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U.S., France and U.K. Strike Syria's Chemical Weapons Program; Trump versus Comey. Aired 1-2a ET
Aired April 14, 2018 - 01:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news coverage of the U.S. military action in Syria continues. This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Don Lemon, 1:00 am on the East Coast. And a little after 8:00 am in Syria, where U.S. aircraft including B-1 bombers and at least one U.S. Navy warship were used in the attack on the chemical weapons program of Bashar al-Assad, of his regime.
Witnesses told CNN they heard explosions in the capital city of Damascus that began as President Trump was announcing the strikes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, a short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power -- military, economic and diplomatic. We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Northern Syria.
Nick, hello to you. Tell us what's going on.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: At this point we do look like Syria is waking up to a day that doesn't seem substantially changed after nearly 17 minutes of U.S. military action.
Don't get me wrong, significantly wider in scope than April last year's attack after the use of sarin on Khan Shaykhun, 59 Tomahawk missiles, double the number of missiles and a wider range of targets. So we're hearing from Syrian state news, giving it more detail to what
we heard from the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis that the (INAUDIBLE) research facility, according to Syrian state TV was hit in Damascus. Jim Mattis said merely a research facility had been hit in the Syrian capital.
Also, too, the targets mentioned by General Dunford were two research facilities or production and development facilities for chemical weapons near or around Homs. Both said to be involved in the production of sarin gas. They may also have been attacked by U.K. forces as well who appear to have focused their Storm Shadow missiles on the facilities near Homs.
That seems to be the limit of it so far. Syria state TV running officials talking about how this has been relatively limited, showing daily life getting back to normal. And I do think it's quite clear that there was a message intended to be sent here against specifically chemical weapons and the facilities themselves, given how lengthy (INAUDIBLE) the strike was. It's quite likely that these places have been cleaned out, if they still were functional at the time of Donald Trump's initial tweets.
We have heard that some of these places have been actually hit before by the Israeli air force over the past years or two. So it's unclear exactly what damage was sustained here. The message was quite clear, though, that the U.K., France and the U.S. were willing to move together and harness military might against the issue of chemical weapons.
But Donald Trump did a deliberate kind of expiry date or limit on what this is about in the same speech in which he announced the military action. You just heard there, this is not about increasing U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war. The U.S. wants out. It's after ISIS here alone and it wants to persuade Russia and Iran, who weren't the targets of this, to not back what he referred to as the monster, Bashar al-Assad, who kills his own people with chemical weapons. So a very limited 17-minute --
WALSH: -- window here. Donald Trump talked about potentially economic and diplomatic moves after. But the military component, it's been focused, it's been reasonably intense. But it's been short. And it certainly hasn't changed the balance of power here in Syria -- Don.
LEMON: 8:05 in the morning in Northern Syria and that's where we find Nick Paton Walsh, Nick, thank you very much.
Want to bring in now CNN's Ryan Browne at the Pentagon.
Ryan, hello to you. Jim Sciutto was just getting some information in from the White House, a White House official just a short time ago. And here's what he says.
"Sustained response Trump described could include further military action as well as diplomatic and economic steps. While tonight's attack is over, military options remain on the table, including in response to another use of chemical weapons."
Do you have any indication of what else may come from the Pentagon?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Secretary Mattis tonight after following President Trump's announcement briefing reporters saying this was one shot, this particular set of strikes but warning that they would be watching the Syrian regime moving forward and if it used, as it had in the past, raising the prospect of further action should the regime continue to use chemical weapons against civilians.
You saw the nature of the these targets were specifically designed to target the regime's chemical weapons capability. It was the focus of this set of strikes. The targets were also selected we were told by General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The targets were selected to avoid civilian casualties and to avoid killing any foreign forces, specifically Russia. There was concern, Secretary Mattis telling Congress on Thursday that he was concerned about the potential of this escalating. And they were definitely looking to avoid such an escalation by avoiding killing potentially Russian troops, many of whom are in Syria. So they were communicating with the Russians about deconflicting airspace.
But we were told did not tell the Russians specifically what targets would be hit. So, again very tailor focused on the chemical weapons program. And these strikes centered on that and not a wider campaign against the Syrian regime or a wider part of the civil war.
Ryan, thank you.
CNN's Sam Kiley live for us in Moscow now.
Sam, Russia is saying that the strikes from the U.S., U.K. and France didn't enter their zone of responsibility.
Is there any other reaction out of Russia yet?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is. It's somewhat muted and somewhat predictable, given the scale of these attacks, given the scale indicated of what these attacks were potentially looking like when they were first telegraphed by Donald Trump in the beginning of the week.
It was an impression left that they would be pretty widespread and, certainly in the view of General Mattis, could have led to some quite dangerous escalation. They have been very, very tightly focused.
As a consequence the Russians have been angered. Mr. Antonov, the ambassador to the United States, said that, "We warn that such action will not be left without consequences." So there's a bit of a threat implicit in there.
Maria Zakharova, who is the foreign ministry spokeswoman, usually rather cryptic and outspoken, she said that one must be really exceptional to strike Syria's capital when the country finally got a chance for a peaceful future. Slightly unusual thing to say in a country riven multiple civil wars
and indeed some international wars led upon it there. But nonetheless, in both of these statements, one, seeing a reaction that we could have predicted and I think that what will be interesting is to see, once the Kremlin gets involved, whether they want to up the ante.
My own suggestion would be that they probably leave it at this, given that these strikes, while fairly spectacular, were very, very tightly limited indeed.
As we heard, had not even involved firing up the responses, let alone a missile from the Russian air defenses. That was going to be potentially one of the most important friction points -- Don.
LEMON: So, Sam, Russia has never admitted that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons on their own people.
What's their stake in Syria?
KILEY: Their stake in Syria is multi-layered. On the first level, they have a strategic port in Tartus, their only Mediterranean port. That's a position they have held for many years. They're a major backer traditionally since the Soviet days in terms of arms and training to the Syrian armed forces.
And then I think there's a much wider sense. This is often not fully appreciated in the West, that there are quite a lot of authoritarian countries, former Soviet republics that are very, very tightly tied to Moscow. And from -- during the Arab Spring and the fashion, if you'd like --
KILEY: -- for democratic rebellion, it was very important for Vladimir Putin to signal to those client states that Putin stands by his men. He wouldn't abandon them in the face of even international condemnation, as we're seeing over Assad. So it's about maintaining influence and about having a strategic footprint in the Mediterranean.
LEMON: Sam Kiley, thank you very much. Appreciate your reporting.
When we come back, much more on our breaking news tonight, airstrikes on Syria by the United States along with Britain and France.
LEMON: Tonight's breaking news. U.S., France and the U.K. coordinate to launch strikes against Syria's chemical weapons program. I want to bring in now CNN military analysts, Gen. James "Spider" Marks, Lt. Col. Rick Francona and Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who joins us by Skype.
General Marks, break down for us the possible targeting that could take place in Syria, if this one didn't accomplish its objectives.
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Don, I think the question is absolutely spot on. My view of what Secretary Mattis said this evening, which is this is the wave of strikes, this is -- these are the packages that we have used and we're finished.
And then the President of the United States indicated that there will be a sustained effort. Frankly, both gentlemen are coming at a resolution from a different perspective. Both of them reserve the right --
MARKS: -- based on discussions, if the effects were not achieved, then the United States and our allies, the French and British, will go back and try to achieve those results. Let me show you what happened today. We had the preponderance of strikes in Damascus that went after research and development capabilities, C-2 capabilities and intel.
That's extremely important. Those three capabilities which are essential to the development and sustainment of the chemical weapons program that Assad has. Strikes also took place here in Homs, which is where there was storage of chemical capabilities and some limited strikes up there.
So these locations were immediately targeted. And that's where the strikes went in today. But over the course of the next 12 hours or 10 hours, assessments will take place and the determination will be made if the effects were achieved, we're good to go. There may be economic sanctions. There may be a more diplomatic effort of the United Nations.
But still the president reserves the right to go back after those targets if the assessment is made that effects were not achieved on these initial strikes.
LEMON: So General Hertling, to you now, you mentioned before, when you look at military strikes, you would have a military attorney next to you.
Why is that?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's not just next to the commander when you're given the guidance. It's also with the planning staff, Don. They're actually going to take a look at the kinetic packages that go in the strike packages that go, what target are they going to hit, what kind of things are around the targets, what's the proportionality of the response and what civilian casualties, collateral casualties might occur.
So a lawyer does -- the lawyer doesn't make the decision. The commander makes the decision. But the military lawyer, the JAG officer will give you advice. And you have these experts on your staff, who are very well versed in the law of land warfare, the Geneva Convention and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And they will tell you things, like this is a good target. This one,
you have to be careful because there's some type of civilian facility and you'll kill a disproportionate amount of civilians. There will be collateral damage and might be explosions. That's always a consideration in a commander's mind because, truthfully, you don't want to be accused of a war crime.
LEMON: So Col. Francona, the president essentially called his shot earlier in the week with a tweet.
How much more difficult did that make this operation?
Did that give Russia and Syria time to move their equipment and chemical weapons supplies around?
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, certainly. We did see that. We saw the Syrians moving their aircraft around, moving them to bases where there were an increased Russian presence. They figure if they can put the aircraft amongst a Russian contingent there would be less chance to be struck.
As it turns out, we only struck two airfields. Those were the ones that were involved in the chemical attacks. But not only did it give the Syrians and the Russians a chance to move things around, it also boxed the president in.
Because once he said he was going to do this, he had to do something. And I think we saw this drama play out in Washington between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense on one side, who I believe were counseling caution, and the president, who was really more set on a more kinetic action.
I believe with the new national security adviser, there probably was a lot of discussion that went on about just that. So I think he was boxed in. And all this time to get the assets in place gave the Russians and the Syrians a chance to move everything around to where they wanted it. So we don't know what was in those facilities that we hit tonight.
LEMON: Back now to General Marks. What military action has Russia coordinated with Syria in the past few years?
Do they have any active military personnel there now?
MARKS: They do. Don, let me go to the map. I think what's important to realize, this is what Syria looks like today in terms of control. This area right here that we see, that, for the most part, all of that was ISIS territory.
Over the course of the last year plus, the United States, the Kurds have really been able to reduce ISIS and essentially remove them from the battlefield -- not entirely. But there's really been a tremendous effort to reduce the caliphate.
This now is controlled by Syrian forces. What Russia has been able to do is assist with airpower and advisers, assist with logistic support, distribution of capabilities on the battlefield. So this area that used to be ISIS has now -- good news for us -- ISIS has been eliminated. Bad news is Russian forces and Assad forces now occupy this space in Syria.
Assad is reclaiming his country --
MARKS: -- very slowly, it's still incredibly fractured. But there has been some advancements for us in terms and progress in terms of our ability to get rid of ISIS. But Assad remains in power as we've been discussing this evening.
LEMON: All right, Stay with me, gentlemen. When we come back, much more on the breaking news. The airstrikes tonight on Syria's chemical weapons program.
LEMON: Breaking news: President Trump announcing precision strikes tonight on Syria's chemical weapons capability.
Back with me Major General James "Spider" Marks, Lt. Col. Rick Francona and Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.
General Marks, how does the U.S. military relationship with Turkey factor in here?
MARKS: That's a great question. Hovering over all of this is Turkey, its involvement in NATO, long standing, very strong relationship with NATO and a very tight relationship with the United States. That, sadly, has been eroding over the course of the last year primarily because Turkey has taken a far more independent view of its role vis- a-vis all of that and has been moving in the direction of Russia, to include a recent military --
MARKS: -- purchase agreement with Russia for the S-400 air defense capability, which we are now seeing, we're now talking about. And it's probably been used in this strike against Syria.
The concern that I have is that Turkey has always provided an incredible bridge between our relationships with the rest of our NATO partners and this troubled region in the world. And it's always been a counter balance to the former Soviet Union and Russian adventurism.
I'm not certainly how that will go in terms of future arrangements. But I think Turkey wins in this case, based on what's taking place in Syria over the course of the last 24 hours and what will happen going forward.
LEMON: Col. Francona, you have served in Turkey. Tell us how the U.S. military relationship with them has evolved.
FRANCONA: As General Marks said, it actually was quite a strong relationship during the Cold War. When we had the Soviet Union there, we needed the Turks badly because they were on that southern flank. They also straddled the Bosphorus, which the only way that the Russians can get from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Still very important.
But over the last few years our relationship has suffered with the Turks primarily because of our support for the Kurds. And this all goes back to our fight against ISIS. The United States was looking for someone to be boots on the ground. Remember, always the problem of any U.S. military operations in the region is who are going to be the boots on the ground because the American people no longer have a stomach to put American boots on the ground. So we're looking for a force to do that.
The Kurds provided that force, the Syrian Democratic Forces made up primarily of excellent Kurdish fighters did that. Of course now the Turks have a real visceral problem with any kind of armed Turkish presence. They believe it's a threat to their southern border.
They make no distinction between the Syrian Kurds and the Turkish Kurds. They believe them all to be members of a radical terrorist organization called the PKK. The United States does not believe that to be the case.
So we have armed, trained and led the Kurdish forces against ISIS. This has caused a real rift with our relationship with Turkey. The Turks have now intervened in Northern Syria. Our ground offensive against ISIS has come to a standstill. I think General Marks pointed it out on the map, the areas of ISIS which have been reclaimed from ISIS.
But that has come to a standstill because of the Turks are involved in Northern Syria. The Kurds are now moving to defend their homes against the Turks. So this is a real political problem for the United States. And we'll have to thread this needle somehow and get a better relationship with the Turks. Because in the long run, we need the Turks to be in NATO. We need them as a counter balance, as a relationship between the United States and Russia continue to deteriorate.
LEMON: So General Hertling, why, in your opinion, were Mattis and Dunford more cautious than the president and national security adviser John Bolton on this matter?
HERTLING: A variety of reasons, Don. First of all, because they have seen combat in this area and they know that sometimes plans go awry and there are second and third order effects that maybe people who haven't seen combat don't consider when they're asking folks to bomb places.
You know, they consider the effects on the enemy and how the enemy is going to react. And as I said earlier tonight, that enemy in this case is not only the Syrian regime but also the Russians and the Iranians. They're wild cards.
So that's one reason. The second reason is Secretary Mattis, when he was General Mattis, was part of the initial invasion forces in Iraq in 2003. And he was part of the force that went in thinking he was there to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, which was an intelligence failure. And it's an admitted intelligence failure, sometimes that happens.
So he wanted to ensure that, in fact, the Syrians had used nerve agents in Douma. So that was a consideration. He wanted to ensure the intelligence was right.
And then your conversation just now about Turkey and the allies in the region, Secretary Mattis and General Dunford have good friendships with not only the Turks but a lot of other militaries and governments and chiefs of defense in that particular region. And they know the tenuousness of relationships about that entire southern flank of NATO.
The Turkish government is one thing. The Turkish military is quite another. And both Spider and Rick talking about the Kurds, I spent a great deal of time with the Kurds in Northern Iraq. They are a magnificent fighting force but they also have various factions throughout that region.
And I think both General Dunford and Secretary Mattis know that they have got to keep that alliance with the Kurds as well as maintain the capabilities with the Turks as part of the NATO force.
HERTLING: Very complex, very complicated. And that's only just one small area of this entire big problem.
LEMON: I want to get this in. Then we'll go back to the questions. This new video of some strike video. This is from Turkish -- excuse me, Syrian state media. I'm not exactly sure of the location. But this is just in to CNN.
And you can hear a little bit of the background there. Again, I don't know the exact location of this, gentlemen, but there you go.
So General Marks, also, listen. This is just in to CNN.
"No signs of proregime or Russian retaliation against U.S. and coalition troops in Syria. At this time, proregime or Russian forces in Syria are showing no signs of retaliation against U.S. and coalition troops in Syria following this strikes."
This is according to an official with U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria. There are approximately 2,000 U.S. troops inside Syria in the fight against ISIS.
What say you to that, General Marks?
MARKS: Yes, Don, I need tell you that in -- between the time when the president indicated that there would be a strike and when the strike occurred last evening, the Syrians probably did everything in their power to scatter their capabilities and scatter as best they could their chemical storage capabilities and to put many of their capabilities intermingled with the Russians, knowing that the United States would not strike a target that would put Russians at increased risk.
We still had the United States and its coalition partners still had an obligation to achieve certain results on the ground. But mitigating factor would be Russian presence or at least collocation with Syrian capabilities.
So the Syrians were scrambling to get up close to the Russians. And let me tell you, the Russians didn't want any bit of that. I can guarantee you, they did their best parts to try to get away from that. They didn't want to immediately get in this fight.
So I think immediately, upon the heels of this strike and during the strike, you didn't see Russian activity going against the United States, the British or the French. That was a calculated effort. And as Mark and Rick have both pointed out, we routinely go against, we always go against thinking enemies. They have cognitive efforts that are, in many cases very, very precise.
They understand what they want to try to achieve. So this kinetic engagement always has unintended consequences and it will spin in directions that is very, very difficult to predict.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. In the midst of the breaking news tonight on the airstrikes in Syria, we have also got major revelations about President Trump's personal attorney. When we come back, Michael Cohen under criminal investigation.
LEMON: Bombshell revelation tonight about the president's personal attorney, the Justice Department saying Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation, the investigation that has been going on for months. Let's discuss now. CNN political commenters David Swerdlick, Bakari Sellers and Scott Jennings.
Hello, you guys.
How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So tired.
LEMON: My glasses are so dirty it's sick so I'm going to take them off and see if I can read.
So David, federal prosecutors now confirm the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is under criminal investigation. A source tells CNN that Cohen -- that the raid was akin to a final blow for Trump and that his anger is beyond what anyone can imagine.
If he hasn't done anything, why is he so angry?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because the circle of these various investigations is tightening in closer and closer around his inner circle. Special prosecutor Mueller was appointed last May, not quite a year ago. And things were -- a lot of threads were being pulled by his investigative team.
But now we have seen a series of indictments and guilty pleasure; Michael Cohen, the president's flunky in chief, has been -- is now under criminal investigation as has been reported today. And so you have a situation where the president knows that whether or not he himself is ever charged with anything or depending on what the results of the special counsel's investigation, that dominos are really tipping all around him. And this is no longer just a distraction for his administration. This is really the central feature of his time in office so far.
LEMON: I hate to hear you say that.
Am I the only -- does anyone feel sorry for Michael Cohen here?
LEMON: I kind of feel sorry for the guy.
You don't feel sorry for him?
Listen, anyone's downfall or whatever, I don't take glee in that.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I do not wish this process on my worst enemy. What Michael Cohen's going through, what his family is going through is unlike anything anyone can ever imagine.
Michael Cohen, I was able to spend time with him in Brooklyn during the presidential debates with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton when we were out in Brooklyn. And he's an interesting human being, to say the least.
However, what we will figure out throughout the whole process is that not only has he committed wire fraud, not only has he committed mail fraud, not only has he committed crimes in violations of the Federal Election Commission but he has serious issues.
And e has information that maybe implicate the President of the United States in various criminal activity. So that's a big thing.
So what happened when he was raided is that now we're turning the page. Now Mueller has what he needed to get maybe Donald Trump to be excited or worried.
LEMON: Scott Jennings.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that this is worrisome because it's opaque. At least with the Russia investigation, with Mueller, it's pretty clear where they're headed with that.
There's the obstruction bucket and the collusion bucket. I think the president lawyers probably have a good idea of what they have, who they have spoken to and so on. On the Cohen piece, there's darkness here. We don't know. They have taken things out of --
JENNINGS: -- the man's office and the man's hotel room.
JENNINGS: They've got possible recordings. We don't know of what. So there's a lot of --
LEMON: Can I ask you this before you finish -- because you bring up a point. "The New York Times" reports that the Cohen investigation poses more of a threat to the president than the Mueller investigation. That's according to advisers.
Do you agree with that?
JENNINGS: I agree that it's scarier because of what we don't know. And it obviously goes outside the bounds of presidency. What Mueller is looking at in large part are things that have happened since the president took office or was running for president.
This Cohen business could go back for years. So it could be a much larger bucket of stuff. And again, we don't know what it might or might not be. So that, to me, if I were advising the president, that would concern me the most, just flying through clouds without instruments.
SWERDLICK: I think the stakes are higher with the Russia investigation. At the end of the Russia investigation, there may be nothing. Or there maybe something. Or there maybe something in between. There may not be a crime associated with the President of the United States. That's quite possible. That hasn't been demonstrated yet in what's been reported.
That's much more important than what's going on with the president's alleged relationships with these various women, what Michael Cohen --
LEMON: David, it's not about the relationships. And I hate it when people -- this is about a pattern of paying people off and paying hush money. And according to -- they said that there's payoff after payoff after payoff, at least --
SWERDLICK: Well, Don, that's what I was getting to. But I'm saying, again, when you talk about Russia, whatever we find out at the end of the special counsel's investigation, those are matters of the utmost national security at the highest levels. I'm not dismissing what's going on with the investigations around Cohen, around these payoffs.
In fact, what I was going to say is, if anything, what it shows about this pattern is that this was something that was so routine, if you believe the reporting in "The Wall Street Journal" today, the various other reporting, that these payoffs were happening with multiple women at the same time.
Today in "The Wall Street Journal" for instance, it was reported that the same pseudonyms, Peggy Peterson and David Dennison, were used with this woman associated with Elliott Broidy as were used in the Stormy Daniels contract. It's as if Cohen is sitting there with a mimeograph machine, if you believe the reporting, ripping off these NDAs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How old are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mimeograph --
SWERDLICK: Bakari, I just want to say one more thing. I don't -- I think this is serious. I'm not waving it away. I just don't think the stakes are as high when you talk about Russian meddling in elections.
LEMON: Go ahead.
SELLERS: So I think there's one point that -- I don't mean to scare viewers but I do believe that we're on the brink of a constitutional crisis. I think that because of the fact the president has extremely broad pardon powers.
And we're getting to the edge of his circle. We're getting to his inner circle, his inner sanctum. We're getting to his family and to Michael Cohen. And I wouldn't be surprised if, even before any of them were charged, Donald Jr., even Michael Cohen or anyone else, Donald Trump pardoned them. Right?
And so you have something where the United States Congress has to step up and do something. And hopefully Mueller will come through with this investigation and do something. But I do believe we're on the brink of that constitutional crisis because I don't believe that anybody can inhibit Donald Trump or constrain Donald Trump to do what's actually right.
LEMON: He can pardon at the state level, right, he can -- SELLERS: No, he cannot pardon at the state level. He can only pardon at the federal level. And he can pardon you before you commit a crime.
LEMON: Isn't this the state level?
SELLERS: This is federal. It is a United States attorney. So my only point is that we saw this with Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for crimes over a five -year period even though he wasn't charged. And so you're going to begin to see Donald Trump's wills move just like this.
LEMON: Scott, what do you think?
JENNINGS: First of all, the pardon power is broad. And it is constitutional. It's well within his right to do it. I do tend to agree it will be a bad idea and a bad day for the country if we started to see either mass firings at the Department of Justice, which is one route, or mass pardons, as Bakari has --
LEMON: -- stick around and live long enough, I think you might see some of that. I think --
JENNINGS: Well, the point I wanted to make is, it strikes me now that it appears that the president's team, according to the reporting, has decided not to have him interview with Mueller. Now we're seeing the possibility that reports from Mueller could be written and then distributed to the Department of Justice and possibly Congress over the next few weeks.
So it's this Cohen business plus the fact that Mueller may be writing reports, we're on the brink of an escalation of movement in this investigation on two fronts.
LEMON: All right, stick around, everyone. When we come back, the political war between James Comey and the president heating up. Why the president went on a Twitter tirade about the former FBI director.
LEMON: James Comey's new book is full of explosive revelations and it has got President Trump rage tweeting at the former FBI director.
Back with me, David Swerdlick, Bakari Sellers and Scott Jennings.
What are you smiling at?
(LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rage tweeting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 2:00 in the morning.
LEMON: I got over that rage, that gets you in trouble. You never want to rage tweet.
SELLERS: First of all, can I just say that Comey is not a sympathetic figure?
Like I have -- all of this --
LEMON: You're mad. You're still mad.
SELLERS: I'm still mad. Comey came out and violated protocol 11 days before election. Did everything that the FBI and DOJ was not supposed to do and now he wants to portray himself as a sympathetic figure.
Like, no, get over yourself. I'm not buying the book. There are 200,000 presales. I get it. But a large part of the reason that Donald Trump is President of the United States, we can talk about the Hillary Clinton campaign and Russia interference. But it was the fact that Comey violated Department of Justice standards and so, no --
SELLERS: -- he's not a victim or a martyr. He is someone else that is out selling books.
SWERDLICK: Can I just disagree a little bit with Bakari on this point?
I agree that he's not a martyr. He's a grownup. He knew what he was getting into. What Comey violated at the end of the 2016 election were Department of Justice guidelines. He didn't do anything illegal.
SELLERS: That's what I said.
SWERDLICK: I know you said that but I'm just saying, sometimes we talk about this as if something was done that he absolutely could not do. The Holder memo at the Department of Justice said not to talk about political activity 60 days beforehand. That was standard protocol. But there was nothing illegal about Comey doing that.
SELLERS: I get that wholeheartedly. But the even-handedness, when you go into court, they say, if you come in with unclean hands, Comey came in with unclean hands. The reason being is because if you're going to say one candidate is under FBI investigation, then you need to let the American public know that the other candidate is under FBI investigation, as well. So I mean, treat people equally out of the same spoon.
LEMON: Will we ever get over the 2016 -- OK, I've had this conversation before.
SELLERS: Well, I'm not going to buy his book. That's all I'm saying.
LEMON: I'm sure that will have a big effect on the record sales that he has.
SELLERS: -- his wife, his mother and some random person to buy a book. That's all I want from Comey.
JENNINGS: I'm going to take up for Bakari because, A, it was the beginning of flu season and he had unclean hands and that's not great.
B, he writes in the book, it's October and he was influenced by the polling in the presidential campaign. Law enforcement decisions were being influenced by the polling in the presidential campaign and what his read on the election was.
LEMON: He thought she was going to win and he didn't want her seem like the --
JENNINGS: So not only was he FBI director but he was sort of chief pundit and he was wrong about his punditry, which, frankly, that is one of the core takeaways I had from the excerpts I read, was just the influence of polling on the chief law enforcement --
LEMON: Let's step back and just -- are you empathetic at all?
Can you imagine being under that sort of pressure, with having Loretta Lynch saying I'm not exactly recusing herself but saying that she was going to let someone else handle the investigation?
And then you had to make the decision on your own and you've got this really close race and the two people most unliked candidates in history going at it?
Is there any empathy for what the guy was dealing with?
SWERDLICK: Not empathy, but look, you go back to July of 2016. The FBI could have recommended charges against Secretary Clinton. I'm not saying they should have but they could have. Their read on it was no charges. That was a break for Clinton.
I think it's one of those situations that where broadly, politically, I don't disagree with what Scott is saying there. If Comey is saying now that he let politics influence his thinking, that's a problem for Comey's credibility.
But you have to take the good, the bad with Comey. He could have charged Clinton and we would never have gotten to October of 2016, when he brought it back up, which possibly cost her the election at the 11th hour.
SELLERS: You can't could have charged anyone who didn't commit a crime.
LEMON: She was under investigation and she said -- "The New York Times" reporting saying she was under investigation. She said that she wasn't.
SELLERS: That's fine. She may have been reckless. She may have been negligent. Whatever the word may be, Hillary Clinton did not commit a crime.
SELLERS: Can we just back up for one second right now?
We're talking about a President of the United States that is under investigation for not only just being very flippant and very whorish in his behavior, he's not only being under investigation for money laundering and fraud and all this other stuff but collusion and treason. This is what the President of the United States is under investigation for.
And we're back to talking about, as Bernie Sanders said, these damn e- mails.
LEMON: Well, he said that she couldn't be president because there would be FBI investigations and she would take us to war.
SELLERS: Well, it's Friday the 13th.
LEMON: And look what's happening. Let me say this, then, this is why I'm exhausted and you are, too. So this week has been a week for all -- of all ages, for the ages. See, I can't even talk.
Just look at the news that came out of Washington, Michael Cohen was raided, Trump considering firing Rosenstein, Paul Ryan announced his retirement. No airstrikes in Syria. Any of these stories would have been enough to sustain a week's worth of coverage in any other presidency, I think. But there you go.
Oh, we forgot Scott Pruitt.
SELLERS: Who? (LAUGHTER)
JENNINGS: That was weeks ago.
Which cabinet is that?
JENNINGS: What now?
SELLERS: Can I chime in since I'm here?
Can I just chime in?
I love to get Scott and all my Republican friends riled up because I always like to say, what happens if this was Barack Obama?
I mean, come on.
We were outraged over the fact that Barack Obama liked Dijon mustard, which is a sin, don't get me wrong --
SELLERS: -- and wore a tan suit.
LEMON: I like Dijon too, so. whatever.
SELLERS: And wore a tan suit. I mean, and now we're talking about legitimate high crimes, treason, scandals, frauds day in and day out. It's like drinking out of a fire hose. But if Barack Obama would have done this, let's talk -- I mean, Donald Trump's bar is near our shoelaces. That is where his bar is.
And it's the irony of this goes back to the root of our country. And so for me, I just sit --
LEMON: Scott has a pained look on his face.
JENNINGS: Well, I agree with Bakari --
SWERDLICK: Bakari is right. The first week Obama was in office, President Bush's chief of staff Andy Card (ph) criticized him on TV because he didn't wear his suit jacket while he was sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
And now we've got a president who is tweeting insults day and night and Republicans seem to be going with the flow on it.
LEMON: Yes. SWERDLICK: Bakari is right.
JENNINGS: I agree with Bakari that we should be talking about Barack Obama this early in the morning because his failure in Syria, his failure with Russia on the chemical weapons there is causing the airstrikes and military intervention --
SELLERS: You know what's crazy about this?
JENNINGS: Donald Trump's cleaning up his mess.
SELLERS: I say that Barack Obama failed on a few, just a couple of levels. One is historical black colleges and universities. The other is with Syria. He should have done what we're doing tonight with a coordinated strike.
All right. Bad Bakari, Scary Scott.
And what do we call David?
SELLERS: Handsome David.
LEMON: I won't call you dumb. I'll say, I don't know, something David. I'm just coming up with nicknames because that's what --
SWERDLICK: Dapper --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dapper David.
SWERDLICK: Dandy something, no?
LEMON: No. Doogie Howser or something like that.
SWERDLICK: Oh, wow.
LEMON: All right, thank you, guys. Thank you. Thanks for staying up late. I really appreciate it. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. Our breaking news coverage continues with Cyril and Bianca -- right after this.