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FBI Director Testifies on Trump/Russia Probe. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 3, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You are looking at live pictures right now from inside the Senate Judiciary Committee. Any minute, the FBI director James Comey will sit down and he will testify. Lawmakers, they want new details of his investigation to alleged ties between the Trump campaign associates and Russia. And for the first time, he will be pushed to publicly defend his letter on Hillary Clinton's e-mails that she just said was one of the key factors in costing her the election. And we do understand that he wants to get some stuff off his chest on this subject. We have a lot to cover. Let's begin at this hearing, outside this hearing with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. That's right, John. I've seen Comey just walking in right behind me, in this door behind me. So, he is in the building. We do expect him to face new questions about the Russia investigation that he announced at a different hearing back in March in which he said that there is this ongoing FBI inquiry into those alleged coordination between the Trump associates and Russian officials during the time of the election.

The question is, will he be able to advance the narrative beyond what we already know that the investigation is ongoing. He declined on a number of fronts, last hearing to give any specificity about the investigation. What will he do differently today? But what will he do different is Democrats do intend to press him on Mr. Comey's decision last fall, days before the election, to announce an additional investigation into further e-mails, Clinton e-mails, something that of course that she blames -- that cost her the election. Now, I talked to one of the Democrats on the committee yesterday. Dick Blumenthal who said, this is an issue that Democrats plan to raise repeatedly today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: He has discussed it in classified settings, but the American people really deserve answers about why he did release his comments and letter. And I think he may want to be more forthcoming and may want to use this forum as an opportunity to tell the American people his side of the story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And John, this is the beginning of a series of hearings, not just before the Judiciary Committee, but tomorrow also, Comey will appear in a classified setting before the House Intelligence Committee and other major public hearings next week including Sally Yates, the former deputy attorney general and former acting attorney general expected to testify about the conversations regarding Michael Flynn and those concerns he raised allegedly about him being compromised by the Russians.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju, stick around with us right now. Also joining us, CNN justice correspondents Pamela Brown and Evan Perez, CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston, CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju is still here, as I just said, also joining us, CNN military and diplomatic analyst John Kirby, he's also a former State Department spokesman and a spokesman at the Pentagon, as well.

Evan Perez, first to you, Manu was saying that Democratic senators intend to push the FBI director on the subject of Hillary Clinton's e- mails and the investigation into such. Your reporting is that James Comey is actually pretty excited to talk about this today.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A little too far there, John. But I think he is pretty anxious to try to get some of the stuff off his chest. He believes that a lot of people misunderstand what happened last year. Obviously, the Democrats and Hillary Clinton has believed that he cost her the election, but he believes that it's perhaps a little bit more complicated simply because he believes he had to tell Congress that there were new e-mails found and that the FBI was taking a new look at those e-mails just a few days before the election. He assumed that she was going to win. Everyone assumed that she was going to win and he felt that the FBI would come under tremendous, tremendous criticism if that came out after the election and after she had won. Obviously, things did not work out that way.

But you know today, the thing we should watch for today is the fact that the Republicans want or are motivated to make this a different hearing from that hearing last month. You see James Comey walking in right there with all the cameras and all the senators getting ready to question him. We expect that the Republicans are going to try to take this away from Russia and question him not only about the FBI's involvement with the British spy that put together the dossier and allegations of Russian involvement or Russian contacts with members of the Trump campaign. But we also expect obviously, the Democrats to question him more about why he did what he did last year in the Clinton investigation. So, we expect a completely different hearing from the one we saw in the House last month.

BERMAN: All right, guys. And again, James Comey, the FBI director did just sit down. He's being photographed from every conceivable angle right now before this hearing begins. And we're going to jump out and take the opening statements live the minute they start, so I may have to cut you off.

Pamela Brown, last time James Comey testified, he sort of dropped the bombshell news that the FBI - he confirmed that the FBI is investigating alleged contacts between Trump associates and Russia. That is well over a month ago right now. [10:05:01] There have been new developments in this investigation that have leaked out including the FISA warrant on Carter Page, including we now know that Sally Yates is planning to testify next week contradicting what the White House has said on Sally Yates. What are the new details you expect he'd be pressed on?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE AND SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Well, James Comey, of course will be limited on what he can say about the Russia investigation. It is true that he made big news during the last hearing when he publicly acknowledged for the first time that the FBI was, indeed, investigating possible coordination between Russians and Trump associates. I can tell you, the goal today is not to make any big headlines when it comes to -

BERMAN: Hey, Pamela?

BROWN: Yes?

BERMAN: Pamela, I am going to jump in right now. The Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley beginning this hearing.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Director Comey, welcome. We thank the FBI for what it does to keep America safe. There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the FBI since the last time you were here in 2015. In March, you publicly acknowledged that the FBI is investigating allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Under President Obama's order, former DNI Clapper had been in charge of the intelligence community's review of that inference. Mr. Clapper testified that President Obama asked the intelligence community to compile all available information. After he left office, Mr. Clapper said there was no evidence of collusion whatsoever. The New York Times reported that American officials found no proof of collusion.

So where is all this speculation about collusion coming from? In January, BuzzFeed published a dossier spinning wild conspiracy theories about the Trump campaign. BuzzFeed acknowledged that the claims were unverified and some of the details were clearly wrong. BuzzFeed has since been sued for publishing them. Since then, much of the dossier has been proven wrong and many of his outlandish claims have failed to gain traction.

For example, no one's looking for moles or Russian agents embedded in the DNC. Yet some continue to quote parts of this document as if it were gospel truth. And according to press reports, the FBI has relied on the document to justify his current investigation. There have been reports that the FBI agreed to pay the author of the dossier, who paid his sources, who also paid their sub sources. Where did the money come from and what motivated the people writing the checks? The company that oversaw the dossiers creation of Fusion GSP won't speak to that point either. Its founder Glenn Simpson is refusing to cooperate with this company's -- the committee's investigation and inquiry. His company is also the subject of a complaint to the Justice Department.

That complaint alleges that Fusion worked as a non-registered foreign agent for Russian interest and with the former Russian intelligence agency at the time it worked on the dossier. It was filed with the Justice Department in July, long before the dossier came out. The man who wrote the dossier admitted in court that it has unverified claims. Does that sound like a reliable basis for law enforcement or intelligence actions?

Unfortunately, the FBI has provided me materially inconsistent information about these issues. That is why we need to know more about it, how much FBI (sic) relied on it. Once you buy into the claim of collusion then suddenly every interaction with a Russian can be twisted to seem like confirmation of a conspiracy theory.

Now I obviously don't know what the FBI will find. For the good of the country, I hope that the FBI gets to the truth soon, whatever that truth or that answer may be. If there are wrongdoers, they should be punished and the innocent should have their names cleared. And in the meantime, this committee is charged with the oversight of the FBI. And we can't wait until this is all over to ask the hard questions, otherwise too many people will have no confidence in FBI's conclusions.

[10:10:00] The public needs to know what role the dossier has played and where it came from, and we need to know whether there was anything improper going on between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Or are these mere allegations, just a partisan smear campaign that manipulated our government into choosing -- chasing a conspiracy theory.

Now, before the election and before we knew about this notorious dossier, you, Chairman Comey, publicly released his findings that Secretary Clinton was extremely careless in the handling of highly classified information. And this recommendation has no one -- and -- and his recommendation that no one be prosecuted.

According to a recent New York Times article, he did it partly because he knew the Russians had a hacked e-mail from a Democrat operative that might be released before the election. That e-mail reportedly provided assurances that Attorney General Lynch would protect Secretary Clinton and make sure the FBI "didn't go too far."

Despite Attorney General Lynch's prior connections to the Clintons and her now famous private conversation with former President Clinton during the investigation, she failed to recuse herself from that. The and (ph) directors announcement effectively gave her cover to have it both ways. She would appear publicly uninvolved, but remain in control of the ultimate outcome.

Moreover, in its haste to end a tough, politically charged investigation, the FBI failed to follow-up on credible evidence of the intent to hide -- hide federal records from the Congress and the public. It is a federal crime, as we know, to willfully and unlawfully conceal, remove or destroy a federal record.

Director Comey said that, quote, "the FBI also discovered several thousands work related e-mails, end of quote, that Secretary Clinton did not turn over to the State Department." He said that Secretary Clinton's lawyers, quote, "cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery," end of quote, of additional e- mails.

The Justice Department also entered in to immunity agreements limiting the scope of the FBI investigation. Some of these agreements prohibited the FBI from reviewing any e-mails on the lap tops of the Clinton aides that were created outside of Secretary Clinton's tenure at State. But of course, any e-mails related to alienating records would not have been created until after she left office during the Congressional and FBI reviews. And even though these records were subject to congressional subpoena and preservation records, the Justice Department agreed to destroy the laptops.

So a cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI objectivity. The Director says that the people at the FBI don't give a rip about politics, but the director installed -- as deputy director, a man whose wife ran for elected office and accepted almost $1 million from Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend and fundraiser of the Clintons and the Democratic Party.

Andrew McCabe also reportedly met a person with Governor McAuliffe's office about his wife's political plans and he did not recuse himself from the Clinton investigations or the Russian matter despite the obvious appearance of conflict. The Inspector General is reviewing these issues but once again the people deserve answers and the FBI has not provided those answers.

We need the FBI to be accountable because we need the FBI to be effective. Its mission is to protect us from the most dangerous threats facing our nation and as the director was last here -- since the director was last here, the drumbeat of attacks on the United States from those directed or inspired by ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist has continued.

For example, in June 2016, a terrorist killed 49 and wounded another 53 in Orlando -- frequently -- frequented by gay and lesbian community. It was a most deadly attack in the United States soil since 9/11. But long -- afterwards in September a terrorist stabbed 10 at a mall in Minneapolis and another terrorist injured 31 after he detonated bombs in New Jersey and New York City.

[10:15:00] And in November a terrorist injured 13 after driving into students and teachers at Ohio State University.

Our allies haven't been immune either as we read in the newspaper frequently. We all recall the tragedy of July 2016 when terrorists plowed the truck through a crowd in France, killing over 80 people. So we in the Congress need to make sure that the FBI has the tools it needs to prevent investigate terrorism as well as other series violent crimes. And these tools must be -- must adapt to both evolving technology and threats while preserving our civil liberties.

I hope we can also hear from the director about the FBI's use of some of these tools that may require congresses attention and most obviously the FISA section 702 authority is up for reauthorization at the end of the year. This authority provides a government the ability collect the electronic communications of foreigners outside the United States, with a compelled assistance of American companies. And Bush and Obama administrations were strongly supportive of 702 and now the Trump administration is as well.

From all accounts, the law has proven to be highly effective in helping to protect the United States and her allies. The privacy and civil liberties oversight board and many other federal courts have found section 702 constitutional and consistent with our fourth amendment. Yet, questions and concerns persist for many about its effects on our civil liberties, specifically in the way the FBI queries data collected under Section 702. In order -- in addition, the director has spoken out often about how the use of encryption by terrorists and criminals is eroding the effectiveness of one of the FBI's core investigative tools, a warrant based on probable cause. I look forward to an update from you, Director Comey on the Going Dark problem.

I'm also waiting for answers from the FBI's advance knowledge of an attempted terrorist attack 2015 Garland, Texas. Fortunately, the attack was interrupted by local police officer, but not before a guard was shot. After the attack, the director claimed that the FBI did not have advanced knowledge of it. But it was recently revealed that an undercover FBI agent was in close communication with one of the attackers in the weeks leading up to the attack. The undercover agent was in a car directly behind the attackers when they started shooting and fled the scene.

The committee needs clarity on what the FBI knew, whether there was plans to disrupt any attack, and whether it shared enough information with local law enforcement. And obviously, you expect me to always remind you about whistleblowers.

Finally, as you know, the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act became law December, 2016. It clarified that FBI employees are protected when they disclose wrongdoing to their supervisors. In April, we learned that the FBI still has not updated its policies and done much to educate employees on the new law. The Inspector General gave the FBI updated training this past January.

Employees who know that they are protected are more likely to come forward with evidence of waste, fraud and abuse. They should not have to wait many months to be trained on such a significant change in their rights and their protections. And these are all important issues and I look forward to discussing them with you, Director Comey, the public's faith of the FBI, Congress and our Democratic process has been tested lately, oversight and transparency hopefully will restore that faith.

You may take as long as you want, Senator.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, as you stated, this is the committee's annual oversight hearing to conduct that oversight of the FBI. So usually, we review and ask questions about the FBI's work that ranges from major federal law enforcement priorities, to the specific concerns of individual members of the committee.

However, this hearing takes place at -- at unique time. Last year, for the first time, the FBI and its investigation of a candidate for president became the center of the closing days of a presidential election. Before voters went to the polls last November, they had been inundated with stories about the FBI's investigation of Senator Clinton's e-mails.

[10:20:03] The press coverage was wall-to-wall.

Every day, there was another story about Secretary Clinton's e- mails. Every day, questions were released -- everyday questions were raised about whether classified information had been released or compromised. And over and over again, there was commentary from the FBI about its actions and investigation.

On July 5, 2016, two months before the election, Director Comey publicly announced that the FBI had concluded its investigation and determined that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case against Secretary Clinton. That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn't. Eleven days before the election, on October 28, 2016, Director Comey then announced that the FBI was reopening the Clinton investigation because of e-mails on Anthony Weiner's computer.

This explosive announcement -- and it was -- came unprompted and without knowing whether a single e-mail warranted a new investigation. It was, in fact, a big October surprise. But in fact, as it turned out, not one e-mail on the laptop changed the FBI's original conclusion that no prosecution was warranted. And only two days before the election, the FBI sent another public letter to Congress affirming its original conclusion.

This was extraordinary, plain and simple. I join those who believe that the actions taken by the FBI did, in fact, have an impact on the election. What's worse is that while all of this was going on in the public spotlight, while the FBI was discussing its investigation into Senator Clinton's e-mail server in detail, I cannot help, but note that it was noticeably silent about the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference into the election.

In June 2016, the press reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the computer system of the Democratic National Committee. In response, then candidate Trump and his campaign began goading the Russian government into hacking Secretary Clinton. Two months later, in August, on Twitter, Roger Stone declared, "trust me it will soon be Podesta's time in the barrel,' end quote.

He then bragged that he was in communication with WikiLeaks -- and this was during a campaign -- the campaign in Florida. He told a group of Florida Republicans that founder Julian Assange said -- that founder Julian Assange and that there would be no telling what the October surprise might be, end quote. Clearly he knew what he was talking about.

Two months later, on October 7, thousands of e-mails from John Podesta's account were published on WikiLeaks. We now know that through the fall election the FBI was actively investigating Russia's efforts to interfere with the presidential campaign and possible involvement of Trump campaign officials in those efforts. Yet, the FBI remained silent.

In fact, the FBI summarily refused to even acknowledge the existence of any investigation. It's still very unclear, and I hope, Director, that you will clear this up; why the FBI's treatment of these two investigations was so dramatically different. With the Clinton e-mail investigation, it has been said that, quote, exceptional circumstances, end quote, including the high interest in the matter and the need to reassure the public required public comment from the FBI. However I can't imagine how an unprecedented big and bold hacking interference in our election by the Russian government did not also present exceptional circumstances.

[10:25:00] As I said at the beginning we're in a unique time. A foreign adversary had actively interfered with a presidential election. The FBI was investigating not just that interference. But whether campaign officials associated with the president were connected to this interference, and the Attorney General has recused himself from any involvement in this investigation.

At the same time, the FBI must continue to work with it's state and local law enforcement partners and the intelligence community as well to investigate crime of all types violent crime, increased narcotic trafficking, fraud, human trafficking, terrorism, child exploitation, public corruption and yesterday this committee had a very important hearing on hate and crimes against specific religions and races which are off the charts.

In order to do all of that, I firmly believe it is of the utmost importance that the American people have faith and trust in the nation's top law enforcement agency. We must be assured that all of the FBI's decisions are made in the interest of justice, not in the interest of any political agenda or reputation of any one agency or individual.

So Mr. Director, today we need to hear how the FBI will regain that faith and trust. We need straightforward answers to our questions and we want to hear how you're going to leave the FBI going forward. We never ever want anything like this to happen again.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GRASSLEY: Director Comey, I'd like to swear you in at this point. Do you affirm that the testimony you're about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I do.

GRASSLEY: Thank you very much.

As the old saying goes, for somebody as famous as you, you don't need any introduction. So I'm just going just introduce you as director of the Federal Bureau of investigation. But to once again thank you for being here today and we look forward to your testimony and answer to our questions. You may begin.

COMEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Feinstein, members of the committee. Thank you for having this annual oversight hearing about the FBI. I know that sounds little bit like someone saying looking forward to going to the dentist, but I really do mean it.

I think oversight of the FBI of all parts of government, especially the one I'm lucky enough to lead is essential. I think it was John Adams, who wrote to Thomas Jefferson, that power always thinks it has a great soul. The way you guard against that is having people ask hard questions, ask good questions and demand straightforward answers and I promise you will do my absolute best to give you that can answer today.

I also appreciate the conversation I know we're going to have today and over the next few months about reauthorizing section 702 of the foreign intelligence surveillance act that you mentioned Mr. Chairman. This is a tool that is essential to the safety of this country. I did not say the same thing about the collection of telephone dialing information by the NSA. I think that's a useful tool.

702 is an essential tool and if it goes away we will be less safe as a country and I mean that and would be happy to talk more about that. Thank you for engaging on that so we can tell the American people why this matters so much and why we can't let it go away. As you know, the magic of the FBI that you oversee is it's people. And we talk, as we should, a lot about our counterterrorism work, about our counterintelligence work and I'm sure we'll talk about that today.

But I thought I would just give you some idea of the work that's being done by those people all over the country, all over the world, every day, every night, all the time. And I pulled three cases that happened that were finished in the last month just to illustrate it.

The first was something I know that you followed closely, the plague of threats against Jewish community centers that this country experienced in the first few months of this year. Children frightened, old people frightened, terrifying threats of bombs at Jewish institutions, especially the Jewish community centers.

The entire FBI surged in response to that threat, working across all programs, all divisions, our technical wizards using our vital international presence. And using our partnerships, especially with the Israeli national police. We made that case and the Israelis locked up the person behind those threats and stopped that terrifying plague against the Jewish community centers.

Second case I wanted to mention is all of you know what a botnet is. These are the zombie armies of computers that have been taken over by criminals lashed together in order to do tremendous harm to innocent people.

[10:30:00] Last month, the FBI working with our partners with the Spanish national police took down a botnet called the Kelihos botnet and locked up the Russian hacker behind that botnet.