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Acting FBI Director Contradicts WH on Comey, Russia; Senate Intel Chiefs Speak After Meeting with Deputy A.G. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:59] BRIANNA KELLAR, CNN ANCHOR: It is a huge day on Capitol Hill. We've been monitoring the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in the wake of President Trump firing the FBI Director Jim Comey. We got certainly a lot of answers and I want to bring in my panel to talk about this.

Certainly a lot of contradictions between what some of the witnesses were saying and what we have heard from the Trump administration and from President Trump himself. Let's start with this one. We had heard, David Chalian, from Sarah Huckabee Sanders that there was a loss in confidence among the rank-and-file in the FBI of Director Comey. Was there really? That was the question.

Let's listen to this exchange between a senator and the acting FBI director asked about this very thing.


SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Is it accurate that the rank-and-file no longer supported Director Comey?

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: No, sir. That is not accurate. I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard. I have the highest respect for his considerable abilities and his integrity. And it has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to work with him.


KEILAR: Now, to quote the White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday, she said that Comey had, quote, lost the confidence of FBI employees. And David Chalian that is exactly the opposite of what we heard from the acting FBI director.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: So now you have to ask who do you believe has a better finger on the pulse of what FBI employees think? McCabe, the acting FBI director right now, the former deputy to Jim Comey or Sarah Huckabee Sanders from the podium of the White House.

KEILAR: McCabe who seems certainly left beholden to President Trump on this issue. CHALIAN: Certainly, no doubt. But it just, again, each hour, Brianna, we keep learning of another hole blown into the narrative being shaped by the White House about how and when and why Trump fired the man overseeing the investigation into his campaign's Russia ties.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think there's something to be said about the tone that we've seen in this hearing as well. Specifically Mike Pompeo when he was initially asked by Senator Ron Wyden, you know, were you informed about this potential threat from Lt. General Michael Flynn as the national security adviser and he said -- he was very defensive about it I guess at first in answering that. Moving on, he wouldn't answer the question.

And I do think that -- and David has said this previously, is that we are seeing President Trump put his people in very bad positions. We've seen that from the lectern. We are now seeing that from his top security people, his top security advisers as well who are unable to really answer questions that he has created.

KEILAR: Manu Raju is on the Hill for us. Very busy day, Manu. What are you learning?

[12:35:06] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, actually in the room right next to me Brianna, there's a classified briefing occurring between Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the intelligence committee, Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the intelligence committee and two senior Justice Department officials. There's Dana Boente as well as Rod Rosentein, the deputy at the department at this meeting right now. We're expecting to hear from Burr and Warner afterwards to brief us exactly what they learn. Expect there would be some discussion about the circumstances surrounding the Comey firing and whether or not Mr. Rosenstein was upset in any way about the White House essentially pinning the blame or suggesting that he was the one behind the faring.

Of course we know that there's some concern from Mr. Rosenstein about the White House using -- pointing to him about this -- about the letter that Comey firing. And also perhaps that with Burr and Warner may learn a little bit more about what is happening in the Michael Flynn investigation. We know from -- that there were subpoenas that were sent out to Michael Flynn associates by a federal grand jury.

This is something that almost certainly, probably will be discussed in this classified briefing given Dana Boente's role on this as well. Now, this comes also as Rod Rosenstein may come before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I talked to the chairman of that committee Chuck Grassley. He said this is something he's seriously considering bringing him before the committee. Take a listen.


RAJU: Do you want Rod Rosenstein to come and testify before your committee?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I haven't said anything along that line. RAJU: Do you want? Do you personally want him to come? Do you want to hear from him?

GRASSLEY: I can say I'm considering that but I'm going to talk to a lot of members before I would make a final decision on that.


RAJU: So a bit of news there that Grassley considering bringing Rod Rosenstein before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Clearly members of Congress want to hear more from him about exactly what happened here as questions continue to loom about exactly what led to James Comey's firing at the FBI, Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly they would want to know. Manu Raju, thank you. Nia, if that were to go forward and there were to be questions asked, we assume these are questions that would be asked publicly that could be have been asked behind closed doors right now from these top -- the top Democrat and Republican on the Intel committee of Rosenstein.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And that again might be contradictory, might be damaging for this White House. This has been a very, very bad week for this White House. I said last week I thought it was one of the better weeks of this White House with the passage of health care even though limited out of the House. And here you have a week where this president caused all of this, right?

This was his decision to fire Comey and I guess him and his aides deciding to pin it on the deputy attorney general there. Pin it on this reason around him having a feeling over Hillary Clinton, that investigation and in Comey's handling of it. And it just goes to the competence of this White House. And how is it do -- how do they get past this? How do they make their way forward?

KEILAR: And how did this decision come to be made? If -- clearly it appears to be a close hold from top officials. A lot of people left out of the loop. But how did this not occur to someone that look, the deputy A.G. might not just go along with what you're saying if this is not really what's happening?

PRESTON: I think there's two things. One is, can anyone tell the president no, you know. And through the campaign we thought it would be his daughter Ivanka Trump. I mean, you know, God forbid.

KEILAR: And Jared, right. Javanka.

PRESTON: Javanka, right. You know, the son-in-law. But that's very troubling that no one can say to him, stop, you can't be doing this.

KEILAR: Or that he doesn't listen.

PRESTON: Or that he doesn't listen. And you're right, that might even be more troubling. I mean, the fact of the matter is, what he has done is reckless and as we talked about this hearing right now, all these world threats. I mean, if you were to listen to what these gentlemen were saying outside of the FBI, it is very scary out there right now.

KEILAR: You could even hear them trying to redirect to say let's keep our eye on the ball. We're talking about potential nuclear nations. We're going talking about all of these issues that are of import.

We're going to re-continue this conversation. We have a huge day that we're following here in Washington. This intelligence committee hearing really in the wake of President Trump firing his FBI director. We'll have more in just a moment.


KEILAR: Huge day here in Washington as we're hearing from administration officials including the acting director of the FBI following President Trump's firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. I want to bring in now Kirsten Powers, she's a CNN political analyst and USA Today columnist and David Drucker, he's a CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for the Washington Examiner.

So Kirsten, some of the most fascinating parts of this hearing that we have been monitoring there on Capitol Hill are the contradictions that we're hearing from the acting FBI director of what we're hearing from the White House and what we're hearing from President Trump. And one of the things had to do in response to yesterday, the spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders talking about this, look into Russian interference in the 2016 election and she said, quote, that it was probably one of the smallest things they've got going on their plate talking about the FBI and this investigation. But here's what the acting FBI director said about that today.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: How many agents are assigned to this project? How many -- or personnel generally within the FBI roughly?

MCCABE: I can't really answer those sorts of questions in this forum.

KING: Well, yesterday a White House press spokesman said that this is one of the smallest things on the plate of the FBI. Is that an accurate statement? Is this a small investigation in relation to all the other work that you're doing?

MCCABE: Sir, we consider it to be a highly significant investigation.

KING: So you would not characterize it as one of the smallest things you're engaged in?

[12:45:01] MCCABE: I would not.


KEILAR: So Kirsten, a purposeful mischaracterization it appears or an uninformed one by the White House about what's really going on here.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, what it seems like what happened here was that President Trump made a somewhat impulsive emotional decision based on the reporting that we have that this was sort of brewing with him for a while, that he was upset with Comey and it finally sort of boiled over. And then his underlings are left to make up explanations for why he did. And most of the explanations frankly aren't holding up including that, you know, FBI Director Comey have lost the confidence of the people at the FBI. That was flatly denied by the acting FBI director today in the testimony.

Also in the letter that was sent to fire FBI Director Comey, Donald Trump made this sort of strange assertion that he had three times been told that he was not under investigation. Today, Senator Collins asked the acting FBI director about that, is that standard operating procedure to let someone know they are not the target of an investigation and he said no, absolutely it is not. And so each of these explanations are falling apart.

KEILAR: Now, David Drucker, we do not know for sure that Comey did not say that to President Trump, but as we understood today, that was the acting FBI director saying that he didn't believe that that was standard operating procedure. But important to point out we don't actually know what these conversations were and we couldn't get to the bottom of that today.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Correct. I thought the significant part of the hearing was at the very beginning when Senator Richard Burr asked Mr. McCabe did these conversations ever take place. You know, for people that don't understand quite how this works, the chairman of a Senate or House committee really controls so much of how that committee is going to operate. And if the chairman wants to take it easy on the administration and doesn't want to press too hard, then there's not much the minority party can do.

And we saw Richard Burr was very unhappy with Comey's firing and right out of the gate I think what he was doing was sending a message that he's very concerned about this and wanted to know more about that. And I thought that set the tone for the entire hearing. But look, I think you know, for the president, this gets to a larger issue in why we've seen so many holes poked in the various stories that the administration has put out, including today during the hearing which is he continues to run the government, run his White House like his closely held family business where he can always count on the loyalty of his subordinates because he controls them, because he's their boss. And because basically he is the company.

And it's just so much different in the presidency when you're operating with so many agencies where people feel fidelity to the constitution and the country even though they serve at the pleasure of the president. And obviously you cannot control Congress which is a competing branch of government. And so much of this gets him into trouble and had he simply prepared a foundation for wanting to dismiss Comey, they could have done this in a way it would have made it easier for his allies on the Hill to support him and would have create a justification where for the public this would have been much easier to digest no matter what anybody thinks of the Russia investigation.

KEILAR: Let's listen to what you just referred to a moment ago which was McCabe being asked about these alleged conversations, these conversations that President Trump says happened where Comey, the former FBI director, told him he says on three different occasions that he personally was not under investigation. This is how this exchange went just a few moments ago.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Did you ever hear Director Comey tell the president he was not the subject of an investigation?

MCCABE: Sir I can't comment on any conversations the director may have had with the president.


KEILAR: All right, Kirsten Powers, so he can't necessarily commit to knowing that, but what does this tell you?

POWERS: Well, I just think the fact that he was asked by Senator Collins what the standard operating procedure was. He made clear it's not standard operating procedure to tell somebody they're not a target of an investigation. In fact, the FBI normally doesn't even talk about the fact that they're doing an investigation.

KEILAR: Kirsten, what do you say to people who also say it's also not standard operating procedure to -- the things that (inaudible) alleged by the deputy A.G. in this letter, that Comey did think they were not standard operating procedure at times.

POWERS: Sure, absolutely. No -- I mean, that's fair enough. I mean, maybe he did on three times do this. I guess, you know, we need to have him, you know, testify to that one way or the other. It's just a strange thing to put in the letter I think.

[12:50:01] And look, I do think that there are plenty of reasons -- I think that FBI Director Comey actually did behave quite badly in terms of how he sort of inserted himself in the election, whether that was his intention or not. But the problem is a person who, you know, at least has people who are close to him who are under investigation, whether he's under investigation or not, you know, to fire the person, that's where we get into problems. It's not -- it's just not -- it's not the same thing as if he had -- was just firing him for what he did and there was no ongoing investigation. I think we'll be having a different conversation.

KEILAR: All right, Kirsten, David, stay with me. Huge day here in Washington as we get some of the answers to these questions about President Trump's firing of the FBI director, Jim Comey. We are back in just a moment.


KEILAR: Taking you live to Capitol Hill now where the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committees -- or Committee I should say are now at the microphone addressing reporters. Let's listen in there on Capitol Hill.


BURR: I'll give you about five more seconds and that's going to be about it. Vice chairman and I wanted to come out. We just had a meeting with the deputy A.G. It's a request that we made prior to Director Comey's departure and it so happened that the timing of it meant that today was the earliest possible time that we could put it together. We didn't want to miss the opportunity.

Since the committee has an investigation going on that is very similar to what the Department of Justice has going on, we felt that there was a great need to set up a process for deconfliction so that when we had witnesses that we needed to talk to we made sure we weren't stepping on top of anything that might be an active investigation. Today we were able to share that with the deputy attorney general and we feel like that our investigation can go forward with a fairly good understanding of the rules of the road.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I simply want to add that I think it was a productive session, but I still have concerns about Mr. Rosenstein in terms of his role in the Comey departure in terms of the memo. I expressed and this is where again the chairman and I just disagree in terms of the needs for this narrowly tailored independent counsel. I expressed that concern to Mr. Rosenstein. He took it under advisement.

I think as well to pivot back to the worldwide threat hearing. I think it was important, again, to get all of the leadership of the intelligence community, again, on the record saying they were 100 percent certain that it was Russians interfered in our elections. They were agents of the Russian spy services. It's remarkable to me that it seems like this administration still denies that happened. And I thought it was very appropriate to get Mr. McCabe on the record that if he has any -- sees any attempt of any political influence from the White House to try to squash his ongoing investigation that he will put into the committee.

BURR: I think it's important to point out that the place that the vice chairman and I still have 100 percent agreed and that's that regardless of what happens by the Justice Department or by the FBI. That the investigation that's done by the Senate Intelligence Committee will continue on its current course as aggressively as we're able to based upon what we glean. We continue to hold interviews. As was noticed last night, we issued our first subpoena. I hope it's not -- I hope it's our last because everything else might be voluntary. But in the absence of voluntary participation, we're willing to go to whatever basket of tools we feel is necessary.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman and Vice Chairman, did the deputy attorney general describe his role at Mr. Comey's firing and if the White House portrayed it accurately?

[12:55:00] BURR: That wasn't the purpose of his visit with us and I would ask you to maybe put that question to him or to the White House versus to us.

RAJU: Did he express any concerns about the circumstances of Mr. Comey's firing?

BURR: We didn't get into details about his involvement. You've got a copy of what he wrote. This is an individual that comes with unbelievable background, certainly he fills the role. But our purpose of meeting was to make sure that we had a way forward that both the vice chair and I understood and felt comfortable with.

WARNER: Let me just add to that that, again, I voted for this individual. He comes with a solid record. I was very disappointed.

I still find the timing of Mr. Comey's dismissal, with Sally Yates testimony on Tuesday and the fact was Jim Comey was supposed to be in that hearing today. Very troubling to me. It's one I expressed to Mr. Rosenstein. I think he took (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean that he took it under advisement, special counsel?

WARNER: I think he listened. I felt this is an individual that listened carefully and I think he's -- he (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the worldwide threat report, (inaudible) described a rising threat from Russia, their cyber power seems to be able to mess up elections worldwide. What's your reaction to that?

BURR: I think that's consistent with everything as a committee we've looked at. An increasing desire on Russia's part geographically to have a presence. Their involvement not only on our elections but what looks to be aggressively in French elections, with Montenegro elections, potentially German elections. And we might have a hearing in the not too distant future that gets into those elections outside of the United States. So the American people understand just what Russia as an adversary today is attempting to do.

WARNER: And let me just -- let me add on that. One of the things that I find so troubling and this goes across all cyber threats, but if you -- I've heard one expert indicate that if you add up all of the costs of what Russia spent trying to disrupt our elections, the French elections, what they'll spend to disrupt the German elections, the fact that the Dutch had to hand count their ballots because of fear of Russian interference, you add that all together, that is less than five percent of the cost of an aircraft carrier. So as we start thinking about asymmetrical threats that are posed in cyber is one of the reasons why I think cyber could be our greatest vulnerability.

BURR: That's why today's hearing is probably more important than anything else Mark and I will do today. It's so share with the American people just how that threat has changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you invited Director Comey to appear? And if so, what do you hope to achieve by doing so?

BURR: We have sent former Director Comey a request to brief the committee next Tuesday. At this point I have not gotten a response back on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Burr, did Mr. Rosenstein confirm that he threatened to quit over the handling of the Comey firing and did you ask him about that?

BURR: We didn't ask him about it. He didn't share it with us. We were focus on deconfliction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To what extent until now has the investigation required cooperation from the FBI? To what extent in the future will the investigation itself require cooperation?

BURR: I think Mark and I have shared continually that we've had unprecedented access to information. Unprecedented access to interviews. That to date we have not been denied.

Sometimes we've had some very crucial negotiations to get to folks that we felt we needed to talk to. But we're confident that everything we've done up to this point has been items that were needed in an investigation and that the level of cooperation existed. And that's why meeting with the deputy A.G. today was important because that puts -- that keeps our pathway open.

WARNER: And I would simply echo that we both have sometimes been concerned around the pace of the investigation, but a lot of that is we are in uncharted territory with a lot of these intelligence communities. So it is at times, you know, it's not been because the chairman and I have had a disagreement (inaudible) it's been because they're an area -- there's no play book for how they share this kind of information with not only a congressional committee but with the staff that we've got dedicated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) the pathway it deconfliction. Is your pathway open between your priorities and FBI priorities and is there any concern from both of you -- I know that you disagree on this, that a special counsel could interfere with your work?

BURR: Mark and I make no judgment on whether a special counsel would interfere. This investigation will go forward and will be completed.