Return to Transcripts main page


Comey Belief Clinton Would Win a "Factor" in E-mail Probe; French President Says He "Convinced" Trump to Stay in Syria; More Sanctions Coming on Russian Businesses, Banks, Equipment Suppliers; Black Men Arrested in Starbucks Agree to Meet With CEO; GAO Report: EPA Broke Law on Spending. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:38] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: James Comey's publisher is anticipating something close to a million people will read his book, at least in the first run. At the very least, the former FBI director is hoping one person will pick up a copy: Hillary Clinton. In the book, out tomorrow, Comey details his thinking behind the decision, his decision to speak out during the election on the investigation into Clinton's e-mails.

And in a new interview with "USA Today," Comey says this.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR & AUTHOR: I hope Hillary Clinton at least reads those parts of the book because I think she'll walk away saying, you know what, I still believe the guy is an idiot but he's an honest idiot. He's trying to do the right thing here.


BOLDUAN: Trying to do the right thing here.

Joining me now, another honest idiot -- just kidding -- Paul Begala, CNN political analyst, and former consultant to the pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA, and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart.

Paul, you hear that, and do you think that he's an honest idiot yourself? Does this interview and the book change Clinton's view of him, do you think?


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BEGALA: I missed you. My life has been just an empty meaningless void.

BOLDUAN: Not going to make my interviews with you any easier.

BEGALA: No. BOLDUAN: Continue to butter me up.

BEGALA: I do think Director Comey is wrong in both the adjective and the noun. He's not honest and not an idiot. He's terribly bright. What he's saying about why he tipped the election to Donald Trump, by releasing the -- reopening the investigation 11 days before the election, is not honest, not accurate. Here is what he said. By the way, he was investigating -- the FBI was investigating Donald Trump. They never reveal that to the American people. They had cleared Hillary Clinton. And yet, 11 days before the election, he reopens it, tilting the election to Hillary. Here is what he says, he claims in the interview in the book, I had an obligation, the word he used, obligation, to reveal that. He didn't. He had an obligation to follow the rule of law and the Department of Justice guidelines. And the seven-decades practices say you don't intervene before the election. But he said the obligation arises from a promise he made to Congress. You know what I did? I looked at the testimony. Here is what he said in July before the election. Lamar Smith, of Texas, a Republican congressman, asks him if the Clinton administration -- investigation, if you discover new information that was both relevant and substantial, would you reopen the investigation. He says, we would certainly look at any new and substantial information. He would look at it. He did not say I would bring it to you. He certainly didn't say I would do it 11 days before the election.

Mr. Comey, if you want to see how we got Donald Trump, this man you think is so morally unfit, it is because of you. You look at the man in the mirror. That's how we got him.

BOLDUAN: I asked you and you could have just said no. That's all you could have said.


Alice, so here is another element of this that I do want to ask you about. This is what -- I'm hearing the criticism of James Comey and what he's putting out. The book is called "Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership." Pretty lofty. In his first big interview, he was asked about his first impressions of the president when they first met. Let me play you this clip.


COMEY: He had impressively coifed hair. It looks to be all his. I confess I stared at it pretty closely and my reaction was it must take a lot of time in the morning. His tie was too long, as it always is. He looked slightly orange up-close, with small, white half-moons under his eyes, which I assume are from tanning goggles.


BOLDUAN: He could have just said, I don't have a first impression of him, it didn't matter, I was bringing him very serious information. Does that -- does that undermine the more serious accusations that he's discussing in this book and in these interviews? [11:35:13] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. You want

a one-word answer, yes. That being said, I think, look, loyalty high road has a lot less traffic. He should have taken that route. He should have taken the high road. A lot of the true arguments that he wanted to make in this book about integrity and honesty and not having loyalty to a person over the truth, all that gets lost because of what he's doing. He's become partisan and he's become petty. And the talk about orange hair and the small hands and the hair and the tie, that's just petty. That's beneath the dignity of a former FBI agent and certainly in this conversation. His attempts to be nonpartisan with what Paul was talking about, the decision to announce reopening the Hillary investigation, he became partisan. He not only did that, he didn't tell Loretta Lynch. He kept that to himself because he wanted to protect the FBI or himself. And moving forward, when he was brought into the Oval Office with the president and they took -- they sent out the vice president as well as Jeff Sessions and he felt as though the president were trying to undermine him or intimidate him by dropping the Flynn investigation, he, once again, didn't tell the attorney general and kept that to himself. In my view, those are political acts for his own gain and the FBI's gain. And in my view, that takes away a lot of the true points he could have made if he wanted to look at higher loyalty in the presidential administration -- he looked at three different presidents -- he lost it by being petty.

BOLDUAN: Paul, one thing, George Stephanopoulos did ask him about, the dossier, of course. And he also -- he told George that he didn't tell Trump that the dossier was funded by Democrats, by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. He said it wasn't necessary for his goal, I think is how he put it, which was alerting him to the information in the dossier, I guess. Does that make sense to you that he should not have told him, that he didn't tell him?

BEGALA: No. No, he should have. He should have.

BOLDUAN: You think --


BEGALA: What did mama tell you about anything you hear. Consider the source. He's the director of the FBI. He needed to tell the president-elect at the moment where it came from. By the way, I don't think that itself discredits the information in the dossier. Let's hold it up against investigation. The fact that it was originally created, originally financed by Republican adversaries of Mr. Trump.


BEGALA: Then when he defeated them, apparently, the Democrats picked it up and they paid for it. I think that's useful information. I do. I do think he should have disclosed it. I don't think that, in and of itself, discredits the dossier. We have an FBI for a reason, to look into these kinds of allegations. And I think that was his real job.

BOLDUAN: This is a messy mess and just gets messier. And we have more interviews to go, everyone.

Great to see you Alice.

Great to see you, Paul, I guess.

BEGALA: Welcome back.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.


Thank you so much.

All right, coming up for us, from pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, quote, "very soon," to staying, quote, "for the long term," the French president said he's changed the president's mind when it comes to the future of American forces in Syria. So why then is Macron now trying to clarify that? That's next.


[11:42:36] BOLDUAN: Eyebrows raised all over the world when French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview said that he had convinced President Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria, quote, "for the long term," which had the White House then quickly responding, saying there has been no change in U.S. policy there.

But, remember, this is the President Trump policy statement as of just a couple of weeks ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon.



BOLDUAN: So which is it? Macron is now clarifying his claims saying that he wasn't announcing any change for France or the U.S. in terms of policy in Syria. So is this all cleared up now? Seems like no.

Let me bring in CNN national security analyst, Shawn Turner. Shawn was a deputy White House press secretary for the National Security Council.

Great to see you, Shawn. Thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Are you any clearer in terms of all of this, in general, what U.S. strategy is now in Syria? It is now more than -- something like a little over two days after the strikes?

TURNER: Unfortunately, don't think we're any more clear than we were prior to the strikes. The president's national security team was very clear with the president that if we were going to go forward with some sort of strike, those strikes need to occur in the context of a broader strategy. And I can tell you that based on the people that I've talked to the national security intelligence space, that is one of the great frustrations that they have, particularly as we talk about this question of whether or not the strikes have actually changed Bashar al Assad's behavior and whether or not there might be future strikes. There is a lot of uneasiness, a lot of concern about what it all means in the big scheme of things. Everyone is really clear on one thing, though. That is that the president cannot continue to be in this posture of simply sending a message through some targeted strikes. When we look at number of people who have been killed in Syria as a result of chemical attacks, as horrific and as tragic as they are, the vast majority of people who have been killed in a civil war have been killed due to conventional weapons.


TURNER: So the time for sending messages is over. We need a broader strategy.

BOLDUAN: Shawn, is "locked and loaded" potentially a broader strategy? That's how Nikki Haley has kind of described it. If Assad attacks his people again with chemical weapons, she says the U.S. will respond, we're locked and loaded. Is that enough to deter?

[11:45:05] TURNER: "Locked and loaded" is what you would expect to hear out of military leaders. It is not a broad government strategy. It is not an all-government approach to this challenge. So while I think that for a certain sector of the population this kind of tough rhetoric of locked and loaded, this militaristic rhetoric, it sells and makes people feel like we're being assertive and strong. But in terms of strategy, that's to say in terms of how we as the United States of America, how we as the international community are going to work together to lay out a road ahead for the people of Syria and bring this civil war to an end to establish some stability in the region, there still is no strategy for that.

BOLDUAN: Nikki Haley also said, Shawn, that more sanctions are coming as early as today. She said, likely against Russian businesses, banks, equipment suppliers. What do you think that likely will do?

TURNER: You know, look, I think when you announce sanctions early on, when they're put into place, they have the effect of squeezing countries like Russia, squeezing the oligarchs and Vladimir Putin to a certain degree. Unfortunately, what we have seen is a very adept ability for Vladimir Putin and for the Russians to find a way around those sanctions. And so I think that in this case, you know there is this kind of public perception of being strong on Russia, something that this administration really struggled with for a long time and are finally getting up to speed on. But in the big scheme of things, I don't think that sanctions that -- sanctions that do not specifically go after Russian oligarchs, that don't specifically go after Putin's source of money are not going to have a huge impact.

BOLDUAN: First and foremost, let's see what the sanctions -- if they roll out, what they will roll out today. Thank you so much, Shawn. It's good to see you.

TURNER: Thanks. You, too.

BOLDUAN: We're also talking about damage control for Starbucks today after a viral video brings national attention to charges of racial profiling. The CEO now apologizing, saying the two black men who were arrested at a store in Philadelphia, they agreed to meet with him. Will that be enough to end the protests?


[11:51:37] BOLDUAN: Protests and calls for a boycott. Now the CEO of Starbuck's says he promises to fix all this. We learned just a few minutes ago, actually, that the Starbuck's manager who called the police because two African-American men had not placed an order is no longer working at that store. This comes just after the two men who were arrested agreed to meet with the company CEO.

Joining me right now with the very latest on h ow we got here is CNN senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt.

Alex, what is happening with this? People are furious.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People are furious. This story isn't going away. That's because a lot of people don't want it to go away. What we've seen today is a large protect at that shop. It's in Rittenhouse Square) Philadelphia. More than 100 people showed up.


MARQUARDT: Yes. And they saw this apology from the Starbuck's CEO Kevin Johnson, but they wanted to show up, anyway, just to draw attention to it and make sure this story doesn't go away.

But for his part, the CEO Kevin Johnson has been apologizing profusely. He appeared on morning TV. He put out a statement on their Facebook page. He put out a written statement. He called this incident absolutely reprehensible. He said, "This is not who we are and it's not who we're going to be." Take a listen.


KEVIN JOHNSON, CEO, STARBUCKS: That in certain circumstances, local practices are implemented. In this particular case, the local practice of asking someone who is not a customer to leave the store. And, unfortunately, then followed by a call to the police. Now, certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified, situations where there is violence or threats or disruption. In this case, none of that existed. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened. And we are accountable. I am accountable.


MARQUARDT: Right, so he's taking responsibility there. He also explained that they have 28,000 stores around the world. And each store or each region has different standards, if you will, but there are common standards across the company, of course. Johnson says they will be retraining the managers on those guidelines, but also more importantly on unconscious bias. And Johnson has said, and the company has confirmed, that he will be meeting with these two men at some point. They're hoping it will take place this week because Johnson is in Philadelphia this week.

BOLDUAN: We'll see.

Alex, great to see you.

MARQUARDT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Breaking news for us just coming in. A government watchdog report says spending at the EPA broke the law. We have details on this, coming up.


[11:58:08] BOLDUAN: Breaking news coming in. New trouble for scandal-plagued EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. A new report coming out from the U.S. Government Accountability Office says the EPA broke the law when it comes to spending.

Let's get over to senior writer for CNN Politics, Juana Summers with more on this. She has the details.

Juana, what happened here? What's going on?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Hey, Kate. Here's the deal on what the GAO found in this report that comes from a request of Democrats on Capitol Hill, that the EPA broke the law when Scott Pruitt ordered some $43,000 for a soundproof booth. They're not saying it's inappropriate for Pruitt to have bought the booth, but there is a little-known provision that, for certain types of office refurbishing, you have to tell the government if you spend more than $5,000 for those. This isn't the first time Scott Pruitt has been in hot water over travel spending. He's the first EPA administrator known to have a private security detail that he uses for traveling. His travel practices have also gone under scrutiny. He frequently flies first class or business class.

We've reached out to the EPA for response, and we have not heard back. Again, this report coming at the request of congressional Democrats who saw this as pretty unusual.

BOLDUAN: Juana, is there any fallout from this? EPA broke the law, so now what?

SUMMERS: That's not quite clear. As there's been a steady stream of stories about Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump has stood by him, and recently calling him a good man, says he's doing a great job at the EPA. As we reported, Scott Pruitt has been a favorite of the president because of the steady stream of deregulatory action he's taken since taking the helm at EPA more than a year ago, making a number of the campaign promises that the president made on the campaign trail.

BOLDUAN: EPA broke the law, according to the GAO. Let's find out now what that means.

Great to see you, Juana. Thank you.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: And thank you all so much for joining me today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate.