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Syria Hit By American French And British Bombs; FBI Director James Comey's Book "A Higher Loyalty" Hits The Shelves In Just Three Days; Justice Department Revealed That Michael Cohen Has Been Under Investigation For Months In New York Over His Business Dealings; Aired 4-5p ET
Aired April 14, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:39] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for being with us on this Saturday.
Dust is still settling in places in Syria hit by American French and British bombs. And no military officials at this point are hinting that there will be more to come any time soon, at least. Three parts of Syria targeted because of the parts they play in making and storing chemical weapons. So far the damage assessment is that only buildings and equipment were destroyed. There are no reports of anyone killed on the ground.
President Trump tweeting his satisfaction when the airstrikes were over calling them quote "perfectly executed" and declaring quote "mission accomplished."
Since then something else. Confirmation from senior administration officials that a lot of significant information supports the suspicion that sarin gas was used in addition to chlorine in the last week's its horrific chemical attack in Syria. And that is the one that trigger to force last night's airstrike. And it's key because sarin is ban under international law. Many western officials believe Syria has used it before to kill civilians and has a stockpile of it.
Let's go live to Beirut now in our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman.
Ben, last night, airstrikes all happened within a couple of hundred miles of where you are standing right now. Are what are you hearing from people across the border there in Syria? Are people cheering these airstrikes or are they afraid more will follow?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's something completely different from that, Ana. I think what we saw both on the opposition side and the regime side was they expected much, much more. And were surprised that when the sun came up this morning in Damascus that the airstrikes, the rocket strikes, that is, were far less devastating than they thought. I think the difference between the airstrike that took place one year ago after a previous alleged chemical attack and this one was it was -- certainly one of the largest of the three strikes was near Damascus. So the people of that city were shocked that it was about 4:00 local time when the strikes took place. But when they woke up, they saw there really wasn't much damage beyond this one research facility.
And our colleague Fred Pleitgen who was in Damascus just a few days ago, he was on the phone with officials in Damascus and he said that they were laughing when they saw the real aftermath of those attacks. And we saw that on the opposition side, they were disappointed that the relative small scale of the attacks.
Keep in mind last year, a year ago the United States fired 59 cruise missiles at Syria. This year it was 109. So it wasn't even twice the number that was used a year ago. So by and large, a lot of sound and fury, but on the ground they're saying it doesn't really signify much - Ana.
CABRERA: Ben, there are many Syrians living in Lebanon. People who have fled the civil war across the border. How do those people view the airstrikes?
WEDEMAN: I think it's important to keep in mind that a lot of the people here who fled, fled not because they have taken sides, necessarily in the civil war, but simply because they are seeking safety and some sort of way to make a living.
By and large, there wasn't a lot of celebration, because I think there's a realization that even though these airstrikes may be a source of satisfaction to the pundit (ph), the beltway warriors in the United States, the war in Syria will go on. That these chemical strikes, yes, outside of the chemical attacks killed, they say, 42 people. But more than half a million Syrians have died in this conflict. The vast majority not from chemical weapons, but from conventional weapons. And this strike is really just a pinprick when it comes to the amount of destruction and bloodshed that Syrians have had to endure for the last seven years. So there wasn't an outpouring of emotion, joy or anger among the Syrian refugees. More than a million who live here in Lebanon -- Ana.
[16:05:14] CABRERA: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for that reporting.
Let's get to the Pentagon now. CNN correspondent Barbara Starr is there for us.
Barbara, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and her message earlier today to keep pressure on Syria said the United States is quote "locked and loaded." That is military language not usually diplomatic speak. What are you hearing from the defense department on the chance of further airstrikes?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point nobody really knows. I mean, look. This was very definitely a limited strike to send a message to Assad and the Russians that the Syrians need to stop with any further chemical attacks. The President talked about there could be a sustained response. Secretary Mattis last night told reporters that this would be it for now. But kept the door open to further action if the Syrians continue with using chemical weapons. So we don't know.
Are the Syrians likely to see the light of day and stop with their attacks? I think many people feel that would be pretty doubtful. We have this new video to show you. This is a United States air force b- 1B bomber taking off last night, going into action firing missiles into Syria. It's that kind of fire power that they use from this type of bomber jet as well as tomahawk missiles fired by a number of ships and a submarine in the area. So there was a lot of fire power, but it was very much focused on that message. And the real question today, the day after is, did Assad -- did the Russians hear the message? Ana.
CABRERA: And on that front, how much information did the U.S. give to the Russians before the strikes? Did Russia know what was coming?
STARR: Well, this is an interesting question, because of the ongoing U.S. operations in Syria against ISIS, which is in another part of the country, the U.S. and the Russian military have what they call a de- confliction line. Essentially telephone communication that they are on routinely all the time. They de-conflict those air operations in the southern mission. It sounds a little complicated, but they want to make sure they are all flying in air space and they know where everybody is.
The U.S. used that mechanism, we are told by authorities, before this series of airstrikes. Not to tell the Russians exactly where they would be, but to give them a broad general idea of where U.S. aircraft, U.S. missiles might be flying. And they included Damascus and homes in that big area that they notified the Russians about. It was not a specific time or place, but a general window and a general area while the Russians are pretty bright on this and would have understood what was about to happen.
CABRERA: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thank you for your great reporting.
CABRERA: I know you have been up many, many hours. And thank you for staying with us, Barbara.
Russia's ambassador to the U.N. today called for a security council resolution to condemn these airstrikes. That resolution failed by a vote of eight to three.
Let's bring in former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns.
Ambassador, good to see you. The U.S. did not act alone. These airstrikes also involved the UK and France. How important is that?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: It's very important, because you actually had the entire NATO alliance behind it. Every NATO country came out today and support it. All the European Union countries came out to support it. Much of the Arab world is supporting what happened. And so, it is very important the United States not act alone. I think it took four or five days to put this together. It was worth it to have three nations operating together with a lot of other nations wishing well behind it.
CABRERA: Lindsey Graham said this today.
Quote "Russia and Iran will view the limited action as the United States being content to drop a few bombs before heading for the exits. We seem to have settled on and be comfortable with being the chemical weapons police."
Senator Graham thinks the U.S. needs to do more. Ambassador, how do you see it?
BURNS: I think President Trump did the right thing this week in hitting Assad at his chemical weapons sites, his production facilities, his command and control. There's a prohibition on chemical weapons, the 1997 chemical weapons ban. And they have been used multiple times against civilians and someone had to stop it. And that's felt the United States and Britain and France.
Russia bears a lot of responsibility, as thus Iran because they are enabling and protecting the Assad regime. So it's hypocritical of the Russian ambassador to the United Nations to actually call for a condemnation when his country has help this to happen. I think it was appropriate this week. It was limited. This strike as well, and the United States, secretary Mattis made clear this is to protect civilians from chemical attack. I think that's where our country should be.
[16:10:06] CABRERA: But do you think it's more than just sending a strong message? Do you think this will prove to be an effective deterrent of further chemical weapons attacks on the Syrian people?
BURNS: That remains to be seen. We have gone a year between missile attacks by the United States and the intervening year Assad has used chemical weapons at least nine times against his people. So the true test will come, will Assad stand down, or at some point in the next few weeks or few months will he use chemical weapons again and will President Trump and the other countries go into action? I would hope they would. This is such an important issue to protect civilian life.
But the President also has to have a strategy, Ana, and he doesn't really have one right now. We have got to keep our forces, our special forces in the northern part of the country to defeat the Islamic state.
Right now the United States, the Arab world and Europe are not involved centrally in the political talks for a ceasefire and a settlement that that is being run by Russia, Iran and turkey. We ought to create a coalition led by the United States, a diplomatic coalition to get involved in the talks to represent the Sunni and Arab and Kurdish populations of Syria, and we ought to take refugees. So you could see how a strategy could be melded together here. It's an opportunity for the new secretary of state Mike Pompeo once he is confirmed.
CABRERA: You mentioned Turkey, Russia and Iran. Turkey supported the airstrikes. Russia and Iran did not. The U.S. has harsh words aimed at Russia and Iran in addition to Assad. Would you expect a response from Assad, Russia, or Iran beyond just the rhetoric and this U.N. emergency meeting that was called by Russia itself? Would you expect a potential military retaliatory response?
BURNS: I don't believe that's going to happen. They are going to limit themselves to the hypocritical rhetoric at the United Nations. Of course, Russia and Syria are not telling the truth about what happened last weekend on the chemical weapons attack. I think they understand that the United States and its NATO partners are infinitely stronger than Russia and Syria. So I don't think they will take on our forces. And you know, secretary Mattis and general Dunford made clear last night we took extraordinary precautions to prevent attacks. To make sure that the strikes were not anywhere close to Russian and Iranian positions. And that was the right thing for us to do. So no, I don't think they will respond.
CABRERA: All right. Ambassador Nicholas Burns, thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday.
BURNS: Thank you.
CABRERA: We will continue to be in touch as the situation develops.
We have a new clip now from fired former FBI director James Comey's TV interview that was just been released. You will hear him explain how his assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election perhaps played a role in that key decision just days before the election to bring back up the investigation in some new emails he found.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[16:17:04] CABRERA: CNN now getting a new clip of fired FBI director James Comey and his first big TV interview with ABC. Comey's memoir called "a higher loyalty" hits the shelves in just three days. And in this clip, Comey talks about his decision to go public about newly discovered Clinton emails just 11 days before the 2016 presidential election.
Let's bring Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's crime and justice reporter. Shimon, what does Comey say about his mind set regarding Hillary Clinton?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, like most of the people who are following the polls during the campaign, it seems he was influenced in part by the belief that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election. And he talked about that in this interview.
He doesn't give really a -- the best explanation into that explaining that perhaps this is the way he was thinking. But we know in the end what this really -- how all of this started was as you remember, why they even went back and started looking at the emails again was because of the Anthony Weiner investigation. And here's a clip now of him explaining why he made the decision that he did, Ana.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary Clinton's convinced that that letter defeated her. What do you say to her?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I hope not. I don't know. I honestly don't know. I sure hope not. But the honest answer is it wouldn't change the way I think about it. And my hope, I didn't write the book for this reason, but talking about leadership, it was important to tell the email story, because it's me trying to figure out how to lead well. The people will read that story and try to put themselves in my shoes. Try to realize that I'm not trying to help a candidate or hurt a candidate. I'm trying to do the right thing. And you can come up with different conclusions. Reasonable people would have chosen different door for reasonable reasons, but it's just not fair to say we were doing it for some illegitimate reason.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But in some level, wasn't the decision to reveal influence by your assumption that Hillary Clinton was going to win and your concern that she wins, this comes out several weeks later, and then that's taken by her opponents as a sign that she's not an illegitimate President?
COMEY: It must have been. I don't remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been. Because I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. And so I'm sure that it was a factor. Like I said I don't remember spelling out but it had to have been. That she is going to be elected President and if I hide this from the American people, she will be illegitimate the moment she is elected, the moment this comes out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you knew that letter would elect Trump, would you still send it?
COMEY: I would. That was a question asked by one of my best people, deputy general counsel in the FBI who was a thoughtful and quiet person who didn't speak a lot. And that morning we were making that decision. She asked, should you consider that what you're about to do may help elect Donald Trump President? And I paused, and then I said thank you for asking that question. That's a great question. But the answer is not for a moment. Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we are done. We are no longer that group in America that is a part from the partisans and that can be trusted. We are just another player in the tribal battle.
[16:20:26] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no precedent from putting out information like this at the end of the campaign.
COMEY: I have never heard it before. As I say in the book, I think I did it the way that it should have been done. I'm not certain of that. Other people might have had a different view.
PROKUPECZ: Ana, certainly, this decision will probably haunt the FBI and Comey for the rest of his life. It's a decision that I know when we were back then reporting on all this, many of the people close to him said it was not an easy decision for him to make. But in exactly what he says, they were worried had they not come out publicly with this it would have been seen as though they were trying to hide something.
And the other concern here, just Ana quickly, was that he told Congress about when the investigation was essentially over, that he would come back to them if there was anything new, of anything new had been discovered. He also felt, at least what we were told at that time, Comey felt that he needed to go back to Congress and write this letter and letting them know that there was this new look at some of the evidence, because of the laptop because he had felt that it was sort of also along the lines of having to do the right thing. He made the commitment to them that he would come back and tell them if there was something new that came up in the investigation.
CABRERA: And still this elephant in the room, the fact that this former FBI director never made public this investigation into the 2016 election Russian meddling and potential collusion or whether there was collusion with the President Trump campaign.
PROKUPECZ: Yes. That's exactly right. And he's taken some criticism for that, and so has the FBI. But it was a very different situation. That investigation in that it was still very much active, you know. He says they didn't really come out and talk about the Clinton investigation until it was over. The Russia investigation was still very much ongoing. And if you'll recall, he didn't come -- it wasn't made public officially that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign until he testified before Congress, and then he needed permission as he said from the department of justice to do so, to go ahead and tell the American people that this investigation was ongoing.
You know, look. I think people are going to look back at this and it's going to bring back a lot of the arguments that the Hillary Clinton people have made. That they felt it was unfair. I also know just from all our reporting that we have been doing, there were a lot of people at the FBI who had issue with how the -- how head quarter folks in Washington D.C. handled the Hillary Clinton investigation. And so I think this interview will certainly bring out a lot more than the book and we are probably going to hear a lot in the next few days.
CABRERA: No doubt about it. Shimon Prokupecz in Washington D.C., thank you.
Members of Congress, they were given short notice of today's or yesterday's airstrikes on Syria and some lawmakers say the President should have gotten their approval before striking another country, but does he need it by law? I will ask my next guest live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[16:27:56] CABRERA: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage. And I want you to see some new images. (VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
CABRERA: This is what overnight airstrikes did to one building near Damascus. The U.S. and its allies firing more than 100 missiles at Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack the regime carried out against its own people. Now the Pentagon says it hit three specific targets. Here they are. This include a chemical weapons research center and two chemical weapons storage facilities.
One thing the President didn't do before launching this strike is get approval from Congress. Many lawmakers say he didn't need it. But at least 88 believe he does. And they are upset he didn't consultant with them first.
Joining us now, Republican congressman Mike Coffman of Colorado.
Congressman, do you support this strike?
REP, MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: You know, I do support this strike. I think it was a measured limited strike in response to the use of chemical weapons that are a violation of a chemical weapons ban that both the United States and Syria and Russia are signatories to.
CABRERA: In 2013 you signed a letter to President Obama asserting that striking Syria without congressional authorization would be unconstitutional. You also released a statement that reads in part quote "since the United States is not in danger of an imminent attack, the President must follow the Constitution and War Powers Act of 1973 and come to the Congress for support before going forward with a military strike of any kind."
You didn't find this similar letter colleagues sent to Trump yesterday. What's changed other than the President?
COFFMAN: So what under the war powers act of 1973, the President certainly has the ability to conduct a limited strike. He did it in relatively a quick period of time working with our allies, Britain and France, where certainly President Obama deliberated for quite some time and it never came to a collusion that there would be a strike.
The President has 48 hours under the war powers act of 1973 to notify the Congress of the attack. He did that. He has 60 days in which to seek authorization should there be continuing hostilities, and then if such as authorization is not granted. He has 30 days after that to withdraw U.S. support from said hostilities.
[16:30:23] CABRERA: Does President Trump have a long-term plan? Because just two weeks ago he wanted to pull out all U.S. troops from Syria.
COFFMAN: Well, I think that's a frustration. Certainly this was in response to the use of chemical weapons. But in terms of what is the overall policy that the United States has toward Syria, I think the President blurted out in a campaign style -- gathering -- that he wanted to withdraw all forces from Syria. The United States needs to have a coherent policy when it comes to Syria. Certainly beyond deterring Assad from using chemical weapons. And I think that's important for the security of the region, important for the security of Israel, and this administration doesn't have one right now.
CABRERA: What do you think a limited strike like last night's will accomplish?
COFFMAN: Well, certainly, I mean, the fact that we, the prior administration put a red line on the use of chemical weapons and said if it would occur again, that there would be another strike, (INAUDIBLE) strike. There was a proportionate strike relative to the use of chemical weapons in that particular recent incident on April 7th.
And so if the United States did not respond, I would be concerned about our credibility. Particularly when it comes to this administration negotiating with North Korea in terms of its weapons of mass destruction as well as wanting to revise or potentially eliminate the agreement with Iran.
CABRERA: We heard from our reporters on the ground in that region talking about this being a pinprick when you look at the overall Syria conflict. And you are talking about the U.S. needing to have a strategy in Syria. Which way do you lean? Pulling back or plowing forward?
COFFMAN: Well, I certainly want to see what the administration comes up with. I think that certainly it was a pinprick, but it was measured in response to that particular chemical weapons attack. It was to research facilities, production facilities, and it was through storage and command and control. All related directly to the use of chemical weapons to deter future use compliance with current international law. What I just want to say is, what is the strategy? Are we truly getting out of Syria? Is that the strategy? And what are the ramifications of that?
CABRERA: What do you think it should be?
COFFMAN: I think we need some involvement in Syria. And I think because of the fact that I worry about a greater war. I worry about Israel being drawn into a war with Iran that Iran is an existential threat to Israel and having Iran -- Iran having a foothold in Israel where they have an easier time supplying their proxies like Hezbollah with missiles that present a threat to Israel is really problematic.
And so, I think we do need some -- I think that pulling out entirely is probably not the right answer. Certainly going to war is not something we want. There has to be something I think in the middle in a post ISIS-Syria.
CABRERA: All right. Congressman Mike Coffman, thank you very much for your time.
Mission accomplished. That's how President Trump described the overnight airstrikes on Syria. My next guest who survived a chemical attack there in 2013 says the sustained effort is needed to prevent future chemical attacks. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[16:39:00] CABRERA: The world is reacting to last night's airstrikes on Syrian targets by the U.S., France, and the UK. Those strikes coming nearly a week after the regime of Bashar al-Assad was accused of launching a horrific chemical attack on civilians.
Our next guest is a Syrian man who actually survived a chemical attack in 2013. Kassem Eid is joining us now from Washington.
Kassem, thank you for being with us. Last weekend right after this chemical attack happened, you expressed frustration with the lack of action in the past year from the international community including the U.S. Now how do you feel?
KASSEM EID, SURVIVED SYRIA CHEMICAL ATTACK IN 2013: Thank you for having me again. And I want to start by thanking President Trump for showing true leadership and bravery in taking action against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad. I feel happy. We all felt happy last night. We felt some kind of hope for the very first time in a long time about some kind of accountability.
But that happiness and that joy soon vanished as soon as general Mattis started talking about this being a one strike and how that -- they only care about sending a message for Assad to stop using chemical weapons. What I heard from general Mattis was he literally telling Bashar al-Assad you can keep on killing as much Syrians as you can. You can keep burning people alive and dropping barrel bombs over cities, but don't use chemical weapons because it will make us look bad.
[16:40:33] CABRERA: Have you been in contact with anyone in Syria and what are you hearing since the strikes happened?
EID: Well, of course, I talked to some of my friends yesterday. And we all shared the same feelings, you know. We were all happy, jumping, singing. Feeling that like eventually someone is going to punish us, especially after his recent massacres in Duma when he killed more than 2500 civilians.
But again, we all got to an end, our happiness got to an end as soon as we heard general Mattis talking and as soon as we started actually knowing real information about what kind of strike it was.
CABRERA: So what is your message, then, to President Trump about how you believe the U.S. can have a part in best protecting the Syrian people from further atrocities?
EID: Yes. Well, I just want to tell Mr. Trump like directly, I'm a Syrian refugee who survived chemical weapons attacks. Who lived under two years of siege and bombardment by the government. I would love to -- like, buy you a beer and just sit in front of you and tell you how bad it is in Syria. How you should listen to your heart, not listen to your generals. You proved once again yesterday that you have a big heart. At least a lot more bigger than Obama, because you actually try to do something.
We need real long-term commitment to bring peace to Syria. We need to hold war criminals accountable. Otherwise we will only help creating ISIS 2.0 that will come out and say they don't care about you. We're the only ones who want to fight Assad.
CABRERA: Why do you believe it's in the best interest of the U.S. to become more involved? Why is it America's responsibility?
EID: Well, with great power comes great responsibility. God has blessed this beautiful country with a lot of blessings. And we all look up for this country as a role model and as a leader when it comes about human rights and democracy.
Stopping Assad from using chemical weapons or committing more war crimes will stop giving radical groups like ISIS and excuse and recruitment tool to come and tell people that the west is lying and they don't care about you. We are in the process of having some really dangerous things going on in Syria in the next few months because the Iranian regime and the Russian that things they want, and as long as they keep thinking they can win with the military option, they will keep on killing civilians. And, therefore, extremist groups will keep on recruiting people and we will be just waiting for another disaster to happen.
CABRERA: Kassem Eid, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate your perspective.
EID: Thank you.
CABRERA: Fired FBI director James Comey now opening up about his controversial decision just 11 days before the 2016 election. What influenced him to go public about the new Clinton emails investigation at the end of the election cycle? That's coming up.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[16:48:09] CABRERA: Now, a CNN exclusive. We are learning the FBI seized recordings that President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen made of his conversations with the lawyer who represented two women claiming they had affairs with Trump, porn star Stormy Daniels and former playboy playmate Karen McDougal.
Also justice department now revealing Cohen has been under investigation for months in New York over his business dealings. And "The New York Times" is reporting the President's confidants now believe the Cohen probe is a bigger threat to Trump than special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia information.
Joining us now Scott Jennings, former special assistance to President George W. Bush, and Michael D'Antonio, author of "the truth about Trump".
So Michael, do you think Trump thought about whether his conversations with Cohen were recorded?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, THE TRUTH ABUT TRUMP: Well, I think he was glad for many, many years that Michael Cohen did record his conversations with various people around the country. He was doing the President or then business mogul Trump's bidding each day. And I think that they enjoyed listening to his performances.
You know, I was on the receiving end of one of those calls. And he tried to beat me up for about ten minutes. Then we wound up laughing about what he wanted to get me to do. So I was certain then that I was being recorded, and that Donald Trump was going to hear it.
I think now as he contemplates what might be in various prosecutor's possession, the President is probably quite nervous that there are recordings of him as well.
CABRERA: Scott, what is your take on this "New York Times" reporting that Trump's confidant's view Cohen and the probe as a bigger threat to him than perhaps the Mueller probe?
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I understand it because it's more opaque, you know. We don't know exactly what is on the recordings. We don't know exactly what was taken out of his office. We don't know how far back it goes. Now we know he has been under investigation for a number of months.
I mean, there's just a whole black hole of information. At least on the Mueller side, you pretty much know what you are dealing with, you know, who has been in to see the special counsel. You sort of know what buckets they are looking at, obstruction and the Russia collusion stuff. But on the Cohen piece, there's a lot of unknowns. And any time you are flying, you know, through clouds and your instrument panel is down, it's little scary. And I think that's how they probably view the Cohen probe right now.
[16:50:32] CABRERA: Michael, we earlier played a new clip from fired FBI director James Comey saying polls may have influenced his decision to go public on these new Clinton emails and the investigation that kind of reopened 11 days before the 2016 election. How do you think President Trump may react to Comey's comment?
D'ANTONIO: Well, I think this is something the President probably assumed had occurred. That Comey thought that he could act as he did because perhaps he assumed the result was inevitable, and the impact would be minimal. You know, it does indicate to us that Comey is as flawed as everyone else is when it comes to judging politics and predicting what's going to happen in the future. I think now the evidence in the book that he is publishing is that he regrets some of what he said and did at that time.
I would like to note, too, that FBI director Comey's proposal circulated in publishing circles pretty widely. And he did not intend at first to write such a scathing book. He actually sold it as a book about leadership with some elements of the Trump story in it. But I think that as the President continued to criticize him, Comey got his backup. And so, in some ways, this showdown was prompted by the President's constant criticism of Comey long after he fired him.
CABRERA: We know it's gotten under the President's skin as he has been tweeting, calling him a slime ball, calling him a liar.
Scott, the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday quote "one of the President's greatest achievements will go down as firing director Comey."
Your reaction to that assessment?
JENNINGS: Well, I don't reckon in retirement whenever that comes, Donald Trump and Jim Comey will be playing too much golf together. It seems to me this is a broken relationship and it will never be repaired.
Look, if I were handling PR issues for Comey, there's three role issues I think he has got to deal with in his media tour. Number one is the polling thing you mentioned. I mean, he has admitted that Presidential polling was affecting law enforcement decisions. This is going to cause people on the right and the left to say, is that right? I mean, is that possible that our FBI director was affected by punditry in polling?
Number two, there are some FBI regulations that seem to indicate if you are in the middle of an ongoing investigation if you have held a position like Comey's, you shouldn't be releasing information. And even if he didn't violate the regulation, he may be at least violating the spirit of the regulation. And finally, number three, I think some of the slaps that he takes at Trump appear to me anyway to be a little petty and small for a man of the experience and stature of director Comey.
I think what he says in the book will be taken seriously by a lot of people. He is a credible guy, but - and he is in the arena now. And he is going to have to face scrutiny just like every other actor in this drama.
CABRERA: And it is interesting when you talk about polling, there's a new ABC/"Washington Post" poll that finds more Americans find Comey, 48 percent, to be more believable than President Trump, 32 percent.
So Scott, what does that mean for the President in terms of who has the upper hand here in this ongoing war of words?
JENNINGS: Well, one thing the White House has to grapple with here is that some of the things Comey says, the book, the tour, you know, all the stuff that's going to come out around this, there is going to be a chunk of the country that's going to take it seriously. There are obviously people that defend director Comey. And he has held numerous positions of trust in the federal government. So he does retains some credibility. Although, I do think he has suffered some tarnish in this whole ordeal from people in both parties.
But there's no question what he says has to be taken seriously. And it is going to have an impact on public opinion. So I'm going to be watching how the President's approval ratings go up and down over the next few weeks. We didn't see much impact in the President's numbers throughout the whole ordeals, Stormy Daniels issue and some of that stuff on that side. I would like down in the next couple of weeks how Comey's allegations affect the President's job approval.
CABRERA: Michael, I wanted to get your take on the detail that we learned from the new book. And he talks about Trump's posturing the first time. He met President Trump in the oval office. He says he was sitting, suit jacket on, close against the famous resolute deck, both forearms on the desk. Comey goes onto say that in past meetings with other Presidents, former president Bush and Obama, he never saw them quote "stationed at their desk."
Comey writes but when the President sits on a thrown protected by a large wooden obstacle as Trump routinely did in my interactions with him, the formality of the oval office is magnified and the chances of getting the full truth plummet.
Michael, this was, of course, Comey's perception. He has experienced intelligence. Could he have been reading too much into it?
[16:55:25] D'ANTONIO: Well, it's really hard to say. Journalists and investigators and even psychological profilers for the FBI are all taught to absorb everything when they enter a room. You look at what book is on the desk, and what's open on the computer, and certainly the President's posture and positioning is something that Comey read. But it is possible and Scott observed this, that you can go too far with all of this.
CABRERA: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both. We have to leave it there for today.
Michael D'Antonio and Scott Jennings, I really appreciate it.
I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. I will see you back here at 9:00 p.m. eastern. We have a special SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer right after a quick break.