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Comey: I Was Fired to Change Russia Probe; Trump to Conservatives: 'We're Under Siege'. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 8, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Lies and defamations. Searing testimony by fired of FBI director James Comey, repeatedly accusing the president and his administration of lying and defaming him and the FBI and saying he was fired because of the Russia investigation.
[17:00:28] Now President Trump's lawyer is firing back and calling Comey a liar and a leaker who should be investigated.
Presidential "direction." Comey tells lawmakers he took President Trump's hope to end the investigation into fired national security advisor Michael Flynn as a direction from Mr. Trump.
Special counsel setup. Comey admits that after the president tweeted there might be recording of their conversations, leaked his memo to the news media through a friend in hopes a special counsel would be appointed.
And what's the "matter"? Republicans seize on Comey's claim that former Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch told him to call the probe into Hillary Clinton's e-mail a matter rather than an investigation. Is that what prompted Comey to go public with the results?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
We're following breaking news. Extraordinary testimony by the former FBI director James Comey. Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he accused the Trump administration and the president of lying and of defaming the agency he led until he was fired by President Trump almost a month ago.
Comey told the panel he believes he was dismissed to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted after ignoring what he took as a, quote, "direction" from the president to drop the investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
And in a truly stunning revolution, Comey said he asked a friend to leak his memos about exchanges with the president to the news media after Mr. Trump's threatening tweet, suggesting there might be recordings of their conversations. Comey says he hoped the leak would prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
President Trump's outside counsel responded forcefully to all of that, suggesting Comey himself should be investigated. He said Comey's testimony shows the president was not under investigation, and he never sought to impede the Russia probe.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour including our guests and the judiciary and our correspondence and specialists are also standing by.
But let's dig right into the breaking news. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is here with more of Comey's very gripping testimony. Dana, it was truly a remarkable hearing.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was sure was, Wolf. And James Comey did say today he has no doubt the president fired him as a way to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted. The irony is that, based on Comey's testimony today, the Russia probe changed, all right, but not in the way the president had intended or hoped.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth...
BASH (voice-over): The former FBI director under oath and unvarnished, calling the president who fired him a liar.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.
BASH: Using the "L" word more than once.
COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
BASH: With flare for the dramatic he is known for, James Comey described that fateful February 14 meeting in the Oval Office, when President Trump kicked everyone out but Comey and asked him to lay off the investigation of his former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
COMEY: My impression was something big is about to happen. I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And again, I could be wrong. I'm 56 years old. I've been -- seen a few things. My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't believing, which is why he was lingering. And I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. And so I knew something was about to happen, and I needed to pay very close attention to.
BASH: And though Comey testified that the president did not explicitly order him to lay off Flynn, that's exactly how he took it.
COMEY: I took it as a direction. It is the president of the United States with me alone, saying, "I hope this." I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that, but that's the way I took it.
BASH: He came under scrutiny from lawmakers for not pushing back on the president in the moment.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Why didn't you stop and say, "Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you"?
[17:05:00] COMEY: It's a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was stunned and didn't have the presence of mind. And I don't know. You know, I don't want to make it sound like I'm Captain Courageous. I don't know whether, even if I had the presence of mind, I would have said to the president, "Sir, that's wrong." I don't know whether I would have.
BASH: After he fired Comey last month, the president tweeted that Comey "better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
COMEY: Look, I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
BASH: Stunningly, Comey revealed that Trump's tweet prompted him to strategically deliver contents of real-time memos he wrote about his conversations with Trump to the press.
COMEY: I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn't dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation; there might be a tape. And my judgement was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to because I thought that may prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Comey...
BASH: That Comey, now a private citizen, deliberately used the press to force the appointment of a special counsel is a stark illustration of how seasoned he is in the ways of Washington.
What was not standard Washington behavior, argued Comey, was a president asking an FBI director for what he took as a loyalty pledge.
COMEY: And I could be wrong, but my common sense told me what's going on here is he's looking to get something in exchange for granting my request to stay in the job.
BASH: Throughout his nearly three-hour testimony, Comey revealed several nuggets about the FBI criminal probe, now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller. Like this about Flynn.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: You sense that the president was trying to obstruct justice or just seek for a way for Mike Flynn to save face, given that he had already been fired?
COMEY: General Flynn, at that point in time, was in legal jeopardy. There was an open FBI criminal investigation of his statements in connection with the Russian contacts and the contacts themselves.
BASH: And he hinted at information not yet known to the public about Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
COMEY: Our judgement, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
BASH: And though Comey testified that, as FBI director, he did in fact tell the president he was not being investigated, Comey revealed that he handed over his memos about his conversations with Trump to the special counsel, which could mean now the president is being investigated for obstruction of justice.
He also dropped a political bomb about last year's Clinton e-mail investigation and Obama attorney general, Loretta Lynch, which he had come under fire about from Democrats.
COMEY: At one point, the attorney general had directed me not to call it an investigation but instead to call it a matter, which confused me and concerned me.
BASH: And took a not-so-subtle swipe at the president for having to learn he was fired on television.
COMEY: The FBI is and always will be independent. And now, to my former colleagues, if I may, I am so sorry that I didn't get the chance to say good-bye to you properly.
BASH: The fact that Comey handed over his memos to the special counsel and also to his friend at Columbia University so he could read parts of it to the press but not to Congress really rankled some senators. And the intelligence chair and the top Democrat will meet next week with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and getting those memos will certainly be on the agenda -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, this investigation is clearly intensifying. Dana Bash, thanks very, very much.
A rapid response to all of this from the White House and President Trump's new outside counsel, while the president himself is framing it as a battle.
Let's go our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. She has this part of the story for us. Sara, very determined defense coming from the Trump legal team.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, and from the president himself a lot of restraint. We did not see any tweets from him today. He did not respond to questions from reporters about Comey's testimony.
But as for Trump's allies, they seized on the testimony to try to make the case that the president did nothing wrong.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, we're under siege. You understand that. But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump telling an evangelical group today that he will fight on, even when he's under fire. The fight-to- the-finish mentality, Trump's only hint at the spectacle playing out around James Comey's testimony on Capitol Hill.
Instead, the president left to defend in the hands of allies.
MARC KASOWITZ, OUTSIDE COUNSEL FOR TRUMP: Mr. Comey has finally confirmed publicly what he repeatedly told President Trump privately. That is that the president was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference.
[17:10:10] MURRAY: The president's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, seizing on Comey's comments that the president isn't under investigation and insisting that Trump never tried to obstruct an investigation or pressure the former FBI director.
KASOWITZ: The president feels completely vindicated.
MURRAY: Kasowitz attempting to turn the tables on the fired FBI director for revealing he asked a friend to deliver details of a conversation with the president to "The New York Times."
KASOWITZ: We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to determine whether these leaks should be investigated along with all the others that are being investigated.
MURRAY: Meanwhile, the White House insists the president can be trusted.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can definitively say the president's not a liar, and I think it's frankly insulting.
MURRAY: This as Comey explained why he documented his encounters with Trump.
COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
MURRAY: Comey's testimony under oath contradicting some of the president's statements about his interactions with the former FBI director. Comey says Trump asked him for a pledge of loyalty before he was fired.
COMEY: In fact, he asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.
MURRAY: Trump insists he never did, a point his lawyer echoed today. KASOWITZ: The president also never told Mr. Comey, quote, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty," close quote. He never said it in form; and he never said it in substance.
MURRAY: And while Comey says Trump suggested he drop the investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn, Trump and his lawyer denied that.
KASOWITZ: The president never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone, including the president never suggested that Mr. Comey, quote, "let Flynn go," close quote.
MURRAY: One subject Comey said the president did not raise in their conversations: how to protect America from Russian interference in U.S. elections.
COMEY: I don't recall a conversation like that.
MURRAY: While Trump has lavished compliments on Russian leaders and even welcomed Russian officials to the Oval Office, on Thursday, the White House says it plans to uphold current sanctions against Russia.
Trump's allies leapt to his defense Thursday. Some simply dismissed Trump's interactions with Comey as the missteps of a political neophyte.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president's new at this. He's new to government.
MURRAY: Others assailed Comey's credibility. For his part, Comey said he hopes tapes of the president emerged.
COMEY: I've seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
MURRAY: A response to an apparent threat the president recently fired off on Twitter, suggesting there was a White House taping system. Today, White House spokesperson Sara Huckabee Sanders said she has no idea if a recording system exists, adding she'll look into it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you try to find out? A lot of people are interested, as you might imagine.
SANDERS: Sure, I'll try to look under the couches.
MURRAY: Now, one question the White House did have an answer for today is whether the president has faith in his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. They could not answer that question for days. Today Sara Huckabee Sanders said the president has confidence in his entire cabinet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But they didn't -- she didn't say specifically the attorney general? Just the entire cabinet. Is that right? MURRAY: The entire thing. Didn't say Sessions by name.
BLITZER: Yes, it's three days in a row. All right. Thanks very much. Sara Murray over at the White House.
I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, so what's the most significant thing we heard today from James Comey?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think the most significant thing was that he told a story that had a beginning, a middle, an end; and it all fits together. He goes in and loyalty, loyalty is the theme that Trump is demanding from him, and why does he want loyalty?
Because he wants to be -- to be exonerated and to be said that he's not being investigated for Russia; and he keeps asking for that. And Comey gives him that. Comey does say to him, "No, you are not being investigated."
But the demands for loyalty continue, and on the most important meeting, which is February 14 in the Oval Office, he clears the room. He gets rid of Vice President Pence and the attorney general; and it's just the two of them alone. And this is his request. He says, "Let -- let Flynn go," let it go.
And at that point, Comey doesn't really know what to do, and he just sort of ignores the request. But the investigation continues, and days later, he's fired. That's the story that, in each piece, fits together, at least if you believe Comey's -- Comey's testimony.
BLITZER: Well, clearly, the president's private outside attorney doesn't. He flatly denied that President Trump told Comey to let the Flynn investigation go or that he asked for loyalty. What did you think of his statement that was -- that he read later in the day?
TOOBIN: What's so interesting about the -- Kasowitz's statement is that part -- he embraces part of Comey's testimony. The part where he says -- where Comey says, "Yes, I did tell the president three times that he was not under investigation." Kasowitz says that's exactly right.
But he says no, I -- Comey never was asked for a pledge of loyalty, and he certainly was never told -- never was asked by Trump to drop the Flynn investigation. The problem Kasowitz has is why would Comey be lying in some circumstances but telling the absolute truth in others? That's the problem with attacking some of his testimony and embracing others.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to have you back shortly. Stick around, Jeffrey Toobin.
I want to get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is joining us. She's a member of the Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA): Thank you. BLITZER: So you went to law school with Comey...
KLOBUCHAR: I did.
BLITZER: ... at the University of Chicago Law School. Do you think he effectively, without saying so, laid out a case, potentially, for obstruction of justice against the president?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I'm not going say this, because I think the -- the investigator is going to do that, the director Mueller, former director Mueller will get to the bottom of that. And that's what Jim Comey said today.
I think what he did do was show his enormous integrity. From beginning to end, he explained and answered every question, Democrat or Republican, and I think did it with a common sense and a down-to- earth way that the American people could relate to. And that's a guy I knew in law school, and that's what he did today.
BLITZER: What new details jumped out at you, based on the testimony today that require now further investigation?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think first of all, the obvious one that Jeff Toobin just brought up about the way this went down, the question of leaving Flynn alone, that was pretty major.
The fact, when Senator Warner asked him about other investigations, had the president inquired? No, there's ten thousand investigations. He hadn't been getting involved in those. Did not even ask about Russia. That was a question from Senator Heinrich.
I think my colleagues did a very good job of getting to the fact that this was the investigation, the investigation of Flynn. The fact that he wanted the FBI director to spin for him. Those were the things that the president repeatedly was going back to Director Comey about, including "I want loyalty. I expect loyalty."
Wolf, I'm a former prosecutor. I had 400 employees. Prosecutors would get sworn in. They would take an oath to the law, not an oath to me. And I can't even imagine calling them into my office and asking them if they would be loyal to me. They have an obligation to enforce the law.
BLITZER: Is there a significant difference, from your perspective, of the president expressing his hope that -- that Comey would let go of the Michael Flynn investigation, as opposed to a flat-out order, "Let it go"?
KLOBUCHAR: I think that Director Comey explained that well. This is not like you're out with some -- you're with your friends and say, "Hey, I hope we can go out tonight for a beer." He cleared the room. He got the vice president out of the room, Jared Kushner out of the room. Everyone was out of the room, and he picks that moment to say, "I hope you will let this go." That, to me, sounds like a direct order. BLITZER: As you know, the president's private, outside attorney, Marc
Kasowitz, he flatly is denying that the president ever imposed that -- that order to let go the Flynn investigation, even made any such recommendation. Also flatly denying that he ever asked Comey for a loyalty test.
What was your reaction when you heard the president's attorney saying that?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, my first reaction was, while I don't know the president well, I do know James Comey, and I trust him.
My second reaction was when the president's spokeswoman said today, she didn't know if there was a taping system and she wasn't looking under a couch. Come on. They know if there's a taping system in there, and the president had said that there may be tapes. And Jim Comey today said please put those tapes out there so we can get to the bottom of that. I am sure that's certainly something that former director Mueller is asking, but that's certainly something the American people want to hear.
BLITZER: In fairness to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she's a deputy press secretary. She may not necessarily know personally whether there's a taping system. You're smiling.
KLOBUCHAR: I'm smiling because this question has been asked before by the media. It has been asked by members of Congress. We've sent letters about it. So certainly, they are aware that that question is out there.
BLITZER: Well, what is the White House saying to you when you asked for those tapes?
KLOBUCHAR: We have not gotten this answer. We want to get the tapes.
BLITZER: You want to subpoena those tapes, if in fact, there are tapes?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, that is the easiest way to get to the bottom of this.
[17:20:03] BLITZER: And will the White House, do you think, make those tapes available...
KLOBUCHAR: I think...
BLITZER: ... if they even acknowledge that there are tapes?
KLOBUCHAR: I think at some point they're going to have to make these tapes available.
BLITZER: Because they could claim it's executive privilege. This is the president of the United States having private conversations.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, this is something, again, that the investigator, that the special prosecutor is going to have to get to the bottom. BLITZER: Do you think they might be bluffing, that there might not
even be any tapes? Because it was the president, that tweet that raised the issue of, quote, "tapes."
KLOBUCHAR: It is very possible. But the other thing that the special prosecutor is going to be able to do is ask other witnesses things and try to get to the bottom of other facts. We just want to get to the truth here.
And I thought that the conduct of my colleagues, both on the Democratic and Republican side, show that. They didn't come in there as partisans, Republicans or Democrats. They came in there as patriots. They were asking questions, getting to the bottom of things. And at this time of great polarization, if anything good came out of this today, in addition to Director Comey having that opportunity to tell his agents good-bye and telling them how much he respected them, was the fact that the Senate functioned.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to -- this is Marc Kasowitz, the president's private, outside counsel, a private attorney, saying -- describing Comey's decision, which he himself spoke about today, of going ahead and handing over those memorandums to his friend, the professor at Columbia Law School, in order to make it available to a reporter from "The New York Times." Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASOWITZ: It is overwhelmingly clear that there have been and continue to be those in government who are actively attempting to undermine this administration with selective and illegal leaks of classified information and privileged communications.
Mr. Comey has now admitted that he is one of these leakers. Today, Mr. Comey admitted that he unilaterally and surreptitiously made unauthorized disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Kasowitz called for a full-scale investigation of Comey for doing that.
Do you believe those conversations and the descriptions in the memorandum, that were handed over to be given to the news media, were those conversations privileged communications, as Kasowitz is suggesting?
KLOBUCHAR: I have not seen those memorandum, so I can't answer that until I see them, if I will ever see them. But I do believe that Jim Comey would have been very careful with that kind of information. My guess is that he was not putting out classified information.
And you do have the fact, Wolf, that the president himself was tweeting and was making claims about calling Director Comey, in that case to the Russian ambassador, and putting out information about the reasons that he had with Comey, which later were actually dispelled by his own interview with Lester Holt.
BLITZER: You heard Comey say that he did, in fact, on three occasions, let the president know he was not under investigation. The president was not under investigation. We know that Congress -- members of Congress were informed of that. Why wasn't the American public informed that the president was not under investigation?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think that, first of all, Director Comey made that very clear and said that today in part of his testimony, so I think they do know that now.
BLITZER: Now they know that, because he himself has confirmed that he told the president on three occasions, "You're not under investigation."
KLOBUCHAR: I think with everything going on, I'm not sure that Director Comey knew everything that was going on with the Justice Department. He wanted to be very careful about what he said, and he also was very concerned that the reason the president was trying to do this to him was to hold something over his head as some kind of a threat.
And I think he saw it as sort of integrated with what was going on with trying to get him to lay off of Flynn and then spin for the president. And he just didn't see that as his job.
BLITZER: Senator Klobuchar, listen to this rather intriguing exchange your colleague, Senator Ron Wyden had with Comey. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: What was the attorney general's own interaction with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?
COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic. And so we were -- we were convinced, and in fact, I think we'd already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself, that he was not going to be in contact with Russia- related matters much longer, and that turned out to be the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It was intriguing, because it leaves open the possibility there's more about Attorney General Sessions' communications or involvement with the Russians that potentially caused some serious problems. What was your reaction to that and what, if anything, do you know about that?
[17:25:12] KLOBUCHAR: Well, first of all, I don't know what those other interactions would be. I know we had the troubling episode in the Judiciary Committee, where we didn't really get the right answer and then later found that Attorney General Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador immediately after the president had met with Putin and announced that he was not going to lift the sanctions. And then the next thing you know, then-Senator Sessions was meeting with the Russian ambassador. And that's part of the reason he recused himself.
So I'm sure that what we would like in the Judiciary Committee is not only to have former Director Comey come before us, but at some point here, Attorney General Sessions will have to come before us.
I will say that turning it over to Rod Rosenstein was the right thing and ultimately, Rod Rosenstein did the right thing and appointed a special prosecutor which allows us to get to the bottom of the facts.
BLITZER: Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general right now. He was confirmed, what, 94-6 or 7 or whatever it was.
BLITZER: I assume you voted for him?
KLOBUCHAR: I did.
BLITZER: All right. A quick question on the former attorney general, Loretta Lynch. Because Comey today dropped another really, really intriguing matter when he said that, in his conversations with Loretta Lynch, they were investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mail server; and she said to him, "Don't use the word 'investigation.' Use the word 'matter'."
And -- and that really irritated Comey, a man you went to law school with, a man you know well. He thought that was totally inappropriate, because it wasn't simply a matter; it was an investigation.
KLOBUCHAR: You know, I don't know all those discussions, but I could see why someone like Jim Comey, who is someone that believes in protocol and of following the rules and sticking with the way things are done, would have reacted that way.
Do I like how he handled the Hillary Clinton e-mails and the way he got involved a week before the election? No, I do not, and I said that clearly.
Do I think he should have been fired, smacked dab in the middle of a major investigation of a foreign power attempting to influence our election? No, I do not.
BLITZER: Senator Klobuchar, thanks for coming in.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
BLITZER: Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Coming up, I'll have much or on today's truly electrifying testimony by the former FBI director, James Comey, including his rather stark accusation that the president and the Trump administration are lying. Plus, more on Comey's stunning revelation that he engineered a leak of his memos about his meetings with the president, hoping it would result in the appointment of a special counsel.
[17:32:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER HOST: Our breaking news. The fired FBI James Comey's bombshell appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. There were surprises from the very beginning. Instead of reading the seven-page statement made public yesterday, Comey began his testimony by talking directly to the senators explaining why he came forward and accusing the president and the Trump administration of lying. It was riveting. Watch this.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: When I was appointed FBI director in 2013, I understood that I served at the pleasure of the president. Even though I was appointed to a 10-year term, which congress created in order to underscore the importance of the FBI being outside of politics and independent, I understood that I could be fired by a president for any reason, or for no reason at all. And on May the 9th, when I learned that I had been fired, for that reason, I immediately came home as a private citizen.
But then, the explanations -- the shifting explanations, confused me and increasingly concerned me. They confused me because the president and I had had multiple conversations about my job, both before and after he took office. And he had repeatedly told me I was doing a great job and he hoped I would stay. And I had repeatedly assured him that I did intend to stay and serve out the remaining six years of my term.
He told me repeatedly that he had talked to lots of people about me, including our current attorney general, and had learned that I was doing a great job and that I was extremely well-liked by the FBI workforce. So it confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation and learned, again, from the media that he was telling, privately, other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russia investigation.
I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly, that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn't make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made. That didn't make any sense to me. And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.
Those were lies, plain and simple, and I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them and I'm so sorry that the American people were told them.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Joined now by our correspondents and specialist. So, Dana Bash, you and I spent two and a half hours listening and watching every single moment of that. What's the picture that emerge -- the picture he painted of President Trump?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, I think that was one of the most important things that he said right off the bat speaking without notes, didn't speak from that seven-page prepared testimony but instead wanted to appear to be speaking from the heart, calling the president a liar and then repeatedly doing it one another time using that word but other times making a suggestion that he wasn't telling the truth over and over again.
James Comey has a reputation for the, you know, having the flair for the dramatic, that was very, very clear in the way that he told the stories over again about the conversations that he said he had with the president but I also think that aside from the narrative that he painted, one of the interesting sort of takeaways that we're going to look at going forward are all of the sort of droppings that he left about where the investigation is going or at least was going when he was fired in May.
Really important things like confirming that Michael Flynn was under investigation, criminal investigation. Not just about his dealings with Russia but about not telling the truth about the FBI or left it a big open question about Jeff Sessions and about the fact that even though the president was desperate for James Comey to talk in public about the fact that Trump was not under investigation because of all the conversations he had with Comey, now he might actually be under investigation for obstruction of justice. So, we learned a lot of things they're going to kind of keep us really interested to see where the senate committee is going and more importantly the special counsel.
BLITZER: I hate to say that investigation of Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser that Michael Flynn was is in legal jeopardy, I think he used those words. Chris Cillizza, how significant is it that Comey called the president a liar not once, not twice but you were counting.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. I mean, he used the word liar only a few times, or lying or that's a lie but total at least five times directly disputed.
[17:37:06] Three times in particular in a back and forth, Senator Angus King of Maine, disputed the president's telling of well, when they met, who called who, who said what. It's -- look, I think the people outside of Washington they always say why don't you just call a lie a lie? Politicians are very -- and my politicians, I include Jim Comey frankly, he's been in this world for a long time. They're very resistant to say lie because it gets that -- they believe it gets that motive and intent.
The person is -- look, really willfully misleading you but -- so I think it is meaningful. I also think and this was again in the beginning of the testimony, he said, why did you -- why did you sort of start taking notes as soon as you left that first meeting on January 6th with Donald Trump? And he says, because I thought there was a real possibility he would lie about the nature of the conversation. Just stop there for a second. That's the sitting FBI Director making an assessment of the not yet president, -- be president in two weeks. And Donald Trump has changed the way in which I used the word stunning or remarkable or amazing but that's stunning remarkable and amazing.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, what do you make of Comey's expressing regret that in those exchanges with the president, with President Trump, he did not fight back.
PHILLIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: There's a hidden story here that we didn't see in the conversation today but that anybody in Washington can see. If you look at this conversation and you look at his explanations about his interactions with the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, I serve at the FBI, as soon as you go to the attorney general and say, I felt that there is an inappropriate conversation with the president and one step forward, the president pulled me aside for one-on-one and had dinner for me with it in a one on one, anybody in my world is going to say, why didn't the attorney general pick up the phone at the White House either the president or the chief of staff and say, you can't do this again. What James Comey was doing is a Washington version of The Sopranos. He stuck a shave in the back of the attorney general and said, you have a lot to answer for. It's not visible outside the belt way but inside the belt way clearly evident.
BLITZER: I want you to listen, this is an exchange that Comey had, Jeffrey Toobin with Senator Heinrich on this whole notion of the president is saying one thing, Comey saying another thing, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN HEINRICH (D-NM), SENATOR: A lot of this comes down to who we should believe. Do you want to say anything as to why we should believe you?
COMEY: My mother raised me not to say things like this about myself, so I'm not going to -- I think people should look at the whole body of my testimony. Because as I used to say to juries that when I talk about a witness, you can't cherry pick it, you can't say, I like these things he said but on this, he's a -- he's a dirty rotten liar, you got to take it all together and I try to be open and fair, and transparent and accurate.
A really significant fact to me is so why did he kick everybody out in the Oval Office? Why would you kick the attorney general, the president, the chief of staff out to talk to me if it was about something else? And so that to me as an investigator is a very significant fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How compelling is this argument?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's a pretty good argument. I mean, I -- the prosecutors make that argument in front of juries all the time. You can't cherry pick what to believe and what not to believe. And when Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz said, well, we believe Comey when it comes to his statement that Trump was never -- was not under investigation in the early part of this story. But he says he's -- Comey is lying about whether Trump's demanded loyalty, whether Trump asked for an end to the Flynn investigation, that's the point that Comey is making.
And, you know, he is -- it's just -- he's not -- he's really feels so betrayed by these people. I mean, you know, this is a human story as well. And, you know, the fact that he wasn't allowed to say goodbye to the FBI which he obviously has this tremendous affection for and the fact that they, you know, invented all these reasons for why he was fired. This is a pissed off dude.
CILLIZZA: The time he was angriest and most emotional to Jeff's point was when he was talking about that the FBI was sort leaderless, that they didn't respect him. That was when you saw him and he's clearly -- genuinely angry.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, you cover the FBI, you could see how bitter and angry he was. He learned that he was being fired when he looked up at an Los Angeles at a T.V. screen and he thought it was a joke when someone on that T.V. screen said he had just been fired and he immediately resigned as he had to, he could not go back and thank the men and women with whom he had worked up for three and a half years and that really, really angered him.
[17:42:12] BLAKE BURMAN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really did. I mean, it was a humiliating way to find out that you've been fired really because the first report actually was on Fox News and it said that he resigned and he kind of laughed it off because he knew he hadn't resigned. So, that's how he found out. And Wolf, I got to tell you that today was actually kind of bad, another bad day for the FBI. Simple because you talk to people over there and they really just want this to be over with.
They just now learned that they're going to get a new director and Christopher Wray who's a good, actually probably a very good person for them, but they're going to have the live more of this drama because obviously Comey now has now essentially thrown this -- thrown the entire leadership over there, there are other people there who are still at the FBI who going to have to start answering questions now because he pointed to them and said, you know, I briefed them when I came back from some of these discussions with the president.
So, it's going to spread some of this on the seventh floor there, the executive suit for the FBI, they're going to have to go through a lot more pain before they can get this over with and I guess, part of this is about restoring Comey's reputation and the FBI's reputation but it actually also just more harm to the FBI because they don't want to have more of this drama around him. They want to quietly going back to doing their work even though obviously that's not in the cards right now.
BLITZER: Not in the cards right now. All right. Everybody standby. We have a much more of the breaking news that we're following James Comey's truly explosive testimony today. How the president tweeted threat about tapes, could hold al key to figuring out who's telling the truth.
JOE MANCHIN (D-WV) SENATOR: Do you believe there were any tapes or recordings of your conversations with the president?
COMEY: It never occurred to me until the president's tweet. I'm not being facetious. I hope there are. And I'll consent to the release.
MANCHIN: So both of you -- both of you are in the same findings here. You both hope there's tapes and recordings?
COMEY: Well, I mean, I -- all I can do is hope, the president surely knows whether he taped me, and if he did, my feelings aren't hurt, release the entire -- release all the tapes. I'm good with it.
[17:43:35] BLITZER: We are back with our political experts. We're following the multiple breaking news stories in the wake of former FBI Director James Comey's dramatic testimony today before the Senate Intelligence Committee. One of the most astonishing revelations is that Comey himself arranged a leak of his own memos and hopes that it would force the appointment of a special counsel and it did. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. Tell us all the details, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, today we spoke with veteran federal prosecutors and political operatives who said they've never seen anything like this. James Comey revealed in detail how he orchestrated the leak of his accounts of his conversations with the president. But that is just part of what he did to shape the course of this case and steer public opinion. Today, James Comey revealed his skills as an inside Washington operator with an extraordinary talent for protecting his blanks.
The fired FBI director testified that he arranged the back channel disclosure to the public of his one-on-one conversations with President Trump about the investigation into Michael Flynn. On Thursday, May 11th, two days after Comey was fired, the New York Times published an account of Comey's January dinner with President Trump and whether to topic loyalty came up. The next day the president tweeted "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press." Comey testified the threatening tweet prompted him to take action.
COMEY: I woke up on the middle of the night because it did not dawn on me originally that there might corroboration for our conversation, it might be a tape, and my judgment was I needed to get that out into the public square, and so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter.
TODD: In a remarkable admission, Comey revealed he did it to impact the investigation he was no longer in charge of.
COMEY: I asked him too because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
TODD: The fired FBI director seemingly engineering a special counsel investigation into whether the White House obstructed justice.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I've never seen that from anyone in the government or who has been fired from the government. It is an extraordinary measure which I think reflects Jim Comey's lack of trust of the president and the justice department apparatus to do the right thing.
TODD: And it's a part of a roadmap, James Comey has laid out in this case leaving a trail of documents and witnesses for investigators. First, he wrote memos to himself to detail his private conversations with the president.
COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting and so I thought it really important to document.
TODD: And important to provide details. His written testimony describing his January dinner with the president saying they were "Seated at a small oval table in the center of the green room." Two navy stewards waited on us. In another description of a February Oval Office meeting, Comey details exactly who sat in a semicircle of chairs and says, "As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the attorney general lingered by my chair but the president thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me.
MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think he provides a roadmap to others on here, other people who may be able to corroborate certain instances from my narrative and here are other people that you might want to talk to.
TODD: The White House quickly brushed back on Comey's accounts, Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring the president is "Not a liar," and Mr. Trump's outside counsel Marc Kasowitz refuting Comey's account that the president demanded loyalty in one meeting. Kasowitz also said Comey's leaking of his memos or his meetings with the president were "Unauthorized disclosures of privileged conversations." Wolf?
BLITZER: And he said Comey now should be investigated. Brian Todd.
[17:47:12] Thanks very much for that report. Evan Perez, you covered the FBI. Were you surprised about Comey's admission, how he went ahead and orchestrated the release of those memos to the news media?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are couple things that stood out, Wolf, because I got to tell you today, if you're at the FBI, if you're an employer at the FBI and you're wondering, can I do that? The answer is no. You can't do that. So, the fact that the former FBI director actually, you know, wrote these memos and then passed them off to friends and then had the friends leak it to the New York Times and to the other news organizations. That's a strictly forbidden practice for anybody else at the FBI. So that's one thing.
Secondly, I think one of the things you saw today was an attempt by Comey to control the narrative of this. He knows that the White House is coming after him. He knows that they're going after his -- whether or not he's telling the truth and whether he can be believed and you can hear that in some of his testimony and this was one example of him controlling that narrative. He knows it's going to come out so might as well put it out there in public and show that he's being transparent.
BASH: And Wolf, not just control the narrative, but it seems to me that by admitting that unsolicited that this is something that he did, that he kind of understood how to play the Washington game, that he wanted the president and his people to know, I outmaneuvered you guys. Really, you're going to fire me and you're going to do it this way? OK. We'll take this. This is what I did.
BLITZER: He also that intriguing little nugget, Phil Mudd, about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions that are raising all sorts of questions.
MUDD: If you want to understand how Washington works that nugget about what Sessions did in terms of his recusal is 30 seconds of everything you need to know. Several months ago, Sessions says I'm recusing myself from the Russian investigation. It's sort of incidental. I had a couple meetings with Russians but it would be appropriate for me to step back. What is James Comey say today that 99 percent of America missed?
He said I thought that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself but if you want me to talk about why I thought that, we have to go into closed hearing. That is a message that says, you have to investigate this because the reasons he had to recuse himself are not incidental, they're secret reasons and they're ugly. That was a great Washington move.
TOOBIN: And there's also just I think a simpler point is that, you know, one of the jobs of the attorney general is to protect the FBI director from political interference, from the president. And at least once, Comey went to Sessions and said, you have to make sure that I am not stuck in a room alone again with the president. And what does Sessions do? He sits there silently. I mean, it's like had a house of cards. I mean, it's just unbelievable. He doesn't yes, he doesn't say no.
BLITZER: Hold on.
TOOBIN: He just says nothing.
BLITZER: I can't make this kind of stuff up. Stand by. Everyone stay with us. We have much more ahead on the breaking news. The former FBI Director James Comey accuses the Trump administration and the president of lying about why he was fired. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COMEY: There's no doubt that it's a fair judgment, it's my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:55:00] BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Lies, plain and simple. James Comey accuses the president of publicly defaming him and privately pressuring him.