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WORLD RIGHT NOW WITH HALA GORANI
White House: "Erosion Of Confidence" In Comey; Comey's Abrupt Firing Sets Off Shockwaves; Sources: Comey Asked For More Resources For Russia Probe; Trump: Meeting With Lavrov "Very, Very Good"; Comey Firing Draws Comparisons to Watergate; Comey Coverage Dominates U.S. Media. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 15:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Hala Gorani. We are live at CNN London. Thanks for being with us on this Wednesday.
Busy, busy hour ahead as you can imagine. This is THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.
The White House is trying to limit the fallout from a political earthquake but the aftershocks just keep coming. Donald Trump is defending his abrupt
firing of FBI Director James Comey who was investigating his campaign's ties to Russia.
These photos, though, could add fuel to the fire. Mr. Trump welcomed top Russian diplomats to the White House today, including this man, the
ambassador of Russia to Washington, D.C., Sergey Kislyak, whose contact with Trump aides have raised serious concerns with investigators.
The White House says Comey's firing had nothing to do with Russia but rather the way he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you fire Director Comey?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simply. He was not doing a good job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Excuse me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will the new FBI director be --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Just because Comey was fired doesn't mean he will be silenced. The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked him to testify in a closed
session next Tuesday, which by the way means obviously we won't know what happens behind closed doors unless there are leaks.
Just last week, the White House said president Trump had confidence in Comey, but we heard something different at a news briefing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was it that the president lost confidence in James Comey? What was -- what was the tipping point?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's been an erosion of confidence. I think that Director Comey has shown over
the last several months, and frankly the last year, a lot of missteps and mistakes.
And certainly I think that as you've seen from many of the comments from Democrat members, including Senator Schumer, they didn't think he should be
there. They thought he should be gone. Frankly, I think it's startling that Democrats aren't celebrating this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, Sarah Huckabee Sanders there. By the way, filling in for Sean Spicer, who is the White House press secretary, and you would expect
him to be there today, but the White House is saying he had Navy reservist duties. This is raising some eyebrows. We'll get to that in a moment.
But first celebrating, Democrats are not. They are outraged by Comey's firing, saying the reason given and the timing don't add up. They're now
in fact saying there has to be a special prosecutor, independent, to look into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign during the
Let's bring in CNN White House producer, Kevin Liptak, and our White House reporter, Stephen Collinson. Kevin, let me start with you. What more are
we learning about how James Comey found out he was fired?
KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE PRODUCER: This is really an extraordinary moment that was full of drama last night in Washington. President Trump
actually dispatched his private bodyguard, Keith Schiller, to let the FBI know that he was firing their director, James Comey.
And CNN actually spotted Schiller pulling up to the FBI building in an unmarked black Ford Focus yesterday afternoon. He emerged from that car
alone. He was carrying a manila folder into his right hand. He walked slowly into the building.
We saw him walk out about an hour later, no more manila folder, and of course, now we know why he was there. He was letting the agency know that
President Donald Trump had decided to fire the director, James Comey.
Now, we should mention that Comey himself was not actually in the building at that time. He wasn't even on the east coast. He was in Los Angeles
addressing a group of FBI agents at the field office there. The room had televisions tuned to cable news.
As soon as the news broke, the agents, of course, saw that. Comey himself saw it. We're told that he made a joke to lighten the mood somewhat. He
continued with his speech.
Afterwards, he got on the phone with Washington, who told him that, yes, indeed he had been fired. Of course, he returned last night.
[15:05:02]Now, asked today whether Trump should have delivered this news in person, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that he did follow the proper protocol
and that no matter how you fire someone, it's never an easy process -- Hala.
GORANI: Interesting that he didn't learn that he was fired even from that letter that was hand delivered. So obviously the criticism coming Trump's
way is about the fact that James Comey was the head of the FBI, an agency investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign last year and
Russian officials and operatives.
So that he fired essentially the head of a department looking into possible wrongdoing by his campaign last year. What happens next? What happens
with this investigation going forward, Stephen Collinson?
STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: That's a good question, Hala. The first thing that the president has to do is appoint a new FBI
director. Now, that's going to be an exceedingly fraught process because if you think about it, the person that gets that job is going to be the
person in charge of this inquiry.
Now anybody that is appointed by the president is going to be automatically seen as a bit of a stooge. Someone that's going to go in there and not
really pursue this investigation where it might lead, so that's one of the questions that sort of surrounding the name of this person. Who would it
If you want to be seen as being above politics and it's not at all clear that the White House does want to be seen there, it would have to be
someone of impeachable integrity that could be seen by Democrats as a fair choice. But I think what we're looking at is a very tough confirmation
process for this next nominee, whoever it might be.
GORANI: Kevin, let's put up a tweet by Donald Trump essentially saying "You'll realize I was right once things calm down." Here's exactly what he
wrote on Twitter, "Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they
will be thanking me." Is that true, that Comey lost the confidence of Republicans and Democrats in Washington?
LIPTAK: Look, Comey certainly lost the confidence of many Democrats and Republicans based on his handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mail server, but I
don't think that explains -- I don't think Donald Trump's tweet explains why he decided to fire James Comey now just as the FBI was in the middle of
this investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia.
So you do see Democrats out there today from Hillary Clinton's campaign saying, look, we are no fans of James Comey. In fact, Hillary Clinton
herself has placed partial blame on James Comey for her loss last year in the presidential election.
But there's no way that they're looking at this timing and saying that Donald Trump has somewhat acquitted himself of this Russia investigation
GORANI: And in fact there is reporting, Stephen and Kevin, that Comey had recently, before being fired, asked for additional help and resources into
this investigation into the Trump -- potential Trump campaign/Russia ties, right? So those who are looking at this through that prism are seeing this
as motivated by the White House's desire to perhaps disrupt this investigation.
COLLINSON: That's exactly right. If you are disposed to think that Donald Trump was trying to shut down this investigation by firing Comey, you can
see this as evidence, perhaps, that the inquiry was getting a little bit too close to the White House.
Comey appeared in Congress last week and his last real big testimony in his tenure talking about this investigation. It appears that he asked for more
resources when the Senate Intelligence Committee asked him to sort of speed up the investigation, saying it was going too slowly, so that can also be
seen as a catalyst for White House action.
I mean, the idea that the White House is advancing that Comey had to be fired because of his treatment of Hillary Clinton during the election
campaign is one of the most surreal aspects of this. After all Donald Trump spent much of last year going around the country praising Comey and
saying that Hillary Clinton should be locked up.
GORANI: He was supporting him a few weeks ago. You didn't have to go back to last year.
COLLINSON: According to Huckabee Sanders, he had been thinking about firing Comey since the election.
GORANI: Right. So something doesn't add up there.
COLLINSON: The whole thing is -- it looks like a sort of a firing in search of a justification, if you like. They're trying to come up with
reasons why he was fired. That what's making people think, well, look the real reason is, as you said, he wants to shut down this investigation.
GORANI: So quickly because obviously around the world the president is a Republican and many of our viewers are asking how are Republicans reacting
to this firing.
[15:10:02]Most are either quiet or support openly the decision by Donald Trump to fire Comey. But others, for instance, Arizona Senator John
McCain, had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it renews the urgency that I believe we need a select committee to investigate all aspects of the
connections with Russia and all of the other factors that have led to what is a very serious scandal in the United States.
When you fire probably arguably the most respected person in America, you'd better have a very good explanation, and so far I haven't seen that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: So, Kevin, last question to you. Is there some sort of momentum there among Republican Congress people, senators, representatives, that's
gathering steam that some sort of independent investigation needs to be set up to look into whether or not the Trump campaign had any ties to Russian
LIPTAK: Well, I think this incident does provide some sort of impetus in the reaction, but you can't forget that there had been calls for a special
prosecutor or special counsel to look into this matter well before President Trump fired James Comey.
I mean, a lot of Republicans do think that this reflects poorly on their party. After all, President Donald Trump is the leader of that party. He
ran as a Republican. Many Republicans were wary of him back then. Many of them are still wary of him now.
But there is a political risk in dispatching with the person who the ostensible head of this coalition that you're trying to lead. Now, of
course, there are Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have duties beyond just being a Republican.
One of them is Senator Burr. He's the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who last night did say that he was troubled by the
timing around all of this. So I think it remains to be seen how many more Republicans will fall in line behind him.
GORANI: Kevin Liptak, thanks very much. Steven Collinson, thanks to you as well. Great having you on the program as we continue to cover this
As we mentioned, sources say James Comey had recently asked for more resources for the Russia investigation. But the Justice Department
strongly denied that that request was made.
My next guest has extensive experience with the FBI. Tom Fuentes is a national security and law enforcement analyst for CNN and also a former
assistant director at the FBI. Tom, thanks for being with us. First, what first went through your mind as someone with so much FBI history when you
heard the news?
TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Hala, I was shocked, like everyone else, just that it happened. You know, it's been
talked about for so long. Many people on both sides of political aisle in the United States have been calling for Comey to be fired or removed or
And I think that we just didn't know if and when that would ever happen and then suddenly it happened seemingly out of the blue yesterday. But we
still have much to learn about that.
You just said a few minutes ago that the request by Comey for more resources for the Russian investigation, I don't believe that for a minute.
The director of the FBI can redeploy thousands of agents all over the world to do a special investigation on his discretion.
He doesn't need to run that across the street to the Department of Justice just to move a few hundred to one investigation or another. So I don't
believe that's true.
GORANI: So you don't think that one holds water, that report.
GORANI: Let me ask you a little bit though about the timing because just a few weeks ago we were hearing from the president himself, he has confidence
in James Comey, and then critics of his move say, well, you had confidence in him until perhaps you realize this investigation was gathering steam or
momentum. Do you think there's any truth to that?
FUENTES: Well, we don't know how much confidence. So it's possible a few weeks ago he had what I call enough confidence. But what's happened in the
interim is a new deputy attorney general was appointed, Rosenstein, who is a career Department of Justice official, and was appointed to be U.S.
attorney during the Obama administration for the district of Maryland, which includes Baltimore.
And I would have to believe that Rosenstein's thoughts about Comey's -- what Comey has done over the last year would have started at least last
summer and that he probably would have been outraged last July when Director Comey basically usurped Department of Justice normal authority to
determine whether or not a prosecution is made in a particular case.
So when Director Comey took it upon himself on July 5th to announce that he was recommending no charges and believed that no prosecutor would take that
case, that really caused outrage among the career Department of Justice officials and U.S. attorneys throughout the United States and there's 96 of
[15:15:07]GORANI: But you just -- the timing today. I mean, obviously, the fact that --
FUENTES: Well, the timing --
GORANI: They are justifying this firing because of something James Comey did last July. This is what is causing --
FUENTES: No, there's more to it than that. I'm sorry I'm making a long story longer. But I was getting to the fact that now Rosenstein is now
sitting as deputy attorney general and Director Comey did yet another misstep when he testified last week before Congress and basically gave
false information as to the nature of Huma Abedin forwarding e-mails to her husband on his laptop, Weiner, and how many there were.
The degree of that error is something that caused tremendous consternation within the Department of Justice and at FBI headquarters of how were they
going to deal with something that was so false. And I think that that may have been just the final straw.
I think also the comments about -- that President Trump should have fired him on day one last January when he became president, you know, he didn't
even have an attorney general sitting in place yet and that took an extra longtime to confirm Sessions.
And then it took longer to go ahead and get a new deputy attorney general, Rosenstein. When Rosenstein gets put in place two weeks ago, he's the
first person, the new person, to be at the department with a new view but is still a career Department of Justice official. And I think that the
wrongdoing of Comey in the last two weeks --
GORANI: But so many people are asking now, well, it depends on many things. What happens with the Russia investigation, because that is a
crucial question that still needs answering, A, and, B, who does Donald Trump nominate to replace James Comey because that person can't be seen as
being a stooge. This is the concern of those who criticize this move right now.
FUENTES: Right. The first question is that case will continue under investigation and even if there's a special counsel appointed to run that
investigation, the individuals that actually conduct the investigation are the FBI agents, the same agents.
So all they would have is a different attorney overseeing the case, whether it's an FBI official or whether it's a special counsel. It's still FBI
agents, rank and file, that are going to aggressively work that case.
Don't forget that during the George W. Bush administration, U.S. attorney from Chicago, Fitzgerald, was appointed special counsel to run the
investigation investigating Dick Cheney, sitting vice president at the time, with a small army of FBI agents.
And they went after the vice president and his assistant, Scooter Libby, aggressively, eventually convicting Scooter Libby to where Bush had to
commute his sentence to prevent him from going to jail.
So the idea that the FBI can't aggressively, their agents, under a special prosecutor or not, cannot aggressively investigate people in the White
House, the president or the vice president or any other official is false.
And I think that investigation proved it and many others have proved it over the years, but that one in particular against a sitting vice president
of the United States.
GORANI: Tom Fuentes, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it. Ex-assistant director of the FBI.
FUENTES: Thank you, Hala.
HOWELL: We are going to continue this conversation. Speaking of Russia, the country's foreign minister just happened to have a meeting with
President Trump today. Talk about timing. All the details on that with our reporter at the U.S. State Department, next.
And I will speak to famed Watergate reporter, Carl Bernstein, to get his take on the seismic events coming out of Washington.
GORANI: The fallout over the ousting of the FBI Director Comey on the same day President Trump welcomes the Russian foreign minister to the White
House and Sergey Lavrov didn't seem to appreciate being upstaged by James Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks, Gentlemen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he fired?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're kidding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he was fired.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're kidding! You're kidding!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Joke there, I'm sure. Lavrov said the idea the kremlin could interfere in American domestic affairs was humiliating for the American
It's important to mention this meeting was the highest level encounter so far between Moscow and the administration. U.S. reporters were not allowed
in, so this picture comes to us courtesy of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The timing of this meeting is pretty extraordinary.
Let's talk about it with Michelle Kosinski at the State Department. So, Michelle, what do we know about what the two men said to each other?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, we should point out that what we know is mainly coming not from the U.S. side, which
did put out a brief paper statement about what was discussed, but it's coming from the Russian side.
The U.S. State Department didn't organize a press conference about this very important set of meetings today, the Russians did. They organized a
press conference for reporters. They took tough questions. And, you know, Sergey Lavrov is known for not holding back. We heard a little bit from
During his press conference he did not disappoint. This is him in response to our question about how these allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S.
presidential election affect the relationship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Regarding this noise about our contacts, those fake information according to which we
are allegedly in control of the domestic policy of the U.S., it is an abnormal background for relations. Although it is humiliating for the
American people to realize that the Russian federation is controlling the situation in America. How can it be possible for such a great power and
great country? I believe that politicians are damaging the political system of the U.S. trying to pretend that someone is controlling America
from the outside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOSINSKI: So listen to what he's saying there, that it's humiliating, the thought that Russia could meddle in a great power like the United States'
election. People should be humiliating to even think of that.
But the U.S. firmly believes that the Russians did very much meddle in the election. So what he is saying is, wow, can't believe we did this, if
that's true. I mean essentially that what a humiliating thing for America, that this could have happened.
But as for this coming up in the discussions, Sergey Lavrov said that it didn't, they didn't have to. He said they didn't need to discuss such
absurd subjects -- Hala.
GORANI: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department, thanks very much. Interesting the one picture we got of that handshake coming to us
from the Russian government.
Let's get more reaction to the bombshell decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. I'm now joined from Tel-Aviv by CNN political analyst, Carl
Bernstein, whose Watergate coverage earned a Pulitzer Prize for "The Washington Post" newspaper and legendary journalist. Thanks very much for
First, let me ask you because this is a comparison that's been made over the last 24 hours. Carl, how does this compare to Nixon's firing of the
man who was leading the investigation into Watergate? Is this -- do you think it's similar?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're different events in different times, but what is similar is the president of the United States
does not want the truth known about what has occurred in a matter of grave importance to the United States and to the world.
[15:25:12]And that is the question of what happened with the Russians and the campaign of Donald Trump. Was there collusion with a foreign power by
a campaign of a candidate for president of the United States?
The stakes in this are enormous in terms of the meaning of the underlying assertions, if true. And from the beginning, Donald Trump has tried to
impede and obstruct the investigators from finding out what happened with his campaign, with members of his business organization.
Has tried to keep the press from finding out what has happened. Has tried to keep investigators from finding out what has happened. And this is a
continual example of that, but the most egregious example yet.
The fact that there is a cover-up going on does not mean necessarily that the president has obstructed justice in a legal sense, but he is certainly
putting every impediment that he can into the press, the Congress of the United States, and the FBI of finding out the truth about what happened
with a hostile power and his own campaign and associates.
GORANI: But Carl, members of his own party, and I wonder if anything will change in terms of asking for, let's say, an independent inquiry or
anything like that. But members of his party except a handful are either remaining quiet or supporting the president in his decision to fire Comey.
Lindsey Graham, for instance, had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, the one thing I can tell you without any hesitation, that the FBI's investigation of Russia is not
tied to Comey's continued service. That will go forward with professional investigators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: All right. So, Carl, we're hearing this a lot. Comey gone or in place, he'll be replaced by someone else, the investigation continues.
BERNSTEIN: Maybe. We'll have to see if that is the case. The investigation continues. But again, the president of the United States has
stepped on the investigation through this action and in fact the big difference between the time of Watergate and what's occurring now is the
response of the Republican Party.
In Watergate, the real heroes of Watergate were Republicans, were people like Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee who said what did the president know
and when did he know it rather than people like Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who is saying we don't really want to know what
We'd like to keep this bottled up, which in essence is the meaning of his actions, though he uses other words. He has shown no inclination to have
the kind of investigation that is needed in the gravest matter of national security.
But there are Republicans who do want to see a special prosecutor appointed, who do want to see the kind of investigation that was conducted
during Watergate by a joint select committee of the Senate of the United States or a national commission.
We are not halfway through this yet, I would think. There's an outcry to what happened. Some of it quiet among some Republicans, some of it
increasingly -- of increasing volume among Republicans.
GORANI: Do you think there's more there? Do you think something is changing on the Republican side?
BERNSTEIN: I think there are a good number of Republicans that I talked to that are terribly worried about the meaning of what Donald Trump has done
to try and shut down these investigations, and that this particular step has them very, very deeply worried about the conduct of the president of
the United States and they're disturbed.
GORANI: And what about the Democrats' reaction? They're in a tricky position because they were very critical of Comey when he -- especially 11
days before the election said he was reviving the investigation into the Clinton server. So it's difficult for them, how to react to this?
BERNSTEIN: I think the way that all Americans perhaps should react is we want to know what happened. We want to know was there collusion between
one of our presidential campaigns and perhaps the candidate or perhaps the people closest to him and a hostile foreign power. That's the only real
How do we find out what happened? And right now what we know is the president of the United States, the attorney general of the United States
is trying to keep us from knowing what happened.
GORANI: Carl Bernstein, thanks so much for joining us live in Tel Aviv. Really appreciate it.
Still to come this hour, much more on the FBI director's abrupt dismissal.
[15:30:00] I'll speak to our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, as James Comey's firing leaves a large void in the U.S. law enforcement world.
We'll be right back.
GORANI: It was a bombshell that sent shockwaves around Washington and around the world, which is why so many people outside the United States are
talking about it. James Comey's firing as the FBI director has received a firestorm of criticism. However, the administration is playing defense.
It's standing firm, including the Vice President, Mike Pence, who had this to say earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump provided the kind of strong and decisive leadership the American people have come to
be accustomed from him, and he took the action necessary to remove Director Comey.
And now already this morning, the President is in the process of evaluating individuals who will be able to fill that spot, lead the FBI, and restore
the confidence of the American people. And that's why this was the right decision at the right time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Mike Pence there. President Trump's decision to fire Comey doesn't just affect the Russia probe. It leaves a gaping hole in law
enforcement and also opens up all sorts of questions about the U.S. judiciary and its involvement in suggesting that James Comey should be
Let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He's in Washington.
So, Jeffrey, first of all, you do not believe the explanation of the White House. You don't think it makes sense that this was about something Comey
did in July of last year?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. The stated explanation for why James Comey was fired was that he violated Justice Department rules
in saying nasty things about Hillary Clinton during his investigation of her last year.
Now, international viewers may remember that Donald Trump spent the entire campaign last summer and fall agreeing with James Comey's statements about
Hillary Clinton, and saying, yes, he was right, that she was reckless and irresponsible with classified information. So the idea that candidate
Trump was praising James Comey in 2016 for something for which he fired him in 2017, it's just not credible. It's not believable.
GORANI: And he's also firing a man, obviously, leading an agency, or who was leading an agency, looking into possible Trump-Russia ties during the
campaign as well.
[15:34:54] TOOBIN: Well, and that is the only plausible explanation for why James Comey was fired, is that he was leading an investigation of the
President that the President did not want to endure, so he cut off the head of the investigation. That is the only plausible explanation to me of why
this firing took place. It had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.
GORANI: And there are also these reports that Comey had asked for more resources for the investigation. Let's take a look at the actual
explanation from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
He wrote to President Trump, "Over the past year, the FBI's reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the
entire Department of Justice."
So this is coming from the Deputy Attorney General because the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from being part of this
investigation because he was part of the campaign. What do you make of that explanation?
TOOBIN: But, again, he didn't recuse himself from the firing. He participated in the firing of James Comey, so he was not really recused.
You know, the Rosenstein explanation is obviously a complete pretext. If you look at the memo that Rosenstein sent outlining the supposed faults of
James Comey, it was dated yesterday. It is not believable that the White House received this memo on the same day, and then suddenly decided to fire
Donald Trump, as you can tell from his Twitter feed, has been stewing about this investigation for weeks. He is deeply unhappy that he is being
investigated, and that is the only plausible explanation for this firing. This whole Hillary Clinton explanation, whether it comes from the Vice
President or the Attorney General or the President himself is just transparently bogus.
GORANI: So what are Donald Trump's obligations under the constitution now? He's fired James Comey. What are the rules regulating who --
TOOBIN: Which he had the right to do.
GORANI: Which he had the right to do.
TOOBIN: He had the right to do.
GORANI: What are the rules or laws regulating what he needs to do next, and what type of person he can appoint to that job or nominate for that job
now so that it doesn't give the appearance that he's putting in a stooge?
TOOBIN: Well, he has the absolute right to nominate anyone he wants. The problem is that person is subject to confirmation in the United States
Senate. He or she, this nominee, needs to get 51 votes in order to be confirmed as the FBI Director.
Now, there are 52 Republicans in the Senate, and they have so far been very loyal. But presumably, he will want to get someone who is somewhat
divorced from politics. But the question remains, will anyone believe that this new nominee, whoever it turns out to be, will be genuinely
independent, or will this person be seen as a stooge of the President? And will this person be subject to being fired, just like James Comey was, if
he gets too close to something Donald Trump doesn't want investigated?
GORANI: All right. We're going to be talking for many, many more days and weeks about this story. Jeffrey Toobin, as always, it's great talking to
you. Thanks for being with us.
And you can check out our Facebook page. We'll put up portions of our interviews with Jeffrey. Carl Bernstein, as well.
A quick break. This is THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. When we come back, ancient history or not. How the Comey firing parallel the so-called "Saturday
night massacre." We'll be right back.
[15:40:52] GORANI: Several prominent Democrats have described President Trump's firing of the FBI director as Nixonian, and it certainly does
parallel, in some ways, the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
Here's a look back at NBC's coverage of the so-called "Saturday night massacre" when President Richard Nixon, at the time, ordered the firing of
Watergate's special prosecutor, Archibald Cox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN CHANCELLOR, NBC NEWS HOST: Tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history. The President has fired
the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox. And he has sent FBI agents to the office of the special prosecution staff and to the Attorney
General and the Deputy Attorney General, and the President has ordered the FBI to seal off those offices. That's a stunning development and nothing
even remotely like it has happened in all of our history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, something sort of like it may have happened yesterday. I'm joined now, from Austin, Texas, by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley
and also by Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Thanks to both of you. Douglas, is there a crisis, a constitutional crisis, do you think, in America?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We're lurching towards one. There's certainly a crisis of confidence in Donald Trump by about 60
percent of the American public. But 40 percent thinks he's doing the right thing, and if he wants to fire Comey, so be it. We're going to have to
I'm not sure if polls are ever accurate with Donald Trump, but we'll have to see how he weathers this in public opinion. But right now, he's getting
scorched by journalists. Many Republican senators are attacking the firing of Comey, people like John McCain from Arizona, you know, Senator Burr from
North Carolina, you know, and others, so we'll see how this snowballs.
But when you deal with the Saturday night massacre, we had two noble people in that Nixon administration, Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus.
And they both were working Justice, Attorney General's office, and was Attorney General. And they just quit, and that left Nixon holding an empty
bag. Right now, nobody is quitting from the Trump administration over this.
GORANI: Larry, there are big differences. I was just speaking with Carl Bernstein. He said one of the biggest differences is how the Republicans
are reacting. That back during the Watergate scandal, they didn't, as they are now, in their majority, coming out in support of the President. Do you
DR. LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. Look, back then, of course,
Democrats had a majority in the Senate, so what Republicans did didn't matter as much. But there's no question that was a more bipartisan era,
and there were senior Republican senators, as Doug remembers, like Senator Howard Baker from Tennessee, a Republican who took a leading role in the
questioning about what Nixon did.
By the way, that night, the Saturday night massacre night, and, again, I think Doug is too young, but I remember watching this coverage. And it was
that night, Hala, that we realized Richard Nixon was finished. That hasn't happened with Trump because this is the beginning of a four-year term.
This is happening extraordinarily early. Nixon was in his fifth year as president.
GORANI: And, Douglas, I mean, we're calling this unprecedented and Nixonian. The Nixon Library is actually getting in all of this as well.
It tweeted out a photo and it reads, "Fun Fact: Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI," their point being, well, yes, Nixon fired Cox, who
was heading a special investigation into Watergate, but not the head of the entire FBI. I mean, how defining a moment, do you think, we're witnessing
today with the firing of Comey by Trump?
[15:44:59] BRINKLEY: Well, I think it's very defining. I mean, Bill Clinton had to dismiss or fire an FBI Director, but this is bizarre. I
mean, we have now the President of the United States under a federal criminal investigation and his associates. The person conducting that
investigation is Comey. And now, suddenly, he's canned.
This is going to mean that this cloud of Russiagate, of the influence of Russia on 2016 elections and looking into collusion by Trump and/or Trump
associates is going to be with us here for a while in America.
BRINKLEY: People are scratching their heads in disbelief that this occurred, but we've used that word "unprecedented" for a lot of things
Donald Trump has done and said over the last few months.
GORANI: Do you think, Larry, there can be a transparent, somewhat speedy investigation into potential Russia-Trump campaign ties today after this?
SABATO: Well, there might have been. You know, the Senate Intelligence Committee has been under bipartisan leadership, a Republican and a
Democrat, one from North Carolina, one from Virginia.
They've been working very well together, but they had depended heavily on Comey and the FBI. And they were planning on using their investigative
results to inform the committee. Now, there is no FBI Director. There will be an Acting FBI Director for a while.
I'll tell you one thing, it's critical that the individual selected and confirmed by the Senate be a relatively nonpartisan, highly professional
and respected law enforcement individual because if that individual is not seen as somebody who will pursue the truth wherever it may lead with
respect to Donald Trump and anyone else, then that new FBI Director will have zero credibility from Day One.
GORANI: Yes. And, Douglas, historically we're saying we're calling this unprecedented. Is there anything that has compared in the past? You
mentioned that an FBI director has been fired in the past by Bill Clinton. Very different circumstances, obviously, but what else comes close to what
we're witnessing now in U.S. history?
BRINKLEY: It's really why we're saying the Watergate word so often. This smells of the Nixon years -- abuse of power, cover-up. You know, there
used to be a saying during the Nixon era, you know, the cover-up is even worse than the crime.
What you can't help but escaping that Donald Trump has been in cover-up mode over collusion with the Russians, whether he was or wasn't. But he's
been seeming to want to obstruct justice and not allow this process to go on, so it's a heavy moment we're experiencing. You know, guys like Larry
and I write about history for a living, and this is one of those moments that's a bit surreal.
GORANI: But, Larry, it's also how the world sees the White House, isn't it? It's not just also how Americans. America is the biggest superpower
in the world. Everything that is decided in the White House in terms of foreign policy, even sometimes internally, has an impact on the rest of us
around the world.
With Nixon, it was entirely different. This was a man who had Henry Kissinger as the Secretary of State, that had a very active foreign policy
and cared about how the world viewed him. This is entirely different with Trump, isn't it?
SABATO: Yes. I understand why the Nixon Library did what it did. When you have Nixon people putting a safe distance between their President, the
only one forced to resign in scandal, apart from Donald Trump, you know that Donald Trump is not looking good.
But, look, Richard Nixon had fatal flaws. We all know about that. It destroyed his presidency. But he also had a superb foreign policy and also
some domestic achievements that were extraordinary. He founded the Environmental Protection Agency that Trump is doing his best to shut down.
So we're dealing with two very different presidents here. Nixon was capable in ways that Donald Trump cannot even dream of being.
GORANI: Larry Sabato and Douglas Brinkley, thanks so much to both of you for a fascinating conversation. Appreciate you being on the program.
Coming up. Not long ago, he was getting a warm welcome in the White House, but James Comey found out he was fired by watching the news. We'll be
[15:51:14] GORANI: Well, Donald Trump's firing of Comey took Washington and the world by surprise. The news media was no different.
Coincidentally on CNN, Tuesday's breaking news interrupted a related report. Take a look at how it went down on our network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28th and
Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We have major breaking news. We're interrupting that report. Jeff Zeleny, our Senior White House
Correspondent, is joining us on the future of the FBI Director. What are you learning?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The major development here this evening at the White House, the President of the United States
has terminated the Director of the FBI, James Comey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, the late afternoon firing may have been a surprise, but it happened just in time to make the front pages of the largest daily
newspapers in the U.S. This is "The Washington Post" cover page, centered around the dramatic image from Comey's recent congressional testimony.
There it is.
"The New York Times" took a different approach, choosing to publish Donald Trump's letter to Comey front and center. And in characteristically cheeky
fashion, "The New York Daily News" called Comey's dismissal a "coup de Trump."
Sources inside the White House tell CNN they did not anticipate the major backlash we've seen to Comey's firing. Judging by the way it's dominating
press coverage today, they may have miscalculated. Let's cross to Los Angeles now. CNN's Dylan Byers joins us live.
First off, Dylan, we've heard again from Mr. Trump's Twitter account. This is how we monitor his almost hour-by-hour reaction to the news.
GORANI: "Dems have been complaining for months and months about Director Comey. Now that he has been fired, they pretend," capital letters, "to be
aggrieved. Phony hypocrites." So this is how the President is communicating with all of us all day.
DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Well, that's right. And it's also how he's defending a decision, which, obviously, has
invited quite a bit of blowback, blowback that the White House was not expecting.
I mean, you look at the way that they rolled this out. You look at the fact that Comey himself was here in Los Angeles and only learned about this
while giving a speech to FBI agents who, at one point, told him to turn around to see that the CNN banners read that Comey had been fired.
I mean, there's a level of incompetence here to how this White House handled this. And in terms of what they expected the blowback would be to
such an unprecedented event, that is, you know, rather staggering. And, of course, so the President does feel the need to take to Twitter, does feel
the need to send out some of his spokespeople, be that Kellyanne Conway or even his own Vice President, Mike Pence, to sort of address this issue.
And the defense, yes, there were Democrats, many Democrats, who criticized Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mails during the campaign. But
they didn't call for him to be fired. And on top of that, it does not change the fact nor negate the fact that he is under investigation by the
FBI, and that getting rid of the Director of the FBI during that investigation is deeply, deeply troubling.
GORANI: And, of course, the situation in Washington in the political world is highly partisan, but we see it also in the press and these alt-right
outlets that supported Donald Trump so much during the campaign.
Let's take a look at what the headlines we're seeing on some of them, including, for instance, Breitbart. They're repeating the White House's
assertion that leaks coming out of the FBI are one reason Comey was fired.
[15:55:05] A number of conservative radio hosts also support the President. Among them, there is the T.V. personality on Fox, Sean Hannity, "Comey
fired!!! Finally." I mean, this is partisan activism. It's not journalism.
BYERS: No, it's two different worlds. I mean, I would invite, you know, our viewers around the world, if you ever visit the United States, you're
really coming to two different countries. Feel free to live in whichever one you want.
In one, you'll have a mainstream media that recognizes the fact that it is unprecedented and, like I said, deeply troubling, to have the President of
the United States terminate the very same FBI Director who is overseeing an investigation into ties -- potential ties, I should say, between his
campaign and Russia.
In another universe, this sort of alt-right universe, the universe of his supporters, you will see a very disingenuous attempt to pretend like
nothing wrong is happening here. You will even see an attempt to go after the mainstream media and suggest that the mainstream media is having some
sort of freak out or meltdown over what they describe as a nonissue.
Part of what's so troubling here is that Donald Trump, the President of the United States, he can live in that alternate reality if he wants to because
of the proliferation of right-wing media sites, because we live in such a fractured, partisan environment right now.
And, you know, again, so much is troubling about what's gone on over the course of the Trump administration so far. This certainly takes the cake.
And it's frustrating to see right-wing media sort of give up its integrity for the sake of defending this President.
GORANI: All right. Dylan Byers, thanks very much, joining us from L.A.
Before we leave you, America's late night comics may have been as shocked by the Comey news as everyone else, but they weren't speechless.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: That shows no gratitude at all. I mean, what, did Trump forget about the Hillary e-mails
that Comey talked about? I mean, thanks for the presidency, Jimmy. Now, don't let the door hit you where the Electoral College split you.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Well, this is the kind of thing dictators do. This is the kind of thing reality T.V.
hosts do. They fire someone every week.
KIMMEL: Maybe that's what happened. He thinks he's still on the "Celebrity Apprentice." It was between James Comey and Meat Loaf. And,
well, the Loaf won again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Thanks for watching the program. I'm Hala Gorani. Stay with us. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" is next.