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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings; Did President Trump Commit Obstruction of Justice?. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They will not -- they do not trust President Trump's handling of classified intelligence.
QUESTION: Your reaction to the Comey memo?
RAJU (voice-over): Republicans on Capitol Hill are nearing their breaking point with President Trump, raising new concerns today over the latest bombshell that the president may have interfered with the FBI's investigation into his ex-national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Another shoe drops every -- now it seems almost daily.
RAJU: Three committees now demanding records from the Justice Department about interactions between Trump and Comey, including a memo Comey wrote after a February meeting where Trump allegedly urged him to drop the Flynn investigation.
The revelation prompted some Democrats to say Trump could be impeached and Republicans to raise new concerns about the president's actions.
SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: Yes, I have concerns, and I think the story is yet to be totally unfolded.
RAJU: Are you concerned about this latest Comey memo?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Of course. I want to get the facts. That's what we need to do.
RAJU: Congress was already reeling over allegations that Trump may have disclosed classified intelligence to Russian officials last week. Some Republicans like Ted Cruz would not say if they believe the president can be trusted with classified material.
(on camera): Do you have confidence in the president right now?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: He is our president, and I am working closely with the administration to deliver on the promises we have made.
RAJU: And confidence in his ability to handle classified intelligence, do you have confidence in that?
CRUZ: Well, I don't want to assess the allegations again, and I think the Senate as a whole on both parties should understand the facts before leaping to conclusions.
RAJU (voice-over): Today, more Republicans expressed openness to naming a special prosecutor to lead an investigation into Russian ties with the Trump campaign, something GOP leaders in the White House have strongly resisted.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I think it's time that we look amount the idea of whether it's an independent commission or a special prosecutor.
RAJU: At a private meeting, House Speaker Paul Ryan urged his party not to leap to judgment as the investigations take shape.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There are some people out there who want to harm the president, but we have an obligation to carry out our oversight regardless of which party is in the White House.
RAJU: And Comey may have a chance to tell his story if he agrees to testify before Congress as early as next week.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: No matter far how -- how we describe it, beyond troubling and concerning, all of the other adjectives that we have used in the past. This is now a factor of 10.
RAJU: Now, Jake, Democrats are also digging in, resisting the naming of a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is named.
And I just got an e-mail from a Senate Democratic leadership aide about Senator Joe Lieberman interviewing, with President Trump saying -- quote -- "There couldn't be a worse time to take the unprecedented step of handing the FBI over to a politician, and that includes Senator Lieberman" -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us, thank you.
Joining me now to talk about all this is Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. He's the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Your committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, tweeted that he is ready to subpoena the Comey memo if it exists.
I assume you support that move. Is there anything else you want the committee to do?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Yes, of course I would support that move. But I would also like for him to subpoena records that he and I requested from the White House back in March. And we were asking for the records with regard to General Flynn. We wanted records concerning his tenure there, his relationship with the Russians, why he was fired.
We wanted all those records. And, sadly, as a result of our request, bipartisan request, the White House gave us absolutely nothing. And so, hopefully, we will be able to get a subpoena at some point to get those records, because we need them.
TAPPER: If the Comey memo is as described by the sources talking to CNN and talking to "The New York Times" and elsewhere, do you think that constitutes obstruction of justice?
CUMMINGS: I think we have to be very careful with obstruction of justice.
It -- I have got to tell you that it's pretty close, if not going over the line. But I think the key here is accumulating as much evidence as possible.
Now, Jake, you have got to understand what's happening. Our president has done something that's very unusual. And I have practiced law for well over 20-some years. I have never seen a situation where you have a person who is being investigated or he has associates being investigated, and they constantly criticizing the people who are doing the investigating and doing things that would seem to be an effort to derail to some degree the investigation.
Most of the time, the normal thing is, you -- a lawyer tells his client, we're going to cooperate and let the justice system roll as it will.
And that would be my advice to the president. We have a justice system. Let it do its job. We don't need the tweets. We don't need any of that. We just need the Justice Department to do its job. I have full confidence in the FBI.
TAPPER: Speaker Ryan earlier today said he wants to hear why Comey didn't act in February when this event allegedly happened. Is that a fair question?
CUMMINGS: That is a fair question, and I'm sure he will an answer for that.
But keep in mind he did something that so many people don't do. Apparently, he created contemporaneous notes. And I would imagine he did that in order to protect himself if things like if it ever became a he say/she say dispute, as we seem to be having right now.
That's not -- now, that part is not unusual. And a lot of times, Jake, in my practice, I have found that these notes never even become the issue because nothing ever happens to cause them to come the issue.
But, clearly, here now, with the president giving one version of a meeting, and Mr. Comey giving another, they may be very, very significant.
And -- but keep in mind, too, that we also have to prove that they were contemporaneous.
CUMMINGS: In other words, you have got to prove that they were made immediately after he had the meeting, and that hopefully they accurately reflect what he said -- what was said.
TAPPER: Let me ask you. After the election, many of your colleagues said that Director Comey had no credibility. Many called for him to resign. So many in the public are probably saying, why do Democrats believe Comey now?
CUMMINGS: Well, let me tell you -- tell you what my position has always been. And I have said that to -- said this to Director Comey in hearing.
I have always said that he's a good man. I just thought he made some bad judgments. And I think a lot of people feel that way, but keep in mind we have got an FBI investigation, we have one, that is ongoing. And, allegedly, the president sits down with Mr. Comey and talks about job tenure, and at the same time talks about loyalty to him.
And then, of course, we have this whole issue of asking whether he could just drop the investigation with regard to General Flynn. I mean, all of that -- those are the kind of things that should never be mixed.
And so we -- again, I think he -- again, it goes back to what I said a few minutes ago. He needs to let the justice system roll. It will -- we have a -- it's not perfect, but it's the best one I have seen.
TAPPER: Congressman Elijah Cummings, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
TAPPER: He was one of the most divisive and controversial Trump supporters on the campaign trail, calling the Black Lives Matter group terrorists, but now Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is heading to the Department of Homeland Security.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.
Let's jump right in with my panel.
Margaret, I'm going to start with you. We have some breaking news.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is taking an assistant secretary position at the Department of Homeland Security in the Office of Partnerships and Programs.
I want to read you just a couple of his tweets that I have noticed over the years.
One: "Before long, Black Lies Matter will join forces with ISIS to bring down our legal constituted republic. You heard it first here."
And then here's another one: "It's incredible that our institutions of government, White House, Congress, Department of Justice, big media, are corrupt, and all we do is bitch. Pitchforks and torches time."
Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator from California, calls his appointment a disgrace.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I actually worked in the Department of Homeland Security with people who took this job and the post incredibly seriously.
And this is -- the man also argued for suspending habeas corpus on his radio show. He is representative of a kind of government that believes in reality TV and in entertaining, and not the responsibility of governing.
This is concerning. It's also concerning, the process for vetting any of these appointees in the Trump administration. If you have a single word that has been linked to a negative comment of President Trump, you have no chance of serving in a responsible position of government.
And yet you can say outlandish and ridiculous things like this man. And this is -- you look at some of the people who we actually really respect that are in the Trump White House, right, the H.R. McMasters, the General Mattises, some of the people who you know are really responsible, and we're grateful that they're there.
And you worry what would happen if they decide this is too much, because you end up getting a lot of people like this guy.
TAPPER: And, Jeffrey, we -- I should just point out that this is -- Sheriff Clarke announced this on a radio show, but the Department of Homeland Security has not made an official announcement yet, I should just say.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And Sheriff Clarke's -- he has very limited responsibilities in Milwaukee. But one of them is to run the jail.
And there are very serious questions about how people are treated in that jail. So it's not just the kind of things he said. His record is highly controversial, including in Milwaukee. So, even though it's only an assistant secretary job, if he's nominated, you can be sure there will be confirmation fireworks.
TAPPER: Diane, I want to bring you in.
One of the things that you do is talk to Trump supporters and Hillary supporters to find out how things are playing with them. This last week has been -- I don't know if it's been a tipping point, but certainly an unusual week for President Trump, in terms of firing the FBI director and everything that came after that, and all the other stories, sharing classified information with the Russians.
DIANE HESSAN, THE BOSTON GLOBE COLUMNIST: It was a long list.
TAPPER: And then, of course, this Comey Memo. How are Trump supporters taking this, or are they just ride or die?
HESSAN: Yes. well, you know, there's two version of Trump supporters. One is the core base. The most important thing to know about those people is this is all white noise at this point. Most Trump supporters tell me they are not watching, they are not reading, they are not engaging with this. And I think we've got to look at why. I mean, for many of those people, they voted for Trump because the thought of having Hillary Clinton as President was unimaginable to them. You know, they saw her as corrupt. So they're looking at a lot of parallels now, and just like all of us can come up with a list of the top ten things that have happened in the past 24 hours, they have a long list of things that they believe Hillary Clinton did which are either not reported or reported but not investigated or investigated but not really prosecuted. And so they look at all that and it's on that list, Benghazi and the Clinton foundation and Loretta talking to Bill and Huma's laptop and a private e-mail server and I can go on and on. But they see a lot of parallels. So when McMaster says, well, Trump may not have known that what he was telling the Russians was classified, they call that a Hillary defense. So the issue for them is it's just not fair because people are bashing their President who they admire and voted for and there's not equal treatment and has never been equal treatment on the other side or at least that's their perspective. So they say they have pretty much tuned out.
TAPPER: Interesting. Jeff, I want to ask you about the President interviewing four candidates for FBI Director today including former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, Frank Keating, the former Governor of Oklahoma, Robert McFeely, former Head of the Cyber Division at Bureau and Acting Director, Director Andrew McCabe. What kind of candidate do you think President Trump should go with?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, traditionally there - this has been a job very much divorced from politics. I mean, you've had several judges, Louis Freeh was a judge, William Sessions was a judge and that model I think what was pretty successful. None of these folks are judges, and a couple of them, Frank Keating, was a former republican politician. I think, you know, independent of whom is selected, democrats are very likely to hold this person hostage for demands relating to this investigation and a select committee, an independent special prosecutor in the justice department. So independent of whoever is picked, this is going to be a symbol of the whole scandal to democrats.
TAPPER: Margaret are, I want to ask you. Last night we had a Town Hall with John Kasich and Bernie Sanders. At one point I asked John Kasich about Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, his reaction to all the fallout from everything President Trump has done in the last week. Take a listen to John Kasich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Frankly I think he should - he should be more aggressive. I think he should speak out more and hopefully, he will. I believe this is not a time for republicans to hide, and I also don't think it's a time for democrats to exploit.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm not going to micromanage or armchair quarterback investigations, but the point is this. We can't deal with speculation and innuendo, and there's clearly a lot of politics being played.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So John Kasich is obviously - wants republicans to be taking a tougher line on the accusations and allegations we're hearing from frankly a fellow republican, James Comey. What do you think?
MARGARET HOOVER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Look, John Kasich now wants that. He's a governor, he didn't win in the primary and he may be mounting what could be an insurgency on the right for a sitting President in the primary. Who knows -
TAPPER: I think he won Ohio. Just for the record, I think he won his own home state of Ohio.
HOOVER: Sure, he did. But John Kasich was also in Congress for many, many years and he understands that what Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are facing now is a once in a generation opportunity for legislative advancement against the backdrop of an incredibly dysfunctional executive and that's a tragic, right? So you have to at least have some sympathy for how leadership in the House of representatives is trying to navigate an incredibly fraught set of circumstances. Very easy to sit on the outside and say Paul Ryan should have the moral authority to stand up to the President but you also have to understand, Paul Ryan believes in a set of principles instead of policies that he's desperately trying to get done despite the President.
TOOBIN: Jake, I think there should be a tax on all politicians who say this is not a political issue. You know this is not about democrats and republicans. They all say it all the time and they're always wrong, whether it's health care, whether it's this investigation. You know what, Congress is a political body, everything is viewed through that prison. And you know, we ought to just deal with that.
[16:50:15] TAPPER: I want to ask you - we only about 45 seconds left but democrats, Hillary voters, what do they want, do they want impeachment? Are they after blood?
HESSAN: You know, the Hillary voters are just obsessed with conspiracy theories but you know, there's this group in the middle that basically I would characterize as about 45 percent of the voters I'm talking to every week. They are drained, and what they are saying is, you know, they are worried about two things. One is, they're worried about the distraction. So there's so much going on in the world and the question is, is all of this in the way of the government's basic ability to function? And the second thing is they don't know where to go, so they are unhappy with Trump. They are repulsed by his addiction to chaos, but they're looking for fresh ideas from fresh faces rather than resistance.
TAPPER: All right. Great panel. Thanks one and all. Jeffrey, Margaret, and Diane, appreciate it.
In just days President Trump will head overseas to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but will Israel still be willing to trust the United States with its intelligence after these revelations as Israel was one of the source of classified intelligence that the President shared with the Russia. We'll go to Jerusalem with that story next.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "WORLD LEAD" now. President Trump is set to embark Friday on his first overseas trip as President on his very busy itinerary visit to Israel whose intelligence President Trump revealed to Russians last week according to U.S. and diplomatic officials. While we continue to see fallout from that hearing in the United States, the Israeli government is downplaying the impact of President Trump's divulgence. Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem covering this for us. And Oren, the Israeli Defense Minister called the U.S., Israel's quote "greatest ally" in a tweet this morning. But intelligence officials are telling you that there could actually be damage done here. Tell us more.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Two very different spins on what happened here on this alleged leak of classified information and possibly the revealing of a secret source. Israeli politicians are trying to essentially play cool in this case saying there's no problem. Neither commenting nor confirming in any way the revelation which saying that the depth of the relationship between American and Israeli intelligence officials is so broad that there's no risk of any damage here and the relationship will only be strengthened when Trump comes to visit. But former Israeli intelligence officials including the head of the Mossad which is essentially Israel's CIA, Israel's spy agency, say there could be very real damage here, especially if a secret source was leaked to the Russians. This is Danny Yatom, the former head of Mossad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANNY YATOM, MOSSAD FORMER HEAD: If we will assess that our sources of intelligence are in harm, are in danger due to the way it is handled, it will be handled by the United States, then we will have to keep the information, the very sensitive information close to our chests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMANN: That's an incredibly big statement from someone who knows exactly how close the relationship is between the American and the Israeli intelligence community. But that speaks to what he feels is the damage that could be done here. Some other former intelligence officials say the damage may not be that bad but Israel won't really know until they understand the full amount and the full extent of the revelation to the Russians. Jake.
TAPPER: And Oren, another issue that might have some sort of role in the coverage of President Trump's visit. Administration officials are now telling CNN that President Trump will not, at least not now, make the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
LIEBERMANN: And that speculation was growing here that Trump would indeed not move the embassy. It was one of his biggest campaign promises and one of the biggest promises that he almost immediately walked back after his inauguration. It seems Trump realized that he can't - he can't move the embassy and try to make a peace process or start a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. In that case, he went for the peace process. That will certainly disappoint some of Trump's supporters in Israel who were expected him to follow through on that promise. Netanyahu just made one of his biggest statements saying that moving the embassy will, in fact, help the peace process. Jake, it looks like Trump didn't buy that line.
TAPPER: Yes, neither did many Arab leaders who warned and cautioned the White House not to move embassy. Oren Liebermann, thanks so much.
In our "NATIONAL LEAD", a bloody brawl broke out outside the Turkish Ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. yesterday just down the street from the White House. What we're about to show you might be too graphic for some viewers. Police say this appears to be a, quote, "brutal attack on peaceful demonstrators by Turks." This violent altercation happened after two dozen protesters showed up to the Turkish Embassy following President Trump's meeting with Turkish President Erdogan. Lawmakers officials are telling CNN, it appears President Erdogan's security staff and Turkish Embassy officials were involved in the attacks on the protesters. At least nine people ended up in the hospital. This is not the first time that Erdogan's security detail has been accused of attacking demonstrators. Last year, when the Turkish President visited D.C., a skirmish involving demonstrators broke out. President Erdogan's security team was accused of accosting journalists. In response, the U.S. State Department released a statement in this attack saying it is, quote, "concerned by the violent incidents involving protesters and the Turkish security personnel." The Turkish embassy did not respond to CNN's request for comment. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on twitter @jaketapper, we also have a facebook page. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He is in the "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening right now, breaking news, Comey Memos request.