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Trump Fires FBI's Comey, Faces Aftershocks; Democrats Want Independent Probe After Comey Firing. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks so much guys. A hugely consequential morning, so let's get right to it.
All right. This morning we are through the looking glass. In fact, we shattered the glass or the President did. President Trump, he fired the person in charge of investigating his own campaign. And moments ago, he started tweeting about it.
"James Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calmed down, they will be thanking me," the President said.
Well, as of now, things are not so calm and folks are not so thankful. CNN has learned that just minutes from now, Senate Democrats have been told by their leadership to be in the Senate Chamber en masse as a public demonstration. They're calling for a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Trump campaign ties with Russia. And now, some Republicans are joining that call.
HARLOW: It is an understatement to say that many are not buying the idea that the President fired the FBI Director because he was unfair to Hillary Clinton. And it happened, by the way, on the same day that CNN learned a grand jury has issued subpoenas in their Russia investigation.
All of this is happening as President Trump will meet this morning with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who just met moments ago, as you see, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and also dismissed the question when he was asked what he thought of the firing of FBI Director James Comey in a pretty stunning move.
Our correspondents are covering every angle to this unfolding drama. Let's begin this morning at the White House with Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Among other things breaking this morning, we do have some new reporting from the CNN's Gloria Borger, who tells us that, according to a source, one of the people who recommended the firing of FBI Director James Comey was, in fact, Roger Stone, the political consultant. A flamboyant individual, certainly, also known as a confidant of President Trump, who by the way, his activities have been called into question in the midst of this Russia investigation. So apparently, Roger Stone, one of the individuals who recommended the firing of James Comey.
We also have a reporting that the White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, was one of the individuals who did not want this to happen and, apparently, recommended against it.
Now, among other things, you mentioned the Lavrov appearance here at the White House. It's not clear at all that he is actually going to be seen on camera because, as far as we know, the meeting between Lavrov and President Trump is going to be off camera.
We continue to watch the reactions and the attempts by the administration to justify the firing of James Comey. Here is an example. The President himself in his tweets this morning, "The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired but now they play so sad."
"Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me."
And then there's this, "James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI."
So when we do get to talk to the administration, whether it be in briefing, perhaps a Press Secretary or some of the President's communications people who have been coming out to the cameras since last night, one of the main things we want to ask about is a very interesting sentence in the President's letter which was used to fire James Comey. And there's this a sentence, so I'll just read it to you.
"While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment that the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."
So that is a curious sentence, obviously, John and Poppy. The President putting on paper, knowing this would be read, that he says James Comey told him on separate occasions that he was not under investigation. Back to you.
BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns at the White House for us. Again, we are watching the White House. The President meets with Sergey Lavrov. We will see if he addresses the firing of James Comey.
Joe brought up the Roger Stone report on CNN. I should tell you, President Trump obviously watching CNN, he tweeted moments ago, "The Roger Stone report on CNN is false, fake news. Have not spoken to Roger in a long time. Had nothing to do with my decision." So he claims he was not told by Roger Stone to fire James Comey.
We did see a statement from Carter Page, also under investigation, praising the firing of James Comey. So there is that as well. Obviously, this move has a huge impact inside the FBI. What is the mood there today? Let's bring in CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez.
Evan, you have some new information for us this morning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John and Poppy. You know, the reaction inside the Bureau is frankly mixed. Look, there is a lot of agents inside, a lot of people in the upper ranks, who are a little bit tired of all the drama that's been surrounding the FBI in the last couple of years, you know, with Jim Comey at the leadership.
[09:05:05] Obviously, there has been a lot of line, a lot of controversy, over the handling of the investigation with the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server and then, of course, the Trump-Russia investigation, which is now ongoing. Some people feel a little bit of relief that, perhaps, they'll get back to doing their work in secret, in the quiet, without all this public attention.
But there is a lot of shock as well. Even those people who had thought, perhaps, it was time for Comey to go, there is a lot of shock simply because nobody expected it to happen this way, not in this very public fashion and, frankly, a very rude fashion for him to be on the road and learn about it from television reports.
And, you know, there is a lot of people who love him and support him because they think that he has been good for the Bureau, helping modernize what the FBI does. So a mixed reaction there at the FBI, John and Poppy.
HARLOW: And, Evan, what about the confidence that the American people have? That all of those men and women who served in the FBI have, I mean? And what can be done now for the Justice Department and the FBI to minimize the damage here and to maximize the public confidence?
PEREZ: Right, exactly. No, that's a very, very important part of this, Poppy. And so the problem for the FBI is not just them doing their jobs. This investigation is going to continue, at least for as far as we can tell. But the appearance, the public appearance, is very much a part of what the FBI does, and the people have to have confidence that what the FBI is doing is justice and finding the truth.
And so that's very much at the top of the minds of people there. They want somebody who is going to be, perhaps, a leader who has the credibility, right, to restore that kind of credibility to this investigation and to what the FBI does.
So what they're expecting and what they hope is that the Justice Department is going to be able to find somebody with some high profile, somebody who will be willing to stand up to the President, who will be known to stand up to the President if it needs be, but also somebody who has the credibility within the justice circles, the FBI circles, and the legal circles, and also politically.
So I don't know where you're going to find that person right now in Washington. Right now, people are certainly very concerned that what they have seen, what the President has done, is undermining that credibility.
HARLOW: Evan Perez, thank you for the great reporting that you and your team have done throughout on this. It is really important to note because this sort of got lost in the mix of it last night, but this firing came just hours after CNN was the first news outlet to report that federal prosecutors have handed out grand jury subpoenas to a number of people with business ties to fired former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
Our CNN Crime and Justice Producer Shimon Prokupecz is part of the team that broke that story last night. Shimon, this is incredibly significant especially given the timing.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN PRODUCER: It certainly is. And just to give you some color, Poppy, I mean, we were just about to go on air yesterday about this, about the fact that a federal grand jury out of Virginia had issued subpoenas for business records relating to Michael Flynn. And what they're looking at is the business dealings that Mike Flynn had certainly between the time he left the Obama administration to now.
There have been a lot of questions about his relationships with Russia. And part of that investigation and as part of the FBI's investigation into the meddling, perhaps, was there collusion between the Trump orbit and anyone within the Russian government to sort of help meddle in the election? This investigation is still ongoing. And as part of that, the FBI has been seeking business records and the U.S. Attorney in the eastern district of Virginia issued subpoenas for these records to associates of Mike Flynn.
BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz for us. Great reporting. Thanks so much for being with us to discuss now with our panel.
Joining us, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's Senior Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor, and Tom Fuentes, former FBI Assistant Director and CNN's Senior Law Enforcement Analyst.
Jeffrey Toobin, I think it's fair to say, when this news came out yesterday, you were shocked, and you expressed your shock, I think, openly and publicly. There have been several hours, several explanations by the White House since then.
They say this is the President's prerogative. They note that an FBI Director has been fired before. They say it was to restore public confidence in the FBI. Does that cut it for you?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, it's completely bogus as far as I'm concerned. We are a situation now where this FBI was investigating the President of the United States. I don't care how you work the semantics.
This ongoing investigation is of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Donald Trump now fired the man who was in charge of that investigation. That is unprecedented in American history, and it is an outrage. And the deeper you get into the weeds here, the more bizarre and appalling it is. [09:09:59] I mean, just for example, the President's letter where he
says that Director Comey told him on three occasions that he was not a subject to the investigation, if that's true, it is a completely inappropriate relationship between an FBI Director and a president. And if it is not true, it is an egregious lie by the President of the United States. Either way, it compounds the problems of this whole endeavor.
HARLOW: You know, whether the President asked, Jeffrey, Comey, this would be completely inappropriate, right, and if Comey answered it. Anyway you cut it.
We may actually know tomorrow because Comey is set to testify tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. You will see it live here. He has not said he is not going to. This is a hearing about cyber security. He would be asked and he could answer that question.
TOOBIN: Well, first of all, I don't know whether he's actually going to testify. My bet is he will not. He will not.
HARLOW: We have not told people yet.
TOOBIN: He will not testify. He is now the former FBI Director. I suspect he will find a way not to appear. I also think when he comes to answer questions, he may not answer that question directly about what actually went on in those conversations.
But just the fact that the president would say it in a letter indicates that he is operating by a set of rules that is different from the ethical rules that Democratic presidents, republican presidents, have operated in for decades. And we're just in a new and disturbing world.
BERMAN: I want to bring in Patty __, CNN Senior Political Commentator. She helped run Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008. And Rick Santorum, former Republican Senator, now a senior CNN Political Commentator.
Senator Santorum, you've heard what Jeffrey Toobin is saying right now. I know you disagree with it, but are you saying that the way that the White House handled this, completely appropriate, no problems with it at all?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look. I think James Comey should have been fired on Day 1, so I have been sort of waiting for the President to do the right thing, which is to remove someone who seems to care more about his own reputation than he does about doing the job of FBI Director. This is a long time coming.
You know, the fact that James Comey is probably the most famous FBI Director since J. Edgar Hoover is not a compliment in my mind. FBI directors, attorney generals, people in the Justice Department, should not be on the front page of papers. These should be people that we don't know that are doing their job, that don't seek the limelight, that don't get involved in politics. And James Comey has been anything but that. So I am excited that Donald Trump finally got around to doing the
right thing. How he did it, why he did it, I'm not really concerned about that. He should have done it a long time ago.
HARLOW: You are not concerned about the timing? You are not concerned at all about how or why hours --
SANTORUM: Poppy, there is no good --
HARLOW: -- Senator, respectfully, hours after CNN learned that the grand jury investigating some of these Russian ties around Michael Flynn had sent out these subpoenas.
SANTORUM: You know, I don't think that was a decision made at the spur of the moment based upon a news report. I think this is something that's been in the work for quite some time. I think the fact that Rosenstein, you know, put this memo together, I think they we're looking for someone to lay this out and give them, as you have seen, the rationale to do it.
I frankly would not have waited for that. I mean, I said when I was running, during the campaign, I would have fired him right away. I mean, this is a political animal in the FBI, and we don't need political animals in the FBI.
TOOBIN: Senator, the stated justification for firing Jim Comey is that he was too mean to Hillary Clinton. Do you believe that? Do you believe that's why he was fired?
SANTORUM: I believe he was fired because he mishandled the office of the FBI, that he sought fame above doing his job. He injected himself repeatedly in the political process. He conducted investigations improperly. He provided information about who was being investigated, who wasn't being investigated. These are things that should not have been done.
TOOBIN: But he did all that with great praise from Donald Trump during the campaign. Donald Trump thought that was great. He said it publicly over and over again. How can he fire him now for doing what he approved of repeatedly during the campaign?
HARLOW: A move that Kellyanne Conway called irrelevant, by the way. She just started saying that the candidate can say one thing and it doesn't matter when he's President. Does that make sense, Senator?
SANTORUM: I think that what you see with Donald Trump, and you've seen this repeatedly, is that candidate Trump and the things that he says as someone who was an outsider, you know, not particularly schooled in the ways of Washington and praising certain things that he did during the campaign, and now getting inside the Oval Office, seeing how things actually operate, seeing what the roles of these particular people are, I think you look at it differently and I think he has. BERMAN: He's the President of the United States. He's been the
President of the United States for 110 days right now. The "he's new to the job," you know, argument may be wearing off.
[09:15:02] You know, let me ask you, Tom Fuentes. You served in the FBI. You were the Assistant Director of the FBI. Put yourself in the shoes now of the agents. Put yourselves in the shoes now of the agents. How do things change for them now? These agents working on the Russian investigation. Will they do things differently?
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, John. I don't think they will and I think that the investigation will go on. The work of the rank and file and the current senior management of the FBI will continue unabated. I don't see that as the problem.
But I think one thing that we're not talking about enough here is the role of the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Now, he isn't somebody that just fell off the tour bus. He's been in the Department of Justice for decades and throughout last summer he's sitting as the United States attorney in Maryland having been appointed by President Obama.
So he would have had a pretty close view of what was going on when Director Comey held the July 5th press conference, when Director Comey went into great detail about the misdeeds of Hillary Clinton and then the recommendation that no charges be brought, his testimony and a number of hearings throughout the summer and early fall last year before the election.
So I think that as the Department of Justice insider and career member, he would have had a pretty close vantage point at that time. Then he comes in as deputy attorney general a couple of weeks ago. Now he has a chance to look at all of the investigations of the FBI.
He isn't there just to do the Russian case although he is because of Attorney General Sessions recusing himself, but he's looking at all the work of the FBI and how it was done and what went on through especially the Hillary Clinton e-mail and foundation investigations and those were separate investigations a year ago.
So I think that he was in a position to very quickly -- and that may have been what he was tasked to do, is you know the insight of the Department of Justice. Give us, being the White House, an assessment of Director Comey's effectiveness, his support within the FBI and the manner in which he is not only conducting these investigations but also giving public statements about the same investigations.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Patti, I want to get you in here. I know one thing that is confusing to us is why it was the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein who had to write this letter the White House. If this has nothing to do with Russia, which Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from, why was it that Sessions didn't write this letter with this recommendation months ago.
But Patti, the president says Democrats have nothing to complain about here. You will thank him when this all blows over. That's generally what the president is saying in his tweets this morning. The campaign manager for Hillary Clinton tweeted it is time for Comey to remove himself from this. His credibility is gone. Is this a brilliant act of political jujitsu by the president?
PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't think we can blur what happened yesterday through partisan politics, OK? The president of the United States fired the FBI director while that FBI director was leading an investigation against that president of the United States. That is wrong. That is an abuse of power.
It is not about Republicans versus Dems. It is not about Trump voters versus Hillary voters. This is about our democracy and what happened yesterday is a threat to that democracy, a threat to our rule of law and a threat to the principles and ideals we hold dear in this country.
The ideas that we have a balance of power here. The principle that no one person is above the law, including the president of the United States. So this isn't about partisan politics and I'm really concerned that, you know, we're all going to our standard positions as partisans. That's not what this is about.
HARLOW: All right. Guys, we have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Jeffrey Toobin, Tom Fuentes, Patti Solis Doyle, Senator Santorum.
A lot ahead for us this hour. The president calls him crying Chuck. How about just angry? Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer now calling for all his fellow Senate Democrats to join him on the floor of the Senate in just moments, calling to hear what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has to say about Comey's firing.
BERMAN: In the middle of this historic day, what is the reaction from the Russian foreign minister? He's making a joke about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're kidding. You're kidding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: All right. News that the president fired FBI Director James Comey sent shockwaves through both chambers of Congress and across this country. In just moments, the Senate will convene with a special message from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
BERMAN: Yes, a top Democratic aide tells CNN that the minority leader wants all members of his party in their seats when the session opens as a show of force. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ed Marky of Massachusetts. Senator Markey, thanks so much for being with us. All of you are headed to the chamber very shortly. What is the message? What are you trying to do this morning?
SENATOR ED MARKEY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: What we are trying to make it very clear that this country could be careening towards a constitutional crisis. The president of the United States yesterday just fired the investigator who was leading an investigation into the relationship between the Trump campaign, the Trump transition team and the Russian government.
We have to ensure that the American people understand that the United States Senate or at least the Democrats in the United States Senate are going to stand and demand that a special prosecutor be named in order to ensure that all of the facts are out on the table for the American people to see and understand as to what exactly was the reason that President Trump fired James Comey as he was conducting an investigation of Donald Trump himself.
[09:25:12]HARLOW: A constitutional crisis that is explosive language. What specifically are you pointing to, Senator?
MARKEY: Well, we obviously have very serious allegations that the Russians were attempting to influence our campaign, our most sacred event to elect a president in a free and fair election. And there are very strong allegations that the Russians had relationships with people inside of the Trump campaign.
In fact, subpoenas have now been issued in Northern Virginia with regard to General Flynn and General Flynn's associates. A grand jury has been impanelled up in New York. So we know that --
BERMAN: Are you suggesting, Senator, are you suggesting that the president is in violation of the constitution? You used the words constitutional crisis. I understand that you think this causes problems, but you said constitutional crisis. Is he in violation of the Constitution?
MARKEY: What I am saying is that the constitution of the United States provides for an election of a president that is not influenced by foreign countries and that there is an open investigation by James Comey until yesterday with regard to whether or not the Russians were influencing that election.
The president is saying it, his team is saying that the reason James Comey was fired was because of the unfair way that James Comey treated Hillary Clinton during 2016. That is just not credible especially given the fact that we know that simultaneously there is an investigation of the Russian influence on the Trump campaign in 2016.
HARLOW: Reading this Rosenstein letter from the deputy attorney general which I know you have read many times as we have as well, is there one thing in this letter that you disagree with that goes to the point of removal of the FBI director? He says it is because of the way largely that Comey handled Hillary Clinton and the e-mail scandal. Is there one thing you disagree with in Rod Rosenstein's letter?
MARKEY: Well, the one thing that I would disagree with is that there is an ongoing inspector general investigation of that very matter and that there should have been a completion of that investigation before any final decision was made.
Rod Rosenstein just started on this job. There is an open inspector general investigation. And even if that was the conclusion ultimately that was reached, it still does not answer the question of why Donald Trump would all of a sudden believe that Hillary Clinton being treated unfairly was a justification for firing of a man who was conducting another investigation with regard to Russian influence of the Trump campaign and administration itself.
BERMAN: Senator, you know, I know you want a special prosecutor. The question is how hard are you willing to push for it? The Democrats and Republicans should grind government to a halt until a special prosecutor is named. Are you willing to grind the business in the Senate to a halt unless you get a special prosecutor?
MARKEY: Well, my hope is that Democrats and Republicans will come together and that there will be a universal call for a special prosecutor. That everyone will put country ahead of party, that we will give the American people the assurance that there was an independent determination of what exactly happened in this relationship between the Russian government and our presidential election of 2016.
HARLOW: What does that mean, Senator? Do you believe the Senate should do any business until it gets an independent prosecutor, special prosecutor? Do you believe it is that serious?
MARKEY: Well, my goal is to obviously have an independent prosecutor. And I do believe that listening to several Republican senators over the last day that there is a rising concern amongst many of the leading Republican senators as well and that we could come together in order to call jointly for the establishment of a special prosecutor.
I think that would serve our country very well and it would be a good statement to the country that we are committed as a Congress to getting the answers that the American people demand and deserve to have the answers to.
HARLOW: Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, thank you very much. Let's get more from CNN Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles. He joins us from Capitol Hill. The senator there was just talking about some of his Republican colleagues and we've just heard from a very prominent one --