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Fired FBI Director Comey to Testify Next Week; Conflicting Stories from WH, Bank on Kushner Meeting; WH, Russia Differ on Reason for Kushner/Banker Meeting; Trump Defends Decision to Quit Paris Climate Deal. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired June 2, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We are now just six days away to the hour from what will go down in history as potentially unprecedented testimony or are we?
BERMAN: Just a short while ago, one of the president's top aides would not rule out using executive privilege to keep -- well, the president using executive privilege, to keep the man that he fired, James Comey, from testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Let's get straight to Joe Johns at the White House. What we're learning about this, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, this is drama. The date's now set. It's next Thursday, June 8th. And the big question in Washington, D.C., right now is what will former FBI director James Comey say on Capitol Hill? What won't he say? What can he say? Because there is a special counsel investigation under way right now. There is also drama surrounding the question of whether the administration might try to block his testimony by invoking the doctrine of executive privilege, which protects the conversations and communications between certain high-ranking members of the government, including the president.
So, listen now to how presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway talks about the testimony next week of James Comey on another network this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": Does he want former director Comey to testify before Congress?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, we'll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies. The last time he testified under oath, the FBI had to scurry to correct that testimony. He was off by hundreds of thousands in his count -- his sworn testimony count -- of the number of information, the number of e-mails that Huma Abedin allegedly sent to her husband, Anthony Weiner.
He said there were hundreds of thousands, turns out that was off by hundreds of -
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president is not going to invoke executive privilege?
CONWAY: -- were classified. The president will make that decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: A couple of problems with invoking executive privilege. Number one, James Comey's no longer a government employee. Number two, the president may have waived it, some experts say, because he's talked so much and tweeted so much about James Comey, the Russia investigation and related issues, so all up in the air. John and Poppy, back to you.
HARLOW: All right. Joe Johns at the White House, thank you very much.
Now to the new questions surrounding conflicting stories about Jared Kushner's meeting with Russia's banker, Sergey Gorkov. The "Washington Post" now reporting the meeting may have taken place one day before Gorkov got in a plane to fly to meet with Vladimir Putin.
Our Dianne Gallagher is in Washington with all of the details. Good morning.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy, John. And yes, this situation isn't a case of did the meeting happen, it's why did the meeting happen and they can't seem to get on the same page about that, which, a, of course, doesn't look very good, but it also has the potential to be a serious problem in the future.
A U.S. official tells us that the FBI is looking into these specific discrepancies. The banker is Sergey Gorkov. He's the chairman of a U.S.-sanctioned Russian bank and he's also a former spy who we're told has very close ties to President Vladimir Putin.
And the White House tells us that Kushner met with him in his official transition role, official capacity, kind of along the lines of foreign relations. But the bank said that this was strictly business as in private business, real estate business and Kushner was not a representative of Trump.
So, the question here is when did the meeting take place? And it's a little bit hazy. We know it happened sometime in December. CNN has reported that the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, also had a secret meeting with Kushner back in the first days of December. That's where our sources say that Kislyak urged Kushner to meet with Gorkov.
Well, according to some great reporting from the "Washington Post," there was a private jet linked to Gorkov that flew from Moscow to the states on December 13th. The "Post" said they couldn't really confirm that Gorkov was on the flight, but the plane then left from Newark to Japan on the next day. And on December 15th and 16th, Putin was in Japan. Russian media said Gorkov was going to be there joining him.
Here's the thing, though, with all of that, Kushner initially left that Gorkov meeting and the one with Kislyak off his security form. He did add them a day later, but that's after they were reported in the media. We have reported that Kushner, John and Poppy, is saying that he will speak with the Senate Intel Committee about anything related to the Russia investigation.
BERMAN: All right, Dianne Gallagher in Washington. Thank you so much.
Let's talk about more about all of this. Alex Conant is joining us now, former RNC and White House spokesman is here, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and former adviser to many presidents and Dan Pfeiffer, CNN political commentator, former senior adviser to President Obama.
David Gergen, "The New York Times" yesterday raised the possibility of the president declaring executive privilege. I sort of raised my eyebrows and went, oh? When Kellyanne Conway would not rule it out this morning, I sort of went, wow!
[10:05:01] Look, we don't know if the president will try to block James Comey from testifying. What we do know is that it's not a definite no right now and to me, that seems significant.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN AND CLINTON: It is significant, John. It would be a major decision by the president. It would be extremely controversial, where he could try to block him. I think it would probably lead to maybe some sort of court action about whether the president waived his right to invoke executive privilege, just as we heard from Joe Johns. There is this question about all the tweeting and what the president himself has said. Is he really going to be able to legally block somebody else from describing what happened when he himself has put out his own version?
But I must say, I think it would be a terrible mistake for the White House to invoke executive privilege. They ought to look back to what Ronald Reagan did when he was in the midst of the Iran-Contra crisis and that is -- and he was being accused of all sorts of things. There was even talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan back in his second term over Iran-Contra.
And what did Reagan do? He waived executive privilege for everyone. He said I want everybody to go testify. He made all the documents available to the Congress. He essentially was totally transparent and he appears to have made the whole thing go away. This White House should take a lesson out of that book.
HARLOW: Alex, to you, the second really newsy part of what Kellyanne Conway said is she directly, without being asked, started discrediting James Comey, saying he got facts wrong, which is true, he had it correct in his last congressional testimony. But does it seem to you like a strategy that this White House is coming forward with, that they will try to discredit anything that James Comey says? How significant is that, what Kellyanne Conway did?
ALEX CONANT, FORMER RNC AND WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: It's a great question and a great point. But look, they're acting appropriately in that case in the sense that this is going to be fought in the court of public opinion, not in a legal courtroom.
So, rather than lawyering up like some people in the Trump administration seem to be urging the president do, he should be more transparent about what happened. He should lay out all the facts, as David just said. He should waive executive privilege for everybody. He should make all the documents available. He should give a big press conference where he answers all these questions, encourage his staff, encourage his son-in-law to talk to the media, to talk publicly about what happened so we can get all of the facts out there and move on.
And so, to your question about, you know, what should they do about Comey, they should let him testify, but then they should also that same day present their version of events. Don't just let Comey be the only voice out there. Recognize that this is a political fight. They need to be waging a campaign and that starts with getting the facts out and framing what happened in terms that are most favorable to the president.
BERMAN: You know, Dan Pfeiffer, I'm curious what you're going to be looking for next Thursday at this time, remembering James Comey, we think, is going to testify that the president tried to get him to back off the Michael Flynn investigation. And when he says that, he'll no longer be an anonymous source or there won't be anonymous sources feeding that story. It's going to be someone saying it under oath in front of cameras, in front of the whole nation.
DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes, I'll be looking for a couple things. One, we're going to see how Comey recounts the dinner they had, the private conversation in the Oval Office, whether the details of what Comey tells matches up with the reporting that we've all read in recent weeks. The image of that is potentially very powerful for people around the country and will be played on a loop on TV and on the Internet.
I'm also curious to see how Republican members of the committee react, because we should be very clear that this is basically the textbook example of abuse of power. It is what when we think about Watergate, what Nixon did.
And I want to see whether they are going to seem like they really want to get to the bottom of what happened with both the hacking and what the Trump administration has done around the investigation or is it just going to be the read partisan talking points to support Trump? That's really what we want to see, because as long as the Republicans are sticking by Trump out of pure partisan tribalism, he's going to be OK in the short term. But if they begin to turn, this could move quickly. HARLOW: Alex, we had Congressman Pete Hoekstra on last hour and John's first question to him was, should the president invoke executive privilege. And his words, "absolutely," right? --
BERMAN: He said does he have the right to.
HARLOW: Does he have the right to. He had no point in the interview said that the president should not do this. And he said, you know, it's -- you know a one-sided story otherwise. James Comey just gets to say his bit.
But has the president not already told at least part of his side of the story on multiple mediums, on Twitter, in these network interviews?
CONANT: Well, yes, by labelling it fake news and attacking Comey, but he still hasn't answered -
HARLOW: And detailing his conversations with Comey, in part.
CONANT: To a certain extent. But look, I think that transparency here is the friend of the Trump administration. If they try to hold back information, if they try to prevent people from speaking to Congress, speaking to Republicans in Congress, mind you, if they try to prevent that, it's going to end the disaster for the Trump administration.
[10:10:00] Time is not their friend here. They need to get all of the facts out. They need to be more transparent. They should encourage people to go testify before Congress. And they should say out of hand -- they should reject out of hand this idea that -- they're going to assert executive privilege to prevent somebody like Comey from testifying before the Republicans' Congress who asked him to come testify.
So look, I think that they are handling this not very well in the sense that they're listening to the lawyers instead of the communicators and this is at the end of the day a public relations problem, not a legal problem for the administration. It's going to be a transparency - in the political arena.
BERMAN: If transparency is the friend of this administration, it's a friend that doesn't hang out with very much. I'll just say that.
David Gergen, I'm curious about Jared Kushner right now because there are all the talks about the meeting with the Russian banker and if this story matches up with the Russians'. Inside the White House, because you've been there a lot, what's it like to be a senior adviser right now when the focus is on you for something potentially untoward?
GERGEN: It's extremely uncomfortable. It's very distracting. It's very hard to get your mind on business. And you spend a lot of time with lawyers, because in this case right now, Jared Kushner has to be extremely careful what he says to people. He cannot be in a position where it's later claimed that he's witness-hampering. People around him are going to eventually testify. If he goes up and gives them instructions about how to think about this or that, that could be considered tampering.
It's one of the reasons why I think that Jared Kushner should be considering the possibility, in a serious way, of taking a leave of absence. You know, his views were rejected by the president on climate change. His views have been rejected on some other things. He must wonder, you know, why am I taking this beating as I am inside here? And maybe there's a better way to handle this and take a temporary leave of absence while they clear the air and I do agree transparency should be the friend of this administration.
CONANT: Yes. It is mind-boggling Jared hasn't given an interview since these accusations were first raised. The American people should hear from him directly and he should answer these questions. And then we can move on.
HARLOW: He is on the cover of "Time" magazine this week. Remember when that was Steve Bannon, when he wasn't in a great light not that long ago. We'll watch.
Guys, thank you very much. Have a great weekend, Alex Conant, David Gergen, Dan Pfeiffer.
It could be the most significant congressional testimony since Watergate. Fired FBI director James Comey set to testify six days to the hour from now on Capitol Hill. The journalist who blew the lid off Watergate, Carl Bernstein, joins us.
BERMAN: There's a little bit something about a comparison right there.
Plus, the president cites cities like Youngstown to sell his reasoning for withdrawing from the Paris deal, but what does the mayor of that city actually think?
And robbery or terror, conflicting reports about the deadly attack in the Philippines. We have a report coming up.
[10:17:20] HARLOW: We will hear from former FBI director James Comey in six days to the hour and this could be most the consequential testimony on Capitol Hill since Watergate. Comey is expected to testify on Thursday, if the White House does not invoke executive privilege. A source tells us he's expected to address -- of course, he will be asked about the conversations with the president when he goes before lawmakers and he is expected to say that he felt pressured by the president to end the investigation of Michael Flynn.
BERMAN: All right, joining us now, CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein. Obviously, Carl knows a little bit about investigations, both journalistic and otherwise, as one of the key reporters behind the Watergate coverage way back when. Carl thanks so much for being with us. As James Comey is six days away now from testifying, a very big moment. What will you be looking for next week at this time?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: To find out what the narrative is that the FBI was doing under his leadership and whether or not the president directed him to curtail the FBI investigation, how that was worded. But I think something much bigger is happening right now and that is that we need to understand what is being covered up by the President of the United States and those around him.
The FBI knows there's a cover-up going on, but we don't know what the cover-up is about. Is it about financial matters with the Trump organization? Is it about actual collusion with Russians? We're going to find that out as these investigations move on.
And what we're seeing, particularly from the White House, is the President of the United States playing to his base, sending out Kellyanne Conway this morning. She's a serial fabulist. Sending her out to go to the base, because that is what he is betting, Trump is betting, is his insurance policy as these investigations close in, that his base will not abandon him. And it's also even related to the decision, I'm told, to go ahead and get the United States out of the climate agreement, because it appeals to his base. He needs that base, because these investigators are making real progress.
HARLOW: The president, though, apparently didn't send out Kellyanne Conway fully armed with all the facts, because she didn't have an answer when she was asked will the White House invoke executive privilege here and this testimony is supposed to be in six days. We were just speaking about who the pivot point could be of the Republicans who sit on the Intelligence Committee that he will testify in front of. Who is going to be most important, do you believe, from the Republican side in their line of questioning?
[10:20:03] BERNSTEIN: I don't know who they've designated and I don't think it makes much difference. What we're going to see are members of that committee on both sides comport themselves in different ways and we'll find out whether or not Republicans are interested in getting to the truth in these matters or whether they want to continue the White House line that the real issue here is leaks, the press, Democrats, the president's political enemies, the same kind of agenda that we heard Kellyanne Conway time and time again put out there that has nothing to do with the real facts here, which is the Russians interfered in our free elections.
And we need to know what the president and those around him might have done that would have advanced the interest of the Russians, whether witting or unwittingly. That's what the president is up against. That's what people in the White House tell me he is concerned about, what knowledge might be forthcoming about that, witting or unwitting, on his part and those around him, including his son-in-law, including others.
We need to see what these people are going to testify. We've got a long way to go in these congressional investigations, but especially, keep in mind. We have a special prosecutor -
BERNSTEIN: -- who is gearing up for a huge investigation. BERMAN: And along those lines, Carl, first of all, you say there's a cover-up here. The White House calls it a witch hunt. You know, so there's a difference of opinion between you and the White House on this. I will say that. But you say there's a special prosecutor -
BERNSTEIN: I -
BERMAN: Hang on, Carl. There's obviously a special prosecutor investigation, which gets me to my question about James Comey. How much do you think he will be willing to discuss? Because you laid out a whole bunch of areas that you'd like to hear from him, but how far do you think he'll be willing to go? Will he just talk about the conversations he had with the president insofar as it relates to Michael Flynn? Will he talk about the Russia investigation?
BERNSTEIN: I'm a great believer in a situation like this to be a reporter and let's wait and see what happens. It depends partly on what he and the special prosecutor have agreed can go before this committee without endangering the special prosecutor's investigation and his witnesses, et cetera, et cetera.
But in terms of a cover-up, there is no question that there is a cover-up going on. It doesn't mean that there's an obstruction of justice. But when we see Kellyanne Conway, the President of the United States, those who work for him, refuse to go into the details for six months now of what happened during their campaign, that is why the special prosecutor, the FBI, have proceed on the assumption that there is -- more than an assumption -- a cover-up.
It doesn't mean it's an obstruction of justice, that the law has necessarily been broken. But in terms of covering up to keep the American people, the Congress of the United States and investigators from knowing all the relevant facts. It's undeniable and people in the White House will tell you that.
BERMAN: Carl Bernstein, thank you so much for being with us. Have an excellent weekend, sir. Appreciate your time.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
BERMAN: President Trump says he made his decision on the Paris Climate deal for places like Youngstown, Ohio. Is Youngstown, Ohio, saying thank you this morning? Not what you think. We're going to speak to the mayor next.
[10:25:40] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France.
(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: You heard it there. So, the big question this morning, is Youngstown, Ohio, thanking the president for ditching the Paris Climate deal? The mayor of Youngstown, John McNally, joins us now. Thank you for being here, Mayor.
MAYOR JOHN MCNALLY (D), YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: Good morning, Poppy. How are you doing today?
HARLOW: Good morning. We are well. So, your reaction to the president's move and is this going to mean more jobs in Youngstown?
MCNALLY: Well, first I'd like to thank the president for the mention yesterday and also, actually, the day before we received a $200,000 Brownfield Redevelopment Grant from the U.S. EPA.
So, I feel sort of funny criticizing the president today, but we are a little bit confused how we got thrown into the discussion about the Paris accords and the U.S. withdrawal away from the agreement is not going to create more jobs in the Youngstown area, not going to create jobs in Mahoning County. And so, we would certainly urge the president to reconsider his decision. But at the same time, we'll take whatever other help he can provide to us.
BERMAN: Why do you think he's bringing you up then? I mean, what is it about Youngstown that makes him bring it up? And is he just plain wrong?
MCNALLY: Well, I think a couple things first. Youngstown is an economically challenged city. It's been challenged since 1977 when we lost 25,000 steel jobs. We're close to, you know, the Pittsburgh/West Virginia area and the coal industries. The president has talked about trying to bring back the coal industry, talked about trying to bring back the steel industry. And while we certainly appreciate the talk of improving the steel industry in our local area, I don't believe that withdrawing the United States from the Paris accords is the appropriate course to take.
I believe, you know, right now we're left with, what, Nicaragua and Syria as the only two countries probably on the planet who are not part of the agreement. And it is part of being a major country on the planet, the U.S. has certain burdens. Being a leader on the issue of climate change is one of those, so I'd like to see the president reconsider his decision as soon as possible.
HARLOW: So, you were not the only city that was called out. Pittsburgh got a big shout-out yesterday from the president.