice, and whether or not Mr. Comey himself believes that. Anderson, those are questions that will all be explored here in a matter of minutes.

COOPER: Manu, can you just walk us through what's going to happen, say, in terms of the schedule. How long is this going to last? What is the format, do we know?

RAJU: Yes. Well, it's going to start off with opening statements from Richard Burr, the Republican Chairman of the Committee, followed by the Vice Chairman, Mark Warner, who will lay out their own concerns about what Mr. Comey has said.

Then, Comey will, himself, read from his opening statement. We don't know if he's going to go through the entire statement that he submitted yesterday for the record and released publicly. Then afterwards, all members of this Committee will get a chance to question. They'll go Republican, Democrat, Republican, Democrat based on the level of seniority.

[09:05:06] The question, Anderson, is whether or not there is going to be multiple rounds of questioning. That's a question that Richard Burr will have to answer later on the hearing, but it could take several hours as lawmakers start to explore these key questions, Anderson.

COOPER: And explain why his opening statement was released yesterday. I understand he wanted the senators to have it so that they could prepare questions?

RAJU: Yes, and that's incredibly unusual, particularly for such a high profile hearing. Typically, these don't come out until the morning of and, typically, they're embargoed until they actually deliver these statements. But Mr. Comey, according to our sources, wanted to give the senators on the committee a sense of what he was going to say, give the public a sense of what he was going to say, allow for that back and forth to take place.

And also unusual, Anderson, Comey himself, when he was testified publicly, often does not read from prepared testimony, even when he testified for hours before the House Oversight Committee over Hillary Clinton's e-mail controversy. He did not even have prepared notes or testimony. He just went by his memory.

Much different here. It just shows the stakes of this hearing. He wants to get into as much detail as he can over those nine interactions with President Trump during Mr. Comey's time in office, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Manu Raju. Manu, thanks very much for that. I want to bring in CNN's correspondent, Ryan Nobles. He is right outside the room where the hearing is taking place.

Tell us what's happening there right now, Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right, Anderson. Manu gave you an idea of what it's like inside that room. It's really not that big of a room, but that's not reflective of the line that we see outside.

We're actually in the Dirksen Office Building, which is connected to the Hart Office Building where the hearing will take place, and look at how long this line is. We spoke to Ben in line since early this morning. We're now less than an hour away from the hearing beginning.

And keep in mind, there are only 90 seats inside the hearing room. There is an overflow room where there will be 100 seats available for folks that can get an audio and video feed.

But we've got folks here like Colin (ph), who've been standing in line -- what time did you get here this morning, Colin (ph)?

COLIN (PH): Seven a.m.

NOBLES: Seven a.m. You're pretty far at the end of this line. I hate it to tell it to you --

COLIN (PH): I know. I know.

NOBLES: -- you're probably not going to get inside. Why are you still standing in line?

COLIN (PH): Well, I figure, I can try to wait people out. But I'm just hoping that, eventually, once they let people in, people will realize they might not get in, and I'll just sort of wait until it rotates hopefully.

NOBLES: So why did you decide to come out this morning? Why is this important to you?

COLIN (PH): Well, I just figured it might potentially be sort of a historic moment in American politics, either way that it goes. So I wanted to see if I could be here and see what it was like.

NOBLES: All right.

COLIN (PH): Yes.

NOBLES: OK. Well, Colin (ph), long shot for you to get in, so good luck to you today.

COLIN (PH): Thank you very much.

NOBLES: All right. Wolf, we'll send it back to you.

BLITZER: And, right, we're hearing more about the President's schedule this morning. What is he going to be doing over at the White House? I want to quickly go to our Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta.

So, Jim, what do we know about where the President will watch this hearing? I assume he will.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He will be watching some of the hearing, Wolf, I'm told by a White House official. He'll be watching with aides from time to time during the Comey testimony in the White House dining room. But this official says he won't be glued to the T.V., which is, quote, "a good thing."

The expectation over here at the White House is that the President will not be tweeting. But, of course, nobody here is making any bets, understanding full well the President's social media habits.

But, Wolf, get this. The President's outside counsel, Mark Kasowitz, is expected to be here at the White House during the Comey testimony. That is a very interesting development because it suggests that the President is bringing in his outside legal guns to watch this Comey testimony. Very important in that regard.

Wolf, I've talked to a couple of different former campaign officials with the Trump campaign who have been watching and really monitoring all of this the last couple of days, in particular the Comey testimony that was released in writing yesterday.

One of these campaign officials said to me, very frankly, that the headlines are, quote, "terrible." Another official was really arguing the other point of view saying that they believe that this was a great day for the President yesterday, that there was no proof of any collusion.

But, of course, over here at the White House, they are being very cautious about all of this. Yesterday, the White House sent out its official talking points to all of its surrogates around the country, Wolf. And all of those talking points distributed by the White House yesterday, this is outside of what the RNC has been doing.

We know the RNC has been sending out these talking points, but the official White House talking points did not even mention Jim Comey. It talked about infrastructure, talked about the Paris climate deal, but did not mention Jim Comey. So that is very interesting as well.

But I think it's also important to point out, Wolf, yes, the President will be watching some of this testimony today, but the official White House line, coming from one official that I talked to earlier this morning, is that he is not going to be glued to this testimony all morning long. And aides feel like that is a good thing. They don't want him obsessed with all of this all morning long.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, we see that. Thanks very much.

Let's look now at how we got to this point. Our Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joins us live with more. Evan.

[09:10:03] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the awkward relationship between Donald Trump and James Comey, his FBI Director, began to go south, really, their first meeting on January 6th. That's when Comey briefed Trump on the dossier that was prepared by a former British spy, detailing allegations of Russian attempts to influence his campaign.

Now, we don't know a lot of exactly what Trump's reaction was during that briefing, but we know that Comey decided immediately that he needed to begin writing memos, detailing his interactions with the President.

Now, according to Comey, he hasn't done that with President Obama. Those two men only met twice over 3 1/2 years. Comey says that he had nine one-on-one conversations, including three in person meetings, with President Trump over 3 1/2 months.

Now, Comey's testimony goes on to detail a January 27th dinner, where the President seemed to want Comey to beg for his job. Comey says that the President asked him then to promise loyalty to him.

And then there was a February 14th Oval Office meeting, where the President ushered everyone else out of the room so he could talk to Comey. And that's the meeting where the President asked Comey to find a way to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, his national security adviser.

Then there was these subsequent calls in March and April, where the President wanted Comey to publicly say that he wasn't under investigation. As you know, Anderson, one of the things that was happening was, the President was frustrated that this Russia investigation was clouding everything, and he wanted, the President, to say exactly that he wasn't under investigation. Of course, he was fired on May 9th. Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan, thanks very much. Let's bring in our panel. Our reporters are with us.

You know, Dana Bash, you covered this building behind us for a long time. This is clearly a historic moment.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Look, we've seen very big hearings in, you know, the last, frankly, half a century that are memorable even to this day.

This is going to be not just one of those, but so unique in that long line because the notion -- if you take a step back, we're also sort of familiar now with this Comey/Trump sort of difference of opinions, their war of words, everything that's going on. But the notion of an FBI Director to the President of the United States coming before Congress, under oath as now a private citizen, and divulging this testimony, which is written like a spy novel or like a screenplay for, you know, a thriller, is unbelievable.

And I just think it's important to kind of remember how remarkable what we're going to hear is going to be. At the same time, it is one side of the story. And the President has unanswered questions about his side of the story. But, certainly, I would expect the Republicans on this Committee -- not all of them, but some of them -- to be prepared to try to draw out James Comey in a way that helps President Trump and gives the other side of the story as much as they can.

BLITZER: And the fact, Gloria, that the Comey testimony was released yesterday has given these senators, Democrats and Republicans, and their staffs, given them all night to prepare tough, important, hard questions. And that's precisely what they have been doing because they have had a sense, an opportunity, to digest the enormity of what Comey is ready to say under oath.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it was very smart of Comey to do this and to put it out there and ask the Committee to put it out there precisely because the Committee can then hone in on the questions they want to ask him.

And also, he sort of outlined a narrative here that he made it clear he's going to stick to. And we've been told, and it seems very clear from this, that he is going to appear as a fact witness.

What he is going to do is say, this is what occurred. I took these contemporaneous notes, and I was so concerned about it, in fact, at one point that I rushed right into my car after meeting with the President at Trump Tower and started typing. And so he has given them his diary, if you will, and now they're going

to have to try and figure out what he didn't tell them. And there is a lot he didn't tell them. There are holes in this that they're going to ask him to fill in on, Democrats and Republicans.

BLITZER: There certainly are. And, John, the fact that he will be sworn in, he will be testifying under oath. If he lies, that's perjury. That's a very significant development right now because all of these members are going to be pressing him for some tough answers.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And remember his training. He is a trained prosecutor. He became an FBI Director. He has deep experience in the Justice Department.

The fact that he went immediately to his car and started to type that memo was what an investigator does, make sure you get it quickly before you forget. And then he shared it with several of his colleagues just so that nobody could say, weeks later or months later, he decided this was his recollection, that he did it right at the time contemporaneously.

[09:15:06] This is sort of a political trial, if you will, a political event. Remember, and we can't forget, there is also a separate, very important Special Counsel investigation, in which James Comey is a central figure and witness.

Now Lindsey Graham was making the case last night, the senator from South Carolina, why would Bob Mueller let his star witness go out and testify in public if he thinks this is an obstruction case, let's leave that to the lawyers.

We will see what James Comey says today, but without a doubt, if you believe James Comey today, then the president of the United States acted repeatedly in a way that is grossly inappropriate at a minimum. Again, leave obstruction to the lawyers, leave the rest of the investigations, we go forward.

But if you believe what James Comey said about repeated efforts by the president to talk to him about an ongoing investigation, that's out- of-bounds. That is -- just the conversations themselves, never mind the substance of them, it's just out-of-bounds.

So if you believe that about the president, if you believe Comey, you believe the president did something that is grossly inappropriate and lied to the American people at that press conference just a couple of weeks ago when he was asked, did you do anything in any way to influence James Comey and he said no, no, next question.

And so this is a crossroads for the Trump presidency, which has been on wobbly political ground from day one. There are legal questions with these investigations or also political questions about the president's effectiveness.

To Dana's point, watch the Republicans today. More importantly after the Republicans digest what happens today, watch where the Republicans are tomorrow and next week, does the president lose them? If he does that today, there will be a political verdict today as the legal part goes forward.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a committee where you have pretty good bipartisan cooperation between the chairman, Richard Burr, the top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. They have worked closely together, but we will hear very different questions coming from Democrats as opposed to Republicans.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: We will and it will see sort of a tone being set early on when Burr makes his opening statements and then Mark Warner out of Virginia makes his opening statements, the Republican and the Democrat. We'll see from there I think very different things from both of those sides.

It will be interesting I think to Dana's point, how the Republicans split here because yesterday in that testimony we did see more of the moderate Republicans, people like John McCain, people like Marco Rubio be a little tough in terms of trying to get answers from some of those folks who were testifying yesterday.

And we saw Burr saying, listen, if you are coming before this Senate committee, take it seriously, come here with answers to our questions. I think on the Democratic side we will see people like Kamala Harris, she had a very interesting and combative exchange yesterday. She is a prosecutor, the youngest member on this committee.

She is a first-term senator. It will be interesting to see what she does, but yes, everyone is going to be watching. It is interesting to see all these folks lining up there like this was a first (inaudible) movie, them trying to get in there.

I think we'll see millions of people around the country watching today and seeing it very differently, right? This testimony, people are going to go in as Republicans and Democrats and likely see it through those lenses as well. And you can see obviously a Republican trying to say that Comey has no credibility. You saw talking points from the RNC already suggesting that.

BLITZER: When Nia says, Dana, that everyone will be watching, we know the president of the United States will be watching. Right near the oval office, he's got a 60-inch TV screen.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he does, and TiVo.

BLITZER: And nothing is on his official schedule between now and noon. So you know he's going to be watching.

BASH: Yes. I mean, I think it will be next to impossible for his staff to tear him away from the television. I mean, I really think and that's understandable. If I were him, I would want to watch. I think then the next question is can they hide his cell phone so he doesn't start tweeting. That's a big one.

Look, if you are somebody like the president of the United States and you are hearing the former FBI director, the guy that you fired give this narrative, you know, the question is whether or not he is going to feel compelled, Twitter or not, to come out and give his side of the story. Much more than that quick press conference where he just said no, no next question.

KING: He said no, no next question because of legal advice. The president has to realize that politically he wants to respond. He is a counter puncher here. But legally remember never mind this investigation, I don't mean to dismiss what's happening in Congress, maybe they turn from collusion to the question of obstruction after the testimony of today and yesterday.

But the bigger investigation with criminal implications is Bob Mueller and anything the president says on Twitter or elsewhere is a factor in that. One other quick point, we went through this in the Clinton White House days and we are covering it.

The president needs this to come to a conclusion. He needs events that narrow the focus, to get you close to the finish line, every step of the way, including yesterday and now Comey today expand the focus and guarantee longer investigations by Capitol Hill, by Bob Mueller. Wherever it ends up that is bad for a president.

[09:20:08]BLITZER: And you know, the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, himself a former FBI director, he will be watching this very closely as well.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And we know that he and Comey have spoken about what Comey can say and what Comey cannot say and Comey is very well aware of the restriction placed on him, and that is why his testimony was written as just the facts, ma'am.

BASH: And the point that you made about it being a political trial, if you will, or a political spectacle at this point is really, really important because Bob Mueller is continuing to start to do his criminal investigation.

But the politics here is so key and the fact that the RNC has this robust rapid response machine in a way that we haven't seen in the entire Trump presidency and he could have used it on many occasions, but they are trying to set the narrative politically shows you what the stakes are right now.

BLITZER: Everybody standby. We have a lot more coming up. Our special coverage, we're up here on Capitol Hill, will continue. The most anticipated testimony up here on Capitol Hill in years. Just over a half an hour until James Comey begins his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Our live special coverage continues right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:18]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In 30 minutes from now, fired FBI Director James Comey goes very public on his private conversations with the president. Comey's testimony already huge attention here in Washington. Demands loyalty, pressed to let the Flynn investigations go. The big questions, was it obstruction? What else can senators get Comey to say? Let's bring in my panel of political and legal analysts. Jeffrey Toobin, he is going to go further than he went -- I mean, his opening statement is one thing. A lot of people have already read it, but there is a lot more detail there to kind of flush out.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You know what I'm thinking of today and it's not just because I just saw him in the green room, it's John Dean. John Dean was the star witness of the 1973 Watergate Senate hearings and what a lot of people don't remember is that people knew the substance of what Dean was going to say before he spoke, but the fact that he said it on television meant everything.

And so the fact is we have been looking at this statement for almost 24 hours now. But having Comey say it on television and in his own words and answer questions and give even more tail about it is going to be very different. And I suspect even more dramatic on the story we read on paper yesterday.

COOPER: But to that point, Jim, I mean, you and others have been reporting for a long time now on a lot of the details that Comey confirmed are part of his recollection just yesterday. So it's been out there now for quite some time.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: But I think to Jeffrey's point, it's one thing for us to be able to report them and citing officials, et cetera, but to hear it from the mouth of the man who is leading the investigation and who is fired from leading that investigation will have import and impact because as credible as we are, hearing it from our mouths versus hearing it from his mouth for the American population is going to be significantly important.

COOPER: Laura, are there questions that you still have that you think Comey can get to today?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. One of them being the timidity that he displayed towards the president in the dealings with the terms of the questions he asked them. The acquiescence at certain things like the honest loyalty comments, it leads me to ask the question did that same timidity, was that guiding the investigation?

Would you shy away from the aggressive nature of that as well or did it somehow -- was the timidity about trying to give the president sufficient room to make mistakes? Did you see and hone in on a president who was making bad statements that would not help him in a criminal investigation and you gave him latitude to do it?

He can answer that question today and also kind of just know that his credibility is no longer at stake. He corroborated testimony by the president of the United States. No one thought he would do that.

The corroboration of those three occasions, but he also in doing so, (inaudible) credibility to say, look, there are three other conversations he did not detail and now you look forward and say I'll believe those as well.

COOPER: Jeffrey, you referenced John Dean. John Dean is with us. John, as you await this testimony, I'm wondering what goes through your mind.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I can remember going into the caucus room and being surprised at the crowd but then realizing how much the witness is in control when it is turned over. Comey is clearly -- normally he just goes up and answers questions.

Here he has thought out what he is going to do, how he is going to do it, the parameters of his testimony and he's given it in a written statement. So he's totally prepared and I think that's the distance he's going to go and not much further because he obviously knows much more as the former director in charge of this investigation.

I'm sure he's quite comfortable. He know it is forum. He's been before Congress many times and I think we're in for a good morning with a good witness.

COOPER: Carl Bernstein?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the important thing that we're going to see today is get an idea of how abusive or not the president of the United States was in the eyes of his FBI director in terms of abusing his authority as the president of the United States who is sworn to uphold the law and the Constitution of the United States.

We're going to get an idea of the enormous, awesome involvement of these legal and political questions in a way and with a weight that we haven't seen them. But now it is going to come home and be brought home in this hearing.

And also this is early in the process.