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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; James Comey Releases Opening Statement of Senate Testimony. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired June 7, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No word yet on if he did answer that question.
But there was a comment from Senator John McCain, where he said, "It just shows what kind of Orwellian existence we live in."
He was referring to the fact that they weren't answering these questions, and yet he had read the answers to the questions this morning in "The Washington Post."
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, "The Post" saying that they were asked to do this. They said, no, we were never directed. Well, nobody said you were directed.
KEILAR: Correct, and that Coats discussed this with several associates.
Brianna, thank you so much.
Next, we will talk to one of the senators who will question James Comey tomorrow and who was in that closed hearing with those top intelligence chiefs.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in our politics lead today.
Fired FBI Director James Comey will testify tomorrow that over the course of nine one-on-one conversations, President Trump asked him for a pledge of loyalty, to let go of the investigation into ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and whether something could be done to -- quote -- "lift the cloud" over him surrounding President Trump in the Russia investigation.
Joining me now to discuss this and much more is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee and will be part of the team questioning Comey tomorrow. First of all, Senator Wyden, what's your reaction to Comey's prepared statement?
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Jake, it is a remarkable statement, and it reads more like a Tom Clancy novel than your usual garden-variety congressional testimony.
For example, Comey confirms that Trump asked him to end that investigation into Flynn. That, by itself, is almost a Watergate- level effort to interfere with an ongoing investigation.
TAPPER: Well, that's a strong thing to say. Watergate obviously ended with the end of the presidency of Richard Nixon. Based on what Comey is alleging in these prepared remarks, do you think President Trump potentially obstructed justice?
WYDEN: What I can tell you -- and you and I have sparred on these legal issues before -- that's going to be a topic for lawyers.
But I will tell you, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it just might be a duck.
TAPPER: It is worth noting that, according to Comey's own testimony, he did assure President Trump at least three times that he was not personally under investigation. Is that not significant?
WYDEN: What I can tell you is that Comey confirmed that the president did ask for a pledge of loyalty. I think his exact words were is, "I need loyalty."
That's not what our great institutions are all about. It's not about the individual. It's about the rule of law, and that goes all the way back to the very basis of our country.
TAPPER: As you know, President Trump suggested and the White House has refused to elaborate on whether or not there are any tapes of the conversations that President Trump had with fired FBI Director James Comey.
Do you think that your committee might be willing to subpoena the White House to get to the bottom of what inevitably seems destined to be a he said/he said discussion?
WYDEN: I certainly support efforts to get all of the relevant materials.
And when we were putting together what became the agreement between Chairman Burr and Senator Warner, I insisted on the right to subpoena, the right of open hearings, the right of declassification. So, you bet. I think getting all the materials that we have to have to let the facts lead us ought to include the subpoena.
TAPPER: Is there any indication that Senator Burr or Republicans on the committee would be willing to subpoena the White House for those tapes, if they exist? WYDEN: I will let them speak for themselves, but they were part of
the bipartisan agreement. That was one of my special priorities. As you know, it was hard trying to get a commitment early, early on to have an investigation that really looked at the relationships between the Russians and the Trump Organization.
I insisted on that subpoena power. We're going to go the distance to defend it.
TAPPER: Senator, you just left that closed-door briefing with the four top intelligence officials who testified today.
Throughout the public hearing, Rogers and Coats refused to publicly answer as to whether or not President Trump ever asked them to dismiss or interfere or undermine in any way the FBI investigation. Can you tell us, did they answer those questions in the classified setting?
WYDEN: Well, first of all, you can't get into matters that are classified.
But let's go to the morning session. As you know, they sparred a bit with our colleagues because they said, we don't want to get into the content of what we discussed with the president. So, I said I will set aside content. I will just ask them whether there were any written materials prepared with respect to conversations or e-mails or things of that nature.
And they just pretty much stonewalled everything other than their talking points. And the irony of this is, of course, the president has spoken so expansively about these issues. He's been so outspoken in public. This idea that they can't say anything that touches on what the president has talked about widely in the public square just doesn't add up.
TAPPER: Well, let me just put it this way. Coats and Rogers this morning suggested that they had never felt pressured and that they had never been directed to do anything inappropriate or improper.
"The Washington Post" and CNN and others have reported that President Trump directly asked them to try to undermine the FBI investigation or to try to state that there is no evidence of collusion.
Do you know of anything that would suggest to you that "The Washington Post", CNN reports are not accurate?
WYDEN: What I do know, Jake, is something I can in public, and it's very serious.
If you compare what Director Coats said to the Senate Armed Services Committee back in March -- I think it was March 23 -- he said he had no awareness on any matters relating to the Flynn investigation.
"The Washington Post" said something very different. Now, both accounts cannot be true. I intend to keep following up on this until we find out which account is accurate.
TAPPER: Senator Ron Wyden, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
TAPPER: Next up: President Trump says, "James Comey told me I wasn't under investigation." Is the president right?
TAPPER: Welcome back, continuing now with our politics lead, FBI Director James Comey's prepared remarks released ahead of his testimony tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Here with me is my political roundtable. Let's get right to it.
David Urban, let me start with you.
Perhaps the most troubling part if you believe the Comey testimony is when the President says quote, "I hope your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey says, "I replied only that he is a good guy." Some people, Jeffrey Toobin for once says this is potentially obstruction of justice.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think that's the case, Jake. Pressure doesn't equal obstruction. Director, you know, Comey is a tough guy. You harken back to the Bush days where he rushed to the hospital to see the Attorney General in a showdown with then-White House Counsel Gonzalez. He knows pressures and what isn't pressure. He answered earlier on May 3rd before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he didn't feel pressure. He made - he made a statement that nobody pressured him at the White House or the administration didn't pressure him to do anything. And so I don't think there's any there, there at the end of the day.
TAPPER: Hillary, I mean, if there - if the FBI Director didn't feel pressure, is David right? Could this - I mean, is it - how could it be obstruction if he didn't feel pressure to do something?
HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, we don't know whether he felt pressure or not and it doesn't actually necessarily matter what he does. What matters is what happened and the facts that happened. I think we're not going to get the facts honestly in any of this until Bob Mueller hauls all of these folks into a grand jury and gets real statements, but the more important piece for me on this conversation is that President Trump actually denied even having that conversation with James Comey. So it doesn't matter whether Comey felt pressure or not. President Trump tweeted that he never actually asked Comey to lay off the Flynn investigation. Now we have Comey coming before the committee saying under oath that that did happen. So the fact that we see the President sort of consistently lying about what happened, we see Comey saying that a conversation did take place. That to me is more troubling than whether we're going to parse obstruction or not. TAPPER: And Susan, there was an interesting poll in the Washington
Post this morning that suggested that when it comes to credibility, both President Trump and James Comey have issues, like when it comes to the public believing what they are going to say tomorrow. It's not just President Trump who we know is struggling with approval ratings and such and trustworthiness but also James Comey.
SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, people see both of these individuals through a partisan lens to some degree, but I think that President Trump has tougher path here. You saw the Quinnipiac poll out today that said 60 percent of Americans say President Trump did something that was either illegal or unethical. That is a really high proportion and includes, of course, Trump supporters who feel that he acted at least inappropriately in this case. Naturally the picture that comes out of this very interesting prepared statement that they've posted this afternoon which is a picture of a - of a situation that was just so full of conflict and frustration and unease between this veteran prosecutor and a President who I think may not have understood exactly the way in which he was acting could be seen as inappropriate and as an obstruction of justice.
ROSEN: But you know, he said to Lester Holt, he said actually, President Trump, I got rid of James Comey over the Russia thing. I mean -
TAPPER: He said he was thinking of Russia when he made the decision.
ROSEN: You know, the idea that he was naive around his decisions. He fired the FBI Director. He did it for a reason. You know, what those reasons are ultimately come out, but let's listen and take the President at his own word here.
URBAN: I think Susan is right, that going to have to wait and see what the Mueller report says. Director Mueller is an extremely thorough, fair individual. There won't be leaking. It's going to be really detailed report and I think when we're all done, they're going to see there was no - there's no obstruction of justice, that may even be pressure. The legal definition, it's a - it's wide as the Grand Canyon. Pressure and obstruction are really a big difference.
TAPPER: That's the one thing that went through my head and this just maybe shows that I've been in Washington too long. But the idea that President Trump had dinner with the FBI Director, and it was just the two of them and then at another point when he has a whole bunch of people in the Oval Office and then he sends everybody else out and it's just him and James Comey in the Oval Office, where is the President's staff? Why - I don't know any staffer in Washington, D.C. that would - I've gone to lunches with Senators, and the Senator is not by themselves and we're not doing anything untoward and we're just talking.
URBAN: Well basically, if you read the report which you know, the FBI - he says Comey says they're lingering outside the door, the Chief of Staff pops his head in. The President says I'll be out in a second.
TAPPER: Yes, but he's not supposed to pop his head in. The Chief of Staff is supposed to be there to make sure the President doesn't do anything -
URBAN: Let me just -- the President said I would like - I would like to get a second with the Director by himself. The meeting is wrapping up - the meeting is wrapping up -
[16:50:03] TAPPER: What about the dinner? What about the dinner?
URBAN: The dinner - I mean, plenty of people have dinner in this town by themselves.
PAGE: You know, but then look at the -
ROSEN: There wasn't active investigation at the time. This particular issue you're raising Jake, is one of the reasons why all the reporting you're showing that the President and his team are having a hard time finding a reputable lawyer in Washington, D.C. to actually take on this criminal probe because they do not believe the President will be a good client, that he does not act, you know, at the cleave, that he's not responding well to what are really legal vagaries here.
PAGE: But you know, even without an investigation these would have been inappropriate meetings. Look what he described at with President Obama met with him, talked with him one-on-one twice in four years and with Donald Trump talked with him one-on-one nine times in four months, so President Trump for whatever reason was acting in an inappropriate way with the FBI - (CROSSTALK)
URBAN: Why, because he had so many - because he had a bunch of meetings? I'm not sure that you can say that.
PAGE: Because it's an independent agency and the President is supposed to talk to the Attorney General who talks -
URBAN: The FBI Director serves at the pleasure of the President so -
PAGE: These are - these are established procedures to prevent exactly the situation the President -
ROSEN: Again, listen to the President's own words, David. When he tweets and says -
URBAN: Hillary, I hear you.
ROSEN: I hope Director Comey doesn't talk about our conversations, you know, I mean, why would the President himself say these conversations needed to be -
TAPPER: Let's give David the last word. URBAN: Listen, I think, Director Comey is a - is a tough guy. If he
felt there was something wrong he should have spoken up under oath the first time he was asked about this on May 3rd. So the question is going to be tomorrow, I had to ask, did you perjure yourself on May 3rd or are you perjuring yourself now? That's what I would ask Director Comey Tomorrow.
TAPPER: All right. David Urban, Susan Page and Hillary Rosen, thanks one and all for being here. Big day tomorrow, I know everybody here is going to be watching. A stunning new report says that Donald Trump may have profited from his son's charity by shifting money around. We'll explain that story next.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. President Trump's son Eric is attacking a scathing report in Forbes that suggests his father may have improperly pocketed money intended for charity. Forbes says that in 2010 the Trump Foundation gave his son Eric's Foundation a $100,000 donation. The problem the Trump organization apparently then charged Eric's foundation to use his New York golf course where Eric hosted annual tournaments to benefit St. Jude Research - Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital. Forbes also reported that more than $500,000 in donations to the Eric Trump Foundation was re-donated to other charities, many linked to Trump family members or interests, and they also spent money renting Trump golf courses. Dan Alexander is an Associate Editor at Forbes. He wrote the report. He joins me now. Dan, thanks so much for joining us. You went through tax filings for Eric's Foundation and found costs for its golf tournament nearly tripled in 2010 compared to the year before. In 2012 costs went back down but then skyrocketed again. After that, you suggest it doesn't add up. Was there an upgrade to the events? What is Eric's foundation saying about what you opaque accounting?
DAN ALEXANDER, FORBES ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Well, the events might have gotten a little bit larger, but one of the big reasons that the numbers go up and we've got people inside the club and people who served on Eric's board telling us this is that in2011 Donald comes in and basically says, look, Eric, I know that you've been, you know, running this foundation. You guys do work for this charity, but up until now we haven't charged you, and now we're going to start charging you, you're holding this event in my property and that means you guys are going to pay.
TAPPER: And the Eric Trump Foundation did respond to your overall story saying in part, quote, "contrary to recent reports at no time did the Trump Organization - that's the organization that runs and profits from the golf courses - at no time did the organization profit in any way from the foundation or any of its activities. While people can disagree on political issues, to infer malicious intent on a charity that has changed so many lives, is not only shameful but is disgusting." Is there a denial of your story there? Do you see any loopholes in those words?
ALEXANDER: No, I mean, earlier what they were saying, when I was talking to them was that they never charged it off, that there were no payments made. You'll notice now they are saying, well, there weren't any profits made. Now, profit is obviously a very easy term to sort of misdirect, you know, if they are counting their depreciation on the golf course all on one event then maybe they could say they don't profit. The reality is that they were charging them just like they were any other organization, any other charity, and for a golf course when you have an event like this you expect to make money.
TAPPER: And Eric Trump also tweeted in response to someone else citing your report. "I've raised $16.3 million for terminally ill children at St. Jude with less than a 12.3 percent expense ratio. What have you done today?" Unquote. Is there an argument that the foundation needs to spend money to make money?
ALEXANDER: Yes, of course. And the foundation does need to spend money to host their events and all that sort of thing. The question now is there's a guy worth $3.5 billion, Donald Trump, need to be charging his son's charity which raises money for kids with cancer, you know, 100,000 bucks every year to have a tournament. Why not just give that up?
TAPPER: And in fact, that were not square originally, they were not honest about this when originally asked.
ALEXANDER: That's right.
TAPPER: Daniel Alexander from Forbes, thanks so much. Excellent report, appreciate it.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer he's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Comey's story. Dramatic written testimony from the fired FBI Director James Comey in a statement released early by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey says the President demanded loyalty and asked him to let go of the investigation into Michael Flynn. Lift the Cloud.