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House GOP Leaders Speak Amid Comey Memo Fallout; Dems Call for Immediate Investigation on Comey Memo; Trump Arrives for Speech Amid Comey Memo Fallout. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 17, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Poppy Harlow on assignment this morning.
Any moment now, a crucial moment in the presidency of Donald J. Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan will speak in just minutes on Capitol Hill. We have not heard from the speaker directly since word last night that President Trump asked the former FBI director James Comey to back off his investigation into Michael Flynn.
What will the speaker say about this? What will the speaker say about calls from within his own party for a special prosecutor or perhaps public hearings that include James Comey in the coming days and weeks? This is a crucial moment coming from the House Speaker.
Again, in minutes, also minutes from now, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, he is flying to Connecticut where he will deliver the commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy. You're looking at live pictures from Groton, Connecticut where that speech will happen. He did not speak to reporters on his way to Air Force One. We have not heard from the president out loud or even on Twitter on this subject now for more than 18 hours. That's the longest he's gone without tweeting in more than a month.
It is very possible as we speak right now that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is briefing on Air Force One. When the plane lands, we will get that audio, if that briefing did happen. That is a crucial moment.
Again, this comes as both Democrats and Republicans are calling for a special prosecutor and you're starting to hear people in Congress use the I-word either directly or vague references to the past. Listen to this.
REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-TX), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: When people have made it clear -
BERMAN: In Congress right now, there is the House Ways and Means chair Kevin Brady. Let's listen.
BRADY: So, for the first time in 30 years, the House, the White House and the Senate are all now committed to leading on this issue.
We're taking action on pro-growth tax reform now because it's time to end the special interest loopholes. It's time to deliver fairness for all taxpayers. It's time to lower taxes for all Americans on every income level. It's time to cut the sky-high tax rate on businesses so that American headquarters and American jobs no longer move overseas for a better deal.
It's time to end the death tax. It's time to level the playing field for American manufacturers and make America more competitive. It's time for tax reform that creates over a million new jobs and helps Americans keep more of their hard-earned money.
So it's time for Washington lead on this issue now, and that's what we are doing. Tomorrow, Ways and Means Republicans will hold a major hearing on tax reform related to growth of jobs and wages and the U.S. economy, and we encourage all Americans to tune in.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good morning.
First, I want to thank Chairman Brady and the members over at the Ways and Means Committee. Thank you very much, Kevin.
This hearing will be an opportunity to examine how pro-growth tax reform will help us create jobs and grow our economy. This is something I heard about last week as I toured businesses in the 1st District in Wisconsin, talking to small business leaders. Everywhere I went, they talked about how our tax code is a source of constant frustration and it's clearly time for a change.
For us and for the Trump administration, this means lowering tax rates for hard-working Americans, a simpler tax code so families can fully and finally understand their taxes; slashing business tax rates for businesses can compete on a level playing field; encouraging companies to create jobs and make things here in America rather than overseas; and reining in the Internal Revenue Service so that it actually works for the taxpayer, not the other way around.
This is how we create jobs and reach our economic potential as a country. So we're looking forward to this hearing tomorrow. We're looking forward to moving forward on this legislation. Remember, it's been 31 years since we last reformed the tax code. That was the year I got my driver's license. The opportunities like this come around only once in a generation.
So if we're serious about letting Americans keep more of their paychecks; if we're serious about bringing jobs back home, bringing manufacturing back home, then we have got to reform this tax system and seize this moment.
Thank you. REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back.
As you heard from Chairman Brady and from the speaker, the committees continue to work about creating jobs in America and growth for all Americans on Ways and Means.
Also on the floor this week, we have other bills. John F. Kennedy as president proclaimed this week to be National Police Officers Week. And we all owe a great deal of debt to all of our officers who work every single day not knowing whether they'll come back or not.
[10:05:05] We share in the rewards from safe streets, neighborhoods, the lives that we live freely. And they've become role models for our children and for others.
But in 2016, 118 police officers died in the line of duty. That's 118 fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and friends. And we want to thank them for their service and for their sacrifice. So this week on the floor, we'll have two major bills: the Probation Officer Protection Act, by Dave Reichert, former sheriff; and Thin Blue Line Act, by Vern Buchanan.
We will also want to make sure our law enforcement have all the tools to be able to work in a modern society, as well. So last night, we had passed the Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act to help train law enforcement on cyber attacks. More than 300,000 machines just recently in 150 countries were attacked.
Also, if you watch what we'll have on the floor today, Will Hurd's -- the I.T. modernizing government. We spend $80 billion a year on I.T. in government; 80 percent of that is legacy programs. If we modernize government, we will create a more efficient, effective and accountable government for all Americans. Those are just some of the items that you'll see pass the floor this week.
I yield back.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: I applaud Chairman Brady and his effort to start the process of tax reform so we can actually lower rates for families to put more money back in the pockets of hardworking families who know that our taxes are too high already and want to get our economy moving again and actually get growth and bring those companies that have left America back to our country so we can grow our -- our economy here.
I think it's important that, this week, we are recognizing police officers' week. You know, in Louisiana last week, we lost 10 officers in the line of duty, and three of those were officers who were killed in Baton Rouge on one day in July of last year.
And one officer who is still battling from that -- from that tragic day is East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy Nick Tullier. I went and visited with Nick Tullier and his family last year, as he was battling in the hospital, and he still battles to this day. It's a really tough battle. But he's a tough man and he's got a tough family. And so Nick remains in our prayers, just like all those other officers who died in the line of duty, standing up and protecting our communities. So I think it's important that we all remember those police officers this week as we pay special tribute to them and their families.
One other person who we are standing up for this week joined with our Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other members in introducing a bipartisan bill called the Steve Gleason Act. This is a legislation that we passed two years ago when Medicare, back in 2014, made changes that actually took speech-generating devices away from people who were battling Lou Gehrig's disease and other diseases that are debilitating.
And so we actually needed an act of Congress. We tried to work with the administration in 2014, and they wouldn't reverse that bad policy, so we passed a law in 2015 so that nobody can be denied their voice if they're battling a disease like ALS. And yet that law is set to expire next year, so we're not going to sit back and wait.
And yesterday I joined with Steve Gleason in New Orleans and holding a press conference to highlight this even more. And I know Chair -- Chairwoman McMorris Rodgers has done the same thing, in highlighting the fact that we're not going to let this law expire. We're actually going to stand up for people with ALS.
Steve Gleason is a true inspiration to the people of New Orleans and all around the country. His motto is "no white flags," and what that means is you never give up, and no matter what your -- what your life's limitations might be, you don't let it hold you back from achieving your full potential. And with the Steve Gleason Act renewed permanently, everybody will have a voice, even those who are battling debilitating diseases.
REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: All right, thanks Steve.
Well, as the -- as the speaker said, we have a once-in-a- generation opportunity to enact meaningful tax reform. You think about what that means to every person in this country, it's an issue on which we've been working on for months. We've been talking about it for years, and this is our opportunity to get it done.
We have the administration, we have the House, we have the Senate and a president that knows that this is a priority and wants to move it this year. Americans need tax reform. Our system is way too complicated. Something is wrong when hard work is punished in our country. That is not the American way.
[10:10:02] It's time -- you think about all the time -- we just finished -- Tax Day was on April 15th, and you think about all the time that Americans spend filling out their taxes. And that is precious time that they could be spending with their families, or working on growing their business. That's what we want them to be focused on.
American people have been calling for this reform. This week, we will have a major hearing on tax reform. I look forward to getting it out of the House, getting it enacted, because this is the way that we grow our economy, create jobs, spur innovation.
I also wanted to say thanks to the -- the men and women who serve us in local law enforcement, day in and day out, around this capital and all around this country. And as was mentioned, this is Police Week. And it's important that we take some time to thank them, and to reflect on those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
For -- for me, representing eastern Washington, it's Deputy Sheriff Michael Estes, who gave his life. But we will not ever forget him and his service.
RYAN: Questions? Yeah?
QUESTION: Speaker Ryan, thank you. Do you believe that President Trump may have been trying to influence or intimidate former FBI Director James Comey? And (ph) according to this memo, he urged him not to follow through...
RYAN: Yeah, well...
QUESTION: ... with the investigation of Michael Flynn.
And secondly, do you still have the same levels of confidence in President Trump that you had on inauguration day?
RYAN: Look, there's been a lot of reporting lately, I think, that requires close examination. Let me tell you what I told our members just this morning. We need the facts.
It is obvious there -- 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. And that means, before rushing to judgment, we get all the pertinent information.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has appropriately requested this memo. And I'm sure we're going to want to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes -- why didn't he take action at the time?
So, there are a lot of unanswered questions. What I told our members is now is the time to gather all the pertinent information. Our job is to be responsible, sober, and focus only on gathering the facts. That is what Congress does in conducting oversight of the Executive Branch.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) want to see Comey testify in an open hearing?
RYAN: I -- I will leave it to the -- to the -- to the committees that are doing these investigations. Just remember, there's an investigation occurring at the FBI, there's an investigation in the House, and there's an investigation in the Senate.
So, we got three investigations going on. I'm not going to micromanage or -- 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. Our job is to get the facts and to be sober about doing that.
QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, what about the political impact? Your members are on the ballot again in two years. Do you worry about some of the drip, drip, drip or -- or some of these controversies having an impact on Republicans in the House?
RYAN: I don't worry about things that are outside of my control. I worry about things that are within our control, and that is whether or not we do what we were elected to do, which is to solve peoples' problems.
That's the other thing I think I'd like to make. I think people in America turn on the TV and they think this is all that's happening. This is all we're doing and all we're discussing.
That's just not the case. I want the American people to know that we're busy, hard at work fixing their problems.
You just heard from the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee talking about moving down the path of getting comprehensive tax reform done because we know that's really important to unlocking economic growth and competitiveness for American companies.
The point I want to make here is -- you've heard me say this before -- we're going to walk and chew gum at the same time. We're going to keep doing our jobs. We're going to keep passing our bills.
We're going to keep advancing our reforms that we were elected to advance while we do all these other things that are within our responsibility. And that's what we'll be judged in 2018.
RYAN: Did we make peoples' lives better? Did we solve problems? Did we fix the problems that people are confronting in their daily lives?
That, to me, is what matters most. And that is how we will be judged.
QUESTION: Do you worry about -- given your ambitious agenda, have you considered or even identified what the point would be where the current trajectory of the White House is simply unsustainable to trying to actually get things done?
RYAN: Look, the last thing I'm going to do is prejudge anything. I'm a person who wants to get the facts. That is our job: to be sober, to be dispassionate, and to get the facts, and to do our jobs and -- and follow the facts wherever they may lead.
Craig, did you have one? I just want to give it to the Wisconsin guy.
Did you get...
QUESTION: I mean, you've been -- you've been criticized and even lampooned for not exercising more independence from this president. How do you respond to that (inaudible)?
RYAN: We have two investigations in Congress going on right now, with all things being Russia. We have another committee, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, just now requesting these documents. So, there is plenty of oversight that is being done.
What we don't do is try to meet the facts within some 24-hour news cycle. What we do is dispassionately do our jobs and make sure that the investigations follow the facts wherever they may lead. And that obviously takes some time.
[10:15:03] I'll just say one more thing. There is an FBI investigation going on right now with all things related to Russia, done by the career professionals at the FBI who are going to continue to be career professionals. And the acting director just said the other day that no one has tried to impede that investigation.
So a lot of work is being done. That's the proper role of the legislative branch in conducting oversight of the executive branch. And we're not going to be trying to play to the crowd or try to meet timelines. We're going to do it the right way and follow the facts wherever they may lead.
[10:15:39] BERMAN: All right. House Speaker Paul Ryan, finishing up a news conference on Capitol Hill. Some very interesting comments from the House Speaker who at least for now seems to be backing up the White House. Hear me out here. He said that he wants to follow the facts wherever they take him.
He knows that there are Congressional investigations into Russia in general. But he said -- he's not going to prejudge and he added that there are some people who want to hurt the President of the United States and he also added why did James Comey, the FBI director, not come forward with the information apparently in this memo, saying that the president tried to get him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. If he was so concerned when wrote it. Those are points that Republicans close to the White House have been saying since last night.
I'm joined by Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill. You know, Paul Ryan knew this was coming, Phil, very interesting to hear from him.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it and very interesting that he was essentially reading from a prepared statement when it came to his response to the questions about the FBI disclosures or the disclosure of the Comey memo. And basically, John, what he said is exactly what I've been told was repeated in the private conference hearing this morning, two members. They want to address this in a calm way. The want to address this in a sober way and they want to wait for -- as the speaker said himself -- the facts. They don't want to go off news reports. They don't want to go off anything that might be politicized here.
And that's what you heard from members coming out of the conference meeting. That's what you heard the speaker say again today. I think, once again, he has said very clearly, he does not believe it's time for an independent panel. He does not believe it's time for a special prosecutor. And as he was walking out, you may have heard somebody asked, does he still have confidence in the president and he paused. And he said yes, I do.
So I think, the interesting element here is, Speaker Ryan is not diverging in any way from where he's been in the past, except on one thing, he is fully supportive of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committees' request for any and all documents, memoranda, recording from conversations between FBI director Comey and President Trump.
But other than that, the speaker made very clear, he wants the congressional committees to continue to do their work. And John, he wants the FBI to continue to do its work.
BERMAN: The one except, you know Phil, is very notable. The House Oversight Committee has requested the memos that apparently the former FBI director wrote more than one, we understand, not just a memo where he charges that the president - or alleges that the president asked him to back off the investigation of Michael Flynn.
If they get that memo, it means we will likely see it. If they get the other memos, we will likely see them and this could mean that we see testimony from James Comey, public testimony answering questions about these memos. So, the House Speaker is opening the door here to something that could be very problematic for this White House.
Phil Mattingly, I lost Phil. He's in that room right now with the House Speaker Paul Ryan where he just spoke moments ago.
Let me bring in Alice Stewart, a CNN political commentator, former communications director for Ted Cruz. I'm also joined by a number of other people. Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun- Times, Maria Cardona, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist and Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
Lynn, I'm not sure whether you heard my question to Phil Mattingly. But Paul Ryan, while he is still towing the Republican line, does note that he wants these various investigations to go forward, including the House Oversight investigation, which has now called for the James Comey memos. That is a problematic for the White House potentially.
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I think what Ryan did, was very, very artful. As you noted, John, -- he didn't add pile on to the president. But most important, I took his remarks to be encouraging, the House committee to do a vigorous investigation and to do their job and to do the collection of memos, which right now that's how we will get to the bottom of it in getting the facts, get the material, and they have subpoena power to do that. So, I thought by Ryan that walking away and backing up the need for an investigation added a lot of importance to the seriousness of what's going on, because after all, impeachment proceedings start in the House.
BERMAN: You know, Alice Stewart to you, we have not heard from the President of the United States himself since this latest news broke last night. He hasn't even gone on Twitter. Do Republicans need to hear from him? Do they need some explanation for what went on?
[10:20:00] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Those that I have spoken with say yes, it would be helpful if they did hear more details from the president and the administration. Look, one thing is abundantly clear they have denied the content of the conversations with Comey. They say that the details of the Comey memo are not an accurate reflection of the conversation that they had.
So, what they want is they want to see the memo. They want to hear from Comey. They want to hear more from the president. And I do agree with Paul Ryan, that we do need a responsible, sober collection of the facts here, before we can jump to any conclusions.
But what I think is very telling though and problematic for the White House, is when you have a news outlet, like "The Wall Street Journal" which has been sympathetic and supportive of the president, coming out with an op-ed this morning or a piece on the opinion page talking about how this presidency is in trouble due to the crisis in confidence. And saying that loose lips sink presidencies and the Russia Intel story is a problem for this administration.
So, that's where we need more accounting and more information from the White House to try and stop some of these problems that we're hearing from people that have normally been supportive of the president. And I think it would be the more information we get from the president and the administration on this would be helpful.
BERMAN: But look, Stephen Moore who is an economic advisor to the Trump campaign just told me he thinks that these scandals are bad for the economy. You know, so it's not just hurting the White House, it's hurting the economy.
You know, Maria Cardona to you, we did just hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. Yes, he did question why FBI director James Comey didn't come forward sooner but he did say, he wants the various committees in Congress to investigate this. He wants the Oversight Committee to get those memos. He wants people to see them. Is that opening the doors to something that Democrats can be happy with here?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I certainly think that, I hope people saw it the way Lynn saw it, because it does open the door, but I actually thought Paul Ryan fell willfully short of what his responsibility is. I think that his words and his actions right now are incredibly hypocritical as compared to how he acted and what he said during the Hillary Clinton investigation. He talked about not wanting to deal with innuendo and speculation when that's exactly what he did every single time that something new came out in the news about Hillary Clinton investigation.
So, you know, we have to look back and see what these same leaders under similar circumstances, though I would argue that what is going on with the president is much, much worse, much more dangerous to the country. And while a lot of them are starting to come out and say yes, we need to have more information. We need to have a special prosecutor. You know, Adam Kinzinger said that and a lot of other - well not a lot yet but Republicans are starting to peel away from this president because they do see how damaging it is. But if they start looking away or continuing to look away, history is going to look at them as cowards, as political Unix, as ineffective partisans who are complicit in the damage that's being done by this White House.
BERMAN: Well, if they allow these hearings to go forward, if they allow these members to get hold of the memos, if they allow for questioning of James Comey, the facts will come out, Richard Painter, and we should get answers right now to whose version of this story is right. Is it the White House that claims that no, it's not like it's being reported right now, the president didn't pressure James Comey or is it the version we're hearing from James Comey's friends, where James Comey was so concerned that he wrote this memo. The facts will bear themselves out, will they not, Richard?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, when you look at all of the evidence, including but not limited to this memo, there is a quite strong case that the President of the United States engaged in obstruction of justice and sought to interfere with and to end the Flynn investigation, which likely would have led to the testimony by General Flynn that would implicate others in the Russia investigation. This is a very serious situation.
And I think the leadership in the House and the Senate needs to focus on it. I know there's a priority here making sure to get the tax cuts through to the rich people, but this is a very important matter and they need to have hearings in the House and Senate Judiciary Committee and whether there's been abuse of power by the White House. I have never seen anything like this.
And I was in the Bush White House for two and a half years. I have worked with Republican politicians for many decades. I have never seen a situation where the president has engaged in repeated acts of abuse of power. This is just one of the many problems with this White House and Congress just sits there and does nothing, other than they say they're going to have the Russia investigation. It's been going on very, very slowly. And most important, we need a special prosecutor in the Justice Department. And they haven't appointed a special prosecutor and Congress should insist upon it now.
[10:25:05] BERMAN: Well, Democrats, you know, are insisting on it, Republicans which means nothing, because they can assist on it doesn't mean it will happen. More Republicans are calling for it that might make it more likely, although when you have the House leadership saying it won't happen, it doesn't mean it's going to happen.
So, Lynn Sweet, just preview in your crystal ball here, what this all means now -- I think we're not taking into full account what is now inevitable, which is that these memos will be turned over, that there will be hearings and we will likely hear from James Comey testifying in an open setting. You know, he's testified before on things and it's made a little bit of news. This time, you know, I think it's going to blow that out of the water.
SWEET: I agree, so if you want me to crystal ball, here's what I think is going to unfold, near paralysis of the Donald Trump legislative agenda, new life, even renewed vigor of Democrats who now have multiple openings to attack. Democrats on the congressional front and in the White House, all this only feeds more into White House furor.
Short-term crystal ball gazing, oh my gosh, the president is leaving on his first foreign trip on Friday and just think one of his stops is in Jerusalem, where one of the accusations against him now is that the secret information that he leaked to the Russians came from Israelis sources. So, what a welcome mat you're going to get rolled out there, though the Israelis probably are totally capable of bifurcating issues of Mid-East peace and Trump's leak.
Overall though, I think the trajectory is that the seriousness of these inquiries now and the multiple points from approach is that people are going to have to probably start lawyering up. I think Attorney Painter might know about this from being inside the White House because people are going to be called as witnesses. -- So, John, I think that's the seriousness of this.
BERMAN: All right, guys -- And this will continue to play out over the coming days, you know, Lynn Sweet, Alice Stewart, Maria Cardona, Richard Painter, thank you so much.
On your screen right now, you can see Air Force One which just landed in Groton, Connecticut. The President of the United States is on that plane. He will deliver the commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy very shortly. Equally as important, now that the plane has landed, we will find out if the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke to reporters and briefed them on the way to Connecticut and we will get a recording of that briefing, much more coming up.