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Soon: Trump Speaks For First Time Since Comey Memo; McCain: Trump Crisis Reaching "Watergate Size And Scale"; Sources: Comey Says Trump Asked Him To End Flynn Probe; Interview with Sen. Joe Manchin. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John, thank you so much. Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We do begin with some breaking news, moments from now, President Trump will be making his first public remarks since the explosive revelation of a memo written by the man he fired, former FBI Director James Comey.
We're told according to Comey's notes that President Trump asked James Comey to drop the investigation into fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
The president will be speaking live very shortly. This is the first time since the crisis broke that he will be speaking. We will bring it to you live as soon as he begins.
He's speaking at the commencement for U.S. Coast Guard graduates. The ceremony is getting underway shortly, getting on way any second.
CNN national correspondent, Jason Caroll, is there for us. You've been there all morning, Jason. So set the scene for us, what are you hearing there? What are we expecting today?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly there are a number of protesters who are already outside, some supporters of the president as well, but obviously a lot of folks who are here not just for the commencement, but also waiting to see if this president has anything to say about the most recent developments involving Comey.
We can tell you when he gives this commencement speech, it's expected to last 20 minutes. He'll be reading prepared remarks. He's going to be talking about rebuilding the military, a lot of things expected when you are giving a commencement speech at a place like where we are right now.
But obviously the question once again, will he have anything to say about Comey? We are hearing, don't expect something like that, but as you know, Kate, with this president, expect often times the unexpected.
Also a note, if he doesn't say anything at least at this point, even some of his supporters are saying he must say something soon. I mean, throughout the campaign, as you know, often times when the president found himself behind the 8-ball, it if you will, it wasn't his surrogates who ended up speaking really well in his behalf.
It was the candidate himself at that point and that's what a number of people, including some of his supporters are waiting for this time -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Jason Caroll, we are waiting to hear from the president. He'll be speaking any moment. We will bring that to you live along with parts of the commencement and congratulations to those Coast Guard cadets, of course. Great to see you, Jason. We'll be there with you. Thank you so much.
So on the crisis that the president is facing, some of the strongest comments so far from a Republican come from Senator John McCain, chair of the Senate Arms Services Committee. McCain compares the unfolding Trump crisis to Watergate now, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale and a couple of other scandals that you and I have seen. It's a centipede that the shoe continues to drop and every couple of days there's a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Meantime, we just heard from the top House Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, taking a more cautious tone on where things stand right now. I want to bring in CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, who was at Paul Ryan's news conference. Phil, where is this headed?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a great question and I think right now what the speaker's message was behind closed doors as House Republicans met for the first time in more than 12 days was basically be calm, be sober and wait for the facts to come out.
I think there's a recognition here at least according to Republicans I've been speaking to behind the scenes that this could be very problematic, but they also don't want to rush to judgment. This is what the speaker had to say after that meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president. But we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House. And that means before rushing to judgment, we get all the pertinent information.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has appropriately requested this memo, and I'm sure we're going to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happens as he allegedly describes, why didn't he take action at that time.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Now Kate, the speaker maintain that he does not believe it's time for an independent panel. He does not believe it's time for a special counsel. He believes the congressional investigations that are currently underway along with the FBI investigation are more than enough.
But at the end of that statement we just played, I think it's a really important point that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is now fully engaged. The chairman has threatened to subpoena those memos, recording, briefings, notes, anything that he can get that kind of summarizes conversations between President Trump and former FBI Director Jim Comey.
That is a very important development in a shift over the course of the last 24 hours that really could yield something. Those documents are expected to come, make their way to the Hill, and the speaker has made very clear he's completely supportive of that.
Now you want to flip over to the other side, which is really interesting, Kate, because Democrats have made clear for weeks they want a special counsel. They want an independent panel to look into these things.
[11:05:05]There is no question right amongst Democrats, I'm speaking to both in the House and the Senate that this creates new momentum for them they believe to eventually achieve that goal.
Take a listen to what Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee had to say just a short while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTEL: We have a Justice Department where the attorney general has recused, at least we thought he was recused from involvement in these issues up until he played a role in the firing of James Comey, at least recommended that firing.
It's not enough I think for the career professionals at the Justice Department who are very good and I have a lot of confidence that they're professionals. It's not that they're not capable of doing that job, it's that the result has to have the buy in of the public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Kate, I will note again, that you haven't seen a number of Republicans come out and back a special prosecutor idea or an independent panel. But it's very clear, behind the scene, there's a lot of trepidation right now about where this is going. The speaker urging calm, members wanting answers -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: And members not wanting to talk about it until they get at least a little more information, is a lot of what we're seeing and hearing right now, Republican members specifically. Great to see you, Phil. A lot going on where you are today. So let us stay on Capitol Hill, one of the committees set to be investigating these latest revelations of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
A member on that committee joining me now, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from the state of West Virginia. He's a man also who is met with President Trump many times. Senator, it's always great to have you thanks for coming in.
SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Good to be with you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: So last night, you said you were speechless after this news came out. That was last night, what do you have to say about it this morning, Senator?
MANCHIN: Well, Kate, we look at everything that's going on and what unfolded yesterday was enough for a whole year or more. You know, who could have believed all this would (inaudible). So when the final shoe dropped about Comey's notes if you will, and his transcript, I'm thinking, my goodness, what else can happen?
But with that being said, here's where we are, what are we going to do, how do we go forward? I believe very strongly that the intelligence committee in the Senate is going to be able to do its job. I also believe that for the confidence that Adam Schiff just talked about, the confidence of the American people.
That for the special prosecutor, I welcome that. I don't have a bit of problem with that. In the Intelligence Committee, we take the intelligence as given to us by people who are the utmost professionals we have.
That have been protecting and continue to protect 24/7 the United States of America, take that information they gave us and look at it. That information intel takes you to where the facts, the fact take you to where the truth is and then you make your recommendations based upon that.
BOLDUAN: Can those two things happen together? Because it seems from other Democrats like Adam Schiff, they don't think that it's either special prosecutor or the committee keeping investigation. It doesn't seem like working in tandem has been an option to this point.
MANCHIN: The only thing I can tell you is the Senate Intelligence Committee will do its job. We will continue to do no matter what decisions are made. We will continue to do our job. We have a lot of hearings scheduled. We got a lot of people coming in.
There is a lot of information being gathered by a professional staff. We are putting the building blocks there to find out. We want to make sure the American public has confidence in what we have done.
And that we have confidence in the facts that we have that we move on and continue to be the greatest country in the world. The rule of law is basically going to supersede everything else and take care of the problems if they are any. BOLDUAN: The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, he seems skeptical of the Comey memo, at least as of now, here's what he told reporters on the Hill yesterday, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I said openly that the director of the FBI shared more information with Senator Warner and myself than any director has ever shared. I think something as material has that, probably would have been something he would have shared had it happened.
But given that we were the last to meet with him before his departure, the last thing I think Director Comey was thinking about Monday afternoon at 4:00 when we met with him was that the next day he was going to get fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Senator, do you find it surprising that the FBI director did not share this information with the committee or with the chairman?
MANCHIN: You know, I'm going to say, I would not be surprised. I would think he thought he would never need that, maybe, I don't know, I can't speak for him. I can tell you we have Richard Burr who's a fine chairman. He's a good friend of mine and Mark Warner is a dear friend of mine. He is a good vice chairman.
Democrats and Republicans working together. With that being -- with saying that, they're basically saying he should have revealed everything that he had. I can't tell you why or why not.
I look forward to having former Director Comey before us. He's going to come up. He wants to testify. He said he would do it. I would assume he'll do some of it in open, to give the public an opportunity to see this.
[11:10:03]I also think we need to take him into a classified, either an all member. I would prefer an all-member meeting with Comey so Democrats and Republicans can be sitting together to hear the facts and ask them questions so we don't walk out saying we heard two different things. We might interpret it differently, but we'll hear the same thing and then make a determination.
Kate, let me say if I may about this, I have spoken to a lot of people. I wanted to make sure that -- I didn't know Mr. Comey that well. I did not. I have heard nothing, but great things about him, he had a stellar career. No one that knows him has worked with him ever described him as being a show boat or a glory hound or anything of that.
BOLDUAN: That's not how the president described him.
MANCHIN: I know but I'm just saying the people that worked with him inside and out. With all of that, I would have done this, on the first day, if I was elected president, I would have thanked him for his service and moved on. It was what was best for him, best for the country. That didn't happen. That's why this has such a different commendation than it would have had.
BOLDUAN: It's now James Comey's word versus the president's word. Whose word do you trust more at this moment?
MANCHIN: Well, first of all, you always -- being the president is you're president, you always want to give the president the benefit of the doubt. I don't care whether it's the president you voted for or whether it's the president of your same political party, you always give that president the benefit of the doubt.
But if the facts that we get through our intel and we see the facts and they were classified and it basically collaborates and they mesh, we get two or three different sources, then you go where the facts take you, and that's the job of our committee and I think we'll do that.
BOLDUAN: So Senator, if President Trump said in this meeting and this is what it comes down to with James Comey, I hope you let this go, and that's what James Comey wrote in this memo about the Flynn investigation. Would that cross the line?
MANCHIN: Well, if I can explain in this content, when I was governor, the first thing they do is they come in and they brief me, Governor, what you can and cannot do, what you should and should not do.
They said there will be investigations I'm sure if somebody doing something or somebody is saying something within your administration, it might be one of your own staff that might be accused of something, he said, if there's an ongoing investigation, if you know there's an investigation, you must not, should not involve yourself in any way, shape or form, because you could be charged with obstruction of justice.
I guess the question that would be asked, did the president know that there was an ongoing, definitely there was an FBI ongoing investigation, did he speculate? I don't know. These are questions and facts we have to know and find out. If not these are serious, serious accusation and the outcome would be a serious charge.
BOLDUAN: Senator Joe Manchin, you have some serious job ahead of you as you laid out right here. I really appreciate your time, Senator. Thank you so much.
MANCHIN: Kate, I take it very seriously and I can assure you we're going to do what's best for our country and not put anyone person whether it be the president or anybody else or anybody's political party ahead of what's good for this country.
BOLDUAN: I'm going to hold you to that word, Senator. Thank you so much.
MANCHIN: You hold me to that.
BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Let's get a little bit of legal side there, but a lot of the political side there with the senator, let's get to the legal side of this right now.
Joining me now is former assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Akerman. He was part of the team that prosecuted the Watergate case. Mr. Akerman, thank you so much for coming in.
Pleasure to be here.
BOLDUAN: So John McCain, I played it a little while ago, Senator John McCain, he says that this is now reaching -- with regard to Comey and the president, this is now reaching the scope and scale of Watergate. You were there, you would know, do you think it has?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: I totally agree with that statement. In fact in some ways it's more serious, because Watergate involved Nixon campaign and his committee's involvement in the election of 1972 when George McGovern ran, they broke into the Democratic headquarters to obtain information. They also involved themselves in the New Hampshire primary, both on the Republican side and the Democratic side.
What is really taken this to the next level is the fact that what they have alleged to have done here, is to have actually conspired with a foreign power to be involved in this election and tilt the election in favor of the Trump campaign.
I mean, that takes it to a whole other level, where you're really talking about treason, as opposed to outright criminality, with respect to interfering with a domestic election.
BOLDUAN: So that's how -- where the investigation began with that question, right? Where we are today is now another element of it is, this reporting that the president asked the FBI director to let it go, in terms of this investigation, into one of his top campaign advisors. What the president said and James Comey wrote it down is I hope you can let this go, about the Flynn investigation, is that obstruction of justice in the legal sense?
[11:15:04]AKERMAN: It is if you focus on all the facts, if you look at the entire picture, you can't just take that one statement out of context. What you have to look at here is the fact that first of all, Sally Yates called the White House 18 days before he had this meeting with Comey, and they basically told him that Flynn was a national security risk, even though it was the head of the National Security operation in the White House.
Trump did nothing about that. He sat on it for 18 days and it wasn't until the press came at him on it that he actually did something about it. And then on top of it, he goes and talks to Comey about trying to get rid of this investigation, which on its face is prima fascia obstruction of justice.
The president of the United States should not be asking the director of the FBI to get rid of an investigation or even to put his nose into an investigation anyway. Then you take on top of that, he fires Comey and admits on national television that Russia was on his mind. That is enough to constitute probable cause that this president committed obstruction of justice.
BOLDUAN: The president is arriving at the Coast Guard Academy at the commencement and he will be making an address shortly at this graduation ceremony. We will bring this to you as soon as it begins. He is arriving very obvious right now.
But Mr. Akerman, I'm going to continue with this. This is what is being discussed quietly on the Hill, what you hear among some Republicans today is that the president didn't mean it in what he said to James Comey as written in that memo, this is just how the president talks.
He doesn't talk like a typical politician or a typical president we've had in the past. Could that be an explanation that you would accept?
AKERMAN: I wouldn't accept it and I don't think a jury would accept it either. Look at the pretext he came up with to fire Comey in the first instance. He had somebody, a deputy attorney general, write up the memo and all the things that Comey did vis-a-vis of the Hillary Clinton and what he shouldn't have done with respect to the Clinton e- mail investigation.
After he said during the campaign, he congratulated Comey for doing this. You've got to look at the entire picture, you just can't take one little fact out of context, and when you look at the entire picture, I think what you're left with is a situation where there has to be an appointment of a special prosecutor. There has to be an independent investigation. You've got the --
BOLDUAN: Again, we'll have to see where that goes, you've got Democrats calling for it. Some Republicans calling for it. We'll see where the winds blow on that one because that seems to be obviously that's one of the big questions on Capitol Hill. But in the legal sense, it's really great to get your take on this. Thank you so much.
AKERMAN: It's great to be here. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: We're keeping an eye as you see there on the Coast Guard Academy. Moments from now, the president will be speaking live for the first time since this crisis has erupted. He'll be speaking -- making a commencement address there. We will bring you there. We will take it live for you.
And what does Vladimir Putin have to say about all this? Why the Russian president says he's got a transcript that may help President Trump.
BOLDUAN: We are standing by for President Trump to speak at the commencement ceremony at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. It's the first time that we're going to hear from the president since the Comey memo dropped like a hammer on this White House.
The fallout this morning in Washington, a lot of I-words are floating around, like independent investigation, and from some Democrats, impeachment.
Moments ago, Republican Congressman Justin Amash, he became the first Republican lawmaker to go anywhere near the possibility of impeachment. Asked about if it could be grounds for impeachment and he said yes.
Joining me now, CNN political commentator and former press secretary for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, Brian Fallon is here, and former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum. Gentlemen, great to have you as we keep an eye on the U.S. Coast Guard commencement ceremony that is underway.
Senator, first to you, do you see this as obstruction of justice, if what we see in the coming out of the Comey memo is true?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, not on his face, no, I mean, I think even the lawyer before suggests let's look at things in the context. I don't know if they agree with his context, but no, I think on the face of it, it all depends how things are said, whether he said or not.
Of course, the White House is denying he said it at all. And you know, there are a lot of questions. I mean, why did Jim Comey not shared this with anybody? If he thought this was obstruction of justice, why didn't he do something about it?
I mean, there's all sort of questions. So I think if Jim Comey thought it was obstruction of justice, one of two things, he should have share it or he was being Hooveresque in trying to keep his little bag of secrets to try to leverage the president neither which are good things on Jim Comey's part.
BOLDUAN: And what the senator is saying, Brian, is something that I saw or is Fleischer kind of point to, of course, the former Bush White House press secretary commenting on Twitter. If the FBI saw this as obstruction of justice in a criminal sense, the FBI should have launched an investigation right away. If the FBI didn't think it was a crime, on what basis would Congress see it as a crime, do you see it that way?
BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, because as any prosecutor can tell you, you continue to dig, even if you encounter obstruction and obstruction of justice might be a charge that you bring near the conclusion if you can't prove any higher crime.
So I think that the mindset of Jim Comey probably after this conversation with the president was all right I'm going to memorialize this evidence, I'm going to stow it away, but I'm going to keep digging and continue to carry out my investigation and see where it leads, because they will find evidence of outright collusion with the Russians and their intrusions in the election. I think the problem right now for Donald Trump is, Jim Comey is a man with a story to tell. I suspect that the memo that was described in the "New York Times" yesterday is probably just scratching a surface of what Jim Comey is prepared to talk about.
I think it was a huge blinking neon sign that Jim Comey was trying to send to Congress to get them to invite him up to Capitol Hill. Now it seems Lindsey Graham --
BOLDUAN: Look Brian, you also in a former life worked at the Justice Department. Do you have any inkling that there is more and worse to come? Do you want to clue us in on?
[11:25:04]FALLON: Well, I think it's certainly the case that Jim Comey probably memorialized every conversation he had with the president because what we didn't know about what Jim Comey certainly knew was that all throughout this time when Donald Trump was calling him and inviting him to dinner and having other private conversations with him, his campaign at least was actively the subject of an ongoing investigation.
So the prudential thing to do would be exactly what Jim Comey did, which was memorialize it, put it all in writing, add it to the file. So I suspect there's probably more memos where this came from and I suspect there probably be more revelations that come out whatever hearing he ultimately attends on Capitol Hill.
I think this is going to consume the summer, certainly bring Donald Trump's legislative agenda to a standstill but probably threaten his hold on his office.
BOLDUAN: Senator, I'm having a hard time reading your facial expressions, go ahead.
SANTORUM: I mean, if the president of the United States tries to obstruct justice, if he tells you to end the investigation, you don't put a memo to file, I'm sorry, Brian, that just doesn't wash. This is not the way you would conduct an investigation, if the president of the United States is doing what you suggested, then you don't just put a memo to file.
So I understand the politics of all this. As Brian says, this is all about bringing down the president's agenda, threatening his presidency. I understand all the politics of this. Let's not get carried away in understanding what Jim Comey did here.
Jim Comey either held this memo to use against the president in some way or should have moved forward if he thought it was obstruction of justice. If it was neither of those things, if it was just the president musing, if the president had gone out and said that Flynn's a good guy, and this investigation should end, no one would have thought obstruction of justice. It has been said in the public context. So let's just put this thing --
BOLDUAN: I'm not sure about that.
SANTORUM: Well, I'm just saying -- I'm saying he said similar things and no one called for obstruction of justice on those things.
BOLDUAN: It is a different level when you ask everyone to leave the room and have a private conversation with the FBI director. If it happened, again, of course. Go ahead, Brian, respond.
FALLON: Well, I was just going to say, you can't dismiss this as simple musings by the president as the senator just did when it was followed up with an actual firing of the FBI director. So clearly here, you have a circumstance where soon after the former acting Attorney General Sally Yates flagged that the FBI has brought in Michael Flynn for an interview, she gets canned.
Then you have the president quietly approach did Director Comey dismissed other aides from the room and put out this filler about bringing the investigation to an end. When the director doesn't comply, he carries out a political firing of Director Comey.
The totality of the circumstances here make the obstruction of justice claim pretty valid, but again, I this think just might be the tip of the iceberg and the FBI needs to be able to freely and independently conduct the remainder of this investigation.
We still haven't heard everything that Michael Flynn has to say. Remember he offered -- he offered to testify in exchange for immunity.
SANTORUM: Here's the problem with both of these things, number one, we have no evidence, in fact, James Clapper and others say there's no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign of this Russian conspiracy --
BOLDUAN: James Clapper, a big caveat on that one, he said he wasn't aware that there was an FBI investigation, siloed that on purpose, so he wouldn't be able to confirm or deny it one way or the other. Go ahead, Senator.
SANTORUM: Again, no one else has come forward with any evidence that there was any kind of collusion. Number two, you have the FBI saying there's been no obstruction from the White House in this investigation. The investigation is going along as the FBI (inaudible) with the funds necessary to do it.
So you can talk about these things in a vacuum and look, if President Trump did what James Comey said, he should not have done it. I'm not defending the president, I'm not defending what he said. He's absolutely wrong in having said that.
My point is, don't jump from that to the president is trying to obstruct justice when there really is no evidence of that according to the FBI.
BOLDUAN: That's why we have more investigations than one can rattle off in a short period of time under way or fortunately, you want the facts out there.
SANTORUM: I do.
BOLDUAN: I know you do. OK, we'll leave it there right now. Brian, Senator, it's always great to have you. Thank you so much.
Just in, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, responding to questions about whether Russia potentially bugged the oval office. This came from reporter's question after Vladimir Putin says that he's got a transcript of the president's meeting with Russian officials in the oval office that he would be happy to share with members of Congress. We'll have more on that in just a moment.
And also any moment, President Trump will be speaking live for the first time since this new crisis has erupted. You can see him sitting there during a Coast Guard ceremony, which is underway. It looks a little breezy, we'll take you there live as soon as the president begins. We'll be right back.