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Interview with Congress Adam Schiff; Comey: Trump Said of Flynn, 'I Hope You Can Let This Go'. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 7, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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.
[17:00:09] Lift the cloud. Comey says President Trump repeatedly asked what could be done to, quote, "lift the cloud" of the Russia probe. When the president's comments are added up, is there a case for obstruction of justice? What more will Comey say in tomorrow's public hearing?
Stonewalling. Top intelligence chiefs anger senators by refusing to say if the president asked them to downplay or sway the Russia investigation. Why are they keeping quiet?
And changing the subject. President Trump may have tried to divert attention with a surprise tweet announcing his pick for the new FBI director, and in a speech in the heartland promoting an infrastructure plan where he ducked questions on whether he has confidence in his attorney general.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. The fired FBI director, James Comey, will testify tomorrow that President Trump asked him directly about former national security adviser Michael Flynn under investigation for Russia contacts saying, quote, "I hope you can let this go."
In his opening statement, released early by the Senate Intelligence Committee and raising lots of new questions about how he'll add all of this up tomorrow, Comey says the president also described the Russia investigation as a cloud and asked what could be done to, quote, "lift the cloud."
Comey says the president repeatedly demanded loyalty and asked him to get the word out that he wasn't under investigation.
Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee panel today, director of national intelligence Dan Coats and director of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers both refused to discuss their private talks with President Trump. They would not say if they'd been asked to downplay or influence the investigation into Russia's election meddling and contacts with Trump associates.
President Trump changed the subject for a while today with a tweet announcing his pick for a new FBI director, former Justice Department official Christopher Wray. Later, after a speech in Ohio, the president would not say he has faith in his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and asked if he's worried about Comey's testimony, the president only gave a quick smile.
I'll talk to the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, and Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of the Senate Intelligence Committee. They're standing by live. And our correspondents, specialists and guests are also standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with the truly stunning revelations from the fired FBI director, James Comey. Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, take us through Comey's statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today in the simplest terms, James Comey contradicted the president of the United States.
On May 18, when asked whether he had urged Comey in any way, shape or form to ease up on the Flynn investigation, Trump said at a news conference no. He repeated no, then told reporters to move on to the next question.
Today, Comey in great detail lays out exactly the opposite scenario, and he also adds that Mr. Trump demanded the loyalty of one of the nation's top law enforcement officials when the president was in a position to fire that official which, of course, he eventually did.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The dramatic written testimony, released a day early at James Comey's request, outlines in stunning detail his interactions with the president, including a series of nine one-on-one meetings and phone calls with Mr. Trump.
On the crucial question of whether the president attempted to influence ongoing FBI investigations, Comey said the president told him, quote, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Comey makes clear, quote, "I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador."
In his letter firing the FBI director, the president said that Comey had told him three times that he himself was not under investigation. He repeated that claim in an interview with NBC.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey. You write, "I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation." Why did you put that in there?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because he told me that. I mean, he told me that.
SCIUTTO: And in his written testimony, Comey largely confirms those occasions, but says they were specifically about whether the president was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.
First, on January 6, when Comey went to Trump Tower to brief the president-elect on a dossier of allegations involving Mr. Trump, first reported by CNN, Comey says that, quote, "During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-elect Trump's reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance, that he was not under FBI counterintelligence probe."
[17:05:15] The second time, in a dinner on January 27, Comey says the president told him he was considering ordering an investigation into the dossier. Comey says, quote, "I replied that he should give that careful thought, because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren't."
And in a March 30 phone call Comey, quote, "explained that we had briefed the leadership of Congress on exactly which individuals we were investigating and that we had told those congressional leaders that we were not personally investigating President Trump. I reminded him I had previously told him that. He repeatedly told me 'We need to get that fact out'."
The dossier in particular attracted the president's attention. "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to 'lift the cloud'."
The president, Comey says, was also very interested in establishing his loyalty. In their January 27 dinner, Comey said President Trump told him, quote, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Comey went on, "I didn't move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed." He said he told Trump finally, quote, "You will always get honesty from me," to which the president responded, "That's what I want. Honest loyalty."
Throughout the seven pages of testimony, Comey repeatedly expresses discomfort with his interactions with the president, saying Mr. Trump's comments at dinner in late January made him, quote, "uneasy," and describing the conversation as "awkward."
The former FBI director even says he told Attorney General Jeff Sessions it was inappropriate for him to be left alone in the room with the president.
SCIUTTO: In his testimony Comey leaves not too subtle clues for investigators going forward. He describes the memos he wrote about his meetings with the president as unclassified, indicating, in his view, there what is no legal barrier to making them public. And he names many key potential witnesses such as Attorney General Sessions, Vice President Pence who he asked to leave the Oval Office for his private sit-down with Comey, all but identifying them for the special counsel and other investigators as witnesses to be called to testify under oath -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I suspect the Q&A with the senators and Comey tomorrow will be intense. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
President Trump, meanwhile, is back at the White House right now after giving a speech on infrastructure in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Let's go to our White House correspondent Athena Jones. Athena, what's the reaction there to this very dramatic Comey statement?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, the reaction has been pretty limited so far. No tweeting from the president about this. When he arrived in Ohio, he was asked if he was worried about Comey's testimony, and he didn't answer, but that was before the former director's opening statement was posted online.
On the flight back from Ohio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, was asked if the president had had a chance to review those seven pages of opening remarks and if the White House plans to dispute anything in that testimony, and she could only say she's not aware that he's had a chance to review it, and she couldn't answer if they're going to dispute anything because it's still under review.
And, Wolf, one more thing I should mention. She was also asked if the president plans to watch or tweet about the Comey hearing tomorrow, and she says she's not sure.
BLITZER: Has the White House finally said if the president has confidence in his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions? They would not say so yesterday.
JONES: No. They're not saying so today either, more than 24 hours later. They've been being asked this question repeatedly. Today Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she hadn't had a chance to have extensive conversations with the president today, but she certainly plans to ask him that.
Of course, reporters said, "Look, how often do you speak with the president?" We're hearing this line quite a bit, not just from Sarah Huckabee Sanders but also from Sean Spicer. And she said it depends on the day. He's a busy man running the country, essentially, and she just hadn't had a chance to discuss this matter with him. But it is curious, Wolf. It's been more than a day, and they're still not able to answer this.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly a swipe at the attorney general when they can't even say if the president has confidence in Jeff Sessions.
All right. Athena, thank you. Athena Jones over at the White House. Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
So Jeffrey, how damning is this testimony, the written statement released today by James Comey? What's the most potentially dangerous aspect of it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if it's to be believed, and obviously it's only one person's version, but if it's to be believed, I think it does lay out a case of obstruction of justice against the president, and the key moment is the February 14 meeting in the Oval Office where they discuss the investigation of Michael Flynn, which as FBI Director Comey is in charge of, and the president asks him to let it go, to drop it.
[17:10:15] It's more than inappropriate, and you can tell that the president knows it's inappropriate, because he asks the vice president and the attorney general to leave the room before he makes that request.
BLITZER: Because inappropriate is one thing. Illegal, obstruction of justice is another thing. Some legal scholars have suggested there has to be proven intent to -- to successfully prosecute obstruction of justice.
TOOBIN: That's right, and the word that the statute uses is "corrupt," but corrupt means for a bad purpose, and there is no innocent explanation, as far as I can tell, for the president to exclude his attorney general from a room and ask to have a stop -- have a top aide's investigation dropped.
And you also have to put it in context. This is after he's been -- Comey has been repeatedly been asked by the president for loyalty, personal loyalty, not loyalty to the Constitution, not loyalty to the FBI, but loyalty to President Trump. And what happens after Comey does not drop the investigation of -- of Michael Flynn? He gets fired by the president. That, to me, sets out a story of obstruction of justice. Again, if it's to be believed.
BLITZER: And you know that some of the senators tomorrow, the Republican senators, will press Comey: "If you felt that there was a problem there, why didn't you go through the major channels and articulate those problems?"
TOOBIN: Well, that -- that has been one of the lines since this story leaked, but I think Comey will be able to say, "Look, I went to the attorney general, and I said, 'I don't want to be placed in this position of being alone with the president anymore.'" So -- and he said, "I did not communicate this to my staff, because I felt -- to the agents running the investigation, because I knelt it might compromise their investigation."
So he will be able to say he did take steps that reflected how seriously he took the president's statements.
BLITZER: So it will be up to the new special counsel, Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to decide if they should go down that road, obstruction of justice?
TOOBIN: Exactly. The issue of obstruction of justice is squarely in front of Director Mueller's investigation, and it's got to be a clear focus of it.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, don't go too far away. We have more to discuss.
Right now I want to bring in a member of the Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right. So you heard the former -- the statement, the former FBI director, James Comey, describing President Trump as saying, quote, "I hope can you let this go," meaning the investigation...
BLITZER: ... into the fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Do you believe, as Jeffrey Toobin does, that that potentially is obstruction of justice?
HEINRICH: I think it's devastating. I'm an engineer, not a prosecutor, so I can't tell you what the exact legal standard is, but if the president said those words, I believe it's absolutely devastating, completely inappropriate. And I would leave it to someone like Bob Mueller to -- as to whether it's prosecutable.
BLITZER: Let me read that exact quote, the way it was described by Comey in his opening -- in his opening prepared statement. "I hope you can let this go," meaning the investigation, into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.
You know, he did -- he did also say at one point he agreed with the president that Michael Flynn was a good guy, but he didn't make any promises other than that. Is that an issue, as far as you're concerned?
HEINRICH: Well, I think it's been very clear that Michael Flynn's judgment was horrible. He was compromised. He had inappropriate contacts with the Russians. He brought up the issue of sanctions. He took payments and then didn't disclose payments. I mean, I think that, if you're trying to defend him from investigation, you're starting from a very, very bad place.
BLITZER: At an earlier meeting, Comey describes this tense exchange with the president. Let me read it. "The president said, 'I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.' I didn't move, speak or change myofascial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence."
How concerning is that to you? HEINRICH: We don't have loyalty tests in a democracy for chief law
enforcement officers. There is no place for a president of the United States to exert that attempt at influence over the director of the FBI.
BLITZER: Comey's testimony, the statement also makes reference to that secret, unsubstantiated salacious dossier. Comey writes this, and I'll put it it up on the screen. He said this. "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to 'lift the cloud.' I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could and that there would be great benefit if we didn't find anything to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him."
What do you make of that?
HEINRICH: Well, I think it's just an indication of he was viewing this as "How can I make this go away?" If that's the case, there's no room for him to exert his influence over the director and to put himself between the execution of an investigation and the outcome of that investigation.
If -- if these charges prove to be true, if the conversations back and forth between Comey and the president prove to be accurate -- and certainly, we'll be able to get to the bottom of some of that tomorrow -- I think that's terrible news for this administration, and really, if anything, he made the cloud a whole lot bigger.
BLITZER: Comey's testimony -- and it's seven pages that was released -- seems to confirm that, at least on three occasions, the former FBI director did assure the president that he was not under investigation. What's your reaction to that?
Senator, can you hear me?
HEINRICH: I can.
BLITZER: I was -- I was just saying the -- the statement released by Comey says that at least on three occasions he did assure the president that the president was not under investigation. What's your reaction to that?
HEINRICH: That's the nature of investigations. At the beginning of an investigation you may be looking at what Michael Flynn did or what Jared Kushner did. If those issues take you later on to the president of the United States, that is just the nature of an investigation changing over time.
It doesn't mean there was no reason to think that he should not be looked into, and it certainly doesn't leave room for trying to put the brakes on a law enforcement investigation.
BLITZER: Comey made the argument trying to help the president. I didn't want to say you were under investigation because if that were to change, then would I have to issue another statement, and you're better off not having me make the initial statement. You're going to have an opportunity to follow up this dramatic testimony, his written statement, tomorrow. Are there specific details that aren't in the testimony, the opening statement, that you want to ask Comey about during tomorrow's Q&A?
HEINRICH: Well, I'd like to understand Comey's state of mind. I also think it's incredibly valuable that he was able to create unclassified memos right after some of these meetings, because oftentimes if you wait two or three weeks things get cloudy. Clearly, director Comey felt under enough pressure that he wanted to document things in the moment. There's a great deal of value to that, and at the end of the day the Intelligence Committee needs to be able to see those memos, as well.
BLITZER: The written testimony from Comey released today incredibly forthcoming, but you were clearly frustrated in today's hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee with the director of national intelligence Coats, the NSA director Admiral Rogers, acting FBI Director McCabe, the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. Did -- do you believe they were stonewalling you?
HEINRICH: Absolutely, and I think their silence spoke volumes. They want to hide the answers of those questions from the American people. They did not invoke executive privilege, so they have no justification for not giving the most basic answers to this committee.
BLITZER: So you've heard the criticism. Some suggesting maybe they should be held in contempt for not answering senators' questions. Do you believe that?
HEINRICH: Well, I think we -- the American people and this committee deserve the question -- the answers to those questions, and we're not going to stop. We're going to get the answers to those questions.
BLITZER: The National Security Agency director, Admiral Rogers, he refused to discuss his conversations with the president. The vice chairman of your committee, senator warner twice brought up the fact though that a senior NSA official reportedly documented that conversation in an internal memo. He said maybe we should bring -- maybe we should bring that official before the committee. First of all, can you tell us what wrote that memo and will your committee call that person to testify?
HEINRICH: I can't comment on who that is. What I can say is we're going to look at every witness in these situations, and if we can't get a straight answer from the administration, we're going to go to other witnesses to find out what the truth is.
BLITZER: Senator Heinrich, thanks so much for joining us.
HEINRICH: Thanks for having us, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll look forward to tomorrow morning's testimony. Let's get straight to another key figure in all of this. The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee joining us now, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: You bet. Good to be with you, Wolf.
[17:20:12] BLITZER: All right. So tomorrow morning we're all going to be hearing these words, the opening statement, from the director. Comey is then going to be answering questions from the senators. The written testimony today, as you know, was so dramatic, describing what the president said in their meeting, specifically, first of all, on February 14.
He said this, and I'll put it up on the screen. Again, "He then said, 'I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.' I replied only that he is a good guy. I did not say I would let this go."
Do you believe this is evidence of obstruction of justice?
SCHIFF: It's certainly very possible that this is evidence, in combination with other actions by the president, that could amount to obstruction. It's certainly an effort to interfere in the investigation.
And I think that context is very important, Wolf, and one of the -- one of the things we need to keep in mind in terms of when this is happening and how this is happening is that dinner that the president invites Mr. Director Comey to takes place the day after Sally Yates has gone to the White House to warn them about Michael Flynn. So the very next day, the president wants a dinner alone with Director Comey and asks for his loyalty.
And then you flash forward a couple weeks. The day after Flynn is fired is the day that the president asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Those are not coincidences, in my view. The fact that the president effectively cleared the room of other people when he had these conversations, I think goes to the president's intent.
But we also need to get answered those questions that were asked of Rogers and Coats today, because they provide some of the other context, and that is did the president go to other people to ask them to intervene with Director Comey, because he wasn't having enough success in getting Comey to drop the Flynn case?
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, as you know, a former federal prosecutor. You're also a former federal prosecutor. Jeffrey believes it could be obstruction of justice. How high is that bar from your vantage point to go forward with a charge of obstruction of justice?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, it's a high bar here, because we're not really talking about whether you can bring a criminal charge against the president, whether you could prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury.
The burden is, in many ways, much higher, because the remedy here, if the president engaged in unlawful obstruction of justice, is removal from office, and there you really have to persuade the Congress, as well as the country, that this conduct was so disqualifying that it warrants that remedy, that this isn't just nullifying an election by other means.
So that is the very practical standard. It's not as if Director Mueller is going to bring an indictment against the president of the United States. He may present evidence to the Congress. He may look at charges involving other people on obstruction, if that exists, but the -- the question for the members of Congress is does this meet the standard of removal from office? And that is a very high standard indeed.
BLITZER: Because in the House of Representatives you would have to start that process of impeachment. That's potentially what you're talking about, right?
SCHIFF: Well, that's the remedy, so when you ask, you know, does this meet the legal standard of obstruction, the more compelling question here when the conduct involves the president of the United States, not an average person that could be brought up on charges, is does that conduct warrant the extraordinary remedy of removal from the highest office in the land?
BLITZER: You know, some of your Democratic colleagues, a few have already reached that conclusion. I take it you have not.
SCHIFF: You know, I think we're still early in getting the facts here. We haven't had the testimony, actual testimony of Director Comey. There are a lot of things would I like to ask him in addition to, you know, all of the important contextual details that go around that factual statement, but also who did he talk to about this? What is encapsulated in those memos? You know, we're going to need to know whether his account can be corroborated, because it's clearly going to be contradicted by the White House. They're already trying to impeach Director Comey.
I do think that, you know, frankly most of us in Congress, as well as in the country, are going to be far more inclined to believe the director's account than the president's, but nonetheless, we're going to want to know, were these just pieces of a broader effort to obstruct or interfere in this investigation?
BLITZER: Comey's testimony, the written statement released today, also characterized -- characterizes the president as very concerned over that secret, unsubstantiated, very salacious dossier written by a former British intelligence operative.
Comey says the president, quote -- once again I'll put it up on the screen -- "He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud. I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed but then re- emphasized the problems this was causing him." [17:25:26] What you read that section of the testimony, what was your
SCHIFF: Well, like the rest of it, you know, completely improper conduct by the president, but it looks like there are two separate issues here, and I hope that the director will clarify this tomorrow.
One seems to be the desire by the president to get the director to help him make the cloud go away. And that is, make the investigation go away.
And the other is a more specific request by the president, and that is to "Get information out of there that I'm not a subject of the investigation." Those are two different things. They are two equally serious -- well, one more serious, I should say, than the other but equally troubling. But we need to get, I think, further information from Director Comey. Just what does he think the president was asking him? And how specific can he be about the president's exact words? Because the most important thing, of course, is what the president intended.
BLITZER: Were you surprised to read in Comey's testimony that he did, in fact, tell the president on three separate occasions that the president was not under investigation?
SCHIFF: I was surprised by that, and frankly, I don't think that was appropriate for the director to do. I think that, if there's a decision made to tell someone who's a potential subject of an investigation that they're not a target of the investigation, that decision is made by the Justice Department. It's not made by the FBI.
And here, this again goes to, I think, the director overstepping the responsibility of the FBI and intruding on the prerogative of the Department of Justice.
And, you know, I have to say I do have some questions also about the -- the logic and the rationale that "I couldn't raise these concerns with the department, because the attorney general was going to recuse himself." I don't think any of us knew that until the moment that he announced it. Clearly, the president didn't know that, so I'm not sure that the director could say that with such certitude.
But there was an acting person in that role who the director could have gone to, and the fact that there may have been expectation that he wouldn't be there indefinitely is also, to me, not a compelling reason not to bring this to the attention of the Justice Department.
So I think that the appropriate thing here would have been to say to the president, as he did, in part, "These questions you need to direct to the Justice Department, not to the director of the FBI."
BLITZER: What does the written testimony of Comey tell you about how forthcoming he'll be during tomorrow's hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee?
SCHIFF: I think he'll be fully forthcoming. Look, a lot of us have issues with Director Comey and the exercise of his judgment over the last couple of years, but none of us think that he is dishonest. None of us think that he is going to go testify untruthfully. And, you know, we may have other issues, but that is not one of them.
And I think if the White House is going to try to call Jim Comey a liar, they're not going to find many buyers for that argument in the Congress, and, indeed, if this becomes a credibility contest between the president and Director Comey, that's a contest that the president is going to lose.
BLITZER: Well, do you believe there are tapes of those conversations, nine separate in-person and phone conversations between the president and Comey?
SCHIFF: I don't know, but Congress needs to find out. We need to find out. I certainly want to find out. And I'm sure that Bob Mueller is going to want to find out. So that is one question that we need to get to the bottom of, and perhaps that is something that Director Comey may have some awareness of. I hope he'll be asked that, as well. My guess is he probably doesn't know, but if he does, that's something that ought to be shared with the Congress.
BLITZER: We've been talking a lot about Comey's upcoming testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. What's the next step for your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, your investigation?
SCHIFF: Well, our next open hearing is going to be with secretary Jeh Johnson. We've already been in contact with him to schedule that testimony. He was one of the three agency heads at the time to make that first administration attribution that Russia was behind the hack. This was in October of last year, and that the hack was orchestrated at the highest levels of the Kremlin.
He was also interfacing with state elections officials and can shed light on what we knew at the time about what the Russians were doing in terms of any other Russia intrusion. That's our next open hearing. We'll bring of state voter registration databases or any other Russian intrusions.
So that's our next open hearing. We are also going to be bringing in witnesses in closed session for their interviews. We are in the process of gathering documents from individuals, as well as the agencies, and those are the next steps for our investigation.
BLITZER: So those subpoenas that you've issued, are they all being honored?
SCHIFF: Well, not yet. We expect them to be honored, or we'll have to escalate further in terms of whatever compulsory process is necessary, but our practices, we invite people to voluntarily provide documents and be interviewed. If they resist, we issue subpoenas. If they resist that, then we'll have to discuss next steps.
BLITZER: Finally, one last question before I let you go, Congressman. Have you read any of the contemporaneous memos that Comey wrote following his conversations with President Trump? SCHIFF: No, I haven't. Mr. Conaway and I have made a request of the
FBI to obtain those memoranda. We have not received them yet. I certainly hope and expect that, ultimately, we will. I think that may be in the category of documents that the bureau will want to discuss with Bob Mueller, make sure that his prosecutorial equities are protected. But that's information that Congress is ultimately going to need to get.
BLITZER: It was interesting, and I'm sure you noticed that, as well. In his statement, in Comey's statement, he made a point of saying those memoranda were unclassified. That was a significant statement. I assume you agree.
SCHIFF: Absolutely, and more than that, Wolf, those conversations that are alleged to have taken place between the president and directors Coats as well as Rogers, those are also not classified, and there's no way to hide behind classification here. There may or may not be a claim of privilege. Even that I think has been waived, so there's no basis not to the share this information ultimately with the Congress.
BLITZER: So you're going to subpoena that memorandum of the conversation that Admiral Rogers of the NSA had with the president? Because apparently, there is a contemporaneous memorandum of that conversation.
SCHIFF: I spoke with Director Rogers today. I made it clear to him that I expect that we're going to need to get these answers. I'm confident that we will, and I, you know, am going to assume the voluntary willingness to cooperate with us.
And also I would be prepared to challenge any claim of executive privilege here, which I believe both shouldn't apply because we're talking about potential improper or criminal conduct, but also because I believe that privilege has been waived by both the president as well as by the witnesses today, who are willing to talk to some degree about their interactions with the president.
BLITZER: So if they do claim executive privilege, you'll fight that?
SCHIFF: Absolutely. We're going to have to fight that.
BLITZER: And you'll go to court?
SCHIFF: I'd be prepared to support any court action. Obviously, this is something I would need to partner with Mr. Conaway on. But we certainly have a need for this investigation in terms of our investigation; and whatever process is necessary to get to the bottom of of this is what we're going to have to do.
BLITZER: Yes, Congressman Mike Conaway is the lead Republican member who's in charge of this investigation, now that Devon Nunes has recused himself. He's the chairman of your committee.
Congressman Schiff, thanks for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have to take a break break. We're standing by to see if the White House or President Trump's personal lawyer will comment on any of these dramatic developments. Much more coming up right after this.
[17:37:51] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the bombshell testimony that the fired FBI director, James Comey, will deliver tomorrow morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey's opening statement, released today at his request, by the way, confirms the president told the FBI director he needed loyalty.
Comey will also testify that the president asked him to, quote, "let go of the investigation" into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Let's bring in our political and legal specialists. And Jeffrey Toobin, a lot of this is potentially, from your perspective, very damning and potentially criminal?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, I think this really looks like a pattern of obstruction of justice by the president. If you look at the demands for loyalty, if you look at the request to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, and then if you look at the fact that Comey was fired when he refused to -- to fire [SIC] Flynn, that lays out a possible obstruction of justice.
Now, it requires you to believe Comey, and his testimony will certainly be challenged tomorrow, but we're in very deep waters here.
BLITZER: And one critical element could be if there are tapes of those phone conversations and those in-person conversations.
TOOBIN: It sure would be interesting.
BLITZER: A lot of us remember when...
TOOBIN: Yes, indeed. And you know, and I think, you know -- it's now time to settle these issues. We've been talking about that. These investigations shouldn't go on forever. If there are tapes, we should know about them and soon so this can be resolved.
BLITZER: It was the president, of course, who himself, in that famous tweet, he raised the possibility...
BLITZER: ... of tapes. He warned Comey, be careful because there could be tapes. Go ahead.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I do think, though, that we need to hear a little bit more, not only from Comey but also from Dan Coats and also from Mike Rogers, the two men who testified today, because one of the things that we know already is the fact that the president had similar conversations.
We know that, at least in March, he had a conversation with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, in which it appears that Dan Coats wasn't necessarily directly asked to help the FBI, to get the FBI off the back of Michael Flynn, but, you know, we want to know a little bit more about how that conversation went -- came across. It doesn't look like the president actually said, "I need you to help get the FBI off Mike Flynn's back," but it certainly looks like you could interpret things in that way.
[17:40:14] And I think it goes to this obstruction idea. I think we need to know a little bit more before we can get there.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on that testimony from Coats. That's coming up shortly, and from Mike Rogers, Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the NSA, the National Security Agency.
But Rebecca, let me read to you another quote that jumped up at me from the Comey written testimony: "I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the president-elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practices from that point forward."
Explain the importance of why that is so significant. He didn't write similar memos, he said, following his only two meetings with President Obama.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and that stuck out to me, Wolf, as well, for the same reason.
First of all, because this was so unusual for James Comey. It was not his standard operating procedure until he started meeting with Donald Trump. That suggests that he thought there was something unusual, perhaps something untoward going on. He wanted to make sure that he had his side of the story in writing, just in case, perhaps, we came into a situation like the one we are in right now.
It's also unusual, though, because it shows he thought at that time that something, maybe, unusual was going on, that something inappropriate was going on. So if Republicans or if the president want to suggest that James Comey is only raising these issues now that he's been fired as FBI director, now that this has become an issue, he can go back to these memos and say, "I wrote these at the time. I thought something unusual was happening at the time. That's why I had this insurance policy."
BLITZER: You've covered Comey. You know Comey, Evan, so when the argument is, "You know what? Don't believe a word he says. He's just bitter that President Trump fired him," his response will be?
PEREZ: Well, you know, I think one of the things you -- he does have is that, frankly, a record here in this city of service, and I think people who have worked with him would think that he's actually very honest. And the other thing that I think would come across here is not only
did he write these memos, but he also briefed members of the leadership -- leadership team at the FBI. So there are other witnesses who know when he came back and he told them, unrelated to them, what he had just experienced. And I think, you know, that's part of what will help corroborate this.
Obviously, there's only two men that were in some of these meetings. They don't -- nobody else really knows what happened except these two men. However, Comey has the foresight to be able to tell people about it and record it.
BLITZER: Was one of those individuals he briefed, the current acting FBI director?
PEREZ: That's one of the people that he briefed, including the general counsel of the FBI. These are the top people at the FBI. They're all in the same floor. Their offices are just a few feet away from each other, and he made sure these people were aware of what was happening.
BLITZER: Mark, the former FBI director also wrote this about his February 14 meeting with President Trump: "He then said, 'I hope you can say your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.' I replied only that he is a good guy. I did not say I would let this go."
How damaging is that?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me answer it two ways, and I'm actually going defer the second way to my good friend to my right here, Jeffrey.
Politically, I don't think this hurts him yet. I think that, if you are a supporter of his, you're going to see this and say, "Oh, he's just trying to help out a friend. He didn't really threaten him to move on with the investigation. He was just asking him to do so."
But I do think you have to look at the totality of this entire picture right now and see other events that have happened and put the jigsaw puzzle pieces together.
For instance, we only have to go back to that meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian ambassador, where there were other notes taken by someone entirely different, where Donald Trump is quoted as saying that Jim Comey is a crazy, real nut job and that -- that -- now this is Donald Trump speaking -- "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off. I'm not under investigation."
There are a lot of other pieces that are going to circle this testimony we're going to see tomorrow, but legally, I think Jeff has really zeroed in on what he had just said.
TOOBIN: And legally, also I think there's also an important point, is -- which is, obviously, Director Mueller is going to investigate this whole issue of obstruction of justice. BLITZER: The special -- the new special counsel.
TOOBIN: Correct. But it's not clear that, even if he finds evidence that Trump should be indicted, that a president of the United States can constitutionally be indicted. That's never been resolved.
That means the only resolution would be impeachment, and that, of course, is intentionally very much a political process. Republican- dominated Congress.
So, you know, I think, you know, we need to take this one step at a time. I don't think there's going to be indictment. It certainly seems impeachment -- I certainly think impeachment is unlikely. The most important thing now I think we can go do is get as many facts as we can. But in terms of actual legal consequences, court cases, impeachment, we're a ways off from any resolution there.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: But, you know, keep in mind, I mean, there is existing legal guidance at the Justice Department, which says that the President, a sitting president, cannot be indicted for a crime. So that's the --
PEREZ: That's the issue here. And today, during the hearing, Wolf, I know we're going to talk about it a little bit more, Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, you know, he was asked specifically whether or not he promised independence to Robert Mueller, and he didn't really want to answer that question.
That's an important part of this equation here because when Mueller finishes his investigation, it goes to Rosenstein, and he has to decide whether to refer to Congress if there's something there to be referred.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I want to quickly go to our CNN reporter, Ryan nobles. Today's confrontation before that Senate Intelligence Committee, it was very, very contentious. Ryan, update our viewers.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Both Republican and Democratic senators were pushing these intelligence officials to get them to give an answer to one very specific question, but they never got what they were looking for.
NOBLES (voice-over): The nation's top intelligence officials today refusing to provide details of their conversations with the President.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do not feel it's appropriate for me to in a public session, in which -- confidential conversations between the President and myself, I don't believe it's appropriate for me to address that in a public session.
NOBLES (voice-over): Not answering a barrage of questions about whether President Trump tried to interfere into the investigation into Russian meddling.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, UNITED STATES SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: If any of this is true, it would be an appalling and improper use of our intelligence professionals. An act, if true, that could erode the public's trust in our intelligence institutions.
NOBLES (voice-over): The Director of the National Security Agency only offering this broad claim.
ADM. MICHAEL ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection, during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.
NOBLES (voice-over): But as the hearing went on, frustration from both sides of the aisle over the refusal to answer specific questions.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Has anyone ever asked you, now or in the past, this administration or any administration, to issue a statement that you knew to be false?
ROGERS: For me, I stand by my previous statement. I've never been directed to do anything in the course of my three-plus years as the director of the National Security Agency --
RUBIO: Not directed, asked.
ROGERS: -- that I felt to be inappropriate, nor have felt pressured to do so.
RUBIO: Have you ever been asked to say something that isn't true?
ROGERS: I stand by my previous statement, sir.
NOBLES (voice-over): Again and again, refusing to acknowledge whether any such conversations with the President took place.
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: You realize how simple it would simply be to say, no, that never happened. Why is it inappropriate, Director Coats?
COATS: I think conversations between the President and myself are, for the most part --
HEINRICH: You seem to apply that standard selectively.
COATS: No, I'm not applying it selectively. I'm just saying I don't think it's appropriate.
HEINRICH: You could clear an awful lot up but simply saying it never happened.
COATS: I do not share with the general public conversations that I have with the President or many of my colleagues within the administration that I believe should not be shared.
HEINRICH: Well, I think your unwillingness to answer a very basic question speaks volumes.
NOBLES (voice-over): An increasingly exasperated Senator Angus King pressed to get answers about the lack of answers.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Why are you not answering these questions? Is there an invocation by the President of the United States of executive privilege? Is there or not?
ROGERS: Not that I'm aware of.
KING: Then why are you not answering the question?
ROGERS: Because I feel it's inappropriate, Senator.
KING: What you feel isn't relevant, Admiral. What you feel isn't the answer.
I'm not satisfied with "I do not believe it is appropriate" or "I do not feel I should answer." I want to understand the legal basis. You swore that oath to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and today, you are refusing to do so. What is the legal basis for your refusal to testify to this Committee?
COATS: I'm not sure I have a legal basis.
NOBLES (voice-over): The Republican Chairman of the Committee closed the hearing with a stern warning.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), CHAIRMAN, UNITED STATES SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: At no time should you be in a position where you come to Congress without an answer. It may be in a different format, but the requirements of our oversight duties and your agencies demand it.
[17:49:58] NOBLES: And you could see that real sense of frustration was rooted in the fact that Coats and Rogers could not appear to come up with a legal reason for not sharing the details of their conversation with President Trump. And if there was no legal barrier, these senators felt that it was their responsibility to share what they knew. Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Ryan Nobles, thanks very much. Let's get back to our political and legal specialists.
Mark Preston, if Comey can be all that forthcoming, why can't Coats and Rogers be all that forthcoming during this public testimony?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I don't think it was a good day for either of those men, but I felt a lot of empathy for them because they were on the hot seat. They should have answered the question. They didn't have any legal authority to do so. Coats, who has served in the Senate on two separate occasions, knows
what this means. Like, he has been on the other side of it, yet he really can't come up with an answer. Basically, he says, let's go behind closed doors --
PRESTON: -- and I'll tell you everything, except I'll have to go talk to the White House legal counsel because they may then invoke executive privilege. A bad day for them.
TOOBIN: There was a disturbing principle that seem to be emerging where the witnesses seem to be saying, well, the Special Counsel is investigating that, so I can't talk about it.
In Watergate, in Iran Contra, you had a Special Counsel, a Special Prosecutor, and congressional committee working in parallel. They both got answers from people. The witnesses did not come before Sam Irvin's Watergate Committee or Lee Hamilton Iran Contra Committee and say, I can't answer because Lawrence Walsh is investigating.
TOOBIN: No, they answered the questions because Congress has a very important role here.
PEREZ: And I thought --
TOOBIN: It's not just to determine --
PEREZ: Go ahead.
TOOBIN: You know, the only issue here is not whether someone committed crimes, the issue is whether the public needs to know what happened with these all.
PEREZ: And it does, right.
BLITZER: You heard Adam Schiff just say --
BLITZER: -- he is ready to go to court if they exert executive privilege.
TOOBIN: Well --
TOOBIN: But here they didn't even exert executive privilege, they just said --
PEREZ: Right. They just said they don't know --
TOOBIN: -- well, I don't feel like answering.
BLITZER: Well, they did ask the White House count and both of them said --
PEREZ: And they never got an answer.
BLITZER: We asked about executive privilege, we're still waiting for an answer.
PEREZ: Sally Yates did the same thing, Wolf, and she also did not get an answer. Look, I have no empathy for those four men at that table today because the disrespect, frankly, that they showed this very important committee, trying to get answers for the public, it was so visible.
I mean, Admiral Mike Rogers, who we all know, you know, he's wearing a uniform there at that hearing room, and he kind of comes in with a bit of disdain at these questions. Look, we don't know why that is. He might have been angry about something else, bad traffic, whatever, but these are important questions, and he just didn't seem to care.
BLITZER: Congress has an oversight --
PRESTON: I was going to say if he was mad for bad press. That's OK.
BLITZER: No, the role of Congress and oversight --
PEREZ: Right. It's an important thing.
BLITZER: -- is critically important. If they go to court, that potentially could be very significant.
TOOBIN: Well, yes, and --
PEREZ: They forget what the balance of power is here.
TOOBIN: If you go to court, you have to have an answer for why you're not testifying other than, I just don't have a legal reason, I feel --
BLITZER: But if they continue not to answer, could they be held in contempt?
TOOBIN: They certainly could be, absolutely.
REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, and I think we knew what the answer was if we were reading between the lines today. A few senators acknowledged, we understand that you all work for President Trump right now --
PEREZ: Right. BERG: -- and he could fire you if you give the wrong answer. Dan
Coats could have said, no, I never had a conversation like this with the President. He never asked me, demanded, pressured, any of it.
PEREZ: You could that there's some nuance there, right?
BERG: And he did not categorically deny --
BERG: -- which would have been the easy answer. There is probably a reason, and the reason is probably, in part, that his boss is the President of the United States.
PRESTON: A non-answer is absolutely an answer, and the request to go behind closed-doors. And even Admiral Rogers said it -- I was typing away as they were talking -- I believe that is the appropriate thing.
The bottom line is, working for Donald Trump is not an easy job, and I think that these gentlemen are between a rock and hard place.
PRESTON: Having said that, I will say, even though I still have empathy for them, Congress has a role. There is a co-equal branch of government. Their job is to have oversight. And the fact that they didn't answer questions today is emblematic of a bigger problem in this administration.
BLITZER: So where does the White House go from here, you think?
TOOBIN: I think they got what they wanted out of these two witnesses, which was nothing, no disclosures of information. And the question really is, where does Congress go from here in terms of demanding answers or just laying down and letting witnesses defy them right and left?
BLITZER: But the White House can make a decision, as you know, about executive privilege.
PEREZ: Right. But they didn't --
BLITZER: They didn't exert executive privilege to try to stop Comey from testifying.
PEREZ: And it's clear that they're not going to. I think they know, and I think they have Mark Kasowitz now who's handling the personal representation of the President. I think they know that that would be politically very bad, so they're just not answering the question. And I think that's some of these men were a little dubious as to whether or not they could or not. That's not good enough.
BLITZER: Are Republicans on the Hill getting frustrated by the lack of answers coming forward from the administration?
BERG: Well, absolutely, you could see it at end of this hearing today with the remarks from Senator Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
BLITZER: The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, yes.
BERG: And he chided these witnesses for not bringing answers to the Committee. Republicans in Congress may be Republicans, Wolf, but they still care about congressional authority and congressional power.
And Republicans, for years, during the Obama administration, were chiding the executive branch for overreach, for taking too much power. They are very much aware of executive overreach, and they're not going to be satisfied if they are seeing with the Trump administration or anyone else.
[17:55:10] BLITZER: It wasn't just the frustration that you could see with Senator Burr, but Senator McCain exerted some of that frustration --
PRESTON: Oh, yes, right.
BLITZER: -- showed some. Senator Rubio as well.
All right, everybody, stand by. We're getting some more breaking news in a stunning written testimony released early by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The fired FBI Director James Comey says the President demanded loyalty, asked him to let go of the investigation into Michael Flynn. What will Comey add in tomorrow's public hearing? We're beginning to get some reaction from the President's lawyer. Stand by.