Return to Transcripts main page
Letters That Played Significant Roles in FBI Director Comey's Termination Were Strangely Dated On The Same Day; When Donald Trump Suddenly Fired Fbi Director James Comey This Week, Did He Harm The Credibility Of His Presidency Or Firm Up His Base?; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Upset That White House Made It Sound Like Comey's Termination Was All On His Recommendation; Former Senior Advisor To President Nixon Comments About White House Tapes; Interview with Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired May 13, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
When Donald Trump suddenly fired FBI Director James Comey this week, did he harm the credibility of his presidency or firm up his base? Maybe both.
And firing someone who's investigating his administration and then hinting he recorded their conversations.
JEANINE PIRRO, HOST, JUSTICE WITH JUDGE JEANINE: What about the idea that, in a tweet you said, that there might be tape recordings?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, that, I can't talk about. I won't talk about that.
SMERCONISH: That sounds like something from President Nixon's playbook. I'll ask former Nixon Advisor, Pat Buchanan, what he thinks.
Meanwhile, the democrats are rallying the drum beat to get a special prosecutor on the Russian ties to the Trump campaign. Several senators are on board and I will talk to one of them, Gary Peters.
And I have been summoned for jury duty. How would you answer this question? Would you be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer because of his or her job? Tell me right now on Facebook and via Twitter.
But first, this was a terrible week for President Trump, right? I mean, after all, his stated reason for firing FBI Director James Comey was contradicted by his staff, and ultimately abandoned by the President himself. You'd think a political disaster.
Well, not so fast. Let's review. The President told Comey in a letter he was terminating him after accepting the recommendation of the Attorney General who, in turn, was relying on a memo from the Deputy Attorney General. There was just one problem, and that was the timing. The President's letter, the correspondence from the Attorney General and the memo of the Deputy Attorney General all have something in common. Each was dated May 9, 2017.
So, the President was asking us to believe that on May 9, Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, provided Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a three-page memo, which included, quote, "Having refused to admit his errors, the director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions."
And then on the same day, this memo was delivered to Sessions, Sessions immediately accepted the outcome, turned around and sent his own letter to the President saying, quote, "For the reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General in the attached memorandum, I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI." And then still, on that day, May 9, the President gets Sessions' letter, turns right around and writes to the director telling him, quote, "You are hereby terminated."
It never made sense that such a momentous decision as firing the Head of the FBI would be made by each of these three parties on a single day, particularly where there was no new information contained in the Deputy A.G.'s memo. It was premised on facts known since last July, that this was really about the Russian probe, was made clear by the President's letter to Comey, specifically where he wrote these words. Quote, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
That was a non-sequitur. The Deputy A.G. memo said nothing about the Russian probe. Now, creating a paper trail, that's not the issue. What was problematic is that it was a fake excuse, something made clear when the President was interviewing by Lester Holt.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire Comey. I -- there's no good time to do it, by the way. They were --
LESTER HOLT, HOST, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: Because in your letter, you said, "I accepted their recommendation."
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES : Yes, well, they all --
HOLT: So you had already accepted the recommendation.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.
HOLT: So there were --
(END VIDEOTAPE) SMERCONISH: My hunch is that this firing is going to have an unintended consequence, a redoubling by the FBI to piece together the Russian investigation. Plus, the scrutiny of whoever is nominated to be Comey's successor should ensure that he or she will not be a patsy for the President.
But will it harm the President with those that put him in office? I have doubts. Most of the callers to my Sirius XM radio program this week, overwhelmingly disapproving of the firing, but not all. Listen to these three from yesterday.
MARK IN ROCHESTER, NEW YORK: The credibility of the news organizations is just mind boggling. I mean, the eye rolls, the ice cream banner on the bottom. It's just -- it's really getting out of hand and I can't see how everybody doesn't see that.
JOHN IN KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: There's a huge disconnect between the D.C. bubble and Main Street. Because I live in Main Street in America, and I'll tell you what we're seeing.
SMERCONISH: Tell me.
JOHN: This is a snow job about Russia. It's all fake news. We're being told trust us, trust us. There's something here. There's no trust between us and D.C. There's no trust between us and the media.
BETH IN NORTH CAROLINA: I am a Trump voter. My husband is military. I just think that our mindset is that he supported the military, we voted for that, we voted for him getting the things done. He's not able to get the things done because there's so much smoke and mirrors through the media and it makes it difficult for the regular people in the working world just to get one foot in front of the other.
SMERCONISH: Polling suggests that Mark, John and Beth, my callers, are not alone. The President might be incapable of destroying himself where his supporters are unwilling to change their mind about him, even as he embarrasses, contradicts, undermines himself, his administration and the nation.
You remember that ABC News "Washington Post" poll last month that showed 96 percent of voters would vote for him again? Well now, a brand new Gallup survey shows that 78 percent of democrats disapprove of Trump's removal of Comey. That made sense, where firing somebody investigating you seems indicative of guilt. But 79 percent of republicans, they approve. When the President said that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, we could never have foreseen that the victim, figuratively, would be Jim Comey.
To discuss this and more, joining me now, reporters from "The Wall Street Journal," "The Washington Post," and "New York Times," all of whom have wrote stories during the tumultuous week. Del Quentin Wilber covers the Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement for "The Wall Street Journal". We've also got with us, Karoun Demirjian, Congressional Reporter for "The Washington Post," and also joining us is Matthew Rosenberg, who covers intelligence and national security for "New York Times." truly an A-list.
Hey Del, let me begin with you. You reported that Rosenstein pushed White House Counsel Don McGahn to correct the perception that Comey was fired because of his memo. How hot, how angry was Rosenstein, and is resignation a possibility?
DEL QUENTIN WILBER, JOURNALIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: You know, our reporting showed that Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, was upset that, you know, when they rolled this out, the White House made it sound like, you know, the -- this was all on the Deputy Attorney General's recommendation. He recommended that we get rid of Comey so we did it.
Remember, that was the narrative on Tuesday and Wednesday. Rosenstein did not appreciate this, because that's not the truth. He was in a meeting with the President on Monday. And on Monday, the President said, "Give me a memo justifying why I should get rid of Comey," or, "What is wrong with Comey," is more likely what the President asked him.
And Rosenstein did that. When he saw this narrative coming out, that this was all sparked by his work, he was upset and he called Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, and said, "Hey, you have to correct the record. I can't work in an environment where we're not being within the lines of what the truth really is and what really happened.
SMERCONISH: Is there a possibility that Rosenstein is so hot about this that he might resign his position?
WILBER: I don't think so. From the people I talked to, he really likes this job as Deputy Attorney General, believes that, you know, he's the right guy to lead the department, day-to-day operations and, you know, overseeing this probe of Russia and Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. And this was just his way to push back at the White House.
Others have reported he threatened to resign. We didn't get that far in our reporting. We found that he basically just said, "Let's set the record straight." And you know what happened? The White House did. Right after that, they started talking about how this would have been the President's instigation. He long wanted to fire Comey, and then, as you noted in your clips earlier with his interview, he wasn't even going to care -- he didn't care what the recommendation was going to be, he was going to fire him anyway.
SMERCONISH: Right. I think the date, as I've just suggested in my commentary, belies the assertion. Karoun, let me ask you this. The Senate Intel Committee this week subpoenaed documents from Mike Flynn. Today, you are reporting that there's new pressure not to slow things down.
There are a number of investigations taking place. There's the Senate Intel Committee, there's the FBI. Maybe there's the House Intel Committee, I'm not sure. Perhaps the NSA and the CIA as well. Which of these investigations might bear the most fruit? Which is to be most aggressive?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, JOURNALIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, a week ago -- or not quite a week ago, I probably would have said the FBI investigation because that one has been going on the longest. And it certainly seems to be the one that all of the congressional investigators are focusing on most acutely as they look for information and pull people back into Capitol Hill for testimony.
But as you've seen, the removal of Comey has thrown a little bit of a monkey wrench into that. Certainly, it is not a purge of the FBI. As you said, there may be redoubled efforts, because there's a lot of support for Comey among FBI employees to push ahead with this investigation, and there may not be much of interruption.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation is the only one at this point that hasn't been plagued or effected by some sort of politically rocked scandal in the last few weeks or months. As you mentioned, the House Intelligence Committee had that whole episode where Devin Nunes was making allegations about unmasking of names and surveillance reports. They are still regrouping after that all happened, they've had a change in leadership for the Russia probe that they're doing.
And the Senate Intelligence Committee has been going on even keel. You have cooperation and literally the leaders of the committee putting their arms around each other to endorse each other's dedication to pursuing this. So, while they're dependent on the intelligence community for a lot of the information that they have to pour through and getting those documents and getting those witnesses to interview, they have this kind of renewed sense of purpose right now because they know that their investigation hasn't been marred by these sorts of discussions we're having now but what does this mean about Comey's firing and that we had a few weeks ago about what did it mean about Nunes' leadership because of these other things that have happened to distract from the purpose of that probe.
SMERCONISH: Matthew, in "The Times," you've reported that days before the firing, Comey asked for more resources for the Russian probe, do you think the net of all of this will be a redoubling of efforts by the FBI in pursuit of this investigation?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, JOURNALIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You know what, it's hard to say what's going to happen in the FBI. In the short-term, absolutely, they're pressing ahead. You know, depends on what the leadership ends up looking like and we're not going to know that for a little while. They're interviewing interim candidates right now but the long-term candidates still uncertain.
The resources question we found out and kind of later updated our story was Comey had gone and asked for more prosecutors. and that speaks to a sort of maturity in the investigation. It doesn't mean that they were looking to bring charges immediately or anything like that, but they needed people in there to vet evidence, to go through things, to help organize the case. You know, this is all really up in the air right now. A lot of the
decisions are going to be made first by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, and then at the White House but who's going to run the organization will inevitably have an impact.
The FBI is filled with law enforcement guys. They're going to keep going. It's what they do. Anybody who's ever been a subject of an investigation knows they don't really stop but, you know, how resources are erected within the agency, what the message is from the top does have an impact.
SMERCONISH: Del, the CNN reporting on this issue is that Rosenstein doesn't see a need for a special prosecutor, how do you see that issue in the future?
WILBER: You know, well, things can change, the more political pressure that gets applied. Jerry Seib, one of the columnists at "The Wall Street Journal" wrote that you'll really notice that things are going change when more republicans get on the side of asking for a special prosecutor and begin to push for that and we haven't quite seen that yet. That's on the political realm.
In terms of Rosenstein, you know, he is not a fan of these special prosecutors. They can run amok. You know, he's been a U.S. attorney a long time, you know, a top federal prosecutor in Maryland and he resisted calls for a special prosecutor as recently an interviewed with us before he took office and during his confirmation hearing. So, I don't see him buckling to that unless some more shoes drop.
SMERCONISH: A question for all three of you but I'll start with Karoun. Is there a list of the usual suspects being circulated as to who might be the Comey replacement. I don't mean on an interim bases, I mean, who might President Trump put in that position?
DEMIRJIAN: Well, we've heard a variety of names of people who are interviewing for that position right now, including potentially the majority whip in the senate, John Cornyn.
It's not clear who he's going to choose or what criteria he'd based that choice on. Certainly, he could go with somebody partisan. You don't need more than 50 or plus the vice-president's tie breaking vote in the senate to get one of these nominees through or he'd go with somebody more traditional.
McCabe is still there, probably, still wants the job that he's acting -- serving right now and as acting director of the FBI and that would be sticking with the script of who's around and making it more of a -- it would be more of a gesture to say that this was just about Comey and it's not about trying to route out the entire hierarchy of the FBI that was dealing with this Russia probe or with the Clinton investigation frankly but he's got a variety of options about which way he could go and who he chooses will show us something potentially about what the reasoning was behind getting rid of Comey.
And again, like I said, there's a pretty open road in the senate as long as he can keep the republicans happy, the vast bulk of the republicans happy. They can afford to lose, I believe, two and still get a nominee through and as Del just said, you know, a lot of this depends on what the republicans want and we haven't seen republicans coming out like democrats, calling for a special prosecutor, calling for an independent commission as democrats have.
They have been criticizing this action by Trump with Comey but it hasn't yet gotten to the point where they're willing to throw in the towel and say we need new leadership. We need to take this out of the line of command at DOJ.
SMERCONISH: Matthew, I'm limited for time, is there a name on the tip of your tongue?
ROSENBERG: I mean, there have been wild rumors like Trey Gowdy who is an incredibly partisan. He is a congressman. He led the Benghazi investigation in the House.
You know, you hear all kinds of things. Some of this is going to be kind of a better (INAUDIBLE) of the White House who are saying go for somebody nonpartisan, go law enforcement background, and some saying go to somebody that protects your interest and will be loyal.
SMERCONISH: Dell, quickly. One name. Give it to me.
WILBER: John Cornyn, I think. And Alice Fisher is interviewing today, as is Michael Garcia, and Andy McCabe. They're all interviewing at the Justice Department just down the street from your studio here. So who knows? And those are just the list they put out. You never know how this stuff is going to go.
SMERCONISH: Keep up the great work. Del Quentin Wilber, Karoun Dermijian, Matthew Rosenberg, we really appreciate you're being here. Thank you.
DERMIJIAN: Thank you so much.
ROSENBERG: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts at home? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some during the course of this program.
Hit me, Katherine, what have you got? How long is going to take until we see some actual proof on Trump colluding with the Russians to affect the election? Hey Nicholas, a long, long time, if some get their wishes and shut this whole thing down. That's my short answer. One more, if you can, quickly.
Smerconish, Comey tapes are a ruse to deflect from the real story. POTUS does not want to be president and is looking for an out daily. I don't know, Nicholas. I kind of -- I wonder of this question aloud. I get the impression all this tumult is something he thrives on. At the end of the day, he views himself as having a pretty productive week.
I'm going to get into this in a moment with my next guest. Still to come, with FBI Director Comey ousted, several democratic senators are calling for a special prosecutor on the Russia question, including Michigan's Gary Peters, who is here.
And Matt Drudge warned President Trump this week, leaks on hour, every hour, will destroy presidency. There's a Trojan horse plotting within the inner circle. With all the talk of Nixon's Watergate, does Trump have more than one deep throat in his ranks? I'm about to ask former Nixon Senior Advisor, Pat Buchanan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The democrats see a Nixonian abuse of power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Nixonian move.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Nixonian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Echoes of Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Echo of Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reminiscent of Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So many Watergate comparisons.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Firing Archibald Cox was the first shovel into Richard Nixon's political grave.
SMERCONISH: As you heard, Nixonian was a common praise to describe President Trump's firing of FBI Director, James Comey, this week. It reminded some of then-President Nixon's so-called Saturday Night Massacre, that was October of 1973, when he ordered the dismissal of special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, which led to the resignations of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General.
And now, a tweet from President Donald Trump had some wondering if he may have taped his conversations, another famous Nixon move. Sean Spicer dodged the subject yesterday, and then President Trump had very little to say when Fox's Judge Jeanine Pirro asked him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did President Trump record conversations with former FBI Director Comey? SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I assume you're referring to the tweet. And I've talked to the President. The President has nothing further to add on that.
PIRRO: What about the idea that, in a tweet, you said there might be tape recordings?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, that, I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be. And I'm sure he will be. I hope.
SMERCONISH: I've got somebody who knows a thing or two about White House tapes, the man who told Nixon to burn his. Patrick Buchanan, the former Senior Advisor to President Nixon, and presidential candidate himself. He's a syndicated columnist and has a brand new book out that's called "Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever".
Patrick, I want to put back on the screen that tweet from President Trump, because I had a different interpretation than most. James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press. Was that a threat or was that an admission?
Because it came after revelations from the Comey side, and it made me wonder, was that the President saying, "Hey Comey, you better not have been taping," or as most are interpreting this, was it Donald Trump saying be careful, I might have you on tape?
PATRIC BUCHANAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT NIXON: The second, I believe, Michael. I cannot believe the FBI Director would walk in the Oval Office and tape the President of the United States, whereas Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, as well as Richard Nixon had taping devices.
But my guess is that no taping device exists or did not exist at the time of that meeting, and that there's sort of a warning, tell the truth, Mr. Comey.
SMERCONISH: Well, you say you can't imagine that the FBI Director would walk in the Oval Office and tape the President. I can't imagine that the President would allow the FBI Director to come in and tape him. What is the upside for President Trump in not saying in that Fox interview, or having Sean Spicer make very clear, of course, he's not taping anybody?
BUCHANAN: Well, because quite frankly, that the President of the United States needs a taping device in the Oval Office. If you've got, for example, Mr. Lavrov was in there with Kislyak of the Russians, and what did they say about Syria and Iran, and what did they say about Afghanistan?
I mean, you want evidence of what they said, and they would expect that you would be taping them, just as I'm sure Mr. Kislyak was sure that he was being taped by the NSA during the -- when he had those various meetings. I mean, this is not unusual, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Right. I guess I would -- yes, I would see a point of differentiation between tapping Kislyak on a phone outside the White House versus recording him when he's in that inner sanctum.
Let me get to this bigger issue. You don't see the parallels. Am I right that you don't see the bigger parallels between this and Watergate? And if so, why not?
BUCHANAN: I do see a parallel between the fact that he fired someone who headed investigation. But look, when -- during Watergate, when I was in the Oval Office with the president when he had to fire Elliott Richardson, we were in the middle of the Yom Kippur War, vice president had just resigned, he had just been replaced. You had the Yom Kippur War. You had Kissinger in Moscow. The President told me I cannot have my Attorney General defying me when I'm telling Brezhnev what I'm going to do in the Middle East if he doesn't do certain things.
Let me tell you -- I'll reveal something to you, Michael. There's no doubt about it. Nixon was thinking about firing Cox for a long, long time, and this was the triggering event. He told me in that Oval Office, and I quote, "We can't have that viper sleeping in the bed with us." Cox was moving far beyond his original mandate. He was investigating Bebe Rebozo, Nixon's good friend. I mean, the Watergate prosecution was all over the lot. I can understand why Nixon did it, it was costly and expensive.
SMERCONISH: I read that part of your book. Put it up on the screen. I didn't know you'd bring it up, I intended to. Where you say that Nixon was intending to send a message to Brezhnev. Could Trump be trying to prove his strength to Russia or China in the way he's handling this?
BUCHANAN: No, Nixon was forced by what Richardson had told us. I was in the White House, he had told Haig and others, he was on board, that Cox had to accept the compromise on the tapes, and that he would make sure it happened.
Then comes Thursday or Friday, and Elliott switches, he gets cold feet, and he comes down on the side of Archibald Cox, and the President is there now, with Cox having a press conference, saying, "I'm going after even more tapes," and he had to act. So this was forced on President Nixon by the situation he was in.
With regard to Comey, whether Mr. Trump did it in January 21st or did it a week from now really made no difference because it's not that big a deal, excuse me. Here's where I disagree with the folks, Michael, is that was a huge deal at a time of -- the Arabs had just imposed an oil embargo on the United States. It was a very dramatic October.
SMERCONISH: Right but the Watergate burglary was Liddy and company going into Larry O'Brien's office at the DNC, which happened to be at the Watergate Hotel. This is an enemy state meddling in a U.S. election. To me, it's apples and oranges because this is the far more serious of the two. BUCHANAN: Well look, let me -- Michael, you're a little bit off on your timing. The break-in was June of '72. Firing of Cox was in October of '73. We had --
SMERCONISH: No, no. But I'm talking about Watergate. I'm talking about Watergate versus the Russian probe.
BUCHANAN: Well, Watergate -- the initial event in Watergate was a third rate burglary, if you will. But right now, look, the Russians clearly have hacked, according to all intelligence agencies. But Donald Trump, the president has a very valid point. There's a cloud been sitting over his head that he could have conspired with Putin or Russian agents to hack the DNC and to hack, and Podesta, and then work with WikiLeaks and all of this to win the election and that he succeed in this series of felonies -- alleged series of felonies.
That -- as far as I know, there is no justification for that cloud. We've had Mr. Clapper himself say there's been -- we found no collusion. Mike Morell, former Head of the CIA, we found no collusion. I can understand the President's rage that Comey or someone won't stand up and say, "Look, we're not going to tell you where we're investigating, but we can tell you this. We found no collusion between the President of the United States or his closest aides and the Russians in hacking and disseminating that material." Why can't they tell us that?
SMERCONISH: Well, if the investigations were concluded, and had come to that point, then I (inaudible)
BUCHANAN: Michael, which is the problem.
SMERCONISH: But they haven't been. They've been stymie.
BUCHANAN: Michael, this is the problem. Why cannot the FBI, in 10 months, cannot make decision as to whether or not somebody in Trump's operation either wired, I mean, phoned, or e-mailed or went to Moscow and said, "You're doing a good job, and here's where you ought to put these out."
This is a -- I mean, excuse me, Comey's -- why are we 10 months in? Ten months into Watergate, people were in prison. What is going on that they cannot find any evidence that Mr. Trump colluded with anybody to do that?
SMERCONISH: Patrick, you famously told Nixon to burn the tapes, he didn't take your advice. Or maybe history would have taken us in a different direction. To the extent this president has recordings of Comey, would you tell him to burn them?
[09:30:00] BUCHANAN: No. If he's made them, no, I wouldn't tell him to burn them. There was nothing illegal about what Nixon did. It was very foolish that he was a taping machine that started running as soon as he started talking, as I said.
Look, Jack Kennedy and others during the missile crisis, you're talk with Dobrynin. And Dobrynin sending your signals from Khrushchev about whether he is going to remove the missiles. Don't you want a tape recording and don't you want a record of that, that you can look over and say, what exactly did they commit to, and what didn't they commit to?
SMERCONISH: Yes, but not between the FBI director and the president.
Patrick, thank you as always. Appreciate you being here.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're tweeting at me @Smerconish and also via Facebook. What do we have?
Smerconish, Trump is Nixon updated for 21st century. The target still DNC, but burglary now contracted to Russia instead of wiretaps.
Sy, look, I've said to Pat and he's not buying into it. But I think that when it's an enemy state that's trying to meddle in our election, it's different, more serious, more outrageous than Republicans and Democrats doing battle and one of them going way over the line. I'm not excusing Watergate.
I'm just saying that, as I said last week, it used to be that partisanship ended at our borders and we need to get back to that point in time.
President Trump himself mentioned the investigation into Russian meddling explaining why he fired Director Comey. And assistant A.G. Rosenstein who wrote the letter criticizing Comey says there's no need for outside special prosecutor.
Many Democratic lawmakers disagree. I'm about to talk to one -- Senator Gary Peters of the great state of Michigan.
[09:35:59] SMERCONISH: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn't see a need at this point for a special prosecutor in the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Democratic lawmakers and others have pushed for the move in the wake of the controversy over President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. Critics of the Trump administration's handling of the Russia investigation, they have long held the view that special prosecutor is needed.
My next guest has wanted an independent prosecutor since March. Michigan Senator Gary Peters led a letter, calling on the DOJ inspector general to investigate any political influence with the FBI investigation and he joins me now.
Hey, Senator, answer the question just raised by Pat Buchanan in my last segment. He said to me, look, the FBI has had ten months and it got nothing to show for it. Move on already.
SEN. GARY PETERS (D), MICHIGAN: Well, I don't know if they have nothing to show for it. We know they're in the midst of an investigation. They aren't going to make that kind of information public until they wrap up that investigation, and make sure the evidence that they're seeing, if they are seeing anything, is actually substantiated.
We know that Mr. Comey was going to get additional resources, and that's what he was asking for. And then, shortly thereafter, was fired, which is why this is so troubling. We have an investigation that's on-going, and it appears was actually ramping up, probably to look deeper into whatever they're finding, and the president wanted it seems to cut that short and fire the FBI director.
SMERCONISH: You were one of -- I think the number is 96 members of the Senate who voted to confirm Mr. Rosenstein in position of deputy A.G. Are you regretting that vote now?
PETERS: Well, I'm not pleased with the actions that we have seen. There's no question about that. I think he still has time to come forward.
We're going to get more information about what was in his thought process this week. He has agreed to come before the Senate. All 100 of us will be there.
We have a number of questions. I have certainly some specific questions about the time line, what was going on in that firing decision. And I hope that he realizes the importance of having a special prosecutor, that we have to clear the air.
We have some very, very important business that we have to do in the Senate and Congress to deal with challenges in this country. This is such a cloud over the administration. The fact that the Trump administration folks may have been involved in collusion during the campaign, this smoke has to clear.
And so, my view is very clear. Let's have a special prosecutor that's independent, not subject to any kind of political interference. You'll have transparency. Let's find out where the facts go.
People should not be afraid of the facts. If the president believes there's nothing there, then he shouldn't be afraid of the facts coming out. Let's get the investigation going, let's get it over with.
Let's have 100 percent credibility with a special prosecutor, and let's make sure it is done with integrity and done in a nonpartisan way.
SMERCONISH: Well, unfortunately like so many other things dealt with by the House and Senate, this is viewed entirely through partisan lenses. "The New York Times" has maintained a tally. I'll put on the screen as a matter of fact.
Those in the House and Senate that called for special prosecutor or similar, one Republican -- by the way, that is Representative Tom McClintock from California, 139 Democrats or independents. Those who have called for independent investigation which is the next tally, the latest number on that. Only six Republicans, 85 Democrats. I offered at the outset of the program, Senator, some recent polling
data from Gallup that shows that Democrats and Republicans beyond the House and Senate are seeing this largely through partisan lenses.
So, what does the future hold if the R's are on one side and D's are on the other with regard to this investigation?
PETERS: Well, it doesn't look good now, but we have to move beyond that. So, this is to me about Russia. This is about a foreign government that we know was engaged in unprecedented way in our election.
[09:40:02] That should be troubling to every American. That goes to our core values and the most fundamental aspect of the American democracy, which is our election process. This is not about partisanship. This is the time for folks to stand up and say we are going to put country ahead of party.
And I certainly hope that some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate will do that. Certainly, I have been encouraged by a number of them who have made comments, and how disappointed and concerned they are about the firing of the FBI director. That hasn't risen to the point where they're asking for a special prosecutor, but I know that there are concerns there.
We've got to keep pushing forward and saying we have to clear the air here, we've got to do this in a way that restores trust. We have a confidence of trust thin country right now. And to me, this festering cloud over Congress and over the country only continues to further erode trust and democracy can't function without trust. We've got to get to the bottom of this.
SMERCONISH: Final quick question. So, apparently, President Trump wanted a loyalty oath, a pinky swear or something, from FBI Director Comey and couldn't get it when they had dinner together. Might a positive net effect of all of this be increased scrutiny on the process of confirming the successor, such that he or she is not a patsy for the president?
PETERS: Well, I think that's absolutely right. I mean, we have to set a very high bar.
One of -- one of the fundamental institutions that helps maintain trust in our society is an independent FBI. That we know the FBI will completely, be completely independent, will be fair, will let facts drive any conclusions that they have as they bring these cases forward. That is fundamental. That means the next director of the FBI has to clear a very high bar. They have to have a track record of being independent, of being nonpartisan, a record of exhibiting integrity in everything they do and true professional.
And I don't think the American people should expect anything else. They should not receive anything else. And as a Congress, we should demand those are the types of nominees that will be put forward.
SMERCONISH: Senator Gary Peters, thank you so much for being here. PETERS: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Keep the tweets and the Facebook comments coming. Here's another before we break.
Just one: Smerconish, sorry, it is not a Russian investigation but a bunch of sore losers looking for a crime.
Hey, Brad, Brad, do you want to know the answer? Because I do. Do you want the answer to whether the Russians meddled in our election and if so, whether there was collusion? Because that's not a Republican issue and that's not a Democratic issue. That is an American issue.
Still ahead. I got a summons for jury duty. So, I had to answer this question. Would you be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer or any other law enforcement officer because of their job? My answer is next.
[09:47:00] SMERCONISH: Question: would you be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer because of his or her job? That's a question asked of prospective jurors all across the country every day.
But when I was recently summoned for jury duty, I realized I might have a new answer to that question. In the past, my answer has always been a reflective yes. But a lot happened since the last time I was summoned. In a word, video.
In several high profile incidents, videotape contradicted police accounts of killings of civilians. Still, it is worth knowing so far widespread use of video hasn't increased conviction of cops in cases of alleged manslaughter or murder. In fact, videotape has often exonerated police officers and in some high profile cases where video played a role, charges were still never brought.
But then two weeks ago, and for the first time since Ferguson raised awareness, a police officer pled guilty based largely on what was captured on video. South Carolina former policeman Michael Slager pled guilty to civil rights charges for shooting Walter Scott five times in the back after Scott ran from having been pulled over for a broken taillight.
To be clear, all these video-driven stories have not made me think less of police. They've just made me think more deeply about whether my prior position of giving them an edge in testimony was proper.
By the way, the video age did not delay my response to the follow-up question, whether I would be less likely to believe the word of a cop. On that I remain an emphatic no.
Charles Ramsey is the former police commissioner of Philadelphia. He co-chaired President Obama's commission on 21st century policing, I asked him about this. He said: I'm biased toward police. So, I would give greater weight to their testimony. Part of his bias is based in his belief that cops see things a normal
person doesn't see. But even he acknowledged situation police have not been honest on the stand. Statistics imply that jurors generally feel the same as Chief Ramsey.
Dr. Phillip Stinson is an ex-cop- turned-associate professor of justice at Bowling Green University, and he's been tracking what he refers to as police crime. His most recent data shows that annually, about a thousand people are shot and killed by on-duty officers. But that those rarely lead to a charge of murder or manslaughter.
In fact, since the beginning of 2005, there have been only 80 police officers across the country charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on duty shooting. Of those, 29 were convicted, 31 not convicted, 20 still pending.
Stinson concluded that jurors are very reluctant to second guess the split second, life or death decisions made by an on duty police officer who decided to use deadly force in violent street encounters.
I will be at the courthouse in a few weeks and committed to treating everyone as equals.
Still to come, your best and worst tweets, like this one. What do we got?
[09:50:00] Smerconish, my answer is absolutely yes. Anyone who puts their life on the line daily for little or no pay gets the benefit of the doubt.
Dottie, that's the way I used to answer the question. I'm treating everyone this go around. I don't think less of anyone who has the bravery to do what you just identified.
Back in a second.
SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for watching. Thank you for following me on Twitter and Facebook.
Here's some of what's just come in during the course of the program.
Smerconish, don't you think Trump said tapes just to tweak the media?
Rajeev, it has certainly occurred to me because we're all chasing our tail on that statement, right, in the aftermath of what he said. But what's the upside? Why would he want Comey and now the public to believe that he's rolling tape in the Oval Office, something that presumably hasn't been done since the Nixon era? I can't understand it.
[09:55:01] What's next?
Smerconish, my 11-year-old son thinks Comey's firing is fishy. Too bad Trump voters aren't as smart as a six grader. Hey, Steel Badger, let me make something clear. There was legitimate
reason to fire Jim Comey. It's the timing. There's legitimate reason to fire him previously, but what was fishy, to your son's word choice, was trying to say it's all because of this memo from Rosenstein on May the 9th. That strains credulity, meaning it's bogus.
It was all about Russia, in my view. But Comey, you can certainly have a legitimate debate and his handling of the election issues should render him unfit for that job. But that's a different issue.
One more. Can I quickly?
Ha-ha, not even close to Nixon. All the top Dems wanted Comey fired after the election. What changed? Because POTUS did it. Hypocrites.
Plenty of hypocrisy to go around for all.
I will see you next week.