Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Report: Comey Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Probe; Lieberman Tells CNN FBI Chief Interview Unexpected; Dozens Arrested in Raids On MS-13 Gang. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 17, 2017 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:30:00] ERIC LICHTBLAU, REPORTER COVERING COMEY FOR A DECADE: To his ability to serve as a prosecutor and ultimately FBI director. He was involved not by chance really in some historic moments over the last 15 years. The difference now is you've got to remember his reputation has really taken a hit, at least in the eyes of some Americans and his handling of that. So, I think these recent memos since Trump's election were as much to protect himself realizing that he was a little vulnerable, much more vulnerable than he was for years where he was a hero and no marks on his record and he wanted to protect himself.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Knowing him, do you think that at a point, as a private citizen, he will feel compelled to speak and break his silence?

LICHTBLAU: My sense from talking to people is that he's eager to talk and wants that to be in public, not a closed-door committee hearing, you know, as the intelligence committee sometimes like to do. He is very good in -- on that stage in the spotlight. You know, a towering figure, 6'8", as we always note, with a really commanding and somewhat charismatic persona. He does well on that stage. And I think he's eager to get there.

BALDWIN: Finally, Eric, I was reading your back and forth with Chris Cillizza and his questions to you and he was asking you on the three separate occasions, the questions on back and forth between Comey and the President and whether or not the President was under investigation. You said that that was close to zero, that Comey ever would have promised the President that. Why?

LICHTBLAU: Boy, it's hard to imagine that, given as precarious a situation as the FBI was in, they had opened, remember, a counterintelligence investigation last July, we now know, into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, that either voluntarily or even under duress Comey would have told the President, you are not under an investigation while at the same time we know there are at least a handful of people around the Trump campaign who have been under investigation. That would be, you know, against every protocol that is known, although Comey's critics have pointed out that he broke protocols in the Hillary Clinton investigation. Almost no chance but the way this story has been going, I don't think we rule out anything as impossible.

BALDWIN: Eric Lichtblau, thank you so much. We have new details about who is being interviewed to become the next

FBI director. Among the candidates, Senator Joe Lieberman who spoke with CNN. Jeff Zeleny is at the white house for us right now. Jeff Zeleny, what does Senator Lieberman say about this interview with the President?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is sort of coming out of left field. The President is urgently searching for an FBI director. The former senator is telling Jay Shaylor that it was not sought after or expected. He got the request yesterday afternoon. He said that he's enjoying private life and he reiterated that this was unexpected. This does sort of speak to something that the white house is trying to, a, fill this position as quickly as they can and they are trying to look for someone, at least one school of thought here is -- and there's always multiple schools of thought in this white house. One school of thought is to pick someone that could be confirmed somewhat easily, who would not be seen as an elder statesman and not above reproach.

[15:35:00] Senator Lieberman has long-standing relationships with senators that he served with. It might work in that respect. In another respect, another school of thought is that a law enforcement judge, someone in the FBI, like acting director Andrew McCabe, might be a better fit. Brooke, it's certainly interesting that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is saying that the President himself will interview Joe Lieberman. He's viewed as a finalist in the eyes of the white house. Although, even though he's not yet been interviewed by the justice department, as far as we know. So, you get the sense that there trying to get this done urgently but, also, it underscores how this entire firing was not thought out initially because they didn't have a replace in the in place. You can hear the helicopters behind me, Brooke. The President will be back here shortly and get to work on these interviews.

BALDWIN: If you've been hearing from marine one, I want to ask you about the President's silence. He hasn't tweeted in the last 23 hours which is a record in the last month. What do you make of his silence?

ZELENY: There's a sense that this is a different moment for this white house, that the tone and tenor of this rising controversy has reached almost to scandal proportions, at least in the eyes of some Republicans on Capitol Hill. You're seeing cracks among house member who have to run again next year. Senators have said that this message has been delivered again and again to the white house to the President. It's one of the reasons he's not been tweeting. But Brooke, I think if past is prologue, we'll see if he can stay off of it. But it is unusual that we're almost on a full 24 hours and no tweets.

BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny, thank you at the white house this afternoon.

Coming up next, we talk to CNN's David Gergen who has advised four Presidents who says we have officially entered impeachment territory. So, other legal scholars say not so fast. We'll talk about that when we come back.

[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: So, one of the key questions today being mulled in Washington is this. If President Trump did in fact insinuate to James Comey to end an investigation into his now fired national security adviser, does that constitute obstruction of justice? And if so, could it be grounds of impeachment? On Capitol Hill, for example, according to CNN's latest count, 19 lawmakers have discussed impeachment but only one has officially requested leveling the charge. Here is Congressman Al Greene of Texas speaking on the house floor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GREENE, CONGRESSMAN, TEXAS: I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the President of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now to discuss, a man who has served four U.S. Presidents, including both Clinton and Nixon, senior political analyst David Gergen. Also with us, attorney Jordan with the American Center for Law and justice. Great to have both of you on. David Gergen, I mean, listen, we all watched you last night. You were reacting with Anderson and you said, quote, I think we're in impeachment territory. I know you've had some time to think about it now. Here we are a day later. Do you still believe we're in that territory?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER ADVISER TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN, CLINTON: Brooke, yes, I do. We need to be very clear that we don't have evidence -- hard evidence against the President. He deserves a fair hearing. That's what these hearings are about but the underlying question is one of, was their obstruction of justice? We don't know that yet. It's way too early to say that. When you start asking the question, it's worth remembering that the two Presidents who have faced such inquiries of the past, the white house has been prepared to impeach him on obstruction of justice and resigned before that took place, and in the Bill Clinton case, they impeached him and one of the charges was obstruction of justice and many were serving on -- during the Clinton and/or -- at least 100 have voted on this question in the past and I think it's way too early to say one way or the other but I think it's not too early to say we are dealing with very serious matters.

They go to the heart of the presidency. And it's one of the reasons there is so much fear in Washington now about where all of this is going and whether, in fact, among Republicans it's going to impair their capacity to pass the rest of the legislative agenda, that they really want to pass.

[15:45:00] BALDWIN: Jordan, how do you see it?

JORDAN SEKULOW, ATTORNEY, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Brooke, I was having audio issues with David. But if we take this at

its word, if the memo is correct, which no one has seen, we don't know the context of the wording that was shared with the reporters of "The New York Times," but if we take it at its word, there's no obstruction of justice there. Politically, again, impeachment is not going to happen with the make-up of the house and Senate. Republicans are not there. And I think Jim Comey is not a trustworthy source. It's one man's word against another and Jim Comey, the last time he was FBI director and testified before Congress, lied to Congress and had to have his testimony corrected because of what he said about Hillary and Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin.

BALDWIN: Not a trustworthy source. David Gergen, would you disagree with that?

GERGEN: Yes, I would disagree with it. I think it's a pretty partisan response, frankly. I agree on its face it's not clear yet. But if, in fact, it turns out to be true, if the President has tapes and verifies what James Comey is saying and you combine that with the fact that in January, the President allegedly demanded Comey's loyalty and then just a few days ago when Comey turned out not to be his boy, not to be running the investigation, the President wanted, that he asked him to run, the President fired him. So, you know, if you add all of that up and it begins to sound like and there are many constitutional scholars who will disagree with Jordan on this, I think you'll find that there's a division among legal minds but a lot of them who believe that would come to a case of obstruction. Again, I think we have to see it --

There's two scholars in "The New York Times" today who say the evidence is mounting up, that it comes down and they lean on the side of much more likely obstruction of justice than some thing we can just dismiss. Now, on the question of Comey's voracity, the fact that he misstated something and then tried to correct the record, as he did misstate it, does not suggest a man who is dishonest. If anything, he is --

SEKULOW: He also botched the entire election. Democrats have been blaming him for botching an entire election.

GERGEN: That's not the issue here, my friend.

SEKULOW: He hasn't been a solid actor. You can be honest about that. Jim Comey has been the most politicized FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover.

GERGEN: Your candidate praised him repeatedly during the campaign. So, let's be clear about that fact. One other thing that's important here --

SEKULOW: So, everything switches, Democrats can switch around when they don't like the candidate anymore. Now Jim Comey should be fired and we should trust him.

GERGEN: Can I just finish? I'd be happy to give the floor to you then.

SEKULOW: Yep.

GERGEN: It's hard to remember that Jim Comey took these notes about things that -- conversations he found disturbing. He wrote them down quickly and put them in a file. And people were instructed not to go forward with this as long as he was the FBI director but he was trying to maintain a record and other additional attorneys will tell you that it's evidence if the case were to go to trial, they would be admissible evidence. Are they dispositive? Let's wait and see what the evidence leads. There may be other memos or other conversations.

SEKULOW: It's always going to be he said versus he said there.

BALDWIN: We're going to leave it. We don't know that. They've got to investigate and get the facts. Jordan and David, we have to go. Appreciate both of you and your voices. We need the facts and we need to dig.

Next, breaking news now in Los Angeles as the Trump administration follows through on a promise to crack down on MS-13, the gang, and CNN's cameras were there as 40 raids took place simultaneously today.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Breaking news. Three fugitives are on the run after 40-plus raids targeting high-ranking MS-13 gang members today across Los Angeles. Officials in L.A. say more than half of the 44 people arrested are undocumented immigrants. This gang in particular has been a frequent target of President Trump's.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Freedom includes the right to be free, and I mean totally free from crime and from violence. MS-13 is going to be gone from our streets very soon, believe me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: This gang is considered one of the largest and most dangerous criminal organizations in the nation. Kyung Lah is live in Los Angeles, so tell me what charges are these gang members facing.

[15:55:00] KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the heart of this investigation, Brooke, are federal racketeering charges, but there are also murder charges involved here. We want to be very clear about what separates this particular investigation from some of the others. This is the largest investigation, the largest crackdown of this particular gang ever in Los Angeles, and what we saw today, CNN was given rare access as we watched ATF agents walk up to a target, a suspected MS-13 gang hideout.

They, along when 1,000 other officers, spanned out across the city hitting 50 different locations all simultaneously in the pre-dawn hours. The area that you're seeing right there, that particular spot, we did watch seven people being pulled out of there, and we are now learning that those seven are victims of suspected human smuggling, and, Brooke, despite what you heard from the President, we want to make very clear that this investigation started three years ago, so this was before Trump was in office. 44 defendants in this case, the investigation striking at the core leadership hoping to dismantle the gang for at least some time, Brooke. BALDWIN: What are officers saying to you?

LAH: You know, we actually had some time to speak with some of these officers. We spent some time with the officer who was able to breach one of the doors. Here's what he told us. How does it feel when you get these guys off the street?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK, ATF AGENT: It feels really good. I mean, it's a really good day, and -- and federally they are all going away for a long time. They are not going to be causing trouble for a number of years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: Now the department of justice also echoed that in a press conference today, Brooke, saying because these charges are so serious, because they are federal, these guys may not be back on the street, if ever. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Thank you. Live in Los Angeles for us. Coming up next though, we're going to take you back to Washington. The chaos and breaking news, it's really taking a toll on markets here. Minutes before the closing bell, Dow down 350-plus points. Live at the New York Stock Exchange for the closing bell minutes from now. You're watching CNN.