Return to Transcripts main page


James Comey Testifies in Private on Capitol Hill; Trump Nominates Heather Nauert as U.N. Ambassador; GOP Official in Texas Says He Could Be Ousted for Muslim Faith. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired December 7, 2018 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Well, in a day of news and lots of news, right now, former FBI Director James Comey, he is on Capitol Hill beginning to testify in private before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

Our CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. He's been following. He was there as the former FBI director walked in. So Manu, this was requested by Republicans on that committee, demanded, really. Do we know what they're pressing him on?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want to know about a range of topics that they have been focused on for months, believing that the FBI had acted improperly in how it launched the Russia investigation to begin with and believing that there was bias that infected the Clinton investigation. Those are elements that they have been pressing on as part of the Republican-led investigation. Of course, they are going to be out of power in a month, so in a lot of ways this is their last gasp at power, bringing in James Comey. Initially issuing him a subpoena to bring him in, and then he fought that initially, but then agreed ultimately to come in on the condition that a transcript of his interview would be released within at least the next 24 hours. Maybe may slip a little bit longer than that, but eventually, we'll get to know the full details.

Now, I asked Mark Meadows who is one of the Republicans who have been doing the questioning here, why not allow James Comey to do this in public, he said we do these types of interviews all the time behind closed doors. He said he did not want to give -- he said he didn't believe that Comey deserved a chance -- to have a chance to discuss this stuff publicly because they wanted to talk about some of these issues that may be more of a classified nature behind closed doors. Democrats, however, view this is all as a witch hunt of sorts.

That incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler just told me moments ago that he would end this investigation once he becomes chairman next month. So he has a completely different focus, and that focus is not what the FBI did in 2016. So expect to hear two very different storylines coming out of what is expected to be a full day of testimony. Republicans probably believe they'll pick up some ammunition. Democrats say this is all a fishing expedition, but this is how it should play out in a matter of hours here, Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be a sea change, right, because the last gasp of Republican majority in those committees, going to be very different committees and investigations coming up starting next year. Manu Raju, we know you're going to be on top of it. Thanks very much.

The president picking his State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News host to be his voice at the United Nations, what a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee thinks about that step, that hire, coming up next.


[10:38:31] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. No shortage of headlines this morning, a major day for the Mueller probe, key details coming out on both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen that could give us a pretty strong signal of where this probe is headed. On top of all of that, former FBI Director James Comey is on Capitol Hill right now testifying before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees behind closed doors.

With me now, Democratic congressman of California, Ted Lieu, he sits on both the House Judiciary and House Foreign Affairs Committee. Good morning to you. Thank you for being here. Let's just jump right into Comey's testimony, in part today before your committee, the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans led the charge to call him in. He's doing so behind closed doors. What's your read on that?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Thank you, Poppy, for your question. This is an investigation that's going to end on January 3rd. I think it really is quite a stupid thing to have James Comey come in and go over the same exact topics that he's already gone over previously in front of the American people and in front of Congress. He's written a whole book on it, there's been an inspector general investigation on these issues. I'm not sure why this interview is even happening.

HARLOW: You think it's stupid, and you're not there, clearly showing that you don't think it's an important hearing. But even if your staffers are in the room, they can't ask questions like you can as a member of the House committee. Why not take that time then to put that on the record? To counter your Republican colleagues who have called him in, who think this is important? Why do you not think it's important to even be there, Congressman?

LIEU: I have asked for a public hearing of James Comey.

[10:40:01] If this was a public hearing, I would be there, but this is behind closed doors. We're going to get the transcript, and frankly, most members of Congress actually on these committees will not be at this interview because --

HARLOW: But I'm asking you, Congressman. I'm asking you. It is going to be public in the sense that the American public will be able to see the full transcript. Why isn't it important for you if you feel so strongly about it, to be in the room and to be pushing back? LIEU: Because it would be a large waste of taxpayers' money to fly all of us in for what is a stupid interview and fly all of us back.


HARLOW: So you should -- members of Congress should only be present at hearings where they agree with the hearing happening? I mean, you don't have any relevant questions you would want to ask or any relevant pushback?

LIEU: We have communicated with Democratic Judiciary staff. I trust them to continue to do the great job they have been doing. They have done these interviews in the past. They actually asked the bulk of these questions. I sat in on these interviews. Most of the time, we're just watching. They're doing the questioning.

But again, this is topics that have already been covered. Republicans got blown out in the midterms in the House of Representatives. I can tell you, Hillary Clinton's e-mails were not at the top of voters' minds. We should be focused on other issues, such as immigration, such as the constitutionality of attorney general Whitaker's appointment. These are things we should do hearings on.

HARLOW: Let's ask about - let's talk about, rather, the attorney general pick. The president just chose former Attorney General William Barr to be his next pick. The acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, you're no fan. You said, quote, "Whitaker should not be acting attorney general right now." So, what do you make of the president's pick to replace Jeff Sessions, William Barr?

LIEU: Well, I am pleased that he has served previously in the Bush administration. He's been confirmed before. I do look forward to his confirmation process. And see how he answers the questions. He did disturbingly say that the firing of James Comey was OK. I'm not sure exactly why he thought that was OK. I would like to see him expound on that.

HARLOW: Well, I can read you why he said, and I'll quote, he said that "James Comey," quote, "did not recognize established limits on his power as it pertains to the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe."

LIEU: So it goes to the intent of the president of the United States. If the reason Donald Trump fired James Comey was because he thought James Comey was mean to Hillary Clinton, violated regulations and hurt Hillary Clinton, that's one thing. But Donald Trump didn't say that. He actually went on national TV and said he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation. That's very different. I would like to see what William Barr's views would be if that was the actual intent of the president of the United States.

HARLOW: And finally, obviously, you don't get a vote on this because you're not in the Senate, however, I do want your take on Heather Nauert the president's pick just this morning to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Your Democrat colleague, Representative Chris Murphy said, quote, "She isn't qualified." Where do you stand? Is she qualified? Is she the best person for this job? LIEU: I'm willing to give any nominee a chance, but I do know that she has very little experience other than being a Fox News host. She's only been at the State Department since 2017. But I'm willing to give her a chance and see what she can do if she is given that position.

HARLOW: What would you ask her?

LIEU: I would ask her what her views are in terms of the United States' standing in the world, whether we should be working with our allies or being alone as we are right now. And what her views are of Saudi Arabia and their brazen murder and torture and dismemberment of a U.S. resident journalist.

HARLOW: Important questions. Thank you very much, Congressman Ted Lieu, for being with us today. Have a nice weekend.

LIEU: Thank you, Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Interesting interview there, Poppy.

A Republican official in Texas says that there's a push to oust him solely because he is a Muslim. We're going to speak with him live next.


[10:48:17] SCIUTTO: Right now, a Republican Party vice-chairman in Texas says that he could be stripped of his position simply because he's a Muslim. Shahid Shafi, a trauma surgeon, says that he's been accused without any evidence whatsoever of supporting the Muslim brotherhood, of supporting Sharia law. Shafi grew up in Pakistan before moving to the U.S. in the '90s, became a U.S. citizen almost 10 years ago and has been a steadfast member of the Republican Party. But now some members of his own party want his appointment to a leadership position, quote, "reconsidered due to his faith."

Joining me now is Dr. Shafi. Dr., thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: First, let me ask your reaction to this, a precinct chairwoman, her name Dorian Bryan (ph). She had a Facebook post where she claimed that you support Sharia law, that you were an infiltrator in the party working for the Muslim brotherhood. You're a trauma surgeon, you're a U.S. citizen. You have been a steadfast member of the Republican Party. What was your reaction to such a baseless charge?

SHAFI: You know, first of all, I feel so honored as an immigrant, as a naturalized American citizen, to be serving as an elected official in our town and in a leadership role in our Republican Party. I have been at war with the party since I became a naturalized citizen almost a decade ago and I have always been welcomed with open arms. Even when this controversy arose, our County Republican Party consists of 276 precinct chairs from all around the county. And when I was nominated by the chairman Darl Easton as a vice-chair of the County Republican Party, my appointment was approved by a near unanimous vote of the entire party with one dissenting vote.

[10:50:07] And since this controversy has arisen, there's been an outpouring of support from the Rank and File Republican members, from party leadership, from elected officials, most recently our state party by unanimous vote to pass a resolution to support me. So, I've always felt welcome in the Republican Party.

SCIUTTO: So, what changed here? And I should note. There were other state-wide officials, George P. Bush, among them, the president -- the late president's grandson, who has spoken out in your support. Where did this come from? Where did this feeling come from? You have been welcomed all these years. Why now?

SHAFI: You know, I think you have to ask those people who have concerns about it, but like I said, my experience as a surgeon, as an elected official, as a party official, has always been - always been very positive. And the issues that I focus on, on a daily basis are issues related, concerning my patients. Issues concerning my family and issues related to running an efficient city in our town of Southlake.

SCIUTTO: Do you believe that the president's sometimes critical, sometimes bigoted, some have said, language about Muslims, rhetoric about Muslims, do you think that has given license to people like you have encountered here who are expressing this bigotry about your faith?

SHAFI: Look, I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in freedom of expression. And I think diversity of opinion within any group is good for the group, is good for the party. What we cannot do, and we don't do, is discriminate against a specific person based on their religion, creed, color, ethnicity, or country of origin. Our party has very specific rules that prohibit religious discrimination. Our country has specific rules and our Constitution prohibits it.

So when this controversy arose because of a small number of people at the fringe of our party, it's really been very -- they're doing a disservice to our party. That's not what the Republican Party is about. That's not what I have encountered. Some of my biggest supporters within the party are pastors and military veterans. And the reason they always tell me especially the military veterans, that they are supporting me in my role is because number one, they put their life on the line to protect the Constitution of our country. And our Constitution defends religious freedom. They cannot see that being violated in our own country.

And the second reason is quite frankly a lot of these veterans are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They have served overseas with hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers. Civilians in those countries who have helped America, who have helped our soldiers perform their duty. SCIUTTO: Well, Shahid -- Dr. Shafi, we wish you luck in these upcoming votes and we're sorry that you had to go through this. But we appreciate you coming on.

SHAFI: Thank you very much for your time. I'm a proud Republican and a proud American.

HARLOW: Really important interview. Jim, thank you for that. So ahead for us, President Trump is lashing out this morning. He has shaken up his cabinet, a shake-up that very well could soon extend to the West Wing. We'll explain ahead.


[10:58:17] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. It started as a way to make healthy food more convenient. Well now the salad chain Sweetgreen is worth a billion bucks. Here's how its founder created the business.


NATHANIEL RU, CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF BRAND OFFICER, SWEETGREEN: Sweetgreen was really a solution to a problem of how do we find and bridge the gap between health and convenience. And do it with values and a mission.

JONATHAN NEMAN, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, SWEETGREEN: We just wanted it to be faster and cheaper. But not lower quality and not diminish the experience.

RU: We opened our second restaurant in 2009. It was a much bigger restaurant. And when we opened our doors, we had no business. And we were really scared. And the only things that we knew how to do in terms of marketing was to make healthy food, and to DJ and play music, so that's what we did.

NEMAN: We took that little Sweetgreen festival into something we call the sweet life festival. And it went from about 500 people in a parking lot to over 20,000 people at Merriweather Post Pavilion. What it was a way for us to connect, connect to culture beyond just food, but it was this crisis, this moment of what do we do? How do we fix this? That led us to this answer. I think you look at a lot of, you know, founder stories or start-up businesses and you hear the story of when it started. And then you see a story of, you know, sold or when it's made it. But nobody talks about that messy middle. It's never a straight shot.

Is this the updated dressing?

RU: For us as founders, success is making an impact. Fast food in America is normally thought of as not great and not good for you. And at Sweetgreen, we really want to change that.


HARLOW: All right, interesting. Congrats on their success.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Thank you all for being with us on a very busy Friday morning. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Have a great weekend.

SCIUTTO: Just a little bit of news today.

HARLOW: Just a little bit.