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Interview With Former White House Counsel John Dean; Did President Trump Threaten Former FBI Director?. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I assume you're referring to...
QUESTION: His tweet.
SPICER: ... the tweet. And I have talked to the president. And the president has nothing further to add on that.
QUESTION: And why did he say that? Why did he tweet that? What should we interpret from that?
SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add on that.
QUESTION: Is there -- are there recording devices in the Oval Office or in the residence?
SPICER: As I have said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.
QUESTION: Does he think it's appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?
SPICER: I don't think that's -- that's not a threat. He's simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Got Jake Tapper off the top here, our CNN chief Washington correspondent and host of "THE LEAD," and host of "STATE OF THE UNION."
Jake, good to see you.
Listen, obviously, I want to get into some of your reporting on this tale of two dinners or really two versions of one dinner. But, first, I want your response to the whole, I have nothing to add, you know, non-comment comment from the press secretary. JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I don't no what he could possibly say that
would make that tweet seem like anything other than a threat to the FBI director to not talk to the press. It's an odd statement.
And then, as you have noted earlier in the show today, Sean Spicer declined to answer the question several times when asked if the president is recording his conversations, which is a stunning turn of events, given that, obviously, any such recordings could theoretically be subpoenaed, if need be, one.
And, two, obviously, there are -- you know, the question of recording your conversations against people -- you know, without people you're meeting with knowing about it, is almost the definition of Nixonian.
BALDWIN: So there's that. Then there is the center of a lot of this is this dinner that happened, you know, seven days after the president is inaugurated.
And you have this great detail between, essentially, with opposing views of what, you know, the president has said would happen at the dinner, and what this Comey source said happened at the dinner.
TAPPER: Yes, two days ago, I reported that this source close to Comey told me that there were two reasons that the FBI director was fired. One was his refusal to pledge personal loyalty to President Trump, and, two, the fact that the investigation into the possible collusion with Russia was not only still going, it was accelerating.
And now we have some more information about the first part of that conversation, the first part of the reason, that we reported and also "The New York Times"' Michael Schmidt reported, which is, Comey was called by the president to come to the White House to have dinner. He went.
This is shortly after President Trump took office. At that dinner, President Trump specifically asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him. Comey, according to this account, said that he couldn't do that. He could pledge that he could always be honest with the president, but that he couldn't pledge loyalty to him.
And just as an aside, FBI agents pledge their loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, not to any individual. Obviously, as John Adams noted in the Massachusetts Constitution, we're a government of laws, not of men.
But, in any case, then President Trump said to Comey, well, could you pledge me your honest loyalty? And the source said, he doesn't know what that means. It's almost oxymoronic, because you can pledge your honesty or you can pledge your loyalty, but sometimes they're going to come at odds.
But, in any case, Director Comey did agree to that, I guess, assuming that it was an emphasis on the honest part of it. But that, in the views of this individual close to the former FBI director, is one of the reasons why he was fired. And then we have President Trump's comments to Lester Holt yesterday saying that Russia was foremost on his mind when he made the decision to fire Comey.
And it's just a remarkable turn of events. And it is stunning how quiet Republicans on Capitol Hill are being today, given what the president has admitted to and why he has admitted to having fired the FBI director.
BALDWIN: Talking to Ana Navarro in a little bit, and she's essentially saying, Republicans, to last your last point, it's time to wake up, wake up.
Last question for you, Tapper. And that is, just stepping back for a second amid this crazy week in Washington that's been, I mean, the utter chaos in the White House and just how it seems no one can save the president from himself.
TAPPER: Well, sure they can, because if Republican lawmakers don't do anything about this, you know, I don't see any repercussions necessarily.
I mean, the reason we have a legislative branch is to serve -- among other reasons, is to serve as a check on the executive branch, and the same thing with the judicial branch. But if one of those branches declines to do its job, I don't know that President Trump being his own worst enemy necessarily means anything.
Certainly, there have been Republicans trying to talk to President Trump since he took office about better ways to govern and better ways to manage his White House. Certainly, there are people on Capitol Hill and in his own White House who want to focus on the legislative agenda, the reasons why people voted for President Trump.
People didn't vote for President Trump...
BALDWIN: We haven't been talking about that because of what he's -- what he's done.
TAPPER: Yes. Right. No, I get it. I get it.
TAPPER: I'm just saying, people didn't vote for President Trump so that he would fire the FBI director who was leading a probe into his campaign.
BALDWIN: Yes. I got you. I got you.
TAPPER: They voted for him for a number of issues. And he can't do it because of all of this other stuff, and it's going to get in the way of his agenda.
But if Republicans on Capitol Hill don't stand up for what's right, of course he can get away with whatever he does.
BALDWIN: And leaving for this overseas trip and with all this swirling around him and taking it with him.
Jake Tapper, I appreciate you, as always, coming on. We will see you on "THE LEAD" at the top of the hour. Thank you very, very much.
BALDWIN: A lot to talk over here with my next couple of guests.
I have got Bill Gavin, who was the assistant director of the FBI's New York office during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and also with us, CNN contributor and Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio. He wrote "The Truth About Trump." And Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for "The Guardian."
So, wonderful to see all of you, so much to get to.
Bill, let me just begin with you on part of what I was talking about with Jake, on this press briefing and the Trump tweet this morning and the threat, let's just call it what it was, to James Comey, and hearing Sean Spicer saying that it wasn't a threat, and, you know, refused to -- didn't answer the question when he was asked three or four different times on, you know, tapes or recording devices in the Oval Office.
BILL GAVIN, FORMER NEW YORK FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: My thought is this, Brooke.
You can't interpret that tweet -- and it's not just a statement that he made in private. It's a tweet where he made a not -- a little bit more than a veiled threat: He better make sure that there's no tapes.
This is just another example of opening your mouth to change feet sometimes. What -- and he put Sean Spicer in a horrible position, once again, as the press secretary, where Sean keeps answering, we have nothing further to say to that.
Now, already, we have come out and say it wasn't a threat. There'll be another change in the story. I just wish we had some presidential actions in this with Mr. Trump. It's been horrible so far.
In case you all watching haven't seen the tweet, this is one of the tweets from this morning from the president: "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
Sabrina, what do you think?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, look, I think that it's remarkable that, when asked repeatedly if the president is secretly taping conversations in the Oval Office, Sean Spicer wouldn't respond.
And he was very sensitive to this idea that the press is parsing these briefings and the words that he projects from that podium, but this is not the first White House press shop that is contending with a president who keeps a busy schedule.
What's unusual about Sean Spicer's role is that he has to answer for a president who frequently traffics in conspiracy theories and often shows a disregard for the separation of powers. And so they're trying to answer for his behavior towards James Comey. And there really is no way for them to try and rationalize or justify Trump's tweets or his flip of the script yesterday, when he conceded that, yes, Russia was, in fact, part of his decision-making when it came to firing James Comey.
And in doing so, they just invite more scrutiny on themselves and raise more questions than they answer.
BALDWIN: Michael, to you.
And I know we have you on, and we will get to how you likened the president in the CNN opinion piece to a 6-year-old child, but, first, this nugget from Tapper and his reporting of this dinner between Comey and the president, where -- again, this is a he said/he said thing -- where Comey says, the president asked him to -- you know, this loyalty pledge, right?
You know Trump the man.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure.
BALDWIN: What do you make of that?
D'ANTONIO: I'm sure he did ask him to be loyal. And the...
BALDWIN: Despite what the White House is saying?
The thing for President Trump going back 40 years is personal loyalty. This idea of the Constitution or the separation of powers or pledging loyalty to a system of laws, not men, that's foreign to him.
What matters to him is that he has the power, you're supposed to be loyal to him, and if you're not, he will fire you. And no one should be surprised by this. This is the person he's always been.
BALDWIN: Did businessman Trump do this...
D'ANTONIO: Absolutely, absolutely did. He demanded loyalty. He actually...
BALDWIN: But actually asking it of people?
D'ANTONIO: Oh, yes. And he hired people who didn't have options. This is an interesting
thing about Donald Trump, is that he sought very bright people, but who would not have had access to this kind of income, this kind of power, this kind of glamour, but for Donald Trump.
So, then they become very attached to him. You know, you see this in this fellow Keith Schiller, who's his...
BALDWIN: His body guy.
D'ANTONIO: His body guy. He attached himself to Trump around 1990 and has been there ever since, like a barnacle on the hull of a boat. You know, he just...
BALDWIN: You called him a human -- what did you call him, a human blanket or a...
BALDWIN: ... blanket.
D'ANTONIO: Yes, he's the security blanket for Donald Trump.
BALDWIN: Security blanket.
D'ANTONIO: You saw him push Jorge Ramos out of a press conference, physically looming over him and shoving him out of the room.
This is the kind of thing Trump expects of the people who work for him. It's why the White House is struggling. They don't know whether to adhere to real protocol and common sense and reality, as everyone sees it, or to follow the president's lead.
BALDWIN: Bill -- thank you.
Bill, back to you on, we have this other piece of information. This is from Pamela Brown in her reporting about how she's talked to this source close to Comey and back on this tape, or were there tapes of the conversation and this threat to the president. This source says that Comey -- quote -- "is not worried about any tapes."
And the source says -- quote -- "It is absolutely untrue that Jim asked to have dinner or that he asked to have his job," which is what the president told NBC. "That is a complete fabrication."
So, this is essentially a Comey source saying the president is lying.
GAVIN: It's -- again, we get into a he said/she said situation here.
This needs to stop. I'm sure the president has gathered around him some people who have some good common sense and have offered him some advice. The problem is, the advice isn't being accepted and adhered to.
And with this latest tweet that he did, there's no way around this thing. I'm sure that was when -- when the people in the White House heard that, that was an, oh, my God, he didn't say that, moment. It happens frequently. And it's got to stop, if he wants credibility among the citizens of the United States of America.
BALDWIN: Well, how about file this under, oh, my God, did he tweet this moment.
Sabrina, this is for you. And this is something that was addressed in the briefing today. He tweeted, "As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at the podium with perfect accuracy."
I mean, Sean Spicer was essentially bemoaning the coverage from the press this week, and, meantime, I think the press is bemoaning the White House for the shifting stories.
And why don't the American -- you know, why doesn't the American public deserve accuracy from surrogates of the president?
SIDDIQUI: Well, it's -- there's just no sense in saying that they shouldn't be held to the same standard as previous administrations when it comes to telling the truth while they're standing behind that podium.
Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are speaking on behalf of the most powerful office in the nation and their words matter. And I think that, on the one hand, Sean Spicer was complaining that the media coverage is unfair, and then, moments later, he made a false claim that the allegations of collusion between Trump and Russia had been debunked, when, in fact, what James Clapper had really said is he had -- he did not know if there was collusion.
And that's the same thing that congressional leaders who are investigating this Russia issue have said as well, that they -- at the time, they have not seen any evidence of collusion. But the question is still open-ended.
So, you can't, on the one hand, say that you're being held to some sort of unfair standard, and then, moments later, continue and misstate the information that you have, and willingly do so to try and protect the narrative that the White House is trying to put out there.
BALDWIN: Last question to you, Michael, that being your piece.
I mean, you point out that some of the words that the president has used, crying Chuck Schumer or crying like a baby Blumenthal and others, I mean...
D'ANTONIO: Well, it's shocking that we have a president who speaks this way, who thinks this way.
If you go back to Lester Holt's interview with the president, the moment he said that Comey asked to have dinner with him, I knew the opposite was true.
D'ANTONIO: Well, because he's setting up an expectation, because the next thing he said was that Comey wanted to keep his job.
This is inconsistent with James Comey's lifelong reputation for integrity and independence. So, what he does is, he tries to create reality, use name-calling in the way that a 6-year-old boy would do. You're a baby because you're disagreeing with me, or you're immature.
Or -- it's almost crazy talk to listen to the president step by step set out claims that can't be supported. Then, when they get caught -- like on this issue of, is there a tape or not, there is evidence of whether there's a tape or not. You can't wiggle out of this.
BALDWIN: Well, now two members of Congress, two Democratic members of Congress have already written a letter, saying, if there are tapes, we want to see them or hear them.
BALDWIN: Michael D'Antonio, as always, thank you so very much.
D'ANTONIO: Thank you.
BALDWIN: And, Bill and Sabrina, thank you both of you as well.
SIDDIQUI: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Another big question here, did the president obstruct justice with regard to his actions involving Comey?
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean joins me live, and we will ask him about this threat over tapes.
Also, once again, President Trump praises his fired national security adviser -- why he says he waited 18 days to fire him.
And you know who this is. It's not exactly the guy we saw today behind the podium, surprising New Yorkers. Actually, this is just outside of CNN this morning. We will tell you what happened, what's going on with Melissa McCarthy and "Saturday Night Live" this weekend.
We will be right back.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
First, the president changed his story about why he fired FBI Director James Comey, and now, according to his Twitter page, he is threatening him.
During an angry tweetstorm this morning, the president tweeted this -- and I quote -- "James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
Now, the White House, as we just heard in the briefing a bit ago, says that was not a threat. But in the backdrop of all of this are questions about the president's intent and whether an admission during an NBC interview constitutes an obstruction of justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
And the reason they should have won it is, the Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win, very hard, because you start off at such a disadvantage. So, everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Joining me now, former White House counsel to President Nixon John Dean.
Mr. Dean, welcome.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Well, you are someone who knows a thing or two about tapes in the White House. What do you make of this threat?
DEAN: Well, in this day and age, I'm sure it's not a tape. I think he's referring to a listening device.
Today, it would be digital, and not a magnetic tape, so just to eliminate that technical problem.
But did he record or did somebody record? No idea. But, today, it would be very easy. He could have a smartphone in his pocket and probably pick up a room conversation with some ease.
So, I don't think Comey would do that. That's certainly contrary to all the FBI protocols. So that's just not going to happen. But what I suspect Comey did is report it to his colleagues what had happened and made a record of what had happened during the conversation.
BALDWIN: Well, apparently, I should just put a footnote on that that Comey is -- according to a source and CNN reporting, is -- quote -- "not worried" about any tapes. And if there is a tape, there's nothing, he says, he's worried about.
Let me ask you about this, because we have just received word in the last hour that these two members of Congress, Democrats, have sent a letter to the White House asking for any tapes or digital -- you're right -- I'm sure that that's what it is -- between President Trump and Comey. And in the letter, they write under the section of U.S. code, "It is a
crime to intimidate or threaten any potential witness with the intent to influence, delay, or prevent their official testimony."
Do you see anything funny about this?
DEAN: Well, I think that's a reach at this point.
BALDWIN: You do?
DEAN: When Comey was there, he certainly wasn't a witness. He's made himself -- he's become a witness, if this comes into some sort of impeachment proceeding or, even later, a legal proceeding, when Trump isn't president.
It could well be that he's going to be a key witness. But I don't think there was any effort to intimidate him as a witness, with the threat of the tape or in taping him.
BALDWIN: Is -- what about just in this threat, period? And, again, the White House saying it wasn't a threat, but...
DEAN: Well, it's self-evident.
BALDWIN: ... you be the judge on that one, exactly.
BALDWIN: Is there any sort of legal ramification whatsoever for this type of threat in 140 characters or less?
DEAN: Not really. It's a pretty loosely phrased statement.
So, I think he's more playing to the media and trying to brace -- he's -- this is a standard -- as your other guest said earlier, it's kind of Don -- it's just the way he acts. I mean, it's the way he tries to anticipate things, tries to cut people off before they take action.
And, here, it's a threat to, oh, I have got a record of this, so don't say anything if you're not sure. But I don't think...
BALDWIN: What about any sort of obstruction of justice, based upon anything that we have known that's come into the public with the firing?
DEAN: Well, what is a potential obstruction of justice is his mental state when he fired Comey and what he told Lester Holt. That is right on the borderline.
And it's certainly in the area of an endeavor. And that statute, if you get into the statute, 18-USC-1503, even an endeavor to, if you don't accomplish an obstruction, you're in trouble.
BALDWIN: OK. John Dean, thank you so much. DEAN: Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Next, more on our breaking news: the president threatening James Comey with possible tapes of their conversations, as we were just discussing.
Plus, he just gave another interview. Hear what he says about Sean Spicer's future.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS: Are you moving so quickly that your communications department cannot keep --