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James Comey Takes New Jabs at President Trump as Book Releases; Mike Pompeo Targets Red State Democrats for Confirmation Votes; Trump Supporters Jab Back at James Comey; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:32:28] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, James Comey with some new comments about the president.

Joining me now, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, Jason Miller, CNN political commentator, former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign, and Karine Jean-Pierre, senior adviser for MoveOn.org and former Obama administration aide.

I want to play you James Comey, how he is responding to some of the, I guess, literary and political criticism of his book, the fact that he decided to be so detailed in some of his criticisms of the president, including his personal appearance. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I'm trying to be an author and bring the readers with me into a room, and so I describe all kinds of people in great detail to try and create a vivid image for the reader. I'm not trying to make fun of President Trump. I'm not trying to make fun of anybody. But if you read the whole book, you'll see I'm trying to give you that picture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You know, Ron Brownstein, you have an interesting argument here. Everyone is so entrenched, you know, whether you like the president or you hate the president, or you like James Comey, you hate him, but you say there is a distinct audience that might matter here for James Comey. What and why?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. First, we are really entrenched. The movement is pretty modest in any direction. You know, no matter what happens. That it reflects deep divisions in the society. But James Comey embodies the kind of voters that the Republican Party is shedding under Donald Trump. If you look at Donald Trump's standing with the public, the most conspicuous difference between him and a typical Republican is that he's much lower among white collar, white voters. I mean, he's at 40 percent or below in both of the national polls that came out this weekend.

That is exactly -- James Comey is exactly that voter. A lifelong Republican, obviously a post-graduate with a law degree, who looks at the president and see two big flaws, kind of no moral compass and no respect for the rule of law. And those are -- that is precisely the concerns that are driving away a lot of these upper middle class professional normally Republican voters who may agree with a lot of the Republican small government agenda, but simply do not see the president as fit for the office.

And James Comey is belling that cat. He is making that argument more explicitly, concisely and unreservedly than even most Democrats have made.

BERMAN: You know, Karine, we're now on day three of the media tour. The book comes out today. And I'm curious where the left stands on James Comey. Is there sort of a political Schadenfreude as we're now, you know, on the second stage of this book tour. You like seeing him out there every day carrying this water. Or is he just such a flawed messenger for you at this point, you would just assume move on from this?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER FOR MOVEON.ORG: Well, I think -- it is like James Comey is like really a man without a country here because this book, what it does actually it reminds everyone that he mishandled the Hillary Clinton investigation.

[10:35:10] And hence leading to Donald Trump in the White House, and also -- but the other part of it, too, that it also reminds you that why the real reason Donald Trump fired James Comey wasn't because of Hillary Clinton, it was because of the Russia thing.

So, you know, it's really unfortunate here because the conspiracy -- the big conspiracy theory from the other side, the Republicans, is that, oh, you know, there is this massive thing, he's against -- James Comey is against Donald Trump, wants to take down Donald Trump. But James Comey -- every action that he took in 2016 helped Donald Trump.

Let's not forget on election day there was just one person, one candidate that was under investigation by the FBI, the Trump Organization, and it wasn't clearly Hillary Clinton. So that is what James Comey doing, being out there, does for all of us.

BERMAN: A mayor with no country or no city. Interesting.

Jason Miller, with your forbearance, I'm not going to ask you to weigh on this, A, because I think we all know where you stand probably at this point on James Comey and this discussion. And B, because I'm going to talk about a subject I think you may rather talk about, which is tax day today.

This is the day when Americans' taxes are due. And the president is taking a victory lap on the tax cut. There was this new poll from the "Wall Street Journal" and NBC which did pop out at me which is that still even after the tax cut and even after Republicans are touting the fact that Americans are getting some money back, only 27 percent at this point say the tax law is a good idea, 36 percent say bad, 34 percent no opinion. Do those numbers surprise you, Jason?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think you need to take the polling numbers in the overall context. And first I'd say, JB, excellent job on finishing the Boston Marathon. I got tired just watching you because I was eating my cheeseburger and looking at how much work you're putting into the effort.

But when you take a look at the polls, I would point to the fact that Rasmussen has the president's favorability rating up at 51 percent. The fact that even the "Washington Post" poll had the President Trump's numbers at the highest they've been since his inauguration, and so I think a lot of times with these polls, the way that the questions are presented, if this is President Trump's tax plan, or if they're putting the partisan context, I think that skews the answers.

But I think a lot of people today, if you haven't already filed your taxes, are very happy that they're going to be paying less next year in their taxes. They're already starting to see it in their paychecks being larger. And I think the overall economic increase and the lowering of the unemployment rate is really why I think the president's numbers are so good.

BERMAN: Right.

MILLER: Even as we see some of this other drama swirling around.

BERMAN: Ron, I'll have you weigh in on that if you want also.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BERMAN: But we do get a piece of news from Charlie Dent, congressman from Pennsylvania, his Twitter account. He just announced that he's leaving Congress early in the coming weeks. He was retiring anyway at the end of his term, and he lives in one of these districts that's sort of getting pulled apart a little bit.

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

BERMAN: And it is ripe for Democratic takeover anyway. But, again, Jason Miller is painting a picture here where Republicans are ascending and doing fine and the tax cut is going to mean success going forward. And you have this congressman here, no fan of the president, basically saying I can't take anymore of this. I'm leaving earlier than I thought.

BROWNSTEIN: Hit the replay button on my first answer. Like James Comey, Charlie Dent embodies the kind of voters that the Republican Party is struggling with under Trump. Yes, he has enormous strength in blue-collar communities especially among men. Rural voters, evangelical voters. But these white collar professionals who have been kind of a cornerstone of the Republican coalition, I mean, he is really struggling with those voters. And mostly on questions of values and morals and the way he conducts himself.

On the other hand, to Jason's point, I think most Democratic candidates, particularly in swing areas, would rather not run on Trump's personal qualities and run on this question of whether he has delivered what he promised to be a champion of working families. And Democrats seem very comfortable contesting the tax bill and especially contesting the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

And the fact that the tax bill has now slipped back into negative territory is kind of reminiscent of every other tax bill since the 1980s. It is very hard to convince the American people you've cut their taxes even when they haven't. The idea that this was going to be a silver bullet savior for the Republicans always seem overstated to me.

BERMAN: And Karine, is that true? Would Democrats rather run against the tax law, health care, Donald Trump than the Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Russia investigation Donald Trump?

JEAN-PIERRE: I think so. That's exactly right. Democrats want to run on the issues. But here's the thing, as we have seen in other races, special elections that have gone by, the tax cut is just not breaking through. People understand, voters aren't stupid, they understand that the tax cut was not a tax reform, it was a tax cut for the wealthy. And that is exactly what voters are hearing.

And let's not forget, another issue that has also resonated, if you look back to Virginia and Alabama and other election, is how Republicans tried to take away health care. And so with Democrats saying, hey, we want to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, that is resonating for folks because folks are saying voters out there do not want that to be taken away.

[10:40:08] So Republicans are at a disadvantage because of what the House and the Senate are doing or did by pushing this tax cut forward. And also this president, you were talking about his tweets, yes, his tweets have been so toxic and vile and coercive that the voters don't -- his own voters don't even like that, his core voters hate the way he behaves as president.

BERMAN: All right. Jason Miller, I have to cut you short and leave you hanging because you brought up the Boston Marathon. That's your penalty today.

Ron Brownstein, Jason Miller, Karine Jean-Pierre, thanks so much for being with us. I do appreciate the discussion.

You are not going to want to miss "THE LEAD" this Thursday. Jake sits down for a live interview with James Comey. It starts 4:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. We'll be right back.

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BERMAN: All right, new this morning, if an upcoming vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not go his way, Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo may have to rely on Democrats to get confirmed.

[10:45:08] He has a strategy at this point for getting it done.

Joining us now on Capitol Hill, CNN's Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, what are you hearing? RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is going to be a

rocky confirmation process at best, John, as it relates to Mike Pompeo. He's scheduled to have his confirmation vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sometime next week. And it looks at this point as though he will not receive a favorable endorsement from that committee. That's because Rand Paul of Kentucky has said that he will not support the Pompeo nomination. And it seems as though at least that the committee level that all 10 Democrats will hold firm.

Now that won't mean that he won't still become the next secretary of State because Republicans have said that they will still move his nomination to the full floor of the Senate and that means that at least one Democrat is going to have to come over and vote in favor of Pompeo's confirmation in order for him to become the next secretary of state.

So Republicans are putting a full court press on three Democratic senators in particular. They're all red state Democrats, one of them Joe Manchin from West Virginia. He's said to be considering voting affirmative on Pompeo's nomination. Also Doug Jones, the recently elected senator from Alabama. And Claire McCaskill who faces a very tough re-election in Missouri. She's also said to be considering Mike Pompeo's nomination.

But there are also potential senators who you think might vote no under these conditions who are considering a yes vote, and that includes Angus King, the independent from Maine who said this morning on "NEW DAY" that he's at least open to voting for Pompeo.

The question, though, here, John, is why is Mike Pompeo having such a difficult time when he easily sailed through as CIA director. Many of these senators have said that this is a much different job than the director of the CIA. They want someone with a moderate temperament to be in place at the position of secretary of state, advising the president of the United States, and that's why Mike Pompeo faces a difficult confirmation -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, we'll watch that very, very closely, appreciate it.

The comments from James Comey not sitting well with the president. But what do the president's supporters think? Stick around.

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[10:51:35] BERMAN: Fired FBI director James Comey not holding back in his criticism of the president during the media blitz this week surrounding his book.

CNN's Gary Tuchman watched Comey's first interview with a group not likely to be first in line to buy the book. Loyal supporters of the president. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty-three active members of the Charleston County, South Carolina, Republican Party, scrutinizing the James Comey interview.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: What does it feel like to be James Comey in the last 10 days of that campaign after you sent the letter?

COMEY: It sucked. I walked around vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down, felt like I was totally alone, and everybody hated me and there wasn't a --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still do.

TUCHMAN: In this living room, no evidence of any pity for Comey.

(On camera): What did you think of James Comey?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seemed weak.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Weak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary, I think --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thin skinned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Petty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 6'8", tall but he's a very little man. I think he diminished the office of the FBI.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The head of the FBI doesn't feel like uncomfortable. That's sort of lily-livered. It is not what I expect from a man.

TUCHMAN: What's lily-livered mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Weak.

TUCHMAN (On camera): Weak.

(Voice-over): A key moment of the interview.

COMEY: I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president.

TUCHMAN: Was a moment that angered many here.

(On camera): And Comey said he's morally unfit to be president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is he to pass judgment?

TUCHMAN: Why isn't he allowed to pass judgment? The former FBI director?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what, he was the top cop. And he had an opportunity to call Trump out and he didn't. If he really felt that Trump was unfit, morally unfit, he had an opportunity.

TUCHMAN: Would you have believed him if he said it at the time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would we?

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And what about Comey saying the president asked for his loyalty? And the president's denial of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we know that he wasn't asking for him to protect our country's loyalty, be loyal to your president --

TUCHMAN (on camera): I think President Trump asked a lot of people for their loyalty. And it's not about the country. That won't be against the personality that we of Mr. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a businessman, I think he would ask for loyalty. If you're on my party, you're going to be working for me, we need to be cohesive, and, yes, loyalty is very important.

TUCHMAN: That's not the FBI director's job to be loyal to the president. That's the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not his job.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI is the highest --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- about Russians and prostitutes and stuff like that, that set the stage very poorly.

TUCHMAN: So you blame Comey for making Trump paranoid?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That's exactly what he intended to do. And he went in on the very first meeting --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was his intention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and guess what, I'm going to work with you, but I got this on you.

TUCHMAN: Do you know Comey is a Republican? Mueller's a Republican. Rosenstein a Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Comey is --

(CROSSTALK)

TUCHMAN: So why would Comey want to make Trump be uncomfortable at the beginning? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) everybody.

TUCHMAN: Well, that was J. Edgar Hoover, that was a long time ago. Why do you think -- why do you think Comey would want to make Trump uncomfortable?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're part of the swamp. He's trying to drain the swamp.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The consensus here is that Comey is a dishonest broker.

(On camera): Are any of you troubled with the president's grasp on the truth at some point?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that anybody is 100 percent always truthful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In big powerful situations like he's in.

TUCHMAN: Why do you think Jim Comey would say all these lies about the president of the United States after this career --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because his childhood dream, and he is -- his childhood dream he became the director of the FBI and that was spoiled by Donald Trump.

[10:55:11] TUCHMAN: Does that not trouble anybody?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

TUCHMAN: How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're way better off without James Comey. Way better off.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: That is what unanimity looks like. Our thanks to Gary Tuchman for that report.

So the White House is now walking back on the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley's pledge for new Russia -- new sanctions on Russia. Haley said they were coming yesterday. Yesterday came and went. No sanctions. So why did the president apparently back off? We have new developments next.

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