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Comey Revelations; Interview With Stormy Daniels Attorney Michael Avenatti; Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; AP: Comey Book Calls Trump "Untethered to Truth" and His Leadership "Ego Driven and About Personal Loyalty". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 12, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's a CNN exclusive.
Paying off the doorman. A former Trump employees speaks out about hush money he received to stay silent about a child allegedly fathered out of the wedlock by Donald Trump. Who paid him off?
And historically cooperative. President Trump touts what he calls his disciplined approach to engaging with Mueller's Russia probe, despite repeatedly calling it a witch-hunt.
With the investigation expanding to the president's inner circle, is he still willing to sit down with the special counsel?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news, "The New York Post" is reporting tonight that former FBI Director James Comey says in his new book that President Trump wanted him to investigate an alleged video recording said to involve Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes.
Comey claims in his book the president wanted to reassure the first lady that the incident never happened.
Also breaking, CNN is learning exclusive details of a new White House tactic to counter the Justice Department's Russia investigation. Sources tell us on the president's team is preparing talking points designed to undermine the top official overseeing Russia probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who the president is considering firing.
We talk about that and much more this hour with Senator Ron Wyden of the Intelligence Committee. And Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti, he's standing by as well, along with our correspondents and our analysts.
First, details on the breaking news.
CNN's Sara Murray and Evan Perez , they're here with the very latest. Evan, first to you. What are you learning tonight?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, James Comey's book doesn't come out for another five days, but we're beginning to get some blockbuster details of what he has written in the new book and obviously these are things that are going to get under the skin of President Trump.
Among the things that Comey discusses is this infamous now meeting with -- his first meeting with the president in 2017 when he went to go brief him on what is now known as the dossier of Russia allegations, Russia collusion allegations.
And the thing, according to Comey, that President Trump was most focused on was this episode that allegedly was caught on tape between him and prostitutes in a luxury hotel in Washington -- in Moscow back in 2013.
This formed the most salacious allegations that were contained in the now infamous dossier, alleging that the Russians had kompromat, compromising material on the incoming president.
I will read you just a part of what "The Washington Post" says is contained in the Comey book. He says: "Trump strongly denied the allegations, asking rhetorically, I assume, whether he seemed like a guy who needed the services of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned the number of women and seems to have memorized their allegations."
Wolf, these are the types of things that we obviously had heard about, that this was a very uncomfortable meeting in early 2017 of the incoming president, was being briefed not only about the threat from Russia, but also other national security threats.
And James Comey pulled him aside at the end of this briefing with his top intelligence officials and decided to brief them on a summary of what the FBI knew about this dossier of allegations of Russian compromising information that they claimed to have on him.
And obviously this is where their relationship began to immediately sour. We now have heard from the president who claims that he thought that James Comey was trying to essentially blackmail him, to hold something over his head. Comey describes a different reaction obviously from what we're seeing in this book.
BLITZER: And you're getting, Sara, more bombshells quotes from this new book.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
When you see the sort of "The Washington Post"'s quotes, again, they have read an copy of the book, you can tell that the president was really focused on this tape and the notion of golden showers. Apparently, in one of these conversations with James Comey, according to the book, the president says: "I'm a germaphobe. There is no way I would let people pee on each other around me, no way."
He also brings it up in another phone call. This one was apparently on March 30, 2017, according to this book, saying: "For about the fourth time" -- Comey here is referring to the president -- "he argued that the golden showers thing wasn't true, asking yet again, can you imagine me, hookers?"
Comey writes of this call: "In an apparent play for my sympathy, he added that he has a beautiful wife and the whole thing has been very painful for her. He asked what we could do to lift the cloud."
And, obviously, look, the White House knew this book was coming. They had been working alongside with the Republican National Committee to try to figure out how they were going to respond to this.
And I will tell you in one of the talking points that was going around with the Republican National Committee and their supporters today, allies of the president, they bring up what they say are Comey's bizarre decisions as a way to try to discredit the former FBI director.
And one of the things they bring up is the notion that Comey would pull the president aside and the president-elect and brief him on this now infamous dossier. From the RNC's perspective, from the White House perspective, this is all full salacious unverified information. They feel like that was a very bizarre decision for the former FBI director.
BLITZER: And, Evan, if the president was angry at Comey before, when he goes through these details in this new book, he's going to be even more furious.
PEREZ: Right. I think that's right, Wolf.
But, look, I think, beyond the salacious details, which is obviously the thing that is going to get all the headlines, there's a more serious side to this. Obviously, Comey's book, he says that this book is about leadership and essentially profiling what he has done through his life on leadership.
And one of the things he brings up, according to "The Washington Post"'s reading of this book, is this -- again, the fact that he is at this meeting where the incoming president was being briefed on the serious threats that are facing this country, including the threat from Russia, which had just, according to the intelligence community, carried out an operation to disrupt the U.S. election.
And according to James Comey, he says that nobody on the Trump team really asked any follow -up questions about Russia. They didn't seem to be interested in talking about that. Instead, what they were more interested in is talking about how to spin what they were being briefed about for the public.
After the meeting, obviously, the public was going to be learning that the president was being -- the incoming president was being briefed by his intelligence chiefs. And I think that reading from Comey, his description of what happened at that meeting, I think, is going to be the undercurrent that is going to carry through this entire book, his description of how he viewed this president and how he viewed it in comparison to his experience of Barack Obama.
MURRAY: Right. I think that's right.
And I think you can tell in the reading of these quotes just how preoccupied then the president-elect was with a number of different issues, not just the notion when he was pulled aside and he was briefed by James Comey, which, of course, CNN was the first one to report that the then FBI director decided to brief the president on this.
But Trump is clearly preoccupied with sort of the golden shower aspect of this that, but also with all of these allegations he had been facing at the end of the campaign, the fact that he keeps bringing up these accusations that women have made against him out, which were not included in this dossier.
There's another quote in this book, according to "The Washington Post," and it has the president saying: "There was no way he groped that lady sitting next to him on the airplane, he insisted. And the idea that he grabbed a porn star and offered her money to come to his room was preposterous."
I mean, these are the conversation that President Trump -- and then president-elect Trump was having with the FBI director at a time when they were trying to impress upon him, hey, look there is a hostile foreign government that was trying to interfere in our election.
PEREZ: And, Wolf, keep in mind again we were the first to report that this briefing had occurred and what was contained in the briefing.
The first reaction from the White House, if you remember when we report this story, was to deny that the president had actually been briefed on the dossier. And they said that had not occurred, that this was a intelligence briefing and that it had not occurred.
It wasn't until we followed up and described more details, saying that this was a one-on-one meeting between James Comey and the incoming president, that finally their responses or their denials finally fell away.
And I think it's important, because this sets up the pattern that we have seen with the White House beginning on that first day when we reported the story, where they said that something did not occur which we know had occurred.
And, again, it goes back to this idea that the president was obsessed with certain parts of this dossier. He wanted to make sure that people knew that this wasn't true. But he also was very obsessed later on with making clear that he was not personally under investigation, which Comey, of course, made sure he knew.
BLITZER: And, remember, the president demanded loyalty from Comey.
This was exactly one week after the inauguration, January 27, when they -- the two of them had dinner at the White House, just the two of them, and a lot of these conversations that Comey now reveals in this book actually took place.
Amidst all of this, there's more breaking news, Sara, you're getting involving the deputy attorney general.
MURRAY: Well, right.
If you want to talk about how much things have changed in the past year, remember that when the president did decide to fire James Comey, he pointed to a letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The White House came out and said, Rod Rosenstein is the gold standard of what we expect at the Justice Department.
Not so much anymore. We know the president is weighing whether or not to fire his deputy attorney general. And sources are telling us the White House has developed at least preliminary talking point for the president's allies to begin to undermine and discredit the deputy attorney general, essentially saying, he's still conflicted, he can't possibly oversee the Russian investigation.
They're planning on saying that because he wrote this memo, he was essentially a witness to the firing of James Comey, so he can't be objective in it.
But they're also trying to paint Rod Rosenstein and Jim Comey as these good friends, and saying that the reason Rod Rosenstein has allowed this investigation to expand is because he's essentially trying to get retribution for the fact that Comey was ever fired.
Now, a source familiar with their relationship says they're not exactly good friends, they did work together, but they're hardly the besties that the White House is painting them out to be.
The interesting thing about the recusal part of their -- what they're saying now about the recusal, is that for months we have talked to the White House folks, and what they -- they refused to go the recusal route, simply because they did not want to acknowledge that there was an actual investigation into obstruction.
And so for a time, they did not want to go there. Now, suddenly, they have decided to turn completely the other direction. And now this is an issue. They say that recusal -- that Rod Rosenstein should be recused.
And so we expect that they're going to push this issue.
MURRAY: Right. And that's the big question. Does the president just decide he's going to fire Rod Rosenstein? Does the White House decide to exert this pressure with their allies inside and outside of the administration to pressure Rosenstein to recuse himself? Or are they able to essentially talk the president down and convince him that the best course of action, as angry as he may be, is to do nothing?
PEREZ: Stay tuned.
BLITZER: Bombshell, explosive developments.
Everybody, stick around.
I want to go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
First of all, Jim, what are you picking up on over there?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you, I was talking to a source familiar with the conversations that go on over here about the Mueller probe.
And earlier this afternoon, the source was telling me that the president's anger was subsiding, that this anger that he was feeling all week long after the raid on his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, apparently, his rage was starting to subside today.
And, of course, this is something that's just going to set him off. But, Wolf, we should point out other president has responded to this allegation of a golden shower tape in the past. Keep in mind this is what he said at that press conference, that infamous press conference at Trump Tower, January 11 of last year.
We all remember well here at CNN. Here's what the president had to say when this all came up. Here's what we had to say about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Would a reasonable observer say that you are potentially vulnerable to blackmail by Russia or by its intelligence agencies?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me just tell you what I do.
When I leave our country, I'm a very high-profile person, would you say? I am extremely careful. I'm surrounded by bodyguards. I'm surrounded by people. And I always tell them anywhere, but I always tell them if I'm leaving this country, be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you are going to probably have cameras.
I'm not referring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category.
And number one, I hope you're going to be good anyway. But in those rooms, you have cameras in the strangest places. Cameras that are so small with modern technology, you can't see them and you won't know. You better be careful, or you'll be watching yourself on nightly television.
I tell this to people all the time.
I was in Russia years ago, with the Miss Universe contest, which did very well -- Moscow, the Moscow area did very, very well.
And I told many people, Be careful, because you don't wanna see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place.
And again, not just Russia, all over.
Does anyone really believe that story?
I'm also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: So, there you have the president basically denying there at that press conference over a year ago that he would ever engage in something like that because of the potential for hidden cameras in Russian hotel rooms.
Now, we should also point out that we don't expect the White House to really comment on any of this or any of these salacious details in the Comey book.
But beyond this salacious detail of a golden shower, Wolf, we should point out there are some other damning things are said by Jim Comey in this book, that the president was untethered to truth is one quote that has been lifted out of the book by the Associated Press.
And so this is going to be a pretty damaging assessment obviously from Jim Comey, who was fired by the president. At the same time, Wolf, getting back to the Mueller investigation, this is the sort of thing that sets the off.
I can tell you from talking to a source familiar with how he thinks about that Mueller investigation, they believe that that raid on Michael Cohen's office, his hotel room and so on was really aimed at embarrassing the president, finding salacious, embarrassing details about the president.
And that is their thinking inside the White House, whether people the Justice Department say that's not true. That is how they feel inside the White House. That's how the president feels.
And so my guess is, Wolf, is that they're going to lump this kind of material in with that category and see it as another attempt to damage and embarrass this president.
And, of course, they are responding to this in some respect. Our Jeff Zeleny has been reporting -- my colleague Jeff Zeleny has been reporting that the RNC has launched a Web site, lying Comey, to try to undermine the credibility of Jim Comey. I think we will have to expect more of that to come from people like Sean Hannity and other voices in conservative media. This fight is just beginning, Wolf.
BLITZER: Looks like it is.
Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.
Let's get some more on the breaking news.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Good to be back.
BLITZER: And I got to start with your reaction to these quotes from the new Comey book.
You have been hearing all of the reporting that's been going on.
WYDEN: Yes, I have heard the last few minutes.
Look, I disagreed with Jim Comey on plenty of matters. I disagreed with him on the handling of the Clinton e-mail. I strongly disagreed with his views with respect to technology, particularly weakening strong encryption.
I have never known him to be a liar.
BLITZER: So, you basically believe what you're seeing, these quotes emerge in "The Washington Post," "The New York Post," the Associated Press? You think that he's telling the truth?
WYDEN: My experience with Jim Comey is, I have disagreed with him plenty on policy issues, but I have never seen any evidence he lies.
BLITZER: In one portion of the book, according to the Associated Press, he writes that the Trump team was briefed on the Russian election interference.
And Comey writes this. I will put it up on the screen.
"They were about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary, yet they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be."
Instead, he writes, "They launched into a strategy session about how to spin what we just told them for the public."
What does that tell you?
WYDEN: What it tells me is that Mr. Comey is making a point consistent with what we have seen for months and months now. The president, for whatever reason, has always sought to play down any
Russian interference in the election. And the fact is, his own son in his own son's e-mail made it clear that when a Russian very close to Vladimir Putin was interested in giving him dirt on Hillary Clinton, they were interested in it.
So whether it was interfering with the election, which they played down, whether it was getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, what James Comey seems to be saying is consistent with what we know.
BLITZER: How do think the president is going to react to this Comey book and all these bombshell revelations from Comey?
WYDEN: Well, I'm sure he's going to be very angry.
But, look -- and this is very important with respect to the Mueller inquiry. The president's feelings are not what is relevant in a democracy. The question is, the president is not above the law, and that is true for any American, and especially the president.
BLITZER: Do you think it's more likely now that the president will actually go ahead and fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, or Mueller himself?
WYDEN: I certainly would hope not.
And, of course, we have had a lot of discussion among senators on this particular point. You fire Rod Rosenstein, you're basically saying you will go to any lengths, any lengths to shield yourself from a criminal investigation.
And I think it would be viewed as a prelude to ending the Russian inquiry altogether. I think there would be an enormous backlash. I do think that it would generate a lot of additional support for our legislation, Senator Tillis, Senator Coons' bipartisan bill to support the special counsel.
BLITZER: CNN is now reporting that the White House is in the midst of working on talking points to undermine Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, which suggests that potentially they're laying the groundwork for his firing.
WYDEN: Well, should they do that, I think ,again, they will be met with a very hostile reaction.
Now, there is a different process for dealing with this than if he tries to fire Bob Mueller. But the bottom line will be the same. This will be seen as a very large signal that the president is trying to end the Russian investigation and, as I indicated, the president sees himself as being above the law.
And the reality is, every member of Congress right now, every senator, every House member, should be shouting from the rooftops that it's important to protect this investigation, because to do otherwise would destabilize our democracy.
BLITZER: Senator Wyden, thanks for coming in.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Ron Wyden of Oregon.
This important programming note for our viewers. The former FBI Director James Comey, he will be here at CNN for an interview on "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER."
That will air at 4:00 p.m. Eastern next Thursday, April 19, one week from today.
There's more breaking news. A former a Trump employee reportedly paid hush money now speaking out about a child allegedly fathered out of wedlock by Donald Trump.
We will talk about that and more with the lawyer for Stormy Daniels. How does this new revelation impact their case?
BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, explosive newly released excerpts from former FBI Director James Comey's new book.
Also breaking, a new claim by a former Trump employees that he was paid to stay silent about a child allegedly fathered out of wedlock by Donald Trump.
There's also breaking news in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit.
Joining us now, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
And let's talk a little bit about these developments. Michael Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer for the president, his friend, his so- called fixer, you say he's filing an emergency motion right now in federal court to stop your case from moving forward, that if your case does go forward, according to your information, he will plead the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
Explain what all this means, especially for your client.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Well, Wolf, for having me.
Earlier today, we learned from Michael Cohen's counsel, as well as from counsel for Mr. Trump, that they're going to file a motion to stay our case, basically put it on hold, pending the completion of the criminal investigation, of which the raids on Monday were a part of.
They're going to argue in the motion that they're going to file tomorrow that our case should be put on hold, and if it's not put on hold, it is Michael Cohen's intention to plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination if he's asked about any questions relating to the agreement, the payment, et cetera.
Wolf, needless to say, this is a shocking development, the seriousness of which cannot be overstated. One week ago today, the president of the United States pointed members of the media and the American public to his personal attorney to answer questions about this agreement and the payment.
And now we find out that, if he has to face any such questions, he's going to plead the Fifth Amendment.
BLITZER: Well, he is, supposedly, given all the raids that took place by the FBI in New York on his home, his hotel room, his office, supposedly, he's under criminal investigation. So pleading the Fifth, would that legally makes some sense to you?
AVENATTI: Well, legally, it would make some sense, but it flies in the face, Wolf, of what we have heard from Michael Cohen and from the White House for the last three or four months.
It's directly contrary. It's also contrary, Wolf, to what we have heard the president say in years past relating to individuals that plead the Fifth. The president's been very outspoken in previous months and years in stating that individuals that plead the Fifth are guilty.
And he's also said that only monsters plead the Fifth. So, which is it?
BLITZER: So let's say he does plead the Fifth. He's under criminal investigation.
What happens to your case? He goes to the federal judge and says, look, I really can't talk about this right now, everybody knows that I'm under criminal investigation.
AVENATTI: Well, we're going to argue that the case should go forward and that it should not be stayed. There is something called a negative inference that can be drawn by a witness pleading the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination in a civil federal proceeding.
And what that means is, is that if a witness is asked a question and pleads the Fifth, that the finder of fact, whether it be a judge or a jury, can infer from that invocation of the Fifth Amendment that the answer would be incriminating, would be very damaging to the witness.
So we're going to argue that our case should not be stayed, it should go forward. We have a number of arguments as to why that is. But this is a significant development. You're talking about the lawyer at the right hand of the president who has now indicated that he's going to invoke his Fifth Amendment...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: What happens if the judge rules in his favor that he can plead the Fifth and at least for the time being the case is not going anywhere?
AVENATTI: Well, we are going to react accordingly. We will see if that happens and how long the stay might occur. I'm confident that's not going to be the ruling by the court.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to this other development that we have learned about today, this claim by a former doorman at one of the Trump buildings in New York, who claims he received a payment of, what, $30,000 from American Media, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," to keep quiet about his allegations that there was a child born out of wedlock years ago, back in the 1980s, to Donald Trump.
You have seen these reports. What's your reaction? What's the impact on your client's case, if any?
AVENATTI: Well, I have seen the reports, Wolf. And I have also seen I think reports relating to I think it's his ex-wife, who said that he has fabricated stories in the past.
So I'm not in a position to vouch for his credibility. And I'm not going weigh in.
BLITZER: You're talking about the doorman.
AVENATTI: Correct, or wade in to those waters, because I don't know if he's telling the truth or not.
What I will say is, I don't think that my client's NDA is the only NDA that's out there. And if they handled other NDAs in such a sloppy manner as they did my client's, there's no doubt in my mind that individuals are going to be able to drive a Mack truck through those NDAs.
BLITZER: Yes, NDA's, these nondisclosure agreements. I'm sure that number is way, way exaggerated, but do you think there were more hush agreements that we don't yet know about that will come to light?
[18:30:34] MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER FOR STORMY DANIELS: Well, I don't think the president is Wilt Chamberlain, so I don't think there's a hundred or hundreds, but there's probably, certainly more than ten.
BLITZER: Do you have any names? I know you have been looking into this. Women have come to you and made these claims. Have you verified any of them yet?
AVENATTI: We haven't fully verified them to the point where I feel comfortable making that statement on national television, Wolf. But I'll say this. From everything we've seen, there's a number of NDA's out there that were executed over a significant period of time. My client is not alone. I'm sure there's a number of women that have found themselves in the same situation. BLITZER: Maybe you can resolve the issue. You said you had a sketch
of the individual who threatened your client at a parking lot and that you were going to be releasing it. What's the status of that sketch?
AVENATTI: We have put the release on hold due to a request that we received on Tuesday morning following the raids that were executed on Monday. We're going to honor that request. We're not going to release the sketch until an appropriate time.
The sketch is complete. It was compiled and drafted by a well-known forensic artist by the name of Lois Gibson out of Houston, Texas. She's world-renowned for what she does. So at the appropriate time, we will release the sketch. It's very possible that, based on what has happened recently, we may not need to release the sketch, because we may be able to identify that individual based on information that has been recently received.
BLITZER: Who asked you not to release the sketch?
AVENATTI: I'm not at liberty to answer that question.
BLITZER: Without giving us the details who that person is, can you just explain why you're not at liberty to release that information?
AVENATTI: No, I'm not willing to do that, either, but there's a reason why we haven't released it. We want to be mindful of recent conduct or activities in the case. That's all I'm going to say.
BLITZER: Can you at least tell us if law enforcement authorities asked you not to release it?
AVENATTI: Wolf, you're a very good questioner, but I'm not at liberty to answer the question.
BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation down the road.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's still many questions outstanding. Thanks so much, Michael, for joining us.
AVENATTI: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, there's more breaking news: explosive new excerpts from former FBI director James Comey's new book. According to "The New York Post," Comey writes that President Trump asked him to investigate allegations about a very salacious tape, supposedly, that existed in Moscow, wanted to investigate in order to reassure the first lady.
[18:37:24] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, explosive new excerpts from fired FBI Director James Comey's new book being reported tonight by "The New York Post," "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," the Associated Press and others, and they include a claim by Comey that President Trump asked him to investigate an alleged video, said to involve Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes in Moscow in 2013, to investigate in order to reassures the first lady that the incident never happened.
Let's bring in our correspondents and analysts. And Jeffrey Toobin, what's your reaction to this development?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's consistent with the president's view of the FBI as sort of a private investigation agency for his benefit. I mean, the idea that they would investigate this so-called, you know, golden showers claim just to reassure Melania that it didn't happen, that's not why federal law enforcement exists, and I think Comey, it sounds like, wisely, you know, put Trump off.
But I mean, it is -- it is indicative of the mindset of their entire relationship, which brief though it was, was about Donald Trump wanting to get assurance that the FBI was working for him personally.
BLITZER: He wanted loyalty. You used to work, Phil, at the FBI and the CIA. What's your reaction?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm a little bit uncomfortable with this.
BLITZER: Uncomfortable with?
MUDD: With the book and with the allegations that are surfacing in the book at this moment. There's two pieces here that are significant.
Mr. Comey has a window into the president's requests about, for example, federal investigations. That is critical. I think it's OK for him to publish. People under the Obama administration published.
But if you look at some of these allegations, they're salacious allegations that I suspect his editor looked at him and said, "If you want to jack up sales, you'd better make this look good."
So let's look at two lenses. What did we learn about the president's inappropriate involvement in investigative processes at the federal level? And what did Mr. Comey put in, because he was ticked off that he got fired and because his editor told him you want to sell books? I think there's two different stores here that are going to get confused.
BLITZER: The FBI has to review the book --
MUDD: They do.
BLITZER: -- before it can go out. The CIA would have to review books by CIA officials. That's normal procedure.
MUDD: It is. My stuff has been reviewed.
Understand when you look at this, because I think people will say why did they let this get out? Embarrassment is not the bar. It has to be something that reveals classified information. So if the information is salacious, as it is, it's not classified. It can get out. I suspect that's what the FBI said.
BLITZER: How do you see it?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think that there are two striking pieces from these excerpts. One is that the president is repeatedly concerned with events that he has insisted did not actually happen. So he wants the FBI to investigate these salacious allegations, which he says don't actually exist in reality.
[18:40:09] He also repeatedly brings up the sexual assault allegations that multiple women have brought against him, even though he has categorically denied committing those acts of sexual misconduct.
Also, I think as Jeffrey said, most importantly, he sees the FBI as an agency that is there to serve him and serve his interests and to protect him, rather than to serve the interests of the country.
From the beginning, he has not shown a great deal of concern over Russian interference in the U.S. election. He's been far more concerned with how a lot of the resulting allegations and impact how he is perceived.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And all of this actually plays into Russia's hands. All these excerpts, just listening to these salacious claims. The Russians really like pee tapes. They really like golden showers, because it makes the president look bad, and we now have the FBI, the former FBI director, talking negatively about the president and vice versa. And so this really helps, I think, Russia accomplish its mission of undercutting the credibility of our institutions.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think I'm looking at a different book than you guys are looking at. This is the former director of the FBI, who was a Republican, served multiple administrations, and had personal interactions with this president at very sensitive moments in the last year and a half -- well, 14 months of this presidency. A
And yes, a lot of the headlines have been about the salacious details, but look deeper at the moments he describes. Let's look at one, when he and the nation's top intelligence officials briefed this president for the first time, one, on Russian interference, but also for the first time on the existence of this dossier. The most important part of that briefing was about the depth and the aggressiveness of Russian interference in the election.
The -- Trump and his team immediately turned -- they didn't discuss the threat, how it happened, what we could do to block the next attack. They immediately, according to Comey, he writes, turned to, "Well, you found there was no impact on the result, right?"
And James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said very clearly then, actually, the intelligence community did no such analysis. But Comey then writes that they continued to focus, ,for on the rest of that meeting, where they've just heard from the senior- most intelligence officials about this attack on American democracy, described as such by Republicans and Democrats, they went on to say how could they spin what we just told them to be just about this having no impact on the election?
And keep in mind that meeting took place, what are we, in April? Fifteen months ago. And to this day, that is the No. 1 talking point from this president and his closest advisers.
BLITZER: Comey -- Comey writes this. Let me get your reaction. "They were about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary. Yet they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be."
MUDD: These are the most significant excerpts from the book. If you're sitting in the White House in the president's chair, you're supposed to direct the national security adviser not only to have meetings about what the Russians did, but to say, "Hey, Department of Homeland Security, CIA, FBI, what do we do next time around? How do we coordinate with the Congress, and what do I tell the American people?"
My concern -- I don't think I disagree with you, Jim. My concern --
VINOGRAD: And we already know that that didn't happen, right? We know that there weren't NSA meetings on Russia.
MUDD: Correct. My concern about the book is that some of the details that Comey reveals don't specifically relate to that issue, and get off into something salacious that will sell the book, so that people will not be discussing the core of the book, which is critical. Did the president defend America against Russia? That's the question.
BLITZER; And these issues are still hot today. At Mike Pompeo's testimony today, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his confirmation hearing, this came up. He was very forceful in blaming the Russians. He made statements that the president didn't make, Jeffrey.
So the president to this very day has a problem in this area.
TOOBIN: Well, he certainty does, and the investigation haunted that committee hearing today. One question that Pompeo would not really answer was -- if the president fires Mueller or Rosenstein, will he -- will he quit in protest?
And Pompeo basically said no. He said, "I need to -- you know, I want to be doing a good job."
That -- I mean, that just shows that this investigation is, you know, on the minds of many people. And -- and the Sword of Damocles that's hanging over Rosenstein, over Mueller, as long as it's still there, it's going to dominate, or at least be a very important part of our whole political system. BLITZER: Were you surprised, Sabrina, that after the intelligence
community, including the FBI director, briefed the president and his team on Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, they really didn't follow up with any serious questions about, so what happens now?
SIDDIQUI: Well, certainly I don't think there's much surprise when you look at the fact that the president has viewed this entire investigation as an attack on his legitimacy. And he has been very delayed in taking retaliatory measures against Russia. He implemented those sanctions that were overwhelmingly passed by Congress last year after more than a month and a half delay.
It was just a month ago that you had the NSA chief testify on Capitol Hill that he had not been granted the authority by the president to disrupt the Russian cyberattacks at the source.
So, there's still a lot we have not seen with respect to this administration taking seriously Russian meddling in the election and ensuring it doesn't happen in November and beyond.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You spent a lot of time looking, Sam, at the Russian reaction to all of this, and your bottom-line point is, they're laughing back at the Kremlin right now.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think Putin is celebrating. I think as Jim pointed out, we know that the president has not had a dedicated Russia policy, the Mueller investigation and Russian policy seem to be intermingling at every juncture, including during this hearing with Pompeo today and now, we have basically kompromat or compromising material on the president, which is going to dominate our news cycle for days. It's embarrassing to the president and we're talking about all this stuff instead of Russia policy.
BLITZER: Why -- so far, the White House --
BLITZER: Jeffrey, hold on a second. I just want to get Jim, I'm going to come to you in a second.
But the White House at least so far not reacting to this bombshell revelation of the Comey book.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Our colleagues at the White House saying they're not going to reply to each one, there are too many I imagine, over time. But there's another incident that Comey gets into in detail here, and that's the famous meeting in the Oval Office where the president asked him and the director of national intelligence to lay off, in effect, the investigation into Michael Flynn.
And we had heard about this already, but you have more detail here, you know, but Comey repeating that detail, him saying he's a good guy, I hope you can less this go, but he provides details how Sessions reacted. Now, Comey confronted Sessions for leaving that room, and Comey said to them, you can't be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone, kind of going to him. And he's saying that Sessions, Comey, according to his account -- again this is "The Washington Post's" reading of the book, Sessions just cast his eyes down at the table, they darted quickly back and forth, I read in his posture and face the message that he would not be able to help me.
Sessions is still the attorney general, right?
BLITZER: Jeffrey, go ahead.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I just wanted to say, you know, we were talking about the allegations about, you know, misconduct and the golden showers with President Trump. Those are very much unproven. They very well may not have happened.
And I think just in fairness to the president, we need to be very clear about that, that, you know, yes that accusation appeared in the Steele dossier, but it's never been corroborated, never been proven, and there's nothing in this book that suggests that it happened. In fact, the president is upset about it, claiming that it never happened.
So, I just think we need to be fair and say there is no proof that it ever took place.
BLITZER: And you did a lot of reporting. You went to Moscow, you went to that hotel in Moscow. You did some serious investigating.
TOOBIN: I did.
BLITZER: We saw your article in "The New Yorker" magazine which was an excellent article.
TOOBIN: Yes. And I wasn't able to prove it and no one else has, either.
SCIUTTO: With due respect to Jim Toobin's reporting on that one piece of the dossier. But remember, the dossier was a compilation of memos about multiple contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russians, including Russians tied to Russian intelligence. Many of those details in the dossier in fact have held up to the test of time and to the facts, many stories that CNN and others have reported as well.
TOOBIN: Jim is absolutely right about that.
SIDDIQUI: And I think one of the underlying claim in the Steele dossier was that this is a potential president who may by subject to blackmail, and that as one of the pieces that we have also seen, and you look at a lot of these hush money payments, that could be somewhat related, even if we're not talking about the same allegations that were mentioned in the Steele dossier.
BLITZER: In "The New York Times" report, they have a copy of the book as well. Comey in the new book writes about his decision 11 days before the election to say that Hillary Clinton -- yes, she was one again under investigation and he says -- he repeatedly asked himself whether he was influenced by the assumption widely reported that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election.
Let me read from the book, according to "New York Times": It is entirely possible that because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have in the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all the polls, but I don't know.
What's your reaction?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Spare me the wringing of hands. The FBI has a tradition that the FBI director could have stood behind. We do not talk about ongoing investigations. I don't care if it's a presidential candidate or the dogcatcher.
The mistake Jim Comey made was in the summer when he raised the investigation later closed against Hillary Clinton. I think what he said later was quite simple. I made the initial mistake about saying it was close, if I don't reveal that we reopen it, it looks like I'm influencing our election. I think the explanation is simpler than he made in his book.
BLITZER: Let me get Jeffrey to weigh. You know that Hillary Clinton blames that revelation 11 days before the election for her defeat.
[18:50:02] TOOBIN: Well, for -- and you can certainly see why she did. And what about the Justice Department policy that even I as a lowly assistant U.S. attorney knew is that you don't make announcements about campaigns in the last 30 days of an election? It is a policy that's for city council election, for statewide elections and for presidential elections.
And for Jim Comey to be wringing his hands and saying, oh, I didn't know what to do, there was a policy in place where you don't talk about these things in the last 30 days, and he violated that policy.
BLITZER: And there was --
TOOBIN: And that's, you know, I think it's just quite clear.
BLITZER: There was never any revelation that there was another investigation by the FBI involving the Trump campaign.
SCIUTTO: That's exactly
You know, it's interesting. There's another line that caught me again, this is based on "The Washington Post's" excerpts from the story, but he says -- he says this, I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, speaking of Trump, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership may fall short of being illegal.
That's interesting from the FBI director who's privy to many of the details of this, granted earlier on, and Mueller has learned many things since then, but that's an interesting judgment there. And it's frankly a defense that you will hear from many Trump supporters is that, OK, yes, we didn't elect a bishop here. You know, a lot of the stuff just kind of happened, people knew it, but it's not illegal.
BLITZER: He made that revelation in the book he said because he assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win, if he hadn't made the revelation, people later would assume maybe it was illegitimate win.
VINOGRAD: Right, which is not a reason to make a revelation or to not make a revelation. I mean, it feels there's too many -- there's too much politicization of all these investigations by both sides and we're seeing this across the board. We saw this today with this news story as well, that the White House working on talking points to denigrate Rosenstein. It's like every party, every -- the Republicans and the Democrats are each trying to use the Justice Department to accomplish political ends rather than legal ones.
BLITZER: All right. We're getting more details right now on this explosive new book. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage right after this.
[18:56:41] BLITZER: Explosive revelations in James Comey's new book. And the president, Jeffrey, is not going to be very happy when he hears more what was Comey has written.
TOOBIN: No, he's not. I mean --
BLITZER: How's he going to react?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I don't know how he's going to react. We often say the smart thing for people who are under attack, especially in books, to do is to say nothing, is to take the high road. Don't give oxygen, don't breed sales.
Donald Trump doesn't seem to operate that way. He attacks in response to any attack. And we'll see what happens. I think James Comey will sell plenty of books whether or not Donald Trump rises to the bait.
BLITZER: He wasn't silent when the Michael Wolff "Fire and Fury" book came out. That sold maybe a million copies in hard cover.
MUDD: That is. And he's going to sell more when he tweets about this. There's a simple message here and that is, the president said there's no collusion about Russia, he's going to say there is collusion about me. This is evidence of the collusion.
If Mueller comes out with indictments, including of people in the White House, I bet the president uses this and said, read it, the deep state's against me. This is a deep state book.
BLITZER: What do you think, Sabrina?
SIDDIQUI: Well, look, I think there are going to be people who disagree with Comey's decision to publish this book right now, people who disagree with how he handled the investigation during the election. But, ultimately, there is a substance to the allegations that he is making and there's about to be a campaign by the president and his allies to discredit Comey and dismiss his credibility, when there is no reason so far to doubt these interactions that Comey is detailing with the president.
Having said that, the president is someone who has on a day-to-day basis had a problem with the truth.
SCIUTTO: There's another excerpt that stood out to me in terms of being a defining point of view of James Comey. So, here's the former mob prosecutor comparing the president of the United States to a mob boss, the silent circle of ascent, the boss in complete control, the loyalty oaths, the lying about all things large and small.
It's a remarkable charge to make from the former FBI director. And I know that he is maligned in Trump world as a partisan but his prior career does not show him to be a partisan on issues like that. That was a remarkable line to read in his book.
BLITZER: Certainly was. You know, he's going to sell a lot of copies. He's going to make a lot of money, Sam. We're talking about James Comey. But was he smart, was he right to write this book at this sensitive moment?
VINOGRAD: I don't think so. I think that I'm embarrassed and I'm alarmed when I read the excerpts from this book. We're talking about pre-tapes (ph) and we're talking about president abusing our legal system, instead of talking about Russia or Syria or any of these major national security issues. So, I think the timing is off.
BLITZER: We're talking about --
TOOBIN: I disagree completely. I think the more you can draw attention to what goes on behind closed doors in government is a good thing. I'm glad Jim Comey wrote this book. I certainly won't agree with everything in it.
But sunlight is the best disinfectant and we could use more sunlight in how the FBI works and how the White House works and, you know, more books are a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
BLITZER: We're going to be hearing a lot about this book the next several days.
An important programming note for all of our viewers, the former FBI Director James Comey, he'll be a guest here on CNN. He'll be interviewed on "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER," that's at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, next Thursday, April 19th, one week from today.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.