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Trump could Decide on FBI Nominee this Week; Some Dems Threaten to Block Trump's FBI Nominee; North Korea Claims New Missile can Carry "Large" Nuke. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 15, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us. The president is headed to the Capitol, where he will speak live in just moments. Top of mind though for this White House is who will replace FBI director James Comey. Over the weekend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions interviewed eight, eight people that you see on your screen, possible picks to replace Comey. An announcement, which the president says is possible this week, is already drawing scrutiny and warnings from Democrats.
BERMAN: Yes. So, as the president heads to the Capitol, a big question for us this morning, will he address that search when we hear from him very shortly? Let's begin at the White House with CNN's Joe Johns. Joe, what are you learning?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The attorney general's role in the firing of James Comey is certainly being called into question this morning, even as he started out in the interview process to find Comey's replacement. Now, one of the big problems, certainly, for the attorney general, is the fact that he announced to the world that he had recused himself from all things relating to the Russia investigation. That because he had an appearance of a conflict of interest after meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Now, of course, it's compounded by the fact that the President of the United States did go on the record in a public interview and say, that the Russia investigation actually was a factor in the firing of Comey. So, the ethics of the situation have been called into question by Democrats on Capitol Hill and the Fred Wertheimer watchdog group, Democracy 21, has also called on the attorney general to remove himself from the process of selecting a new FBI director. All of this after former director of National Intelligence went on TV, on CNN over the weekend and said the President of the United States essentially is undermining the system of checks and balances in the country. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think in many ways our institutions are under assault, both externally and that's the big news here is Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well, our institutions are under assault internally.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Internally from the president?
TAPPER: Because he's firing the checks and balances?
CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, the founding fathers in their genius created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built- in system of checks and balances and I feel as though that's under assault and is eroding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said the Senate ought, not confirm a replacement for Comey until sometime well after at least a special counsel is named to investigate the Russia situation. The Senate Republican leader, the majority leader so far, opposed to that idea. Back to you.
HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House, thank you very much. Among those being considered for this top job at the FBI, Senator John Cornyn, former Congressman Mike Rogers and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, also there's talk about Trey Gowdy as well and some are urging the president not to tap anyone with political ties.
Our Jessica Schneider is tracking that for us. Good morning, Jessica. What are you hearing? I mean, are there any leaders on this list so far?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at least eight people interviewed this weekend, Poppy and John. And you mentioned Cornyn and Rogers. Both of them Republicans and very political, but the push for a non-partisan pick, it's coming from both sides of the aisle.
You can see here John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, Senate Majority Whip, the second most powerful Republican in the Senate. And then, of course, there's Mike Rogers. Mike Rogers was formerly at the FBI as a special agent, a former Republican Congressman from Michigan. He has actually been endorsed by the FBI agents association. They're pushing for President Trump to make him their pick.
So, also on that list of eight, you have current acting director Andrew McCabe, also former assistant attorney general under President Bush, Alice Fisher, in addition, New York Judge Michael Garcia, FBI special agent in charge, Adam Lee, as well as Judge Henry Hudson. He's from Virginia and also Frances Townsend. She's the former Homeland Security adviser to George W. Bush. She also served in the Department of Justice under Bill Clinton.
President Trump does say, it is possible he could pick someone before he departs for his overseas trip on Friday. Senator Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, is telling the president, look keep politics out of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think it's now time to pick somebody that comes from within the ranks or of such reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one.
[10:05:05] You know, who does the FBI director work for? To me, it's like appointing a judge. The president actually appoints a judge, but the judge is loyal to the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: So, that push for a non-partisan pick coming from both sides of the aisle. We know that President Trump will be reading the reports and the recommendations from all of these interviews over the weekend. Perhaps there could be more candidates as well. We do know that the president will meet with a few of the leading candidates himself before making his pick, the president saying it could potentially come before Friday. Poppy and John?
BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider for us. We are watching it very closely. Look, it is some push for an FBI director with no political ties, but former CIA director James Woolsey says that finding someone who actually wants this job could be difficult. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think it's going to be very hard to find a good FBI director who is willing to operate under the circumstances that we've seen this week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: All right, let's bring in our panel. James Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. Richard Painter joins us. He is a former White House ethics lawyer. And Mike Baker is here, former CIA operative and co-founder of Diligence LLC, a global intelligence security forum, nice to have you all here.
Mike, let me begin with you. You seem to be on the side of Lindsey Graham and those who say absolutely no one with any political background whatsoever. Why?
MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE AND CO-FOUNDER OF DILIGENCE LLC A GLOBAL SECURITY FIRM: Well, I think, first of all, I think it's what's needed at this time. I think it's what's needed by the FBI. I think that would be the best step for them, to bring in an independent, low- profile director. Look, we don't need -- we don't need a high-profile individual in this position. It's the director of the agency. What do you need? You need a solid manager who understands the culture of the FBI, who understands operations investigations.
Bringing somebody up through the bureau -- I'm not sure that's going to happen -- but what I'm saying is that would be, I believe, the correct pick. Bringing anybody in with any baggage at all -- and that would include the current acting director, McCabe -- I think would be opening this up to just endless firefights on both sides of the aisle.
BERMAN: James, what do you think of this? You actually worked in the bureau.
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST AND RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Yes and it's interesting because I heard the argument from Mike Rogers and it was posited this morning on your show by the FBI Association president Tom O'Connor. And I also heard he's got broad support from the other side of the aisle. He's got Elijah Cummings supporting him.
I think the argument that the next director has to come from within the ranks of the FBI is a facile argument in its speeches. And here's why. FBI agents are trained in close-quarter battle, how to take down an assailant and all those type of things. The FBI director, their job is close-quarter battle on the Hill, in the Oval Office.
And I think out of the seven FBI directors, full-time, appointed by Congress FBI directors -- I served under four of them -- only one of them, Louis Freeh, was a former FBI agent. I just don't think that needs to be part of the calculus for saying this guy is going to be good or this woman's going to be good for the job or not.
HARLOW: There was a fascinating interview done with FBI director James Comey, not this week, not last week, in 2014, but it reared last night on "60 Minutes," and it is worth taking a listen to this part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS "60 MINUTES" HOST: You say that the president wanted independence from his FBI director. But the Justice Department answers to the president.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It does. But it has to maintain a sense of independence from the political forces. I don't mean that as-- as a pejorative term. But the political forces in the executive branch. And that's why the director is given a 10-year term, so that it is guaranteed that you'll spend presidential administrations to make sure that you're leading it in a way that's not influenced by the political winds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Richard Painter, to you, with your hat on as a former White House ethics lawyer. Is there, given Comey's comments about why FBI directors have ten-year terms and why they have to be beyond politics or even the appearance thereof. Do you believe that anyone with a political background can be tapped and be trusted by this president at this point in time?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Oh, I think they can. I've worked in Republican politics for about 30 years. I know some of these people. They're very good people. I think they could do an excellent job as director of the FBI. But it's going to be critical that there will be an independent prosecutor for the Trump/Russia connection investigation. That should not be handled by the FBI director. And neither should any other of I think the many scandals are going to be coming out of this administration. None of those should be handled by the FBI director who is an appointee of the president. There needs to be an independent prosecutor. That should be done before there is a confirmation of any nominee for the FBI directorship.
[10:10:03] But these are all very, very good people. I think I'd consider all of them. I also want to emphasize that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should stay out of the Trump/Russia matter. He already recused, yet he got involved with firing Comey. That's a breach of the agreement. He also lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his own contacts with the Russians. So, I think the attorney general really has made the situation a lot more difficult than it needs to be. He needs to recuse.
BERMAN: And I understand your opinion, the attorney general, your call for a special prosecutor, you know, neither of those things seem to be happening right now. What is happening is the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is going to Capitol Hill this week to brief senators at some point in a closed-door meeting.
You know, Richard Painter, what does he need to say? What questions do you think he needs to answer to the senators?
PAINTER: Well, I think that the firing of Director Comey was completely mishandled by the White House and the Justice Department. We had lies being told by the White House press office that were repudiated almost immediately by the President of the United States. I think that was a disaster, so he's going to answer a lot of questions about that.
But furthermore, going forward, there is no excuse for not having an independent prosecutor. And the longer this administration drags that decision out, the worse it's going to be. There has to be an independent prosecutor for the Trump/Russia matter and all of the other scandals coming out of this administration. No new FBI director should be asked to investigate those things with a president who's just going to simply say, you're fired the minute he gets close to anything that is incriminating.
HARLOW: James, to you. Former DNI Clapper said yesterday that he feels like the checks and balances that this government is based on is eroding and that that confidence is eroding and that these institutions, the intelligence agencies are under assault. Are you in contact with folks at the FBI who feel the same way? Is that a widely shared feeling, do you believe?
GAGLIANO: I don't. I have the utmost trust and confidence in the institution, that are the men and women of the FBI. I mean, to steal a Woody Allen line, I think the method that President Trump dispatched with his FBI director was "a travesty of a mockery of a sham." It's his decision. We fully support that and understand that. It was the method that he did it. Whether or not the FBI is going to, you know, implode because of this, I say absolutely not. The men and women of the FBI are committed to the ideals of the Constitution and their allegiance to our motto, which is fidelity, bravery and integrity.
BERMAN: Mike, last word here. You have four days before the president's overseas trip. What can he do in those four days to turn things around both politically and within the FBI?
BAKER: Well, I don't think he can do anything politically to turn this around. I think it's going to be an endless assault on pretty much anything he does politically for, you know, the foreseeable future. I think as far as the FBI goes though, I think, you know, they're doing what they have to do. They need to be transparent in their interview process.
Again, I would argue -- look, Mike Rogers I think would do a very fine job. There's no doubt about that. But I would just say that, again, I think to try in an effort to at least put a cap on the hyperbole and some of the hysteria that's surrounding James Comey's departure -- and I agree with James, absolutely. It was the messaging. It was the optics. Just like so many other things with this administration. It's a self-inflicted wound that didn't necessarily have to happen. But I think if they go with the nonpolitical approach to this, they at least have a chance to tamp this down and at the same time, bring somebody up, again, who can be independent and aggressive, of course, with investigations that need to go forward.
HARLOW: Guys, thank you very much. We're out of time. We appreciate it, James, Richard and Mike. Thank you so much.
We are, as we said, waiting for President Trump to leave the White House. He's headed for Capitol Hill. He's going to speak at a National Peace Officers' Memorial in just a few minutes. Question is, is he going to bring up who he is thinking about tapping to replace James Comey?
BERMAN: North Korea says the U.S. mainland is now within striking range of its missiles. What are we learning about the latest test carried out by the regime? And some good news this morning, so far, we are hearing there are no signs of a new wave of cyberattacks. The bad news doesn't mean there won't be one soon.
[10:18:08] HARLOW: So, a little later this morning, the president is going to leave the White House, head to the Capitol. He's going to address the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service. It's an event that honors law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. And he's expected to head that way in just a few moments. As this speech comes, there is a swirl of speculation around who the president will pick to replace former FBI director James Comey. The White House is also dealing with the fallout from the way that the firing went down, this ahead of the president's first big trip overseas.
BERMAN: All right, here to discuss, Doug Heye, CNN political commentator, Republican strategist, former RNC communications director and Hilary Rosen, a CNN political commentator.
Doug Heye, to you, let's talk about the Republicans, shall we, in the Capitol right now? Look, how much pressure are they under if you're a Republican senator right now who's going to have to confirm who the president picks to be the FBI head? What kind of pressure are they feeling and what does it do to them that one of the people being interviewed is the Senate Majority Whip, John Cornyn?
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, the conversations with Republicans I've had on the Hill aren't so much about who it will be. Obviously, those parlor games always happen. But more is the person going to be allowed to do the job? Will the next FBI director be independent or somebody who Donald Trump can push around or fire at his leisure and set up the same situation as James Comey?
And John, I know what a big fan of the Yankees you are. It's a bit like having Derek Jeter and only letting him bunt. -
HEYE: You need somebody who's going to do the job that they can do best and that's the big concern. It's not who.
BERMAN: As long as he doesn't have to play defense.
HARLOW: I was just going to say, would you like a shot back?
Hilary, to you, Chuck Schumer came out over the weekend and he said, look, we should - you know, basically, cease any working with the Republicans at all when it comes to confirming an FBI director until they guarantee, until the administration or you know, the attorney general's office guarantees to us that they will put in place a special prosecutor on the Russia matter. -
They don't seem to have the support that they're going to need behind that one. Do you think that that is universally shared sentiment among most Democrats?
[10:20:04] HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I don't think so, for this reason. I saw that the leader said that, but look, if the president nominates somebody who is a respected law enforcement official, I actually think it's a mistake for Senate Democrats to try and keep the FBI in turmoil. It is very much in our interest to have the FBI be operating and functional.
I think we have heard from a lot of great reporting over the last several days that there are a lot of unhappy investigators and prosecutors over at the Justice Department who really want the chance to look at this issue and make a, you know, good determination and have the resources for an investigation. Getting a serious FBI director in there would help that.
Now, if the president appoints a politician, you know who's going to be loyal to the party and not to the country, then I think that senator Schumer's point is the right one.
HARLOW: Just what I was going to ask you, would you feel the same way if it was Senator John Cornyn? And you answered my question. BERMAN: Look, when you look at the polls right now. The polls are pretty interesting on where the country is in the firing of James Comey. 29 percent approve, 38 percent disapprove, 32 percent say they don't know enough to say, which I ask you, have you turned on the TV in the last week but that said aside.
Doug Heye, 58 percent of Republicans though, say they approve of the dismissal. If you look at the Republican - I'm praying we have that. 58 percent of Republicans say that they approve of this. Does this indicate why we haven't seen more pressure from leadership, maybe more criticism from Republican leadership of the White House in this matter that Republican voters just don't care as much as some perhaps elsewhere do?
HEYE: Yes and I think not only on the national numbers, but if you drill down into Congressional districts and into states, Donald Trump remains overwhelmingly popular with Republican voters and Republican senators and Republican members of the House know that. That's why so many of them who aren't necessarily thrilled about what's happened in the past week or the past 100-plus days, are focused on their committee and their subcommittee. They're going to do their job because they don't want to get caught in the tangle nationally with Trump is unpopular, but in this district, he remains popular, so they're keeping their heads down.
HARLOW: What is the best play here, Hilary, for Democrats, if he does pick one of those political folks? I mean, not on that list was Trey Gowdy who has been a name floated, there's obviously, Senator John Cornyn, Mike Rogers, who does have the support of some Democrats like Elijah Cummings though - is there, you know, Republican who was elected to Congress. What's the right play for Dems if the president does go the political route on one of these folks?
ROSEN: Well, I don't think they're all in the same category. Mike Rogers, for instance, I think would be a pick that would be seen as sort of serious with real law enforcement background. But here I think is our challenge as Democrats -- nothing, nothing, nothing -- hear me -- will substitute for Democrats being laser focused on the American people, the economy, making sure that we have a message going into, you know, the next two years that is a real alternative to the chaos that the GOP leadership has turned this country into, to the taking away health care from people to not focusing on jobs, to thinking about a tax cut for the wealthy instead of for, you know, the middle class and really something that creates job training and other things to grow the economy.
So, that's what Democrats have to do. It is so easy to chase this shiny, you know, object of an investigation into Donald Trump. We ought to focus on getting professionals and prosecutors doing that and we ought to make sure that we actually are responding to what the American people want from us.
BERMAN: Interesting to hear Hilary Rosen say this, which may be why you don't see enormous enthusiasm for Chuck Schumer on the obstruct, obstruct, obstruct answer yesterday. Doug Heye, last question, also to reporting maybe a White House shake- up, maybe looking to replace some of the staff, particularly in the communications office. You're a communications expert. You run in a lot of communications circles. Do you think there are a lot of Republican spokespeople out there dying to go or fill those positions at the White House?
HEYE: Look, there's a saying in Washington that when the president calls, you say yes. So, I think there are a lot of people who will go step in. I hope they would be good-quality people, but regardless of who the team is on the field, this is Donald Trump's administration, he's the one who's going to tweak. He's the one who's going to give off-the-record on background, on-the-record quotes, that's critical of his staff. As long as that dynamic remains in place, you know, to some extent we're talking about chairs on the "Titanic."
HARLOW: Do you -
ROSEN: My grandmother used to say, like people don't change. And you know, Donald Trump at this point in his career has had too much of his own success and too much, you know, engrained activity to change. And so, people going into the White House have to be eyes wide open. Their reputation, their ability to tell the truth, their ability to actually do their jobs is completely compromised and I don't see that changing.
BERMAN: Although like Doug says, when the president calls, you do pick up the phone -
HARLOW: You do pick up -
BERMAN: -- and take that or at least listen to it. Doug Heye, Hilary Rosen, thank you so much for being with us. We have a very important event here on CNN tonight, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sits down with Chris Cuomo for a town hall discussion at 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
[10:25:05] HARLOW: All right. Still to come for us, North Korea now says one of its missiles could carry a nuclear weapon and even hit the United States. So, the message from North Korea to the U.S. -- don't provoke us.
[10:29:59] BERMAN: All right, new this morning, North Korea state media says the U.S. mainland is now within striking distance of its missiles.
HARLOW: And this is after a successful missile test over the weekend. The North Koreans are now saying one of their missiles could carry a large nuclear warhead. Analysts are looking at this.